...so we’ll live,
And pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh
At gilded butterflies.
King Lear V.iii.12-14
If I ever achieve any modicum of success in any aspect of my life, it will be only because family and friends have been so supportive and have allowed me to make mistakes on the road to becoming a more responsible quadriplegic. Let’s face it, very little can prepare one for total paralysis, but I am blessed with incessant, uncompromising support by those who love me regardless of my physical condition. It would be a very nasty sin against their encouragements as well as the pursuit of Truth if I were to do nothing after receiving such infinite support. I may learn nothing, but at least I’m on a specific journey, and I’m taking notes.
I was very fortunate to have known my father’s maternal grandparents. They were, of course, my great-grandparents—the only set of great-grandparents that I am to have known, and they celebrated more than sixty years of matrimony... to each other!
It was just before my accident, when I was still only twenty-one, when my great-grandmother passed away. I’m not at all certain of the facts, but as far as we know on this side of the curtain of death, my great-grandmother, Emma Faux Jackson, died peacefully in her own home. It’s not surprising that my great-grandfather, Arthur Jackson, didn’t last much longer. He died within the year, and about nine months after I had broken my neck.
My great-grandmother had ten children in strict compliance with the Catholic doctrine that commands its followers to be fruitful and to multiply regardless of any detrimental consequence to our tiny planet. My father’s mother, my grandmother, was the first female born into this family, and it was in this environment she learned her love for raising children, and she maintained this maternal nourishing nature throughout her life... well, at least until she was seventy-nine, which was her age at the time of this writing.
My grandmother was raised during the time in our society when practically all women were subordinate to men. Not only was this propagated by the zeitgeist of their time, but it was also preached from the pulpit of the Catholic church of my grandmother’s youth and in letters written by Saint Paul, who was, to me, an anti-Semitic misogynist who callously murdered Jewish people until he was dumbstruck by fulgurous bolt of formidable energy that must of scrambled his brains.
(Isn’t it a bit ironic that the word catholic means “universal”? Am I to assume that the Universal nature of Catholicism excludes strong females? Homosexuals? Jews who don’t acknowledge the deification of Jesus? I sincerely hope not.)
My paternal grandfather died when I was thirteen months old, so I never knew him except as the dashing young man in his late-thirties/early forties, posing confidently in a dingy post-WWII photo that hung on my grandmother’s living room wall, his military uniform pressed flawlessly as he sits in a cushioned, high back chair with his legs crossed and his hands clasped about his elevated knee. Subsequently, I never knew his family; however, in the Fall of 1992, at the same time that the Atlanta Braves went to the World Series against the Minnesota Twins, my father decided to take his mother to see her sister-in-law Iva, who lived in Corpus Christi and who was eighty-years-old at the time. My father had recently purchased a conversion van, and he had a wheelchair lift installed, so we headed south until we hit the Gulf of Mexico then took a right.
The scenery in Alabama and Mississippi is similar to Georgia’s: slender pines reaching for and waving at flocculent clouds as they gently sway against the painted homogenous baby blue sky; thrashing silver streams aggressively washing myriad roots that artistically weave through the weft and warp of illimitable acres of fertile ground, twisted roots’ unintentionally disrupting secret slumbers that will, invariably, explode into Life after Spring’s maternal instincts finally awaken… again; a jolted and explosive yin-yang paradox of seasonal wakeful somnolence directed to embrace the once buried seed, the now resurrected sapling.
It’s mid-autumn, and this section of earth is assiduously preparing for its seasonal slumber, perchance to dream of a seminal renaissance as seeds that have recently slipped from boughs softly glide to the fecund soil, some of which provide sustenance for some quivering animals while others prepare for their respective floral manifestations, the direct descendants of the sun... beautiful energy reborn from whence it came.
Meandering gray asphalt highways, with brilliant bursts of linear yellow-flash dashes, quicken with sunlight and dance through lands once held sacrosanct by aboriginal thaumaturgy, an energetic silver-haired Cherokee’s worshiping of the eternal spirit that gives life to dazzling flora and fauna.
Enchanting azure waters have sacredly danced through the Edenic paradise to fill the Gulf of Mexico centuries before golden thieves from the Iberian peninsula mired the landscape with aboriginal blood. This is some of the forgotten history by which we are surrounded as we drive through state-maintained highways until we hit Interstate 10. We take this interstate highway to Houston, which is an imbroglio of asphalt and steel in reckless abandon. Thankfully, the drive through Houston is but an instantaneous, brightly luminous, chaotically frenetic anxiety, a blistering affront to my emotional salubrity, a nanosecond-blip on the chronometer gauging my terrestrial life’s journey.
After we survive Houston, we head south towards Corpus Christi, and the closer we get, the more peaceful our surroundings and our collective mental spirit.
Corpus Christi really surprises me. I suppose I’ve always known that it is a coastal city, but I guess the fraudulent boasts of the self-proclaimed best state in the U.S. planted visions into my susceptible mind that every city in the state is a deserted, dusty, tumbleweed-filled, rat-infested, deprecated timber-laden ghosttown where the community’s population meets nocturnally at the dilapidated saloon to discuss their business over shots of rot-gut.
I’ve seen pictures of Houston’s and Dallas’ skylines, so I realize that they are bustling cities, but Georgia also has the very cosmopolitan city of Atlanta, yet many believe various public media in their incessant parodies of Southern men as guffawing yokels bent on misguided chivalry for women in pink flannel housecoats and pink curlers under a clear plastic cap, holding a cup of coffee in her right hand, scratching her ass with her left hand, and a cigarette that’s mostly ashes hanging from her lower lip as she yawns, “Tonight’s BINGO night, hunny! If’n I get lucky an’ win, I’ve got sum special lovin’ fer ya.”
So we cross a huge bridge that spans an estuary, and I notice almost immediately that Houston is a port city much larger than Brunswick, Georgia, and the docks are bustling with activity that I have only seen on television. From this distance, it looks agreeable. I would think less of the milieu if I were closer and could use more of my senses to create a better understanding of the drama that I view from atop the bridge, but distance makes the vision more appealing. Once we cross the bridge, a beautiful resort city opens before us, looking much like the cities that align Florida’s panhandle, and this surprises me.
The city is wonderfully clean and practically deserted; it is late October and we are assured by locals that the College students who come down during Spring Break make the somnolent city dazzle with the excitement of Panama City, the Rednecks’ Riviera.
We bunk in a stylish motel that faces a full moon, which feverishly sparkles on the boundless gulf, linear indigo clouds hanging like adroit sentinels posting guard, reassuring us of a tranquil evening. Across the street from the front entrance of the motel is a small German restaurant. My parents spent parts of their respective childhoods in Germany; in fact, not long ago they were arguing over a grade-school class picture when it was discovered that they had both unknowingly attended the same third-grade class in Nuremberg. My parents were also stationed in Germany as adults, and I was born in Wurtzburg, so they share a special affinity for the cuisine, and this little pub was a wonderful find.
The following day, we visit my great aunt, who lives in a small white, wooden house on a quiet street with an old oak tree in her front yard that produces the largest acorns I have ever seen; they are primeval. Her house is not at all accessible, and after my father lugs me up the five steps into her wonderfully distaff abode, I am confronted by a most frightfully disconcerting, excessively effeminate, Great Depression surviving misinterpretation of opulence, an expensive bric-a-brac and antique-cluttered museum that possesses an abundance of Habersham-defined genteelness. The expensive collection of superfluity that is my Great-Aunt’s interior design is pompously presented to whomever she entertains. The items of her sadly impressive collection are fastidiously scattered throughout her quaint dwelling leaving me very little room to navigate; however, I make it to the back room without destroying any of her valuable merchandise, and I sit before a blank television screen for five hours, afraid to even shift my chair an inch, listening to the golden girls, my grandmother and her sister-in-law, discuss life as they have viewed it. (Albeit, their discourse is lucid and exceedingly interesting.)
At eight o’clock, my great aunt turns on the television to watch a made-for-television movie based on a novel by Danielle Steele. Of course, I am unable to go anywhere, so I resolve to accept my destiny and watch the kitsch romantic fable rich with aesthetically pleasing characters who live simple, pastoral lives wherein true love (an oxymoron) always wins. But the movie stars Lee Horsley and his romantic counterpart, whose name escapes me, is really pretty so that although my mind is being fed rubbish, my ocular senses are stimulated.
The next day, my parents and I travel to Laredo, and we cross the Mexican border while my grandmother stays and visits her sister-in-law. Laredo is about a zillion miles from Corpus Christi through the hinterland, and until that trip, I had thought the longest span of time measured in consecutive, aggravating minutes was spent traveling by car from Macon to Augusta, Georgia; however, the drive from Corpus Christi to Laredo is longer by two millennia. Talk about a level, treeless tract of land! It seems like there is nothing above eye level but birds and sky, and I could see infinity. A few signs name nearby towns, but unlike small towns in middle-Georgia, where the towns are spaced about every twenty miles or so, these towns are spaced apart by hundreds of miles.
Each side of the road has a macadamized lane to its right, and this lane is used by cars that are going faster. The vehicles with greater velocity pass safely on the right! Of course, we only encounter two other automobiles on the highway the entire drive, fourteen schpeillion hours of mesmerizing asphalt, and it is rather embarrassing when we are passed by a roadrunner. This occurs as we span Agua Dulce, a small dried-up creek with an optimistic yet belying name.
Incidentally, I always thought that roadrunners were much bigger with long, thin necks, purple plumage, and that they were constantly being pursued by coyotes using faulty ACME products.
I didn’t see a coyote.
The majority of the radio stations, when we could pick them up, were Spanish-speaking broadcasts. At the time, I was illiterate in Spanish, but the rhythmic music created a pleasant diversion, and by the time we entered the city, I could use three phrases: “Nuevo y mejorado,” “Solamente por un tiempo limitado,” and “Baterias no incluidas”:
new and approved, for a limited time only,
batteries not included.
In my eyes, Laredo is a mysterious place, probably made more enigmatic because I realize that we are near an unseen, man-made boundary over which chosen few can cross because of a fear propagated by the leaders of our society who condemn those who are not direct descendants of the first people who aggressively took possession of the land from the aboriginal people, namely, the political and religious adventurers who survived the Mayflower and other myriad ocean journeys from Europe.
Our leaders have tightened control over whom they allow to enter the land of the free, but they’ve justified this paradox by proudly proclaiming that their actions result from the duty and responsibility of National Security, to protect citizens from potential danger.
Of course, the reality stems from the ridiculous fear that their ridiculous wealth would be aggressively, and sans remorse, taken by countless of unfortunate people who live day-to-day from hand-to-mouth. Every one of our country’s leaders is a millionaire, and there is no possible way she would ever sacrifice her current ludicrously opulent lifestyle for the betterment of an overwhelming majority. The beauty of her greed is that her Life’s journey has been corrupted by the pursuit of wealth, a possession unworthy of possession. There are few things more beautiful than a sunset or a hug from a child.
These same leaders feel it is in their best interest to control a migration into the land from outsiders they’ve given the equivocal name barbarian because the thusly labeled barbaric people may be as aggressive and destructive as our nations’ forefathers who callously and forcefully took the land away from autonomous native tribes that were decimated by European survivors of the Black Plague, the same land once roamed, but never possessed, by the same thwarted aboriginals.
[Keep in mind, please, that I began writing this manuscript in 1996, when Bill Clinton, of whom I am no big fan, was president. Although he’s ignorantly and callously exasperated the crisis, Trump did not create the border conflict.]
We park the van a few blocks from the bridge that spans the Rio Grande, and we park next to, what else? A catholic church. We then go through the border patrol station and onto the bridge. The river is surprisingly small, and I say this because, at this section of the river, I am thinking that it doesn’t seem much of a barrier to overcome if I were trying to unlawfully enter the land of riches... I mean, if I could walk and all.
There are many pedestrians on both sides of the bridge walking almost as slowly as the illimitable tractor-trailer rigs’ inching their prospective ways to their respective destinations on both sides of the border. We arrive on the other side of the bridge, but a set of stairs leads down to a tunnel over which the noisy traffic chaotically dances, then another set of steps leads back up to street level, and there was no elevator! After pondering a moment, my father gives hand signals to one of the truck drivers who allows me to be lowered from the sidewalk down to the street, about ten inches. I am now nuzzled between two semis, sucking their exhaust fumes, and I slowly make my way across the bridge into Mexico then back safely on the sidewalk.
We are in old Mexico, the original land of enchantment, and it seems like a carnival, so many colors and people, but the one thing that really stands out in my mind, other than the pageantry, is the poverty. Within the first few blocks of the Mexican border town of Nuevo Laredo, the shops, galleries, and restaurants all looked festive, but not four blocks away are dilapidated structures inside which entire large families live. It is really quite disturbing to realize that although my family and I are considered middle class in our society, these people probably look at us as if we are members of the aristocratic elite, an status they can never hope to obtain for themselves. Severe poverty and the ridiculously cheap price for tequila... yes, these things stick in my mind about the few hours we spent just inside the Mexican border.
At about three o’clock, we decide to head back to Corpus Christi. This will be the only time I will have seen my Aunt Iva, but while we are in Corpus Christi we visit the state’s aquarium; we visit a well-manicured ocean park, see many other interesting sights, and eat at magnificent restaurants. All in all, it is a very special trip. My grandmother spends quality time with her sister-in-law, and I get to travel west of the Mississippi.
On the way back to Columbus, Georgia, the Fountain City, we stop for a night in New Orleans, which I enjoy illimitably, but one evening in the Crescent City is nowhere near enough about which to write, so I’m looking forward to another trip there.
[End of Part I of this chapter]