Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die – Part II

This post was half written a couple of months ago as a direct follow-up to Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die – Part I, just before I fell ill and lost part of my hearing. If you notice any jumps between past and present tenses, that’s probably why. 

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After Dad’s memorial service ended, the family packed up into our respective cars and drove off to get a late afternoon lunch at a local Mexican food joint that our dad was always fond of, where my brother, mom, and I got to sit down to a big lunch with the half of the family that we’d only had rare connections with for such a long time, ever since the divorce of our parents and all the drama that tends to go with that sort of event. My dad’s brothers, my uncles Warren and Ken were great through the process of helping Alex and I navigate through the heart-breakingly surreal experience of losing a parent, and getting to see how all of our younger cousins had grown up and become people we could hold conversations with was pretty cool, too. I really wish I’d gotten more pictures of the family together, but I never really think of using my camera for moments of sentiment, so much as to capture dumb things I see and find funny. (Got one of those coming up, actually!) In the spirit of my the bawdy Ward sense of humor which is our trademark, I couldn’t help finding the apparently filthy sense of humor behind the maker of the restaurant’s menu and figuring this might have been part of the appeal that the place probably held with the Ward part of my brain. It was probably stuff like the “Dirty Sanchez” burrito that attracted Dad eat there so often.

The lunch came and went and the family parted ways, as Alex and I had to get back to Kentucky so he wouldn’t miss work. On the way  back though, Alex and I took a small detour through the town of Macon Georgia, where we were both born and only have a small selection of memories from. As the ride went on, Alex and I began speculating ideas for shit we thought would be funny to do with Dad’s ashes. Coming up with horrible ideas such as driving up beside our Mom in her Prius, opening the urn, scooping out a handful of Dad, and firing it across her windshield. It’s not that my mom and dad didn’t get along. They had made some form of peace over the last couple of years after my dad had decided to stop fucking up, but as I feel is probably likely with any divorced couple who stays in contact for one reason or another, the sometimes it can be fun to get on your ex’s nerves. After the divorce and my dad’s absence from our lives, they made peace when he came back, even becoming friendly with one another, albeit with slight undertones of friendly antagonism. Dad, much like myself, was a needler. If he could find a way to give the people he cared about shit and make it funny, he’d move a mountain to do it.

We also talked about mixing some of my dad’s remains into a batch of weed and bringing Willie Nelson’s prophecy to life. I recently took “my Dad” into an open mic night at a local comedy club, intending to put his urn in a chair on stage and perform a short roast, (which went comically horrible and will make up its own chapter in this story later on) and smuggled his ashes into the movie theater to see the new Jackass: Bad Grandpa movie in tribute to dad’s fascination with Johnny Knoxville and dudes getting paid to injure their testicles.

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So, we’ve come up with a few loose plans for funny things to do with Dad’s remains while we keep him around, some of which we’ve already enacted, others of which, we’re planning to space out across the remainder of the year. The point of these little exercises in morbidity are to spend some time giving the man a fun little ride that would be just fucked up enough to be something he would have appreciated. We’ve come up with a couple of ideas that we think would be pretty hilarious, but I don’t want to spoil them just yet. Overall, I’m thinking if I take enough pictures and document the experiences here, it might make for a pretty funny book. The ultimate plan in doing all of this will culminate in an extended cross-country road trip to discover our dad’s final resting place. I’m thankful for the growth of a relationship that happened between my dad and my brother in the last year of his life. Dad and I never quite got that chance, but the way that Alex tells it, he and dad had a conversation on one of his long, quiet trips across the country, driving trucks for J.B. Hunt, where he marveled over the phone about the massive, beautiful view of the ocean on a high shore in a place called Ilwaco, Washington. Dad had apparently at one point, mentioned in passing, the idea of being cremated and having his ashes scattered there. I don’t know if he was ever seriously thinking about this, and neither Alex, nor myself have ever been to Ilwaco, but the plan is to get in the car and begin the long drive across America to cause trouble and scatter our dad and give him the kind of deranged send off he’d have appreciated.

Stay tuned!

 

The Weight Of A Story

The process of researching my past that’s gone into The Long Odds has provided me a measure of catharsis. In the last month, I’ve spent time researching the whereabouts of my own grave, contacting the doctor who first diagnosed my heart defect (who thought I might have died years ago) , and getting all sorts of emails from old friends I hadn’t heard from in years when that Courier Journal article hit. It’s come to put into perspective the weight of my personal story, which is something I’ve been telling so often over the last 26 years of my life that the story had just become words to me. Something that I would tell people who were just getting to know me, or telling to government officials that I might be talking to on behalf of the American Heart Association. You know how a powerful word or set of words can lose it’s meaning upon too many repetitions?  That’s how my story had begun to feel to me, and for a guy who’s been working to become a career storyteller, that’s not the best thing in the world. The experience of writing all of it out has begun to bring back the power and gravity of everything that I’ve always known, but I guess, somewhat forgotten.

I started learning the importance and the weight that a story can hold at the age of four years old, when my mother, who was desperate to find some way to save my young life and only had a matter of years to do so, began working for the AHA as a volunteer and advocate. She used to be a very nervous public speaker until she began getting out there on the stump on my behalf.  Slowly, after a number of times with telling my story to crowds of people through a stream of tears, she became more confident in the story she told and the power of what she’d had to say. Not long after that, with my mom’s permission, began using me as their poster child for CHD research. I thought it was pretty cool, even if I only had a limited understanding of what exactly was going on.

Now that I’m spending time in my old hometown for a little while, I went to our storage locker a few blocks away from my brother’s apartment to go through some of my old things and see if I could find any old things that could be used to enrich what I’m doing here and I found a whole box full of old AHA campaign fliers from over 20 years ago which centered on my mom and myself. I brought a couple home and scanned them to share here.

What was interesting about finding a huge box full of these cards and fliers was how four year old me, in the world full of medical uncertainty I was born into, and then to see it juxtaposed against the image and words of this flier from four years later…

(The learning to ride a bicycle part? Never really took to that. Still can’t stay balanced on one of those damn things, no matter how I try.)

My time with AHA has continued and increased in the time since both of these pieces were printed. After spending my years growing up letting my mom tell her version of our story and ultimately being the champion of everything that got me where I am today. I got my sense of never giving up from her, no question. I couldn’t be more grateful for the lessons that she, and by extension my work for the AHA has afforded me. In the years since I started out as a poster child for AHA, I’ve gone on trips with them to Washington DC on numerous occasions where I have spoken to members of US Senate, Congress, as well as loads of other government officials on heart related issues for the states of Kentucky and Connecticut where I have held residence. Last year, I actually helped get a law signed in Connecticut that made Pulse Oxymetry screenings mandatory for all newborns in the state. All of that happened on the back of stories like my own and the stories of parents like my mother who spoke on behalf of their small children who would likely have passed away if not for Pulse Ox screenings.

I’m here to tell stories. Whether they are works of slice-of-life fiction like Love Buzz and The Zipper Club, biographical stuff like The Long Odds, or some of the more floaty, weird shit that I’ve been pitching lately with my agent (More on that soon, hopefully).

That my friends, is the importance of story. Everybody has one. Some of us might think they’re more boring or uneventful than others, but I don’t buy that. Unless you’ve lived tied to a chair in a dark room all your life, you have to have done something interesting with your life. Sure, life is boring about 95% of the time. I spend the majority of my time sitting on my ass in front of a computer screen all day. It’s that other 5% of the time that gives us something to talk about. You have to have the awareness to spot the “stories” in your life when they unfold.

Odds are, you’re more interesting than you might think.