Category Archives: Trialing the Ashes

Doubly Sad

Wordsworth said something about poetry being the expression of emotion recollected in tranquility.  That may explain why I am no good at poetry since I am never tranquil.  But the hourglassnotion of recollection does suggest some distance in time between the emotion and its expression.  I don’t think I have that recollected distance yet between the placement of my father’s ashes and the events surrounding it and my present moment still in Charleston sufficient to offer a crafted expression of emotion.

 Still as I drove away a few days ago from the Atlanta airport and off into the Georgia country side I can say I felt a double sadness—like 2 rivers perhaps as they merged into one. Or perhaps two sides to the same coin.  First, at sixty, I felt the passage of the years, the 50 that separate me from my first 10 childhood years growing up in the middle of nowhere in the South Carolina country side.  The nature of my errand itself, with my father’s ashes bouncing around in the trunk, was guaranteed to awaken intimations of mortality. 

Second was the sense registered in the countryside itself of the passing of years.  The place where I grew up, excepting of course the dirt, the trees, and the birds, has gone.  Even in the 10 years since my last visit much more of what I knew has gone missing.  Mr. Byrd’s country store was at least visible beneath a mound of brush, but now the store and Mr. Byrd’s house as well as the old and gnarly oak, upon which I ruminated one day as a child, are just not there having been replaced by a storage area for large tanker trucks.

Other great houses that once stood by the road have also disappeared.  Miss Lizzie and Bell’s house was torn down.  The community center, where I had my fierce earache, looks clearly abandoned and falling into disrepair.  The nurse, whom I visited on my last trip and who administered by first ever enema, now lies in the cemetery of the ARP church.  Miss Cannon, who said I might benefit from piano lessons, is also gone.  The sense of time was accentuated too by my meeting however briefly two people who were childhood friends. 

One, who collected far more bottles from the roadside than I ever did, now owns an Ace Hardware store and has two sons.  Another with whom I rode the bus and who had terrible baby teeth is now a handsome woman with an unblemished smile.  When I noticed she had left the “reception” following the service, I ran out to her car as she and her husband were departing to say how good it had been to see her however briefly.  I think I was a bit inarticulate and that was the only moment I felt “choked up.”

Part of getting old I suspect must involve in varying degrees of intensity a constant grieving.

Plugged Up

I cannot speak for the locals but the southern diet does not appear particularly suited to the promotion of regularity.  I won’t say they do not recognize the existence of green foods but lettuce seems hard to come by.  My first southern meal, for example, down in Georgia consisted of a pork chop, rice and gravy, macaroni and cheese, and a little bowl of turnip greens.  The greens were quite tasty their having been cooked mostly in fat; the one other green food, beans, came sprinkled liberally with bits of bacon.  For desert I had a piece of fried chicken followed by another order of macaroni and cheese.

Breakfasts consist generally of eggs, plus grits sometimes with cheese, plus some meat, bacon or sausage, with biscuits sometimes with gravy, sometimes not.  Indeed, your southerner appears an aggressive meat eater.  A poster for sale read, “There is a place for all God’s creatures great and small—right beside the rice and gravy.”  If theology can be injected into something southerners will do it; the same can of course be said of vegetarians, though they are perhaps more spiritual and less scripturally oriented.

 This diet had the effect of stopping me up.  Though I must say the heat probably had something too to do with this.  One can say properly that the sun “beats down”.  Out walking I have sweated clean through my under garment. I am inclined genetically to be a fierce sweater being of Anglo Saxon extraction and fair skinned.  I did not during the first days properly lubricate.  I cannot, without becoming indelicate, go into detail on this point, but once in an effort to relieve myself of my stoppage, I remembered, this is how Elvis died, and so kept myself from blacking out from my exertions.

 Heat contributed in additional ways.  My bowels tend to be excited by exercise and in this heat exercise is impossible and perhaps unnatural.  The very occasional jogger must be masochistic and were he to jog in the more rural areas he is asking to be taunted or run over.  But I am happy to report that in the more cosmopolitan Charleston, I located a salad, strewn with strips of an excellent fried chicken and that, along with a brisk walk in the cooler evening, has restored me to my natural balance. 

Box

I became obsessed with the possibility that I would not be able to get the old man’s remains boxthrough airport security.  The box they put him in was very heavy and I had been told that sometimes they put the ashes in a metal box and put that in the wooden box and if there was a metal box in the wooden box that security might think I was carrying a bomb.  That freaked me out.  Showing up at the memorial service without the remains of the man of the hour struck me as being like showing up at a wedding without the bride or groom.

So the next time I was flying somewhere I asked airport security about the matter.  And the IQ-less young man there said he could not guarantee that they would go through the security check.  I said I had heard that you could put a quarter under the box and if you could see the quarter with the machine then it would go through.  The IQ-loess young man looked stern and said I was not supposed to know that.

This was not reassuring.  So I phoned the mortuary and they referred me to the crematorium; everybody specializes these days.  They assured me the box was just wood with ashes in it.  But still I didn’t trust anybody by this point.  We had my wife’s father’s ashes too, in a smaller box; and it weighed half of what my father’s box weighed and they were about the same height and weight at the point of expiration.  How could that be.  While talking with the crematorium people, I had my father’s box in my lap and turning it over happened to notice four screws.

 If you want something done right, you have got to do it yourself.  So I unscrewed the screws and took out my father’s ashes that were contained in heavy plastic.  The ashes looked very much like ashes; and I was reassured to see no metal in the box.  But sure enough at the airport, they pulled aside the suitcase with the old man in it and asked me what was in there.  I said it was my father’s ashes and what was the matter and they said they couldn’t see through it.  I said there was no metal in it.

A security guy walked over and took the bag to another security machine.  I saw him slip a quarter under the box which he had taken out of the bag and put in through the machine, and then he put it back in the bag and said I could take it with me.  Thank God.  The problem all along had not been metal, but the simple density of human ashes.

Madison Georgia

As I have said more dead Tingles reside in Georgia than living.  But the living population just increased by 1 since my arrival in Atlanta yesterday.  We, my wife and I—she is a Tingle neither by blood—thank god—or by name—are taking my father’s ashes to be deposited in the grave yard of the Ora ARP church in South Carolina.

ant lionThe old man didn’t talk much about anything, but when he did talk he tended to tell incoherent stories about his childhood.  In a futile attempt to bond with him, I sent him a tape recorder and asked him to talk some of his stories into the machine.  But even on tape they were mostly incoherent hopping from one name or place to another and sliding up and down in time.  But from the tapes clearly life for the old man and his family had not been easy in Georgia.

After the War—the one and only—the Tingles had a considerable establishment near Blount Georgia on the way down to Macon.  Indeed they had a road named after them.  The road now is just red dirt heading into the piney woods.  Back in the woods if you dare go in with all the ticks seven smokestacks can be located, all that’s left of the old place, that served in the late 19th century as home and, if rumors are true, the site for a country store.

But over the years, the law of primogenitor having been set aside,  the family land was progressively divided among the males until by the time my Grandfather came along there wasn’t any left to go around. Consequently, Grandfather Tingle rented land and a house.  I don’t know that he was a sharecropper or if he hired himself out.  But they moved around a lot; one of the places they lived, near Indian Springs, is now under water.  At another, the old man recollects, to keep the rain, wind and cold out, they had to plaster the walls with newspaper stuck up with a mix of flour and water.  One of the places they lived, though, the Asbery House, was preserved, picked up, and moved to a park near Atlanta.  I walked through that house and it was funny to see it just as my father had described.

I don’t know why but at one point they decided go to live in South Carolina after having lived in and around Blount and Woodville Georgia for over a 100 years.  By that time, Grandpa Tingle had acquired a mobile saw mill. Maybe he just liked the stands of pine he saw in SC.  He would go up to the owner of the pines and say he would cut them down and sell them for such and such a percentage, and if the owner was amenable he would do it. 

 Grandpa must have made some money from saw milling because he was able to buy a  few acres. He threw up a house fast, but out of green, uncured wood, so that when the wood did dry out cracks and gaps appeared in the walls and flooring, the latter being particularly useful for cleaning since all you had to do was to sweep the dirt and dust into one of the cracks where over the years it piled up into a fine whitish powder. Little bugs lived in that powder.  They made little holes like a volcano crater or vortex and other bugs would come along and slide down the sides and the little bug would be waiting right down at the bottom to eat them up. Folks in Georgia call them “ant lions,” though I don’t know if that is what they are called in SC in the dust under the crumbling remains of Grandpa’s house.