Reunited 2018

Our Memorial Day weekend this year doubled as a family reunion. This story also contains some theft and possible arson but those are just footnotes. The common thread between us was the mitochondrial DNA of the Willis Clan as passed on by a lady known as Mother, Grandma, Great Mother, and, I believe, Jimmie for some reason.

She is a bold woman who had the audacity to give birth to five children. These children got later married and procreated. The second round of offspring learned nothing from the first (which is the primary problem with humans) and after many years the number of people gracing this earth associated with the original Willis female now numbers near sixty. Almost all of them gathered together on the banks of the Tennessee River to take one epic photograph and to fill the rest of the time with medium talk and Bloody Marys (Maries?, Mary’s?, English is a tough language).

Medium talk is a step above small talk in case you were wondering. I don’t need you distracted by trying to decipher “medium talk”. Let’s continue.

First, the theft.

As luck would have it, my name and phone number where associated with the registration of one of the rooms. Most of my relatives were staying at this hotel including our guest of honor; Great Mother. Just as everyone arrived and we were beginning to settle in to our morning Vodka with tomato juice I got a phone call.


Lady Voice: Mr. Underdaddy?

UD: Yes. This is he. Him. Uh, me.

Lady Voice: This is Darla from the front desk.

UD: Okay. Can I help you with something?

Darla: Well… Someone from your party borrowed a wheelchair to transport a lady to the parking area. Those wheelchairs are not supposed to leave the premises.

UD: I see. That sounds like a problem.

I scan the perimeter and notice that Great Mother is sitting in a shiny new wheelchair. One that I am certain she didn’t have the day before.

Darla: The problem is that we are getting close to lunchtime and we usually have guests who need that wheelchair during lunch. We need it back.

UD: I understand. I’m sure it will be returned very soon.

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It is the dollar store version of a wheelchair if we are being honest. 


We tried later to gather for a family picture. It was incomplete but most of the family made it into the frame. Everyone was saying cheese and looking into the camera when someone noticed a slight flame peeking out from under the lid of the gas grill. Turns out that Dangraddy’s Rubbed Beef Butt had become the victim of a grease fire. Not to fear because GJ dashed a small bottle of water into the flames. The flaming grease flushed under the grill and started to burn near the top of the propane bottle. Sadly, there was no massive propane explosion. The pictures would have been epic.

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Or everyone would have died in a blaze of glory. The scraps of someones cellphone would have recorded our last moments which would look something like this…

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The best part about gathering everyone together was having time that was free for all the cousins to play together. Creating the family bond is important and life tends to let us drift apart and tatters the threads that hold us together. It may be several years before we gather again but the memories will hold us over.

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Everyone got to ride the boat. All the children got to ride Super Mable. My child jumped off of the inner tube in the path of an oncoming barge. That was fun.

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Aunt Ebee made sure the kids were entertained with plastic balls and glow sticks. They had a pool too.

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Working for dinner.

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Smelled like delicious.

We had a stew dinner the first night. During the day, everyone took turns stirring the stew so it wouldn’t burn to the bottom of the black kettle. A small group was perpetually gathered around the stew in a fellowship of cooking smells and tidbit stories. Trading the large wooden paddle to the next cook in line when their arms got tired. The stew was delicious and as we sat together to eat it with our small Styrofoam bowls I couldn’t help but think about a conversation I had the week before. Apparently the banks of the Tennessee River have been a popular gather place for hundreds of years. Native Americans would gather in large groups and eat mussels as part of large family events. The discarded pile of shells would eventually be covered by soil from river floods and buried in the earth. As the river erodes side to side across the valley, these piles of shells appear and slide down the banks. I think it is neat to realize that there is a universal comfort in food and family. And spending time together.

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On the last day the kids enjoyed a color run. White T-shirts and colored chalk powder has never been so fun.

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The camping chairs and overcast skies were a nice setting for a lazy afternoon.

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Fun with glow sticks and some fashion.

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The threat of rain never caused an issue for us but lots of rain fell in other parts of the state so by the time everyone was going home the river was on the rise.

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It feels like these two guys are related somehow. 

We sat on the back deck reflecting on our big event coming to a close. Time passes too quickly and the warm feeling of family is something I would have enjoyed for several more days if I could. My heart broke for my girls who had to say goodbye to their new friends. They exchanged emails and one autographed rock with a heart drawn in Sharpie.

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Fun fun fun!

Great Mother had quietly retired from the party earlier that day as well. This past year has been a tough one for her and one of the motivators for the reunion was the question around how much time she may have left. She spent her life as such a strong woman that it is hard to see her in such a state of dependence. It feels like a final lesson from a thorough teacher.

When I think about her passing into this new phase of life I think of a quote from the movie Nanny McPhee that captures all of my feels about Grandma.

“When you need me but do not want me, I must stay… When you want me but no longer need me, I must go…”

If you cherish the happy moments in life while feeling the shadow of bittersweet memories, this post is for you. You’re welcome. Nothing is forever so we enjoy our moments in the sun. I love you crazy people. And remember… Next year VEGAS!

-Underdaddy to the rescue.

 

 

 

Sliding Into Summer

Summer has arrived. Spring crept along at a snail’s pace but the sun is in full force and school is out. Here we go.

This might be the laziest beer brand ever. Frio means cold in Spanish. This beer is named Cold Light. Did they have a bag of adjectives and some fermented juice and think “Wow, we could start a cheap brand of beer and revolutionize the industry.” Who tries to be cheaper than Natty Light? Frio Light, that’s who.

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I don’t trust anything that is only 67 cents per can. Except whole kernel corn. 

We went to a Painting with a Twist. For those of you living under a rock, PWAT is a class where everyone paints the same picture and has the option of getting hammered on booze at the same time. Somehow our trees look like we were actually sober. (We were.) It was a lot of fun. My tree wanted to have an angry face so I gave it one. Supermom says we can’t hang them over the bed now. We are going back in June for Jane’s birthday gift and I hope we paint a unicorn or a dragon. Or a unidragon. Hell yeah, Unidragon it is.

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An angry face really changes the whole tone. 

Lady Bug is way overdue for some river fun. She is having dreams about riding around behind the boat with her Daddy. She even drew this picture. Luckily, summer has arrived (as I pointed out earlier) and we have a date with the river next weekend. In fact, my father’s entire side of the family has a standing invite to gather at the river and reunite with each other. We have boosted state tourism dollars from the mass migration of our family coming to visit. Be there or be square. And to all my family, take good notes and photos because there will be a couple of blogs dedicated to this one.

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First glance I though she drew me peeing out of a second story window.  It wouldn’t be the strangest thing. 

One of the best professors at the University of Tennessee was a structural engineering teacher named Edwin Burdette. He passed away this week. I didn’t have a lot of interaction with him and he didn’t necessarily affect my life in a profound way but I remember his skill. He took lessons on steel and concrete and explained it in such a logical way that you really felt like genius. Like he was explaining how to count to five. Some people work really hard to show you how smart they are. Others work really hard to show you how smart you are. Thank you Dr. Burdette for being the second type.

But don’t show up late. God have mercy on your mortal soul if you showed up late.

There is a great article at on his career at cee.utk.edu.

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Screenshot from Facebook. Not my work. (Obviously, I can only do angry trees. See above)

One of my friends shared a painting of Dr. Burdette that was pretty fantastic too.

Credit for the painting  -> Bobbiecrews.com

One of the last projects that Prima completed in school this year was a research into states of the United States. The drawing below is supposed to be Virginia. That thing on the side is Washington D.C. Personally, I think she nailed it.

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Wonder what Ben&Jerrys would name this one?

In a small country store I found a confusing bag of treats. There were no normal chips to go with my thick sliced turkey-egg-and-cheese sandwich. Only this Hip Hop + Junk Food collaboration. They tasted pretty good. They smelled like a warm fart in a bag of ranch seasoning. I want to know what bold Potato Industry Executive brought up the idea. Well played.

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Rolling down the street smoking Indo, snacking on Migos chips. Laid back. With my mind on my Migos and my Migos on my mind. 

If you are ready for all the adventures of summer then this post is for you. You’re welcome.

-Underdaddy to the rescue.

 

Mothers Day Musing 2018

Sense of humor. A trait that varies between people.

Mine would fall under dark and sarcastic most of the time. I enjoy a good irony too.

In honor of Mother’s Day I thought I would share a story that my mother would enjoy.

My mother is a life-long dog owner. Her central fur baby at the moment is a squirrely-eyed Australian Blue Heeler Cattle something-or-other named Ellie. Ellie is a sweetheart and a smart herd dog. She can bring goats around and separate specific goats from the herd on command. In her leisure time Ellie loves chewing on stuffed animals. She doesn’t chew them as much as eviscerate them in a violent shaking rage but first she does something rather peculiar; she removes their eyes.

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Monkey no see monkey no do. 

Every. Single. One.

The fact that she starts with the eyes disturbs me for some reason. The idea that she doesn’t want them to see the horrors they are about to endure. Some real Jeepers Creepers kind of stuff.

Now as you can imagine, feeding a habit of stuffed animals is not cheap. If Ellie eats the eyes of one hapless victim each week then she will need fifty two sacrifices to satisfy her bloodlust. Buying brand new stuffed animals would be a big commitment. Luckily, there is a place that supplies this habit at a reduced rate. Goodwill.

That is where the real hilarious part starts for me.

I remember cleaning out things from our garage a few years ago. We had a large box full of stuffed animals that we needed to send away. The sentimental attachment was too strong to allow us to just throw them away. We felt that our children had enjoyed these toys and loved them and that maybe they still held the power of love for some other, less fortunate children. So… we donated them to Goodwill.

I think of Toy Story and the fear and trepidation that toys experience moving from one home to another. Imagine if the Velveteen Rabbit had been donated to Goodwill only to be brought home to a cute cuddly dog who promptly ripped out his eyes and scattered his stuffing all around the living room.

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Love is blind.

It made me giggle. That’s where my humor lives.

And you know who gave me that?

My mom. Happy Mother’s Day!!!

To all the moms out there. This one is for you. You’re welcome. Thanks for putting up with the rest of us.

-Underdaddy to the rescue.

Sir Phillip, Et al.

I have been slacking on my duties. I have skipped a couple of opportunities to inform everyone that we have suffered a loss. Sir Phillip Ondeez, our pet squirrel, died in his sleep last Wednesday. He had been acting strange in the days before his death. I thought it was because of mating season because he seemed agitated and his nuts were enormous. He may be the first squirrel in history to die from blue ball syndrome. I briefly considered fixing him up some sort of stuffed animal girlfriend or other stress relief method but I felt that crossed a personal line of the bro-code. I laid out some pecans and hoped that he would be happy with the treat. After a day, I noticed that the pecans hadn’t moved. Very odd.

I tried to lure him out with my usual conversation but nothing moved inside his house. Not good.

I prepared Supermom for the news and dumped out his nest. He was buried in the strips of felt fabric, perpetually frozen in a curled-up napping pose. Dead as a doornail. So… we had an impromptu squirrel funeral before starting on Quesadilla night festivities.

Is that where our animal craziness stopped for the week? No. Of course not.

Bindi is growing and doing well. Except for the other night. Supermom decided that with our warmer weather it might be good to let Bindi wander around the back yard and stretch her legs. For the first five minutes it seemed like a good idea.

Then it went something like this:

Wallabies are two legged hairy T-Rex deer. They are wild prey animals who have strong instincts to run and/or die. When the fresh air of freedom touched her primitive nostrils, she forgot anything and anyone she had ever known. Supermom and I, her parents, became monstrous carnivores who wanted to eat her flesh. She began running circles around the backyard and breathing heavily. The more we tried to herd her to the back door the more she rebelled. We set up some obstacles to force her into a safe space. She ran headlong into the fence, slid across the concrete, and careened off the rabbit cage. She became overheated and started licking her arms in an effort to cool down. We eventually resorted to locking the dogs in a bedroom and leaving the backdoor open until she wandered back inside. At that point, her mind returned. Somewhat.

She was breathing heavily and showing the early signs of shock. Wallabies use their blood sugar in quick bursts of energy and sustained stress causes them to go into shock. The first step is to get them something with sugar. She had no interest in milk (a bad sign) and would not drink water. I did manage to get her to eat some honey which was helpful but she was twitching from panic. Our handy-dandy, how-to-keep-a-wallaby-alive guidebook said that shock “is often fatal” and “requires treatments of Diazepam” to bring things under control.

Hmmm. Our zombie deer needs Xanax because she is traumatized by Bermuda grass and may die for no reason at all.

Fan-fucking-tastic.

What now? Do I drive downtown and look for a questionable looking person on the street corner and try to score some totem poles for my wallaby? Dear authors of the handbook, suggesting controlled substances for an exotic pet is not practical.

Unless it is… I remembered that our youngest had a seizure several years ago. Part of the preparedness was a suppository gel that was comprised of petroleum jelly and Diazepam. I checked the back of our cluttered cabinet and sure enough the unused colon cannon was just waiting to calm something down. I broke open the box, adjusted the dosage dial to “Zen Buddhism”, and shot her mouth full of the calming rectal medication. I had the brief thought that the gel component may be harmful and the not-so-brief thought that I didn’t care at that point.

Bindi smacked her lips for a good five minutes and her breathing slowed down. She slumped into a pile. I didn’t know if she was dying or super-duper high. I think the second one. I am happy to report that she did live and is back to her old self.

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Bro… Thats some killer stuff. 

If anything, her brush with death has given her a bitter edge. She no longer takes any chances with the dogs and even surprised Jasper with a well-placed missile drop-kick a few days ago. I heard a commotion and looked over just in time to see her kick him across the room with both back feet while standing on her hands. Ninja moves. He smacked the wall and looked confused for a second before walking away to find something better to do.

Jasper deserved it.. He has been pushing his karmic luck. He found a soft mud spot in the backyard somewhere. On two separate occasions, he has returned to the backdoor looking like a child labor coal miner.

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Doggy jail.

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Pre-bath shame.

If you have had a tough couple of weeks from things like Xanaxing your pets, this post is for you. You’re welcome. Oh and just in case you missed it, our girls identified a new holiday on our family schedule board. April 25th is now “Take a Dump Day”.

Holidays

-Underdaddy to the rescue.

Bullfrogs

Nothing can spin your moral compass faster than the protective instinct of parenting. We are dealing with another round of bullying at school and hearing about turns me into a seething ball of anger. Holding my composure around my daughters is even tougher.

I sat down at dinner the other night with the daughter who is having the problems. She was acting tough or maybe it was just a disconnection from the day.

“I heard you had a tough day at school.”

“Yeah”, she said without looking up.

I prodded further, “Some kids being jerks?”

Tears welled up in her eyes and she set down the book she was reading. “I just don’t understand it.” A tear from her right eye rolled down over her cheek and was followed by one on the left. “They threw a ball into some weeds and asked me to get it. I got muddy and the other girls laughed. ALL of the boys are muddy everyday but no one laughs at them.” She leaned over on me and her shoulders slumped. I knew she had been waiting for Daddy for support.

“What else did they do?”

“I tried to throw the ball back to the group but it was wet and it went way left. It slipped out of my hand. One of the girls called me stupid and another said, ‘Throw it again. Make the dog fetch’.”

I could hear how wounded she felt in her voice. I could see the scene of kids gathered around having fun picking at the lone target. A girl who was too wrapped up in fairies and fantasy to realize she was walking into a trap.

“Then they smashed my fairy house I was making.”

She likes to pile up rocks and decorate them with moss to make a fairy house. I could picture this scene too. “Who smashed it?” I asked.

“My friend told one of the boys to do it. And they walked over and jumped on it and kicked it around.”

“Your friend? That doesn’t sound like a friend.”

“She was my friend. She was just being mean with the other girls. I don’t know what I did to them.” She looked at her empty hands. Searching for some reason.

My heart ached in my chest. What can I do? I can love her beyond words. I can be her friend at home and on the weekends. I am lost at how to make things better at school. I feel tears building in the corner of my eyes. Hot angry tears.

I know what I want to tell her. I want to tell her to pick the biggest one and completely lose her shit in a tornado of rage. Bite them in the face. Poke an eye. Smash and burn everything they have ever loved into a powder. Light fires. Raze the landscape and leave nothing but scorched earth in your wake. Make those little bastards pay. Put fear into the hearts of men and all of those who would be your enemy. Take no prisoners.

I take a breath. The instinct passes quickly. I would never tell her those things and it wouldn’t matter anyway. That isn’t who she is.

I’m a little more “Old Testament” kind of guy. I was the kid who would get hit with a spit-wad and return fire with a chair. My daughter wants to enjoy animals and talk about funny things. She loves reading magic stories and watching old movies. I can’t imagine a better friend in the world and hopefully she doesn’t let the mob mentality of a few 5thgrade dumbasses change her.

I put my arm around her and sit for a minute. I need to say something but it all feels empty. “I’ll talk with the principal. It may help. It may not. Don’t ever for a second think that you will be in trouble for standing up for yourself. If you feel threatened or in danger, fight with everything you have. Once you decide to fight… don’t stop until someone makes you. People go after easy targets because they are assholes. That never changes. This will get better, one way or the other. Most bullies are just bullfrogs. They sit around their little pond and croak at whatever walks by.”

“Okay Daddy…”

I’m not the guy who cries wolf at every little problem. I feel like society at large is quick to label things as bullying. I was teased by friends occasionally but I don’t feel it counts as bullying. I did my share of teasing too but I don’t think it crossed that line. My daughter’s scenario is different. The actions are petty but constant. It can be difficult to decide if “kids being kids” or there is a persistent trend that needs intervention. Most of the kids who bully are dealing with a challenge from some other part of their lives. Some of them are just shitty human beings. When it is your child who is bearing the brunt of their actions, you really don’t care which is which.

We are going to work through this. Things are quieter at the moment. Summer is approaching so we will have a few months to rebound and several of the problem children are claiming they are transferring school districts for next fall. Fingers crossed.

I went to eat lunch at the school in a show of support and I met a few of the kids. They didn’t have fire coming out of their ears or horns on their heads. They were just stupid kids who didn’t seem to have much direction. They certainly weren’t prestigious enough to be passing judgement on anyone. One of them might actually be part bullfrog. Considering it may me laugh out loud.

Part of my visit was to try and see if my daughter was truly alone in her struggle. She did have one friend who seemed to have her back. The girl was holding half of a pair of scissors when I met her. I asked, “How well do those scissors work?”

“Just fine. They ain’t for cutting paper anyway…”

She then started to sharpen a pencil she was holding in her other hand. She stared blankly into the lunchroom crowd and let the shavings fall into her plate. I leaned over to my daughter, “It’s a good thing this one is on your side.”

“I know right. She is kind of scary but I like her. She doesn’t like people being mean to other people either. I teach her about animals and Greek Mythology.”

“Sounds like a good friend. Buy her an ice cream every now and then. I’ll pay for it.”

“Okay.”

Bears don’t mess with wolverines because the fight ain’t worth the crazy. I’m glad my daughter has a wolverine.

If you deal with any of this crap from time to time, this post is for you. You’re welcome. Bullying is complete crap. Be a friend and a safety net. That’s really the only advice I have.

-Underdaddy to the rescue.