Moving On

Some people say that you should live every day like it is your last.

That is a terrible idea. I would probably rob a bank, steal a car, buy fountain drinks at Sonic and a full tank of gas and drive until the sun went down while listening to all my favorite music and hitting mailboxes that looked fragile enough to explode dramatically into a million wooded splinters and a flash of junk mailers. It would be a flame-out rockstar ending. Thelma and Louise but with one middle-aged bald guy driving a stolen Corvette through a local park and ending up on the Channel Five news.

There is a country song about living like you are dying which is similar to the first idea except you have more time for experiencing consequence and righting the wrongs of your life. There is an end but there is time. Saying you’re sorry to people you’ve hurt or visiting the redwood forest in California before global warming creates a mega-wildfire and burns all those hippies to the ground. Maybe Nevada will get a contact high on their heathen, marijuana-laden ashes that will no doubt coat the streets of Reno. This approach to life also requires you to ignore the routine or inane things in your life in favor of experience and connection. It is solid advice but doesn’t make space for the day-to-day nuance that defines life.

After this week, I have a third ideology to offer. Live like you are moving soon. You throw away excess junk. Clean small messes immediately. Make more thoughtful purchases. Save money better and don’t buy frivolous things like the newest cat therapy back scratcher combo toy. You don’t get distracted with side projects because you have a well-defined goal; to move. The house is empty and cleaner than most times. You are free of all the lingering shit stacked on shelves and crammed into the top drawer.

I feel so free.

Go forth and live like you have to move very soon. Expect for dishes. Leave extra dishes.

You’re welcome.

Underdaddy to the rescue!

iMortal

The other night around bedtime we heard a sobbing sound from the girl’s bedroom. In a moment, our oldest was standing in our doorway holding her arms around herself in tearful and uncertain pose. She came and sat on the end of my bed and we had an interesting conversation. I’m certain that I have had similar conversations and probably even similar blog posts but since this is 50% therapy and 50% archive-for-my-children, I will share this one too.

This was our exchange:


Jane: What happens when we die?

UD: (Yay! This topic again!) Why are you worried about this?

I don’t want you and mommy to die. I don’t want to be without you.

Well, with a little luck you won’t have to worry about that for a good while.

But what do you think happens? Tell me the truth.

The truth… The truth is that no one knows. Everyone has a theory but I haven’t talked to anyone who has died and lived to tell the tale. 

I’m serious.

I’m serious too. I have no idea. I think we are so afraid of death because we fear the unknown. The uncertain. People have lots of different ideas and they hold tight to those ideas because that is what gives them comfort. It makes them less afraid.

Are you afraid to die?

Absolutely. I love my life. I love you girls. I don’t want to leave anytime soon but one day I will. My job is to make sure you can carry on with your life when I do. 

I don’t want to be without you.

I know and in a lot of ways you won’t be

What do you mean?

I don’t know how to make you feel better but I have an idea. Let’s talk about something else for a minute and see if that helps.

Okay.

Let’s talk about the way life works on a really small, basic level.

Okay.

Life and living things are really interesting because they made up of cells.

(she raises an eyebrow) I know about cells. We learned about them in school.

Good. Then you know that inside every cell are the instructions for how that cell is made. Think about how cool that is. Every single cell contains the instructions to build a copy of itself. In fact, if you are more than seven years old most of your cells have died but before they did they were replaced with an exact copy. You are made of completely different cells than you were seven years ago. Even your brain. It happens continuously.

That’s kind of strange. Are you saying I’m a different person?

No. Just the opposite. I’m saying that who you are can exist through the most dramatic of changes because you are more than any one cell. You are this continuous thing that is constantly getting damaged and updating and repairing itself. Do you follow what I am saying so far?

I think so.

The things that make you and me are different from things that are not alive. A rock will always be the same rock. Seven years down the road, same molecules. Same rock. A rock can’t have children it can only become smaller rocks. 

What about fossils?

That is the last change that something living experienced before it disappeared into a rock. Like a 3D photograph using chemistry and… that is getting off topic. Let’s take this DNA idea one step further. Every piece of your instructions inside your cells came from life before you. I didn’t just appear out of nowhere. It was inherited. That’s why we can do the ancestry tests and see where our ancestors came from. Our DNA passes forward.

But I am from you and mommy. Do I have both of your DNA?

Yes. Well sort of. 

Like, all of it?

No. We passed you about half of each of our DNA. DNA gives us our body shape and eye color. It can pass the same moles or a funny looking toe. It’s all part of the evolutionary-biology thing. But you can pass other things forward. We can inherit things from other people. 

Like what?

Like your opinions. Your humor. Your smile. A love of Mel Brooks movies or watching thunderstorms on a warm summer evening. You can inspire a passion for animals and a contempt for injustice. I hear myself saying things exactly like granddaddy does. Your sister looks exactly like your great aunt as a child. You learned to be a smartass just like me and sadly I think your sisters have too. We are constantly having an effect on the world around us. Passing things forward.

Lady Bug talks loud like Papaw.

Exactly, they have their own loud, country redneck language. It is a beautiful thing.

I don’t understand them sometimes.

Me either but you see what I mean. She learned that from interacting with him a lot and it is part of who she is. If something happens to Papaw you will still see him when Lady Bug yells at something that isn’t working properly.

(she laughs) Yeah. Can you tell me a funny Papaw story like the tree story?

Let’s stay on topic. Just for another minute so I can finish this thought. So another little fact about the way DNA passes forward, it is much more likely to pass forward good information instead of damaged information. Reproduction actually helps to repair us as a species. And when we take things from our friends and relatives it is usually things we like and things that make us feel good. Our social network makes us better too.

That is a lot to think about.

I know. It is. But I promise I have a point. Let’s go back to your original fear.

That I don’t want you to die or go away?

Yes. That one. Tell me something… if you are made of the same thing I am made of, if you are built off the same set of instructions, how can you be without me? You are one-half ME. You enjoy the same things I do. We like the same jokes. You can’t be without me if you tried.

I see what you mean.

One day something will happen to me. Hopefully it is a long time away. Like maybe I’m ninety and annoying as hell and you are plotting my death instead of fearing it. 

I won’t do that. I will be really sad.

And that is normal. Being scared of losing people is normal but don’t hang on to the sad. Set it down and keep moving forward. Take the good and the happy and pass it forward.

Like memories and pictures in Coco?

Exactly. There is no clear start or end. We are made up of our past and working together to make the future. Was any of this helpful?

Yes. Thank you Daddy. I feel better.

I feel better too. See… another connection. Now, two things… I love you and get your ass in bed. It’s late.

I love you too.


She went to bed and I sat for a minute pondering my spur-of-the-moment discussion. Was it the right thing to say? I think it was. She seemed content. It gave me peace and some perspective. It made me think of a poem that my cousin shared a few weeks ago and I have included a piece of it below.

“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.

-John Donne, Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, circa. 1624

 


If you have inherited anything through DNA or by everyday exposure, this post is for you. You’re welcome. Share a family trait that you have inherited in the comments.

-Underdaddy to the rescue.

Summer and Goat Balls

Tonight my daughter came into the house holding something tight. Hidden in her palms. A barely contained giggle seeping out of her smiling face.

UD: What are you laughing about?

Jane: I brought you a gift.

UD: Why do I feel like it isn’t a real gift?

Jane: Guess.

UD: Some kind of poop?

Jane: No. It is from an animal though.

Great. Mamaw walked in with a smile. I became very suspicious.

Mamaw: Did she show you her gift?

UD: Not yet.

She hands me a Great Value brand plastic bag with something small and furry inside. It looks like a rabbit’s foot but there are no toes or nails. I think that it looks like the world’s tiniest set of mittens. Something about the roundness and the flat dried circle on the other end told me what is was.

Jane: Do you know what it is?

UD: Looks like a furry ballsack.

Jane: (Beaming) IT IS! IT IS FROM A GOAT! Dad got it right!

UD: Jesus… Why did you bring me a goat scrotum?

Jane: Hahahaha.

Maybe she will be a vet like she says. Playing with dismembered body parts is a good sign right?

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Actual phrase I uttered, “How can I photograph these balls in a good light?” 

So yeah. My kid brought me the shriveled testicles of a farm animal. If that ain’t country, I’ll kiss your ass.


 

We went to another Painting with a Twist to celebrate Jane’s birthday. We got to paint a rainbow unicorn doing The Dab.

 

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Picasso who?


Supermom bribed the children to help clean the playroom. She promised them Sonic drinks if they helped her. I doubt she told them that she wanted Sonic anyway and her plan was to make me go when I got home. We didn’t plan for the severe thunderstorm that rolled in just as we got ready to leave. But that Tiger’s Blood Slush is a bomb-ass refreshment so we risked certain death.

Summer1802


Sometimes efforts to get the children involved spark new action and an initiative to complete small tasks. Sometimes those efforts are misguided although well intended. One of the girls remarked that the new hand soap was very bubbly. So I investigated.

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Who sees the issue?


Supermom met the new cow. We can never eat any part of this cow now. Supermom would be the worst farmer ever. The animals would be fat and happy and we would be near death from a no-doubt terrible crop of vegetables and a crippling inability to murder our pets.

Summer1808

They named it something greek… Hamburgerous Maximus?


Father’s Day was going to be a day of rest. It was my day. I started it off right. Honeybun. Coffee. Netflix documentary on Hiroshima followed by another documentary on Happiness. An odd mix but I grew as a person through each story. The nuclear bomb has created a world of nervous peace and it did that through two truly horrific detonations. The eye witness testimony and stories were heart wrenching because the voice and the narrative had nothing to separate it from a typical day in heartland America. The whole Japanese society was trained to defend their isle to the death. To fight the evil Americans until the bitter end. It was a mindset that existed in every country involved in World War II. The idea that the monster is out there somewhere trying to get in. The real monster was the quiet whisper telling us that we were all different. The bomb revealed a monster beyond what everyone could imagine. I hope we never witness that brand of death on this earth again.

The Happy documentary was interesting because it tells us what we all instinctively know. Money and success don’t fulfill our needs like solid social connection and love. A group of people living in a shack can be just as happy with life as any millionaire in a mansion. It doesn’t stop me from wanting a mansion but it is interesting.

But back to my story. Father’s Day. Documentary. Daughters volunteer to cook me lunch. Pizza and a cold Coca Cola. Hell yes. I went to the kitchen to help place the frozen pizza into the hot oven. Just as I placed it on the baking stone there was an electrical zapping sound under the oven. A bright light burned for a minute and then orange flames began to creep out of the vent slots in the bottom. I got worried and sprayed the flames with a dry chemical extinguisher from under our kitchen sink. It worked. The downside was the heavy coating of white powder all over my kitchen. Happy Father’s Day!

Summer1807

The stone was black. The pizza was exactly the food that I wanted. Stupid bullshit stove.


I hope my children appreciate the things they do voluntarily that other people often cite as a case for poverty. Once again, our summer standard has been all four girls sleeping in a pushed-together pair of twin beds. They insist on sleeping like this and get very upset when I don’t let them.

Summer1805

We are tribal people. 

 


Lady Bug had a birthday and suggested Chuck E Cheese but I am not a huge fan. We opted for Dave and Busters. All of the great games. Tickets for prizes. Booze for Daddy. Everyone wins. We had a great day and won enough for everyone to get a Pokemom stuff animal.

Summer1806


The State of Tennessee has a really great system of parks. Within that system of parks is a junior ranger program that tries to allow children to experience the great outdoors. On Thursdays, our three oldest girls visit a local park and learn life skills from a real Park Ranger. Last week’s skill was hiking so I was picked to accompany the girls because Supermom doesn’t like to sweat and Mamaw doesn’t have “hiking knees”. I enjoyed the hike. Not the mosquitoes or the humidity but the conversations between lots of kids who don’t know each other and are scrambling to establish a social hierarchy in two hours. They say the craziest shit. I’m genuinely worried about our future generations. I want to hand out ranger badges next time but with a secret recorder so I could re-listen to some of the crazy stupid things kids say.

Summer1803

That owl wanted to murder me but Ranger Bridgette wouldn’t let it. Thank you!


While walking a project in town I saw several areas where the asphalt had been broken away to reveal the old brick roadway. I love the layers of history that places accumulate. The stories that they hold.

Summer1804

How cool is that?


We want to build a house. I don’t know why because our kids insist on sleeping in one bed and live like a resident of a tent city in Rwanda. We want enough room to separate everyone during an all out sister fight. And we hope to invite guests to our house someday. We found a house plan we would like.

Summer1810

Now to rob a bank or start a scam for some big bucks.


After my stove burned and my pizza was ruined, we decided to go swimming. Supermom got a new bathing suit and wanted her mom to see it. I took a picture and posted it on Facebook as the fastest route to make sure Noni saw the new outfit. I got in a slight bit of trouble but I think it is misplaced because a) she is a sexy lady and is rocking that 1950’s versus Minnie Mouse style and b) she knows me and this is not above something I would do. I mean the picture of her vacuuming the box springs at 2 am was worse than this one. I should be good.

Summer1809

A rare double unicorn picture.

 


If you have had a slow start to a short summer, this post is for you. You’re welcome. I know we are making memories but they seem small and slowly acquired. I’ll try to do better about getting some stories on here but life is busy and I am poorly motivated at the moment.

 

-Underdaddy to the rescue.

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.

Reun3

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.

WeekendUp2

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.

WeekendUp3

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.

WeekendUp4

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.