“I’m taking a trip to North Carolina,” my dad says. “I talked to Ed’s pop and he’d like to go. You and Ed can come.” That sounds uninteresting. I don’t even know that kid and I don’t know how to be friends. How am I going to be friends with him for a whole trip? What if he gets bored? What if he thinks my dad is weird? Or me? I’ll be stuck in a car with some fat-cheeked kid for a couple of days, with my dad and his, too.
“Your aunt Hattie owns a chicken farm.”
Who is aunt Hattie? Why would I want to see her chickens?
“Hattie likes to shoot guns. They have a lot of room to shoot.”
Guns? That’s one thing that’s good. Firecrackers are legal in North Carolina, too. Even if Ed is bored, or boring, neither one of us would be bored with firecrackers. That’s two things, then. “Okay.”
I run over to Ed’s and knock on the door. I’ve never done this before but I’ve never had a reason before. “My dad says you guys are coming with us to North Carolina.”
“Pop’s talking about it,” he says like he’s been sleeping. Is he bored all the time, like me? Neither of us says anything for a minute or two. “What do you think?”
“I don’t know,” I say. “It could be fun.” The more I think about it, the more I want to go. There’s no place to shoot around here and my dad hasn’t taken me anywhere since Camp Waterdog so I think I want to go at least to shoot. It’s something I’m good at and so far that’s the only thing I’m good at. “I heard they have guns. We might be able to shoot guns and do neat stuff like that.”
“Yeah?” Ed says.
“Yeah.” I’m starting to get excited. “My aunt likes to shoot guns. We can stop and get firecrackers and light them and throw them at each other.”
“Okay. If we can shoot guns and mess around with fireworks, at least that will be something to do. Let’s do it.”
My dad has so many cars he buys and sells that it’s hard to remember what’s in the driveway. His latest big tank is a Buick Skylark so that’s what we take to North Carolina, wherever that is. We wake up early in the morning, get in the car and go right back to sleep. We’re trapped in the back of a big hunk of screaming, grinding, airtight metal coffin on wheels. My dad’s over six feet tall so he has the seat all the way back. We’re really cramped and I hardly know this guy. We don’t have anything to read. We have nothing. All we can do is sleep but the more we drive on, the more boring it gets. Get me out of this car. It’s really hot in here and it’s as dull as hell.
“This is boring,” I say.
“Yeah,” Ed says. “It is.”
We brought food: peanut butter sandwiches, bags of potato chips, beef jerky, moon pies and glass bottles of coke. When we can’t sleep anymore, we eat. We eat all this junk we’re not used to eating so we get too full, too sick, go back to sleep, and do it all over again. We’re aching from eating all the disgusting food on the first day so I don’t eat anything on the second, and so neither does Ed. We drive straight through. That’s what you do, you drive until you get there. I don’t know what kind of people stay in hotels, but not our kind. Ed’s pop and my dad took turns driving while the other one sleeps. If they’re talking, we don’t care. They’re not going to talk about anything interesting. All they talk about is grown-up stuff, like work, weather and what they see outside.
We get off the main freeway and onto these long country roads. There are a lot of mountains, a lot of ups and downs, and a lot of curves. I look outside and see a bunch of dirty old houses with dilapidated rusted-out pick-up trucks in the front yards. We keep going along the country roads and progress further until we don’t see anything but trees and dirt roads. It’s trees and mountains, trees and mountains. There are fences all along the dirt roads for the cattle and pig farms. This is livestock farmland. The mountains are so different than flat Florida but I don’t care about scenery and mountains. I would much rather be out of the car blowing up stuff or shooting guns. Scenery isn’t interesting.
“Oh, look at this farmland. Look at all that farmland,” Ed’s pop says. “What do they grow there? What do they grow here in North Carolina? What kind of crops are those?”
“Well, Ed, they grow a lot of tobacco, corn, you know. Crops like that.”
Ed’s pop seems to be expecting more of an answer, judging by the look he gave him. But nothing else comes out of my dad’s mouth. My dad likes to pretend he knows the answer to everything.
“Davey,” my dad says. “Look at that,” trying to change the subject.
“Look at this farmhouse in this little valley,” Ed’s pop says. “Oh will you look at that, isn’t that beautiful? That looks like it could be on a postcard.”
Ed and I aren’t having any of it. We don’t give a care. If it were righteous to look at something, we’d look. We want out of the car. We’ve been here for two, hot, raunchy days, riding in the back for over five hundred miles already. We don’t look and we don’t talk. We’re not even looking out the window. The only things we move are out eyes. We press our heads against the side of the car and leave them there, in extreme lazy boredom.
My dad takes a turn onto another dirt road. It’s really steep going up this mountain. It levels off and we come up to a driveway, a long dirt road with grass growing between the tire tracks. My dad says, “We’re here.”
“Oh,” Ed’s pop says. “Oh. See, that didn’t take long.”
“Thank God,” Ed says.
“Get me out of this car,” I say.
We keep driving through the dirt to this big old brick farmhouse. I don’t care about scenery but even I can tell this place is gnarly. It’s a big old-fashioned ranch-style farmhouse with a big old lawn all up on top of this hill with two gates you have to go through to get to the house. There are bushes and trees covering the sides of the house and the dirt roads, growing kind of out of control. I’m used to seeing suburban neighborhoods and houses with trimmed lawns, all the same. This is untamed and wild.
“Far out,” Ed says.
“Yeah,” I say. “Far out.”
There’s a big, shiny, red tractor parked in front of the house, like it’s on display. Ed and I look at each other. “I want to drive that tractor,” Ed says. “It’s radical.”
“Yeah, me too.” We get out of the car. We don’t know what to expect or what to say.
Here comes Aunt Hattie. She opens the front door and jumps out of the house to greet us. She looks exactly like my dad except she has long hair. She’s tall, like six foot, and an imposing woman. She has these long stork legs, a little bit of a belly like my dad, same small eyes with a big nose like my dad, kind of a weak, double chin, kind of soft. She’s loud, loud and bossy, and I’ll bet Ed’s thinking the same thing I am. Who is this hillbilly?
“Y’all made it, huh?” she says. “Y’all made it!”
“How you doing?” my dad says. They hug and that’s the only time I’ve ever seen my dad embrace anyone, male or female. “There’s Davey and this is Ed, and Ed Junior,” my dad says, pointing.
I look at Ed. “Ed Junior? Ah ha ha!”
I’m Davey-Charlie and Ed’s Ed Junior. No wonder no one talks. You can piss someone off just by saying his name.
“Hey, Ed,” my aunt says. “I guess we got two Ed’s now, huh? Well, come on in. Y’all must be hungry.”
We walk into this farmhouse and it’s a throwback to something. It looks like George Washington’s house at Mount Vernon. There is a pile of old antique furniture everywhere, and on top of everything is a doily. All you can see are white snowflake doilies all over the place. She uses them to protect her furniture, I guess. Old people do that: they put crap everywhere so you can’t use your furniture for the reasons you have it because there’s so much shit on it. These bogus doilies are on the coffee tables, end tables, the fireplace mantel, and over all the rest of the place like spider webs. Then she has these two little raunchy dogs; little yappy Chihuahuas, one black and one white. As soon as they see us they run up to us barking and nipping at our feet. “Grrr! Grrr!” they say, showing all three of their old gray teeth.
“Just kick ‘em out of the way,” Aunt Hattie says. “Kick ‘em out of the way if they bother you.”
Ed lifts his foot up to try to move them out of the way. He’s too timid to kick so he just tries to guide them away. “Grrr-ruff!” they say. One of them bites the crap out of Ed’s shoe.
“Queenie!” Aunt Hattie says. “I call her Queenie because she thinks she’s queen of the house. Queenie, don’t you bite him!” She picks them both up, shoves them into another room and shuts the door. Now they’re quiet.
I look at the dining table and there is a ton of food there, just a ton. The table itself is as big as a normal dining room. There are biscuits and gravy, pancakes, huge slabs of bacon, like a mountain of bacon, and so many eggs like I’ve never seen before. There’s a huge ceramic bowl, at least a couple of feet in diameter with a top on it that’s as big as a garbage can lid, full of scrambled eggs. There must be ten pounds of scrambled eggs in this thing. There’s nothing like fruit or vegetables anywhere. We’re really hungry and it’s nice to see all this food but there’s so much of it. My mom doesn’t cook like this. She buys a roast beef or a ham, already cooked, and puts it on the table and we eat in our rooms. She makes tuna salad that I love, with pickle relish and mayonnaise, but you get it out of the refrigerator and help yourself when you’re hungry.
“I’ll go get Bill,” Aunt Hattie says. “Hey Buddy! Buddy! Get over here. Buddy! Buddy! Get over here!” I look out the front window and see some old geezer drive up on an ancient four-wheel Jeep that doesn’t have a body. It has a seat and a steering wheel and a wooden bed somebody built on the back of it, like a prop for a Depression movie. It must be the farm vehicle. “Go get Bill. Go get Bill. Tell Bill family’s here. Get Bill!”
“Okay.” Five minutes later, while we watch, Bill comes up, riding alongside Buddy. He’s a short guy with a cowboy hat, in good shape and tan, with lines on his face. Buddy drops him off and takes off.
Bill comes in, takes off his hat, and Hattie introduces him to everyone. “Nice to meet you,” he says, meekly. “Is breakfast ready?”
“Well Bill of course it’s ready!” Aunt Hattie says. “It’s been on the table for an hour. Sit down now.” She directs us to where each of us is supposed to sit. This is new, too. Bill sits at the head of the table and Hattie sits at the opposite end. “Bill, say the grace. Say the grace, Bill.”
“Lord, um,” Bill says. “Thank you for your bounty that you’ve bestowed upon us. Thank you for the harvest you have given to us. Thank you for our visitors. Amen.”
We’re back in the 1920’s and they way people were when my parents were kids. The way they act, the way they dress: it’s like a different country here. I don’t even know Ed. He must think I’m like this, too.
We start putting food on our plates and pass it around. I scarf down biscuits and gravy, pancakes with maple syrup, and a ton of eggs. I eat quickly and I’m done. I’d get up but it doesn’t seem right. I look around and all the old people keep eating, and putting big hunks of butter on everything. Bill drinks a lot of whole milk and my dad drinks lumpy buttermilk. He seems to like buttermilk. I don’t even want to look at it. Who drinks milk with butter in it?
“Eat,” Hattie says. “You can eat more. Y’all have another serving. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat.” I can’t eat another bite. I can’t even breathe.
“Eat. Eat. Eat.”
Shut up! I say in my head. I’m full. I’m not used to sitting at a table for a long time. This is the first time I’ve ever had anyone hover over me and force me to eat. What’s wrong with her?
“Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat.”
Eventually I say, “I can’t.”
“You barely made a dent in that meal,” she says. “Are you sure, Davey? Are you sure? There’s plenty more where that come from.”
It’s different, sitting at a table with other people, all at the same time. Nobody says a single word, since half of us are uncommunicative Blevins’ and the other half are freaked out by us Blevins’. There’s a weird kind of silence until Hattie says, “How long did it take you to get up here, George?”
George? That’s strange. Hey, George! What a weird name for my dad. It was his dad’s name, too, and now my brother’s. Who would force that name on a baby, turn around and punish future generations in the same way? Another reason to be thankful George is my older brother. My sister and my mom are both named Martha, after my mom’s grandma. Ed’s pop is Ed, too. I could have easily ended up Obadiah, Homer, or some other cranky old man name, so I’m grateful I’m just Charlie although my dad won’t even call me that. If names are such a big deal to him, he ought to realize his name is the dorkiest of all. I heard him telling Ed’s pop once, ‘I’m George and my wife’s Martha. You know, George and Martha, like George and Martha Washington. America’s first First Couple.’ Do me a favor dad - don’t say that to anyone ever again. George by itself is bad enough.
“A couple of days,” my dad says. “We drove straight through. Almost six hundred miles.” He says it like we’re Lewis and Clark and we just arrived in Astoria. Ed’s pop isn’t saying a word. You can tell all this is weird to him, too. This is probably the first time he’s ever visited a chicken farm, or the 1920’s.
“I’m going to put Ed Junior and Davey to work,” Bill says. Ed and I look at each other. What? “We want you to help us gather eggs. Get eggs from the hens.” He tells us this like it’s an exciting adventure, like he’s doing us a favor.
“Okay,” we say. “I guess.” Work?
“I’m going down for a while,” my dad says.
“Yeah, that’s a good idea,” Ed’s pop says.
“Come back here, y’all can lay down and let the children work. I got clean sheets!” Hattie says.
Buddy comes back in the farm vehicle. Bill gets in the front and we crawl up on the back. Buddy takes off driving down the dirt road, downhill from the ranch house. There are a lot of twists and turns and trees so we can’t see where we’re going. We’re sick from all the eggs and getting sicker from the bumpy ride. The scrambled eggs are up to my neck. I don’t want to see another scrambled egg in my life. The ride is making it worse.
We get to this clearing with six huge buildings and chickens everywhere. I’ve never seen so many chickens before. There are chickens everywhere, in the buildings and all over. “Boys. This is the baby chick house over here. This is the house for the chicks a little older. This is where we keep our roosters. These hen houses are where they lay the eggs and this is where you will get the eggs. You put them in bushel baskets.” Bill’s talking and we’re pretending to be interested. “Let me show you what you boys are going to be doing here,” Bill says.
It reeks. It smells so badly that I can’t breathe. It’s raunchy. “Oh God,” Ed says. “It stinks.”
“It stinks so bad,” I say. “Who died?”
“Take a big, deep breath,” Bill says. “It’s good to be alive.”
Old people are so bogus. Bill leads us into one of the three back buildings with rows and rows of hundreds of hens sitting on their eggs, all lined up on these shelf-like structures. “Lemme show you,” Bill says. He sticks his hand out, reaches under and grabs an egg from a hen and puts it in a basket. “That’s what you’ll be doing. Grab the eggs, put them in a basket. Basket’s full, put them over there, get a new one. Buddy will come and pick them up.” I don’t want to do this. Ed looks at me kind of pissed off, like it’s my fault. “Here’s some leather gloves. Sometimes the hens will pick at you so wear these. Start with one row and remember where you started. Go through the whole place. Ed, you come with me.”
“Okay,” Ed says. He takes Ed out to another building.
The hen Bill demonstrated with didn’t peck at him so I don’t think the hens are really going to peck. The gloves are too big and uncomfortable so I take them off. I start in on the first one. The very first hen I stick my hand under bites the living shit out of me. That bitch put three holes on the top of my hand. It hurts to the bone. I pull my hand back really quick, yell, “Fuck!” really loud, shake my hand and put the gloves on and try again. The hen bites the crap out of my glove. The gloves are thick so it’s better and I move on to the next one, and then the next one. By the tenth chicken, I do it quickly enough so they don’t bite. When you show confidence, they leave you alone.
I start to think about what I’m doing and I start to feel bad. These eggs are their babies. We’re taking their babies from the hens. What a fucked up way to live, ripping chicken babies off from their mothers. I’d hate myself if this is what I ended up doing with my life, kidnapping and eating all these bird babies.
Hens fly all over the place. They’re squawking and peeing, shitting and flapping their wings. They’re above me, and everywhere, all pissed off at me for stealing their babies. I’m about halfway done with this whole building, putting eggs in a basket, filling the basket, setting the basket down in the corner, and grabbing another basket and starting all over again when a chicken flies right over me and shits right on top of my head. It’s like Hershey’s syrup, runny chicken shit is, and it’s all over the top of my head and running down the back of my neck through my shirt. It’s warm and I can feel it dripping. It stinks so sharply, this close up. Oh my God! Why is this my life?
I reach up and feel my hair. It’s like axle grease. It’s sticky and gummy, like tar all over the back of my head. Now I know why Bill wears that cowboy hat. I work faster to finish up the building. It’s the only way I’ll get out of here. I finish just as Buddy comes driving over with Bill. “This chicken shit all over my head,” I say. I turn around to show them. “Look.”
They start laughing their asses off. “Ar har har har,” they snort. “That’ll teach you to wear a hat.”
“But I don’t have a hat.”
“Ar har har har.”
Ed hears us and comes walking out from his hen house. “How’d you do, Ed?” Bill says.
“I almost got done, like halfway done. Maybe almost halfway done. Can we do something else now?”
“Yeah,” I say. “I need to get this shit off my head.”
Ed sees it and starts laughing. “What the fuck are you doing?”
“What do you think I’m doing? What are you doing?”
He’s laughing too hard to talk. “I didn’t do it on purpose,” I say. “What kind of question is that? I didn’t tell the chicken to shit on my head.” I’m not laughing but he can’t stop.
“Hop on,” Bill says. “We got some hands that can take over. Hop on and we’ll go to the house.”
We drive back up to the house on the back of the farm vehicle, nobody saying anything. “I have to take a shower, man,” I tell Bill when we stop.” This is bad.”
“Shower?” Bill says. “We don’t got no showers. Got a bath. You can take a bath.”
Great. No shower. I gotta stick my head in the same water that my ass is in just to get this shit off my head. I hate baths. I say nothing. I don’t want to be disrespectful.
“Hattie,” Bill yells. “Davey got chicken shit all over him. He needs a bath.”
“How come he didn’t wear a hat?”
Bill’s quiet. I’m quiet. Even Ed Junior’s quiet.
Hattie shows me the bathroom. There’s only one and in it is one old claw foot bathtub. I bring in my suitcase, fill the tub and as soon as I submerge, the water’s brown, oily and shitty. I’m soaking in shit and I have a thin, even coat of it all over me. I can’t do anything about it so I get out, dry off, get dressed, and come back out to where Ed is, sitting amongst the doilies.
“I hear you have guns,” I say to Hattie. “Can we shoot some guns?”
“We got guns. We got plenty of guns. Lemme get Bill. I don’t want you shootin’ yourselfs.” She goes outside and starts yelling for Bill. “Bill! Bill get them handguns.”
Bill gets a couple of these weird old small handguns like I’ve never seen before. My dad and Ed’s pop are still sleeping even through all this. We go out to the back yard and Bill gets these old tin cans. There’s a fence all around the back yard. “Set these cans up back here,” Bill says. “Make sure you shoot in this direction ‘cause there’s a hill back behind.” He hands us a big case of ammo and shows us how to load the guns.
We set the cans on the fence post, right where we’re told. We step back about ten yards, start shooting and we can’t hit a thing. We get closer and closer, shooting and missing, shooting and missing. Fifty rounds later, we’re five feet from the cans and finally, finally we start to hit them. “Ping!” my can says. “Ping, ping.” Ed looks over at me, looks back at his can, and shoots. “Ping.” Now we’re both hitting the cans. We move back a little, still hitting, still pinging the cans. We move back a little more, still hitting the cans, scooting back more and more. Ten yards, fifteen yards, we keep shooting. “Ping! Ping! Ping!”
Each magazine has about six rounds. We shoot, reload, put the magazine back in and shoot some more. We’re absolutely silent, focusing on cans and only cans. We’ve shot about a couple of thousand rounds. We shoot all afternoon. Both of us are intensely focused on shooting. Ed’s just as into it as I am and I’m really into it. Even though we don’t talk, we’re connecting with each other. This guy’s okay and I can tell he thinks I’m okay, too.
“This is far fucking out,” Ed says. “Let’s just do this the whole time we’re here.” Ed is so focused that he wants to do this one thing and blocks everything else out. He’s so intense he can’t think of anything but this. Neither can I. I’m happier than I’ve ever been with Danny or at school, or with girls, or anywhere in my life so far. “It’s better than getting shit on, collecting eggs, isn’t it?” he says.
“Yeah, I’d rather do this.” This is rad. I love this shit. We’ve been left alone all afternoon, no old people bothering us, shooting a couple of tin cans. Far fucking out. I am so happy.
“Y’all gonna shoot up all my ammo,” Bill says, appearing from nowhere.
“Oh, sorry,” I say. “You left us here with all these bullets.” We have to stop now, no question. Even I can see that he wants us to stop. We give the guns back. Now what are we going to do? The dads come out back and light up. Both of them smoke. They sit down in these two lawn chairs in the big expanse of a back yard, smoking and talking, smoking and talking. They smoke all the time. All the time.
“George, Ed,” Bill says, showing them the guns, “You wanna take a run at it?” Sure, give the dads an opportunity to have fun while we sit around and watch. What are we supposed to do? Smoke?
“No,” my dad says.
“No,” Ed’s pop says.
What lazy fucks. Why not? Why would you sit around when you can shoot? We watch them smoking and sitting for what seems like hours. “You’re boring,” I tell them. “All you guys want to do is sit around. Let’s do something.”
“Let’s do something,” Ed says. “Let’s go hunting.”
The dads laugh and smoke, and ignore us. All they want to do is take naps and smoke. My dad talks to Ed’s pop the whole time. He doesn’t talk to us. There isn’t a conversation with us, not about farm life or anything. He talks to Ed senior and if I talk to anyone, I talk to Ed junior. We watch them sitting and smoking. What else are we supposed to do? Look through their garbage? I’m too old for that now but it reminds me. “We gotta get firecrackers,” I tell my dad.
He doesn’t say anything but he must have realized we’re not going to let up. He sighs, like he does before he gets up. Now I know I’ve won. What is the cure for bored kids who won’t get out of his hair? Firecrackers.
“I’ll ask Bill where we get firecrackers at,” he says, taking a few steps toward the house. “Bill, where you get firecrackers?”
“Right down the road there’s a store,” he says. “They wanna get firecrackers?”
Bill goes off to get his truck. Ed’s pop gives Ed $30 so I get $30, too, from my cheap ass dad. This is another good thing about having a friend – my dad won’t be a cheap ass in front of witnesses. We sit in the front of the truck with Bill and drive to the store. My dad sits back and lights up another cigarette. What a big blob.
They have everything. They have ash cans, M-80’s, and I’m surprised they don’t have dynamite. All these fireworks are illegal in Florida. We are pretty freaking stoked. This is quickly making up for kidnapping chicken babies and soaking in shit. We load up. We have bags full of fireworks and matches, and everything we could ever want.
Bill drives up to the house and we race out of the truck. “Where you going?”
“We’re just going to go and walk around the farm,” I say.
“Stay away from the hen houses,” Bill says.
Ed and I walk around the roads. We find these holes in the ground where there are gophers and snakes. We pack fireworks in the holes, cover them back up with dirt and light them off. We throw them at each other when we start getting bored. Soon even that’s boring.
“Man, our dads are lazy,” I say. “They don’t want to do anything.”
“Yeah, all they want to do is sit around,” Ed says. We’ve made these comments before but we’re not responsible for entertaining our own dads. “What can we do?”
“I have an idea. Let’s sneak up on them and surprise them with some firecrackers.”
“Don’t do that to my pop,” Ed says. “He’ll get pissed. Do it to your dad. Do it to your own dad.”
Since the farmhouse is on the top of a hill and since we went down the hill to blow stuff up, we can’t walk up the hill on the road or the dads will see us from the vantage point of their lawn chairs. That is, they’d see us if they had their eyes open. If they aren’t smoking, they’re sleeping. They are so lazy.
We sneak around the perimeter of the house and get behind them. One of the fireworks I bought is a whole pack with all the fuses intertwined and touching each other. If you light one fuse, fifty firecrackers will go off. This is the pack I have in my hand right now.
“I’m not going up to them,” Ed says. He hides behind the corner of the house, watching me. I look over to the dads. They’re about fifty feet away, their lawn chairs halfway between vertical and horizontal. They look so lazy. They deserve this. I sneak up behind them. They’re both snoring loudly, so boring, so asleep. I can see the back of my dad’s bald head. I light the fuse and throw it under my dad’s lawn chair and run. It lands about a foot away from my dad, right under his chair. I don’t even make it back to where Ed’s hiding at the corner of the house when I hear: “Bam! Ba-bam! Ba-bam-bam! Bam-bam-bam-bam-bam-bam-bam-bam!”
I turn around to see my dad leap up from his chair. He jumps up so fast he gets tangled up in his lawn chair. He knocks over the lawn chair with his feet, falls down from tripping and starts to run. He has this scared look on his face like ‘What the fuck is going on?’ I didn’t know then that he’d been a prisoner of war in a German concentration camp and this might have brought back some unpleasant memories. I don’t think about things like that. I only think he’s lazy. I can’t think ahead past that. It takes me another twenty years, at least, to get to the point where I can think things all the way through. This is unfortunate for everyone that happens across my impulsive path, but it makes for more fun for me.
Ed’s pop’s eyes are as big as sunny-side up eggs. He has a look on his face like he doesn’t know where he is or what he’s doing, as you would if you were napping and you woke up to an air raid. It’s so funny I stop running and start laughing. This is funny! I look over to Ed and he looks like he’s going to cry. What a pussy! You’re not in trouble. This is hilarious! Come on! Have a sense of humor.
I look back over to the dads. They ran about twenty feet away from the lawn chairs and stand there, watching the fireworks. “Bam! Ba-bam! Ba-bam-bam! Bam-bam-bam-bam-bam-bam-bam-bam!” They’re still going off. It seems like they went off for about an hour. It’s a big pack. I’m halfway to Ed and the dads are halfway to me. I’m laughing uncontrollably. They’re looking at me, at the fireworks, and you can tell they’re trying to figure out what happened. They put it together pretty quickly. When they’re not lazy and napping, they’re pretty quick.
“Damn it!” my dad says, the first and last time I ever hear him swear. “That’s not funny! Davey, that’s not funny.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Ed’s pop says. “That’s not funny.”
I keep laughing. Hell yeah, it is. I look at Ed and he’s scared. He looks like a scared squirrel, but I’m laughing so he starts laughing. Then his pop starts laughing. “I guess he got you, George,” Ed’s pop says. He laughs harder. My dad won’t laugh. I know he won’t laugh anyway because he never laughs. He doesn’t have a sense of humor. You don’t joke with him but I don’t care. Everybody’s laughing but him.
My dad calms down, we have dinner – steak and gravy, biscuits and butter on everything - and leave early the next morning so Ed’s dad can go home and get back to work.
“I want to show you something,” my dad says on the way back. “It’s not too far out of the way. I’ll tell you when we get there.” Ed’s pop already knows what it is because they talk, but we don’t know. At this point I don’t know what to expect. More chicken shit? See a pig farm? Who knows what my dad thinks is interesting.
We drive up this dirt road in the mountains with overgrown trees and grass, like at Hattie’s farm. There’s a gate open and we drive through. I’m sick of all the trees and mountains. Trees and mountains are everywhere. We pull up to this clearing in the trees and drive onto some grass. We get out of the car and start to walk around a little bit. There’s a wooden sign saying something about a cemetery. I start looking at the gravestones and they’re all “Blevins.” I have to look hard to find one that isn’t “Blevins.”
You can tell where the graves are as they’re indented in the grass lawn. There are at least forty gravestones, mostly rectangle with a rounded top. They all have crosses engraved on them. They’re really old, like creepy old, not interesting old. Dead people are not fascinating to me, no matter what their last names used to be.
“Well Davey,” my dad says. “This is where most of your ancestors are buried.”
Great Dad. My dad and Ed’s pop walk away from the car and toward the tombstones. They bend over looking at them. I think it’s disrespectful to walk on a grave and honestly, the whole thing is starting to freak me out. I’ve never been to a graveyard before and seeing “Blevins” all over the place is scary. I’ve never even met another Blevins anywhere, at school or anyplace else. Now their ghosts surround me. I stay close to the car.
Ed stays close to the car, too. He pulls me aside and says, very seriously, “Why are we here?”
“I don’t know why we’re here, Ed. I don’t know.”
We stand close to each other watching the dads walk around the tombstones, examining them and looking around like they’re at a show. I don’t want to walk around here and it’s clear Ed doesn’t, either. I might fall in and touch a dead person.
The dads notice us standing by the car so they both come back and we take off. Ed and I get in the back and go to sleep. Within a couple of years, Bill is dead. All those eggs gave him a heart attack. Bill was Aunt Hattie’s third husband. Her husbands keep dying on her so she gives up on husbands and on the chicken farm. She gives up on my dad, too, when he keeps reminding her she sold his pony when he went off to war. He won’t let it go so we never saw her again.