Monday, July 27, 2020

Reflections


This one is very personal to me. Several years ago, when Mom was just starting to lose her memory, I decided to write for her, on Mother’s Day, some reflections about our times together. Ms. Brugger helped me make a special crafty card of this for her. As simple as it was, I believe Mom valued this gift more than any I had ever given to her. This is my love letter to her.

Dear Mum,

My earliest memory of you was being abandoned in the Kroger parking lot on Spruce Street. On shopping day, you’d go inside the store — I suspect for no more than five minutes — while I stayed in the car. I remember pressing my face against the window and crying for you to come back because I didn’t know what went on inside that building. I figured it must be some awful place where mothers went in and never came out again. Then, when you did come out, I wanted to sing for joy — but of course I couldn’t sing because I was too young to even talk.

As a kindergartner, I loved riding in Dad’s old black and white Ford because it belched exhaust like a rocket. You used to laugh when I’d say “Daddy’s car go vroom!” Also from about that time, I remember a birthday when you decorated the dining room with squiggly balloons and got me a white frosted birthday cake with Roman Numerals that resembled a clock face. Julie Beth Jones’s dad gave me a plastic fishing pole, but I already had one just like it, and I made a point of saying so. You fussed at me because you said I was old enough to know better. I was, but even then, little was more gratifying than airing a good grievance.

In the summertime, we’d often go to the swimming pool at Lynwood, down by Dupont. That’s where I learned to swim. I remember you leading me by the hand across the hot gravel parking lot to the pool, you wearing a big, floppy pink hat. You sure did look funny.

Sometimes, you’d take me down to the Park-Mor restaurant on Memorial Blvd, where we’d get pizza, which we ate in Dad’s old black and white Ford. To me, that car was a rocket ship. I’d wear my raincoat and the space helmet I had inherited from my cousins because it was kind of like being an astronaut. And many a Friday, Dad would take you, Alan, and me to the Broad Street Hotel restaurant. Alan and I thought the stairs leading up from the front desk were scary because it was so dark up there. The place seemed truly mysterious, but I don’t imagine any kid could have loved a good mystery more than I.

Throughout the 1960s, the Fireman’s Bazaar was held at Brown Street Field, across from the old high school. Going there was always exciting. I remember riding the ferris wheel for the first time and being pretty scared, but Dad went with me and was very reassuring—except when he warned me the ferris wheel was old and rickety and that I ought not breathe too hard because a big wind might blow it down. Yeah, there was no way in heaven or hell you were going to get on that thing. But once, when we went to Six Flags Over Georgia, you ended up boarding the Dahlonega Mine Train ride with me, not realizing it was a roller coaster. It wasn’t all that big, but it was fast, and you kept telling me to “hold on tight!” I ended up loving it. I think you did not, although the worst that actually happened was that it messed up your hair.

I’m sure you know how much I loved visiting the grandparents in Gainesville and Atlanta. In Gainesville, whenever our Papa came home from work at the dry cleaning plant, I’d hide behind one of the living room chairs. He’d hear me breathing and exclaim there must be a puff adder in the house. I recall your mom, Neenie, playing organ at the Old Hickory BBQ restaurant. I found this pleasant enough, but it wasn’t rock and roll. Summertime visits were great, but Christmas was the most special time of all, the most memorable being the year the alarm clock didn’t work right. Excited beyond words about Santa Claus’s visit, I woke up sometime before dawn. Well, hours and hours would pass, but our apparently defective clock showed that only ten minutes had gone by. You always taught me to be helpful and responsible, so I ran the clock forward a few times. To this day, I have never understood why that one clock read seven a.m. when all the others in the house said it was only five. Making me go back to bed for the next two hours was cruel and unusual punishment, I have to say.

We’d always end our visits with you and Dad offering to give Neenie and Papa some money for all their trouble, but they would never hear of it. This always worried me a bit because I was afraid that if you didn’t hush, they would invite us to leave and not come back.

In my young adulthood, I sometimes went looking through the photos in your wedding album and feeling warm and wonderful about how happy you and Dad appeared. All through my childhood and even beyond, you both inspired me, comforted me, and provided for me. Only as an adult could I see how profoundly you are responsible for every good thing there is about me. And I’m sure the bad stuff is not your fault; for that, we can blame the Wickliffes, for they were decadent.
Mum and Martha Wickliffe

Speaking of the Wickliffes, there was a time in my 30s when Martha revealed a startling fact. Now, although you rarely drank alcohol, I know you enjoyed a wee spot of red wine now and again. Apparently, at some gathering y’all had attended, you drank a glass or two too many. Stunned, I asked Martha what you were like when a little bit oiled. She said, “Same as always, only louder.”

I wrote these reflections hoping they might give you some sense of how truly I appreciate you as my mom. I’ve always known that I was loved, and that I am loved. I loved you deeply when I was a youngster, and now, as an adult, I love you all the more. You are the dearest and most precious person in my life now and forever.

I love you, Mom.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Barbara Rainey: A Life of Love


My mom passed away today. It’s been a rough one, so for the moment, I will simply post her obituary, which I wrote at her request.

Barbara Rainey, of Martinsville, VA, passed away on July 21, 2020, following a prolonged struggle with dementia and complications from COVID-19. She is survived by two sons — Stephen Mark Rainey of Greensboro, NC, and Alan Rainey, of Winston-Salem, NC — and one granddaughter, Allison Rainey, of New York City, NY. For 45 years, Barbara was married to Carl Rainey, who passed away in 2001.

Barbara was born on October 16, 1935, to Dan and Christine Bell in Gainesville, GA. Through her childhood and college years, she called Gainesville home. She attended Brenau College in Gainesville, and, shortly after her graduation, met Carl Rainey, son of Gordon Rainey, the pastor of St. Paul Methodist Church, where she was a member. In August 1956, Barbara and Carl were married in that church, with the groom's father, Rev. Rainey, officiating.

Carl secured employment with E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company, which led him and Barbara to settle in Chattanooga, TN. For four years, they dwelled happily in a house Carl had built on Signal Mountain. In May of 1959, their first son, Stephen Mark Rainey, was born. Shortly afterward, Carl was transferred to the Dupont plant in Martinsville, VA, where he remained as an executive for the next three decades. In May 1964, Barbara gave birth to their second son, Alan Rainey.

For her full adult life, Barbara loved Martinsville and her family's home near Lake Lanier. After Mark and Alan left for college and then moved to their own homes, Barbara and Carl remained in their treasured home, which Barbara dubbed "Pleasant Hill." She continued to live at Pleasant Hill until her mid-80s, when increasingly severe health issues forced her to move to an assisted living facility.

Barbara was an active member of First United Methodist Church in Martinsville. She especially loved singing in the Chancel Choir, of which she was a member for over 50 years. She served the church and the community diligently, frequently involving herself in vital charity work, both locally and nationally. On her own time, she enjoyed playing bridge and, for many years, belonged to a group that met regularly at the members' homes. She had a passion for crossword puzzles and, on occasion, jigsaw puzzles, needlepoint, and decoupage. Her home was a source of great pride for her. She loved turning it from a mere house to a perfectly personalized home for her family.

Well-known for her strong faith, generosity, and subtle humor, Barbara lived her life prioritizing others' needs above her own. During Carl's long battle with complications from diabetes, to which he ultimately succumbed, she spent countless days and nights tending to him when he was unable to care for himself. Despite the unrelieved stress of being a full-time caregiver, never once did she exhibit despair or bitterness; if anything, her struggles honed her deeply held faith. After Carl's passing, she continued to honor his memory in every aspect of her life. Even as the ruinous effects of dementia inexorably destroyed memory after precious memory, she never forgot Carl or her children.

Barbara's life was a testament to faith, hope, charity, and love. Her love will never be forgotten.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Beyond the Gate

Today was the day to attempt a new geocaching milestone: geocache find #12,000. For this outing, the Socially Distanced No Dead Weight IrregularsDiefenbaker (a.k.a. Scott), Fishdownthestair (a.k.a. Natalie), and the old radioactively mutated flying rubber prehistoric reptile — welcomed friend NCBiscuit (a.k.a. Linda) to our ranks as we went after a nice tunnel hide in Durham, NC, called “Beyond the Gate” (GC5C0C4), placed several years ago by friend Vortexecho (a.k.a. Christian). Ground Zero is a lovely location, which you see in the photo above, and it’s right behind the apartment complex where my daughter lived after she graduated college, back in... well... a handful of years ago. The pipe is big, so once inside it, we could easily walk upright. We found the biggest challenge to be wriggling through that broken gate. The pipe isn’t very long — maybe a hundred feet — but it sure is wet in there. You end up in a drain out in the middle of a pond.

Inside that pipe, I encountered the biggest crawdude I’ve seen since I was a kid, when I loved playing in the creek across from our house in Martinsville. He measures almost six inches long there. He proved friendly enough, though he was not at all an enthusiastic conversationalist. So as not to upset him needlessly, I avoided mentioning that crawdad is one of my favorite delicacies.

After completing the deed at “Beyond the Gate,” we shrugged off the increasingly oppressive heat and moved on to a nearby cache that has been in the wild for several days but has yet to be found. It isn’t meant to be especially difficult, but a number of geocachers have been unable to locate it. Count us among them. After a diligent, fairly lengthy search, we were forced to give up in frustration.
Some old fellow hanging around in the dark

From there, Ms. NCBiscuit departed, leaving the regular Irregulars to strike out after a number of caches along the American Tobacco Trail. Hoo, doggies, was it ever hot and ugly out there! We decided to end our day at another of Vortexecho’s tunnel caches, but unfortunately, claiming a find on this one was not to be. LV-426 (GC4YJFD) lurks deep inside a series of very tight culverts, requiring either crawling or very constricted duck-walking. I opted for the latter. Once way down deep inside, though, we encountered some smoky fumes oozing from a couple of pipes — one of the inevitable hazards of such locations — and decided to abandon our search. Never let it be said we are irredeemably foolhardy. Merely foolish.

That ended our adventure for the day, although before coming back home, I had to get even hotter and filthier helping Brugger put up a new mailbox in front of her house, since the old one was by all rights condemned. That done, I finally made it home and fell into the shower, for which every organism within a hundred feet of the property thanked me profusely.

It was a day.
Beyond the gate at “Beyond the Gate”
Old Rodan and VERY Old Diefenbaker
Heat be hot!

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Shooting for 12K

What do reckon that old fart is doing up there?!

12,000 geocaches, that is.

Team No Dead Weight, consisting of the usual pandemic-era suspects — Diefenbaker (a.k.a. Scott), Fishdownthestair (a.k.a. Natalie) and Old Rodan (a.k.a. me) — gathered again today for a customary Sunday on the trail. This time, we headed back to the Carolina North Forest in Chapel Hill, where a passel of relatively new geocaches awaited our unique brand of attention. We’d been there a few weeks ago, and — wouldn’t you know it — an hour after we departed the forest, a bunch of new caches were published, right in the same area we had been hiking.

The forest occupies 750 acres of land on either side of Seawell School Road, which runs north/south on the northwest side of Chapel Hill. I have hiked/geocached in the forest numerous times over the years, but today was the first time I basically hiked roughly the entire perimeter of the forest. Most of today’s caches were pretty simple, requiring few feats of acrobatic prowess, although I did go up a tree I had already negotiated some years ago just so I could help Ms. Natalie reach the cache, an older one that hangs in a fairly high place.
Scott performing minor acrobatic feats

So, yep, we cleared out every cache we had yet to find in both sections of the forest — fifteen there or about, requiring roughly seven miles of hiking. The temperature hovered around 95 the whole day, and the humidity made it feel like we were breathing mayonnaise. But we persevered, and figured that, after completing the hike in the forest, we would call it a day.

But wouldn’t you know it... just before we set out for our respective homesteads, Natalie realized four brand-new caches had been published, a relatively short distance from the forest, along the Booker Creek Greenway, which Ms. B. and I have hiked together on occasion. The new caches had been live for about three hours, but no one had logged them as found. So we set out after them, hoping we might snag the coveted first-to-find (FTF) honors.

What do you know? We did! How happy. We finished the day having put in very close to 9 miles of hoofing it; some pretty rugged, some relatively easy. The heat just about did us in, though. I mean, whew! Adding ithe handful I found in Mebane while coming and going, my current geocache count stands at 11,991. So, I figure I will pick up eight caches this week and, on Sunday, plot an outing for some slightly more-extravagant-than-customary cache for #12K. I am leaning toward either one way up in a tree or deep in the underground.

The plotting thickens.
Natalie seems to find the cache log amusing.
One of many large mounds that rise out of the forest like little mountains
A little Bigfoot cave, I’m pretty sure.
Old Rodan watching for little Bigfeet on the prowl
“Knee-to-Knee” sculpture in the brand-new Mebane Community Park

Friday, July 10, 2020

The Ugly

Only the Old Fart knows...

It’s an old writer’s cliché, but it’s true: I could never write fictional characters horrific enough to compete with my real-life neighbors and yours. I’m not referring to the occasional, hopelessly warped sociopath, but the simple maroon who lives next door. Okay, I am speaking figuratively; our literal next-door-neighbors may be altogether fine. The point being that if I were to concoct characters so selfish, so paranoid, so dim, so ugly, as the many real-life personalities I nowadays try like hell not to interact with, most of my readers would consider them too over-the-top to be real. Or perhaps I should say that, for my most of my writing career of over thirty years, I think most people would have called bullshit and thumped me on the head. Not so much these days. For the last three and a half years, the Ugly have been coming out of the woodwork in greater and greater numbers, but once our friendly neighborhood pandemic set in, the perpetually plunging bar for intelligence and/or decency actually flabbergasted me. And here I had always considered myself unflabbergastable. Ever since I came of the age sufficient to interact with other homo sapiens, I’ve been as cynical as I thought cynical came regarding human nature. Well, more fool me.

At least reading the human barometer has become relatively simple: is the specimen in question taking responsible measures to protect him or herself and others, i.e. wearing a mask, maintaining reasonable social distance, washing hands, etc. etc.? Even at my cynical best, I have given most folks some benefit of the doubt, but that’s about gone out the window. My limit has been reached and exceeded.

Yes, I know some of you believe the whole pandemic thing is, if not an outright hoax, then sheer hysteria fueled by the fear-mongering media. Well, I’ll grant you that one thing: the media does indeed thrive on fear and conflict; however, if you believe that’s solely the purview of the ubiquitous liberal media, well, you might want to take note of that big old plank protruding from your eyeball. It’s always prudent to consume the media's output with a high degree of skepticism. But bias and sensationalism, while undesirable, are not in themselves sufficient to invalidate legitimate journalism. Sure, fake news abounds, but screeching “fake news!” about everything that conflicts with a rigid, myopic world view is not the hallmark of an even marginally intelligent human specimen, much less a genuine critical thinker. Too many individuals somehow confuse universal nay-saying of media reporting with actual analytical skills. What I find mystifying, at least a little, is the willingness of almost unfathomable numbers of right-wing herd-thinkers to disbelieve scientifically vetted, and—I am going to use the dreaded word—“expert” conclusions based on the best available evidence, in favor of the spew from sources like FOX News, Breitbart, The Washington Times, and other such outlets that, at one time, would have been held in the same regard as the fucking National Enquirer. Yeah, while there are tons of reeking bullshit coming from every side, every angle, I am gonna pick on the right here because the conspiracy theories, the shameful façade of patriotism, the outright dangerous BS all too many conservatives are spewing is fucking criminal. It is solely the purview of the right to espouse disregarding safeguards regardless of the sound reasoning behind taking them.

Do you actually believe the worldwide COVID-19 outbreak is some Democrat-propagated hoax or movement devised by socialist wackos, or some such nonsense, meant to crash our economy, to discredit the Oaf of Office, to assume control of you as an individual? That a mandate to wear a mask somehow violates your inalienable rights as a FREE American? Are you gonna actually ask me how much freedom I am willing to give up for security? Are you serious? Do you wear a seatbelt? Why? Do you avoid driving drunk? Why? Do you refrain from shooting people who annoy you? Why? Do you follow any statute to avoid harming other people? Why? No one is asking you to lay down your life, to storm the beaches of Normandy under withering Nazi gunfire, to offer up anything but a little concern for your neighbor. Even if you truly feel this whole business is not all it is cracked up to be, would it not be reasonable to make even the smallest sacrifice to avoid harming someone who may be more vulnerable than you are? Does your “freedom” to be a selfish, conceited, arrogant, ignorant fuckwit supersede someone else’s right to exist with at least somewhat minimized risk? A good way to identify yourself as one of the walking brain dead is to post one of the ubiquitous memes to the effect that “You are being conditioned to believe that embracing your freedom is being selfish.” Please. PLEASE. If you consider making some small sacrifice for the greater good so much a threat to your autonomy, I shudder to think about the toxic miasma roiling around in your brain. Jesus god. Putting yourself so much above others to their peril is the very definition of selfishness.

I do believe I have heard every conceivable contortion of reasoning to justify being a petty little shit. “The whole thing is fake.” (Tell that to a few hundred thousand dead. If Muslims killed 130,000+ Americans in four months, we would have wiped out half the world.) “Masks are not effective; how does the virus know whether it is coming out or going in?” (Read up on a little science, dumb fuck. Look up the pee analogy. Look up the frosty wintertime exhalation analogy. Look up something other than COVIDIOT propaganda. Of course, the mask isn’t protecting you so much as your neighbor, and yes, it is imperfect, but Jesus Christ, it helps. If you value others, do you really need more than that?) “The death rate is too low to justify putting myself out. Wearing a mask serves no purpose but to make you feel good. People are gonna die from the flu. They are gonna die from heart disease. They are gonna die in car accidents. They are gonna die from drunk drivers.” (Of course they will. We are all going to die. Yet most of us possessing any sense of personal responsibility do not facilitate any of these things. Driving drunk is a choice. So is not wearing a mask. If someone dies because of your willful bad choice, guess what. You are culpable.) “People taking precautions against the spread of a puny little virus are living in fear. Bunch of sheep!” (My god, this one is stupid. S.T.U.P.I.D. No, it is not fear—although a wee spot of fear can be a healthy thing. Embracing a little bit of fear is how human beings tend to survive beyond childhood. But no, there is a huge difference between living in fear and showing a healthy respect for a threatening microorganism. Did you know that in wars throughout history, far more people died from microorganisms than actually being blowed up real good? Only medical science in the past century turned that around. Of course, most wingnuts are all about protecting themselves from being blowed up real good but apparently care naught for teeny bugs.)

I’ve heard deflection about the supposed hypocrisy of showing care for living, breathing people but approving of abortion. I’ve heard deflection about how the experts don’t have a clue what they are talking about because they keep saying different things. Well, do you have any idea how science works? Do you realize that, being an unprecedented thing in our lifetimes, COVID-19 has turned us all into subjects of a big old science experiment? In science, we usually do not have magic, pat answers right off the bat. Discovering the right answers usually involves weeding out a lot of wrong ones first. Intelligent people make the best decisions based on the information at hand, and when that information is invalidated or improved upon, one adjusts accordingly. I’ve heard deflection that masks are all about making it easy for lawbreakers to hide their identities. Sigh. There is always “GOD IS GONNA TAKE CARE OF ME.” (Look up Jerry Clower.) And the clincher: “I don’t like what you’re saying, and I AM NOT GOING TO BUY ANY MORE OF YOUR BOOKS.”

Oh, heavens, not that! The pain, the agony, the grief!

Now, if you do not care for my perspective, well, that is your prerogative. But to the best of my ability, I have done due diligence. My doctor tells me to wear a mask. In real life and in the virtual world, I have numerous friends and acquaintances who work in the medical field, and they tell me to wear a mask. My daughter is a researcher at Columbia University Medical Center in NYC, for God’s sake, and she tells me to wear a mask. Virtually all reputable medical professionals—in sources that are anything but biased—will tell you to wear a mask. Look, most of you do not have physical conditions that preclude you from performing this simple act of care and respect, and if you truly do, I understand. I am not railing about you. Most of you only need to wear a mask for a short spell, while you are interacting with people in public. You probably will not be in the thing long enough for that dreaded (non-existent) carbon dioxide poisoning to claim you.

Look, we all want to get beyond this mess. Really, we do. I am so fucking pissed because we have been locked down, we have been isolated, we have suffered massive economic loss. And for what? To have to start all over again because so many of you cannot abide being asked... being told... that you need to modify your behavior, if only a little bit? I cannot abide this. Compared to most of the rest of the world, we have shown ourselves as anything but models of decency, good character, and faith. We have shown ourselves to be, in large part, fucking morons.

Do you think you could maybe be a bigger person? At least when you are interacting with others? It could hardly require any more effort than I am giving, me being a somewhat misanthropic agnostic who has long thought that a good extinction event might be just what this planet needs. But I am going to make that effort.

So there.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

No Dead Weight

There was no gathering of Team No Dead Weight today, and thus no dead weight on the geocaching trail. Just me. It’s a rare Sunday that doesn't see a group of us out yonder, but today, friend Natalie couldn’t make it, and since most of these were driving rather than hiking caches, I wasn’t about to stuff Scott and Old Rob, who typically comprise the rest of the team, into my wee little car. The old farts had already found a number of the newer local hides I planned to target anyway. For me by my lonesome, things worked out well enough. The new caches led me to several locations over in High Point I haven’t visited in years, some since my earliest days of geocaching.

I started with a couple in Greensboro, one of which had unfortunately gone missing, the other being one of those exceptionally rare puzzle caches I actually enjoy: a cache called “Faerie” (GC8VFJ2), placed by friend Natalie her own self. I had great fun on the hunt, though our odd young woman had rated the terrain a 1.5, which means it’s supposed to be very easy to negotiate — like stepping off a sidewalk into some spongy grass. Getting to this one, however, required bushwhacking through grasses and briers as high as my head and struggling over piles of fallen logs covered by brambles. Oy vey, fishy woman! Still, despite shedding some blood (which would much bring joy to Old Rob), I can’t say I didn't enjoy the adventure. A couple of ticks certainly enjoyed me.
1.5-rated terrain!? Umm... no.
A couple of weeks back, I had hunted a cache (“Homestead Cache” (GC8VDTF) — unsuccessfully, due to severely inaccurate coordinates — at the Rich Fork Preserve in High Point. Since then, the cache owner corrected the coords, and so today, I managed a quick find. A nice cache it is, too. I quite appreciated the location: an old homestead from the early 1900s that had once belonged to Junius Hedgecock, a well-known family name around High Point. I wouldn’t call it creepy, but there is a somber atmosphere of antiquity about the place. I quite enjoyed avenging my previous DNF. I also snagged one of friend Night-Hawk’s (a.k.a. Tom) newest hides (“Landscape DoodadGC8T4WP), which took me to a landscape doodad I easily recognized. These things are not at all uncommon yet are apparently rarely noticed.
The haunted Hedgecock House
Landscape doodad

It’s rare, it seems, that the perpetual updating of “features” for just about... everything... results in anything other than the introduction of horseshit where horseshit previously did not exist. As much as I adore geocaching, honest-to-god improvements to geocaching.com are phenomenally rare. Most often, their updates fall into the less complimentary category described above. However, their relatively recent roll-out of adventure lab caches has offered us a nice treat. Adventure labs are virtual caches (“virtual” meaning there is no physical container) that rely on the geocacher actually visiting a specified location to receive credit for a find. The adventure lab app requires the cacher to come within a certain proximity of the location before it will reveal a question specific to that site. Answering the question correctly earns the geocacher a “find.” Back in the old days of geocaching, virtual caches were common; in fact, they became so common that geocaching.com disallowed new ones, except for selected individuals on special occasions. The old ones were grandfathered in, but for several years, until recently, there haven’t been any new ones. Since virtuals are just the ticket in many places where physical containers are not allowed, lab caches help fill a much-needed void.

Today’s lab — called “Notable Spots in High Point,” set up by friend Pharoah9500 (a.k.a. Daniel) — took me into downtown High Point, which I had cached out many years ago, largely because new ones have been few and far between. I quite enjoyed seeing several sites I’ve not visited in my earliest days of geocaching, particularly the John Coltrane statue; the big-ass chest of drawers, and the old railroad depot. The heat was hot, murderously so, but with those new caches waiting to be found, I was compelled to brave it.

And so, I carried no dead weight with me today, and I may well have sweated off a superfluous pound or two. I shall attempt to avoid regaining them at dinner.