Characters and road trip and stories...
I am on a cross country road trip with my parents. They flew into Birmingham yesterday where I've been living/commuting since August, teaching creative writing at UAB (University of Alabama at Birmingham). We are now making our slow way back across the country to California where I'll rejoin my husband and youngest child, Norah, and I can't wait to be home again with them. (Our older two are in college, and they will be returning home this summer - I miss them horribly too.) I'm writing this on a "Comfort Inn" computer in a noisy lobby (no wireless in the rooms) in Monroe, Louisiana.
Driving through Alabama and Mississippi today, I learned that my father, a former college and professional football coach, gave my mother a 3-wood golf club for an engagement present back in 1960.
My mother, a young school teacher in Florida, said, "What am I supposed to do with this?"
She did not play golf, and he taught her to swing at the tee to develop her swing.
She eventually liked the idea of learning to play, but after having kids (they had four) she did not like the idea of paying a babysitter for 5-6 hours for 18 holes of golf, even though back then babysitters only charged fifty cents an hour. (Football coaches in the late 1960s made $12,000 a year.)
We also belonged to the country club in Ames, Iowa when my dad coached at Iowa State, which charged a $15.00 a month minimum. Mother would say to us, "Kids, go get cleaned up and presentable! We have to eat up our minimum!" She said we never failed to trash the place, and I do remember punching my brother for stealing a maraschino cherry out of my sparkling Shirley Temple.
* * *
But as we drove through Mississippi today, Dad recalled his first job as a graduate assistant at Mississippi State in Starkville. Mother remembered turning on the television in Starkville and hearing a politician say, "Vote for me! Soggy Sweat! Don't forget. Soggy Sweat!"
She said to Dad, "Where in the world have we landed?"
As a young mother, she went to visit her parents in Illinois and boarded a train in Jackson, Mississippi where Dad tipped a porter to keep the bottles of baby milk cold in the train's refrigerator.
My father asked Bear Bryant for a job in 1962. Coach Bryant wrote him back and said, "I only hire players I've coached." Not to be deterred, by father stopped by the football office in Tuscaloosa with a baby, my mother, and his in-laws to show Coach Bryant what he had missed by not hiring him (the family was on the way to Starkville).
But Coach Bryant wasn't in the office as it was June.
Dad told the secretary, "Tell him Joe Madden stopped by."
He didn't hear from Coach Bryant.
* * *
The last road trip I took with my parents was in 1983 when I was an exchange student at Manchester University in England. I took them to through England, Scotland, and Ireland. I made them go see a Harold Pinter play in London, and after it was over, Dad stood up and announced to all in earshot, "Folks, I have seen my first AND LAST Pinter play." (He had wanted to see something called RUN FOR YOUR WIFE.)
I was deeply mortified.
Dad also had rule for the road in the UK: three pubs to one museum.
Later, I showed them the Bronte Parsonage and tried to teach them about Emily, Anne, and Charlotte Bronte. I showed them the Lake District, and St. Andrews. I made Mom read MIDDLEMARCH. I took them to meet the McLaughlins (the Big Mickeys) in Donegal, our Irish relatives whom I had found on an earlier trip. In that tiny sitting room in Malin Head, Ireland, Dad tried to balance hot tea and crumbly Irish soda bread on his lap and keep up with the conversation and thick accents among his Irish relatives. Kitty, an "aunt" with yellowed cigarette fingers said to him, "I think you're not liking it much here, Joe Madden."
It was the first time I recall my father looking like a young boy and getting caught.
It was also during that trip that I informed my parents that they were "bourgeois capitalists," and Dad, who was drinking a pint of lager in a pub, said, "You're damn right!"
* * *
Cut to 2010, and I feel really lucky to get to take another road trip with my parents. We stopped in Vicksburg, Mississippi to watch the kids play in the fountain in a park called Catfish Row. (I'll add pictures to this post later.) Now it's Monroe, and tomorrow it's Texas...we're going to take our time getting through Texas...
There will be more characters and stories to find along the way...
Kerry Madden is the author of OFFSIDES, WRITING SMARTS, GENTLE'S HOLLER, LOUISIANA'S SONG, JESSIE'S MOUNTAIN and most recently, UP CLOSE HARPER LEE, Viking. www.kerrymadden.com