Dave left his downtown Fort Worth loft at 6am for the seven hour drive to Pickles Gap, Arkansas where his 84 year old father, Bruce lived on the old home place. Bruce had steadfastly refused to be moved into a nursing home in Conway. “I’ve lived in this house for 57 years dammit. Can’t nobody make me leave now or never.”
The sky was overcast but no rain fell – perfect driving conditions – no glaring sun to blind him through the windshield of his brand new Toyota Tundra pick-up. Lately Dave dreaded the drive home to Pickles Gap, and rarely told people the truth when asked where he was from. Dave was embarrassed by the name of his home town, and ashamed of his poor upbringing and uneducated family. His visits had grown fewer and farther between the last few years. Ever since mom passed, we’ve all drifted to the far corners of the world, Dave thought as he exited onto I-30 East. Even the bopsie twins don’t visit these days.”
Dave’s mind drifted to his younger sisters, Linda and Bonnie (the twins, with names that mean ‘beautiful’ but whose faces are ‘handsome at best’). They are both busy raising families of their own in California and Georgia respectively. “Mom was the glue that held us all together,” Dave remembers hearing Bonnie cry through muffled tears at the burial site almost two years ago. Linda, the older “beauty” by 3 minutes replied stoically; “We’re family and families stick together no matter what. Dad needs us now more than ever.” She hasn’t been back to Pickles Gap since the day we put momma in the ground, Dave thought bitterly. Being the oldest, and the only male sibling, really sucks sometimes.
This trip would prove particularly difficult. “Your father’s dementia is getting a whole lot worser lately,” Starla, the nurse’s aid who checks in on Bruce daily said on the phone Thursday morning. “Somebody’s got to take his car keys before he kills hisself or somebody else,” she declared emphatically. “Sunday after church service, he backed into the bar ditch and Larry had to winch him out with his truck. Everybody gets out of his way when they see that old beat up Impala a comin’.” Dave rarely spoke to Bruce these days, only to Starla for weekly updates . It was just too difficult… He doesn’t know his only son’s voice half the time, so what’s the use, Dave reasoned. He replayed his latest conversation with Starla, that had lasted fifteen minutes, over and over in his mind. The usual weekly call lasts five minutes, the time it takes Dave to walk from his condo to his office four blocks away.
Dave pulled his truck into a spot on the gravel parking lot of The Hamburger Inn, in Mayflower – just a hop, skip and a jump from Pickles Gap. I’ll grab a quick burger before I get to Dad’s. Maybe Carly will be working today… Dave was happy to see Carly’s pretty smile as she poured him a cup of coffee even before he slid into the corner booth. “Hey sweetie, good to see you! The usual today?”
Carly had long since cleared away Dave’s empty plate. It was late Saturday afternoon, the lull between the lunch and dinner crowds, and she had time to linger with her favorite customer. She knew why he was in town – didn’t even need to ask. Everybody did. Her heart ached for him. First his momma die’n and now his daddy’s lost his marbles. She longed to sit down next to him and lay her head on his shoulder like when they were in high school. But those days are long gone and too much water is under that bridge.
“I was kinda drunk all day Thursday,” Dave admitted to Carly as she filled his coffee cup again. “After Starla told me it was time, I ditched work and spent most of the day at the bar. “That’s ok honey,” Carly said. “You’re here now and that’s what matters. Your daddy is gonna be so happy to see you.”