Friday, August 27, 2010

The Rocket Scientist Comes To Lychburg

       I arrived at my Grandfather’s sister’s house (let’s call her Great Aunt P) at around 4pm and took a walk around her block.  Her neighborhood was as close to what I’ll call Middle America as I have ever seen.  Cozy houses with medium sized lots laid out along a sea of grassy hills.  When she arrived, we talked briefly, and, to my surprise, she proposed we immediately set out to tour the area where she grew up.
       We drove through a commercial sector of the city and onto Candler Mountain Road (one of those words is my middle name).  Candler Mountain is the southeastern backdrop of Lynchburg and is where my grandfather, great grandfather and great, great grandfather lived and grew up.  Aunt P told me that recently a local university tried to rename the mountain to their university’s name.  The Candlers united and the university backed down although somehow the mountain currently bares the giant, distasteful letters “LU” which hundreds of trees were cut down to create.  Perhaps someone should suggest they use dynamite to blast holes in the mountain, simultaneously deepening their university’s letters and disrespect for Mother Nature.
       She drove me up the mountain and showed me where my great, great grandfather raised my great grandfather.  Despite his father dying in an accident involving dynamite, my great grandfather (age 9 I think when his father died) grew up into a man with an outgoing, humorous personality.  He worked in a shoe factory starting at age 16 until he was in his sixties I believe.  He also had a few acres of land where he raised corn and other crops and also had cows, pigs and chickens.
       I tried to pry some interesting stories about my grandfather from her, but she was over a decade younger than him, and by the time she was almost 10, he was off to WWII and then college.  I did hear quite a few stories about my great grandfather though.  Here is one story that really helps illustrate the type of man he was:
       It was Christmas Day.  He was with his wife and daughter, and his wife was going to visit an old school teacher.  The county prison was across the street from the teacher, and he decided that while his wife was visiting her old teacher, he would take his daughter (around age 10 at the time I believe) to visit the prison (anyone could apparently go inside and talk to the inmates at the time).  There was one sixteen year old inmate who had killed a man and then threw him down a well.  My great grandfather, along with his daughter, walked up to his cell and began a conversation with him about why he threw the man down the well.  Merry Christmas sweetheart.
       Another curious tale about this man was when he caught a bunch of baby skunks and, after de-stinking them, sold all but one, which he planned to train.  He didn’t have much time to train it, so it was left in a cage for quite a while, and when he put it on a leash and took it outside to begin the training process, it ran up him, scratching him to hell before fleeing to the woods.  That was the beginning and end of his skunk training days.
    There are quite a few more, but this is a blog, not a book.  We ate dinner at a local Italian place that evening with one of Great Aunt P’s daughters and her daughter’s husband.  Her daughter’s husband, let’s call him Mr. M, told me about some of the traveling he did when he was younger.  He took a five week trip along the Appalachians on a motorcycle and spent a lot of time camping.  His trip included a few bear encounters and eventually extended into Europe where he met up with some Canadians who had plans to live out of a van (I was glad to hear this because I like the idea of doing a road trip in Europe – we’ll see).  I didn’t ask permission to share some of the highlights of his trip, but let’s just say if you’re looking for complementary marijuana and co-ed showers, it sounds like Europe is the place to go.
    When we got back to Great Aunt P’s, we were met by another of her daughters and the daughter’s husband and teenage boy.  To my dismay, there was much ogling at the family “rocket scientist” (a term I really don’t like because it usually comes with usually unearned respect).  I didn’t know I was such a family celebrity, but it seems much bragging about “my cousin, the rocket scientist” had occurred.  As usual, the distinction between spacecraft design engineer and rocket scientist was too difficult to convey to those outside the technical world, so I did my best to live with the original title.  Although now I guess I’m just an ex-rocket scientist even though I’m quite sure that’s not what I’ll be referred to when my family speaks of me to their friends.  All in all, it was a great day of meeting family I’d never seen before and hearing stories that are too good to be made up.


Anonymous said...

Ryan, I had no idea I was causing such dismay by calling you, "my cousin, the rocket scientist." But let your mind be at ease. Henceforth I will always refer to you as, "My unemployed, homeless cousin who allegedly used to be some kind of spacecraft design engineer, or so he says."
You know you loved it... :o

Gayle said...

This is getting as interesting as A Walk in the Woods, one of my favorite books.

Ryan Fuller said...

Betsy - I think you're being too generous. Let's make it, "My unemployed, homeless cousin who allegedly used to be some kind of spacecraft design engineer, but was most likely some engineer's pencil sharpening assistant."

Ryan Fuller said...

Gayle, glad you are enjoying the adventure stories.

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