I was raised in northern Minnesota. Until I was six I was an only child. My mom married a man with four children, and suddenly I was the youngest of five.
They were already a unit. I was an add-on.
I didn’t know much about my father, except that he had abandon us when I was eleven months old, and that he was never heard from again. As I was growing up I wondered from time to time why he left, and what he was like. I got a hint once when I did something wrong and my mother said, ” You’re going to be just like your father.” As I spiraled downward though my teens and twenties my need to know just what stock I came from became more and more urgent.
I married when I was twenty-one. When I was twenty-six we had a son in the midst of a seriouslly damaged marraige. By the time he was five the marraige had pumped it’s last pint of blood and was declared dead. I left him with his mother. My mother’s prophecy seemed to come to pass.
At thirty-one, having been with my present wife for only a few months, the time had come to take on my first missing persons case. I would track my father.
At thirty one I was a broke joke. Had lost anything I might have accumulated up to that point. So I had to hitchhike to Riggold, Ga. , my birthplace.
Along the way, those who picked me up were inspired by my mission, and offered money and lodging to pave the road ahead of me. I accepted the money, but turned down the lodging. I had white-line fever.. Always did when I traveled. I can stop to smell the roses when I get there.
Traveling red-eye style, I was there in 28 hours. I’d eaten along the way, stocked up on Marlboros, and arrived with about twenty dollars.
Walking into this north- georgia town was like stepping into a painting done by Norman Rockwell’s Prozac munching, semi- suicidal son.
Small town americana was everywhere on the twenty or so streets that made up Rinngold ; Woolworths, a barber shop with three elderly men waiting their turn, a dress shop, diner, cop shop, library and even a town square. But it was all done in various shades of dead.
Both of the cops in town made a slow drive-by as I made my way in from the Interstate. Shoulder length hair and a Korean War ruck-sack earned me their patented “Don’t even THINK about fucking up ” look.
As I pushed through the diner door, all six heads turning towards me, I coudn’t shake the feeling that I was possibly the last kid born here, and that the last funeral was an hour away.
I asked some locals if my father, or anyone with the same last name, still lived in the area. They directed me three miles down country road to an aunt I never knew I had. No-one offered me a ride. Just wanted me to quit breathing their oxygen.
Aunt Ida May was standing on her porch as I approached. Guess the carrier pigeon beat me. At first sight she called me by my father’s name, until I got closer. In that moment of mistaken identity her face did not light up. OK. Guess he burned more than one bridge.
She invited me in, but didn’t offer me a damn thing, except a phone number of another brother who was closer to my missing person, I didn’t even ask her if I could use the phone.
When I left the house a few non-bonding moments later, she was watching her stories on the black and white T.V., showing me her back.
As I made my way back to the Interstate I swung wide around the town. They woudn’t miss me.
A short time later that afternoon I’d made it to Chatanooga TN. Made a phone call to dear old Uncle Charlie, and found out that his brother was in Mississippi. No wheat crackers there, just white ones.
Uncle Charlie said his brother worked in heating and air conditioning. There were only two HVAC outfits in Magee, Mississippi. I struck out at the first one. He was there.
Kenneth Leon Ketchersid. The name on his dirt-blue workshirt said ‘Leon’.
“What can I do you for?”
“My name is Eddy. I was born in January of “63 in Ringgold. You’re my Father. ”
For a moment I thought I’d killed him. His face turned as gray as his conscience. He grabbed the counter, and shook.
I used the moment to look him over. Small head. Big ears. Some teeth. Run down shell of a man.
He pitch-forked some bullshit at me about how he tried to find me. Invited me to his home to meet his brow-beaten wife, my age, with two kids that weren’t his.
She did as she was told, and whipped up red beans and rice, corn bread and grits, while he told me his version of why he left. Every story has two sides. His was the fiction version.
He said he had other kids, with other women. Some of them were wives.
Nine other kids. I was the third. Told me some of their names. The one’s he could remember.
Three days of sleeping on his couch. Each day sucking the life out of what I’d hoped he was.
Turns out we were carnies in some of the same shows: him one season , me the one after or the one before. Told me he was born on June 19th, “Nigger Day”, he said.
Up ’till then I’d never considered suicide, but it was not far from my mind.
Told him my wife-to-be was Native American. He said that was OK because we were Cherokee/Irish. But all other non-whites were mud people.
Thanks everybody goodnight. Time for me to go before I did a mercy killing. The world would have thanked me.