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Requiem for Redneck Rick/JD Clapp

A Requiem for Redneck Rick

My Aunt Peg called around 7:00 a.m. My fucking head was throbbing. Still drunk from last night’s divorce celebration, I fumbled with the phone on the bed stand, expecting a call from the moving company. 

         

   “Hello… you here?”

          

  “Annie? It’s Aunt Peg.”


It took me a couple seconds before it clicked—my dad’s sister. How did she get my number and why is she… My mom must have given it to her, and my dad must be…Shit.

          

  “Annie, I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but your father died two weeks ago,” she said.

           

“Oh…That’s too bad,” was all I could think to say.

           

“Uncle Earl and I just found out. Unfortunately, we need to clear out his stuff and pick up his ashes next week.”


After an awkward silence, she explained that he had no will, and he’d listed me as next of kin on everything. Why?!!!  If I didn’t come down, his belongings would end up in probate. Is there really anything worth saving?

           

I’d met Uncle Earl once when I was a little kid and I’d only seen Aunt Peg twice since high school. I didn’t feel compelled to drop everything and jump on a plane to help them clean up my dead old man’s shit hole in Tallahassee. So, I said I couldn’t get off work and wished them well. Aunt Peg was disappointed, but not surprised—not many abandoned daughters would forgive and forget.

           

After we hung up, I poured a hair of the dog. I looked around my deconstructed apartment, boxes mostly packed, furniture readied for the movers, the ink on divorce number three still drying. I sat on the couch and drank, wondering how I got to this point in my life and whether my dad deserved any of the blame. I decided to go; I needed closure.

##

On the flight from Chicago down to Florida, I ordered a vodka soda. I struggled to find something positive I’d shared with the man. Nothing. He was just a sperm donor. It all came back—the abandonment, the drunken promises, DUI arrests. Then the best of them. Right after I got my first faculty position, he called to borrow money from me to get his teeth fixed, but bought a gun instead. Fucking Redneck Rick…Born in southeast Ohio poor white dirt, took it to the next level in the panhandle.


I thought about the last time I saw him. My therapist encouraged me to do it. I was in between husband two and three, having an affair with a married man, drinking too much, just holding on to my job, and pretty much a fucking mess. She insisted I had some daddy issues, although she used some other bullshit term for it.


“There are two ways women with an absent father unconsciously try to resolve their emotional pain. They look for a man just like him. Or they look for a man the opposite of him,” she explained. And I paid her a hundred bucks an hour for this Dr. Phil psychobabble.

          

  “Go down and confront him. Tell him how you feel. You can’t control how he will respond but it will be good for you,” she told me.


So, I went. The night I got there, he took me to his hangout, Sullivan’s Tavern, or Sully’s as he called it. He wanted to show me off to all his derelict buddies. I was annoyed, but I went with him in hopes a little booze would help me start the conversation. Instead, I spent the night listening to him slur about how Obama wasn’t American or a legit president, while I fended off the advances of his redneck crew of dirty old men.


“My friends love you!” he said as I drove him back to his shanty.


“Your friends wanted to fuck me, Dad."


“Well hell, why wouldn’t they? You’re good lookin’ for having three teenage girls and being 40…You’re…what is it called? A melt?”


“It’s a MILF… And I’m 45 and you have two granddaughters and a grandson. Jesus Christ, you’re pathetic.”


He laughed.

           

I toyed with forgetting the whole thing, but figured I needed to catch him before he got drunk the next morning. He agreed to meet me for breakfast. That morning, when I got to his tiny shack, he wasn’t there. I waited around until 9:00 a.m. I tried calling him and could hear his cell phone ringing through his open window. Finally, I went over to Sully’s and there he was, drunk as a skunk. The bartender told me he’d been there since they opened at 6:00 a.m. I flew home that afternoon, and I fired my therapist the next morning. That was the last time I saw or talked to him.


I’d come a long way since then, personally and professionally. I’d become closer with my kids, I got tenure and promoted twice, and I remarried. My recent divorce wasn’t for lack of love or trying—he’d been sober 20 years when we married. I’d cut my own drinking down to almost nothing to support him. Then he lost his high-paying job, relapsed, and just couldn’t stay clean. I couldn’t watch him drink himself to death so I left a few months ago. And just like that, I’m thrown into cleaning up my dead alcoholic father’s affairs.

##

I checked into the Hotel Duval—I wasn’t staying at a damn motel this time. I ordered room service and a bottle of wine. As I ate, I thought, I want to find one positive thing tomorrow to remember. Just one.

           

The next morning, Aunt Peg and Uncle Earl met me at my dad’s glorified hut.


“Hi, honey. So good to see you. You remember Uncle Earl,” Aunt Peg asked.


I lied and said I did. After a few minutes of explaining my kids and their baby daddies, husbands one and two, my most recent failed marriage, and as they called it, my fancy university job, I finally said, “let’s get to it.”


I remember dad’s place being a shithole, but now it was totally dilapidated—paint peeling, roof patched with wind-frayed black trash bags, tiny yard all weeds.

Inside was worse. The smell of rot, mingled with stale beer and cigarette smoke, made my eyes water when I first walked in.


“Was he dead in here a long time?” I asked.


“He died in the driveway,” Uncle Earl answered.


I shook my head. So, it smells like this all the time.


“Let’s get some fresh air in here,” I said, my eyes not yet adjusted to the dark room.

 On my way to remove the army blanket he’d nailed up to block out the light, I stepped on an empty Budweiser can, then waded through a half dozen others strewn on the floor. Makeshift curtain down, window opened, I looked around. Fuck, what a disaster.


The once-white walls were yellow from years of smoke and nicotine. My old man had boxes of papers, piles of clothes, and random tools scattered throughout the small room. Fast-food wrappers littered the counter and kitchen floor. I reached up and pulled down a piece of waterlogged ceiling hanging above me. I could feel the slime on it; it was spackled in black mold.


I looked in his fridge. He had half a case of Bud Ice, peanut butter, moldy white bread, a jar of mustard, and a shriveled apple. Fuck…he really lived like this…

We spent the next couple hours slowly working through the piles and boxes. As we worked, Peg and Earl told me stories about my father, and I began to understand his life. My grandmother died when she had Earl. My grandad was a drunken bully. As the oldest, my dad was expected to take over cooking, cleaning, and raising the younger two. My old man had different ideas and grandad used to beat the shit out of him when things didn’t get done.


Dad ran off and joined the army at 16 using his cousin’s birth certificate. He was bound for Viet Nam, when they figured out he was a minor, and not who he claimed to be. He got a dishonorable discharge. After that, he bounced around the Midwest drinking and taking odd jobs until he landed a job at the ball bearing factory in Meade, Ohio. That’s where he met my mom. My mom had never told me about his childhood.


Then I found the photo. He and I sat on his couch, American Flag tacked to the wall behind us, beer cans strewn on the coffee table in the foreground, both of us smoking grits. He had a mullet; I looked so young but already jaded.


I was in college, it was right after winter break, in the late 80s… He’d come to town for a few days and wanted to see me. We had a party at my apartment. We smoked cigarettes and drank a lot of beer. He was a happy drunk and my roommates and friends got a kick out of somebody’s dad drinking with us. It was nice. I vaguely remember sending him a CD with that photo and a few others.


 He’d blown the photo up and framed it. It was the only thing he bothered hanging on his sad walls. Our one good time.

##


“You need to write the obituary,” Aunt Peg said.


“I can’t. I barely knew him,” I answered.


“Honey, you have a doctorate degree. Earl can barely read and I’m not good with words,” she said, giving me a pathetic smile. “Just do your best.”


As obits go, it was the most basic— he was born in…worked as…survived by…. I asked Aunt Peg and Uncle Earl if anyone was planning a memorial.


“His friends from Sully’s asked us to come by and have a beer to remember him,” Earl said.


I looked at him blankly. Are you fucking kidding me?


“Oh yes, that’s what he’d want us to do,” Aunt Peg said.

##

About 20 regulars gathered around Sully’s pool table. It was covered with a black plastic tablecloth. I set the framed photo of me and my dad on the table next to a tray of Hooters hot wings, and a couple open bags of chips. What a sendoff.


The bartender poured Jim Beam for everyone into disposable shot glasses. He looked at the three of us, waiting for someone to say a few words. Aunt Peg cleared her throat and took a step back. Uncle Earl nudged me forward. For fuck’s sake.

          

I raised my glass and the others followed.

           

“Here’s to my dad. He loved drinking. He loved all of you. He loved Sully’s… He loved his brother and sister,” I looked at the photo.


“…and…I think he loved me, too. Rest in Peace, Dad. To Redneck Rick!” 


After a few rounds at Sully’s with his pals, I saw how much he was a part of the place, a regular’s regular. There certainly were more colorful Redneck Rick stories than I’d imagined. I’m not sure when I decided I wanted the photo to stay, I was pretty sauced, but I asked the barkeep if we could hang the photo in the bar someplace. The old man needed to be here. He gave me a huge grin and picked up the photo. He walked over to the wall next to the pool table, pulled a photo of the little league team they’d sponsored in 1996 off the nail, and hung the frame. It looked perfect in the blue neon glow of the Bud Lite sign just above it.

##


On the flight home, I washed down two aspirin with a Diet Coke. My head throbbed. I was glad I made the trip. I thought about all my bad decisions, my own drinking. My therapist was wrong. I wasn’t trying to replace my dad. I now understood I was simply a better version of him. And I I’m good with that. I felt newly connected to something old; I felt grounded.

 

           

           

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