Here I was, back in the Fort Wayne. Some of the fondest moments of my life were spent here. Every Christmas of my youth was spent in this mid-sized rust belt city. Now I had returned as a young man to rekindle my childhood.
Some things had changed, some things had not. The biggest change was that grandma and grandpa weren't around. They were the reason that Fort Wayne mattered. They were gone, but not forgotten. Uncle Mike and I would spend our day making a pilgrimage to their grave in Illinois.
Another big thing that changed was me. I was an adult. That meant that Uncle Mike could give me the uncensored versions of his stories and spill all the family secrets. This was a good change. It also meant that we could curse up a storm and no one was going to get mad at us.
So we made our way to Fithian, Illinois. The purpose of the trip was to pay respects at my grandparents' grave. The drive to Sterns cemetery was about three hours each way. This meant lots of bonding time with my good ol' Uncle Mike.
You know, I sort of forgot how much of a nut my Uncle Mike was. For the entire three hours he had me ROLLING with his stories of life in Wayne Town. Mike had a lot of stories, and now that I was a man none of them were off limits. I laughed most of the way to Illinois.
I particularly liked the stories about his paranoid, gun-owning friend, Tim. I'm coming to realize that gun-ownership in certain red states, like Indiana, is common. However, gun-ownership like Tim was not common. This guy probably had hundreds.
Mike told me about the time that Tim got the Y2K bug. There was no doubt in Tim's mind that Y2K was going to be the end of mankind. Computer glitches would cause the fabric of society to unravel. Mayhem would prevail. Tim had to do everything within his power to prepare for war against the federal government or zombies or whoever was going to be the bad guy in his doomsday scenario. So what did he do? He spent $22,000 on emergency food rations and, of course, weapons. Keep in mind that $22,000 in 1999 in Fort Wayne was a LOT of money. I mean A LOT.
So, the clock struck midnight on December 31, 1999. And what happened? Nothing. Well, actually, nothing didn't happen. I guess what really happened was everything. Everything that was previously taking place continued to take place. Life went on. And it went on because Y2K wasn't the apocalypse. So Uncle Mike put a sign on Tim's office door that read, "Emergency Food Rations 50% Off." Tim didn't appreciate it, but hey, someone needed to put a dunce cap on this guy's head.
This story was light compared to the others that Uncle Mike told me. There was the floss incident at the plant that Mike used to supervise. Then there was the dog bite story starring Paranoid Tim. Ask me about these stories the next time we hang out, they may not be appropriate for the blog...
We arrived in Fithian. The area was largely unchanged. Lonely towns popped up across the scenery of endless farmland. The horizon was decorated with an occasional grain silo. The only change since I was there five years ago was the addition of about a dozen wind turbines. They dominated the scenery as I gazed towards the North.
It was really nice to pay respects to Grandma and Grandpa. We left them a few gifts and reminded them that they were in our hearts. It reminded me that I will always be rooted in the Midwest.
After the visit we did a little genealogical work. We took pics in both the Sterns and Davis cemeteries where we have relatives buried. Uncle Mike and I were thrilled to discover the nearly illegible tombstone of my great great grandpa Archie O'Loughlin (spelling change is intentional). He was the orphan Irishman who came over from the Emerald Isle by himself as a young boy to start a new life in America.
We then headed to the home of Maxine and Ronnie, Mike's aunt and uncle. We spent a couple hours there reminiscing of the good old days. I got a little choked up when Maxine reflected on how much she missed her sister, my grandmother Ruth. She said, "I will still think of something and run to the phone to give her a call." That hurt. I know exactly what that feels like, except my impulse is usually to send a snapchat rather than to make a call. Regardless of means, the intention and feeling are similar.
We headed back to Fort Wayne. Uncle Mike's stories continued. He told me about his current job in motorcycle and scooter sales. I was curious about the characteristics of people who bought scooters. He broke it down for me, "Colin, it's real simple. 50% had DUIs. They're real predictable. They walk into the dealership looking all pissed off, then tell me they need something they can drive without a license. After I reassure them that the scooters don't require a license, they buy the first one they see without any haggling. Then the next 30% are mildly mentally handicapped. The last 20% are recreational." I couldn't help but to get a kick out of this story. I'm sure I'll profile scooter drivers for the rest of my life because of Uncle Mike.
Before we got home, Uncle Mike asked me if I wanted a ride to Battle Creek the next day. It was about 100 miles North to get there. I took him up on the offer. He responded, "Alright, cool. I didn't know if you were one of those types that wants to FEEL THE PAIN!" Mike blacked out, "FEEL THE PAIN MOTHAFUCKA! I WANT TO FEEL THE MOTHA FUCKIN PAIN!" I told Mike that I did not want to feel the mother fucking pain and that the ride would be much appreciated.
We got home after nightfall. The next day Mike would give me a ride to Battle Creek, Michigan, my old stomping grounds. It was really great to reconnect with Fort Wayne and my Uncle Mike as an adult. If I hadn't then I may have FELT THE PAIIIIINNNNN!