Category Archives: Cracker Culture

I thought, he walked, on the water

Leland Thompson was the truest Floridian you’ve ever met.

He was my first hero.  And he passed away on Sunday evening.

Uncle Leland was my grandfather’s brother.  He spoke with a rattle in his voice that belied his years of life; slow, deliberate speech, with a southern drawl and that gravel that told me maybe he’d smoked in his past.

He and Aunt Margaret lived on a farm in Dade City.  If you imagine a farmhouse from the 30’s, complete with wood paneling and hardwood floors, a gorgeous front porch – the exterior painted white.  No trim colors of any kind.  Just white.  Set by a pasture, next to the woods, under a hammock of the most stately oaks ever seen, just at the end of a dirt road near the river . . .

In his younger days, he was elected sheriff of Pasco County.  As an officer, he once apprehended a man after the man shot another officer while the three of them were in an elevator.  His farm had hundreds of cattle, and pigs and gardens and all the stuff farms should have.  He was a real life hero, as well as one in the imagination of a little boy.

When I was little, he’d always slip my mom a dollar for both me and my sister, right at the end of our visit.  He’d pretend we were in on it, and wink, and say “Now, Mrs. Joy, these young’uns need some ice cream – so here’s a little money for each of them.”

He would always make time to take us on rides on the Grey Gopher, his old army jeep.  Some of the most thrilling memories from my childhood were of my parents telling us we were going to Dade City on Saturday, and getting there, knowing we’d take the Gopher out for a ride.  We’d see deer and hogs and turkeys and alligators – some of my love of Florida was formed in those tattered vinyl seats.

There were summers when I’d spend whole weeks on that farm

His barns were filled with hay bales we could climb on, or a recent batch of kittens, or maybe some little fluffy chicks he’d give us to bring home, much to my mother’s chagrin.  There might be a horse in the stable, or a docile cow, or his tamed deer Buddy might show up in the pasture.  He once let me pet some buffalo that wandered in.  His front porch was a southern Sunday in the south with old folks in rockers and someone singing gospel and sweet tea and chicken and dumplings . . . in short, it was everything a country boy could want out of life, all in one place . . .

I’m rambling a little bit, but it’s hard to put into words . . . the last time I saw Uncle Leland was 2011 . . . we had brought him some furniture from my apartment.  Cancer and time had savaged my hero.  He met Will, and Olivia.  He teased her about how pretty she was, about boys and school, and he gave Will a watch.  We visited for a couple of hours.  He bragged about his grandkids and kids, and I knew, when I shook his hand and hugged him goodbye, that it was probably, you know, a real goodbye . . .

Each of my kids, in turn, gave him a hug, this man who was so large in my mind, a frail and genial old stranger to them.  In that moment, I flashed back to my childhood:

My grandfather, my Poppy, Uncle Leland’s brother, died when I was 12, and Em was 7.  It was sudden – I talked to him on Saturday, and Sunday he was gone.  Poppy was buried in Dade City, in the city cemetery there.  As was always the case, after the funeral, we all headed to Uncle Leland’s after the service.  All of my cousins and uncles and aunts were there, and it was a family reunion of sorts, somber at first, but warming as the day went on.

If Uncle Leland was my hero, Poppy was my buddy – we talked on the phone almost every day, about sports and fishing and who knows what else.  But like most 12 year olds, I didn’t fully grasp the situation.  I was sad, but I didn’t completely understand.

And, as we got ready to leave that June evening, in the late 80’s, I’ll never forget saying goodbye – he put his arm around me, and around my sister – he looked us in the eye, the only time I’ve ever seen him misty, just hours after burying his brother.  He always called my mom “Mrs. Joy,” and his raspy voice scraped the words one more time . . .

“Mrs. Joy – the young’uns are gonna need a grandfather now . . . here . . . Let me get ya’ll some ice cream money . . . ”

I’m out of town for work today, 2500 miles away, so I won’t be there this afternoon, after the funeral in Dade City, when all the Thompson’s will head down that dirt road out to the farmhouse near the river.  Bring a dish, comfort Aunt Margaret . . . it’ll start somber, but warm as the day goes on . . . there’ll be sweet tea and chicken and maybe a gospel song . . .

And I’d give all the ice cream money I’ve got, just to do it one more time, to sit there with him, in that little white house, under those stately oak trees, set by the pasture . . .

While you were away . . .

Well, actually, most of you were here all along.  It was I (we) who went away.

Late 2013 was a weird period for us.  We had some pretty major lifestyle changes, and our custody arrangement changed, and we took what most of our family termed “the best vacation ever” to Washington, DC.

I won a second straight neighborhood Fantasy Football championship, narrowly, over my daughter.  Will finished speech therapy, and his “r’s” and “l’s” are coming along wonderfully.  Liv was accepted into the International Baccalaureate school, a pretty big deal.  Both kids are bringing home straight A’s (with a very occasional B).

We bought a grill, and started actually liking our puppy, and both of us got new jobs and we rediscovered Popeye’s Spicy Fried Chicken and discovered (for the first time) PDQ Buffalo Chicken Tenders.

Anyhow, we’re back – maybe not as religiously as we have been in the past, but back none the less.

If you want to get caught up, here are some of the highlights:

On being 14

The time I went to church and got booed

Our 2nd anniversary

On Step-parenting

I have to tell you something

The vicious hamster story

Stuff on Coley’s head

A dove(less) hunt

The time Gilly caught our TV on fire

Thanks for reading, and for coming along on our ride!

Two Yearniversary

Two years ago we got married under the oak tree in our backyard.

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We did everything for our little wedding with our own hands (and lots of help from family!) and it was everything I hoped it would be. It also happened to be freezing that day, but I didn’t even notice.

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We got the flowers the day before from Publix, dinnerware from Ikea, and set up one big table on our back porch.

 

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My sweet neighbor and mother-in-law made home made apple and pumpkin pies.

 

We have been on a lot of adventures together.
Some include climbing roofs and looking out over the Tennessee river in North Alabama.

Lake Guntersville State Park in Alabama overlooks the Tennessee River.

Lake Guntersville State Park in Alabama overlooks the Tennessee River.

Some include hanging out in some really, really dirty bathhouses in campgrounds.

Believes there are spiders near.

Believes there are spiders near.

 

Fears no oil.

Fears no oil.

Fishing all the while. . .

Windcreek State Park

Windcreek State Park

 

 

Sometimes we worked outside until 4 am in a blizzard.

Brrr.

Brrr.

On a lift, freeze cold air flows all around your feet. The increased surface area leads to faster frostbite. In case you were wondering.

On a lift, freezing cold air flows all around your feet. The increased surface area leads to faster frostbite. In case you were wondering.

 

Also brr.

Also brr.

Sometimes we take road trips and come home with new family members.

Finley's first car ride.

Finley’s first car ride.

Some adventures are not so fun. Being jobless for months. Sick kids in the hospital. Inevitable family drama.

But…

Did I mention we go fishing?

The club can't even handle me right now.

The club can’t even handle me right now.

Sometimes we go on dates to Taco Bell and see how much money we can spend, because it seems like no matter how hungry you are, you can’t spend more than $25 at Taco Bell.

Sometimes we sit in our car in a parking lot and talk and talk and talk. These conversations usually start with, “I have an idea for a business.” I roll my eyes and Travis continues. And we dream.
Always together.

Andy’s milkshakes. Dairy Queen runs. Come sit on the back porch with me. Let’s watch a West Wing. Wanna walk the dogs? I have an idea for a blog post. Trying new recipes. Wanna go garage-sale-ing?

In these recent weeks in a season of uncertainty when we have struggled so forcefully to survive, we held each other up and cried and prayed together. Literally holding each other up.

There’s no one else I’d rather do life with.

Me too, baby . . . me too . . .

 

Things I think. . .

Gilly, here. 

  • If you know Travis, you know this is his 3rd real blog, but I think it might be his best. I’ve had at least 3 people text me and say, “I am addicted to A Pack of Crackers.” Thanks, mom, dad, and Gram. Just kidding, Gram’s never been on the internet. 
  • Speaking of Gram, on Saturday, I listened to my 14 year old talk more than I’ve ever heard her talk at dinner, and she was doing all of her talkings to my 82 year old (I think) grandmother. They covered Fantasy Football, squirrel hunting, middle school band politics, Common Core practice in public schools and the Obama administration, the downfalls of the Accelerated Reader (AR) program at school, and pic-stitch and various other iPhone applications. It was hilarious and delightful. 
  • Gram has convinced all of the children in her neighborhood that she is some sort of ninja warrior hunter that always gets a head or a heart shot when hunting. Truth is, she is one of the best shots I know and she’s pretty darn fearless. Her recent kills include her neighbor’s prize rooster that wouldn’t stay out of her yard, and a water moccasin.
  • Speaking of wild animals, I owe you guys the coyote story. 
  • I was just informed that my daughter was negotiating with my grandmother to acquire a red rat snake from her property, so I’m going to go and…you know…make sure that doesn’t happen. Hopefully I don’t get a head or a heart shot for getting between my grandmother and her great-grandaughter. 

Things I think . . .

  • You guys . . . ya’ll know that song “Slow Ride” by Foghat?  Last night, I totally caught my wife singing it as “Snow Ride” which is kinda awesome.  She may have had a lot of glasses of wine beforehand.  Either way, it got me excited about Christmas . . .
  • Because this Christmas we’re going to Washington, DC.  I mean, not for Christmas (Barry never invites us to spend it with the fam), but the day after Christmas, we’re trudging to the airport at the crack of dawn and venturing to our nation’s capital . . . hopefully it’s all back up and operational by that point.
  • I had Columbus day off this week . . . I’ve never had Columbus day off in my life, but I did this week, and I celebrated in the ways a 15th century explorer only dreamed about – taking the kids to school, picking the kids up from school, fixing the kids dinner, doing homework with the kids.  Also, I took a nap.
  • Columbus day has also thrown a wrench into my blogging schedule.  Call it a blogger’s holiday?
  • I think someone brought mini-cupcakes into the office today.  If I were a super hero (I’m not saying I’m not – just can’t divulge that kind of information on the interwebs), my kryptonite would be mini-cupcakes.  Also dark chocolate.  Yoohoos.  Puppies.  Sweet tea.  New fishing tackle.  Boats.  Seafood.
  • I would be the worst super hero ever.  Entire comic book would be me eating things and hanging out on my boat with puppies while dastardly villains overran Gotham City.

Stuff on Coley’s Head

I’m not a hundred percent sure when it first happened.

I will gladly admit I got the inspiration from Dooce.

Coleman is our eleven (almost 12) year old French Brittany . . . he’s crazier than a sprayed cockroach.  He’s been with me through thick and thin.  He’s been to more states than a lot of people you know.  He’s played in the snow and and in the ocean and loves peanut butter almost as much as his family.  He is a fierce snuggler.  When I was living with my parents, I had a twin mattress on the floor and he slept on my pillow or on my feet.   The very definition of man’s best friend.

Anyway, somewhere along the way, I thought “you know, I bet that dog would let me balance things on his head” and the rest is history.

These are some of our favorite things on Coley’s head . . .

This is the first photo I can find of me putting something on his head.  Date on the photo file is June 18, 2009.  This Rays hat is still in my boat – it’s my good luck hat.  I love this picture because it looks like he’s smiling.

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He loves seasonal stuff . . . lightweight and simple . . . with a little pumpkin . . .

During his short tenure as a member of the KGB . . .

Waiting for the Pilgrims to arrive on Thanksgiving . . .

Trying out for the role of a Shepard in the Christmas Story . . .

Showing the reason for the season (and, yes, those are ceramic Nativity figurines. And no, they were not harmed at all.  And yes, think about all the dogs you know.  Would one of them let you do this?) . . . Lots of people ask if the stuff falls . . . not usually.  I have tried some stuff that was doomed from the beginning: a lamp shade (freaked him out); Liv’s trumpet (couldn’t get it to balance, and it was really heavy); a lightsaber (I had the light and sound on, and it scared him (and me) to death.  We scrapped that idea); books don’t work well (I don’t know if they’re too heavy or what – just can’t make it happen)

Hoping for the opportunity to work at Gimbel’s or Macy’s

Jurassic Bark, anyone?

This is one of the coolest ones – I had been trying to do a cup for a while, but they’d always fall. We were driving to Orlando one day and I had this CFA cup, full; he was resting his head on the console, and I thought, “what the heck” – I sat it on his head at a stoplight, snapped the pic, and, amazed, left it there through three more intersections. He never flinched.

Irony. This is the stuff that makes all these pictures happen . . . (another aside – in 2010, Coley had a tumor removed from his head.  Stitches and scar and the whole 9 yards.  Never slowed him down or bothered him one bit.  I always wondered if it was easier to balance before or after; I really think it’s been easier after)

Easter morning. Similar to the CFA cup, this worked better when there were eggs in the carton . . . (did you know that the eggs in the blue carton, the mediums, are the freshest?  My grandmother, Ernestine, told me this years ago.  You can tell Gilly bought these eggs, because they’re not in the blue carton.  This isn’t important;  just thought I’d lay down some egg knowledge (get it – “lay down”))

Know what Costa Del Mar said about this pic – “cool” – no kidding – those boxes are hard to balance on a freaking shelf, let alone a round dog head.  The first time I tried it, I took all the sunglasses out of the boxes, but they were too light and went everywhere.  I had to put the glasses back into the boxes.  I also figured out I could stack them one at a time and spell out c-o-s-t-a vertically.  This one is one of my favorites.  It involved no treats.

I love the hats!

He got Hufflepup . . .

This is one of our most recent ones – a wine bottle from our wedding – it was empty, and it was HEAVY.  It fell the first two times, but we got it figured out . . .

Have you ever tried balancing something on your dog’s head?  Your kid’s head? Got any suggestions for stuff for Coley’s head? Are you on the Instagram? Hit me up @travis_thompson

Things I think . . .

  • I’m think I’m Egg.  Zhaust.  Ed.  Between helping my ex out with the kids on her days, work stuff, Gilly’s work stuff, potty training a puppy, and the baseball playoffs, I’m in need of about 4 extra hours each week.  But I’m sure no one else has that problem . . . (wry grin)
  • Speaking of “wry” – I feel like we are all friends now, and so I should tell you that I picked “Catcher in the Rye” for my book report in 6th grade ’cause I thought it was about baseball.
  • It wasn’t.
  • I’m thinking about opening a Betty Ford type clinic, only instead of alcohol abuse, it would deal with smart phone addiction.  Cause I’m telling ya’ll, somebody is gonna make a mint off this idea.
  • I think I have a Sam’s club sized bag of peanut butter M&M’s sitting next to me as I write this . . . and I look over and Coleman the Wonderdog has his face buried in it like a feed sack.  Some of his favorite things – peanut butter, chocolate, and hard crunchy candy shells.  He also likes dark chocolate, avocado, grapes – basically anything he can get his paws on that could cause him to die.  Also wallowing in armadillo poop.
  • I think last week I mentioned that I consider eating at Chick-fil-A to be the same as tithing.  I’ve decided to add Chipolte to that list as well.  I don’t know that Chipolte is Christian-owned, but I love it the same or better, so I’m counting it.
  • I think I started the kids off on the first season of “the Munsters” last week.  There’s something very pure about watching an old TV show like that – the slapstick-y comedy, the corny special effects, Fred Gwynne.  We watched the one where Herman and Lily get invited to a costume party with Marylin’s boyfriend’s parents, and the dad dresses up as Frankenstein.  Gold, Jerry, pure gold.
  • The following posts are forthcoming:  Stuff on Coley’s head.  The Great Hamster Hunt of 2013.  My thoughts on church.  Gilly’s invisible friends. And more, folks.  Much, much more.