12% BEER
Stop me if you've heard this one already...
  Did I ever tell you guys about the time I finally went back home to Shreveport?

Hadn't been back home since the funeral. Didn't really have the time, but that's just an excuse for my realizing that going home meant that I would have to be back where the memories were. The good memories. The good memories that would make me so sad.

But I had to. I had to go back to Louisiana. I missed my Mom. I missed my Pop. I missed Spic-N-Span. I missed my Step-Mom, my Old Skool friends, my rooms, the houses, the pine trees, bayous, fucked up politics. I missed it.

It was also his 16th birthday. 16-years old he would have been. A sophomore. Driver's permit. Secretary of the Chess Club. Maybe on the Debate team. Maybe the voice of a man.

So, I had to be home for his birthday.

Lipman went with me. He's a good lad. Doobird was going to be there, too. She'd been home numerous times before to get some sort of jaw surgery that involved sticking cow bone into her upper jaw deck.

I was prepared for the emotions I knew I was going to feel. I had my mental Mourning Dance Card posed and ready to check off when I had my waltz with sadness, depression, anger, frustration, and all those other bastards you have to tango with sometimes.

His birthday was met with a fucking gorgeous Shreveport day. Beautiful sun. A nice quick paced wind that wasn't too cold, wasn't too warm.

At the graveyard. There's a tent set out. A tractor with a cart of clay and dirt hitched behind it. Below this was a large hole. Perfectly square. If you stood on the edge of this perfectly square hole and peered in, at the bottom you'd see this black box. A fire proof safe looking thing at the bottom.

"Yeah. His ashes are in there.," Spic-N-Span said.

"Damn. It looks sturdy.," I replied.

I don't think she was in the mood to talk about the sturdiness of the vault. She led the service. It was beautiful. Poems. Music. People saying stuff that they felt like saying.

There were ladybugs everywhere. I mean fucking everywhere. On shirts, on pants, on shovels that were waiting to cover up the hole after we'd left.

Singing happy birthday in a grave yard can go on my list of surreal things that I don't think I want to do again.

Since I am a child of divorce (heh. what a weird term.), I had to split his birthday with both of the parents. So I did the day time with Spic-N-Span, did the night time with Pops.

Every year he'd get $100 to spend on fire works. Family and friends would come over, we'd order some pizza, drink some fizzy soda drinks, eat some cookie cake, blow some shit up. Fucking great way for a teenaged boy to celebrate his birthday.

16th birthday was no different. Well, yes, it was different because he wasn't actually there, but we still had pizza, fizzy soda drinks, cookie cake, and there was now the added bonus of a giant bottle of Jack.

You gotta deal with shit in your own way. Sometimes one of those ways is to set off a crap load of fireworks while downing some Jack and Cokes.

Midway through the festivities Pops says, "Hey. Come with me."

I'm a good daughter so I follow him to the office. He removes a calander from the wall that reveals the Secret Safe. (My father is actually Carson Drew, famous lawyer and excellent advice giver when in the midst of sleuthing.) He spins the lock to the left, right, left left, slows it down, qucikly speeds it to the right. Voi La. Safe is open.

I've only seen the inside of the safe three times or so.

It was nothing special. No gems and rubies. Just some papers and a plastic Zip-Loc container.

Pops pulls out the container. I take a sip of my Jack and Coke and don't say a single word. He pulls off the lid and pulls out a plastic baggie. It's filled with a familiar substance.

"Hey, I didn't know you got half the ashes.," I said.

"Joint-custody is a grand thing.," he answered.

Carefully he dipped his pinkie finger into the baggie, he kind of looked like a cocaine dealer, but I think that was just the Jack and Coke having it's way with me. He slowly lifted his finger out and grabbed a piece of tape with the other hand. Gently, he dabbed the ashes on the sticky side of the tape, sealed the baggie, popped on the tupperware lid, placed it all in the safe, closed and locked it.

I followed his stride to the garage where one large golden ball with a fuse sat on the work bench. With a smile planted on his face and a look of excitement in his eye, Pops stuck the tape of ashes on the curve of the golden ball, raised an eyebrow and said to me, "Get a lighter."

Everyone gathered around. Shells from previous explosions and the bodies of duds were strewn all over the driveway. Pops made an announcement.

"This is his 16th birthday. He loved fireworks. I think he would appreciate this."

Laughter. Not the kind where it was like "Holy shit, this family is crazy." but the kind that said, "Holy shit, this family is fucking nuts and wonderful and awesome and they're dealing with all of this in the most amazing way."

Pops dropped the golden ball with ashes into the launching apparatus. The fuse was lit.

Seconds later the entire sky was lit up with white sparks. Night time snow. The BOOM echoed. Everyone's head was craned upwards. Silence. Smoke drifted away slowly and gracefully.

There's something about blowing your brother's ashes up that makes you realize that life is awesome.

That was how I spent his birthday back home in Shreveport.

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Copyright 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 L.Leroy