Arkansas at night, at the cusp of July, is the loudest place in the world. Cicadas, katydids, crickets, bugs of every description in a Halleluia Chorus of fecundity and territorialism. My cousins Sparks and IRONS2358, his wife WooWoo, Noteponymous, and I had been called there to bury my grandfather, and Notepo could not sleep for the noise, the heat, the humidity, and the stresses of emotionally supporting me and our child, and meeting the Inlaws. Sie hadn't met 90% of my family before, even though we've been married for more than a decade.

We drove down in a single day and night, eighteen hours of interstates, accidents, road constuction, dead possums, and increasing heat. Minieponymous was a trouper, this hir first real road trip. Of notable incidents on the road, there were few (a moment of luck where choosing to cut west instead of east around Des Moines saved being caught in the logjam of traffic behind a single-vehicle rollover, astonishingly bad service in a combination KFC/Taco Bell two establishments that, IMHO, should not be joined together, getting lost in a small town in the middle of the night when there wasn't even a cop around to flag down for directions).

The day before the funeral was an unplanned parade of visitations, meetings with family, seeing Grandma. Seeing Grandma. Heartbreaker. She has Oldtimer's, and all she wants to do is go home. But like Lou Reed said, {She} is home. You see, the small neccessary fiction the family used to get her to accede peacefully to the home was that she needed to help take care of Grandpa. She started backing before his body lost the last of its warmth.

Warmth. Grandpa was not what you'd consider a conventionally warm person. I learned something, after his death, that changed forever my attitude toward my mother. (And my mother-problems, cliche that it is, have been a major motivating force in my psyche for the span of my life. It's only recently that I've started to learn that I'm not a complete failure, that mistakes are not the end of hope, that perfection is by definition impossible.) What did I learn? That out of the entire family, even considering the successes of some of us (one cousin owns a gold mine in South America, for example), the two he respected the most were IRONS2358 and I, because we followed our own path no matter what, and chose being true to ourselves even when it cost us dearly in the conventional sense. He loved the black sheep.

Ever been to a Southern Baptist funeral? They suck. The closest the preacher came to saying anything about Grandpa was a tale of how he (the preacher, not Grandpa) was a hellraiser in his youth. Then came a diatribe about how their god said hat salvation is in faith, not reason, so using your mind or questioning doctine was a sin. Then they open the coffin lid, and everyone in the church files by, looks at the body, shakes the preacher's hand, and thanks him for the sermon. I was holding together until Grandma walked by and took her last look at her husband, the man she'd been married to since she was fifteen, raised two children, migrated to California and back, traveled the country, and, in the end, spent the last few years in one room with, playing cards from sunup until going to bed at sunset. She looked so lost, adrift in a world where most people are strangers.

Grandpa had lost a lot of weight before his death, but, when we carried the coffin, it didn't seem to matter - it was heavy, as if each of his years weighed three kilos.

The only part of the trip that tasted at all like a vacation was the three hours we spent (we being almost the entire family) shooting off fireworks. Arkansas fireworks are not the same as Minnesota fireworks. Even the small cones shoot balls of fire into the air, where they explode, throwing sparks out over the dry forest. When we were setting up, some of us were setting off bottle rockets, and my cousin exploded one right under my ass while I was squatting down loading a bundle of rockets into a tube. Half an hour later, we were setting up a double mortar shell display. We counted off, one, two three, and my fuse took right away.

His didn't.

This year, there was a brand of mortar that was recalled. As he tried to light his fuse, about six feet away from my tube, my mortar failed and exploded in the cardboard tube. You know how big they look in the sky? You should see what a groundburst look like.

He wasn't hurt, but when he could hear again (about fifteen minutes later), I told him it was karma for the ass blaster.

The next day, we left town. As we reached the county line, the radio played a threefer from the Grateful Dead. As they sang of the road, the distant highway that you'll have to walk alone, the tears that had been leaking for days came full force, salt pouring into my mouth, trees blurred into a single mass.