Helter Shelter

WWJD (What would Jabo do?)

I don't get to visit with my daddy, Jabo Jowers, as much as I'd like to. When we do get together, it's always back at the old house in South Carolina. We visit in early spring, when it's cool, and we can enjoy sitting under the oak tree by Jabo's metal shop. Jabo hasn't changed much in the last 30 years. He's got the same no-maintenance inch-long crewcut. He wears the same green JC Penney coveralls, unzipped about halfway to his navel, with a white T-shirt underneath. Thank heaven, he did give up smoking. Now I can sit and talk to him without dreading his fingers digging in his breast pocket.

In recent years, Jabo and I have mostly talked about what's going on in my life-my amazing good luck in finding wife Brenda, business partner Rick, and daughter Jess' softball career. From what I can tell, Jabo's fairly proud of how my life has turned out.

All of our visits end the same way. I look Jabo in his sweet old ice-blue eyes, and I say, "Dammit, there's just one problem with these get-togethers. You're dead."

Then the scene just pops itself gone, like a fat, floating soap bubble, and I wake up home in bed, spooned up to Brenda.

Shortly after Father's Day 1971, Jabo had a heart attack, and fell supine on the dance floor of the Augusta, Georgia Amvet's Club. He has remained supine ever since. Since his big going-away party at Posey's Funeral Home, he has been confined to his manufactured underground in Sunset Memory Gardens. He is wearing my tie.

About this time of year, my Jabo dreams turn into daydreams. I imagine that Jabo gets a day off from the afterlife, and knocks on my door. Don't you know, I have to spend a minute deciding if I should let him in. Jabo was trouble. Probably still is. There's no good reason to think just because he's come back to life, he's reformed. More likely, he's looking to pull a caper that'll work out bad for both of us. Even so, I open the door.

"Damn, boy," he says, "how did you end up in this big old two-story house? Did the band hit the big time?"

"Not hardly," I reply. "I sold that raggedy-ass house of yours for $20,000, as soon as I could get that evil, thieving stepwife of yours off my back. The rest is sweat equity."

"Now don't start up about Montine again," Jabo says. "You know I'm sorry, and I've been haunting her as hard as I can." With that out of the way, Jabo wants to see his one and only grandchild.

"You're going to have to do that from a distance," I tell him, because daughter Jess is a little shy by nature, and wouldn't react well to a ghost granddaddy. So I take Jabo out to Jess' summer softball camp, so he can watch her catch and throw, hit and run. When the girls take a break, he listens in while she entertains her friends with a few stories. Jabo does enjoy a child with a wicked sense of humor.

By then, it's 10:30, time for Sylvan Park restaurant to open. I call Brenda, ask her to meet us down there, and we get Jabo and Brenda introduced over some fried chicken, mashed potatoes, turnip greens, black-eyed peas, and cornbread. I order Jabo a slice of chocolate pie, still warm from the oven. Hell, it can't hurt him now.

After lunch, we drop Brenda off at the house, then go put a couple Harley Springer Softtails on my charge card, and take off down the Natchez trace. We stop at an overlook, and I show him my bypass scar. "Look at what they can do for a clogged-hearted man these days," I gloat. "No dropping dead on the dance floor for Jabo Junior. With any luck, by the time I clog up again, I'll have a clone heart in a jar, all ready to go."

By then, it's getting dark, so we turn back toward home, and get back to the house just in time for a late-night offering of Jabo's favorite TV show, Soul Train.

"Turn it off, son," Jabo says. "The singing sounds like a bar fight, and the music sounds like the sirens and horns I heard right after I hit the floor at the Amvet's Club. It makes me uneasy. I'd better get on back to what I was doing before I came here."

I fall asleep on the couch. Next morning, I wake up and walk out into the backyard. There, behind the home plate where Jess practices her pitching, there's one of those "Your Speed Is" radar trailers. I hear Jabo's voice in my head, "Make sure your girl throws 55 before she gets in high school. She' ll need 65 by college."

"Hey," I say. "Where'd that radar trailer come from?" "Found it at the side of the road, boy. Just found it at the side of the road."