Where in the hell am I?

March 24, 2014

10 years ago my Grampy passed

Filed under: archaeology — Tags: , , , — John @ 9:28 pm

My aunt posted on Facebook this morning that it was 10 years ago today that my Grampy, Elbert Brubaker, died. He was my grandfather on my mothers side, and spent almost all of his adult life as a farmer in southwestern Ohio, around the town of Gratis.

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According to the search function, I’ve mentioned him twice before on this blog. Once was a reference to wearing one of his “gimme” hats in the field. The other was actually a brief reference to his death, and the fact that I was at field school in Belize when it happened. I made a brief reference on my old Livejournal, a couple of days after it happened (not linking there). For some reason, I really feel like I’ve written the longer story before, but I sure can’t find it, so here it goes while it’s on my mind.

I was working at my second field school, doing the spring 2004 semester at the Programme for Belize Archaeological Program at the PFB Ecoreserve. We were roughly two months into the 3 month season, and I wasn’t very happy. There’s no sense in going into the reasons now.

Around 10:30 or so in the morning, on Wednesday March 24, 2004, we were out on the site, about 5 minutes from the field camp. It was really a pretty normal day, until Dr. Valdez showed up out of nowhere with a serious look on his face and says, “John, I need to talk to you privately.” Well, I figured the worst, that I had finally done something to piss him off enough to send me home. Or maybe he decided that he had to do something about the barely surreptitious relationship that was going on. Either way, I figured I was toast.

So I was caught off-guard when he said “John, I’m sorry to tell you that your mother just called, and your grandfather passed away this morning.” He offered to take me in to town so that I could call her, and make travel arrangements, and assured me that someone would take me into Belize City and pick me up. I was stunned. I had honestly forgotten that my Grampy had severe cancer, and had already lived months longer than the initial 6-month frame he had been given.

I went back to the site and told a couple of my friends what had happened, then packed my stuff and went back to camp. We got to the place in town where we used the phone and the internet (which was a new feature in Blue Creek in 2004), and I called my mom and told her I was going to come to the funeral. She told me not to worry about it, but it wasn’t an option for me. Then I called the ticket desk at the Belize City airport and got to talk with the nicest, most helpful woman who went way out of her way to make sure I got home as soon as possible, leaving early the next day.

After this was done, I returned to the camp. It was only about 12-12:30 at this point, meaning no one would be back from the field for a few hours. Rather than sit alone being sad at the camp, I decided I wanted to go back out on site, where I would be with my friends and others, and have something to help occupy my mind. So I walked back out and joined back in the dig.

Unfortunately, within about 20 minutes I got bit on the hand by a Doctor fly. Before that, the bites had hurt a lot and swelled up briefly, but went away quickly. This time, for whatever reason, my hand started swelling really badly. Within a couple of minutes, it was the size of a small boxing glove, or like the gloves that MMA fighters wear. It was also hot, and hurt. I couldn’t dig, and I was on the verge of losing it.

I was basically ordered back to camp, where I took a dose of the ol’ Benadryl and slept the rest of the afternoon. The swelling went down in my hand, but it still was sore and not 100% back to normal size. I ate, and packed what things I needed to take with me to Ohio. This was going to be a bit of a shock, since I mostly had dirty field clothes and some casual clothes more suited for a tropical climate like the jungles of Belize, rather than the early spring chill of Ohio.

The next morning I was to the airport, and on my way. There wasn’t a huge turn-around time between when I landed in Houston and my connecting flight to Ohio, and Customs stood in between. I don’t know if it’s just Houston, or if it was a particular circumstance involving a lot of international flights landing at once, but Customs took forever. I was in line, staring at the clock, watching the minutes tick away, on the verge of tears. I finally got through with no time to spare, and took off in a sprint for my gate.

I’ve certainly run faster, and longer, but not that fast for that long. I got to the gate right as the door was closing, and tears started running down my face. I told the attendant that I was on my way to my grandfather’s funeral, that i was coming from Belize and that Customs took forever. Whether it was just kindness and sympathy, or the tears, she opened the door and I basically collapsed in my seat, physically and emotionally exhausted.

I wrote back in 2007, “These occasions are weird, because it’s a sad time, but it’s also something like a family reunion and so everyone is usually pretty happy to see each other for the first time in a while.” That’s been my experience anyway, and that’s kinda what it was like when I landed in Ohio and walked out to my family waiting for me. There were tears, but more smiles and laughs. Sadness and joy coexisted, almost comfortably.

I was actually able to find a nice set of clothes and dress shoes at a thrift store in Dayton, along with some warmer clothes and a couple of fun t-shirts. I ended up heading back to Belize about 5 pounds heavier and with an extra suitcase, and eventually finished the field season before embarking on what would be my career as a Texas archaeologist.

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