My step-father Edmund Kirby-Smith (great-grandson of the very same) was kind of an awful person. In a shorthand way it may help to note he was best pals with Lee Atwater. Well, he was brought up by a…I think brutally strict father is a fair thing to say about Col. Edmund Kirby-Smith Sr.? Though less strenuously strict fairness compels me to say the Colonel was never anything more than abstractly terrifying to me or my brother and sister, and meant well as near as I could figure. They lived in an isolated home looking down into a valley at the edge of Sewanee, Tennessee, at the top of the last arm of one of an amphitheater of mountains, with trees falling away endlessly down the slope and then more mountains stretching out of view which, if not purple, were at least the lavender of eroded East Coast majesties. To say Edmund’s dad was lord of all he surveyed would understate his power. Just him and his sister—shit went Faulkner wrong up there, is the thing. Maybe sometimes I think he didn’t really have much of a chance to be a good person, although that’s not an actual excuse for failing to be one.
So, yeah, he was sort of your all around bad step-dad. You can use your imagination as long as you don’t go overboard. But father to my beloved, best beloved sister. And he had his moments! He was fun at parties.* I’m not being sarcastic; he really was. We invented games like Jupiter-Ball, which we played with a whole Salvation Army’s worth of bowling balls (we systematically switched the tags on them from badminton rackets), and into the thumb hole of the biggest and black ugliest of which we had hammered a broom handle to use as a mallet. We dug a huge hole in the yard to be the golf-analogue target, and created a ring out of which one would attempt to knock one’s opponents’ ball before they could take the shot. When even that grew boring he helped us carry them all over to the park across the road at 12 a.m. where we took turns sending them down the curly slide and seeing whose could go the furthest into the soft sand. We had some good friends with us, like the liquor store clerk and his girlfriend with the less interesting, less relevant job: electron microscopy. But she could play the fiddle pretty fair and could pee standing up like a man and was willing to do it in front of everyone after a few beers, and so was a worthy addition.
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