Dust in the Wind

Lord, you have been our dwelling place

throughout all generations.

Before the mountains were born

or you brought forth the whole world,

from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

You turn people back to dust,

saying, “Return to dust, you mortals.”

A thousand years in your sight

are like a day that has just gone by,

or like a watch in the night. (Psalm 90:1-4)

My grandfather, Joe Etsy, had a very rough start in life. His mother, Jeretta, died of tuberculosis when he was barely three months old. He was farmed out to his Uncle Ed and Aunt Toad, as his father Grover was in no condition to raise an infant. Ed and Toad did their best to raise Joe Etsy well, but he soon became a wanderer. At age 15, his eyes wandered to his cousin, Bessie, then 13. His feet followed and he eloped with her.

Though he fathered eight children, he wasn’t much satisfied with domestic life. He was always looking for something more. The family moved to Indiana and lived for a while on a sizeable farm in Martinsville, picking acres of tomatoes, corn, and beans. Joe Etsy supplemented the family income with a factory job at Arvin’s.

But the job didn’t last. My dad thinks he was fired for trying to start a union. Joe Etsy claimed he quit. Whatever happened, he lost the steady income stream and the family moved to a farm tenant’s shack in Franklin where they barely eeked out a living.

Joe Etsy came up with a grand scheme to earn money. He bought an old school bus, painted it John Deere green and converted it into a sort of antique-mobile. He would drive “down home” to Kentucky and load it up with cheaply purchased goods to sell for a tidy profit up North. I once asked Dad if Joe Etsy made any money on the venture and he replied, “If he did, the family didn’t see any of it.”

Something strange happened to Joe Etsy in his forties. He started to have violent seizures, experience radical mood swings, and display erratic behavior. Sometimes he would disappear for days, even weeks. When he was home, he would spend his days and nights in the coal shack, coming in for meals, hands all blackened. After eating, he would take a piece of bread and roll it in his hands until it was black as coal.

One night in a blinding snow, Grandma Bessie and Joe Etsy had a terrible argument. He wanted to walk over a mile up the road to get some cigarettes. She tried to convince him to stay. He finally relented and told her to go inside, that he would be in soon.

After some time passed, Bessie got worried. She asked her young son, my uncle Larry, to check on his dad in the coal shack. Larry went out and called for his father. No response.

Then Larry looked down the road. In the distance he could see in the headlights of a pick-up truck a body lying on the ground.

Joe Etsy had been out wandering again. In a blinding storm. In the middle of the road. His wandering days were over.

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