Tail of the Weak is a series of insights and musical memories from the mind of Uncle Dave Griffin, singer/songwriter and founder of the Annual Gram Parsons Guitar Pull and Tribute Festival, from Waycross, Georgia.
“Ding Dong, the witch is dead. Which old witch? The wicked witch! Ding Dong, the wicked witch is dead!”
I felt every bit as joyous as a Wizard of Oz Munchkin must have felt after Dorothy dropped the house on the Wicked Witch of the East. I grinned and laughed out loud as I dropped the final house payment for 950 Sunset Lane into the envelope. Indeed, that witch is morally, ethically, spiritually, physically, positively, absolutely, undeniably, and reliably...dead!
We bought the blue, two-story house with a mother-in-law suite attached, years ago in October 1996. My mother-in-law, Evelyn White McLeod, sold her home and shared the dotted line with me on our new mortgage, destined for a 15-year payoff. Our new dwelling, built in 1979, needed re-roofing, re-carpeting, plumbing pipes replaced, and the installation of an additional septic tank.
We had a fairly large family—Megan (13), Justin (13), Matt (10), and Connor (3)—and still had to add on a master bedroom with bath including a large garden tub, walk-in closet, and a little bedroom for Connor. By 1998, we had updated the gas heating units and water heaters, going total electric, along with a second mortgage. There went the 2011 payoff!
I stopped working for the Postal Service in December 1998; and, Lynne put the family on her shoulders, going back to the Waycross Post Office for her second term. It was there where we had met at the time clock back in 1989 and were married in '93—love birds in a building full of love letters, food stamps, and J.C. Penny catalogs.
In 2000, I landed a well-paying office job with the U.S. Census, which comes to town every 10 years but doesn't stay long—well, long enough to count and harass every household in the county.
By October of 2001, Paul Lee hired me to help him run Crosstown Music, which was located in downtown Waycross, Georgia. Just across the street was the Ritz Theater, formerly managed by my rural mail carrier, Uncle Clyde “Bo” Tuten, and where I spent many a Saturday of my youth watching Hatari, The Longest Day, and just about every B-movie Elvis Presley ever made.
Lynne left the Postal Service in 2007 to take care of her mama, Mrs. McLeod, who was beginning to show early signs of Alzheimer's disease. Crosstown Music closed its doors in 2008; and the $860-a-month house payment got harder and harder to make.
So, I played music for money every chance I could and worked some odd jobs, including de-molding houses with my ex-brother-in-law, Kevin Griffis, when my bank called and offered to refinance the loan, lowering the monthly bill to a more affordable $500.
The good ol' Census rolled back into town in 2010; so, I hired back on as an Information Technician the day my daughter gave birth to my first grandson, Wyatt. Employed between January and November, it afforded us a little financial peace of mind. After that, I was back to odd jobs and music gigs without family insurance.
In 2011, my old friend and fellow bandmate, John Randall Smith, a well-respected English instructor at Ware County High School, called and told me of an opening on the high school custodial staff. It wasn't the sexiest job in the world; but, I would be working for the state of Georgia, with insurance, sick leave, and paid vacations.
I worked alongside some good folks—Boysie Brown, Billy Boyette, Wes King, Ronnie Schafer, George Riggs, Prentis Medlock, and Wanda Carter—and pushed that broom up until the year I turned 62, when I made the decision to retire on Social Security. There are no guarantees of what the future holds for us in this life; so, I set out to make the best of mine.
Megan, Justin, Matt, and Connor are all grown and gone now. Mrs. McLeod passed away several years ago; and, the mother-in-law suite sits uninhabited, save for closets of old unworn coats and dresses, scattered boxes of art renderings and mementos, a hand-painted mural of the cartoon Beatles and their Yellow Submarine, and a stray hula hoop, handmade by my wife.
There's a leak or two in the roof, the trim needs re-painting, the air conditioning could use an overhaul, and Evie, Hippie, Teddy, and Tiger Tom mess up the floors every now and again; but it's our home now—bought and paid for over 21 long years filled with hard-earned but wonderful memories.
Like backyard get-togethers, tiny little handprints etched forever in concrete driveways, a kind, loving mother-in-law, and kitchen songwriting sessions with the greatest people in the world. I don't know why in the world we would ever want to leave.
American Spirit: Uncle Dave and The Younguns
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Memories straight from the mind of Uncle Dave Griffin