Changes (Where to Eat)

On the day before the funeral, Mom drove me around Evansville to show me all the new developments in town. I realized it had been almost a year since I’d been back to my hometown. A lot had changed. Sure, there were still the chain restaurants on the main drag, with their old, familiar names: Nothing But Nuts; Pretzels, Etcetera; Mostly Toast, Jamba jr, Milkshakes and Company, That Fudge Thing…

But now, as the population grew, there were a slew of new chains catering to family faire. All-you-can-eat places like J.T. Allibaster’s Clean Plate Society, and a bunch of those get-your-own-personal-crockpot places like Norman Crockwell’s. That one sounded promising, but we didn’t have six hours. Maybe call ahead for tomorrow, we agreed…then we shared a sad silence. Tomorrow…the funeral.

In a town and in a family, change happens so slowly and so constantly that I hardly ever notice it. For better or for worse, it’s moments like these–deaths and rare visits–that give me a snapshot of a time and place that I can hold up for comparison. Oh hey, The Bread Connection!

The Bread Connection was on Restaurant Row right next to Johnny Cato’s Italian Concern, Why Nott’s?, Hold the Attitude, and Applebees. No need for a sit-down meal–it was just the two of us. We headed to the mall. I wanted to buy a decent shirt since I would be giving the eulogy.

Eastland Mall is known for two things: building (at that time) the largest Old Navy Store in Indiana, and a world-class food court. All the staples were there: Mashed!, Hot Crossed Puns, Potato Junction, The Pasta People, Two Guys and a Hot Plate, The Calzone Authority, Ewww!, Ewww Too!; PizzaPhone, You can’t Eat That on Television.

Plus the trendy new stuff like we have in Chicago: Just Crust, Edible Furniture Gallery, and the throwback, Apartheid Cafe.

Alex would have liked that last one, I thought. Leave that out of the eulogy? We sat down over a Denver Scramble at a small table in front of Eggs You Very Much and I took out my pen.

Let’s Talk About The Skeleton You Found in Grandma’s Chminey

Okay, kids. Everybody have a seat. Calm down. Let’s talk about the skeleton you found in the chimney.

First of all, I just want to preemptively say it’s not Santa Claus. So, moving on…

It’s not…so just settle. I’m sure once the police get here, we’ll be able to sort out this whole mess, but I just want to make sure you kids are okay. That’s a pretty scary thing to find when you’re playing in your Grandma’s den. You probably have a lot of questions about what you saw and I’m not sure if I can answer all of them, but–Jaimie–JAIMIE–It’s not Santa Claus, okay?

Because I just know. Dads know this sort of thing. Judging by the way the skeleton is facing downward, I’d say it was probably somebody trying to rob your grandma and they just got stuck. That explains the big sack.

Anyway, scary stuff happens in life sometimes and we have to be brave. That’s what growing up is all about. Remember last year when grandpa died?

It’s not Grandpa.

Don’t cry. It’s not Grandpa. We went to Grandpa’s funeral, remember? Remember seeing Grandpa in the casket?

Please stop crying.

The point is, we buried grandpa. He’s not in the chimney. And neither is Santa Claus.

Look, these bones are completely clean. They’ve probably been up there for at least a year, so it can’t be Santa. You both got Christmas presents last year, didn’t you?

I didn’t ask if you got good presents. I’m sorry if you didn’t get everything you wanted last year, but that does not mean that Santa is dead.

It doesn’t.

Okay, here we go. Santa Claus isn’t in the chimney. You know why? Because he isn’t even real.

No, Grandpa was real. Remember how you used to sit on Grandpa’s lap?

Well, no, you didn’t sit on Santa’s lap…that was just pretend. It was just somebody dressed in a Santa suit…actually, your grandfather dressed in a Santa suit, so…it–

No, Grandpa wasn’t covering for Santa dying, either. For all practical purposes, he was Santa. So in a way, we buried them both.

Yes, Grandma knew. She’s the one who bought the costume. It looked just like the one hanging from this skeleton.

Please stop crying.


Knock, Knock.
Who’s there?
Hope who?
Hopen the door. It’s important!

Knock, Knock.
Who’s there?
Wayne .
Wayne who?
Wayne a minute, you don’t know anybody named Hope.

Knock, Knock.
Who’s there?
Don who?
Don open the door for Hope! Wayne is right! This “Hope” person isn’t who she claims to be!

Knock, Knock
Who’s there?
Hope who?
Hope you don’t listen to these guys! Don’s got a gun!

Ring, ring.
Who’s there?
I’m Don.
You’re Don who?
I’m Don playing games! This could get ugly. Stay on the phone and back away from the door.

Bang, bang
Who’s there?
Hope who?
Hope’s dead! I shot her! This is Wayne.

Wayne who?
Wayne Don wasn’t looking, I took his gun. Who is this?
Lemme who?
Lemme guess. This won’t end, will it, Wayne?
No. I’m Don.

Bear Problems 2

Dear Editor,

This letter is a response to Mr. Terrance Lambert’s March 19th letter which The Three Forks Gazette chose to publish in it’s otherwise fine pages.

This being the United States of America, certainly Mr. Lambert is entitled to his opinion. However, I can say without hyperbole that his cowardice is a cancer rotting our community from the inside.

I say what this town needs is a little more of the spirit of our pioneer forefathers.

Move the Three Forks Honey Festival? That festival has been held at the mouth of Bear Cave for the past 50 years, and it will continue as long as I am alive. And as long as my remaining children are alive. The only thing that can stop us is giving up. Maybe if a few more people had the strong will of former Mayor Lee “No Bear” Hillsdale (the man for which No Bear Hill was named), we would make it through the opening ceremony this year.

Hillsdale shared the Pioneer Spirit. He knew that when founders like my great, great, grandfather came here in 1880 they wouldn’t be stopped by little things like mercury contamination, rampant dysentery, and the fact that Indians already lived there. And certainly not hundreds of aggressive bears.

When Terrance Lambert’s great grandfather came here–six months ago (from back east, folks…), he lacked this same Pioneer Spirit. The First Families of Three Forks moved here for religious freedom and relaxed gambling laws. Old-Man-Lambert was simply passing through town on his way to California. Yet both shared the same fate: savagely mauled to death by bears. The difference is in how they lived their lives. One cowardly visiting his son during a train layover and the other as a glorious, brief, and extremely violent celebration of life.

The fact is, it’s appeasement policies from pushovers like Terrance Lambert that have given the bears their current foothold. How dare he suggest that the hard working people of Three Forks alter their lifestyles to stave off wave after wave of bear attacks. If anything, we should be more bold, to show the bears that no amount of aggression can deter us. If not, then three of my five daughters have already died in vain.

Let us ask ourselves; has Terrance Lambert ever lost a child to the bears? No, he hasn’t. He’s only lost one to Mercury poisoning. Pretty hard to relate to, isn’t it?

My daughter Nancy, who recently became our oldest, has the Pioneer Spirit. Her birthday is coming up next week. When I think of some bear-sympathizer stooge denying her the childhood innocence of busting a piñata upwind of a family of grizzlies, it makes my blood boil. No bear is going to tell my family how to act. If a bear wants my little girl’s piñata, they’ll have to rip it from her cold dead hands, as they so often have.

That’s the Pioneer Spirit.

This weekend, I will be first in line for the blindfolded three-legged race and log crawl in Bear Hollow that Mr. Lambert is so afraid to run…and I will do it with the pride in our community that he so sorely lacks. I will proudly flaunt that same pride each and every day until the bears ferociously rip my limbs from my still-screaming body. The question is: will you be with me?

After all, if we let these setbacks dampen our spirits, then haven’t the bears have already won?

-Jim Arster