Land of a Hundred Wonders
An Excerpt From
Land of a Hundred Wonders
A Deadline

Ya ever notice how some folks get well known for how theydress or hunt or even what kind of truck they drive? Alongwith my outstanding Scrabble playing, I’m well known formy newspaper.

Who: Me

What: Reporting

Where: Top O’ the Mornin’ Diner and Pumps.Cray Ridge, Kentucky, United States of America. Conveniently located at the corner of Mainand Route 12.

When: Friday, August 13, 1973Why: ’Cause if I don’t get cracking, next week’sfront page is gonna have all the pizzazz of a pieceof one-­ply.

I put my favorite No. 2 back to work.
Welcome to Cray Ridge

You can set your watch by Miss Cheryl and Miss DeeDeeshowing up for biscuits and gravy every Sunday morning atthe diner. Miss Cheryl tells me she’s a secretary. Her friend,Miss DeeDee, has been experiencing some trouble with her vision, so they’ve been driving all the way from Paducah to visitregular with Miss Lydia.

As you probably already know, an investigative reporterneeds folks to write about. Late-­breaking stories about trees, forinstance, are few and far between. So when I’m not busy bussingtables, I’m allowed to interview subjects from all walks of life wholater on become the who what where when and why of my stories.That’s one of the things that’s so rewarding about working herewith Grampa at Top O’ the Mornin’.

We’re the last stop for refreshments before you hit Highway75. You’ll know the diner when you see it. Shaped like a shoebox, it’s got tires washed white and lip-­pink roses lining the en-­trance. Candy-­cane awnings billow like crazy when the west windkicks up. There’s a counter inside with slick yellow stools, boothsthat sit four, and up at the cash register there’s toothpicks—­TakeTwo . . . They’re Free! And since everybody knows what a tre-­mendous part the good or the bad version of luck can play inyour life, a rusty horseshoe all the way from Texas hangs lopsidedabove the screen door that creaks when you open it, but not whenyou close it. Just another one of life’s little mysteries. (In case youhaven’t noticed . . . life is chock-­full of ’em.)

This morning, like every morning, my grampa, who owns theplace, is where he is most of the time when he isn’t out on thelake. In the kitchen. Decked out in his white apron and cowboyfishing hat. He’s wrassling up the breakfasts he learned to cook inthat army mess, and damn, if there’s anything that smells betteron Earth than sizzling pork sausage, I wish somebody’d let meknow. Oh, wait, I just remembered lily-­of-­the-­valley smell . . . it’ssimply outta this world.

“Hey, Lois Lane, there’s tables need your attention,” Grampayells, sticking his head through the kitchen peek window.

“Gimme a minute, Charlie,” I call back. “Gotta get down afew more words ’fore this story flies outta my head.”

Lois Lane is not my real name. Grampa’s just making a jokedue to his keen sense of humor. My real name is Gibson McGraw, but most everybody calls me Gibby. I’m twenty, or maybethirty-­three years old. (I’ll check with Grampa and get back toyou on this.) I’ve been living with him permanent in Cray Ridgesince the night three years ago, the kind of night anybody in theirright mind stays home and is grateful to do so, me and mine wereheading down here so I could start my usual summer stay. Therain was gushing down so bad it erased the highway line and ourBuick sprouted wings more than a few times. And the sky wasn’tthe only one spittin’ mad that night. The very last thing I can remember my mama saying in her crossest of voices is, “We’re notgonna outrun this storm . . . get off at the next exit and find us amotel . . . ya got talent at findin’ motels, don’tcha, Joe? ’Speciallythe real cheap kind.” Then my daddy bellowed back, “I’m warning you, Addy . . . for the last time. . . .”

Little did he know how right he was. A wiper stroke later, werounded a bend in the road and bounced off a stalled Championbus, also from Chicago.

Thank the Lord for passing Dixie Oil trucker Mr. Hank Simmons, who found me wadded up on the edge of a creek and calledfor help on his 10­-­4 radio. I got three broken ribs, a gashed-­upankle, a cracked collarbone, and the worst of all—­the left side ofmy head got dented. Correction: The worst of all was that I became an orphan that night. My mama and daddy made it out ofthat wagon, but not for long. (See earlier statement about luck.This would be a perfect example of the bad version.)

So that’s it in a nutshell. All that I can remember, anyways,about the night I became what Grampa calls NQR, which is hispet name for Not Quite Right, which means—­brain-­wise—­I’mnot doing so hot.

The Louisville Hospital sent him this letter dated July 10,1970. I found it balled up in the glove department of his truck.

Dear Mr. Murphy,As a result of the brain injury she incurred in the auto accident,early indications are that your granddaughter is experiencingdifficulties with word usage, reasoning skill, attention span anddisinhibition. Currently, we’re not certain if her memories arerepressed as a result of the trauma or physiologically based.Only time will tell how much of the damage may be perma-­nent or how much is

The rest is ripped off in a jaggedy line. But what I think thosehospital folks were trying to get at is:

Words and their meanings can elude me. Elude: To avoid. (Iremembered that one last week when a catfish spent most of hismorning eluding me, the little bugger.)

I’d never use the words “lightnin’ speed” to describe mythinking.

Reverend Jack says my mind gets to wandering more than theIsraelites.

I have an awfully hard time putting the brakes on my motoring mouth.

And my memory, well, it’s sorta hit-­and-­run.

“The brain is mysterious,” the hospital doctors told Grampawhen he came to pick me up. “Current research indicates thatkeeping her mind stimulated may help regenerate the neuronsand . . .”

“That right,” Grampa said, blowing Lucky Strike smoke intheir faces. (He also suggested the doctors do something I don’tbelieve is humanly possible with their mysterious heads and theirmysterious asses as he wheeled me out of that hospital so fast Iswear, the wheelchair laid rubber.)

Now before you go off feeling sorry for me like most everybody else does, I want you to know that all is not lost. ThoughI’ll confess to wavering at times, I haven’t thrown in the trowel.Of course, I’ve been trying to better myself on a daily basis, butreaching this lofty goal wasn’t of a vital nature ’til just recently.After Miss Lydia, my spiritual advisor, a woman of such astounding powers that she may chat whenever she wishes with those whohave passed over to THE GREAT UNKNOWN, informed meof a horrible, heart-­gutting situation. “Your mama’s not resting inpeace, your mama’s soul is restless,” she wailed over and over, herchest heaving.

Just in case you’re not familiar with the goings-­on of thedearly departed, what Mama’s supposed to be doing is gazingdown at her baby girl from on high, fluttering her wings in pride,her halo shooting off sparks of joy. She’s not supposed to be pacingthe stars, wringing her small but strong hands. Even though MissLydia tried to comfort me by telling me that it’s not my fault, Idon’t believe her. That’s exactly what she would say, her being theheart of Land of a Hundred Wonders. No, I’m positive Mama’srestlessness is on account of me. Because I’m NQR.

So that’s why #1 on my VERY IMPORTANT THINGSTO DO list is to prove that I can get Quite Right again. I figureI’m gonna have to set my hook into a heck of a plan in order toconvince Mama. Ya know, something splashy. Like winning oneof those public Scrabble tournaments they hold over in Applevillethe first Sunday of every month. Or maybe reporting an awfullygood story. It can’t be something normal-­like. It’s gotta be some-­thing near miraculous in nature. Like me surviving the crash. MissLydia tells me all the time I’m a living, breathing miracle.

At the current time, I’m leaning toward that reporting of anawfully good story plan ’cause you’re never gonna guess what Ifound on Browntown Beach this morning on my way to Landof a Hundred Wonders. Not the usual trout with what-­the-­hell-happenedeyes. Not a soggy boot with gnaw marks neither. Oreven a crushed-­up can of Falls Beer. No. Could be I stumbledupon the kind of story that’ll get lips flapping far and wide. I canperceive it all now. “I swear, the McGraw gal’s better at reportin’these days than a twelve gauge,” folks’ll say, trumpeting my Gazette headline loud enough to be heard all the way up to the PearlyGates. “Can you believe how much righter she’s gotten?”

Lord. I believe I’ll move that public Scrabble tournamentplan to my back burner for the time being. Now that I’ve had achance to think this through, this awfully good story plan appearsto be the answer to my prayers! Yes, indeedy. Start scouting for anicely cushioned cloud to set your restless self, Mama. ’Cause that deadbody? It’s gonna be our ticket to Quite Right heaven.

Land of a Hundred Wonders

Land of a Hundred Wonders