Andy Plattner ~ At the Democrat Museum in Madisonville, Kentucky

My moth­er and I sit at oppo­site ends of her kitchen table. I drove up from Memphis this morn­ing, at the urg­ing of my two sis­ters, who say they’re get­ting wor­ried. They want me to call after­wards, get my impres­sions. My moth­er and I are wear­ing face­masks. She’s a cra­dle-to-grave Democrat, used to feel­ing opti­mistic. Her hair is white.

One wall in the kitchen is cov­ered with clipped-out news­pa­per and mag­a­zine arti­cles from The Madisonville Messenger, Louisville Courier-Journal, Time, Newsweek. Upbeat pieces on local cel­e­bra­tions, Derby win­ners, Olympic ath­letes, the St. Louis Cardinals. There are arti­cles about Hillary, the Obamas. I spot just a cou­ple on Joe Biden, and I know she still holds a mild grudge against him because Barack select­ed him as a run­ning mate over Hillary. I felt like it was a mis­placed view; Biden was super-qual­i­fied to be vice-pres­i­dent. It was an argu­ment we had years ago. She’s been doing this since I was a kid, cut­ting out and tap­ing up news sto­ries. She’d put them up on the fridge and after the fridge was cov­ered, she’d go to a wall. They had a lit­tle grease-fire here, right after W was reelect­ed, some­thing to do with burn­ing pork, and the walls got scorched. She had to start over after that.

At the moment, my moth­er has the storm door propped open and when the breeze comes in through the top half of the screen door, it rus­tles the arti­cles, many of which have yel­lowed. It makes me think that win­ter is close, even if it’s only September.

My moth­er says she’s heard on the radio that Kamala Harris cam­paigns in ten­nis shoes. She wants to know if it’s true.

I con­firm this, I’ve seen pho­tos. Chuck Taylors, I say, prob­a­bly sound­ing gruff because of the mask. I can get you a pair. High-tops if you want them.

She says, Don’t waste your money.

My sis­ters have bought her face­masks; all bright, sol­id col­ors. She’s cho­sen a pur­ple one for my vis­it. She has weak lungs, emphy­se­ma, and, as she jokes, is on more meds than a megachurch preach­er under­go­ing a sev­en-year IRS audit.

I’m wear­ing a sur­gi­cal-type mask, which I real­ize now is a lousy idea.

I’m hit with a mem­o­ry that’s fifty-plus years old: My moth­er tak­ing my sis­ters and me to a pub­lic park in Tampa, where we lived at one time, so we could see an LBJ motor­cade as it passed by. When it did, the tint­ed win­dows were up on the pres­i­den­tial lim­ou­sine and there were lit­tle American flags stick­ing up from the four cor­ners of the hood. We waved like crazy and it dis­ap­peared in the distance.

I am no spring chick­en myself. I sense that one rea­son my moth­er keeps star­ing at me is because of how gray my hair has become.

My moth­er is a good moth­er and while more or less stay­ing on the sub­ject of pol­i­tics, I remind her about that time in Tampa we wait­ed for LBJ’s motor­cade. I don’t men­tion this, but I won­der if her idea there was to make us feel like we were real­ly part of America and proud of it and so on. Naturally, we were children.

I’m test­ing her, too, to be per­fect­ly hon­est about it.

She says she it didn’t happen.

I offer the motor­cade details, the lit­tle American flags.

She says, Motorcade … are you think­ing of Kennedy?

I was a year old when Kennedy was killed. I don’t need to remind her of this. I say, It wasn’t Kennedy.

She says, The day Kennedy was assas­si­nat­ed in his motor­cade was on a Friday.

Right, I say. This must’ve been three or four years lat­er. When Daddy was train­ing hors­es in Tampa.

Your dad­dy was a bum, she says.

I’m aware of that, I say.

Call your sis­ters, she says. Go on, call them. For a sec­ond, I think she means so they can ver­i­fy the thing about my father. (Which they would.) But I get it, she’s talk­ing about the LBJ motorcade.


My sis­ters, Kelly and Beth, are talk­a­tive. Beth, my younger sis­ter, would’ve been a lit­tle baby at the time I’m think­ing of, so she isn’t the one to ask. I lean back in my chair, tug down my mask. I dial Kelly, who lives in Louisville; I told her yes­ter­day that I was dri­ving up here this morn­ing. Hey, I say.

Everything all right? she says.

Yeah, we’re just sit­ting here, I say.

What do you think? she says. I’ve just told her that my moth­er and I are togeth­er. I look to my moth­er for sym­pa­thy, even though it’s her I’m try­ing to keep this part of the dis­cus­sion from. Like, does Kelly ever lis­ten? We’re talk­ing about LBJ, I say.


Not about him so much as that time we went to see his motor­cade pass. Do you remem­ber that?

Hmm, Kelly says. What’s the point of con­tention exactly?

It’s not a point of con­tention, I say. Jesus, I think. I say, It’s I some­thing I remember …

But her mem­o­ry isn’t… Kelly says.

I say, Do you …?

She says, Sure. We had that Chrysler old sta­tion wag­on. Daddy wasn’t there, prob­a­bly out chas­ing some bar­maid. We dropped the tail­gate and we sat and wait­ed. For a long time as I recall. Hours.

I don’t remem­ber that part, I say.

I do, she says. And the motor­cade, it zoomed by.

Right, I say. I have that, too. Okay, well that solves it.

That was all? she says.

I say, Like I said, we couldn’t decide if it hap­pened or not. I was start­ing to won­der if I dreamed it.

How do you think she is over­all? my sis­ter says. Is she wear­ing her mask? She doesn’t like wear­ing her mask.

Oh? I turn up one palm, as if to say to my moth­er, Does she ever stop?

Kelly says, She doesn’t want to wear it in the gro­cery store or anything.

I’d like my sis­ter to light­en up. The scan­dal, her not wear­ing a mask… I think about say­ing this, but I catch myself, real­ize I’ll sound like a bas­tard son of Kellyanne Conway.

I guess I am start­ing to under­stand something.

Okay, thanks, I’ll talk to you lat­er, I say. I hang up on her right after that.

I say to my moth­er, She says you don’t want to wear your mask to the gro­cery store. You’re wear­ing your mask with me here, but you don’t want to won’t wear it there? I don’t understand.

The store makes me wear it, so what does it mat­ter? she says. You’ll try to make me feel guilty, so I put it on. She shrugs. It’s not like the air’s worth breath­ing anyway.

We’re alive, I say. The air is okay.

It’s just how I feel, she says. What did your sis­ter say?

I say, Kelly says the LBJ thing hap­pened. She says we wait­ed for hours. Knowing she can use a lit­tle boost, I say, You’ve always been real­ly good about that, you know what I mean?

You mean wait­ing? she says. She knows that isn’t it. She says, Well, I was raised that way. My father shook hands with Kennedy once, when he came to cam­paign here.

I’m think­ing we might not be talk­ing about the same thing. What I meant was that she always want­ed us to be pos­i­tive about life and the coun­try we lived in. She might be talk­ing about being a good Democrat. A good Democrat will wear their mask, I want to say. I guess the point is that she’s eighty-five years old and is too depressed to pro­tect her­self. I under­stand why my sis­ters are worried.

I say, What can I do?

In a moment, she says, You waved at LBJ’s motor­cade. It’s gone now. She reach­es up to rub her fore­head; her thumb gets hung up in the strap that goes around her ear.  She read­justs her mask. She takes in a mea­sured breath, then anoth­er. I’m okay, she says. You don’t wor­ry about me … it’s com­ing back to me, that motor­cade. Your sis­ter was right. We wait­ed all day for that god­damn thing. It sped right on by. Guess they didn’t want to take any chances. Weren’t sure they were among friends. She and I wind up watch­ing one anoth­er. She says, I am glad to see ya.

I say, Any time you want com­pa­ny … here isn’t that far away for me.

Hmm, she says.

I know, I say.

It’s all right, she says.

I say, What about those shoes?  My moth­er doesn’t say any­thing. So, I say to her some­thing she used to say to us a mil­lion times over. I say, It’ll get bet­ter. It sounds strange, com­ing from me. And not ter­rif­i­cal­ly convincing.

She says, Sonny, take down your mask again. I don’t think it’ll hurt any­thing, so I do. Like my moth­er would ever place me in dan­ger. She says, You look tired. I want you to go upstairs and take a nap before you dri­ve back.

Maybe I’ll just spend the night, if that’s all right, I say.

That’s all right. How’s, ahm, is it Lauren? she says.

Laura, I say. I haven’t spo­ken to her in a while, Mom. I fix my mask back over the bridge of my nose.

We sit in the qui­et of the kitchen. It’s the mid­dle of September and there’s no breeze. It’ll come. Because I know she fol­lows them, I ask her about the Cardinals, if they’re going to make a run in the playoffs.

She seems to think on it, though maybe her mind wants to focus on some­thing oth­er than base­ball. I’ve nev­er fol­lowed it too close­ly. I wind up think­ing of my old room upstairs, the win­dow I looked out every day when I was a teenag­er. Tomorrow morn­ing, I’ll awak­en, and the sun­light will prob­a­bly be flood­ing in through that win­dow. Almost cer­tain­ly, I’ll lay there and try to imag­ine what I used to won­der about, how I want­ed my life to turn out, if what I have is even close to that. I’m tell myself, In some ways … but of course that’s what you have to say. The sun­light will be pour­ing in. I’ll head down­stairs, have cof­fee with my moth­er, and then it’ll be time to dri­ve back to Memphis.

My moth­er says, Maybe next year.

Hmm? I say.

Her expres­sion, from what I can see of it, seems a bit curi­ous. The Cardinals? she says.

I want to joke with her about always say­ing the same thing. But more than any­thing, I appre­ci­ate it now. I say, Yeah, that would be great.

It might be point­less, but I’ve decid­ed that when I get back to Memphis, I’ll get on Amazon and order her a pair of Chuck Taylors. (I can imag­ine my sis­ters’ reac­tion: This is your solu­tion? Converse?) It’s pos­si­ble that when the box arrives, she’ll remove the lid, eye the shoes and get a laugh, if only because she’ll know where they came from.


Andy Plattner’s forth­com­ing sto­ry col­lec­tion, Tower, will be pub­lished by Mercer University Press next fall.