Remembering my dad's Buncombe

You'd be hard pressed to find Buncombe, Illinois, on a map. Buncombe is a five-hour drive straight south from Hinsdale as the crow flies, as my dad would say.

I dreaded visiting Buncombe as a kid. In the early 1970s there was nothing there. Miles and miles of farmland interrupted by old farmhouses and grain silos. Maybe an occasional Stuckey's along the way. My paternal grandfather grew up near Buncombe before he made his way to Chicago in 1920. However, a few distant relatives remained deep-rooted there, like my Uncle Olas. I can still picture his weathered face and worn farmer overalls, but not much more beyond that.

My dad enjoyed the trips and always made a point to visit the grave sites of his relatives, including George Cook, a Civil War veteran. They were buried in a cemetery you couldn't find with modern satellite technology. The last time he visited it was overgrown with weeds and in complete disrepair. He was livid and raised holy hell with the county seat to ensure it was maintained. My dad rarely got worked up about anything, but the cemetery was a different story altogether.

My dad is 87 and in good health after suffering a major heart attack roughly eight years ago. He has many good years ahead of him, yet it's clear he's getting his affairs in order. He recently asked me to go to Buncombe with him one last time. "You need to know where the graves

are, Kevin."

His face gets serious, almost wistful. This trip means more to him this time.

We made a plan to drive down and back in one day. He says he doesn't want to leave my mother alone overnight. This time, I'm eager to go. We'll talk sports on the drive, wishing the Bears were competitive, how much we loathe the Packers and rage against a Cubs playoff run letdown. I'll ask him advice on things sons ask their fathers.

Old country music classics will be playing on the radio. I'll tell him I like Jim Reeves and Ferlin Husky. He will smile. He'll be comforted knowing his knowledge will be safely passed on.

But this trip wasn't to be. He called and told me he just can't go. It's complicated, he says. His voice on the phone is sad and tempered. I suspect he doesn't want to leave my mother alone. But mostly, I think, she doesn't want him to go. She relies on him now in ways some aging couples do. I don't argue, tell him I understand and not to worry. I worry anyway, mostly about my mom.

It's funny how a nondescript spot on a map in southern Illinois that I haven't visited in nearly 50 years can mean so much to me now. The passing of time is beguiling.

Don't worry, Dad. I'll remember Buncombe.

- Kevin Cook of Hinsdale is a contributing columnist. Readers can email him at [email protected].