Archive for June, 2008

Don’t Tell Me Miracles Don’t Happen Today!

I missed an anniversary a few weeks ago.  No, don’t feel bad; it’s the kind of anniversary that’s best gone unnoticed, at least until it’s well passed.  See, June 7, 2006 was the day my beloved daughter (whom I call “Ladybug” here) almost died in a car accident at the age of 14.

Every good mother is proud of her children, and I am no exception.  I love all my urchins.  Ladybug has quite a legacy.  She is the only girl among three children, as was I, as was my mother, as was my grandmother.  Also, all four of us throughout the generations had the same middle name (only my grandmother used that name, though).

Anyway, Hubby and I reluctantly gave permission that afternoon for my oldest son, my daughter, and her best friend to go to a pool party sponsored by the youth group at the church we were attending.  We had seen some very disturbing behavior on the part of the youth minister at the time (not “sleaze stuff”, just “forming a personality cult” stuff).  We had brought it up to the pastor and the head of the Deacon board (who was our Sunday School teacher), but found them unwilling to accept evidence, much less take other action.  We were trying to distance ourselves from that congregation.

Still, the kids were begging, and we finally broke down.  We gave the car keys to our 18-year-old son, told him they should be back around 8:30 (since swim practice was at 7:00 the next morning), and they were off to a house way out in the country, on the northern border of our county (we live smack-dab in the middle of the county).  Hubby got on-line to look for jobs (he was looking to get out of a bad position), and at the time, all that was offered where we lived was dial-up, so the line was busy.  About 8:30, Hubby asked when the kids were coming home.  I had barely said “Any minute now” when there was a frantic banging on the door.  Dad was there, cordless phone in his outstretched hand, saying “There’s been an accident.”

My heart and stomach went through the soles of my feet.  I took the phone; it was the youth pastor’s wife.  She said that my oldest seemed to be unhurt, the friend seemed to have a broken arm, but Ladybug was in bad shape, having landed on her head when the car overturned.  Somehow, my brain formed a picture of my  daughter strapped in the front seat of the Jeep, upside down, resting on the ceiling.  I couldn’t imagine anything else.  Little had I known that the windows had been down (all the better to blast the radio), and that Ladybug had unbuckled herself an instant before the crash to move to another seat.  She had been thrown from the Jeep, which had rolled onto her head.  My college-educated, analytically-trained mind just couldn’t grasp that fact for several hours yet.  She couldn’t be that badly hurt.  She just couldn’t.

We left my dad in charge of my younger son “Bear,” who was 8 at the time, and jumped into the car to go to the wreck site, which was a good 30-minute drive away.  Life Flight was coming for Ladybug, and they wanted us there.  Ten minutes into our journey, the youth pastor’s wife called again.  Life Flight had her ready to go, but needed our permission.  Fortunately, I had the presence of mind to ask if I was able to give permission via phone.  They accepted it, and told us not to go to the crash scene, but instead go to Memorial Hermann Hospital at the Texas Medical Center in Houston.

This was the first time I became aware of the hand of God in this ordeal, for we were exactly at the intersection where we would have turned left to go to the crash scene, but right to go to Houston.   They told us not to delay, for she might not arrive at the hospital alive.  The 90 minutes it took us to get to Hermann were the slowest, most agonizing in my life.  Hubby drove as quickly and carefully as he possibly could, and fortunately, at that time on a weekday evening, traffic was light.  While he drove, I scrolled down my contact list in my cell phone, calling everyone whom I knew was active in a faith–I didn’t care which.  Catholics, Lutherans, Baptists, Episcopalians, Methodists, Jews–if they had access to a prayer chain, I called.

I also fielded several calls from Ladybug’s teachers, who had already heard–news travels fast in a small town.  She is popular in school–an “A” student, who at the time was a 3-sport athelete (Cross-Country, Track and Field, and Swimming).  In fact, her TAKS test results had arrived in the mail that day.  Eighth graders in Texas take a battery of four tests–Reading and Math (which all grades take every year), plus Science and Social Studies, which had not been tested since Elementary school (since she had not lived in Texas in her Elementary years, Ladybug had never taken those particular tests).  In the entire battery of tests, Ladybug had missed a sum total of seven questions.  The test results had been accompanied by her final report card–straight A’s.

This occupied my thoughts as reality began to set in.  My thoughts wandered to a student at the Junior High where I had once taught.  This kid had a huge, angry scar zagging throughout the side of his buzz-cut hairstyle.  Apparently, he had suffered a head injury as a toddler, and as a result had an IQ just a couple of points inside the “normal” range.  “Please, God,” I prayed over and over, “I can handle a damaged body, but please, PLEASE leave her mind intact!”

When the agonizing drive to Hermann was over, we raced through the rat-maze labrynth of construction to the ER.  Only one of us would be allowed in at a time; I let Hubby go.  I sat down in the waiting area and called home to let Mom and Dad know that we had arrived safely.  After some time (it may have been 10 minutes, it may have been 30), Hubby came out and I was allowed to be with her.   She had the swollen-shut “raccoon eyes,” bruised from brow to under-eye and everywhere in between, that indicate to EMT’s that a head injury has occurred.  Her face was puffy and swollen, there were still trickles of dried blood along her ears and mouth, but her body looked remarkably untouched!  Later examinations revealed that the only injury to her body anywhere below her collarbone was a nickel-sized bruise on the side of one knee.

Then, Ladybug spoke!  Oh!  What a glorious sound!  I gently took her hand and told her I was there.  She said three things in rapid order:  “Where am I?”  “What happened?” and “My jaw hurts.”  I responded to each, but she repeated those three sentences, over and over; she either couldn’t remember our conversation or couldn’t comprehend my responses.  While it was my turn to be with the Ladybug, the ER doc came in.  She had a line-fracture of her skull above her left ear, had broken every single bone in her face (her jaw in two places), had lost a tooth, and had shattered her right eye socket, but showed no signs of body fractures or internal/abdominal bleeding.  He said that a preliminary CAT scan had miraculously shown no signs of brain swelling, but not to celebrate for she wouldn’t be out of the woods for at least 18 hours.  She would be transferred to the Shock/Trauma ICU (a unit whose acronym is appropriately pronounced “Stick You”), as the nature of her injuries and her age made that location more appropriate than Pediatric ICU.  I went out to let Hubby know, and allow him to be with her again.

Ladybug spent the next four days in S/TICU.  There are no chairs there other than at the nurses’ station; long visits are not encouraged.  Still, Ladybug’s helplessness, coupled with her obvious beauty (even under the bruises), and our quietness and determination to be cooperative made inroads with the nurses.  On Ladybug’s next-to-last day in the S/TICU, some 20 members of the youth group came in a van to visit her.  The nurses, God love them, allowed the youths to come up three at a time and spend 5 minutes with her.  Later, the nurses told us how impressed they had been with the politeness of the kids and their willingness to go along with the restrictions placed upon them.  It did so much for everyone–since Ladybug’s location and injuries prevented communication by phone, the “face time” did wonders in healing everyone affected–her, them, and us.

The day after the accident, we met the first of Ladybug’s two surgeons, both on the faculty of the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB), whose campus is the Texas Medical Center.  Dr. Arun Gadre was the lead surgeon, an Ear, Nose, and Throat surgeon who specialized in facial reconstruction.  He showed us photographs, x-rays and MRI’s that helped us to understand what he had to do and how he was going to do it.  The facial reconstruction would be two separate operations–the first to set her jaw, wire it, and put plates on her fractured cheekbones,  and the second to reconstruct her shattered eye socket (to be done by an opthalmic surgeon, Dr. Richard Urso) and repair her sinus cavity.   Dr. Gadre told me that the first operation would take 6-8 hours to complete and the second one (scheduled four days after the first) could take up to 12 hours.  He also looked me directly in the eye, made sure I was paying close attention, then said “I want you to understand that I cannot put her back together the way God made her.”  At that point, I was just so relieved that the CAT scans for swelling were still coming back negative that I had no problem with that statement.   In fact, I appreciated his honesty.

The day of the surgery came, and my daughter was wheeled down early in the morning.  By the time all the setting up was done, it was 10:00 when the operation began.  The waiting room staff told us to check in every two hours and gave us one of those coaster-pagers (like you see in the restaurants) in case the doctor wanted to communicate with us sooner.  We took off, alternating between the stupid morning talk shows on the local affiliates being shown in the waiting area and the overpriced merchandise in the gift shop.

At noon, we checked in–everything was going as planned, no problems, go and get yourselves some lunch.  We told them we would be in the hospital cafeteria (they have excellent food there at reasonable prices, BTW).  We had just paid for our trays and sat down when the receptionist from the OR waiting room arrived, breathless.  It turned out that the cafeteria (as always, in the basement) was in a “dead zone” for signals from the pager.  Dr. Gadre wanted to talk to us and would meet us at the cafeteria.  Hubby and I looked at each other, having suddenly lost our appetites.  The surgeon looking for us, just three hours into a 6-8 hour operation and minutes after having checked-in with us could not possibly be good news.  Dr. Gadre met us, still in scrubs with the face mask about his neck.  Did Ladybug possibly have an overbite?  I had to laugh; I hadn’t thought about her upper jaw since she was eight!  At that age, she had to wear a jaw spreader for six months because her secondary bicuspids were coming in at a 90-degree angle due to a too-small upper jaw.  When the spreader was removed, the orthodontist in Florida had told us that her overbite would need correction, but not until she had more permanent teeth in–probably when she was a teenager.  Hubby had made the 3-hour round trip back home in the wee hours of the morning after the accident (he was gone from 1-6 am) to get all of Ladybug’s most recent photos (including 8×10 school photos from the spring and from the summer swim team, which had just come in) to include in Dr. Gadre’s charts to get an idea of how Ladybug had looked before the accident.  Never, though, did I think of her overbite!

We were all laughing with relief as Dr. Gadre had relayed how he had spent the better part of an hour matching up the fractures to see that the teeth didn’t meet, then matching up the teeth only to find that the fractures didn’t meet!  Armed with this new knowledge, he returned to the OR, and we returned to our lunch.  By 2:00, Ladybug was in the recovery room–the surgery had only taken 4 hours, even with the “snipe hunt” caused by the unreported overbite.  Ladybug came back just fine, (although she looked like something out of The Mummy, what with her head completely wrapped in gauze except her poor, swollen face) but now communication would be even more challenging due to her jaw being wired shut and the necessity of a tracheostomy tube that prevented speech.  We knew that this would happen, for the facial fractures prevented both the use of a surgical mask and a nasal tube.  We were prepared with a small white board and set of markers.  The nurses said that if she made it through the next 24 hours without incident, she could be moved out of S/TICU and into the Pediatric ward.  We looked forward to our daughter’s transfer to the ward; we were ready to sit!

Next time–Pediatrics: text messaging, “AJ lips”, and THE BOOK

Tales Heard at Daddy’s Knee (Part IV)

Sorry for the hiatus, Sports Fans.  For the first time in my life, Daddy asked for something for his birthday–a day trip to Galveston.  There is no doubt that I bent over backwards to give him a memorable trip.  We all piled into the Jeep Commander we’d rented (my beloved RaggTopp was getting a new tranny) and headed off as soon as swim practice was over in Brenham.  There was Mama and Daddy, me, my 12-year-old son (whom we call The Bear, or just Bear), my 16-year-old daughter (whom we call Ladybug, or just Bug), and her boyfriend (whom we affectionately call “El Ese”–it’s a Hispanic thing that is A Tale For Another Day).

We arrived on Galveston Island just in time for a late lunch.  It was a tough choice; we strongly considered the drug store lunch counter that had been highly recommended in the current issue of Texas Monthly, but choose instead to try to find the magnificent Greek restaurant along the seawall where Hubby, Ladybug, and I had eaten 4 years earlier.  Success!  We had a magnificent meal of gyros, saganaki and splendiferous salad.  We then drove around the old neighborhoods to see some of the beautiful turn-of-the-20th-Century homes that have been so well preserved thanks to the combination of the aforementioned seawall (a hard lesson learned after the unnamed hurricane of 1900–still the greatest natural disaster in American history) and strict development codes with a clear preference for preservation over demolition.

On a lark, we drove to the opposite side of the island to check out the Lone Star Flight Museum, arriving a scant 20 minutes prior to closing.  Oh!  If only we had come here first after lunch!  When we were paying for our entry into the museum, Daddy asked the docent if they had on display an example of the aircraft in which he flew during WWII.  She very excitedly and personally guided us outside the hanger where the museum is located to a flight-ready Marine PBJ (a B-25 Mitchell to those of you not fortunate enough to be related to a WWII Marine) decked out in the regalia of a Doolittle Raider (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doolittle_Raid for those of you whose History education, for whatever reason, was deficient).   The next day, the museum was offering flights in the PBJ to the public, at least those willing and able to fork over $325 each for the privilege.  Daddy, in playful indignation, had to comment that in 1944-45, the Marine Corps paid HIM to fly in one!  Still, just like always, it got Daddy to start commenting about the war, telling the Tales I have loved so much all my life.  I had to admit a modicum of jealousy for the raptly-attentive docent, who was hearing them for the first time.  I wonder if I still have that totally-absorbed and fascinated look she had when listening to Daddy’s stories?  I sure hope so; as time goes by, the importance of keeping these Tales fresh, yet accurate, is becoming increasingly crucial to me.

Anyway, I have saved my favorite Tales of Daddy’s time in service for last in this series (although I do reserve the right to revisit this subject sometime in the future).  This particular Tale took place while Daddy was stationed on Mindanao, the southernmost of the major Philippine Islands, and home to the Moros, a band of native islanders who practiced Islam, cat-burglary, and cannibalism;, all in a most cold-blooded manner (at least at that time).

Many special precautions had to be taken because of the constant threats from the Moros, both real and perceived.  The one thing in the GI’s favor was the Moros hated the Japanese just as much, if not more.  There was a constant armed guard, but it didn’t keep the Moros from raiding the Marines’ tents at night.  The Marines were given the sternest of warnings that if they happened to hear a noise in the night, they were to stay put and pretend to be asleep if they wanted to live.  If the Moros thought they were in danger of being caught, their simple solution was to slit the Marine’s throat.  As long as the Marine was asleep (or they though he was), he was OK.

Anyway, in keeping with wartime policy, once a member of an aircrew had his replacement on-site, he was shipped away from the action.  Two aircrew, upon learning that they would be leaving the next day since their replacements had arrived, took off to meet with the Moros.  They not only returned with their vascular systems intact, they had all the trinkets and native souvenirs they could carry.  They departed the next morning without incident.  Later that same day, the chief of the local Moro tribe was brought to the Officer of the Day.  The chief produced an official-looking document and demanded his warplanes.  Apparently, the two aircrew (who astutely signed the documents as “Joe Blow,” “Kilroy,” or something to that effect) had contracted with the Moro Chief to exchange the trinkets for the warplanes–never mind what in the world the Moros were going to do with said warplanes!  What happened to the two aircrew (of if their true identities were ever discovered) is unknown.  This much is known:  the Chief left the base empty-handed, and the night guard at the Camp was doubled for the duration!

Like all youngsters growing up near Atlanta, I was well-schooled in the role of Coca-Cola during the war–Asa Candler’s astute provision of refreshment to GI’s worldwide transformed Coke from a regional drink to a world-wide powerhouse.  There was even a steady supply maintained on tiny Emerau, albeit inside a fenced area and under armed guard.  One day, the guard was a Marine from Daddy’s unit, VMB 433.  A major who, if not the inspiration for Frank Burns, could well have been, happened to drive past the Coke supply depot just in time to see the guard polish off an appropriated bottle and toss the empty onto the pile of spent bottles.  The major promptly had the guard arrested and charged with Theft of Government Property, Value 5 Cents.

Even during wartime, we enjoy certain rights as citizens, including the right to legal defense.  An Area Defense Counsel (ADC) was assigned to defend the hapless guard.  This particular attorney, by this late period in the war, had been around the block a few times with petty jurisprudence and had become somewhat jaded.  The court-martial began, with the major giving detailed, lucid, and seemingly-damning evidence of the events he had witnessed firsthand.  After the Judge Advocate General (the JAG, the prosecutor) was finished, he stepped aside for the ADC to cross-examine–a seemingly pointless task.  The ADC stood up, strode as casually toward the witness stand as military formalities allowed, and asked only one question:  “Can you produce the corpus delecti?”  The paleness and slackening jaw of the Major provided all the answer necessary.  The guard had at least had the presence of mind to toss the evidence onto the pile of empties; knowing which bottle was the stolen one was impossible.

The court-martial ended with the case being dismissed for lack of evidence, the guard being returned to duty without punishment and the major being officially reprimanded for sloppy prosecution.  Well, I can’t honestly say that the guard didn’t receive punishment; it just wasn’t official.  After the reprimand, the major was reassigned from his administrative post and sent to…you guessed it…VMB 433, in the chain of command of that poor guard.  Yeah, I think he got punished, all right!

Now we skip ahead some 20-25 years.  Daddy was chatting with a wine-and-spirits proprietor in my home of Athens, GA, who had one of the better shops in town.  During the course of the conversation, it came out that the proprietor had also been in PBJ’s during the war, which prompted Daddy to retell the above Tale.  Not only was the gentleman already familiar with the tale, he grinned and said to Daddy “You DO know who that ADC was, don’t you?”

“No,” Daddy replied.  Time had erased that particular part of the Tale from his memory.

The shopowner relished the moment of revelation:  “Senator Smathers from Florida!”  As in Senator George Smathers, as in the one who bested incumbent Sen. Claude Pepper for that seat, all the while refuting the popular claim that at rallies throughout the Sunshine State Smathers had called Sen. Pepper “a Homo Sapien” who “habitually practiced celibacy before his marriage” and had called Pepper’s actress sister “a thespian.”

The name-calling really never happened.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Smathers The truth hurts, doesn’t it??  Still, it makes a great Tale, and if it were true, it would have shown Sen. Smathers as having a clear assessment of the intelligence of the average American voter long before anyone else did.  Oh, well.

Tales Heard at Daddy’s Knee (Part III)

Tonight I pay tribute to the source of most of Daddy’s best stories:  his service in the Marine Corps in WWII.  Daddy missed his high school graduation in 1942 due to his enlistment, but he has never expressed regret over it.  In fact, Daddy said that he was so gung-ho to join the USMC because being a Marine meant never having to endure a European winter–very important to someone who had spent his entire life in locales where it never snowed!

As American involvement in WWII segued from inevitable to imminent in 1940, Mama Lucy received an offer she couldn’t refuse:  dietary director for the Army’s training camp in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.  Since her husband and both parents had already passed on, there was no reason to live hand-to-mouth in Moultrie when she could draw a salary AND be given an allowance for food and housing in Hattiesburg.   Never mind the fact that working for the Army would be one of the most secure and stable jobs in an economy still recovering from the Great Depression and now ramping up for war.

Shortly after the move, my daddy’s brother, A.P. Junior, left to accept his appointment to the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland.  Daddy had one year of high school left.  His entry into the Marines has already been documented, now we get to the good part:  the war stories.

First off, as a veteran myself, let me take a moment to express my utmost respect to all who have served our great nation and the defense of freedom, wherever and whenever the call reached you.  I know there are many war veterans who refuse to talk about their experiences, not wanting to relive the hell that war truly is (yes, I know Sherman said it–truth is truth, regardless of the speaker).  Daddy’s war stories are legion, but each one is a side-splitter.  Yes, Daddy saw combat during the war (he earned an Air Medal for surviving 26 missions), and I know there is hell he won’t discuss (to this day, he refuses to consider ever buying a Mitsubishi–even though he has no trouble owning other Japanese products.  I also won’t consider one, out of respect for Daddy).  Still, it is obvious to me that the way Daddy has dealt with the war is to find the humor in the hell–a strategy that made the creators of M*A*S*H a mint.  I learned that lesson as well; my way of coping with downturns in my life is to try to find some levity.  Abraham Lincoln said it best, when he had been castigated for cracking jokes during a Cabinet meeting at the darkest period of the Civil War:  “I must laugh, else I shall surely weep.”

One of the stories from early in the war involved volunteering:  something that any sensible recruit knows NOT to do.  For Daddy, though, it paid off.  Daddy was a scrawny, wiry lad of 18 going through his various training assignments.  There was Basic Training in San Diego, California; RADAR School (in the days when RADAR “didn’t exist”) in Jacksonville, Florida; and Flight School in Cherry Point, North Carolina.  If Daddy had any difficulty with the rigors of training, there isn’t a Tale about it.

Anyway, while Daddy was stationed on the island of Emerau preparing to support the invasion of the Philippines, the time came for Daddy’s unit to “police the area”–clean up and/or do maintenance to those of you without military experience.  The day’s assigned labor was going to be tedious and heavy–just the wrong thing when you’re 5’11” and 125 lbs. dripping wet.  Then the call came out:  was there anyone in the unit who had experience operating a cherry picker?  Even though Daddy had never even been in a cherry picker (you know, that piece of equipment telephone and cable maintenance people use to access those high wires–a bucket on an extending arm mounted on a truck), much less knew how to operate one, his hand instantly shot up, and he was given the job.  So much for the grunt work!

Hearing this Tale as a child, I knew all too well that liars eventually get caught; at least I always did when I tried it.  So my logical question to Daddy was “What happened when they found out you couldn’t operate a  cherry picker?”  His matter-of-fact reply was accompanied by a deadpan expression that would have made Buster Keaton proud:  “By the time they found out, I could!”

Not all of Daddy’s Tales centered around him.  A particulary entertaining one centered around a classmate of his at the Citadel, where Daddy spent his Freshman year of college on the GI Bill after the war.  His buddy was an Extended-Duty Corpsman during the war, which means that since he was assigned to a ship that was too small to justify a full-fledged physician, he was trained and authorized to perform some MD duties should an emergency arise.  Anyway, while stationed in Pensacola, there had been some bad blood between the base and the civilian community because some Naval emergency vehicle operators had thought it great fun to drive at breakneck speeds through town with sirens blaring when there wasn’t an emergency.  The hospital commander had decreed that any reports of Navy emergency vehicles speeding through town with sirens blaring were subject to investigation.

Sure enough, one day Daddy’s buddy was ushered into the hospital commander’s office.  Once the formalities of “attention” and “at ease” were over, the commander got right to the point.

Hospital Commander:  I understand that you were speeding through town yesterday morning with lights and sirens on.  Is this true?

Corpsman:  Yes, Sir, it is.

Hospital Commander:  Was it an emergency?

Corpsman:  You tell me, Sir.  It was your wife.

Hospital Commander (laughing):  Dismissed!

Apparently, the morning before, the commander’s wife had gone into premature labor.  She was rushed to the local hospital, and everyone turned out fine, including the corpsman who knew just what to say and how to say it when faced with a ridiculous situation.

Now, lest this post extend to Brobdingnagian proportions, I will jump to May, 1945 to tell a Tale as hilarious as it is brief.  Daddy was still on the island of Emerau in the Solomon Islands, it was late spring and oppressively hot and humid; almost as stifling as Houston this time of year!  The hour was around midnight; those Marines not on duty were trying to escape the weather by catching some shut-eye in their tents.  In the silence, a lone voice rang out, piercing the night.  “The war’s over!  The war’s over!  Germany has surrendered!” was the cry echoing repeatedly and relentlessly throughout the camp.  Some anonymous, wise Marine took it upon himself to speak for the whole camp:  “Shut up, you g*******d drunken idiot!  We’re fighting the Japanese!”  Thus ended the observance of VE Day in Daddy’s camp.

Next Time:  more Tales from WWII

Tales Heard at Daddy’s Knee (Part II)

Yesterday, I told you a Tale about my daddy’s parents.  Today we visit the rest of his family.  Even though Daddy grew up with little in material possessions, Daddy’s family was rich with characters, and characters generate Tales, and Tales generate a kind of wealth that no bank can count–or take away.

Daddy grew up surrounded by his mother’s family.  To continue the intros of yesterday, Mama Lucy and her sister Willie Sim had two half-brothers, William and Lynwood.  The boys (Daddy’s uncles) teased their mother unmercifully.  Their mother, Eula Lee, was their favorite target.  As Daddy put it, “When you’re growing up in a small town in south Georgia during the Depression, there isn’t much to do on a Sunday afternoon.  Uncle William and Uncle Lynwood would make their own fun.”

No matter how often Uncles William and Lynwood would pull the same stunt on their mother, she took the bait every time.  The Uncles’ “weapons of choice” in their one-sided battles of wits involved a can of snuff and a Chrysler Imperial.  No matter which item was chosen, the result was hours of fun–at least for them.  Poor Eula Lee found it to be no fun at all.

It never mattered which brother started it; as soon as one began the tease, the other would seamlessly pick up where the other left off.  Why all the falderol over a snuff can?  This was the 1930’s.  South Georgia.  Small town.  If Moultrie wasn’t the buckle on the Bible Belt, it was at the very least the hole in which the buckle fastened.  Like almost everyone else, Mama Lucy’s family were strict Southern Baptists–no drinking, no card playing, and most certainly no tobacco!  No way, no how, no never!  Still, it didn’t prevent the two Uncles from claiming that their mother had once indulged.  The conversation would go somewhat like this.

Uncle William:  Mama, I sure am glad you stopped dipping snuff.

Eula Lee:  William!  You know I’ve never dipped snuff in my life!

Uncle Lynwood:  Why Mama, don’t you remember?  You’d give me a dime before I left for school and tell me to stop by the store on the way home?  Don’t you remember, Mama?

Eula Lee:  I most certainly did not!  You know I’ve never even touched the stuff!

Uncle William:  What was it you used to get for her, Lynwood?  Was it Bugle Boy or Tube Rose?

Eula Lee:  You boys know good and well that I would never pick up such a nasty habit!  Whatever gave you the idea that I would ever dip snuff?!?

Well, you get the idea.  Daddy spent many a long Sunday afternoon listening to his uncles consume hours reeling in the baited hook that had snagged their mother–that is, when Daddy wasn’t confined to his seat at the Sunday dinner table staring at the piece of chicken he refused to eat.  Southern children are taught at a very early age that it is an unpardonable sin to leave food behind on your plate, and we are given a litany of reasons why we should eat every crumb, no matter how unpalatable.

Now, back to my great-grandmother, poor Eula Lee.  If you think it takes imagination to entertain yourself for hours using nothing but a non-existing can of snuff, think of what they could do with a true story.  As I mentioned before, although they enjoyed social status and privilege as the family of the first attorney in Colquitt County, my great-grandfather’s untimely death at a time he was deeply in debt caused poor Eula Lee (and Mama Lucy as well) to scrimp and save the rest of their lives. 

There were few ways a “respectable widow” could make money in those days, but one way was to operate a boarding house.  The boarders provided enough to live on, but that was all.  Keep in mind that this is during the Depression and no one had money.  In one case, an impoverished boarder had no idea what would result from his creativity in settling his bill.  In lieu of cash, this particular Sad Sack had nothing with which to provide payment but his Chrysler Imperial.  Since titles for cars did not yet exist, Great-Grandma Eula Lee accepted the car in trade for boarding and the now-anonymous boarder went on his way.

Since Eula Lee did not know how to drive, use of the car (which came to be nicknamed “Spirit of the Blue Ridge”) wound up being divided among Uncles William and Lynwood and Eula Lee’s hired hand, a black man known only as “Jaybird.”  According to my great-uncles, one day their mother had Jaybird drive her out to the country on some errand.  While out in the sticks, Eula Lee got it in her head that Jaybird should teach her how to drive.  After expressing as much reluctance as he dared (jobs were even harder for African-Americans to hold onto than whites at that place and time), Jaybird pulled over the car and switched places with Eula Lee. 

No one doubted that Jaybird did his best to try to instruct the poor woman, but Eula Lee’s stubborn streak was about as wide as it could go that day, and apparently, she wasn’t in much of a listening mood.  Maybe she just panicked.  Who knows, but, according to the story, the next thing anyone knew, the Imperial’s wheels were a good foot off the ground, the undercarriage was now being supported by a tree stump, the axles (and perhaps the body too) were bent, and the car was a total loss.  To make a long story short, whenever Uncles William and Lynwood tired of using the snuff can to “get Mama going,” they would remind her of the ill-fated driving lesson–an event which she denied ever happened for as long as she lived, never mind that if it didn’t happen, how did the Chrysler get totalled?  Jaybird remained smart enough to stay away from those conversations!

 

Tales Heard at Daddy’s Knee (Part I)

One week from today, June 16 (the day after Father’s Day) will be my father’s 83rd birthday.  He has always been the person I have most admired in my life.  I adored him with daughterly devotion as a child, sought in a spouse someone who could make me laugh as Daddy does (Southern girls, no matter how aged, ALWAYS refer to their fathers as “Daddy.”  To do otherwise is sacrilege), and cherish the all-too-rare times we get to put the world aside and just be together.

The one greatest gift my daddy has given me is the appreciation of fine storytelling.  Just like fine wine, a good story just gets better with time.  In celebration of Daddy, I have decided to take time this week to share some of my favorite Tales that I’ve heard since I was knee-high to a grasshopper and of which I never tire.  Today’s Tale is not a Daddy story per se, but one he tells on HIS parents.  Since my grandfather (Daddy’s father) died when my daddy was 12, I can’t help but wonder where he first heard it, as I can’t imagine Daddy’s mother telling this on herself.  She DID have two half-brothers known for their mischievousness–they seem the most likely candidates, but the reason why is (you guessed it) a Tale for Another Day.

Let’s get off the rabbit trail and back on topic.  This story takes place during my grandparents’ honeymoon.  A.P. Senior was a traveling salesman who hailed from Wilkesboro, NC–deep in the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains that line the western edge of that state.  His father (my great-grandfather) was one of only three men from Company C of the 26th North Carolina Regiment to survive Pickett’s Charge–an especially fortunate occurrence, else none of us would be here now.  He married Mattie Lou (whom everyone called “Lucy”–“Mama Lucy” to me and the other grandchildren) late in life–he was 60, Mama Lucy was in her mid-20’s when they wed in the early 1920’s.  Her father had been the first attorney to set up practice in Colquitt County, GA, and she was raised with a degree of comfort, but the debts he had amassed at the time of his death relegated Mama Lucy and her mother to a life of genteel poverty.  In other words, they had (and maintained) social status in the small town of Moultrie, GA, but were always strapped for cash to meet living expenses.

Anyway, back to the honeymoon.  A.P., Sr. took Mama Lucy to his home in Wilkes Co., N.C. to meet his family and close friends.  Remember, this is the early 1920’s, and (especially in remote rural areas) automobiles still have “novelty” status, even my grandfather’s Model A.  On one visit, to see my grandfather’s closest friend (who went by the name of Coot Shephard), the road ended about a half-mile from the house.  The car was parked, and my grandparents walked the rest of the way to an eagerly-awaited reunion.

The visit was everything you’d expect–warm greetings for the old-friend-not-seen-in-God-knows-when, admiration of the young bride, plenty of Southern hospitality (something that transcends every race and social stratum), good food, good conversation, lots of stories swapped.  In short, a good time was had by all, but all good things must come to an end.  So, too, must this visit.  Tearful goodbyes were said, many hugs and handshakes exchanged; you know the drill.  So the final goodbye was finally said, and my grandparents began the half-mile hike back to the car.

It was at this point that Mama Lucy could have benefited from a bit of wisdom given me by my parents when I was a junior in high school and began dating a boy at the University who hailed from the mountainous northwest corner of Georgia.  Mama and Daddy gave me fair warning:  “Mountain people are funny.”  They didn’t mean humorous, although folks from the mountains can be quite entertaining when inclined to do so.  Too bad no one had given Mama Lucy such a tip before she married a “mountain person” and went to meet his people, because just before they had disappeared into the woods, Coot hollered out in a final farewell “Come back any time, Philo, and bring your woman with you!”

Fortunately for all involved, Mama Lucy’s genteel upbringing prevented her from losing that handsome red head of hers, but once they were safely shut into the car, Mama Lucy let “Philo” have it with both barrels:  Oh, she had never been so insulted in her life; how DARE that rube refer to a lady in such a manner; how could this man she had married allowed such a besmirchment of her character to go unchallenged…come on, folks, we’ve all been either on the giving or the receiving end of one of these rants at least once in our lives.

Anyway, my grandfather patiently allowed my grandmother to vent her red-headed anger, then stilled it with the soft-spoken, immortal words: “Shut up, Lucy.  If he hadn’t liked you, he wouldn’t have asked you back!”

It’s a Vast, Med-Wing Conspiracy!!!!

They say the first step in overcoming a problem is admitting you have one.  Much as I hate to admit it, I am now in my mid-forties.  That means that the Second Law of Thermodynamics is starting to exercise its dominance over my body.  For those of you who, like I, managed to escape the clutches of Physics in high school and college, the 2nd Law says that matter is in a constant state of decomposition, unless energy is expended in maintaining the status quo. 

In my case, the energy I expend to maintain the status quo comes in the form of a seemingly-increasing amount of supplements and medications designed to keep me from feeling my age.  I take a litany of concoctions ranging in size from “did I swallow it or drop it in the sink–I can’t tell!” to “my God, is that a people pill or a horse suppository?!?”  Their design (other than to induce weight-loss in my wallet) ranges from lowering my cholesterol to preventing heartburn (hmmm–if I just quit eating, I could drop both of those…) to getting my knees to halfway function without numbing pain.

Once a week, I take out my two pill boxes (one for the mornings, one for the evenings–not that I don’t even mix THAT up once in a while!), and fill them for the next week.  Most of the tablets I take come in nice bulk bottles–I pour out what I need, file them by day of the week and time of day, then put the rest away until next week.  No big deal.

The cussin’, wailing and gnashing of teeth come, however, when I have to deal with those *^&*&(%^%$$@ blister packs!  One of my meds only comes in a blister pack, and another one comes both ways, but I needed a refill when I was sick and (bless his heart, I know he was doing me a favor) Daddy brought me the med in blister pack form.  The one that I have no choice on, that is one of the larger pills and I can usually cut it out of the pack without too much hassle.  The ones Daddy brought me, though, are of the near-microscopic variety, and getting them out without losing one’s sanity is nigh unto impossible!

It was while struggling with that infinitesimal blister pack that I realized something–there is a vast, med-wing conspiracy going on!  We are the victims of the pharmaceutical companies’ evil scheme to manipulate the market for Prozac, Xanax, and other anxiety-reducing drugs!  Those stinkin’ drug companies pack their itty-bitty pills with great big prices in these nano-sized, hermetically-sealed packs in order to drive us clinically insane in the effort to get the damn things open!!!! 

By the time we do get them open, we’ve crushed the pill, our confidence in surviving another day with our sanity intact, and our determination to stay away from fatty, deep-fried foods!  This means shelling out more money to replace the destroyed medication, to purchase the super-sized fries that go with the bacon cheeseburger to comfort our destroyed egos, and to obtain new medication to keep our minds from falling apart and our bodies from absorbing all that comfort-food fat that will clog our arteries while soothing our souls.

I’m on to you, Phizer, Merck, Bayer, GlaxoSmithKline–you and your little cohorts/competitors, too!  I’ve caught you in the act!  I’ll tell you right now, it won’t work!  I’ll tell my friends about you and they’ll tell…who’s banging on the door so hard?  What’s with the battering ram?  Who are you and why are you all wearing white coats?  Leggo me–I know my 4th Amendment rights!  You can’t force my mouth open!  What’s that pill you’re putting in the tube?  You can’t [gag…ack…kaff!]

*It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood…won’t you be my neighbor?*  Today, boys and girls, we’ll visit Mr. Pharmaceutical Maker.  He’s our friend and deserves all the financial support we can give him….


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