Posts Tagged 'family stories'

Let’s Get Political!

This actually came to my attention a couple of weeks ago, but CNN’s website gave me a friendly reminder today that the fine folks at JibJab have done it again!  They’ve outdone themselves this time, with an election warm-up video that takes no prisoners!

What I like about this is that it has something with the potential of ticking off anyone’s support:  they show Bush, Cheney, McCain, BOTH Clintons, and Obama, and ignore Barr and Nader, potentially ticking off their support as well!  Now THAT’s my idea of “Fair and Balanced!”

Seeing this video reminds me of the wealth of political humor out there–for my 18th birthday, all I wanted was to see Mark Russell perform at the Fabulous Fox Theatre in Atlanta’s beautiful E. Ponce area.  Too much fun!  I’ll have to upload some of his stuff from YouTube some other time!

Anyway, I thought I would add a couple of Tales (Political) from the Cranial Archives.  Enjoy!

Daddy remembers well the Election of 1936, even though he was only 11 at the time.  Democrat incumbent Franklin Delano Roosevelt was running against Republican Governor Alf Landon of Kansas.  The scene was the Colquitt County Courthouse, and everyone who could turned out to witness the vote count (or to find out how much longer before the bars could re-open).  The results were a given, for after all, this was the yellow-dog-Democrat deep south, and FDR’s frequent visits to Warm Springs, northwest of Moultrie, gave him a support boost he really didn’t need to get elected.

With great ceremony, the Supervisor of Elections opened the ballot box.  A clerk sat by his side to record the vote.  The Supervisor painstakingly held up each ballot individually and called out its endorsement with a booming voice:  “Roosevelt!”  “Roosevelt!”  “Roosevelt!”  and so on for quite some time, until, all of a sudden, the word rang out:  “Landon!”

The room fell silent.  No one had ever voted Republican before–at least, not to anyone’s memory.  The clerk looked up at the Supervisor quizzingly.  “Whadda we do?  How do I mark this?”

The Supervisor looked down at the clerk kindly.  Resting the Republican ballot next to the box, he said “I’ll just lay it down here until we’ve counted the rest.”  He then picked up the next ballot and continued “Roosevelt!”  “Roosevelt!”  “Roosevelt!”  “Roosevelt!”

After some time, he picked out a ballot from the box and called out “Landon!”  Again, the room fell silent.  The clerk, clearly consternated, said to the Supervisor, “Whadda we do now?!?”

Without missing a beat, the Supervisor picked up the other Republican ballot, held the two together, and tore them to bits saying,  “We disqualify them; the damned fool voted twice!”

Another Tale involves Pierre Howard, who was Lt. Governor of Georgia in the 1990’s.  He made an unsuccessful bid for Governor in 1999, losing in the primaries to State Sen. Roy Barnes, who would eventually win the general election.  While campaigning in SW Georgia, Howard (who famously told voters that “‘Pierre’ is French for ‘Bubba'”) lost track of his location while going door-to-door asking for support.  He knocked on one door, then told the lady who opened it “My name’s Pierre Howard and I’m running for Governor.  I sure would appreciate your support on [election day].”

The lady recieved him kindly, but told him that, much as she would like to, she could not give Howard her support.

“May I ask why not?” inquired Howard.  After all, he needed to be seen as someone who was willing to listen to the people, and if it was a problem he could fix, he most certainly would.

“You crossed the state line a quarter-mile back.   You’re in Florida now.”

The AP had a field day with this one.  I know because I read about it in the St. Pete Times–I was living in Florida, too, at the time!

Don’t Tell Me Miracles Don’t Happen Today! (Postscript)

Well, it’s been over two years now since we brought our Ladybug home.  We have cherished every single day as if it were borrowed time.  Our young lady is 16 and almost grown now.  She drives on her own (although Mom has to get a job before we can even THINK of getting Ladybug a car of her own, much as we all would like to).

Physically, she’s great.  The overbite mentioned in Part I turned out to be a blessing in disguise.  She was just able to push mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, food bits from Campbell’s soups, etc. into her mouth while her jaw was wired.  We all believe that the overbite kept her from going totally insane.  She continued to prefer Frappuccinos to smoothies, but after all the struggles to get her to “eat,” by the time the wires were removed she had only lost one pound!  We were so concerned about her weight–we knew that if she lost any more than that, she would become two-dimensional!

Eating was not the only concern; so was physical activity.  It was hard at first–we just let Ladybug stay in the recliner for the first few days.  Then we knew we had to get her out and about.  It took 5 hours to get her to dress, put on makeup, and walk out the door the first time–she was so intimidated by the thought of getting into a car again!  After that, though, it was visit after visit–to her friends’ houses, to cheer for the swim team (Ladybug’s season was over, as she could not get into the water until the trach incision was completely healed), to go shopping, to get ready for school.

She had 8 weeks after the accident to recover before Fish Camp, the orientation session held for incoming Freshmen at her high school.  The week before that, though, was the beginning of training for the Cross Country team–five days a week, at 6:30 a.m.  Local legendary Coach Archie Seals had been anticipating getting Ladybug on his team after watching her run in Junior High competition, but had figured her to be lost for the season after the accident.  He was, I believe, the most astonished person of all when she showed up for the first practice!  Coach told her that she only needed to attend practice every other day the first two weeks, but she insisted on attending daily and keeping up with the other athletes.  She wasn’t the fastest girl on the team, but placed on a few occasions and was definitely a help in continuing what was to become a 24-year streak in taking the Divisional Cross-Country title for Coach Seals.

She also earned the undying admiration of her high school’s women’s coach.   Coach Brewer has a well-earned reputation for being tough as nails and not easily impressed–and she has the state championships in volleyball to prove it!  Still, word gets around of someone determined enough to go from near-death to competition conditioning in 8 weeks, and Coach loved Ladybug’s athleticism, determination and spunk.  Coach even invited Ladybug to be scorekeeper for volleyball and girl’s basketball that year–jobs Ladybug enjoyed doing immensely.

Ladybug had signed up for three Pre-AP classes freshman year:  History, English, and Science.  Over that summer, we noticed that Ladybug was having short-term memory issues and trouble with organization (never her strong suit to begin with) and focus.  The pre-AP science class also required a demanding insect-collection summer project.  After much thought, we decided it might be best for her to drop PAP science.  Then a series of mishaps occurred that clearly bore the fingerprints of God’s involvement.  Instead of being put in a regular freshman physical science class, she was mistakenly put into a sophomore biology class.  It took several weeks for that mistake to be found.  Within days of being transferred to the freshman science class, Ladybug just happened to run into the PAP Science teacher, who begged Ladybug to give her class a try.  Her dad and I agreed, the teacher waived the insect requirement, and Ladybug thoroughly enjoyed PAP science–it was one of her favorite classes!  God clearly meant for her to be there.

One of the longest-lasting effects of the accident was Ladybug’s left eye.   She could not move it past the center vertical axis, if you can imagine her eye divided into a grid.  It caused her to suffer double vision for several months.  She had a special prism put on her glasses to help, but it was only in synch with her range of motion for a short time.  Mainly, she learned to deal, and by the time Christmas break came around, she had regained 90% of the range of motion in that eye.

As stated before, her swim season was over that year, but the next summer, she came back with a vengeance, being the team’s top point-earner in 2007.   Joint issues stemming from running kept her out of the post-season, but this year dropped cross-country and track and she is going all the way with swimming.  The state’s regional meet is tomorrow, and after that is Texas’ amateur finals in San Antonio.  Ladybug is going!  She also will be attending a school with a swim program in the fall, so she will be able to swim year-round–something she hasn’t done since we lived in Florida.

The fall and winter after the accident, Ladybug was invited to be on THREE Courts of Honor for the quinceaneras of her friends.  This is a high honor indeed–like being selected to be a maid of honor.  You get to wear a formal gown (matching the other girls on the Court), learn intricate dances, and have an escort in a tux.  WOW, did she look good!

I would love very much to post photos from that time, but Ladybug has asked me not to.  Her suffering during that period is a sensitive subject, and I am very cautious about broaching it.  She’s suffered more than enough, and I respect her wishes.  A little over a year after the wreck, she came downstairs just after midnight and woke me up to tell me that she suddenly remembered everything–the events leading up to the accident, during the accident, everything.  We talked about it as much as she wanted to, and I let her cry it out.  She says that the experience has made her a cautious driver, careful about taking turns and is VERY picky about who she allows to drive her when it comes to her friends.  She talks about owning a fast car, but really just wants a good, reliable coupe.  I think she is much more responsible than most 16-year-olds with a car.  I let her drive my RaggTopp–what more can I say?

The one thing that seems to be irreparably damaged in the accident was our relationship with our oldest son.  He walked away from the crash without a scratch (although it took a couple of days to find his glasses), but hated himself for what had happened to his sister.  He admitted that he was taking that corner too fast and being reckless.  Still, Hubby and I knew that we could either let bad feelings tear our family apart or we could forgive him in an effort to keep the family together.  Choosing was a no-brainer, and we told God while en route to the hospital that we had forgiven him.  We told him as soon as we saw him, but I don’t think he has ever forgiven himself or allowed himself to believe that what happened is forgivable.  He had drifted in and out of our lives ever since.  He tried to go into the service, but his attempts to join two different branches both failed.  He lives in an apartment in a dangerous area of a nearby town and works in two fast food joints, not making enough to make ends meet.  Ladybug wants nothing to do with him because she feels he “abandoned” the family when we needed him most.  Hubby and I have reached out to him on many occasions and helped him out of some tough scrapes, but he still does not want to be part of our family.   All we can do is let him live his life at this point and hope that someday he will put aside the hate that eats him like a cancer.  When he does, we’ll be there.

Still, Ladybug shows a compassion toward her brother of which I’m not sure she’s aware.  When Christian recording artist Stephen Curtis Chapman‘s teenage son accidentally struck his 5 year-old-sister while backing a car out of the driveway this past May, killing her, the first thing out of Ladybug’s mouth was “Oh, I feel so awful for that boy–will he ever forgive himself?”  In a similar situation, her first thought was for the person in her brother’s place–not hers’, not her parents’.  You know, I’m glad it was her first thought.  It shows me just how mature beyond her years she is.  I love you, Ladybug.

Don’t Tell Me Miracles Don’t Happen Today! (Part III)

I’m back, after a brief hiatus to celebrate our nation’s 232nd birthday, observed just as the founding fathers intended:  with “fireworks, feasting, and gaiety.”   Now, while I’ve got some ribs, brisket, beer-can chicken and beans being infused with mesquite smoke outside, I’ll finish my Ladybug’s tale.

When we left off, it was right at sunset on Sunday, June 11, 2006.  The place, the pediatric wing at Memorial Hermann Hospital in the Texas Medical Center in Houston.  We were exuberant, for our precious Ladybug was being moved out of Shock/Trauma ICU after a four-day stay, but we had been happy that she was there for it meant she was alive.  She had made it through her first surgery (in 2-4 hours less time than had been anticipated by her surgeon, Dr. Arun Gadre.  In two days, Dr. Gadre and Dr. Richard Urso, an ophthalmic surgeon, would complete the reconstruction of Ladybug’s face.

Since her jaw (broken in two places) had been wired shut and would remain so for the next six weeks, Ladybug was on a liquid diet.  The nurses showed us to the small refreshment area for our section of the ward, which was stocked with a wide assortment of fruit juices, milkshakes, and other healthy beverages at our disposal.  Since Ladybug only weighed 97 lbs. at the time of the accident, keeping her nourished and at a healthy weight for her 5′ 1″ frame was a priority.  After a meal or two, Ladybug was already tiring of the liquid meals available, and we were having to get creative.  Thank God there was a Starbucks in the main lobby; had it not been for Frapuccinos, she would have wasted away to nothing.  As it turned out, it was this spring, nearly two years later, that Ladybug sipped a smoothie since having the wires removed.  Before that, merely saying the word “smoothie” would turn her green with nausea.

As stated in my last post, as soon as Ladybug got settled, she started texting all her friends to let them know that she was finally in a place where she could routinely visit and had access to communication.  The next day, Monday, was a constant inpouring of friends from church, school, track team, swim team, and even friends of friends.  We lost count somewhere around 50.  The nurses commented that, even when they had had celebrity or VIP children in the ward, they had never seen so many visitors in one day.  Everyone was great; they were conscientious, caring, respectful of others, and treated my Ladybug like a queen.

There was one visit during those hectic days that most sticks out in my mind as a selfless, sacrificial act that meant so much to all of us, especially to Ladybug.  Jeff Appel was at that time president of the Brenham Dolphins Swim Team, to which all three of my kids belonged at that time (my oldest has since become too old for the program, which ends at 18).  He is also the owner of Appel Dodge/Chrysler/Jeep in Brenham.  Right at 5:00 in the afternoon (which means he was negotiating downtown traffic in our nation’s 4th largest city, and leaving himself open to battle even worse traffic going home), he walked in the door, carrying a foam book that had to be a good 12 inches thick!  The team had created not a get-well card, but a get-well BOOK,  with each swimmer making his or her own page of love and support!

Jeff Appel so easily could have relegated bringing the team’s well-wishes to another member of the team’s board or to a parent, but he took time out of what surely must have been a busy workday to come personally and extend the teams’ well-wishes.  He stayed for a while, talking to us and to Ladybug, making sure that our immediate needs were being taken care of.  It made quite an impression on all of us.  Since that day, all of our automobile business has been with Appel Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep–we replaced the totaled Jeep Cherokee with a Dodge Durango Hemi, which was traded in earlier this year as gas prices began to soar for a Chrysler PT Cruiser.  It is also where I got my beloved RaggTopp, my Chrysler Sebring convertible.   I take advantage of any opportunity that comes up to recommend Jeff’s dealership to whomever I can–I just wish I could do more to show my gratitude to someone who went way above and beyond the call of duty.  Jeff could easily have called as a representative of the team, and I would have been happy.  Rather, he came as a friend, and for that I will be forever grateful.

Here is one shameless and unsolicited bit of promotion: Thanks, Jeff!

There were others who meant so much in those days:  Von and Stacey, who hovered over me as I hovered over Ladybug; Scott, who not only brought over fantastic Vietnamese food, but also his youngest son to play with my youngest son; and Peggy, with whom Hubby and I had had a disagreement (over something that seemed so important just a week earlier and was totally insignificant now)–when she came to visit, Hubby hugged her and said “You know, this means we can never get mad at you again!”

Then there were Chris and Beth, even though they never made it to the hospital to visit.  Believe me, I understood; they were much too concerned with the recovery of their own daughter,  Ladybug’s friend, who had so badly broken her arm in the effort to save Ladybug’s life.  Beth was one of the first people to contact me after we’d gotten word;  Chris is a member of the Volunteer Fire Department, and heard the call on his service walkie-talkie.  They knew as soon as the call came in that it was our girls.  Beth tried like mad to get on the helicopter with Ladybug, even as the ambulance was arriving for her own daughter.  Each of us regards both girls as our own, and never more than at this time.  I was so scared to speak to Beth at first; I just knew she must hate me for what had happened.  How foolish I was–if anything, we became closer than ever.  Still, her daughter was taken to another hospital on the farthest outreaches of the opposite side of the Houston medical area.  Her daughter got to go home on the same day that mine moved out of ICU.  Hubby got to pay one visit over there, but I did not get to see my “other daughter” until well after Ladybug was released from the hospital.  Still, within a couple of weeks of Ladybug’s release, they were “doing the sleepover thing” again, just like old times.

But I get ahead of myself.  On Tuesday, June 13, Ladybug went in for her second facial-reconstruction surgery in four days.  The first one had gone well, remarkably well.  The second, though, was scheduled to go much longer, and would be much more intricate.  Among the throng of visitors that Monday before was Dr. Gadre, accompanied by Dr. Urso to discuss what would happen in the second surgery.  Dr. Urso would go first; he would make the only visible incision other than the one for the tracheostomy in the whole battery of procedures–just below her right eyebrow.  Using that incision and one about 1 1/2 inches behind Ladybug’s hairline, Dr. Urso would insert a steel mesh that would be her new eye socket.  After that, the surgeons would go inside Ladybug’s lower eyelids to reset her fractured cheekbones and sinus bones with metal plates.  The surgery was expected to take 8-12 hours, and the first one had gone so well, Hubby and I were on edge, not daring to speculate if the ease of the first surgery would mean difficulty in the second.

It turned out that the fears we dared not contemplate were unfounded.  The second surgery was over in only 6 hours, and went so well that the surgeons, so schooled in objectivity, could not contain their excitement.  What I saw were Terry Bradshaw and Franco Harris after the Immaculate Reception, Buck Belue and Lindsay Scott after the 92-yard pass play that beat Florida and put Georgia in the #1 spot in 1981, Jake Taylor and Willie Mays Hayes at the plate after the “called-shot bunt” at the end of Major League.  They were two guys who had scored the game-winner, and they knew it!

Again, though, our joy was tinged with a bit of sorrow.  During the surgery, I made some phone calls to see how things were going at home.  It turned out that the owner of our local pharmacy has passed away suddenly and unexpectedly.  “Mr. Walter,” although he had retired and handed the responsibility of keeping Bellville’s prescriptions to his pharmacist son long before we had moved to the area, was still a fixture in the pharmacy that bears his name, helping out when things were really busy or just chatting with the townsfolk when it wasn’t.  We knew he would be sorely missed, and the staff at the pharmacy, along with “Mr. Walter’s” son Mike and his wife Kim, our local nurse-practitioner, were amazed that I would even think to call to express my condolences while my daughter was undergoing delicate surgery!  It’s just what you do.  My experience with Ladybug made me oh so much more aware of the importance of “Little Things.”

Again, we knew we would have to deal with post-operative swelling, but even so, we were amazed at how good Ladybug looked–far beyond what we were told to expect!  The doctors would want to see her every few weeks (Dr. Urso would see her for the next year), but they were excited.  Dr. Gadre had told us most pointedly that he “could not put her back the way God made her.”  Well, in that case, God took over the hands of Dr. Gadre and Dr. Urso and worked yet another miracle, for once the swelling went down, our beautiful Ladybug was back!

Twenty-four hours after the second surgery, Ladybug’s surgical trach tube was replaced with one that would allow her to cover it to speak.  Her voice was music to everyone’s ears!  Another gift received that day came from one of her two best friends in Florida.  The hospital volunteer brought in a large box which turned out to contain a teddy bear outfitted with a small straw shopping basket.  Inside the basket was one item–a deep purple eye shadow!  We howled at the joke that continued from that first horrible night.  When Hubby went into the ER treatment room that first time, his heart broke upon seeing the injured, semi-conscious Ladybug.  He felt he had to do something to break the obvious tension, so he said the first ridiculous thing he could think of.  Upon seeing the “raccoon eyes” described in Part I, he said to Ladybug “Didn’t I tell you to do something about that eye shadow?  For a year and a half, the only two things Ladybug remembered first-hand about the day of the accident  were the sound of the helicopter rotors, and her Daddy’s silly remark.

On Friday, June 16 (my father’s 81st birthday), the hospital spoke of releasing Ladybug.  As much as we wanted to take her home, we were concerned.  Home was a 90-minute drive away in the best of circumstances; if it were rush hour or there was a major snafu on the freeway, who knew how long it would take to get home?  They had only removed her trach tube and butterflied her incision that day–what if something were to go wrong?  We asked for and received another 24 hours to observe her and have help nearby if needed.

Hubby got the RV ready, while I began to organize the florist shop that my daughter’s room had become.  The balloon bouquet went to the little girl next door who had been a “regular customer” in the ward since she was a toddler due to a faulty liver.  This visit was due to dehydration, which caused problems for the transplant liver she had.  She and Ladybug had become fast friends on the ward.  It took three trips with a cart to put all the flowers into our minivan–the last trip with Ladybug holding onto two bouquets as she was being wheeled out.  Then came the slow trip home–the RV had transmission problems that prevented going above 45 miles per hour.  Still, it was a celebration for Ladybug to be coming home at all!

Of course, Ladybug was apprehensive–this was her first car ride since the accident.  The sudden heavy downpour just as we got to the traffic jam caused by the closure for construction of the ramp we wanted to head home didn’t help.  Still, we knew an alternative route that was some 40 miles longer, but not obstructed with detours to God-knows-where overpopulated with other, less responsible drivers who had no more clue where to go than we did.   Two-and-a-half hours later, we were home!  Ladybug was home.  The worst was over.

NEXT TIME:  Postscript

Don’t Tell Me Miracles Don’t Happen Today! (Part II)

Yesterday, I began the Tale of the accident that almost took the life of my beloved daughter, Ladybug, two years ago when she was 14.  I brought us to the point where she had successfully undergone the first of two surgeries to rebuild her shattered face, and was a day away from transfer from the Shock/Trauma ICU to a regular room in the Pediatric ward of Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston.

How, you may wonder,  could Ladybug have been thrown from the car and have it roll on top of her, with no injuries other than broken facial bones?  Yes, her injuries were serious, and she was admitted to the hospital in “guarded” condition, still, there was no brain damage or injury to her body below her collarbone, save for one nickel-sized bruise on her knee.  How?  The answer is simple:  the Hand of God.  He went to a lot of trouble to keep her with us and with her fantastic intellect intact, and for that I am forever grateful.  In the interest of brevity, I will simply list all the trouble God went through to spare my Ladybug.

  1. He made sure her best friend was there.  Remember yesterday, when I said that her arm was broken?  It turned out that she broke her arm in an effort to save Ladybug.  When Ladybug went flying, her best friend grabbed her and tried to bear-hug her.  She wasn’t able to hold on, but the effort contributed to saving my daughter’s life.  See below.
  2. While bear-hugging Ladybug, her best friend’s elbow went out the open window as the car rolled.  Her elbow jammed into the ground, and the car landed on top of the BF’s shoulder, causing the humerus to break and jamming the broken bone into her shoulder blade.  It was a nasty break, causing intricate surgery and about a 6-inch scar down the front of her left upper arm to repair.  Sadly, the plastic surgeons say they cannot minimize the scarring from the incision or the pins that protruded through her skin for the subsequent 8 weeks.  Still, the BF wears it as a badge of honor, andcontinues to wear the spaghetti strap tops she loves so.  She has found it to be a great conversation-starter!  Also fortunate was that it was her left arm–all she needed was some weight-training to play her bass trombone again.  The right arm operates the slide.
  3. Said resting of the car on the BF’s shoulder gave an inch or two of leeway off of Ladybug’s head–enough to keep her skull from being crushed.
  4. When the car flipped and Ladybug flew out, she did not land on the gravel road, or in the sun-baked culvert.  She landed in a hayfield.  Not just any hayfield, one that had been mown just that day.  If you don’t live in the country, new-mown hay is left in the sun for several days to dry before baling, lest you invite mold into your fodder.  Someone who went out to the crash scene the next day to look for my son’s glasses and anything else that was lost in the chaos said that walking in that field “was like walking on a pillow.”
  5. The Jeep had a luggage rack.  God went to the trouble to have Ladybug’s head just so that it was neatly and protectively inside a triangle formed by the forward edge of the luggage rack, the forward edge of the Jeep’s roof, and the ground.  An inch in any other direction would have likely killed her.
  6. God gave amazing strength to another friend.  This guy was a 3rd string linebacker on the football team anda friend of both my daughter and my oldest son.  He had always had a soft spot for my daughter, but we all knew she was too young for him, and, besides, she was not interested in anything more than friendship.  Still, when he came across the crash scene a few minutes after it happened, he didn’t hesitate.  There were already 4 or 5 fellas from the youth group trying to get the car off the girls, without success.  This pal went up single-handedly and power-lifted the car off of them.  He’s been like a son to me ever since, and has since graduated and is now serving in the Army when he could have easily gone home to his native Belize, as he had always planned.  Thanks, pal–on so many levels!
  7. There is normally not an ambulance stationed in that remote area, but at the time the call came in, a unit had gone to a nearby watering-hole for some (presumably non-alcoholic) refreshment on their way back from a call that did not require transport.  They were only 5 minutes away.

See what I mean?   God went to a lot of trouble to spare my ladybug!

Now we return to S/TICU.  Ladybug had been there for four days and had come through her first surgery with flying colors.  We had been told by Dr. Gadre to expect some swelling after surgery, for he had had to do a lot of work inside the keyhole cuts he had made under her gumline along her upper and lower lips.  This turned out to be an understatement, as Ladybug’s lips were reminiscent of Goldie Hawn’s in “The First Wives Club” after one plumping injection too many.  In fact, (as an illustration of Ladybug’s resiliency), she wrote on her whiteboard about her “AJ lips.”

“AJ lips?”  I responded?  “What do you mean by that”?

“Angelina Jolie.”

Wonder where Ladybug got her low-flying humor.  Really, I don’t know! (yeah, right!)  In truth, the nurses had initially made that joke, on one of those rare occasions when I wasn’t around.

Late that afternoon (a Sunday), we got word:  a room in the Pediatric ward was being prepared for Ladybug.  As soon as it was ready, she would be transferred!  We celebrated, but kept it extremely low-key, for in the adjacent bed was a young man in his late 20’s who had come in that afternoon after falling off a ladder.  The young man was brain dead, and they were keeping him on the machines just long enough for his family to come and say goodbye.  As joyous as we were at this first large step in Ladybug’s recovery, we just couldn’t be exuberant while the man in the bed next to her was dying much too soon and suddenly–like Ladybug almost did.  Even she kept her excitement levels down until she had been wheeled past the just-arrived family and the young man about to die.  When Charles Dickens wrote that “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” he had no idea.

While Ladybug had been in S/TICU, Hubby had been taking care of things outside the hospital.  He spent time with both boys, contacted the family and friends, and fielded offers of assistance from all over.  When it was discovered that there was an RV park a couple of miles away with a free shuttle, a family from church offered their RV to us, stocked with food, at no charge.  We paid just a few dollars a day for parking and hook-ups.  Others drove my parents from Cat Spring to downtown Houston so that they wouldn’t have to negotiate the anarchy that is Houston inside the Loop.  Still others took young Bear to the pool, the movies, or just to play.  My parents took my oldest to face the Justice of the Peace to address the charges against him.  Hubby was at the center of all that coordination.

In the midst of it, we reversed a long-held notion about text-messaging.  We had been dead-set against it until after the accident, when we were told that Ladybug would be unable to speak until 24 hours after her second surgery (if all went well) due to the trach tube that surgery required.  Her jaw would be wired shut for at least 6 weeks after that, causing another impediment to clear speaking.  Text-messaging was the logical solution, for it would at least allow direct communication between Ladybug andher friends–something crucial to conveying to all that yes, she is getting better.  As soon as Ladybug was settled in her new room, we gave her back her cell phone (the first thing found, for it was lighting up immediately after the wreck with an incoming call) and told her that her Daddy had enabled text messaging.

We knew there would be a flurry of texting to communicate with everyone, but we had no idea until after we got the phone bill, long after Ladybug had returned home–1,700 messages on her account that month, with 400 the first day alone (and she didn’t get her phone until early evening)!  Of course, we ragged her about the bill, but it was all good-natured ribbing.  We cheerfully paid that bill, but reminded her that the next month, those specal circumstances would no longer be existent.  Yeah, right–by August we were shelling out the little bit more for unlimited texting–cheaper than the overage charges by far!

Next time:  the 2nd surgery, 50 First Visits, and The Book (and you thought I’d forgotten!)

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 ( 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. 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!


July 2020

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