ED. NOTE: Dan Williams, elected as mayor of Athens in 1992 and serving consecutive terms until he was seated as a member of the Alabama State Legislature, died July 1, 2015 after a brief battle with leukemia. His funeral was well attended; copious condolences and tributes were offered from around the state. So often we have a need for sanctification when a loved one leaves, but there has been no such need in this case; any good thing one reads or says about the man is true.
Sisters Alice Beattie Tiller and Ann Beattie Deemer always (as Alice continues to do) encouraged me to continue writing. I was having lunch with Ann in November of 2015 and she asked me when my next blog would be finished. I told her that I was working on one for Dan Williams, my Mayor Dan. I explained that I couldn’t find my footing, that I couldn’t gather the words. It was still too soon, too raw, and I wanted to write something that could convey my sympathies and feelings adequately. Ann assured me that whatever I wrote would be fine, that his family and friends would appreciate it. It was with Ann Deemer’s sudden, tragic death in February of this year that I realized I needed to finish this — for the Williams family, for the people who loved him, and for anyone who has experienced loss.
When I was a senior at Athens High School I became friends with a pretty girl named Whitney Williams. I had known of her since the sixth grade, and we would see each other at football games and in class, but I never really knew her well. However, once we were in Jill Bartlett’s German class and SGA (where poor Patricia Hatchett suffered silently as three of her students — Marc Collins, Whitney and I — begged to go on errands “for donations to better Student Government,” many of which had the three of us returning with a great big box full of nothing and reeking of my cigarette smoke), we began a friendship that lasts to this day.
Whenever I came home from Sewanee, UAB, and later from my adventures in travel nursing, I wanted to visit the Williams home. While Whitney and I have always enjoyed each other’s company (she’s kind enough to laugh at my corny, often inane sense of humor while I am usually giggling due to her biting wit), I went to their house so that I could see everybody. This meant visiting with her brothers and sister — Daniel, Charles and Dinah — and her mother, Kay.
It also meant I got to spend time with her father, Dan. He and Kay Cottrell were married in 1968 and they shared roots that ran deep in Athens and Limestone County. Those ties, and having been an active member in the First Baptist Church of Athens, meant that he knew practically everybody. Seriously — you could have written names on ping-pong balls, put them in a bingo cage, turned on the fan, and whatever ball popped out would have elicited a “You know, I saw him last week at the post office, and he told me his mother is going into the Manor because she broke her hip and isn’t able to live alone anymore. I really feel for them.” Even with knowing as many citizens as he did, I never heard him gossip and there was no sense of small-town in your business that so often occurs. I also never heard him say anything unkind about another person, not ever.
I loved being in their home due to the fact that — to this day — I don’t know that I’ve seen four siblings any closer than they. I witnessed no snarky comments, no rolling of the eyes, no cutlery tossed. The entire family always greeted me with open arms, sweet and interested in whatever career or educational experiences in which I was engaged at the time, but the way they treated each other was truly touching. I can remember sitting on the sofa, shoveling food into my mouth, when Whitney and Charles — appropos of nothing — looked at each other, grinned, and started singing “Chitty Chitty Bang-Bang.” The feeling in their home was warm and everybody enjoyed one another, even more so as time and marriage brought in-laws and little ones. Whitney was very close to her father; the two of them enjoyed the same kind of relationship I have with my own mother, to the point that our conversations were dotted with my quotes from Mother, her observations from Daddy.
Even with the amount of time he devoted to his family, he managed somehow to reach those outside of it; he had been a workman for the people since I’d known him and long before I had. Born with a keen sense of responsibility to others, he died leaving an indelible mark across the state of Alabama. He was a member of both the Athens City Council and Athens Board of Education; he was also a sergeant in the Alabama National Guard Reserves. He spent a number of years at DHR until he became our mayor, the position to which he was elected just before the birth of his first grandchild. He served as mayor for eighteen years until he made his bid for the District 5 representative’s seat upon Tommy Carter’s retirement. It would be the last office he would hold.
I saw him on a trip home in May of 2014. He was running for his second House term and hosting a gathering for supporters, this one at the Events Center and replete with Whitt’s Barbecue and fellowship. Mother and I went, thinking it would be a drop-in-say-hello type of occasion, but the two of us stayed for two hours as we sat at a table laughing and talking about high school antics and my recounting some of the funniest things I’ve ever read, courtesy of Stephanie Blakely Calabrace’s posts on Facebook. The youngest of the grandchildren, two cute little boys, ventured around the venue as the older ones kept an eye on them. It was just as if I were in their home again: pleasant and calm, people becoming re-acquainted as good Southern food was served. He acted and appeared as he always had, and we began to ready ourselves for another election. Everything was fine.
Winters on Long Island are blustery: the snow stings your face, and gusts of wind appear from nowhere and leave just as quickly, making it difficult to breathe; the lungs feel crystallized. Receiving bad news feels much the same. There is no setting that eases the grip around your throat and chest when you are given information that is not good; I’ve found no backdrop that makes it pleasant, any less frightening. In some dime-store novel sort of way the weather seemed almost fitting when Whitney and I were on the phone in February, she in Alabama and I in New York, as she described what was going on with her father as he lay in a hospital bed. Whitney’s voice was low, wooden; a search for inflection left me empty-handed. He’d been having chest pains, she said. He had pneumonia. His bloodwork was off. A proliferation of blast cells was of concern to the physicians.
It was when she mentioned blast cells that I felt the tightening in my chest. As a nurse I should have known immediately what this was, but I realized what it meant only because of a Scrubs episode I’d just seen. It meant leukemia. I didn’t say this to Whitney, but painful testing shortly afterward showed that her father’s body was teeming with it.
“Gleevec,” I said to her, during a later phone call where she confirmed what I’d dreaded.
“Gleevec. Ryan O’Neal takes it. His leukemia has been in remission for years. See if they can try Gleevec,” I said, sounding a bit nuts. The last ten years of my career had been devoted to psychiatric nursing. I didn’t know very much about leukemia, not anymore. And I wouldn’t know anything until now.
February went by quickly, as did March and April. Vanderbilt was where the Williamses had decided that treatment would ensue. They were very fortunate to have friends who owned a condominium in the city so that they didn’t have to worry about the inconvenience of a hotel. His children, grandchildren and friends visited as often as possible; his wife stayed by his side. He went through a battery of tests and treatments, many of which left him exhausted and in pain. I kept in touch with Whitney, grasping for good news. It wasn’t forthcoming.
Often there is a point when someone who is ill begins to realize that he is fighting a battle from which he cannot emerge the victor. The leukemia had begun to whisper a quiet, quick descent. It was the cruelest of ironies: the man who had won so many elections against other people was now facing defeat by his own body, his own being.
He finally came home to rest, and I called him on his birthday in June. Though his voice was weak, it reflected his excitement that his family was coming over later to celebrate. We spoke of how things were constantly changing in Athens, with new homes and businesses at every turn. At one point he became rather quiet, and he said, “You know, Sara, I hope my greatest legacy will be my children.” It was then that I began to realize, on an almost visceral level, that this would be the last time he and I would speak. I wanted him to know how much I loved him, how much I respected him. So I told him. Steadying my voice, I told him how much he meant to me, how much he meant to so many people. We finished the conversation with his saying “We all love you, Sara, and you have to come see me the next time you’re home.”
I wish I’d had the opportunity. On July 1, as I was preparing to leave for work, I received a text message from Whitney. He was gone, his struggle was over. A tremendous number of people immediately responded with sympathy for the Williams family, all of it well-deserved for a man who had lived a life dedicated to others. His funeral was being planned; kind words were on the Internet, in the local newspapers, and then picked up by the Associated Press. However, the only thing I could think was that, so many miles away, my friend Whitney had lost her touchstone.
I have always made it a steadfast rule not to discuss politics or religion. Sometimes people get angry and upset, sometimes an argument develops, sometimes good crystal and china get smashed. It speaks volumes about how I felt and will always feel about Dan Williams that I am breaking this rule. His campaign for re-election to the Alabama House of Representatives in the fall of 2014 was fraught with dreadful mud-slinging from detractors, none of which I understood and all of which was maddening. He and his family took it on the chin, and he handled it with the dignity and aplomb that had defined him. After he won the election, I posted on his Facebook wall:
A man’s character is never on such explicit display as during adversity. Well done, sir.
As for your life, Dan Williams? Well done indeed, sir.
James Daniel Williams 1942-2015
Until next time.
Editor’s note: There will probably be repetitive and misspelled words throughout this post (not to mention errors in grammar), because I wanted to write this and have it be a surprise for my mother, my proofreader. I wanted to surprise her on Mother’s Day, and, if truth be known, she’s not one for the gushy-gushy stuff. Also, if I compliment her on something she’s done, she downplays her role in it– a humble woman, she. So if you are to come across a sentence that perhaps has no subject-verb agreement, if I use “who” instead of “whom,” or if I make an error in punctuation, you’ll know it’s because the woman, who’d rather stick needles in her eyes rather than hear someone use a double negative in conversation, was not involved in the editing process. I also want to wish a Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers, whose children, with love and gratitude for their own luck in having strong, kind mothers, could so easily echo the sentiments which I have written.
Mother’s Day is the one day of the year, in May when the weather is warm and spirits are lifted, that we pay tribute to the ladies who have shaped our lives. I’ve sometimes thought that every day should be Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, ever since I started looking back on some of the things I did growing up which probably made my parents wish they had stopped with one child, a son, and not gone down the road of “We want one of each!” Alas, they made the choice, and here I am. While my father will always be with me in my heart, it is my mother whom I wish to thank on this Mother’s Day of 2015:
I want to thank you for marrying my father. The two of you showed me what a loving partnership is. When he became truly ill, I never once heard a complaint from you, even when your stressed system caused you to lose so much weight and develop the worst case of shingles I’ve seen, and I’ve been a nurse for seventeen years. Through it all, your commitment to him never wavered.
I want to thank you for listening to me when I had a problem, telling me what you felt would be the best approach to handle it, and not ever, ever saying “I told you so” when I didn’t take your advice.
I want to thank you for not being upset when I totalled your car in 1989 while going through a yellow light on Highway 72 while Emily Johnson and I were jamming out to “Funky Cold Medina”. I was so upset about your mangled Nissan (complete with keyless entry and that stern computerized voice that said “Left. Door. Is. Open.”), but you maintained a truly kind, pragmatic approach to the whole incident. You told me that I had to learn to be extremely careful and obey speed limits and not try to race the caution light. Then you said that the car wasn’t important, that Emily and I could have been seriously injured or killed, not to mention the family in the other car, and that we were all very, very fortunate. You never mentioned the accident again.
I want to thank you for encouraging me to take a tour of Sewanee. I entered All Saints’ Chapel and was so overwhelmed by it that I told you “I think this is it. I know this is it.” You informed our student “tour guide” that we were very interested, and I got in, having four great years at an institution that I loved. Even when I called home crying and homesick my Freshman year (I think I phoned you about 742 times during the first six weeks, usually collect because we had not connected our dorm room line yet and I had to use the payphone outside my room), you listened to my keening wail and patiently kept telling me that it would get better, and it did. By the end of October I loved my college.
I want to thank you for being a member of the First United Methodist Church in Athens (though props should probably go to both sets of my grandparents, as both you and Daddy were reared in the Methodist Church). I remember going there from the time I was two years old, straight to the nursery and crying when Daddy dropped me off, then crying again when the two of you would come to get me because “I have fun! I no go home and take nap!” Growing up in the church, I made my first little friends (Leslie, Missy, Alice Winston, Pamie and Angie, Laura and Kathleen, Ashley and Holly). I could actually sit still as a middle schooler because I adored Barry Anderson’s sermons. Well after his death, I can still remember so many of the things he said.
I want to thank you for taking such an interest in the Athens community. You’ve spent countless hours helping those in need, and that, plus your interest in the preservation of the lovely old homes and buildings in the area have made me want to do the same. I’ve learned from you how important it is to give back.
If I have utilized even two percent of what you’ve taught me, instilled in me, and lovingly demanded of me, then I am the luckiest person I know, hopefully a decent person of whom you can be proud, as I’ve been so very proud of the way you have conducted your life.
It is Mother’s Day. We don’t have a choice in who our mothers are, and I’ve been very lucky because of that. Why? God knew (as He always does) what He was doing when he joined our lives. Even if I’d had a choice, you are the only person who could have been my mother. It is for this reason that, just as I’ve thanked you thoughout this post, I have to truly thank God for giving you to me.
I love you, more than you will ever know. Happy Mother’s Day.
Until next time.
I love books, movies and documentaries. I read and watch really good ones more than once, some to the point that I can actually quote from them. I also have a fairly annoying habit of not just telling a friend how good this movie is or that story was, I gush. Talent in any form impresses me, mostly because of the creativity involved. And no fictional reading for me, no thank you; the books and articles I enjoy are probably the result of growing up in a small and safe town, which spurred me in an almost endless pursuit of trying to understand why real people do the things they do.
At the time of this writing, my fellow Southerners are experiencing cold temperatures and icy roads, something I’m learning to live with on Long Island. This weather has been a systemic shock to the South and leads to a lot of downtime, with businesses closing for the day and families bundling up with blankets and hot chocolate, praying that the power doesn’t fail and trying to keep the little ones entertained after the snow turns a yucky gray color, making the sidewalks in their quaint towns resemble the ones in Buffalo. It’s at these times I pull out the older books and films, the ones in this list spanning from 1985 to 2008. While they may seem dated, their continuing popularity in mainstream media lends credence to the staying power of a good work.
Though many of these may not be of interest to everybody, I’ve tried to give some detail so that you can decide for yourself. Some of the best things I’ve watched or read can be found on Netflix, Hulu and Amazon, but I’ve found that most books are better on paper because the transfer to tablets and smart-phones sometimes wreaks havoc with editing and syntax. I also have to give props to Google for the visuals and YouTube for the videos in this post so that they don’t slap me with a “Cease and Desist” for copyright infringement. So put on your commemorative Auburn footie pajamas (you know, the ones with “The Tide has Dyed” logo), haul that beanbag lump up from the basement, and have a looky-loo at my amateur analyses and critiques of the following cabin-fever-fighters.
Commence the gushing:
1. Until the Twelfth of Never, Bella Stumbo (1993) If you’ve ever been divorced, thank your lucky stars your marriage didn’t end the way this one did. Betty Broderick has been behind bars since 1989 for the homicides of her ex-husband Dan, a well-respected medical malpractice attorney in San Diego, and his bride of six months. Long after she gunned them down in their sleep, this case continues to fuel heated discussions between people who feel it was a crime of passion and those who think she should remain in prison until the Rapture. Stumbo’s account — she did an unbelievable amount of research — is better than the other two main books on the Broderick case; she interviewed friends, colleagues and relatives, including the daughters of Dan and Betty (both of whom testified at her trials). Two people dying at the hands of a clearly unstable ex-wife doesn’t sound as if it would be holly-jolly entertainment, but Stumbo’s prose and Betty Broderick’s personality, along with the material excess and pressures of social expectations in a community as opulent as La Jolla, California, make for an excellent read. The author has also managed to create a cautionary tale in its most tragic form: a mismatched couple — both so seemingly hell-bent on destroying each other when their union ended — managed to very nearly destroy their children’s lives in the wake of it all. If you are offended by profanity and some very frank adult-speak, you probably want to skip this one, ’cause girlfriend got a mouth on her.
2. Hannah and Her Sisters, Woody Allen (1986) While we are on the subject of imploding relationships, let it be known that Woody Allen and Mia Farrow probably could not have had any better production than this one even if they were together today. Six years before Soon-Yi became tabloid fodder and allegations of unfit parenting made CNN, Allen and Farrow made a film about family dynamics and the joys of hypochondriasis, all of it woven together in a way that only Woody Allen could achieve. There are many recognizable names in this gem, and it’s a funny, warm story set in Manhattan and accented with piano medleys. Much of it filmed in Farrow’s apartment in NYC, the film revolves around holidays, careers, religion and Allen’s trademark neuroses, this particular one being the need to find meaning in life while coping with the fact that one day he will, indeed, be forced to deal with the end of it. You can watch this goody with Mom.
3.Queen’s Performance at Live Aid, Bob Geldof (1985) This summer will mark the 30th anniversary of Freddie Mercury at his absolute best, the occasion being Geldof’s now-epic gathering of musical groups whose acts were broadcast around the world in a charitable effort to combat famine in Africa. The BBC declared it the greatest live performance in rock history, with Rolling Stone giving Queen the nod for grabbing their allotted 20 minutes and completely overtaking the show. It was not until years after Mercury’s 1991 death that I saw this clip again, but his unparallelled vocal range and ability to command an audience not only still stand out today but also silenced the critics who had carped that Queen were well past their prime. Wembley Stadium was packed with music fans — his biographers have estimated over 70,000 — and Mercury, clad in a tank top and tennis shoes, totally engaged them all (the shot over his shoulder during “Radio Ga Ga,” with the sea of people beyond him clapping in unison, is alone worth watching [5:52]). Known for his flamboyant performances onstage, Mercury doesn’t disappoint: he wags his tongue at the camera, his hands bounce 8 inches off the piano keys he’s striking during the opening bars of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and at one point he turns his back to the audience and bends over to show them his booty. Shortly after watching this again, I found a Google Image with his photo. “He didn’t die of AIDS,” the caption read. “Pure epic power simply devoured his body.”
4.The Sopranos, David Chase/HBO (1999-2007) *Spoiler Alert* I mentioned in the second post of this blog that I was a huge fan of this series — it’s my favorite television show ever — but the love affair I have with this program did not exactly begin well. I was in Maryland on a nursing assignment when my brother (Curtis) phoned from Nashville one Sunday night, telling me I Just Had To Watch This Show Called The Sopranos, It Was The Greatest Thing On Earth, A New Episode Was On In An Hour, and He Was Calling Mother Immediately After Hanging Up With Me To Tell Her To Watch It As Well and then We’d All Reconvene Via Telephone To See How Much Everybody Enjoyed It. Well, I watched it, and so did my mother. It was already the third season, and the episode was entitled “University.” It was horrible: one of the story lines involved Tracee, a sad, mixed-up dancer who falls in love with a louse named Ralphie. He gets her pregnant, humiliates her beyond belief, and then finally beats her to death (I actually read an online interview with the actress who portrayed Tracee, and she stated that many HBO viewers cancelled their subscriptions after this episode). The whole thing was so graphic — the violence, language and blatant misogyny — that I was immobilized on the sofa while silently trying to calculate the number of rotations my mother’s eyeballs had completed as she sat in her den viewing this hedonistic mess. It finally ended, and my phone rang as the credits were rolling. It was Curtis — mortified, on the verge of an aneurysm and ready to hurl: “I’m so sorry, Sara! I’ve never seen it this rough before. I knew there would be cursing and stuff but I swear I had no idea it would be this bad…oh, man, now I have to call Mom.” Heh. Better you than me, pal.
5. Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son about his Father, Kurt Kuenne (2008) When a young man in his medical residency (Andrew Bagby) dies suddenly, his best friend — a budding filmmaker — decides to travel the US and England to interview people in order to make a memorial film for Bagby’s family and numerous friends. When he began his journey, Kurt Kuenne could not have predicted that this homage to his friend would take the turn it did, and neither will the viewer of this documentary. It absolutely spins you around, making you wonder how the parents of Bagby managed to survive at all. Anything else I write might spoil it for you, but I will say this: get out your tissues. It is a truly good but very sad story, one which will stay with you long after you’ve watched it.
6. A Paper Life, Tatum O’Neal (2004) The youngest Academy Award winner in history gives readers a look at her life, and it is no easy read. This well-written tome is brutal in its recounting: rife with drug abuse, neglect and situations to which no child should ever be exposed, it is a testament to her inner strength that she made it past adolescence. I’ve always been an unabashed lover of celebrity gossip, and Tatesky spares no one: her parents, Ryan’s longtime companion Farrah Fawcett, Melanie Griffith, and ex-husband John (“You cannot be serious!”) McEnroe all have the bare bones of their flaws laid out in the blackest of ink. To be fair, she takes herself to task on her own mistakes, not least her descent into heroin addiction and eventually relinquishing custody of her three children to McEnroe shortly after her little girl stumbled upon a syringe. This book is not for the faint of heart, but to this day it has made me grateful for the parents that my friends and I have. Nevertheless, do yourself a favor and read it on an empty stomach.
7. Bette Midler’s Farewell Performance to Johnny Carson, Johnny Carson/NBC (1992) I thought that since the majority of this list involves guns, drugs and abuse that I should end with one that will elicit a giggle. Johnny Carson’s retirement after 30 years brought celebrities in droves to wish him well during the final weeks, and The Divine Miss M was the one he picked to be his final guest. This clip, shortly over three minutes, is not the greatest in quality but it doesn’t dim the wonderfully camp performance that garnered her an Emmy. Plus, at one point, you’ll get to see a brilliant, blonde-haired Robin Williams to her right. Enjoy.
Until next time.
It has taken thirty years to put pen to paper, and those years have not been ones of abrupt starts and stops. It has taken me this long to find the words, some I’ve shared with friends and relatives, but most of which I’ve kept to myself because they were too difficult too express, too private, or because I was afraid of making my mother cry, of making her remember those days long ago that we have put behind us because they are simply part of life. The story about my father is not one to which others could not relate, or something that has not happened or will not happen to anyone else. It also is not one of mythological proportions, Shakespearean suffering, or of the need for any true psychological examination. “There’s not an answer for everything that goes on in this life, Sara DeLoney,” said my mother as we were discussing an unrelated subject in the late 1990s. “Some things just are.”
Some things just are, indeed. My father, Johnson, was born in 1939, the oldest of three boys. When he was thirteen, he was diagnosed with Juvenile Diabetes (both his mother and two brothers were eventually diagnosed with some form, though not as severe). I once asked what prompted his need to go to the pediatrician to make this discovery. “I kept wetting the bed,” he said, with that Elvis-style upper lip smirk he’d get when saying something he thought my mother wouldn’t want his telling me, although in my 12-year-old mind I loved this bit of camaraderie we shared because I, too, wet the bed long past any acceptable stage. Two years after he was diagnosed, his father was found dead of an apparent heart attack in a Chicago hotel room while on a business trip. His mother, my Grandmother Terry, knew that Daddy needed the regimen of strict mealtimes and exercise that only a private institution could handle, and off he went to Battleground Academy in Frankin, Tennessee, where he thrived.
At The University of North Alabama, he majored in math and minored in history and chemistry. He loved chemistry, but with his illness he had a very real fear that he would go into insulin shock and cause an unmitigated disaster if he were to knock over smoking vials and test tubes. It was also at UNA, in 1958, that he met my mother. He walked up to her in the dining hall and said, “Ida, I’ve noticed you, and wondered if you’d like to go out sometime.” They dated and married two years later in Professor Cheney’s home; Curtis was born in 1966. He was, by all accounts, a wonderful and sweet baby (“We could put him in his little seat on a trip from Athens to the beach, and he’d sleep from start to finish,” remembers my mother). Daddy’s mother, my Grandmother Terry, was from the oldest of old schools. While never an unkind person, she was a lady who appreciated one’s proper background, with all its social airs and graces. My father, however, had no use for anything other than equality when it came to himself or anyone else (While I may be biased in my opinion, I’m backed up by my Aunt Ann: “If there’s anything I ever want you to know about your father, it’s that people were simply people to him. It didn’t matter where you came from, how much money you had, what color you were — everybody was on the same level.”). While I’ve inherited my mother’s love of reading, use of proper grammar, and Crane stationery, I’m equally proud of the things he was fond of and passed on to me: being respectful and saying “Yes, ma’am, no sir,” how to appreciate the precision and fine-tuning of the foreign-engineered automobile, and the occasional use of the salty tongue (which I’ve perfected and downright solidified in everyday use in the ensuing years, well in excess of anything that man could have ever said). In keeping with Aunt Ann’s observation, he also taught me that no man is better than another. Curtis’ birth was a perfect example of this: My mother (in her bathrobe and slippers), my father (in his suit), and my grandmother (in her element) were staring down at the first Terry grandson in the nursery of Decatur General Hospital. My grandmother said, “You realize, Johnson, that this child is a descendent of our French nobility…,” to which Daddy, chagrined, replied, “Aw, bullshit, Mother.” Ahem.
My birth in 1970 was probably met with “Why did we think we could get a second good one?” I screeched a lot, drew on the walls, and kicked in my share of parental shins. However, I once saw a picture of my scrunched-up, red face in the nursery, taken on the day of my birth. “I was an awful-looking baby, Daddy, didn’t you think so?”, to which he replied, “Not to me, you weren’t.”
Now, with two children (one good boy, and one devil child), the family was complete. I have always remembered their marriage as somewhat idyllic, though I now know that no marriage is. My mother’s favorite part of the day was when my father came home from work and the two of them would sit on the front porch on East Street and have a drink together. They loved each other, and, even more so, had tremendous respect for each other. What else does one need?
In our case, it would be a miracle. It was when I was five, before we moved into the house that I will always call my home, that the first inklings of trouble began to surface. He had laser surgery to repair the damaged nerves in his eyes. I vaguely remember the procedure, but was too young to pick up on any portent of what was to come. My mother told me, years after he died, that it was the beginning of his end. “If the nerves in his eyes are damaged, we can believe that there is other bodily damage as well,” a doctor told her.
Curtis and I, however, were blessed with the ignorance of children, and it would proceed that way for another five years. My parents, of course, never let on that anything was amiss, not only in their need to let us live our childhoods as carefree little ones but, possibly, to do the same themselves. Family was extremely important to the two of them. On no summer until his last one were we allowed to take friends with us on vacations. My mother, a teacher, had AEA week and summers off with us, and Daddy’s two weeks of vacation from CSC (and later Intergraph) began on a Friday. On Saturday morning at four o’clock, sharp, he would burst into my room and say, “Wake up, ‘Loney, it’s time for the beach.” He was so excited that it wound Curtis and me into a state of near hysteria that lasted all the way until we hit I-65, at which point we got sleepy again. True to our natures, Curtis slept and read Spider-Man comic books, while I demanded bathroom breaks and food and yelled “Are we there yet?” Finally the Atlantic Ocean came into view, and the first thing we did after unpacking was to go to Delchamps so that we could stock up on steaks to grill and especially any foods he might need in case his blood sugar were to drop. It was on one of these two-week vacations to the beach (Saturday to Saturday, from my infancy until 1983), that he taught me how to draw up his daily insulin (“You inject the air of the amount you need, ‘Loney, then pull the units back into the syringe.”) He never let me give him the shot –the man was no fool– but it was then that I think the interest in nursing began to trickle into my tiny brain. To this day, however, insulin is the one drug that I cannot bear to administer without triple-checking with two other nurses.
Looking back, these were halcyon days. When we weren’t at the beach, we were at home as a family. Daddy grilled the best filet mignons and cheeseburgers in the world (he poured just a touch of beer on them), and he encouraged us to try food (“Just scoop a little sour cream and cheese into your mother’s chili. If you don’t like it, we’ll get you a plain bowl.”) He found Schlotsky’s in Huntsville and loved it, and we did too. Terry’s Pizza was a favorite. I think Mother and Daddy may have gotten a slice apiece before Curtis and I devoured the rest of it. After he became truly ill, one of my favorite memories was being at the beach and going to a shopping center that served the best ice cream, a scoop of mint chocolate chip on a sugar cone. Daddy and I would be sitting in the car while Curtis and Mother were finishing their shopping, and Daddy would ask me for a lick of my treat. “Okay,” I’d say, and hand it over. He then proceeded to eat the whole thing, cone and all, even thought it was, for his diet, verboten. It worked out well, however: I’d cry, Mother would buy me another another one, and he was in a pure sugar bliss. Well after his death, my mother would say: “I hope he enjoyed every last bite.”.
I was in Margie Walker’s fourth grade class at Julian Newman when his spiral began. To call it a “spiral” does not do it justice. He, and our family as we knew it, were on a runaway train.
He went into a diabetic coma that spring. The word coma was daunting enough, but my mother assured Curtis and me that he would come out of it, and emerge he did. He lacked some of his energy, some of his playfulness, but he rallied. He took us that summer, not to the beach, but to a Braves game. He got a kick out of “‘Loney’s attention to the game!” He was proud that his daughter, a girl, would be so into baseball. I can’t remember if Atlanta or Houston won, but I do remember my mother waking up in the hotel room to find me looking out the window “at all the lights and cars, Mommy!”
I also remember his wanting me to love football the way he did. He and I were Alabama fans, Curtis and Mother were Auburn fans. Though I now love to watch football, at the time I couldn’t didn’t know pigskin from pork rinds. He loved to turn on whatever college or NFL game was on, then tell me I needed to sit on the den floor while he took a nap on the sofa and to fill him in on what happened during the quarters. The second he starting snoring, I flipped it to Fraggle Rock. Some fathers know immediately when a child adjusts the thermostat. My father knew within 0.18 seconds if I’d changed the station to HBO to see if the Jodie Foster version of Freaky Friday, my favorite movie at the time, was on. He’d immediately snap awake. “What happened?” he’d ask, and I’d say “Oh, they threw the ball, piled onto one another, and number 32 got hurt,” lying through my cranked-up Dr. Keahey braces. “Oh, okay,” he’d say, and conk right back out. I had this.
Even ill, his love of sports remained. My mother still laughs — though I don’t think she was amused at the time — about his obsession with golf. He was not an inconsiderate man, especially when it involved his wife, but golf was another story entirely. They’d have have plans to go a dinner party at 6:30, “…and he’d walk into the house at 6:15 with those clubs swung over his arm after being at Burningtree all day.” she said. I think her pride over his hole-in-one and later winning a tournament in which he was awarded a silver service for her dining room made up for any irritation she may have had for arriving late for dinner at the Joneses. He had become, as do many golfers, absolutely entranced by the game. When he took me trick-or-treating, out in the dark in the Historical District, he’d stand in people’s yards with a stick, practicing his swing.
He also continued to love the foreign cars. He came home with two Audis, a convertible Fiat, a bronze Volkswagen truck, and a couple of VW Bugs. He’d bang and whomp on the engine for days (do all men do this?). Once, I remember his tinkering on the blue Bug. After he was completely sure he had everything underneath the hood to his complete specifications, the four of us piled in so he could show off his new toy. We pulled out of the driveway and came to the first stop sign; he hit the brakes, and the radio and headlights blew out simultaneously.
It was not to last, however. He became seriously ill in September of my fifth grade year. His blood sugar was now uncontrollable, and I began to hear the term brittle diabetic when we would make many, many trips to Birmingham, first to the Boshell Clinic, then to Baptist Princeton, UAB, and Lakeshore Rehabilitation. Regardless of the effort my mother made in her cooking — she had diabetic cookbooks and guides from which I can remember her measuring green beans so he’d have exactly the right amount — his glucose was all over the place. At one point it reached 1400, and even the specialists in Birmingham said he was the first, and only, patient they’d had to survive at that level. It was that September, on a Thursday night, that Mother told Curtis and me that we’d be taking the day off from school to drive down to see Daddy. If anyone knows my mother, they know she doesn’t subscribe to any kind of hooey, which makes what I’m about to write even more a testament to how close she and my father were. After she, Curtis and I were all asleep that evening before our trek to Birmingham the next day, she was awakened in the middle of the night. Someone was calling repeatedly: “Mrs. Terry, Mrs. Terry.” She came upstairs to check on her children, and we were fine. She went outside, thinking the house was on fire. It was not.
It was not until we arrived the next day in Birmingham to see my father that her answer was provided. A nurse had erred in programming his insulin pump, and the poor man had a stroke. Years later, she finally told me this story. “It was,” she said, “as if someone were trying to get to me, to let me know he was in trouble, and that he needed me.” It has always been my belief that maybe he, too, was trying to get a message to her. As much as he loved his mother, brothers, friends and children, when things were rough, it was my mother he wanted.
It was a frightening day, but Daddy made it better. As they were wheeling him out on a gurney to a CT scan, lying flat on his back, he turned his head to the left, saw me, and stuck out his tongue.
We made it to Lakeshore after he was stabilized. He was to be rehabilitated, and that was that. I had no more fear. He’d come home, maybe with a cane for a while, and then he’d be okay.
It is said that God protects fools and children. The runaway train began to gather speed.
After his stroke, he fell and broke his hip. His kidneys failed, and he became the first person in Limestone County to start home peritoneal dialysis. It was at this point that we first came into contact with Dr. Qureshi, who would stay with us until the end.
The glucose swings then began in earnest. Coming home from my orthodontist appointment one day, his sugar dropped, his mind went blank, and our car wound up in someone’s yard (people were honking at us because the tail end was halfway into the street, and, almost comically, he’d yell “Hey, how you doing?”, thinking it was a friend of his). At one point during my sixth grade year, I had the flu. He had retired by then, and was home in bed as well. Feverish and shaking, I went downstairs and crawled into bed with him. I awakened shortly afterward to find him flopping around, yelling gibberish. I tried to get him to drink orange juice, which he proceeded to knock out of my hand. Same with the yucky pinkish-red tube of glucose gel I tried to squeeze into his mouth, telling him it was Aquafresh. It was then I knew I needed to call Bo Russell, whose work and home numbers my mother had posted in the kitchen in case of emergencies (Bo and Peggye had been supportive and good friends for years, with Bo coming to visit with Daddy at home so that Peggye could take Mother to dinner, get her out and away for a few hours to relieve some caretaker stress). Bo had very kindly became a willing and wonderful go-to man in moments such as these. He arrived quickly, I took him into the bedroom, and almost immediately the two of them fell into giggles and well-intentioned threats of whose rear end was going to get kicked if the juice was or was not drunk. Bo always won. Amidst the sadness of his decline, one story I’ve always loved was the night Daddy awakened having a fish-flop-gibberish moment, clearly in need of some OJ. Mother was trying to get him to drink it, and he focused on her nightgown. “What’s that?” he said, pointing. “What’s what, Johnson?,” she said, wondering what he was talking about. “THAT, that thing on your gown!” Mother replied, “It’s nothing, it’s a bow on my nightgown. Just a tied bow,” to which my father replied, “Bo? BO? Oh, Good Lord, don’t call that son-of-a-bitch! I’ll drink the damn juice.” When she recounted this story for him later, Bo howled.
There were other moments of true thoughtfulness from friends in Athens as well. In the seventh grade, Missy (Wassum) Greenhaw asked me if I’d be home that evening, because she knew that Mother and Daddy were once again at the hospital in Birmingham. I said yes, and nothing else was mentioned. What she didn’t tell me was that her mother, Lanell, had organized something that would stay with me the rest of my life. That night, the mothers of my friends — amongst them Ervin, Anderson, Littrell, Johnson, Blizzard, Ward, Heery, Evans, Sexton, and Davis — poured into the house, one after another, with homemade casseroles, breads, and desserts, all so my mother wouldn’t have to worry about putting together a meal for many days. It remains one of the kindest acts I have ever known.
It was during this time that I believe he came to face the reality of his situation. He had a conversation with my mother’s mother, my sweet Grandmother Brownie, that truly moved him. Never concerned for himself, he told his mother-in-law that he hated to see my mother go through this with him, that she was too young. “Johnson,” she said, “she may be my daughter, but she is your wife, and this is her responsibility to you.”
It was on the Thursday before Easter of 1984 that Curtis and I were to discover Daddy’s reality as well. He was at Athens Hospital, and my brother and I had gone to respective medical appointments that day in Decatur. When we got home, Mother called us into the den. Softly, she said, “I need to talk to you. Dr. Qureshi asked to speak to me. When we went into a private room, he said that he felt ‘….that Mr. Terry is slipping.'” We knew what she meant, and after that the truth could be avoided no more, no matter my age or need for denial. We were near the end.
She took me that afternoon to buy an Easter dress, the dress I would wear to his funeral. Trying to absorb the news about my father was accompanied by what I can only describe as sheer terror. It manifested in my body, and I can remember absolute physical pain as I tried to lift my arms in the dressing room. I finally gave up and leaned against a wall. My mother, without a word, came in, slipped the dress over my head, nodded, and we left.
On Good Friday he was moved into the ICU because his lungs had begun to fill. It was getting late, so I kissed him on the cheek, told him that I loved him and that I’d see him tomorrow. We’d been home less than thirty minutes when the operator broke in on the phone call my mother had made to her sister.
Dr. Qureshi met us outside of the ICU, where he quietly told us that Daddy had gone into cardiac arrest. He was now unable to survive without life support, and we had very little time left. I went in to see him on Saturday afternoon, leaned over, and kissed the same cheek I’d kissed the evening before, whispering in his ear how much I loved him and how much I would miss him.
And in the end, the end came quickly. He passed away, mercifully, on Easter Sunday. He was 45 years old, and had fought with that wretched disease for more than thirty years, years of pain, tests and fear that he kept to himself. Two days later he was buried next to his mother. Margie and Carl Evans gathered all of my friends into their Suburban to bring them to the service in Leighton. My mother remembers very little of the funeral, but what she does remember is “those tiny little faces, all lined up in pretty dresses.” Barry Anderson quoted from When Bad Things Happen to Good People. I broke a rose off of the casket and took it home, where it remained in the secretary drawer until it, too, was gone.
He was a good man. He was also very intelligent. He had to have known on some level that he would not live a long life, and I believe he wanted a wife who would be able to engineer his children through the loss, which she did. He knew what he was doing.
I was thirteen when he had to leave us, and though I sometimes selfishly lament not having had more time with him, I realize now I was lucky to have known him at all.
Curtis Johnson Terry, Sr. 1939-1984
Until next time.
If you find yourself choking, call Craig in Chicago.
I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried. Picture it: it’s Father’s Day. Gorgeous weather, people are celebrating at restaurants and apparently Jones Beach, because I left for work 30 minutes early and sat perfectly still in traffic for that exact amount of time. I get to work, receive report, and then someone has the splendid idea that we should buy supper for our man Craig as it is Father’s Day. We try to get Mexican food, some tostada bowl that my fellow nurse Cristina has been raving about, but they are closed. We settle on a one-star Chinese restaurant because they are thisfast. Seriously, you hang up the phone after placing the order and eighteen seconds later the delivery guy is ringing the bell to the unit. I am beginning to think they cook on our roof.
We now bring you The Great Father’s Day Chinese Chicken Caper:
Cut to the chow-down. Everybody is eating except CRISTINA. She really had her heart set on that tostada bowl. She is also Filipino and can’t stand Chinese food because she (seriously) makes the best spring rolls in the history of the world. She is goofy funny and weighs about eight ounces. SARA envies her skyscraper-high metabolism. Anyhoo, SARA has a tiny container of House Special Fried Rice, and she examines every bite as she is trying to figure out what type of meat is on the fork. As she digs into the container a third time, we have this:
SARA: (finding a piece of chicken and shoving it into her mouth): “So, Cristina, did you-” <sharp intake of breath>
SARA: COUGH COUGH COUGH COUGH COUGH COUGH COUGH
CRAIG (looking up from his soggy grey broccoli): “Are you choking?”
SARA: COUGH COUGH COUGH COUGH COUGH COUGH COUGH
CRAIG: “You better not be playing with me, girl!”
We see SARA. The coughing has stopped, only to be replaced by a tomato-red face and bloodshot eyes. She tries to breathe, only to have a high-pitched WEEEEEEEEE come forth, making her sound like a busted harmonica. She then begins to flail about the room, flapping her arms like an idiot and turning in circles. Wearing white scrubs, she somewhat resembles an epileptic Q-Tip. She also has obviously forgotten the universal choking sign — both hands over the throat — even though it was reviewed in orientation skills sessions last week. We realize at this point that not only can SARA not eat as would a normal human, but also that she is dumb as a rock.
CRISTINA: “Oh, my Goddddddddd! SHE CAN’T BREATHE!”
This brings the troops. Fortunately, our man CRAIG, six-foot-two and with arms like Popeye’s, springs into action. Super Male Nurse bolts from his chair and whips SARA around like one of those giant Raggedy Ann dolls her aunt made for her when she was four (and that she adored so much that she actually took them to Sewanee her junior year because she thought it would spruce up the room, only to have poor Ann be fed a can of Milwaukee Beast by a couple of football players who decided to photograph the occasion). CRAIG has assumed the proper Heimlich Maneuver Position: behind SARA, palm over fist placed under the chest. He is careful to avoid the xiphoid process so that it doesn’t break off and float around her abdominal region for all eternity, even if it looks as if that’s where she’s headed now anyway.
Heimlich Thrust Upward and Inward, Take One: No dice. Nothing happens. SARA begins to hear the faint cacophony of locusts. She then realizes she should have sent money to The 700 Club and those Sally Struthers kids.
Heimlich Thrust Upward and Inward, Take Two: SARA is lifted off the floor, making horrible retching, belching noises that would make the seediest beer-drinking hillbilly have to hand down his Championship Upchuck Title, seven years running, thus causing him to slink away with his head bowed in shame. Her mother, IDA, would be so embarassed for her [Sidenote: SARA is convinced that the “I’m not embarassed of you, but I’m embarassed for you” line is absolutely the most devastating thing a person can hear from a parent. She is also convinced that she would rather have her heart cut out with a rusty knife wielded by a hopped-up-on-meth homeless man who has active tuberculosis than to ever, ever, hear that one again.].
CRAIG, however, is not deterred by this bunch of nastiness. The man is from Queens, and he means business.
Heimlich Thrust Upward and Inward, Take Three: BAM! He hits it. DING DING DING, WE HAVE A WINNER! The unchewed foul fowl flies out. SARA staggers about, taking in gulps of air as if this is the last day on Earth that oxygen is free of charge. Her mascara is streaking her face and she looks like Alice Cooper caught in a 365-degree Fahrenheit wind tunnel. She manages to croak out, “Thank you, Craig,” all the while sounding like a whimpering toddler who just dropped his fresh chocolate ice cream cone into an open vermin-infested Brooklyn manhole. She knows that she should go to the ER to make sure she did not aspirate, but she decides to save herself $500 and limps downstairs for a Coke and a cigarette to make sure all pipes, tubes and vessels are flowing correctly. Also, being the big fat 43-year-old baby she is, she calls her mother, IDA, to tell her about the experience. She feels relieved after dumping this on her mother. She later finds out that IDA didn’t sleep well after the conversation because she shook with fear all night. SARA is kind and considerate like that.
We see her return to the unit. CRAIG is strutting about like a bantam rooster, puffing his chest out and explaining to his throngs of adoring fans how he saved SARA. “It was my technique, man. My tech-NIQUE.”.
The next day, we find both SARA and CRAIG returning to work. She now realizes that she has become CRAIG’s female dog for life. The man is a hero, and he operates with impunity.
CRAIG: “I’m hungry, woman. Get me some cookies.”
SARA (whining, as usual): “But I’m busy!”
CRAIG: “SEE WHAT HAPPENS NEXT TIME YOU CHOKE!”
As the scene fades, we see SARA scurrying for the snack machine, knowing she’ll have to cash bonds to cover the money she’ll be pouring into said machine until she or CRAIG decides to quit or gets fired for cursing out the Chinese food delivery guy, calling his chicken “The Devil’s Nourishment.”
Coming up next on Real Life Fools, we see SARA try to get in out of the rain by herself. Hijinks ensue.
Until next time.
ED NOTE: This is a long, rambling post. In college, when I’d have to turn in a 10-page paper on neurotransmitters and their effects on the normal brain, I could crank out maybe four paragraphs in six hours. I was being graded, my entire degree hung in the balance, and a fear of being placed on academic probation weighed heavily on my mind. However, with a blog that is purely for enjoyment purposes, I can sit and type for hours. If you’re bored, unable to fall asleep, or just can’t find the energy to throw in that last load of laundry, then grab a mocha latte, relax, and begin to peruse the ramble. There’s a point to the post, but slight digging may be required.
If a person is very lucky, the glass is half-full. I have been lucky. I have a job I adore, the people I work with are fun and good at what they do. I’m close to my family. I have an apartment on Long Island that actually contains a washer and dryer so that my clothes don’t have to co-mingle with another tenant’s, should said tenant have something lovely on his clothes, such as scabies that didn’t manage to drown during the spin cycle or suffocate in the dryer. Never underestimate the power of your own washer and dryer in New York, it’s as if you’ve won the lottery. If you’re not already itching and retching, please continue to read. I like to think of life and its events in terms of situational pluses and minuses. If x (or minuses, not so great) equals y (pluses, pretty good to great), it is then that I realize how fortunate I am. It’s a simple formula: start with the events and categories that sometimes aren’t the best memories or are simply things you don’t enjoy and then top it off with the ones that are positive and things that you like. My list would read as such:
-1: The State of Iowa. Not the people, just the state itself. I was driving through this four-letter-word after a terrific assignment in Idaho, and this was a 30 hour drive. I stopped somewhere in Iowa to spend the night. I’m afraid of any hotel/motel that doesn’t have a lobby that leads to the rooms. No open-to-the-parking-lot-room for me, not since I saw the movie Identity. I gathered my computer, phone, jewelry and GPS along with toiletries and pajamas and settled in for a good night’s sleep. In the morning I received a call from the front desk that my car had been burglarized. The back window was smashed, and my scrubs and clothes and books that I didn’t take inside the hotel were all over the place. One of the items taken was something dear to me, a beautiful charm bracelet that my mother had assembled for over 13 years; I cursed myself because I didn’t realize I had left it packed in a box. The policeman told me that “crackheads tend to prey in the area” and that’s probably who the “perps” were. I feel Mr. Policeman was incorrect in his assessment of the situation because my hot rollers were also taken. I know crack cocaine addicts “use” and I know what they’re “using,” and it sure as hell isn’t hair care products. So if you’re in Iowa and you see some jerk with a lovely sterling charm bracelet and hair styled by Conair, kick them in the shin. Tell ’em Sara sent you. -2: NASCAR and Professional Wrestling. I have seen men who devote entire Sundays and weeknights to these sporting events. It’s not so much that I don’t care for them, it’s that I don’t understand them. Cars going ’round and ’round in circles with no end in sight? Come get in the car with me on the first day of a new nursing assignment. It’s a true “Big Ben! Parliament!” experience. On my first assignment in Baltimore in 2000, my mother suggested I take a tour of the city. I explained to her that I took a tour not only of the city but also the outlying areas every time I started the *&$#@!@ car. As far as wrestling is concerned, if you want to see someone get thrown 40 feet or body-slammed, go to work someday with a psychiatric health care worker. I was assaulted in 2010 & 2012, so we can deduce that I’m pretty much due for a beat-down in the year of 2014. Get a ticket, they’ll go fast. -3: People who are rude and/or feel they have to pull rank and assert authority, especially in a professional setting. All of us have experienced this in any job. I was a scrub tech from 1996-1998 while I was in nursing school and studying for the NCLEX, and then I started working as a nurse in 1998. It is because of having worked both of these jobs that I am able to identify the importance of doing what is delegated to the best of my ability and then how to delegate in a way that works for the team. The expression about nurses “eating their young”? True. It makes me cringe when I see a new graduate, excited about having passed boards and starting a new career, be spoken to as if he or she knows nothing and has no life experience. There’s the rolling of the eyes, the long sighs and the “How do you not know that?” (the same way you don’t know how to talk to people, jerkola: I haven’t been taught that yet). If you’re truly fortunate, you get a terrific preceptor who works with you as you learn. It was my experience that I actually learned how to be a nurse while working as a nurse, and what I’d learned in school was simply a primer for what was to come. I loved working in the OR in Labor and Delivery because many of the surgeons would answer even the most trite of my questions (“What’s THAT?” I asked. “Small bowel,” said the resident. “Chitlins. You hungry?” said the jokester lead surgeon.). The same goes for people who like to correct others in front of colleagues or, even worse, patients. It denigrates one’s abilities in the eyes of the audience. Once I learned how to roll with it, and age and experience gave me a thicker skin, it got easier. One OB-GYN, a real pain in the arse, kept yelling at me in front of the patient, her husband, the nurses, and all of the NICU staff that I wasn’t placing the surgical instruments into the proffered hand with enough “thwack” so that he could feel it. After about ten minutes of this I got irritated and proceeded to smash the bejeezus out of his right hand with everything, including the handle of the scalpel. That’s when he whined, “Owwww, you’re doing it too hard!” That’s when I proceeded to get base with him and say, “Hey, Dr. Feast-or-Famine, make up your mind.” We got along beautifully after that, but it bothers me when I have to confront a person in this manner. If I have a situation with a co-worker that needs attention I try to address it if it’s truly important. I’ve also learned to pick my battles and and follow the tried-and-tested rules of always saying — in all sincerity — “Please,” “Thank you,” and “I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed working with you today. You handled that situation beautifully.” Someone says that to me and I’m over the moon, at least until the next shift. -4: Being the baby of the family and being usurped by a real baby. Now, this is going to sound truly pathetic. Picture this: I was born in 1970, four years after my brother, Curtis. I always wanted my mother to have another baby, but after my antics as a toddler (swallowing a marble; running around in the yard naked while everyone else was napping on a lazy Sunday afternoon; deciding to leave via the front door — while no one was looking — and taking a quiet stroll through the neighborhood during a tornado), my parents decided that two was the magic number. I would forever be the little girl in our family. Fast-forward to September, 1993. I was 22 years old, and my maturity level was not exactly at an all-time high, pretty much just a notch or two below where I am at present. My brother and his wife had a baby, a whopping little boy whom I immediately recognized in the nursery before I read the name card. He looked exactly like my father, but with hair. Gobs of black hair. We couldn’t get enough of that kid, not with the big brown eyes and so much flab all over him that my mother had to stuff him into the sink in her bathroom just to get the chocolate off his face, neck and feet (I still remember her singing to him nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh-nuhFATMAN!). Everything he did was golden. A group of us, all women, would sit in a circle around him and if he hiccupped, we all clapped and sang praises to the gods of indigestion. He smeared the contents of his diaper on the wall and there was much discussion as to whether or not to submit a Polaroid of it to the Guggenheim. He threw a ball on the roof; it hit a stick and deflated, and we debated as to whether or not we should check the rubber density of the next ball purchased so that there would be no more destruction of toys that led to uncertainty in a child’s mind. I tried to cook some of the blue-box Macaroni and Cheese and my mother took it away from me, saying, “It’s for the child.” And the entire time, I’m trying to get attention, any attention, be it standing on my head, dating the right guy (once), dating the wrong guy (a lot), or anything to say “Look at me, look at ME!”. It is embarassing now, but I got a sense of how husbands must feel when their wives become all-absorbed with a little one. To top it off, he knew he had me. Mother would stand at the foot of the steps and say “‘Night, John, love you so much!” He’d yell down from his crib, “M’Ida (he calls her M’Ida, which is an amalgam of Mommy and Ida), love you s’much.” I’d say “‘Night, John, love YOU so much.” And………crickets. -5: Reality Television. I’ll be the first to admit it: I was a huge fan of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills and The Jersey Shore. I think I was probably the last person on the big blue-green sphere to realize that the majority of these shows are scripted (except for the tragic demise of RHOBH’s Russell Armstrong, and that is one situation which was all too sadly true). After a while of listening to nouveau-riche women whine about the problems of their day-to-day lives while being married to extremely wealthy men and having staff to cater to their every whim, I got tired of it. Take the money that so makes you lonely and unfulfilled and give it to a shelter. Your 12,000 square foot house? Perfect for the homeless. A $60,000 birthday party for a child in preschool? Do what the rest of us did: bake a cake, beat a piñata half to death, chase each other around the yard, and enjoy the bouncy house until one child has an accident (from all that fruit punch and goldfish crackers) and it has to be hosed down. As far as The Jersey Shore, I didn’t like it, but it was the proverbial train wreck I couldn’t leave alone until it ended. It was a good thing the series finale did happen, because if I had to see that smoosh room one more time, you’d find me barfing in one of those bouncy houses.
Here comes the good stuff, that cancels out the above:
+1: The states of Alabama, New York, Arizona and Florida: Go to my pilot post, On Beginnings, and you’ll understand why I love the South (I’d put a “click here” button to link you to the pilot, but I haven’t figured that out yet). New York — the entire state, not just the five boroughs, has things to do all the time. You can gain 40 pounds in 2 weeks eating the pizza there, and you’ll never want Pizza Hut again. There are the beaches, the Hamptons, major department stores, etc. Despite the cost of living, it’s worth it, and I can buy my cigarettes for half the price in Alabama when I come home. The state of Arizona is lovely year ’round, so you can go swimming and get a tan in Tucson in December. Desert air even smells good. The only drawback is due to the dry heat; many people have to buy a new car battery at least every 12 to 18 months. Until I figured out Tom Cruise had taken leave of his senses, I loved the fact that he could walk around Scottsdale unbothered. Phoenix is a 30-minute, $45 plane ride to Las Vegas. Plus, where else can you get third-degree burns on your feet walking from the swimming pool to your car to grab a CD (the maintenance man had to carry me back)? As for Florida, the crystal white sand, myriad piña coladas, the Keys, I love all of it, except for that jellyfish I stepped on and the sand that doesn’t come out of the seats and floor of your car until the next time you make another trip to Florida. +2: The Iron Bowl. Once a year, people in orange and blue vs. red and white. My mother and my brother are big Auburn fans, hence the Auburn grill cover which I’m staring at right now in the backyard. My father and I were Alabama fans (he recruited me when I was little). After Daddy died, I moved to the Auburn side so as to not be ostracized by the 2:1 pigskin ratio in our home. This past Iron Bowl was unbelievable, even covered by Whoopi and Barbara on The View (and they pronounced it aw-BERN, heavy on the BERN). I posted on Facebook that someone, perhaps the aforementioned women, said that the last minute of that game held the greatest play in football history. The best part for me was that they came back after some tough seasons. WDE. +3: Kind, decent souls that you can find anywhere in the world. After 15 years of working in a profession, especially one that requires traveling to different, sometimes scary places, there is always someone who is welcoming. That is why I’m staying as a staff nurse in New York and hanging up my hanging bag. From the first day, the physicians, the manager and assistant managers, my fellow nurses, therapists and social workers have acted as if I’ve been there all along. Until just recently when the social workers got (and deserved) their own office, at 2:45 I’d walk in and it would be jammed full of staff members. They ask how my mother is, give me lists of places to visit, and invite me to holiday dinners. The psychiatrists work with you, asking what you’ve observed and how the patient appears to be reacting to medication and therapy. Psychiatry is not a concrete science. In surgery, it bled and you cauterized it. If it was open, you sutured it. Surgery is one of the reasons many of us are still alive and out of pain, but it has the advantage of having somewhat of a template in most situations. In psychiatry, you have to deal with situations that often require being tweaked by medications and often grueling therapy. As in all forms of medical science, you want to do what is right for the patient. I appreciate the fact that the psychiatrists at my new hospital are interested in my opinion, as well as that of the rest of the staff. These are good people with whom I’m working. +4: The baby grew up to be a sensitive, responsible little man. He will be 21 (egads!) in September, and has enlisted in the Armed Services. He’s the only person I have ever known to love boot camp. We were so wary of this career choice due to conflict and unrest, but he’s thriving in this atmosphere. During the aforementioned boot camp, I could hear his part of the conversation while talking to Mother (not that I was eavesdropping or anything), and he still sounded like a little boy: “M’Ida, some of the guys were crying and throwing up, but I did okay.”. He did so well that he was made platoon leader (?) for his group until they went into the “field.” I’m unaware of all of the military jargon, but he’s flourishing. All said and done, he’ll always be the little boy whom I taught to ride a bike, begged me to make his favorite dessert (a fatty concoction of Oreos, sugar and cream cheese known as Dirt), and asked me to “Pweeze weed me a story, Sah-weh.” +5: The Sopranos. Although it ended in 2007, it is my all-time favorite show. HBO has produced some truly strong documentaries and series, but this is the one that A&E proclaimed “The most critically acclaimed show in the history of television.”. Some of it is horrible to watch (see “University” in the third season), but, in train-wreck mode, I watched every episode. My brother and I went to The Mulberry Street Bar where they would air each new episode on Sunday. The MSB was also part of the show, because in the open room adjacent to where we were sitting is where they filmed the many meetings of the capos. It was a little surreal, because the room was featured in the show we were watching that night at the bar. HBO paid the owner of the bar a whopping $150 for use of the room (he showed me the framed check). When the opening music came on with “Woke up this morning….” all of the men started whooping and screaming and waving their arms around, brother included. After I came out from under the table, I realized that I not only didn’t do the whoop-scream-wave, but also that I was the only female in there. Still, it was a blast, because afterward Curtis and I ate like swells at Umberto’s and then brought home a box of cannoli for Mother and nephew-boy, and I felt like a player in The Godfather because I was carrying these pastries in a white box tied with white string. RIP, James Gandolfini.
Lucky am I, as you are too.
Until next time.
I have always wanted to write. Love it. I read on the Internet that if you wanted to start writing a book it was a good idea to start a blog first. Plus, book proposals are notorious for being rejected, you have to find a publisher, you’ve got to figure out who might read it (which is why I’m putting it on Facebook, to see if anybody actually might read this). All of that can cost some coinage, so I started with the free wordpress.com edition and, who knows, maybe I’ll throw a little money into the mix later, complete with scanned photos of the dogs. I got this idea while in the dentist’s office Tuesday in East Islip, New York. There’s nothing to get your creative energies going like being in a reclined chair, nitrous flowing, drill buzzing, and chips flying out of your mouth. The dentist was loud and funny and looked like Seinfeld with grey hair. I kept expecting him to say “….And what’s the deal with those flouride rinses?” It stopped being funny when the lovely lady at the desk told me how much “out of pocket” I’d need to pay, which led to a very large empty pocket.
So Dr. Seinfeld, hearing my deep Southern accent, proceeds to ask me what part of Brooklyn I’m from (chuckle, snort). I gave him my usual, straight-faced reply: “Connecticut.” Everywhere I’ve been — even in college at Sewanee, Tennessee — people have commented on my accent. One of the nicest people I’ve ever met, a real sweetheart, used to drag out my drawl and giggle herself silly. She was also deaf and had been since birth. True story.
I am asked countless questions about the South, such as what does one do for entertainment, does anybody there have an education, and what do people wear besides overalls? There are so many things I want to tell them:
The small town in which I grew up is a wonderful place to rear a family. People know each other due to the small population, and one made his first friends in church, at Sue Clark’s kindergarten, or Maryleen Richardson’s. Our parents knew each other because of Scouts, piano lessons, and school functions.
Our teachers knew our parents, but, more importantly, our parents knew our teachers. From my house I walked down a hill to Julian Newman Elementary, down the street to Athens Middle School (where the three elementary schools blended, so you made even more friends), and then at 14 grabbed a ride with my friend and her older brother to Athens High. I have always thought I received a good education in the Athens Public School System. One young man, the brother of a classmate, is the only person I’ve ever known to make a perfect score on his ACT. My friends who took the collegiate route became physicians, attorneys, engineers and accountants.
After school you walked to Limestone Drug and drank cherry Sundrop and sat at a round table with bubblegum stuck underneath it. Cluxton’s and The Gift Gallery (where I got my first whiff of potpourri) were where you bought a friend’s birthday or Christmas gift. At Easter, you went to The Grasshopper and tried on a pretty dress, one of which I made very unappealing when my nose decided to spontaneously hemorrhage all over the front.
You always said “Yes, ma’am,” and “No, sir,” not only to your parents, but to anyone older and of authority. None of this “Yeah?” or “Naw” or “WHAT?” that you hear so often today. Disrespect meant: a spanking (when I was little), a lecture (when I became fast enough to outrun my parents), or being grounded (when I became deft of tongue and truly irritated them).
We sat down as a family to eat, and this was every night. My mother always cooked, but on a rare occasion if we wanted pizza we didn’t go to Pizza Hut in Athens but to Pulaski so my father could drink a beer. And speaking of supper, you did not get up from the table until you were excused. It didn’t matter if you had finished your meal or even if the pipes in the basement burst and you could hear gallons of water destroying the carpet down there (again) — you waited until you were told you could leave.
Nestled at the center of town there is a courthouse, which I’ve always considered the hub of Athens. At one time I can remember my parents walking there to vote. It’s surrounded by a square (where you could find the aforementioned Gift Gallery, Grasshopper and Limestone Drug), which borders the Historic Districts, a group of lovely old homes boasting yards of magnolia and dogwood trees, lush with leaves and blooms that form a kaleidoscopic tunnel in the spring and fall.
All of this is what I am missing. I will be taking a permanent position on Long Island starting June 2. I miss the quiet streets, the absence of car alarms in the middle of the night, and the quaintness of living in a small town. I miss knowing that there is someone local to call when I come home from work so we can discuss where our friends are now and laugh at how I was not ever the designated driver during senior year but the designated beer-buyer because I wore heels and too much makeup, looking 30 at the age of 17. I miss the familiarity and the safe feeling of home. I miss hearing the Fiddler’s Convention from the front porch and reading Lifestyles in the News Courier. I miss the gentle greeting of the man on the sidewalk who asks “How are you today?” and sounds sincere.
But it is in the state of New York, a sixteen hour drive from the place that will always be my home, that I’ll make new memories. Perhaps one day I’ll look back on Long Island and remember how kind my co-workers were to accept me as one of their own, to make me feel comfortable and safe despite the unfamiliarity. I’ll give them my mother’s recipe for cornbread dressing so they can 86 that dreadful Thanksgiving stuffing. They’ll understand that Coke can mean any variety of bubbly soft drinks and when I refer to my “Coke addiction” that I’m not in danger of burning a third nostril. Most of all, hopefully they will understand my longing for a place where people have a vested interest in one another, a sense of community, and a deeply felt connection to home and family.
Until next time.