Take a small town in southern Alabama, and a young lady, just slightly out of step. Add gnarly family trees, entrenched traditions, and everyone living with skeletons in their closets - welcome to Gallagher. There one will find an extraordinary cast of insane characters. And, it could only happen in the South.
You know those old post cards you would send while on vacation, "Having a great time, wish you were here."
For anyone who cannot understand an agenda of "Nothing" - Really? I'll save you the anxiety, pain, and grief - "The Weather is beautiful, having a great time, wish you were . . . well, I'll see you soon."
Monday evening my favorite uncle dropped by to visit my mother. Naturally Mama called me immediately to let me know, ie tell me I needed to get over to her house ASAP. So over there I went.
Now I dearly love my uncle. And it is always a pleasure to visit with him. However, somewhere in the conversation suddenly my mother was talking about feats I never knew about my brother or his children. Although my nephew is a very talented athlete, I don't think that the scouts are already looking at him - at age 11.
Then it got more interesting when she started going on about my children. I had no idea that my youngest daughter made straight A's in high school and was a star soccer player. I also learned of some of her college accomplishments I was unaware of. And, I'm sure my oldest daughter would love to know that she was the most popular student in high school and her teachers still stop my mother in the grocery store and talk about her. Also, there were college achievements of hers she never shared with me. Who knew?
It got more bazaar when my travel schedule for work suddenly became this clandestine agenda of international intrigue - to Richmond, Virginia? Really? Where did that come from? And, my job unexpectedly was a covert mission on computers working with the "internets".
Then it came to me. She had this compulsion to compete with my uncle and his seven grandchildren who have all been accepted to and were attending very prestigious schools. My sin was asking him about them and congratulating him on their success. I had always been impressed by his children and grandchildren. And, I shared his pride in their accomplishments. Obviously, this was more than my mother could handle.
All the while my uncle sat on the sofa, just listening. He didn't ask a question, just smiled and nodded his head. But then he had known my mother a lot longer than I had. What they say is definitely true, you can pick your friends, but you're stuck with your family.
I needed large prints of three of my photographs. While I print the smaller copies myself, I use a lab for the larger prints. On this particular occasion I did not have enough time to get the prints from my regular lab, so I ordered them from Wal-mart.
I went to the photo department to pick them up. I gave them my name for the order. The lady at the counter asked, "You're Ann?" "Yes mam." "You painted those pictures?" "No. They are photographs, but I did take the photographs." "They're not paintings?" "No." "Girl, they are good!" "Thank you."
Then she called to her co-worker, "Come over here. Ann, the painter, came to pick up her pictures." Her co-worker walked over. "Those certainly are some awfully fine paintings." "Well thank you, but they are photographs." "Photographs? How did you make them look like that?" I went in and manipulated the picture until I got the result I wanted." "And, you didn't paint it?" "No mam." "It's not a painting?" "No, it's a photograph." "Well, it's mighty fine. You do good work." "Well thank you."
"We hope you'll bring more of your paintings in."
Maybe it would be easier just to say I painted them. They didn't seem to hear otherwise.
Someone asked me what I was talking about yesterday when I mentioned the "ladies in white". Well, down here in country churches, during revivals and funerals when the spirit really moves someone they tend to "fall out" (or fall down) and there are ladies dressed in white, sometimes referred to as "angels" or "nurses" who are at the front of the church to tend them.
Now, as a Presbyterian growing up we never had such angels at our church. But then again, we were fairly reserved and when the spirit moved us, generally it was in a more a private way. Someone standing in front of the congregation shouting "Hallelujah" was frowned upon. In fact, if that happened, they would probably be thought of as "touched" more than "saved". As an Episcopalian later in life, if it wasn't in the Book of Prayer or order of service, it wasn't done. And, I don't think standing up before God and everyone shouting "Hallelujah" was in there. The spirit that moved us, generally came in some type of bottle and was 86 proof.
I remember the words to a not so well known Jimmy Buffet song:
". . . my head hurts, my feet stink, and I don't love Jesus
(oh my lordy it's that...) It's that kinda mornin'
Really was that kinda night
Tryin' to tell myself that my condition is improvin'
And if I don't die by Thursday I'll be roarin' Friday night"
Now, I'm not saying my life imitates the song -exactly. I have a pain in my neck - literally. And, religion is not a subject I best discuss in mixed company, adult company, or any company come to think about it.
But if fire and brimstone are going to be preached, snakes handled, and souls are going to be saved (with the ladies in white up front to catch those who "fall out" in the process) then the occasion calls for revival music, my favorite being by George Cromarty and Ed Rush;
"I don't care if it rains or freezes 'Long as I got my plastic Jesus
Riding on the dashboard of my car
Through my trials and tribulations
And my travels through the nations
With my plastic Jesus I'll go far"
Of course the church ladies will be singing to save my heathen soul: "Temptations, hidden snares. . . for a thoughtless word or deed . . . but we'll understand it better by and by."
Oh, the fun at the festival just continued. Much more fun and I don't think I could stand it.
Although, I don't profess to know everyone, we don't live in a large town, but as the folks started trickling in, I saw very few familiar faces. Oh, here and there a friend would past by. When my mother came to join me around lunch time, she held court with the over 70 crowd. But, I'm convinced I could accompany my mother to a computer hacking convention and, even though she doesn't trust those 'internets' she would know folks. She is a card carrying member of the silver haired, blue plate, give-me-a-call-sure-I'm-free-to-go-anytime society.
For some reason, people thought I was running a therapy stand (similar to Lucy's - except she would charge a nickel and dole out advice.) I just would politely nod and say as little as possible, learning early - the hard way - that any response just solicited more unwanted confession.
There was the gentleman who spent fifteen minutes explaining to me how he was the bus driver for a local country church. He told me the destination of every trip they had taken this year and that now they had a 59 passenger "Comfort Ride Cruiser". Just when I thought he was finished, he started up again, "And, my wife is from Providence, Rhode Island, you know up there in New England and she won't go anywhere. I even tried to get her to go back to Rhode Island to tour those big homes up there. Have you ever . . ." By that time all I heard was "Wah, wah, wah, wah, wah . . ." He eventually moved on.
About a half hour later, an eccentrically dressed lady with a distinguished accent just appeared and started comparing the provenances of our names. (Other than Ann which were spelled differently, they had nothing in common that I could tell.) Then suddenly she said, "I think I am just going to have a seat here for a while." With that she pulled up one my chairs, planted herself in it, and for twenty minutes or so just prattled on about everything from a picture she and her siblings had taken in Adirondack chairs (this was spurned on by a picture of mine of such chairs on a deck) to winning a trip to see Rock City. Then just as she appeared, she excused herself and moved on.
By this time I was waiting to either look up and see the grinning Cheshire cat or have a very nervous rabbit come running by, swearing he was late.
Two ladies came by and asked if the Hydrangeas were for sale. (No)
A Japanese family stopped in front of my tent, stood there for a minute or so, chatted very seriously in Japanese, did not acknowledge my presence, then moved on.
I looked up to see two serious professional (or at least willing to pay a lot for cameras to look the part) gentlemen looking at my work. One asked, "Is this piece yours?" "Yes, everything here is my work." "And, this piece on canvas, is it a photograph?" "Yes." Before, I could say anything, he added pointing to various areas on the canvas, "If you put a dab of paint here and some over here you could call it your own." Then they turned and left. Huh?
Three women were looking at a picture of the ruins of a church I had displayed on easel out front. One of them said, "I've seen that some where." The second said, "Oh, that picture was on the cover of one of the magazines I get." (If so, I'd like to know which one, because I was unaware that the picture had been published.)
Another lady came by, "How much do you want for your petunias?"
I am still not sure I spent the weekend at the Rose Festival or the March Hare's tea party.
Getting an epidural in the top of your spine is about as fun as a root canal. This week I had the pleasure of having my second one in four weeks. Am I
special or what?
the procedure itself is frightening - at least to me. I am lying on a
table face down completely covered with a sterile drape, in room with
two doctors, two residents, monitors, and cameras. The procedure is
recorded by a camera and monitored live on the screen (so the doctor is not just fishing around in there blind - thank God for modern medicine). The commentary
goes like this, "Should we use 1% or 2% lidocaine?" "Are you in position?" (Says one doctor to another.)
Then the procedure
starts. All the time I am aware that they are going to stick a long
needle down my spine to inject some solid mystery medication that should
give me some pain relief - if they get it in the precise spot. Keeping in
mind that one small misstep can pierce the spinal cord, hit some vital
nerve, and the higher on the neck the more critical that part of the
nervous system is in my spine. Of course they are constantly reassuring me that they do this procure all the time. Hey, I drive 80 miles an hour up and down the interstate all the time, that doesn't mean some unexpected "little issue" isn't going to occur.
steady. Now, careful as you enter that part." All I can think of is
high school biology - what part? Then the doctor tells me, "You should only
feel pressure. If you feel a sharp pain, let us know immediately." About
that time, what felt like a bolt of lightening went through me. "I think I
just felt that pain." "Give her another injection." I found myself
constantly making sure I still had feeling in my arms and legs. The pain
happened two more times, followed by more injections. After hearing
more, "Easy's, more to the left's, remember where you are's, not
there's, and slowly's", they finally completed the procedure.
In the recovery area, the nurse appeared and started taking my temperature, my blood pressure, and my pulse. She was not as calm, cool, and collected as the doctors. Although she was friendly, I found her not really tuned in on me as a patient. She had my chart in front of her the entire time I was there, however, she constantly forgot that this was my second epidural. I would find her launching off onto an explanation of what happened during the procedure and what I could expect in the next few days. I would politely remind her that I just went through this three weeks ago. "Oh, that's right. What am I thinking?" You're not.
When she returned to my bedside, her first words were, "Now you realize it will take 5 to 7 days before you begin to feel any effects." The look on my face must have reminded her. "Oh, that's right you've been through this." Then she proceeded to give me a list of everything I was
prohibited from doing for the next 48 hours. (Nothing had changed on the list in four weeks.)
Her lack of attention aside, I did not want to think about the consequences of veering from the list. Come to think of it, I felt in much better in the hands (literally) with the team of doctors even under those circumstances. At least they remembered I had been there.
Finally, I was released, very thankful for modern medicine that affords me pain relief. I have great faith in these doctors. However, next time I go through this (and there will be a next time) I imagine I will be no less frightened.
As I have said often, if there is one thing we are taught from an early
age it is how to write a proper note and that they need to be sent
often. In fact there is that well known joke: Why do Junior Leaguers shy
away from orgies? Answer: Too many thank you notes to write.
don't send as many notes as I should but I try my best, especially when
there is a death in the family. I never realized how much a personal
note of condolence or even a simple note written on the bottom of a
Hallmark card means to a bereaving family until my father died. I found
much comfort in those notes and cards we received. But I digress.
year or two ago I came across the obituary of twenty two year old young
lady who had been killed in an automobile accident. This hit so close
to home given my daughters were about her same age. Then my heart stopped
when I saw the name of the parents. The mother was Mary Catherine Davis*, maiden name Johnson. Oh my God, I thought. I was in school with
We weren't that close so I didn't have her
address. I called the alumni office at our high
school and got it. That note was difficult to write, but I poured my heart
out, telling her how I could not imagine such a loss, and although I had
no answers, I wanted her know I was thinking about her and her family
at this time. She may find it odd getting a note from me after so many
years, but after all, it is the south. I didn't live close enough to
send chicken salad or attend the funeral, so the note would have to do.
month or two later I was having lunch with a close former high school
buddy on mine. As always the conversation turned to our former
classmates and what news, or better yet, scuttlebutt we had for each
other. When I mentioned Mary Katherine and her daughter's death, my
friend just looked at me. "Oh, don't worry honey, it's never too late
to send a note," I said. "Did you?" "I did and it was very difficult to
write." Then she started laughing. "What?" I asked.
not nearly as hard as it was for her to read." "Huh" "Mary Catherine
and her husband never had any children." "Didn't she marry the Johnson boy?"
"Yeah, but they never any children." "You sure?" "Positive. Remember our fifteenth year reunion?" "Yeah, the one I missed." "Well, that was the only one she came to and it was a big deal that she and her husband never had kids because we were all envious that they could spend all their money traveling while we were saving for college and finding babysitters." "That's annoying." "Oh, it was worse than annoying." "Not nearly as annoying as receiving a condolence note from a former classmate you didn't know very well, and haven't seen in twenty years, for a child you never had."
"I guess she thinks I'm nuts." "Probably."
* Her name was changed here to protect the innocent and further humiliation on my part.
Dawn on the beach at Daytona, Florida. In the background, you can see the pier. And, if you look hard enough, you can also see the chair lift that carries sightseers out to end of the pier and back during the day.