ER, Vol. 2: Someone’s in the ER with Jer-ry…

I would have rejoiced at finding the ER after that stressful little jaunt, but first I
had to get through security.

“Ma’am, put your bag up here and walk through the scanner,” he said.

He continued to talk as I walked through the arch. “Ma’am, I’m going to have to
look through your bag. Do you have any sharp objects in here?”

“No. Well, maybe some nail nippers,” I said, which didn’t faze him as he spread and
pulled at all my pockets in my beloved Jen Groover Butler Bag.

“Okay, you’re good,” he said.

I took my place in line. I could see through the glass windows that the waiting
room was packed. People were sitting, sometimes two to a chair. People were
standing, and people were kneeling, or squatting, and yet there were a few
empty seats.

“I’m here to see Jerry Wong,” I said to the ER’s receptionist.

“You family?” she asked, as she thumped the keyboard.


She didn’t even give me a funny look. She’s seen it all, I thought, things much stranger than me and Jerry Wong.

“I don’t have a Jerry Wong.”

“He’s on LifeFlight and I think I may have beat them here.”

“Probably. You know for sure he’s coming, right?”

“Yes. I talked to the Macon County EMS just about ten minutes ago and they said he’s
in flight.”

“Okay. Well, now, when they set down, it will take about fifteen minutes until they
bring him in,” she said, “so you just have a seat and then check in with me
again in fifteen minutes, okay?”

“Sure,” I said, and sat down in one of three chairs in the small space directly in
front of her desk.

I watched the sick and wounded come in. A woman with pink, coral, and purple hair
was in great distress of some kind. Her daughter had brought her in. Two men in
wife-beaters whispered to each other and to the receptionist. She whispered back. One Vanderbilt employee was escorted by a co-worker. Another Vanderbilt employee was alone, and while she checked herself in, she read her I-pad and never looked at the receptionist. She sat down beside me until the lady with the pink, coral, and purple hair asked if she could have the seat. The Vanderbilt employee and I both vacated the seats.

I looked at the time on my phone. Oops, more than fifteen minutes had passed.

“Well, yes, here he is,” the receptionist said. “And it’s been exactly nineteen
minutes since you were up here the last time.”

They keep track of that. “Can I go back?” I asked.

“You sure can. Just let me give you a badge.” She pulled a worn laminated badge from
somewhere under the desk. “Now when you get up to those doors over there, stand
back because they’re going to open toward you.”

“Okay. So he’s in, uh, Room 10?” I asked as I looked down at number on the badge.

“Yes. It’s Trauma Bay 10, so here’s the way you get there.” She stood up and leaned
over the desk in the direction of the dangerous doors. Then she gave me the “left, right, left, right, right” challenge as I nodded, but she was so kind as to end it with “And if you get lost, just ask somebody in the hall.”

“Thank you,” I said and stood back for the doors to open.

I couldn’t remember the directions so I just followed the signs with arrows that
said “Trauma.” Jerry was in the last room on the hall. I suppose it would have
been the first room if I had followed the instructions.

I started around the curtain into Room 10 just as a nurse came out. “Mr. Wong?”
she asked.


“This is him. Go on in.”

The body in the bed could have belonged to anyone. It was flat on the waist-high
bed. I checked the feet. They were dark, dark tan, had to be him.

“Oh, hi, Diana,” Jerry said when I got to the side of the bed. “Diana” sounded more
like “Dinah.” (It always did.) Then he added, “You come. I tell Dean… I told Dean to call you.”

“Yeah, well, I beat you here,” I said. “How was your ride?”

“You beat the airplane? I mean, helicopter?”

“Yep. So, how are you feeling?” I asked.

He couldn’t turn his head for the huge padded collar around his neck; he did not
move.  “Better,” he answered. “They give me some medicine for the pain. I think it helps. Wish I could go.”

“It’s going to be a little while before you can go,” I said. “Let’s let them figure
out what all you’ve done to yourself.”

“Well, I’m going,” he said.

“Yeah, well, you look like you’re going somewhere,” I said, teasing him.

“I can’t feel it,” he said.

“You can’t feel what, where?” I asked.

“You know, when I go,” he said.

“You mean…Oh, you mean ‘goooooo.’ Do you have a urinal in there?” I asked.

“Yeah. I feel like I have to go but I don’t feel it, you know, when it comes out.”

“Well, when you talk to the doctor, you’re going to need to tell him that,” I said.
“Are you finished? Do you want me to take that urinal?”

“Yeah. It’s kinda hard to go, you know, laying down.”

“But you went. And you didn’t know you went?” I asked.

“Oh, yeah, I knew it,” he said.

“Well, I was thinking, you need to tell them that you can’t feel it,” I
said. “So, you were on the deck? Whose deck?”

Somehow he turned his head toward me, ever-so-slightly. “It’s Dean’s,” he said. Dean is
Jerry’s landlord.

He smiled at me and then nodded, just a little. “I was helping him.”

“I don’t remember a deck on their house,” I told him.

“Oh, it’s not on Dean’s house. It’s a trailer.”

“But not your trailer?”

“Nooooo,” he said, “I already have a roof on my deck.”

“I know,” I said. “I remember. We sat out there one day when I came to see you.”

“Well, it’s not really the deck. We’re putting on a cover. Oh, you know what? I think
a two-by-four broke where I was standing.” He was squinting his eyes as he thought.

“Why were you standing on a two-by-four?” I asked.

“To put a cover on a deck,” he answered.

I sighed, trying to be quiet about it. “Were you on a ladder?” I asked.

“No. Well, I climb up there on a ladder,” he said.

“Were you on the ladder when you fell?” I asked.

“No, I was on the ground,” he told me.

I was almost thankful to be rescued by a nurse’s interruption. She introduced
herself to Jerry and then to me.

“Mr. Wong,” she said, “can you tell me what happened?

“Well, I fell. I was helping my landlord on a deck.”

“How far did you fall?”

Jerry looked at me. “How far you think, Dinah?”

“Well, I didn’t see the deck, but Dean says twelve to fifteen feet.”

Jerry clucked his tongue against the roof of his mouth. “Well, no wonder I got hurt.”

The nurse got back in the game. “And you were building a deck…”

“It was already there,” Jerry said. Then he smiled and tried to nod.

“You were working on the deck,” she said.

“Not really. We were putting a roof,” he said.

The rest of the conversation went just about like the one I had with him earlier
until Jerry asked, “Can I have a drink of water?”

“No, I’m sorry,” the nurse said, “but you can’t have anything until we find out if
you’re going to have any surgery. Now, Mr. Wong, let’s check your toes. Can you
feel this?” She scratched his left leg.

“Yeah,” he said.

She worked her way around legs, feet, and toes. “So you don’t have any numbness?”

“Yes,” he answered.


“In my back.”

“Well, you said you don’t feel it when you pee. You do feel the urge to go, right?”

“I don’t feel it,” he said.

“You don’t know if you have to go?” she asked.

“Oh, yeah. I know I have to go. I have to go right now. Can I have that thing
again?” he asked.

“Sure.” The nurse reached into a glass-front cabinet and retrieved another plastic
urinal.  “The doctor will be in sometime soon,” she said as she put the handle of the urinal in his hand. I think I saw her shake her head as she left the bay.

A steady stream of nurses and doctors lined up to play Jerry as each tried to advance to the next level. Each match reminded me more of Abbott and Costello’s routine, “Who’s On First.” But I didn’t laugh out loud until the Haitian resident came in to make his assessment of Jerry’s injuries.

“Now, Jerry, what exactly were you doing?” he asked.

By this time, Jerry had started to shortcut the conversation. “I was helping my landlord put on a tin roof on a deck. Dean, he’s my landlord.”

“What? What were you doing?” the doctor asked.

“My landlord, he’s putting on a tin roof on a deck,” he said. “I was helping him.”

“Wait. What is this ‘putting on tin woof’?”

“You know. Roof,” Jerry said. “Tin roof.”

The doctor tried it out. “Teeeeeeeeen. Wolf.”

“Yes!” Jerry was excited.

The young doctor looked across the bed at me. “What is…teen wolf?”

“A cover. A roof. Top. Roof,” I said. I made a pointy gabled shape with my

“Ohhhhh,” he said. “ He was building a roof. So what is this tin?”

“It’s metal,” I said. I wanted to tell him the chemical symbol for tin but I couldn’t
remember it. It was something strange. “Metal, like…people put tin roofs on…the
rain sounds good on a tin roof.”

“Oh, I see. Like zinc. He was putting a zinc roof on a deck,” he said.

“I don’t think we have much zinc roofing around here,” I said. “I guess we use tin

“So what is tin?” he asked me—again.

Jerry was saying “tin roof” really loud, over and over, only it really did sound like “tin woof.” I shushed him and said to the doctor, now beside me, “It’s like … aluminum.”

“Yes, yes. Aluminum. So, like zinc.”

When I noticed Jerry’s mouth formed to say “tin roof” again, I waved my hand behind
me, in front of his face, and said, “Yes.” We just had to get through this exam.

“So, what do you do when you’re not falling off roofs?” the doctor asked.

That took a while to explain, but we got through it.

The dialogue didn’t improve much during the next fifteen minutes but the young
doctor from Haiti established that, while Jerry felt some numbness in his back,
it was not a sign of paralysis. He told Jerry that it looked like the broken vertebrae did not get squashed into the spinal column. He didn’t think Jerry would have to have surgery but, he added, “I have to check all this out with my boss.”

It wasn’t long before the “boss” came in, a young, cute blonde who might stand five
feet three inches tall. After the customary “Hi there, Mr. Wong,” she launched into
the examination that both Jerry and I had, by this time, memorized.

She ended the exam with the discussion of why Jerry couldn’t feel himself “going.” Jerry
said “okay” when she finished. I wasn’t sure I understood what she was telling us but I didn’t ask any questions. It had been a long, long day.

“Here’s what we’re going to do,” she told Jerry. “We’re going to get a brace to go on
your back and see if that will hold your back in one place so that that break can heal. And you’re going to have to wear that collar. It’s going to take a little while, but I don’t think we’re going to have to do any surgery, and that’s good news. Your ribs will heal by themselves. We’ll send you home with some pain medication.”


“Isn’t that good news?” She leaned over the bed so that they were face to face.

“Oh, yeah. That’s real good news,” he said. He was obviously distracted by one
thought or another.

“Okay, then. You’ll go to the trauma unit for a little while and if you do okay there,
you can go home to get better. Someone will come to take you to X-ray in a few
minutes, and then they’ll take you directly to the trauma unit from X-ray. That
sound okay?” she asked.

“Oh, oh. Sure. That sounds fine,” Jerry said. “Thank you.”

She smiled and said, “No problem.”

Before she even closed the curtains to the bay, Jerry said to me, “You think she’s the

“Yep, I sure do,” I said. “I’m always surprised, myself, when these doctors are so
young, but I guess that’s because I’m old.”

He didn’t say, “No, you’re not.” He was thinking of something else.

“You know, I notice something here. Mostly everybody that’s a boss here is a woman. I wonder why is that.”

An escort, an older man, appeared to take him to X-ray about twenty minutes after
the boss left. He told us that he would take Jerry to the tenth floor after the X-ray was done. “That’s where the trauma unit is,” he added. “They tell me your bed’s ready.”

“Well, Jerry, I think I’ll go on home, and I’ll just see you tomorrow upstairs,” I said.

“Oh yeah, that’s fine,” he answered. “Thank you, Dinah, thank you for coming.”

“You are so welcome,” I said. “You knew I would come.” I patted his hand, slung my
bag over my shoulder, and followed the rolling bed out into the hall.

I was beside the bed, even with Jerry’s head, when he said to the man taking him for the films. “Wait, wait a minute if you don’t mind.”

Then, I think he was talking to me when he asked, “I know what a nunit is, but what
is this ‘tommy nunit’?”

“I’ll see y’all tomorrow,” I said. The patient escort could explain that.

Jerry spent eight hours in ER, a night and day in the trauma unit, and a night in a
regular room. I was sure he’d be there longer, even though he kept telling me he was going home.

Dave and I kept Dean, his landlord, up to date. In one conversation, Dean told me how Jerry fell. “He had his left foot on the ladder, and tried to step up on the deck handrail and just didn’t make it,” Dean said. “He landed straight down on his head, bounced, and landed on his back on a stack of lumber. He broke one of those two-by-sixes when he hit.” Dean’s voice choked.

“I know it scared you,” I said. “He’s going to be fine.”

“I want to come see him when he can have visitors,” he said.

“Dean, he keeps telling me he’s going home. I can’t imagine that they’d let him, but let me talk to the doctor, or the nurse, or somebody to find out if he’s really going home. You might want to wait and just make one trip to take him home,” I said.

Jerry called me that last morning to tell me that he had been discharged. Dean was already on the way from Macon County to pick him up, should be there soon.

“I can’t believe it,” I said. “Then I’m not going to make it down to the hospital before you leave.”

“That’s okay. That’s why I call now, so you don’t make a trip today. I might not be here.”

“So,” I said, “Did you see the doctor this morning?”

“Well, I think she’s a doctor. She tells me do I know how lucky I am I’m not hurt worse?”

“And you said ‘yes,’ didn’t you?” I asked.

“Oh yeah. I told her everybody else tells me the same thing… Shoot, I thought I was

“Well, we’re all happy you’re not,” I said. “Was this the same doctor that was down in
the ER?” I thought perhaps the young spine doctor in the ER continued her care in the
unit upstairs.

“Oh no. She’s a different one, this one. But now she looks a little like the other one. Maybe they’re sisters,” he said.

“But, anyway, it was another woman,” I said, baiting him.

“Yeah, a woman. I know she’s the boss. Actually I think she’s the owner,” he said.

ER: Not Just Any Old Room

I’ve been in two emergency rooms within five days. Oh, not as a patient, just as a “member
of the family.” We sampled Vanderbilt on Thursday and St. Thomas on Tuesday,
Jerry Wong and me the first time, and Dad and me the second. Jerry and Dad were the patients.

I’m sure the “emergency room” began as just that, a room that was set aside where
the unexpected injury or illness could be treated more efficiently. I couldn’t
find the history on Wikipedia and I didn’t look any farther than that, but the
folks that founded the first emergency room would be astounded by the space,
equipment, and staff devoted to people who faint, fall, or crash; get shot, cut,
or hammered; stop breathing or pumping blood. And there are those with body-part
problems who just don’t have a personal physician.  Some speak English, and many do not. The emergency room is not just any old room.

I couldn’t help but compare the two ER’s. I thought of rating their services:
parking, registration, intake (I guess that might be “triage”), efficiency, and
patient friendliness.  But Jerry Wong’s trauma was more exciting than Dad’s to begin with, so Vanderbilt had more to work with in the way of emergency. In fact, Vanderbilt gets most of the trauma cases so St. Thomas is generally treating a different kind of emergency patient.

Everyone knows that the traffic around Vanderbilt, as well as the parking, is wretched,
so they’d lose that one. In fact, the parking was definitely the most stressful
part of my Vanderbilt ER drop-in.

Jerry was helping his landlord, Dean, with a cover for a deck when he took a fall
serious enough that Macon County emergency services called the LifeFlight
helicopter to cross two counties to get him to Vanderbilt.  Dean made a call to our house, acting on Jerry’s request, to let us know.

Jerry is going to be okay. He’s home, in sort of a clamshell made of something like
fiberglass, and a fat stabilizing collar around his neck. It won’t be easy, but
he’ll recover without surgery, we’re hoping. I’m sure Jerry is hoping harder
than the family here on the ravine. I’m also certain that he’s thinking already
that this six-weeks-in-a-brace thing is going slower than the six weeks before
Christmas when he was a kid.

Dave came upstairs Tuesday not long after the phone rang. I was about to eat some lunch.
I knew he answered the phone downstairs but I figured it was a political call.
That annoying woman on our Caller ID says, “Po-lit-i-cull call.” Sometimes we
pick up the receiver and set it back down just to make her hush. Not this time.

“You might need to get over to Vanderbilt,” Dave said as he closed the stairwell
door, and then told me as much as he knew. He finished with, “Dean says they’re
taking him to Vanderbilt on Life Flight.” The words “life flight” are
synonymous with “really, really serious.”

I grabbed some homemade pimiento cheese from the refrigerator and spread it on
some crusty bread that we just brought home. “Okay.” I slurred the words as I
swallowed. “I’ll just brush my teeth and go.”

I discovered that the Vanderbilt ER has valet parking, so I pulled in under the
canopy. All of the valet parkers were wearing bright red shirts and khaki
bottoms and they were all running here and there; it was a busy place. A
middle-aged female parking attendant came to the vehicle.

“Are you a patient, are you bringing someone in, or are you visiting?” she asked as
she leaned to face me through the window.

“Uhhhh,” I said, “I’m actually trying to make sure that my brother is here. They said he
was being life flighted.”

“Okay, you’re not sure,” she said. “What’s his name? I’ll go in and see if they have

“Well, now, it’s possible that I might have beat the LifeFlight here. Jerry Wong.”

“Wong?” she asked, “Like W-O-N-G?”

“Yes.  But if he’s not here, I need to find out if he’s on the way.” The lady in the red shirt was looking at me funny. Ohhhhh, it’s the “Wong” thing, I thought. Me–blonde and fair, him–half Chinese-half Native American, very dark with almost black hair—except for the silver sprinkles. 

In the split-second pause, I considered using Jerry’s standard answer to that kind of
pondering. He always says, when someone expresses surprise that we might be
siblings, “Yeah. She’s my sister. Don’t you think we look alike?” And then he grins at them with a big, wide, goofy smile. They always smile back.

Red-shirt Lady waylaid my brief decision-making. “And what’s your name and where is he
coming from?”

“Diana Revell. I’m his sister. Macon County.”

“Right. Okay, honey, you just pull up close to that black SUV right there and stay put
and I’ll come back out and let you know.”

She walked through an entrance marked “No Entrance.” I took a drink from my water
bottle and started trying again to call Jerry’s brother Johnny. No luck, all the numbers I had were wrong, changed, disconnected. I was thinking about how I was going to find Johnny when my cell phone rang. It was Dave.

Before he could answer, I spit out, maybe without a breath, “I’m trying to park. I’m
sitting in front of the ER and they won’t let me valet park.  I was trying to park. They didn’t have Jerry on any paperwork in the emergency room and the lady told me to park across the street.”

“Well, that’s why I called,” he said. “Dean just called and said that Jerry went in an
ambulance to the life flight. I’m not sure they’ve had time to get there.”

“Can the ambulance go directly to the helicopter?” I asked. “You think he might have
gone to the hospital first? Wouldn’t they have to do that?”

“Honey, I don’t know,” Dave said. “I suppose that’s what they do. I don’t even know the
name of the hospital up there.”

“I think it’s Macon County General. I’ll try to call them,” I said.

“I guess you didn’t get Johnny?” he asked.

“Nope, all my numbers were bad. I’m going to call Mary when I can get parked.” Mary is
Johnny’s ex-wife, the mother of Nick and Nikita. She would know how to get in touch with Johnny.

I jumped when the parking lady tapped on my window. “I’ve got to go. She’s back,” I said to Dave.

“They don’t have him, Miz Re-bell,” she said, just as I got the window down.

“If he was on a life flight, would they know?” I asked.

“If they’ve called it in, yes,” she answered.

“You mean, if the LifeFlight pilot has called and said they’re bringing him in from Macon County or something?”

“Yes, but I already asked that. They don’t have his name anywhere.” This woman had covered it all.

“Okay, I think I’m just going to park and wait and see if I can find out anything,” I
said. “Should I park here?”

“No, you need to park across the street. See that sign that says “East Garage? Then you
can just come back across to the ER.”

I turned my head to the right to look, even though I already knew that the East Garage was right across the street. I nodded at Mrs. Casey, the valet. By this time, I’d mentally introduced myself to her. After all, her name was right there on her red shirt, and she was calling me by a variation of mine.

She pointed across the street. “Pull in there and the attendant up front will tell
you where to park,” she said.

When I pulled into the garage, the attendant, one of two dressed in brown pants and
tan shirts, informed me, “There’s no parking left in here. Would you be
interested in using our free valet parking?” I could tell she had performed
this scene many, many times.

“Sure.” I was interested in using the free valet parking at the ER and they sent me here, I thought.

“Just go to the end of this lane, turn right, turn left, then turn right, go to the end of that lane and turn right and you’ll see the valet parking.”

I kept telling myself “right, left, right, right,” and then I wasn’t sure that she said two rights next to each other. Maybe that was two lefts. I wound around, here and there, and came upon a short lane with a sign at the entrance that said, “Valet Parking – No Entrance.”

Is this where she wants me to park? And it looks like it’s full—at least this lane is.

In the rear view mirror, a man in a dark blue uniform was striding up from behind my van. I recognized a backwards “VUMC” above the pocket on his shirt. I rolled down my window in a hurry.

“Excuse me, is this where I valet park? I am trying to valet park,” I said.

He stopped beside the van. “Funny, you aren’t wearing a red valet shirt,” he said, looking in the window. Bless his heart, he was just trying to be friendly.

I didn’t laugh, so he said, “You know, the valets wear…”

I interrupted him. “This is where she told me to go but it doesn’t look like I’m supposed to park there.”

He was good-natured. “I suppose you could park your own car there if you could find an empty space.”

“But do they let anybody just drive in there and park?” I asked, and quickly followed with, “But this just seems like they don’t want me to drive in there. I mean, it says ‘No Entrance.’ That’s where the valets park the cars.”

Before the blue guy could answer, I confessed, “I don’t know where to park.”

“Well, Ma’am,” he said, “There’s a whole other garage just on the other side of that
alley up there. You just go up there to the alley and go all the way to the end and you’ll be in another garage with a whole lot of parking spaces. I know because I’ve just been up there.”

“I don’t see an alley,” I said.

“It’s right up there at the end of this valet lane, see it? Just go up this lane and
turn left. You’ll see it.”

“Okay. Thanks,” I managed to say.

There was a wall at the end of the short valet lane, no way to turn but left. I immediately
saw the alley to the right. “At least I think this is an alley,” I said to myself. I drove into daylight and, sure enough, I was in the South Garage—There was a sign on the side wall that said so. But how to get to the entrance…

I had two choices. I could turn right and exit the South Garage into the horrendous globbed-up traffic around the hospital, or I could turn left, going the wrong way on the garage’s exit, and scoot across to the right lane with the arrow that led to parking—Not much of a decision. I tackled the exit lane going the wrong way and after two complete spirals upward in the South Garage, I found a parking place directly across from the elevator. Down one level to the skywalk into the hospital. Yes!

I headed for the elevator and pressed the 2. “V-3, V-3. I parked on V-3,” I said aloud. “V for Vicky, and 3 for John, Jameson, and Carly.” I related the parking level to my younger son’s family. Surely I can remember that. Maybe I should write it down.

I left the elevator and followed two young women and a man through the doors into
the skywalk. Wait, there are two skywalks. That one over there is closer to the East Garage.  Maybe she meant that one. Or did she say “crosswalk”?  That would be on the street. I wonder if you can even get to the ER from here.

“Excuse me, excuse me,” I said to a man wearing a lab coat and a woman in light blue
scrubs, obviously escorting a patient from the hospital. They seemed to be keeping her company until her ride arrived from somewhere.

“Can I get to the ER from here?” I asked.

She said “No,” and he said “Yes.”

“So I have to go back to the elevators and go down and across the street,” I said.

She said, “Yes,” and he said “No” and turned around. His lab coat said Dr. Somebody.

“Well, you must know a way that I don’t,” she said to him, and looked at me. “I guess the doctors know some shortcut.”

“See where all those people are at the end of this hall?” he asked me and paused. “Where it T’s off?” Pause. “Wayyyyy down there.” He pointed.

I nodded. “Oh, yeah.”

“Go all the way down there and go down the elevator, it’s on the right. Go to the first floor and you’ll be in the big lobby. Go on out the door and the ER’s going to be on your left. Easy,” he said. “Oh. You will have to go outside now. You can’t get there without going outside. But you can’t get there from anywhere in the garage without going outside.”

And Vanderbilt was just the first ER for the week, and this was just the parking.

Be watching for Volume 2 of “ER: Not Just Any Old Room.”


Foxes, Cicadas, Dancing, Potatoes

It’s way past the time that we would have seen baby foxes romping and rolling in the sun, mean old mama vixens slapping the little woolies to keep them in line.

We thought the foxes liked us. We even treated them for mange—or at least we tried to. We could never be sure if the foxes got all the food laced with Ivermectin, but we’re certain you won’t see any mangy raccoons around these parts. The only dish we’ve found that the raccoons don’t like is scalloped potatoes.

Lest we feel too neglected by the wildlife this spring, the ravine (and most of the South) has been enriched with an invasion of thirteen-year cicadas. After having lived a foot underground as nymphs for thirteen years, these little blessings drill upward and crawl out of the ground in waves. They crawl up the nearest tree or bush and hang around (literally) until they graduate from nymph-dom, at which time they slip out of their commencement clothes into something more comfortable, and start some cacophonous courting.

A cicada has only one purpose in life: to reproduce, with nary a side trip for vacationing. Sometime during the five or six weeks of the great gathering, the guys start singing. A boy cicada gets together with one or more willing girls (they’re all willing, the cicada sluts), stops crooning long enough to get down to business, and the female deposits eggs in little slits on a twig—and then she dies. So does he.  There is no gender discrimination among cicadas.

According to the University of Tennessee’s website, this brood XIX, The Great Southern Brood, is the largest of the thirteen-year cycle broods, emerging from the earth as many as a million and a half per acre. Well, that would explain the bodies four inches deep under the big maple tree out front.

If you go outside, you’re going to deal with at least one cicada—“one cicada” being about as likely as “a little bit pregnant.”  Since I am highly experienced with invasion behavior—theirs, mine, and some of my friends’—I’m offering this handy set of tried-and-true guidelines for your personal use.

Surviving the Cicada Soiree

  • “Live into it.”

That’s a quote I stole from several pastor friends who utter this wisdom in a counseling session as a response to something like, “I’m really having difficulty since I’ve moved ten rooms of furniture into a six-room house .” I think they mean, “Go with the flow,” or “Give yourself time to figure it out.”

For the impending cicada shindig, we opted for “Make up the rules as you go.” We started by reading up. Most of the advice says you don’t need to cover trees and bushes unless they are young or newly planted, “with branches the size of a pencil or smaller.”

Well, great. Last year we dressed up this old, previously-unloved place by planting a weeping cherry, maples, river birch, and corkscrew willows. This year we planted forsythia, rhododendrons, and some of those azaleas that bloom a lot.

This year we also spent $100 and a whole day sewing custom-fitted nylon net bags, slipping them over the branches, and tying them securely around the trunks. We dressed up seven of the eight trees, two forsythia, two rhododendrons, a weeping cherry, and two rather expensive azaleas.

We are “living into it.” So far, we’ve removed five nylon net bags full of cicadas. It appears that cicada babies “live into” whichever bush or tree is handiest when they ease their chubby little butts out of their little holes.

  • Do not spend your money on a cicada cookbook.

I keep seeing these things on the local noon shows. You know very well that you do not want to eat cicadas and if you did, you could summon up enough of your own culinary talents to fry, bake, or stew. After all, you are a Southerner. We can cook anything and make it taste like chicken.

And since you’ve already dreamed up some interesting cuts and special sauces to enhance the flavor while developing a smoother texture, put a note on your calendar to write a cookbook the next time the cicadas come around.

I would encourage you to choose a title and theme like “Complete Cicada Cookery,” or you could specialize for “Cicadas, Potatoes, and Homegrown Tomatoes.”  Those “5 Ingredients, 15 Minutes” recipes are very popular, too. You might want to reserve some time to explore several trendy titles.

Remember to categorize the recipes by appetizer, main course, and dessert. (Forget the Creamy Cicada Bisque and Scintillating Sicada Salad. Soups and salads require too much prep work.) Your cookbook buyers will appreciate your simple organization and your insight into what works best for the basic ingredient.  

Southern Foodways Alliance might cozy up and make you an offer for your regional delicacies. You could become the Paula Deen of cicada chef-dom.

  • Do not sing or hum in a key similar to the male cicada’s mating call.

I don’t know exactly what that key is but for some completely unspiritual reason, I started humming “For All the Saints” last Tuesday while I was covering my mother’s blueberry bush. (Cicadas don’t eat blueberries, but the feathered friends do.)

I had just covered the line in the second verse, “But then there breaks a yet more glorious day, the saints triumphant rise in bright array” when two dozen sticky virgins rose and clamored for shirt and skin space. I hate to think what might have happened if I’d been humming that old Southern favorite “Victory in Jesus” instead of that 200-year-old hymn from the Lutheran Book of Worship.  These are Southern cicadas. They respond to gospel music.

Cicadas are wildly attracted to the engine of a lawn mower, but they find a Craftsman two-cycle mini-tiller absolutely irresistible, as Grandpa will attest. If you’re scared to ride, push, or pull something across your yard that is powered by an engine, then you should just spray the lawn with Roundup prior to the cicada gala. No one on your street wants to see grass a foot tall going to seed, whether it’s in a garden or on your lawn.

  • Do not take cicadas into the house—anyone’s house.

When a cicada buzzes in for a landing, there’s a 50-50 chance it’s a male who will know no better than to start that incessant serenade. A never-ending one-note song at 100 decibels could actually drive a normally rational couch potato to take a chainsaw to the floors and furnishings to out the noisy baritone.

Dave wore one of the Romeos in on a T-shirt over at Mom and Dad’s place the other day, and I was afraid we were going to have to re-remodel the place before the old folks’ bedtime.

Mom said, “I will never be able to sleep tonight with all that racket.”

After three trips through the house, she found him behind the coffee canister. He made the mistake of crooning to her just as she was washing her hands at the kitchen sink.  Dad carefully carried him outside in cupped hands. I thought, “A million and a half of them on our acre here and he can’t stand the thought of exterminating one.” Dad is a gentle man.

An onset of a brief episode of “do-gooder” on Monday had me digging up some clumps of mint to take to my friend who just adores the stuff. She does not, I found, appreciate in the slightest a clinging cicada. She produced a lot of noise herself before the bug ever thought about warbling, and none of it was anything you’d call music.

We turned that unwelcome traveler loose in the business section of Old Hickory Blvd.

  • “Do a little dance.” 

That’s a line I stole from a 1975 song by KC and the Sunshine Band called “Get Down Tonight.”

Cicadas do not bite. A cicada does not have a mouth! I thought that was the most comforting news until I got to the part about “however, they may try to pierce and suck you.” They have this little needle thing right on the end of the nose, sort of like a straw, that helps them to get a little juice, but please be consoled in knowing that you would only be pierced if the cicada were convinced that your appendage might be a twig on a tree!

The solution to this problem is so simple. Never allow a cicada the opportunity to postulate that you might be a dogwood.

However, if you’re walking to the mailbox and nothing will do but to stop to peruse the perennials, one or more of these sticky critters may attach to your clothing or, worse yet, your skin. This is your cue to immediately jump up and down, gyrate wildly just short of obscenity, and flail the air with your arms and legs.

Screaming doesn’t seem to help unless it just makes you feel better to get it all out. Pre-choreographed traveling steps and head tossing are optional. I guess you might also pick up a couple of packages of Depends as soon as you know that an invasion is imminent. Buy the store brand. They’re a lot less expensive when you have to use a lot of them.

The cicada will leave your twirling, twitching body, as insects do not understand crazy.  As an added benefit of your perfect performance, you’ll probably notice several dead cicadas (and maybe a couple of blackbird carcasses) on the ground.

Stand up straight, serenely smooth your clothing, and then wave and smile to the drivers of the cars who have stopped to gawk. If you’re not completely breathless, invite them in for a drink. For that possibility, lay in a supply of bottom-shelf vodka and Old Milwaukee when you go out to get that incontinence protection. I recommend economy-priced liquor because there is no need, whatsoever, to serve Absolut and Heinekin to strangers. There is a point at which you will appreciate a reserve of the premium stuff.

If a cicada (or battalion of them) finds you crossing a highly-trafficked street in the business district, perhaps over on Old Hickory Blvd., go into the same jitterbug-jive that you have already practiced at home. With a few minor adjustments (maybe control the extreme hip-circling moves and some of the screaming), you’ll be able to complete the routine as expertly as you might in your own yard.

Don’t sit down on the curb and pull out a brew. There are rules about that.

  • “Shake, Shake, Shake, Shake Your Booty.”

This is a variation on #5, above, and it’s the title of another KC song.

Now get this: Cicadas don’t really scare me, but I don’t want one up my dress and neither do you. You don’t want one up your pants leg, either, come to think of it.

If you should be driving down the road and suddenly feel pinching and scratching and buzzing on the inside of your thigh, do take the nearest exit, even if said ramp is really an entrance to a truck stop. Your goal is to get safely off the thoroughfare so that you can remove the offending vermin as quickly as possible.

As you direct your car off the right side of the road or street, do remember to put the gearshift in P, for “Park,” before you open the door of the vehicle. Usually the P has a circle around it in some fashion. There are several models of cars that will allow you to jump out of the driver’s seat, while still moving, in order to jumpstart a livelier, expanded version of “Do a Little Dance.”

The vehicle will not stop just because you want out of there yesterday.

The car will continue to move in the same direction as the front wheels are turned, and since you have just pulled into a truck stop, your transportation may head toward some sort of building or gas pump. It is possible that an observant trucker just about to tuck into some chicken-fried steak and gravy will drop his biscuit, tear out the front door of the diner, and quickly insert himself into your vehicle and grab the wheel. Bless his soul, he’ll stop that vehicle before it shatters the plate glass at Felicia’s Fill-M-Up.

Meanwhile, you’ll be stomping the ground in circles while you pull your skirt over your head and shake your lower body with unbridled violence—to the absolute astonishment of Chuck, Buddy, and John-Boy sitting at the first four-up by the window. They won’t lay down their forks but their attention will suddenly shift from the fried eggs, grits, and country ham and will be focused watchfully on the swirling spectacle out in the parking lot. Their mouths will be open but the forks just won’t go there.

One of your more intriguing jerky-moves will remind John-Boy of that time, on the way to Sunday school so many years ago, when his mother found the family of field mice nested in the console of her Malibu. John-Boy’s the one who will realize that you are not-sick-but-do-need-help. He’ll burst through the front door like Superman, bravely break into your outrageous-but-necessary full body shimmy, grab you by the shoulders and yell, “Mom, Mom, it’s okay!”

His “Mom!” will grab you just like a five-year-old’s “Mom!” from six aisles away at Wal-Mart, but you just won’t be able to stop shaking your booty. Wise John-Boy will read the faraway look in your eyes and know that he has captured enough of your attention to assure you in a loud voice, “It’s on the ground. You’ve stomped it to death.”

You’ll look down and see flattened wings, crushed thorax, and two beady red eyes, the only part of the head that remains intact. And there’s another, and another, and another…  John-Boy will gently genuflect and come back up holding half a dead offender by a wing.

“See?” he says. “He’s gone.” 

John-Boy will take your arm and softly invite you to “come on in the  diner and have a cup of coffee.”

You’ll shake your head slowly from side to side.

“Well, then, just a glass of water,” he’ll say.

You’ll decline politely, thank him quietly, and turn toward the vehicle, both eyes on the ground.

The keys will still be in the ignition. You’ll start the car and slide the switch on the air conditioner, then sit there and breathe deeply five times so that you can remember where you were going oh-so-long ago when you were suddenly called to center-stage.

You’ll turn around in the parking lot to go home. You’ll need to lie down.

When you pull out onto the road, you’ll resolve to find a different way to get to Wal-Mart, or maybe you’ll consider shopping at Target.

According to your Garmin, that closest Target is 13.4 miles away from the Fill-M-Up parking lot.


Teach Your Children Well

 Jameson is six years old, almost seven. We had a birthday party with some of his favorite foods—hamburgers, hotdogs, watermelon, a Power Ranger cake from Publix, and Rocky Road ice cream. Our present to him R-O-C-K-S! It’s a Power Ranger Jungle Fury Mega Mission Helmet. Oh yeah! This thing lights up, talks, and makes Power Ranger noises. And get this—you can download audible “missions” from the website. If he doesn’t play with it, I’m going to.

Jameson is into Power Rangers, particularly the red one called “Jungle Fury,” like a lot of his friends.  I’m caught off-balance by what else settles and stays in a seven-year-old’s mind.

Last Friday, when Jameson and sister Carly spent the typical overnight “Grammy Day,” I found him gazing through the books on The Cellar bookshelves.

“What are you looking for?” I asked.

“Oh, I was wondering if you had this book… It’s white. It has that picture of the bus that caught on fire…” he said.

A bus that caught on fire. White. Could it be…

“Do you have the book at your house or have you just seen it here?” I asked.

I knew I had seen a copy of The Children on a bookcase in the hall at Jameson’s house. I bought the book for his dad, John, several years ago for Christmas after he’d put the book on his Christmas wish list.

“We have the book. It’s my dad’s book.” He paused for some sign of recognition from me, I nodded, and then he added, “There’s this man named John.”

He stared at me while I thought for a moment. John Graham knew the history of the Civil Rights Movement. He knew the beginnings here in Nashville. He knew names and stories of the ones who sat at the lunch counters; Marion Barry, Bernard Lafayette, Diane Nash, John Lewis

 “John Lewis?” I asked.

“I don’t know his last name,” he said.

I started looking for my copy on the shelf. Everything else is so well-organized except for the non-fiction. One of these days, I have to…

“Grammy, he’s African-American and he’s still alive,” he told me in a rush.

“John Lewis. You’re talking about the book The Children, aren’t you? And you’ve been reading that book?” I asked.

He’s a good reader but he can’t be reading that.

“Freedom Riders, Grammy! There are Freedom Riders in that book!”

I pulled The Children off the shelf. I know my face showed my bafflement. How would he get interested in this?

“Is this it?” I held it out to him.

“Yeah, that’s the one.” He grinned. “Can I look at it?” he asked.


“Okay, I’m going to take it upstairs and read it at bedtime,” he said.

Isn’t that a strange topic for a first-grader’s bedtime?

After Jameson and Carly went home on Saturday, I straightened up the bedroom and stripped the linens off the twin beds, pink for Carly and blue for Jameson. I sat down on the mattress pad and picked up David Halberstam’s book from the chest beside the bed where Jameson had slept.

I opened the book to the photo section. There it was. The caption read, “The Klan sets fire to the first bus filled with Freedom Riders at Anniston, Alabama. Hank Thomas is standing (in shirts sleeves, back to camera) as the noxious fumes pour out. (UPI/Corbis-Bettmann).”  On the opposite page was a picture of John Lewis after a severe beating in Montgomery.

This weekend, I participated in a multi-congregation program called “Setting the Table.” Since we have an interest in our church congregations looking a little more like our neighborhoods, and since we’ve discovered that maybe following The Way means radically welcoming all sorts of people, many of us Lutherans are learning how to talk to each other—and our neighbors—“cross-culturally.”

We began the workshop with the histories of different cultures around us. In small groups, we got to the point of sharing feelings about those histories, about cultural traits of public discussion that have evolved out of those histories, and about how we view our worlds.

There were four of us in my group: Gene and Mike, African-American men; David, a white male pastor; and me, one white female. After being directed to share a memory of a time that we felt “different,” or excluded, we began to share stories, every one of them curiously originating in our middle-school years.

Mike was one of about twenty early teenage African-Americans to integrate a Greensboro, North Carolina high school. Taunts and expressions of hatred were open and ugly—except for the sports teams where winning demanded cooperation and respect. But when the game or the track event was over, so was the camaraderie.

David told of growing up in Middle Tennessee with a different religion other than one of the typical Southern Bible Belt varieties, and often being asked, “You’re such a nice boy. Why would you be Lutheran?”

I described moving from Tennessee to California at age eleven to begin junior high school in Mill Valley, California, only to discover that neither the students nor the faculty liked Southerners. I was extremely lonely and silent for the few months that we lived among those who were “regionally” prejudiced.

And then Gene told of moving to Kenya as a pre-teen, thinking, “We’ll get a ‘Welcome home!’”  He and his brother discovered, instead, that they had more in common with the British expatriate students than they did with the locals. The native Kenyans did not like African-Americans.

We all agreed that the middle-school years were difficult enough—still are—without the pressures of isolation and rejection. Each story shook each of us. At times, a voice would crack.

It was Gene’s further explanation, though, that alternated between stirring my brain and pummeling my heart.

“Then we go back to the States, and we’re in the middle of the place that wasn’t home when we left it, still wasn’t, and I realized that we had no home. Africa was not home. America was not home. I’ve always felt that I just don’t have a home to go back to.”

Sharing those personal histories is critical. If we want to know each other now, we have to know each other then.

Graham Nash wrote this song. It deals with the difficult relationship he had with his father, who spent time in prison. (From the liner notes of the 1991 boxed set): “The idea is that you write something so personal that every single person on the planet can relate to it. Once it’s there on vinyl it unfolds, outwards, so that it applies to almost any situation.”

It sure applies to where we’ve been and where we are now; me, Gene, David, Mike.  Jameson, too. 


You who are on the road
Must have a code that you can live by
And so become yourself
Because the past is just a good-bye.

Teach your children well,
Their father’s hell did slowly go by,
And feed them on your dreams
The one they picked, the one you’ll know by.

Don’t you ever ask them why, if they told you, you would cry,
So just look at them and sigh and know they love you.

And you, of tender years,
Can’t know the fears that your elders grew by,
And so please help them with your youth,
They seek the truth before they can die.

Counter Melody To Above Verse:
Can you hear and do you care and
Can’t you see we must be free to
Teach your children what you believe in.
Make a world that we can live in.

Teach your parents well,
Their children’s hell will slowly go by,
And feed them on your dreams
The one they picked, the one you’ll know by.

Don’t you ever ask them why, if they told you, you would cry,
So just look at them and sigh and know they love you.

                                                                              -Graham Nash


Ding Dong, The Witch Is Dead

So much has happened since the last “On the Ravine” post. Elder son Jade married Anjie in a surprise ceremony at their engagement dinner. Easter came and went, along with Holy Week. Our Santa Cruz friends visited for a week and we had our touristy picture snapped as we gathered around a microphone onstage at the Ryman. Sunday, some jewelry went missing and we buried one of my favorite aunts, two unconnected events.

I can’t tell stories about any of that until I figure out how I feel about this bin Laden thing.

I was up much later than my usual bedtime. An email alerted me to a Presidential statement of some sort. Then another email followed to say that Osama bin Laden was dead. It was time to turn on the TV.

My elder son Jade called to make sure we had the TV on.

“You weren’t asleep, were you?” he asked.

“No, I’m watching TV. Dave is in bed.”

“Just wanted to make sure you knew that Osama bin Laden is dead,” he said.

We made a few sentences of small talk. I wondered why Jade wouldn’t have thought I was in bed since 9:00 P.M. had long passed. I wondered if he would have called anyway.

I thought about waking Dave and imagined his response. Good. I’ll read about it tomorrow. I’m going back to sleep.

John King on CNN said people were gathering outside the White House. President Obama was to make a statement in just a few minutes to officially inform us that Osama bin Laden was dead. The crowd started with thirty or forty people and, before the President made it to TV, grew to several hundred or a thousand or more, a few waving flags, jumping up and down for the camera, singing The National Anthem off-key. Someone must have called for another song because they started “God Bless America.”

I was relieved when President Obama strode to the microphone. I was not offended by the first sentence starkly informing us that bin Laden was dead but I got irritated with the next several paragraphs telling us the story of what happened on 9/11…again. Is there anyone who doesn’t remember? Would there be anyone who didn’t know the name Osama bin Laden? Is this reminder some sort of  justification for our taking him out?

I made circles in front of my chest with my right hand.  Come on, come on!

My first reaction to this “targeted operation” carried out by “a small team of Americans” was “Wow.” It wasn’t a loud wow, but a quiet awe that generated by the thoughts of a few guys, maybe Navy Seals, sneaking into this protected compound, scaling walls, taking no prisoners. Wow.

I thought our military’s special forces could do that, this movie-quality action. In fact, I’d said several times—most frequently after two glasses of chardonnay—that “they ought to take him out” in the same way, as it turns out, that they actually did. I just couldn’t think of anything else but “Wow.” I was alone, but I said it aloud several times.

After the speech, I watched our celebration of death…the death of bin Laden. John King said we should take a look over at Ground Zero, where the mood was “more somber, and quiet.” I was in favor of somber.

I wasn’t what you’d really call “happy” that bin Laden was dead but I was okay with it, maybe relieved. The world is better off without bin Laden. I watched the gathering; it seemed that since we gathered after the Twin Towers fell and planes crashed and grief overtook us, so we ought to gather again to say “It’s over.” I just don’t know what that “it” is and I’m not sure whatever it is, that it is over.

I felt strange and some of the talk bothered me.

“Did you think we’d ever KILL him?” John King asks some man on the screen.

And then, “Are you surprised that President Obama praised President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan for aiding in the killing of bin Laden?”

So he was hiding out in a mansion a few miles north of Islamabad. A mansion. Same place you find some American criminals, except I didn’t think the mansion in Pakistan looked like a mansion.  Our mansions are much more elaborate, and bigger, too.

“Look at the crowds,” John King said. “They’re celebrating. This is pure joy.”

Wolf Blitzer says, “Let’s listen in to the crowds outside the White House so we can get a little flavor.”  Where did he come from?

There was great jubilation with lots of flags now waving, lighted cell phones held high in the night air, and young people climbing in the crape myrtles for some reason.

I needed to go to bed and I did, but the last time I remember looking at the clock it said “3:00.”

Yesterday afternoon, still tired from too little sleep, I visited with my dad, a wise old man if ever I knew one.

“It’s no cause for celebration,” he said. “We did what we had to do, and our boys did it very well, but we grieve that it took a killing to do it.”

Today, after a good night’s sleep and the passage of several hours, I know what I feel about bin Laden.  It is “not much.” I still find no joy in the death of this mad man.

I know some things that I feel about us. I wish we didn’t look so much like those who celebrated after they took down the Twin Towers. I hope we have crippled Al Qaeda. I am still in awe of the operation and those who carried it out.

And how do I feel about me? I am ever committed to non-violence and I hope that we will always try, and try, and try diplomacy-again. I pray that we will find a way to be peaceful not just with our enemies, but with ourselves.

My friend posted on Facebook, “He’s dead. What is there left to be said?”


How Best to Weather a Storm

     When a storm blows up in the daytime, our Shih-tzu, Murphy heads for Grandma and Grandpa next door. If neither one hears her coming, she barks at the apartment door until somebody lets her in.

     Grandpa greets her with, “Here comes Poodle Hound.”  She gets as close to Grandpa as she can, and then he usually picks her up and holds her to his chest until her heart calms down.

     If the thunder rolls at night, Murphy sleeps with Dave.

     We had a big one this week. Mom was to see Dr. Dibble on Monday at 1 p.m. for a nasty-looking arthritic finger. We knew a storm was on the way but we figured we could endure. She needed this appointment. She has been in big arthritis trouble for several weeks now and her right index finger seemed to be the settling spot, if there is such a thing as a settling spot.

     I called her at 11:00 o’clock, just after I cleaned up from some work outside. Spring is finally here.

     “Mom, I know we’re getting some weather but I think we better try to keep that appointment.”

      “Yeah. I just told your dad this morning that I’m actually looking forward to going to the doctor. This thing has hurt long enough.”

       I didn’t tell her that I didn’t know if Dr. Dibble could do anything to help that finger. Maybe he could give her something for pain. He could increase her anti-inflammatory. Or, I guessed, he could send her to a specialist of some sort. Geez, what if they wanted to do surgery on it?

      “Okay, we’ll leave at 12:30. That should be plenty of time. Your appointment is actually 1:10.”

      After I’d thrown Dolly, the red Rollator walker, into the back of the van, I said, “You’re holding that finger. Is it hurting right now?”

      “Yes, it’s throbbing.”

      “How’s Dad doing this morning?” I asked.

      “Not good. He’s having those spells again,” she said.

      “When did that start?” I asked.

      “Oh, last night,” she said.

      “Did he eat breakfast?” I asked.

      “I think he might have had a bowl of cereal.”

      “Well, I better call Dave,” I said as I pulled out of the drive.

      “Dave,” I said, “You’re going to have to look out for Dad. He’s having those spells.”

      “Okay, I will. I’ll take Murphy and go over there right now,” Dave said. “She’s all antsy about this weather.”

      “Those spells” are unexplained fainting episodes and Dad has been having them for years. With most episodes, he weathers the inconvenience at home. But there have been times that he overlooked the signs of an impending spell and fell off a lawnmower, went down while weed-eating, or slid off a tall stool. Each of those occurrences precipitated either a trip to the emergency room, a brief hospitalization, or both.

      The emergency room doctors always think it’s his heart. The cardiologist never thinks so. The neurologist always thinks it could be some sort of seizure but they’re never sure so they prescribe one of the new anti-seizure medications. Dad takes three days of those and declares, “I can’t function taking this stuff.”  The ink—or laser print—is barely dry on the prescription before he quits it. 

     He took Dilantin for a few years before he developed Raynaud’s Syndrome. The diagnosing rheumatologist said, “You have to get off that stuff.”  Dad was thrilled. He said he never thought it prevented much of the fainting problem anyway.

     “You know,” Mom said, “I’m getting hungry. I’m going to be starving by the time this is over.”

     “Mom, I don’t think we can go to lunch today.” Mom is always prepared to go to Golden Thai or J. Alexander’s or Sonobana after a doctor’s appointment. Those times are some of our best together.

     We got to the fourth floor of the St. Thomas physicians’ building in time to witness some monstrous lightning through the plate glass windows just to the right of the check-in desks. The clerk beckoned us to approach from the rope-designated queue.

     “If I get up and run,” she said, “It’s because the lightening scares me.”

     “I’ll be right behind you,” Mom said.

     You couldn’t run right now if Satan was closing in, I thought.

     She must have read my mind.

     “Hey, I’m pretty fast with Dolly,” she said in my direction. She gripped the Rollator’s handles and rolled back and forth a few inches. Prepared, she was.

     Our visit with Dr. Dibble was uneventful. Change anti-inflammatory. Apply ice. Make an appointment two weeks out with the rheumatologist next door.

     By the time we drove out of the patient parking garage, Nashville was, quite obviously, in the center of the storm. The weather woman on the radio said as much, too.

      “Oooooo, I don’t like this,” Mom said.

      “Yeah, I think I’ll just pull into this other garage right here and we can wait it out,” I said. I turned in, looped around the first level of vehicles, and parked facing the street in a space marked “Maintenance.” 

      “We’ll just sit here until it blows over,” I said. I turned the radio up a little.

      “I’m really, really hungry,” Mom said. 

     “Well, I think I have a piece of string cheese in my purse,” I said. “You want that?”

     “Yes. Let me have it.” She never asked why I might have a piece of string cheese in my purse.

     I clicked on the map light and started the search through my crowded-but-well-organized purse.

     “You can’t find it,” she said.

     “Yes, I can,” I said. “See, here it is. It was hiding on the side.”

     I handed it over.

     “Do you want half?” she asked.

     “No, I had some this morning,” I said. Mom didn’t ask why I was eating string cheese for breakfast.

     She finished the little white stick in four bites and lifted my water bottle out of the cup holder to wash it down.

     Why won’t you bring your own water? I thought. Just then, I remembered that I had tucked a protein bar into one of my purse pockets the day before. I started foraging for food a second time.

     The radio said the storm was passing right over downtown Nashville, headed east. We were on the southwest fringe of downtown. I tried to get my directions straight in my mind.

     “What are you looking for now?” Mom asked.

     “I have a protein bar in here somewhere. I remember putting it in here yesterday.”

     “Oh, good. I’m still hungry,” she said.

     “Here it is! Okay,” I said, holding the four-inch bar in the air, “This is a peanut-caramel bar.”

     She took the bar from my hand and opened one end.

     The radio reported that a tornado had touched down in Cool Springs, about fifteen miles south. I guessed that had happened on its way to downtown.

     As Mom raised the last of our food supply to her mouth, I stopped her.

     “Mom, you have to give me half.”

     “Oh. Well, okay.” She sounded surprised but she broke off almost half and handed it to me.

     “This is good,” she said. “It’s like… it’s like a Baby Ruth.”

     “There’s no chocolate in it. It’s just peanuts and caramel. It reminds me of those pecan logs we used to get at Stuckey’s,” I said.

     The radio said that the storm was especially violent east of Nashville in Hermitage and Mt. Juliet. Son Jade and his new wife, Anjie, live in Mt. Juliet. But, I thought, he’s in Lebanon in his office and she’s in Smyrna in hers. I ran through the rest of the kids in my mind. John, Vicky, Jameson, Carly, Darrin, Dana… I said a silent prayer and then let go of them.

     “It’s not pecans,” Mom said.

     “Right. Okay, well, then maybe it’s more like a Payday,” I said.

     “That’s it! It’s like a Payday!” she said. “I’m going to get me a Payday next time I go to Wal-Mart.”

     She turned to face me. “Do they still make Paydays?” she asked.

     “I think so,” I said. “I think I’ve seen them, like, in the checkout aisle.”

     “I’m getting me a Payday,” she promised.

     I’m sure you will, I thought, but I said, “Looks like the storm has pretty much passed by.”

     “Are you sure? Because we can sit here however long it takes,” Mom said. “I wish you had another Payday.”

     “Hey, did you know that if you eat that corn candy and popcorn together, it tastes like a Payday?” I asked.

     “No, how did you happen upon that?” she asked.

     “I think Matt Williams told us that one weekend when he and Kristy were visiting at John and Vicky’s,” I answered. “Must have been Halloween. Vicky always buys corn candy at Halloween.”

     “I’ll have to try that. I always buy that corn candy,” she said.

     “Alrighty then!” I said as I wheeled the van out onto West End. “Let’s go home!”

     The radio reported 60,000 homes without electricity all around us. Does that mean Nashville, or does it mean Middle Tennessee? I wondered.

     The first downed tree we encountered was just a couple of blocks on Woodmont Boulevard after our first turn. By taking turns, the traffic was moving around it in one lane.

     The second was just another two blocks and it lay across the entire street. Cars were driving around the big root system onto one of the residential lawns.

     “I’m not going to do that,” I said. “Look at the ruts already in their yard. Now it would make me mad if somebody drove through my yard like that.”

     I turned right on the street adjacent to the corner lot, home to the fallen elm. And so began the navigation of a newly assembled maze. Trees were down all over the place. We dodged limbs, avoided dead-end cul-de-sacs, and backed into driveways to backtrack.

     “Well, this is such a pretty area of town,” Mom said.

     It is a pretty area of town, but it would have looked a lot better with all the trees rooted in the ground.

     “I best call Dave,” I said. “There’s no telling when we’re going to get home.”

     “So are you and Dad making it okay?” I asked when he picked up the phone.

     “Oh, yeah, we’re in The Cellar. We brought Murphy down here when all the tornado sirens started going off.”

     “I guess she’s okay?” I asked.

     “As long as I’m holding her,” he said.

     Then he added, “The power is out. We’re in the dark.”

     “We’ll be home as soon as we figure out the path,” I said. “We are dodging all these trees that are down. Surely we’ll make it home in less than half an hour.”

     “Do you have a battery operated radio down here anywhere?” he asked. “The power is out.”

     “I know. I heard you. I don’t think I do. At least, right now I can’t think of where it would be,” I said.

     It took an hour and a half to get from the hospital campus to home, a trip that usually takes twenty-five minutes. I dropped Mom off upstairs so that she could roll Dolly up the ramp into our den and walk across the sky bridge to the apartment. The lift would not be working if the power was off. I drove on down the hill to park the van outside—couldn’t open the garage door.

     Dave met me inside The Cellar.

     “Well, that sure took a while,” Dave said.

     “I’m worn out,” I said. “That was like a jigsaw puzzle.”

     “You hate puzzles,” he said. “Say, where is the flashlight that’s usually here on your desk?”

     “It’s in that canvas bag on the floor, right beside the desk,” I answered.

     “We needed that flashlight,” he said. “Could we just leave it on the desk?”

     “Yes, except for when I need it for a Sunday school lesson,” I said.

     “Huh?” he asked.

     “Never mind,” I said. “Where’s Dad?”

     “He went home with your mother,” he said. “Do you want to go over to visit?”

     “Dave, I have been with Mom since noon. It’s after four o’clock. I am worn out.  I just want to sit down.”

     “Well,” he said, “I think we better go over there. Now I don’t want you to get upset and I don’t think you should tell your mother, but your dad had one of those spells and he fell off the stool.”

     “What? Fell off the stool?” I asked. “Were you watching him?”

     “Yes, I was watching him. He got tired of sitting on the couch and he got up and sat down on one of those stools at your work table. I guess he got that dizzy thing because the next thing I knew he was on the floor.”

     “Did he hit his head or anything?”

     “No, but it took forever for him to get up. I couldn’t get him up. I tried.”

     “Then how did he get up?” I asked.

     “He finally got up by himself. Just sort of rolled around in the floor and pushed and then pulled himself up on one of the chairs and the table.”

     “Oh, good Lord,” I said. “Come on, let’s get over there. Where’s Murphy?”

      “Oh, she went home with Grandpa,” he said.

     We walked in the apartment sitting room to see Dad in his chair with a washcloth on his head, his preferred treatment of his spells. A lone candle burned in the middle of the coffee table. Murphy was curled up on the floor, close enough to Dad’s feet to rest her chin on his foot.

     “So you fell off the stool, huh?” I said. It didn’t bother me to spill some kind of beans. “Did you hurt anything?”

     “No, and your mom already knew,” he said. “I’m okay.”

     “He told me,” Mom said.

     “You’ll need to light some of these other candles,” Dave said. “You have a lighter?”

     “No, I don’t think we do,” Mom answered.

     “Matches?” I asked.

     “I don’t know where any matches are,” she said.

     “I’ll run next door and get you a lighter,” I said. “We have several.”

     “We could turn on the gas on the stove and carry a flame from that,” Dad said. “You can cook on that gas stove, but now, you have to light it by hand.”

     “So the starter is electric,” I said, and then I thought out loud, “so you still have to have either a lighter or some matches to light the stove.”

     “Well, yeah,” Dad said.

     I didn’t think to ask how they lit that one candle and it didn’t occur to me that we could have “carried a flame” from that candle to another. I trotted across the sky bridge, retrieved a Bic torch lighter from the kitchen and a book of matches from the bathroom, and returned to show Mom how to use the torch. She already knew, and she didn’t even have to use her sore index finger to start it up.

     “I wonder if we should ice down some of the stuff in the refrigerator,” Dave said. “I’m thinking the electricity could be down for a while.”

     “Yep. Good thinking. We need to check all three refrigerators,” I said. I forgot about the fourth one in Mom and Dad’s basement but then it rarely holds anything but big vats of pickles, dormant flower bulbs, and the occasional soft drink or beer.

     “Mom, aren’t you supposed to put some ice on your finger?” I asked.

     “I do, but I’m too tired to think about it right now. I’ll get up in a minute and get some ice,” she said.

     “Think Wal-Mart is open?” Dave asked me. “Because we need to make a run. We have one bag of ice in the freezer and that’s not going to be enough for three coolers.”

     “Anything you want from Wal-Mart, Ethel?” he asked Mom.

     “Nope,” she said, “We’re good. I just want to rest.”

     “You got your flashlights handy?” I asked her.

     “I have this one,” she said, pointing to a red plastic flashlight on the table between her chair and Dad’s. “And I have one beside my bed and Dad has one beside his bed.”

     “C’mon, Di. Let’s get out of their hair,” Dave said. “Let’s go to Wal-Mart.”

     I got up off the couch and turned to Mom. “I’m sure that sorry dog will stay with you,” I said.

     Dad took the washcloth off his head. “Don’t call Poodle Hound ‘sorry.’”

     He looked down at our dog by his feet. “You just stay right here by Grandpa, Honey. Grandpa won’t let anything hurt you.”

     She might have opened one eye.


Grandpa Gets a Hearing Aid

Year before last, Mom and Dad took the train to Nevada to visit with Denny and Bev, my brother and sister-in-law. They stayed for a month. One day, after one “Huh?” too many—or maybe it was a “What?”—Bev told Dad (in a loud voice, I’m sure), “Would you please get a hearing aid?”

“Oh, my hearing’s not bothering me,” Dad answered.

“Well, it may not be bothering you, but it’s worrying the shit out of the rest of us,” Bev answered.

Dad told us this story on the long trip home from the train station in Kentucky. He laughed as much as the rest of us.

We’re not going to be able to say things about Grandpa now whenever we’re within normal earshot. He finally got a hearing aid. Actually, he got two but he only wants to wear one right now.

It’s possible we should have told him, “Whatever you do, don’t wear both of them at the same time. You’d hear too much.” Reverse psychology, you know.

I was afraid to ask how he liked it after the first day’s use, for fear he’d say, “Take it back.” And then he showed up on the porch above as I was cleaning up the rose bed down in the courtyard. He leaned over the railing.

“Hey, Sis,” he said. “What are you doing?”

“I’m pulling weeds and uncovering these roses,” I said.

“It’s a good day for that. Did you hear it’s supposed to be in the 80’s tomorrow?”

“Yeah, and then it’s supposed to turn cold again, isn’t it?” I asked.

“I don’t know about the cold, but it is supposed to rain Monday,” he answered.

“What’s Mom doing?” I asked.

“She’s in her chair, watching TV and napping,” he said.

Mom had a rough week with arthritis. One day the pain was so severe that I wondered if she’d be able to walk from her chair to the kitchen, even with the aid of Dolly, her fancy rolling walker.

“Tell her to come on down and talk to me while I work on these roses. She needs this sunshine,” I said.

He said okay and disappeared into the apartment. Two minutes later, he reappeared to tell me that she was on her way.

“Hey,” he called again just after I resumed digging. “I have a big problem.”

I looked up, with a handful of weeds, and said, “What is it?”

“Well, I can hear birds singing all over the place!”

I laughed and listened for a moment. There were birds singing all up and down the ravine. They dashed and flitted from feeder to tree to feeder. A pair of doves scooted along the ground picking up leftovers.

“Noisy little buggers. So I guess your hearing aid is working?”

“Oh, yeah. I’m hearing you! I can’t believe that everything in this house makes noise. I’m hearing all sorts of things.”

Mom appeared at the top of the stairs. She must be feeling better, I thought. She’s not taking the lift.

“Can you make it, Mom?” I asked. “Need some help?”

“No, I’m just slow,” she answered.

The rose garden borders the patio dining table, chimnea, and teacart, surrounded by six long planters full of Dad’s favorite multi-colored pansies. This year he proclaimed that he chose “too much yellow.” The rest of us, including visitors through the back yard, think they’re the prettiest pansies we’ve ever seen.

I got up from the ground and stepped over the pansies to pull out a chair for her.

“Isn’t it a beautiful day? I thought this sunshine might feel good on your joints.”

“Oh, it does, and I’ll soak up some vitamin D, too,” she said. “We just don’t get enough vitamin D these days, and I even take a supplement.”

“What happened to Dad?” I asked. “I thought he was right behind you.”

“No, he said he went down on the lift to do something in his study. I bet he’ll come outside later.”

She said she was feeling better except for her index finger. She pointed up with an angry red and white swollen finger. I said we better get her an appointment with the doctor to look at it first of the week. We talked of the pretty pansies, bird feeders, transplanting nandinas, and roses. Mom is not as much of a gardener as I am, but she talked about what was on my mind.

“Well,” she said, “You’ve got that side of the bed finished. How pretty! I don’t think the inside stretch is going to be as hard. Or maybe I just can’t see the inside for all the pansies.”

“I was going to say that there are plenty of weeds on this inside, but you know, they’re actually a lot bigger and they’re pulling easier.”

By the time Dave and Dad joined Mom at the table, I was finishing up with spreading pine straw and uncovering the sundial on the ground between Blue Skies and Lemon Spice. Dave finished the installation of two new compost bins between the apartment and the ravine bank.

“Whoever said these things are ‘easy-assembly’ doesn’t know what they’re talking about,” he said. “I’d no sooner snap one side together than the other would come loose.”

“Dave,” Mom said, “You want that beer now? I’ll get it for you.”

“Yes, I do,” he said, “But I’ll get it.”

“Get me one, too,” I said. “Mom, I’m going to get a bottle of water. Want me to fix you one? Dad, you want some water?”

Dave explained that he was going to divide the top layer from the old compost bin between the two new ones to get them both started.

“Ernie, I think you’ll be able to spread what’s on the bottom of the old bin on the garden,” he told Dad.

“I’ve already treated that ground with a commercial fertilizer and manure. I’m not sure I want to add anything else,” Dad said.

So we discussed what we might do with “all that compost” in the three bins if Dad didn’t work it into the ground for the vegetables and berries.

Dad interrupted as I was admonishing him to use the compost. “Okay, now you can quit hollering at me. I can hear you.”

I laughed. “I’ve developed a habit,” I said.

Dad turned to Dave. “You know, it’s amazing. I can’t even feel this thing in my ear. I don’t even know it’s there.”

“Well, that’s good!” Dave said. “So you’re liking it okay?”

“I’m going to wear it to church tomorrow,” he said.

“You might even hear the sermon,” I said.

Dad laughed, but he was ready to talk gardening again. On to blueberries and cabbage, tomatoes—and the Al-Akashi’s new garden next door. Zienab, the wife and mother, turned the soil, tilled, raked and planted a good-sized plot in less than a week with the help of the four oldest children.  

 “I see her going to look at it a couple of times a day,” Dave said. “She just sort of stands there and stares at it.”

“That’s what I do when I’m trying to figure out where to put something,” I said.

“She already has it planted,” Dave said.

“I thought she planted it too early but then her family’s all farmers over there in Iraq,” Dad said. “She may know more than the rest of us.”

The talk turned to Grandma’s arthritis and which doctor we might try to see come the first of the week. Neither Dave nor I could remember the name of the hand specialist at Premier Orthopedics.

Dad interrupted us. “You know, that woman just spoke directly to me for the first time. In English.” He motioned toward the Al-Akashi house.

“One of the older girls?” I asked. We all accepted that it would be untraditional for Zienab to approach a man, even a neighbor, it seems. Dad always communicated with either Saleh or the children.

“No,” Dad said, “Mrs. Saleh!” (Dad has always ascribed  Mr. Al-Akashi’s first name to the wife.) “She was getting out of the van and she hollered over to me.”

“And when did this happen?” Dave asked. “Was this yesterday, after you got your hearing aid?”

“Yeah,” Dad said. “Yesterday afternoon. And she spoke in English. Asked me how I was doing.”

“She’s probably been speaking to him all along,” I said, trying not to move my mouth. “He just never heard her until now.”

“I heard that,” Dad said.

We all cracked up.


Dreaming of Foxes

The first post I saw from my newest Facebook friend went something like this—Actually, it went exactly like this:  I know other people’s dreams are boring, but this one vexed (vixed) me. I was out at night, talking to a guy who had a dog with him. I felt what I thought was the dog nuzzle my leg, so I reached down and scratched under its chin. When I looked down, it was a fox.

“I could tell him where it came from,” I said to myself, “but who asked me?”

Kevin certainly did not ask. In fact, I wasn’t even sure we wanted to be FB friends, much less delve into a discussion of dreams. I friended Kevin based on a friend’s link for a subscription to a college literary magazine. His name was on the magazine’s Facebook page and it was the one I recognized. I’ve meant to subscribe for several months now.

But about that dream… Let’s see, what would I say to Kevin about it—if I said, I mean?

“Kevin,” I would ask, “Remember when you guys holed up at our place for the Southern Festival of Books? Did we ever talk about our foxes?”

We have foxes here on the ravine. We saw two young foxes the first week after we had moved in October, 2009. They seemed to be everywhere on our street but we most often saw them heading either into, or out of, the ravine in our back yard. There were two points of entry, one on the southwest side of Mom and Dad’s apartment and another across the courtyard on the north side of the property, where we’re cultivating a big flower garden.

Last year, the foxes loved the garden. They are expert mole-catchers. They even dig up grubs, the mole’s primary diet. One night in June, we watched several of the foxes leap into the air to catch fireflies lighting up the purple coneflowers, irises and roses.

Kevin and a few of his friends staff a literary magazine, The Pinch, at the University of Memphis. Five of them slept over in various places here in The Compound during the Southern Festival of Books in October, 2010. Kevin slept in Dad’s library. He had to walk across the courtyard to join his friends in The Cellar, for food and drink.

“Kevin, did you know that there was a fox den not fifty feet from where you slept? Oh yeah, right there on the edge of the ravine, a rocky hole big enough to house a mama – right, a vixen!—and five babies. Kits. Or pups. Let’s see, Kevin, you were here in October, 2010. The youngest in the skulk would have been over seven months old at that time.”

There were eight of those babies born in March. According to naturalists’ reports, they’re “naked” when they’re born and don’t leave the den until they’re about four weeks old.
We first saw five little balls of grey fur romping around a small trailer in the neighbor’s back yard, just on the edge of the ravine. It was April 10. It seemed that Mama had brought them out to play in the sunny spot closest to the ravine. Better to be able to make a quick retreat to the den.

A week later, we counted eight babies on one of the play-dates. Three of them seemed a bit smaller. Sometimes the little ones were supervised by two adults, sometimes more. Sometimes it appeared that one mother was watching the whole lot. Maybe the other was taking a much-needed nap. After all, fox babies are like puppies. They’re exuberant, rowdy, pesky.

The mamas disciplined the octet with barks and an occasional slap when a playful pup nipped at mama’s face one time too many. More often than not, the offending youngster bounded off to pounce on a brother or sister or cousin. They played hard until the vixen-in-charge herded them into a ball and sent them marching down to the den in a quick, straight line.

We also became acquainted with the raccoons. One of the regular visitors must have been fifty pounds and twenty-five years old. Raccoons usually weigh about twenty-five pounds and half as long. This one was silver grey and as wide as the doorway into the neighbor’s garden shed. I say “was” because we haven’t seen this old fellow for several months now.

By the time Kevin and his friends were here, we had already begun to treat the local fox population for sarcoptic mange, a common malady in red foxes. The farm supply stores sell injectable Ivermectin for pigs, cows, and horses. It’s a liquid of the same chemical makeup as that stuff we all give our dogs to prevent heartworms. You don’t inject the fox. You inject the fox’s food. What an impossible image that conjures up, giving a fox a shot!

By the time The Pinch people were here, we saw foxes much less frequently than we did during the summer. The males would have left the territory to find adult homes. It seems the daddy runs them off. The vixens would have stayed longer, but not too much. The females hang around to help out a bit and then they’re off, too. In mid-October, 2010, we figured we were feeding and treating three foxes.

By January, we weren’t sure that there was more than one lone fox in the territory. Then there was a big snow and the tracks said that two foxes walked side-by-side across the back yard, along the ravine bank, through the corner garden and back across the yard toward the old den. They stopped to frolic underneath the window of Dad’s library.

December to March is mating season. Maybe we’ll have some spring babies. We hope the $40 bottle of medicine saved at least a couple of our skulk. When we realized that we hadn’t seen the raccoons for months, we hoped we hadn’t killed the rascals with the Ivermectin meant for the red foxes. There is such a thing as an overdose, even though raccoons are also treated for worms and mange with the same drug.

And all of this fox-tale leads back to the night that Kevin dreamed of a fox. We drove into The Compound after dark that Sunday evening and stopped to let the old folks out at the garage of their apartment. Dave started to open the passenger door. He would need to open van doors and turn on lights downstairs so that Mom and Dad could safely make their way to the lift in Dad’s library.

I stopped Dave with my hand on his forearm.

“Look,” I said quietly, “There’s a fox in the garden.”

He (could be a “she”) trotted down the ravine bank.

“Did you see him?” I asked.

“I just saw his tail,” Dave said.

“Wait,” I whispered, “There’s another. No, wait, it’s not a fox. It’s a raccoon.”

“Yep, it is a raccoon. I guess they’re not gone after all,” Dave said, and then grinned. “I’ll just go through the basement. Go ahead and park.”

We met in the den upstairs just a few minutes later.

“Well, I’m glad we didn’t kill those raccoons. If we don’t have fox babies, maybe we’ll have raccoon babies,” I said.

“I sure hope the foxes have some babies,” Dave said. “Wasn’t it fun to watch them?”

Today, I treated a pan of cooked chicken parts, bread soaked in broth, and leftover pork stew and set it outside, just in case a fox trotted in for the afternoon. I saved an equal amount of the same tastiness for after dark.

Right after lunch, the wary little creature showed up to eat. Dave called to me from the kitchen window and I ran to get the binoculars. Mr. Fox is skinny, but not decimated. He has some bare spots, but it looks like the coat is replenishing. He seemed overly cautious, even for a fox, but he kept returning to the pan until it was empty. Then he came back again and again to lick the pan clean.

“Kevin,” I would ask, “Do you get it?”

I felt what I thought was the dog nuzzle my leg, so I reached down and scratched under its chin. When I looked down, it was a fox.

I’m going to send Kevin a message on Facebook.

I’m going to ask, “Did you mail my copy of The Pinch? Are you guys going to stay at The Compound again this year?”


Pajama Day

Last Friday, Carly showed up for Grammy Day wearing penguin-printed fleece jammy pants and a matching long-sleeved soft knit aqua shirt.

“Well, Carly, you look comfortable already,” I told her. She and her brother Jameson always change into jammies as soon as they can drop their overnight bags. They each have a couple of pairs waiting for them in the chest between the two twin beds in the guest room.

“Today was Pajama Day at pre-school,” Vicky, my daughter-in-law, explained.

“Well, I do love those little penguins,” I said, wondering silently if I bought those pajamas and didn’t remember.

“I’m going to change,” Carly said, heading for the bedroom.

She came back wearing a pink princess set—the tee said “Princess” in glittery cursive. Jameson followed in his favorite pair, a very tight basketball-print knit. They’re two sizes too small but he makes me promise not to send them to the thrift store just yet.

Grammy Day—mostly night—was as much or more fun than usual and we were all worn out by their bedtime. When I stepped back into the room for prayers just fifteen minutes after we raised the covers, they were both snoring. Jameson slept until 7 a.m. and Carly emerged from the bedroom about fifteen minutes later. We cuddled on the couch until they both decided they were hungry.

Four blueberry waffles and four slices of bacon later, Jameson said to Carly, “Come on, Sissy, let’s go get our clothes on and then we’ll go downstairs and play Nerf basketball.”

“Okay,” Carly said, making a run down the hall, “But I have to go to the bathroom first.”

Jameson turned around as he was leaving the den.

“Grammy, I brought my How to Train Your Dragon pajamas. I think I’ll wear those today. I really don’t feel like wearing jeans.” I knew I bought those pajamas. That was the pair I had hoped would replace the too-small ones.

“Fine with me,” I said. “We’re not going anywhere. Mom and Dad are picking you up at ten.”

“Want to play basketball with us?” he asked.

“Sure,” I said. “You get dressed and I’ll finish up these dishes.”

“Dwammy,” I heard from the bedroom, “Jameson is…”

I couldn’t hear the rest. I walked down the hall drying my hands.

“What’s the matter, Carly?” I asked.

She pointed at Jameson pulling on his fleece pants. “Well, Dwammy, Jameson is trying to wear his pajamas today.”

“It’s okay, Carly. I already told him he can wear them.”

“But, Dwammy, he’s just trying to have Pajama Day.”

“Well, he didn’t get to have Pajama Day like you did yesterday. If you want to wear your pajamas again today, you can,” I said.

“I don’t want to wear my pajamas,” she said.

“Okay, then just put your jeans on. Jameson can just have his own Pajama Day.”

I was almost back to the kitchen when she called me again.

“Dwammy, could you come in here?”

At the door of the bedroom, I asked, “What is it?”

She leaned her back against the bed, twisted her hands behind her back, and stared straight up into my face.

“Dwammy, yesterday was Pajama Day and today is not. Jameson is just trying to have Pajama Day today.”

“Yeah, well, I think we covered that, Sweetie. But it really won’t bother you for him to wear his pajamas, will it?”

“Dwammy,” she whispered, “I don’t want anybody to have Pajama Day today.”

“Well, Carly Rose, I just don’t think you get to decide that,” I said. “How about Grammy helps you get those jeans on?”

She laughed while we dressed her in a pink tee and jeans with ruffles on the legs.

Yesterday, the Supremes (those of the Court) decided, by a count of 8 to 1, that it’s okay for Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church to have their Pajama Day, ugly as their pajamas may be. They get to exercise their freedom of speech, even when that speech is so unpopular that most of us believe it to be vile and ungodly and wrong.

These Very Ugly Pajamas belonging to Westboro do matter to us. They cause pain. We parents have no trouble imagining a trip to a cemetery behind a hearse, our peripheral vision catching signs held high proclaiming that God is glad our child died.

This big freedom that we cherish calls us to care for those hurt by such a vile expression. In Tucson lately, a troubled young man took innocent lives and seriously wounded others. When the funerals began, Phelps and Westboro Baptist assembled their signs.

A twenty-year-old college student launched a counter-balance to Westboro’s protest. Chelsea Cohen started an action called The Angel Action. Mourners and friends of the deceased wore 8 by 10-foot angel wings to shield the families from the painful demonstrations. Donations from local businesses and residents paid for the materials to construct the wings. Cohen made it clear that this was no counter protest, that it was a show of love and support for the families of victims.

I’m okay with the Supreme Court Decision. After all, I have a reputation to uphold as a big old Liberal supporter of free speech.

I’m okay with it because some day someone might say to Carly and Jameson, about something much more important than pajamas or penguins or dinosaurs, “Well, it’s not just that I don’t want it for myself—I don’t want anyone else to have it, either.”

On another day, when someone hurts Jameson or Carly by using this protected freedom of expression, I will trust the world to show up, much as Chelsea Cohen and her friends did, to shield them from the pain.

I always learn something from those grandkids.


Barbies, Brides, and Bicycles

My first Barbie...

I just got my first Barbie Doll. She’s a blue-eyed brunette with long sausage curls that make me want to call her Scarlett. The pretty box says that she is the Sweet Valentine Barbie. Scarlett Barbie wears a billowy pink satin and chiffon ball-gown, adorned with soft red roses. Her jewels are a simple strand of pearls with matching stud earrings.

She is gorgeous. She is mine.

I never really wanted a Barbie.

“That’s because you were too intellectual for dolls, I guess,” my friend said.

“What? No. I had dolls. I loved my dolls,” I said.

Barbie first appeared on the doll scene in 1959, the year I turned ten, two years after my last doll, but that was only at a show in New York. My family was preparing for a move from Tennessee to California. My dad was finishing at Belmont College in preparation for Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary. The next year, I would wear Tangee Natural lipstick and hose with my flats and white satin dress to my piano recital. I never even knew Barbie was around.

By the time little girls of the middle class were getting their first Barbies, I suppose I was through with dolls. But Mom wasn’t. She rescued my two Cynthia’s and my Betsy-Wetsy and gently laid them in a box on a high shelf in a closet.

At the beginning of my senior year at Pittsburg High in Pittsburg, California, Mom and Dad moved to Montana. I stayed.

“Mom,” I said, “Could you keep my dolls for me?” I didn’t need to ask.

Later she told me that dressing the two Cynthia’s made her miss me more during that first Montana winter but she did it anyway because it also made her feel closer to me. When I flew to Billings for Christmas, my dolls were nostalgic adornments for the bed in the guest room.

My three favorites now live next door with my mom and dad. They wear handmade clothing, designed by Mom, and they occupy an entire rocking chair in her bedroom. The three wear a lap blanket to keep them warm. I speak to them as I pass through to the kitchen when I go to check things out over there.

“Good morning Cynthia Dawn, Cynthia Denise, and Betsy-Wetsy.”

Betsy never got a name beyond her brand. She cost $6 in 1956 and Uncle Morgan and I both got in trouble for her purchase; me, because I faked crying to get her, and Uncle Morgan, because he fell for my performance.

Cynthia Dawn is my baby doll. I cared for her daily and we made soft clothes for her and kept her warm in her own bed, always with a receiving blanket wrapped around her like a burrito-tortilla. I felt real love for Cynthia Dawn. And when I thought about naming my first child so many years later, “Cynthia Dawn” was the first consideration. I settled on Dawn Jeanine; I thought we might call her DJ.

When Jade Edward was born—and not Dawn Jeanine—I felt the same love I remembered having for Cynthia Dawn. Oh, it was so much greater, but it was the same love. I learned on Cynthia Dawn.

Cynthia Denise is the bride doll.

I got Cynthia Denise when I was eight, the year that Santa was to bring me a bicycle. Mom and Dad took me “looking” at Kuhn’s, the local pre-cursor of Wal-Marts and Targets, to identify just which model I might choose for Santa’s bag.

After a few minutes of pointing out colors and models and handle-bar tassels, my mother, without covering her mouth, whispered across the line of shiny bicycles to my dad, “She doesn’t want a bicycle.”

“Sis,” Dad said, bending down to one knee, “Do you really want a bicycle?”

I was frank. “No, I really don’t.”

“Well, what would you like to have instead?”

I was frank. “Just get me a bride doll,” I answered.

No one asked me why I didn’t want a bicycle. I’m not sure I would have been able to explain at the time, anyway. The idea of a bicycle sounded good to me. All the boys on Easy Street played Cops and Robbers on their bikes. I played, too, but I ran along behind on foot. I wanted equal status.

However, I was afraid I would not be able to ride a bicycle. I had already tried on my brother’s model several times and I had failed, just couldn’t balance. Actually, I never got good with bicycles.

Sometime during that week after my declaration for the bride doll, Mom went back to Kuhn’s and bought Cynthia Denise to put under the Christmas tree.

It didn’t take long for me to remove her bride’s dress in favor of suits and business clothes. I mean, what does a bride really do? Mom made straight skirts—now we call them pencil skirts—and tailored blouses and jackets. I also straightened her strawberry blonde hair and removed that silly engagement ring, the equivalent of an 8-carat solitaire. 

Cynthia Denise would be a career woman. Today Cynthia Denise wears a two piece, olive green A-line skirt with matching short-sleeved top. Her feet are curved to sport the equivalent of four-inch heels, but she is barefoot. No wonder Mom wants her to have a lap blanket.

Barbie had her fiftieth birthday a couple of years ago. My granddaughter, Carly Rose, had her fourth in early January, 2011. Last year, her birthday party was Spider-man themed. This year, she asked for a “Pink Princess Birthday.”

What a difference a year makes.

Grampy Dave and I bought sets of clothes for the Cruise Ship Barbie she had received for Christmas. All I could find was very urban or rock star-ish, or, well, trashy. I also bought pink hair adornments for Carly’s hair and a sequined carry-case for her “makeup.” Our daughter-in-law Dana brought Carly another Barbie to add to her growing collection.

“You never had a Barbie?” Dana said to me, in disbelief, as I admired the new one wearing a royal blue formal.

“No, never did.” I didn’t feel deprived.

“I literally had a hundred of them and some of them could have been worth a lot today. I wish I had never taken that Millenium Barbie out of the box. I’m not kidding, I had a whole closet full of Barbies,” Dana said.

“Where are they now?” I asked.

“Oh, I gave them away to less fortunate little girls–when I was twelve,” Dana said. “Pretty much all of them.”

She shook her head slowly. “I can’t believe you never had a Barbie.”

Carly dresses her Barbies and cruises with them in the Cruise Ship. Lifeguard Barbie rescues the others and swims with the dolphins. They all lie around on the Cruise Ship in various states of dress and position until the next Barbie session.

Carly’s baby, John Graham (named for her daddy just like every other doll she owns), sleeps with her every night. She feeds John and cares for him. She keeps him warm. He has his own stroller and his own bed for the time that he’s not in bed with Carly. I wonder if she’ll want to call her first real baby John Graham. It could be a girl.

Sometime in the 70’s, Mattel outfitted Barbie with career clothes and began to imagine that Barbie could be a doctor. I figure I’ll look online for business suits and scrubs, just in case Carly’s Barbies want to do something besides cruise, swim, and strut.

Me? I don’t want my Sweet Valentine Barbie to do anything but look pretty in her pink satin dress with the red roses and pearls. I’d never, never, never straighten her hair.


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