Blogs Are Stupid

Doesn't anyone believe in Dear Diary anymore? What happened to the joy of putting actual pen to paper? And why does every ordinary Jane and John think they can write well enough to burden the world with their scribblings? It’s a mystery that badly needs solving. My first entry contains my thoughts about blogging and will set your expectations. The rest will probably be stream of consciousness garbage, much like you’ll find on any other blog. Perhaps we will both come away enlightened.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Intelligence Quotient Quotient

Yesterday was Diminutive One's weekly therapist appointment. We took a bit of a break over the summer, which was nice, but it was good to be back in her cheerfully serene waiting room once again. Though getting there and back during rush hour is an exercise in insanity, I have come to look upon that hour as a welcome respite from life's chaos and calamity.

They have good magazines there. Current ones. InStyle, Redbook, Entertainment Weekly, Time, Newsweek. Each month I work my way through the new editions, reveling in the indulgence of being completely inert for a full hour. There are no distractions to prick my conscience and prod me into productivity. There are no children demanding my time or attention. I can't multitask or network or interface.

So I sip my coffee or soft drink, settle into the commodious sofa and read to my heart's content.

To be quite honest, I usually start with the girly mags. They are a pleasure I don't often afford myself. But this week, an article in Newsweek caught my attention. I have a close friend whose six year old son is Autistic, so when I saw the article titled "The Puzzle of Hidden Ability" by Sharon Begley, I was intrigued. The article discusses the enigmatic issue of IQ and intelligence in autistic children, and challenges conventional testing protocols.

These protocols commonly require the test subject to engage with another individual. Since difficulty with social interaction is one of the more pronounced characteristics of Autism, one researcher asserts that it is like "giving a blind person a test that requires him to process visual information."

In a recent study, Austic children were given two tests to assess intelligence. One, the more commonly administered Wechsler test, requires the test subject to perform a variety of skills, reasoning and verbal comprehension exercises, almost exclusively in response to questions posed by the administrator of the test, who in many cases is a stranger, thereby compounding the problem. On the second test, the Raven's Progressive Matrices test, they were given brief instructions and then went on to perform a series of tasks on their own.

The disparity in test results was amazing. On the Wechsler test, the average score was in the 30th percentile, which is considered "low average" intelligence. On the RPM, the average score was in the 56th percentile. On the Wechsler scale, none of the test subjects scored in the "high intelligence" range, while on the RPM scale, fully a third of them were classified as such.

One child, who was classified as mentally retarded using the Wechlser scale, scored in the 94th percentile on the RPM scale.

Think about that.

That means that thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands of autistic children since the advent of the autism spectrum disorder classification, have been treated and taught (or not taught, as the case may be) as if they were mentally deficient, when in fact, many of them have harbored a keen intelligence buried deeply inside the labyrinth of their puzzling and complex brains.

Countless sparks of genuine potential were never fanned into the flames of realization.

That is simply astounding. And deeply disheartening.

What's interesting is that the Wechler test measures "crystallized intelligence"; what one has already learned, while the RPM measures "fluid intelligence"; the ability to reason, solve problems, process information, and focus.

Does it surprise any of you that the RPM test is a more accurate indicator of intelligence? It doesn't surprise me. But what does surprise me, is that it's taken so long for someone to question conventional test methods and indicators of intelligence.

Throughout history there have been countless individuals who, despite not being considered intelligent by traditional descriptors or perceptions, have accomplished amazing things that have changed the course of human history. Why? Because intelligence is so very hard to quantify, classify and explain.

It was an eye opening article, and if you get the chance, you should read it.

As I read, I experienced a rising excitement that I didn't really understand. But the very last sentence made the hair stand up on the back of my neck, and brought everything into focus with such clarity that I actually felt tears spring to my eyes.

"It makes you wonder how many other children, whose intellectual potential we're too blind to see, we've also given up on."

Many of you know how my Diminutive One (who is not autistic, but does have ADHD) struggles terribly in school, despite the fact that he is incredibly smart, fantastically creative, and hungry to learn. And this...this seems like the beginnings of an answer for him and kids like him.

Are academics and educators finally figuring out that a one size fits all approach to learning is alienating and defeating a huge percentage of children? Are they finally figuring out that children who are not equipped to learn within in the narrowly confined and defined classroom setting...are simply giving up and falling through the cracks?

Could it really be?

Time will tell if those responsible for educating our nation's children will heed the advice of clinicians and researchers, but I choose to be hopeful.

I went on to read some lighter fare, but I couldn't stop thinking about the article. When Dr. A and Diminutive One emerged, she, always perceptive, asked me what was wrong. Wordlessly, I handed her the article and pointed to the quote at the bottom.

She beamed her shiny faced smile over Diminutive One's head but said nothing. She didn't have to. She knows that hope is what keeps me going, and that it can sometimes be in very short supply. She knows that I take it where I can find it.

Yesterday it was a single sentence in a magazine article. Today, it might be uncharacteristic enthusiasm about a school project. Maybe tomorrow it will be the reality of substantial and far reaching education reform.

I sure hope someone in Washington reads Newsweek.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

No More Internet Porn For Me

Remember this? My laptop is toast. Was toast. Is still sorta toasted but at least functioning although I have little more than an operating system and the will to blog.

Apparently, that little trojan fugger (WinAntivirusPro 2007) that infected my pc was not really gone, but hiding. And it is very, very smart. It turned off my firewall, disabled my antivirus protection and overrode all my security protocols. Then it hung a neon Coor's sign in the window, crushed some peanut shells into the carpet and called all it's friends.

So I was doing my morning internet thang...sippin some Starbuck's Espresso roast with a hint of fat free hazelnut creamer...pulling up the internet trifecta; email, Bloglines, Sandbox (small private ladies' internet group)...when all of a sudden....BLAMMO! I got the same message that had sucked me into the soulless blue vortex of doom the last time. This time though, I knew that I was well and truly screwed so the panic set in a lot faster.

Luckily, Husband was working from home today and was sitting beside me doing his morning internet thang. Help was readily at hand.

I hollered "SHIT!"

Husband jumped and narrowly avoided scalding his privates, but quickly inferred that something was horribly awry. He's really intuitive that way.

"The hell???" he asked indignantly.

"I got that message again!!"

"What messs-"

"Hurry!! Shit is HAPPENING!"

Windows were popping up willy nilly, a task bar appeared and began progressing with distressing speed. I was paralyzed with fear and indecision. Husband jumped out of his chair and rushed to my side.

"NO!" he growled. "Don't let that finish!! DON'T LET THAT FINISH!! Shut it down!Abort! Abort!"

He wrested the computer from my grasp and began typing furiously.

"MOTHERFUCKER!" he said.

He typed some more, fingers flying over the keyboards with preternatural speed that only programmers and uber geeks can boast. They were all but invisible as he wrestled with the slick, sophisticated little digital demon that is WinAntivirusPro 2007.

Finally, with a resigned groan...he hit the kill switch and my poor little laptop winked into blackness. Husband stood there breathing heavily and glowering.

Timidly, I asked "Did you....?"

He looked at me with a mixture of defeat and sympathy.

"Baby..." he said softly, "I can't save it. There's just been too much damage. I'm going to have to...."

I inhaled sharply, knowing what was coming but not wanting to hear the words.

"I'm going to have to reformat it. I'm so sorry."

"It's okay. You did everything you could. I know how hard you tried."

"If we had just known." he sighed. "I thought...I thought I got everything. But all this time, the bastard's been hiding deep inside, corrupting files, overriding security was a total system failure, baby."

With a dissolute shrug, he picked up my laptop and gingerly carried it upstairs to begin the delicate job of data retrieval and reformatting the hard drive, while I tried to pick up the pieces and carry on.

My day was pretty busy, so I didn't have time to dwell on my loss and that's a good thing. When I got home, Husband told me had managed to save my iTunes files onto his hard drive, (almost 4GB worth) and luckily, after the last battle with WAVP2007, I had backed up all my documents onto a flash drive and have been doing frequent backups ever since.

But my email addresses (thousands) my bookmarks (hundreds), my images (also hundreds, but mostly borrowed from public sources) some photos (sent to me by others, so not my own, and not original files), my passwords (yes, I'm one of those idiots who stored my passowrds ON my computer, but the file was cleverly disguised as a recipe), my backgrounds, my's all gone.

My trusty little laptop seems so naked, so vulnerable.

Well, now I begin the process of rebuiling. It will take a while, but I will perservere.

People, if you encounter this thing...for God's sake, shut your computer down immediately and get some professional help. This is not a virus, but a very sophisticated Trojan and it is MURDER to get rid of. It can do incalculable damage to your system and may even damage your hard drive irrevocably. Husband says it's been a long time since he's seen anything this nasty.

Despite my titillating (and, er...wholly in jest) title, you can get this insidious little thing even if you don't surf for porn (and I'm betting most of you don't). You can get it from an infected email even if you don't open attachments. You can get it just by visiting a site that is a portal. You won't even know because they are very well disguised and completely innocuous looking. You can even get it by GASP! reading blogs. I asked husband how to keep from getting this thing again and his wry response was, "Stop using the internet."

So, just a little PSA from B.A.

Now...I have to go replace all the fancy window dressing on my pc. I can't stand to see it shivering and denuded.

And when I'm done with that, I'm going to compose a scathing commentary about the miniscule man parts of those who create and unleash such menaces. You know...I'm sorry you can't harbor life within you, but that doesn't mean you have to be a giant gaping asshole.

Forgive my lack of commenting today. I was with you in spirit.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Ack-SEN-choo-ate The Positive

Boyyyyyyyy...that was some whiney shizz-it yesterday...wunnit?

That's one of the pitfalls of blogging, and one upon which I have pontificated before. Blogging gives one a platform for voicing all kinds of self-inudglent mental excreta and emotional disgorgement.

Well, I am embarassed. I really should be more grateful for what I have and the life that I have been given. Because, upon reflection, I have actually had quite and amazing run of good luck recently. Really. I can't remember a time when I have had so many amazing and wonderful things happen to me in one month.

For instance...I won the British lottery. Seventeen times! What are the odds? I don't recall actually entering the British lottery, but I'm sure there's some explanation. It probably has to do with the fact that I have an @ sign in my email address.

And, in an unprecedented outpouring of affection, I have received e-cards from a friend, a family member, a former teacher, a long lost love, a public servant, a co-worker and my gynecologist. What a boost that gave me.

Not to mention, that there have been 28 searches for my name on Who knew??? It just may be that long lost love, which totally explains the e-card.

Of course, it could be that asshat who stalked me in the 10th grade. He wore a fedora and a trenchcoat and for some reason, he thought it would be a good idea to re-enact the boombox scene from "Say Anything" for me. My mother was not amused and he was not John Cusack.

No...I'm certain it's the long lost love. It was definitely the long lost love. For sure. Probably. Most likely. Luckily, I can satisfy my curiosity for only $72.

In addition I have discovered, in the span of mere days, the secret to enhancing my breast AND my penis size, without surgery. I am assured that both forumlas are 100% safe and legal in Southeast Asia. AND, if I act now, I can have the Ancient Chinese secret to longer lasting erections.

Although I don't actually have a penis, I'm sure I have a correspondant anatomical structure upon which to slather this little miracle in a jar. I'm anxious to see what kind of transformation will result. Perhaps I will have to upgrade from my cute, capable little Rabbit to the sleek, powerful Kangaroo. (Don't go looking for it, I made that up.)

Also, I have had the good fortune to make the acquaintance of Mr. Ibrahim Tokunbo, who is an international financier and who currently resides in South Africa. He is being held prisoner because of his part in executing a political coup, (it was totally a misunderstanding) but he promised that immediately upon his release, he will not only repay my expenditure of $10,000 U.S Dollars, he will triple my investment in gratitude. That's not a bad return, ya'll.

In addition, I have been on the receiving end of several exceedingly hot and very hush hush stock tips. Just between you and me, with the South African thing and now this....I'm going to be rolling in it.

It's been an extremely educational month as well. I learned that I can crossstitch my way to tighter abs, get a highly respected college degree in three days, start a home business for only a dollar and never worry about embarassing odor again. I find that soap and Secret do a pretty good job of keeping the funk at bay, but you know what they can never be too rich or too saturated with carcinogenic chemical compounds designed to perpetrate the illusion of good personal hygeine.

Of course, there was that unforunate incident with YouTube and the the homemade sex tape. Apparently, my face was completely visible. Oops.

And there was the fact that my eBay account, my Paypal account and my account at Compass Bank, (the one that is so secret even I didn't know about it) were all the target of attempted fraud. But thankfully, the customer service at those places is amazing.

I tell ya...those poeple are really on top of things. All I had to do is provide my bank account number, my social security number, the amount of my mortgage and car payments, my current salary, my monthly grocery expenditure, my children's country of birth, their social security numbers, a flow chart of my menstrual periods for the past year and my astrological sign...and they cleared all that right up for me.

But aside from that, as you can see, it's really been a stellar a month.

I should really try to focus more on the positive. And boy, there's been a lot of positive. A deluge of positive. A phalanx of positive. A cornocupia of positive.

I? Am a lucky, lucky person.

Bored Housewife for Hire

When I was 9 weeks pregnant with my oldest child, I lost my job.

Like that of many couples in this day and age, our decision to start a family was based on the security of two incomes.

So understandably, we freaked out a little.

My termination was political. Because I had received a glowing performance review and a merit raise a matter of weeks prior to termination, and because I had just announced my pregancy, my employers were in a precarious position. And they knew it. So they offered to pay my Cobra premiums until the baby was a year old, in exchange for my promise not to sue the pants off of them. They also promised not to dispute my application for unemployment.

In retrospect, I should have played hardball and demanded a more lucrative severence package. But...with the shock and the pregnancy hormones, I wasn't thinking as clearly as I would have been otherwise (which I'm sure they counted on). I felt like they had me over a barrell, and I readily agreed.

I hated that job anyway, and it was with no real sorrow that I left it behind.

My unemployment lasted almost until the baby was born. In Georgia, under the State Unemployment terms, I had to be actively seeking work to continue receiving benefits. I had to appear weekly with proof of those endeavors. I went on countless interviews hugely pregnant, knowing full well I wasn't going to be hired. It was a monumental waste of time for everyone concerned.

Husband was terribly concerned about money. The burden of providing for our new baby now rested squarely on his shoulders, and it was a heavy one. Understandably, I suppose, he eagerly awaited the day that I could go back to work.

When our baby was six weeks old, he began gently dropping hints. I ignored them.

When our baby was three months old, he started placing the want ads in places where I would naturally encounter them during the course of my day.

When our baby was six months old, he changed his tack and asked me point blank when I was planning to return to work.

I had come to the conclusion that I wasn't.

Our son was born premature and although he was strong and healthy, he was tiny. He seemed so vulnerable, so fragile. And though I hadn't planned to be a stay at home Mom, neither had I anticipated the fierce protectiveness and possesivess that gripped me every time I thought about leaving him with someone else.

In addition, I was completely overwhelmed with the amount of sheer planning it would have taken to engineer a working siuation. The daycare, the picking up and dropping off, the pumping and storage of breastmilk, taking time off for well baby checks as well as the inevitable illnesses. And I wept at the thought of getting up for work every day after sleeping in two hour shifts.

So I broke the news to husband, who...bless his heart, did not take it well. Oh, he didn't yell or accuse or insist that I go back to work. But he worried. And his worry made him unable to see the bigger picture for a while. He did come around, and eventually became as committed to the idea of me being at home as I was.

And that's the way it has been for twelve years.

When my children were small, I enjoyed being home with them. I really and truly did. Sure there were days when I thought I might go mad if I didn't speak to someone who was at least double digits old, but those days were the exception, not the rule.

When Diminutive One came along, things got a little more challenging. Okay, a lot more challenging. But I still enjoyed it and I still believed wholeheartedly that being a stay at home Mom was the best thing for all of us. And it was. I was happy because I felt that what I was doing had real value.

But I made a mistake that I think is a fairly common one. Unfortunately, it's one that many of us don't recognize until it's too late.

I lost myself, you see.

Because Motherhood was the first thing that really fulfilled me, and because it was the first thing I really felt GOOD at, I gave myself over to it fully. I allowed myself to be swallowed up, and I did not take care to protect my sense of self irrespective of it.

For a while, it wasn't a big deal. I didn't really notice because I was so busy. My days were filled to the second, and each night I would drop into bed exhausted and fall asleep before any such thoughts could invade my cluttered mind.

But then my kids went off to school.

And suddenly, I wasn't so much a Mom as....a maid. And I realized that all I had to look forward to each day was mindless drudgework. It was very disheartening. Because although I keep a pretty clean house, I've never done so because it afforded me any real satisfaction.

I've realized, with some surprise, that I need more.

I've tried a lot of things, but none of them fit into my life quite the way I needed them to. Because I am still a mother first and foremost and it's still a 24 hour job, even though my kids are older. We have doctor, dentist and orthodontist appointments. We have school functions, sports, playdates and homework.

So I'm still searching.

And I'm bored silly. Every day is the same. I do the same old things. And the same old family comes along and undoes them as soon as I am finished. Laundry get soiled again. Floors get muddied again. Bathrooms get soap scummed mildewed and toothpaste splattered again.

Can I be frank here? I find it wholly unfulfilling and demoralizing.

Writing...that is satisfying. And I've realized that what I am aside from a mother, is a writer. But it's not easy to make that into something other than a hobby. There are no establishments hanging out signs proclaiming "Writer wanted, good benefits, flexible hours, competetive salary." I can't walk in and request an application. There is no steady or dependable income.

Where am I going with all this?? Criminy, I don't know. I've written about this before and nothing has really changed since then, except that I've gotten a lot more whiney and desperate. Oh, I submit here and there, I enter this contest or that contest. I query now and then. But the chances of making it big are so's very daunting.

I know it takes concerted effort and lots of perserverence to become a published author. I know it doesn't happen overnight. Most careers don't. But you know...the thought of writing and querying and submitting for years and years and years and never getting's almost too much for me to contemplate without becoming completely discouraged.

Hell....maybe I ought to slap some ads on this sucker and call it employment.

You young Moms, love your babies. Be with them and never doubt the value of what you are doing. But don't lose yourself. Keep something to remind you who you are. It's not selfish. It's not arrogant. It doesn't make you less of a mother. And take it from me, once lost, a sense of self is hard to find.

It only took me twelve years to figure that out.

A quick study, I am not.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Bd...Bd...Bd...That's All Folks

I have no more Funeral.

I know, I know...I can hear the sighs of relief.

Thanks for letting me foist my literary stylings on you, it really did get the wheels turning. Parts IV and V were written this week, and that's more progress than I have made on the piece in a year. I think I have the impetus to finish it now. It's flowing again, and it feels good.

But I'm a little unsure about how to wrap this all up.

Though this story is true, the circumstances, the town, and the people are real...there are small fictional elements to this story. I don't want any James Frey type revelations on Oprah (I should be so lucky) so I'll make that clear right here and now.

Jerry is just a man. And unfortunately, there was no epiphany for him, no salvation. He did not, suddenly, straighten up and fly right. Ohhhh, his wild days are behind him, I'd say, but he's still a bit of a lost sheep. And his brothers are still trying to save him.

But that doesn't make for a very compelling story, does it?

No. A lost man in his fifties does not launch authors to the top of the New York Times Bestseller list. For that matter, I don't suppose a middle aged suburban stay-at-home Mom of two experiencing a crisis of spirit is either.

Which brings me to an ethical dilemma of sorts. Is creating an ending that readers want an injustice to the people whose lives I have borrowed? Do I sacrfice truth for glory?

So I will put it to you...readers. If you were writing this story, would you manufacture a heartwarming, lump-in-your-throat type ending for Jerry? For the narrator? If so...what would it be? Or would you write the truth and depend upon the story to tell itself?

Slices of life are so very flavorful...but one does not consume such fare only to choke on the crumbs.

Do they?

Friday, August 24, 2007

Funeral In A Small Town- Part V

Finally it is the family’s turn. My boys have been sitting an awful long time and they are taught as bowstrings, quivering with pent up energy. They need tree climbing and bike riding on a day like today. Though it is unbearably hot, it is tantalizingly sunny. I inhale deeply over the top of Diminutive One’s head, expecting his usual smell of sun, green things, damp earth and sweat. Instead, he smells of starch and shoe polish and conditioned air. Pre-Pubescent One notices me smelling his brother and wrinkles his nose with unspoken distaste.

The pallbearers, sitting in the front row, go first. I watch husband approach the casket and I wish I could be at his side. A cousin puts a supporting arm around his shoulder. They stand, together, solemn, unmoving. Jerry’s son, whose mop of sun bleached blonde hair stands out among the older more grizzled heads begins to cry silently, his shoulders hitching gently under his voluminous suit coat. The cousin with his arm around Husband puts his other arm around Jeremy and pulls him close. He pulls Husband close as well and they stand in a small, tight huddle of woe.

These men are so different, their lives divergent. And yet, standing there, they are as indistinguishable as they were in the days when they wore denim overalls instead of business suits; sneakers instead of work boots. Today they are all boys once again.

They turn to exit the church and I can see now that Husband has tears running down his cheeks. His eyes are red and he is struggling not to sob. I think I am the only one who realizes how tentative is his hold on composure. I feel it in my bones the way I feel his presence in our home when he is not there. I can do nothing, so I extend my hand into the aisle as he passes. His palm skims mine, clutches briefly, desperately, and then slips away. He is gone before the warmth from his body has cooled in my grasp. I feel a bitter sting behind my own lids. His tears wound me.

A glance tells me that they have wounded my boys as well. They are both crying soundlessly, salty drops plopping onto the sharp creases I have ironed into their pants. I draw them close to me and whisper to them not to worry. “Dad is okay…he’ll be okay.”

My sister-in-law is now coming down the aisle. She leans heavily on her sweet, strong, silent husband and then suddenly stumbles, blind with tears, weak with sorrow. He quietly catches her, bolstering her with his body, buouying her with murmured tenderness.

We do not go look at the body again. When it is our turn we simply slip out of the pew and head toward the back of the church where Husband and the others have congregated. They are no longer crying. Though still somber, they are smiling. One of the cousins says,

“You member that time Nanny caught us beating on her rose bushes with sticks?”

They remember. They all smile.

“Yup. Stripped those suckers bare.”

“Lord, she tore me UP that day!”

“YOU! I couldn’t hardly sit for a week.”

“Why’d we do that…you member?”

“Naw. We was just kids. I reckon we was jes trying to find something to do.”

Jeremy, much younger than the rest, listens intently, but with a furrow in his brow and a small frown on his lips. “She whupped you?” he asks, disbelieving. “Nanny?”

One of the others cousins snorts with laughter and says wryly, “Shoot son. With that many grandkids runnin ‘round, Nanny and PawPaw was always whuppin somebody for somethin. And they like to deserve it too. We was nothing but a bunch of heathens runnin’ wild.”

Another cousin chimes in. “Yeah, but she always gave you a treat after. Some biscuits with sorghum syrup or some fried apple pies. Damn. Them pies….” His lip quivers a bit at the memory.

Husband says, “I’m tellin’ you what…I never had pies as good as hers. Mama’s pies are good, but they can’t hold a candle to Nanny’s. Don’t tell Mama that though!”

They all laugh. It’s a good sound.

Yet another cousin speaks. “You ‘member them ‘maters Nanny used to grow in her garden? They was might near as big as cantaloupes. I don’t know how she grew them things so big. She used to say, ‘Them ‘maters has got the Lord’s goodness in ‘em.’"

“Yeah!” says another. “She make you ‘mater sandwiches?”

They all nod and a collective “Mmmmhmmm” ripples through them.

Husband says, “What about that time we rolled that culvert down the hill?”

“Soooooon….I thought Nanny was going to have a coronary!”

“Well, it woulda served us right if she did. What kind of hodanged foolish thing was that to do? We coulda all been killed. If that thing had rolled over one a us, we’d a been dogmeat.”

“She didn’t whup us ‘at time.” Says one cousin quietly.

“Nope.” Says another, “Too scairt, I reckon.”

“Yep. She was eat up with what migtha happened.”

“Poor Nanny. We was jes too much for her.”

“Shoot. We wasn’t neither. She knew how to handle young ‘uns.”

“Djou get a whuppin’ when you got home?”

“Hell yes. Daddy might near took the skin offa my backside.”

There is a chorus of general agreement and exclamations about the length and severity of the various forms of corporal punishment that each of the miscreants had received.

Husband says, “Daddy didn’t whup me.”

The cousins look at him with surprise.

“He just told me how disappointed he was that I would put Nanny through such a terrible thing, and how she was just heartsick thinking about what could have happened. He said she would have blamed herself forever if one of us had got hurt or killed. He told me she was at home prayin’ her little heart out, askin’ the Lord for forgiveness for not watchin’ over us better.”

The cousins nod and murmur their sympathy to Husband. They know how that game is played and they know how much it can injure the soul of a naughty but deeply penitent little boy. It was a harsher pain than any hickory switch could impart. It was a deep down gut sick guilty kind of hurt.

Husband continues. “I went to apologize to Nanny the next day. I was cryin so hard I could hardly get the words out. It took me an awful long time to say my piece.”

He pauses for a moment, remembering. The cousins urge him to continue. “Well. What’d she say??”

Husband smirks. “She said, ‘Praise Jesus and deliver me from these willful chil-dern Lord!’”

They all laugh until the tears flow again, but this time they are tears of mirth. They sober quickly as Brother Dwight approaches, and wipe their eyes, sighing. But he does not glower or scold them. Instead, he smiles beneficently and his eyes twinkle above his glorious moustache. I imagine he knows that Nanny would rejoice to see them laughing. I imagine he knows how much people need to laugh on a day full or mourning and sorrow.

Though I was angry with him earlier, I realize that he in not an unkind man. I begin to realize that much of what he does is a performance of a kind. Sunday after Sunday, he is called upon to deliver the hellfire and brimstone they expect of him. They are a demanding audience.

Brother Dwight claps them each on the shoulder and asks them if they are ready. They nod and file after him, once again respectfully subdued.

The drive to the cemetery is long. Nanny wished to be buried in Alabama next to Ennis. They were both born and raised there. It is home.

In the van, the boys lose themselves in mindless diversion on the twin screens that are velcroed to the seat backs. I am deep in thought and husband is weary with the day’s emotion. We don’t speak for a long time, but it is a companionable silence. After a while, Husband breaks the silence to ask, “Why so quiet baby?”

“I just…I’ve never seen anything like that in my life.” It’s a wholly inadequate expression of my astonishment and awe at what took place, but it’s all I can muster at the moment. He is puzzled, of course.

“It was just a funeral.”

“Yes, but….”

I struggle to explain why, exactly, this was such a profound experience for me. There has been nothing comparable on my side of the family, no basis for comparison. He can’t understand how completely and thoroughly foreign I have found it. And I can’t explain that although it was startling, disconcerting and uncomfortable, it was also beautiful, uplifting and inspiring. Have I ever witnessed such fervor? Have I ever witnessed such joy? Have I ever witnessed such abandon? Never. Never. And my northern reserve balks at all of it while also being thoroughly envious. It’s a dichotomy I am at a loss to explain. So instead, I pose a question of him.

“Why did Brother Dwight ask for people to be saved??”

There is indignance in my voice, and of course, he hears it. He is no stranger to my many indignances. They are as much a part of me as the color of my eyes or my independant nature. But he does not know why I am indignant.

“It was a funeral baby.”

He says this as if that simple statement explains everything to me. But it doesn’t.

“Yes. It was a funeral. Not a goddamned revival meeting!”

I hadn’t meant to speak so venomously. But the words are out there and I can’t snatch them back. Husband is accustomed to such outbursts, especially when it comes to matters of religion and faith. He says softly, “It’s the way things are. It’s the way she would have wanted it.”

There is nothing I can say to that, and we both fall silent again.

At last, the long line of cars slows as the church comes into view. It sits atop a hill, small and unassuming, surrounded by gently waving grass, brightly colored wildflowers, and hundreds upon hundreds of graves. Some are sunken and choked with weeds. Some are fresh, the grave markers still slick and glinting in the bright sun. I can see the red awning that has been erected over the family plot. We all turn in, tires crunching on the gravel strewn drive that leads up the gentle slope.

As we park and unfold from cars, trucks and vans, the heat of the afternoon sun strikes like a hammer. It is brutally hot. I would not be surprised if it was a hundred degrees or even more.

Most of the family is in a hurry to get to the graveside. Everyone wants a front row seat. Except me. And Jerry. We hang back, both of us tense and dripping. His son turns to look for him, worried, I know, that this will be the worst part. The leaving behind. But Jerry waves him on, the picture of nonchalance. He pulls hard on his cigarette, steeling himself for what is to come.

© Blog Antagonist 2006,2007. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of all content, text or image, is prohibited without prior written consent.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Funeral In a Small Town - Part IV

A small mousy man with large gold-rimmed spectacles approaches the podium. If I remember right, he is a preacher at the church Nanny used to attend. He calls her a sainted woman. He gives a little sermon about how her family is her heavenly family now and that only those bound for heaven can be part of that family. He says that her earthly family comes second to her heavenly family. And then he says that only those members of her family who are saved will remain in her heart because they are the only ones she will see in heaven.

I feel a white hot bolt of anger deep in my gut.

I can’t help but steal a glance at Jerry. He is not saved, and I wonder if this preacher has angered him too. Earlier, one of his brothers told him that the only way to be with his Mama now, was to let God into his heart and be saved. I thought it an unkind and predatory thing, though I know that is terribly unfair. In all likelihood, the brother was just trying to help, using the only tool at his disposal. Faith. But I am so very weary of every hope stealing hardship becoming a platform for salvation. And what Jerry needs at this moment, is not salvation, though I suppose there those who would argue that is exactly what he needs. But I think a hug would probably be a lot more welcome and lot less difficult to come by.

Jerry’s face is stony. Inscrutable. Closed.

Finally the mousy man steps down and the soloist is introduced. The song she will be singing is “Press On, It Won’t Be Very Long”. It’s not a hymn I am familiar with. A pale, bland woman whom I remember from the viewing steps onto the dais and raises a microphone to her lips.

I don’t know what I was expecting…perhaps some suitably dignified dirge from the funerals of my childhood…but the sound that issues from that unassuming woman startles me, rocks to me to the core. That sound comes from the place inside each of us where we harbor our most sacred joys, our deepest fears, and our most shameful secrets. It is a sweet, soulful, haunting sound. It makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck like a lonely train whistle in the distance, or a loon crying over a moonlit lake. There is heartache, sadness, loneliness and loss in that mournful wail, but also….joy. Exaltation. The purity of hope and the certainty of salvation. That sound comes from her soul.

I am stunned by my reaction to a simple country hymn. I am stunned by the ache that it puts in my belly and the lump that it puts in my throat. I struggle to put a name to what I am feeling, pushing away the knowledge that what chokes me, is the bitter green gall of envy. Because it is clear from the power and the pathos of the words she sings…she has the solace of a convicted heart. She possesses the one thing I know I will never have.

Suddenly a cry rises up from the congregation.

“Praise Jesus!”

And another.

“YES Lord!”

More voices join in, until the soloist is barely heard above the din of religious zeal. They are overjoyed by the knowledge that they will soon be going home to Glory. They echo the words she is singing…"Press ooooooon, it won’t be ve-ery long"

“Press ON Lord!”

“Not long now Jesus!”

People are weeping, wailing, praising, rejoicing. Hands wave in the air, faces are upturned, rapturous. It is like nothing I have ever seen and I sit in mute astonishment taking it all in. The spectacle is thoroughly alien, somewhat unsettling and yet, somehow, inexpressibly beautiful.

Beside me, they boys have gone still, their relentless fidgeting ceasing. They are as captivated as I am by what they are seeing. Pre-Pubescent One glances at me and then blushes. I don’t know why. I wonder if he is embarrassed for the shouters. I am, a little. My Yankee reserve finds it difficult to reconcile this overt display of spiritual fervor. Where I come from, religious ceremonies are somber, dignified affairs. Reverence is demonstrated through quiet solemnity, respectful silence and rapt attention. The religious teachings of my youth, though largely abandoned, still dictate my sense of propriety. Even if so moved, I would be unable to express my joy so unabashedly. And I find that I am a little saddened at the thought.

The song ends on one long, succulent note. It is held, and then fades away softly into warbled, whispered nothingness. The hands that have been waving in the air now drift back to laps and clasp once again into respectable primness. Brows are mopped. The rapture is quelled.

It is utterly quiet in the tiny church.

Into the quiet, steps Brother Dwight. He is larger than life, and as he mounts the steps and takes his place behind the podium, I’ll be damned if a fortuitously placed halogen light hasn’t created a beatific halo around his head. It’s the kind of cheap parlor trick that one expects from weeping televangelists on late night TV. It’s not a trick. But I can’t help thinking that Brother Dwight would be pleased if he knew he was being bathed in pseudo-celestial brilliance. Cu-cu-ca-choo, Brother Walrus.

Despite his resemblance to a Walrus, he has a dignified air. And as he begins to speak, I find I am eager to hear what he will say. The first speaker disappointed me with his finger wagging. But Brother Dwight looks as if he has very meaningful things to say.

And he does. But not about Nanny. He says nothing about her having borne and raised nine children. He says nothing about her having been a devoted wife for nearly 50 years. He says nothing of her many kind and charitable acts. He says nothing of her mouth watering fried apple pies, or her lighter than air biscuits. He says nothing about who she was irrespective of her faith. Nope. I think it’s fair to say that Brother Dwight sees this funeral not as a commemoration, but an opportunity. Brother Dwight is here to save souls. I am monumentally uninterested.

My mind begins to wander, and I begin to remember my own grandmother’s funeral so many years ago. She died just before I found out I was pregnant with Pre-Pubescent One. Alzheimer’s stole her dignity and her identity. My fastidious grandmother would have welcomed death had she been aware of what she had become. She lost her mind, but her body remained stout and strong. Nanny’s body had withered and weakened until it simply gave out, but she retained her sanity and her self until the end. Which is a crueler fate? I, with my fear of growing old, am equally horrified by both.

My grandmother’s funeral was presided over by a minister who had known her only after she became ill. Her name was Vernelda, but everyone knew her as Nell. The minister called her Nelly, and every time he spoke it, I seethed with an irrational anger. I was also angry about her lipstick. My grandmother always wore lipstick of the truest red. I think she wore the same shade my entire life. But for the viewing they had painted her lips a soft, pearlescent pink. It was wrong. When I complained to my mother about it, she understood, and said that she would take care of it if I really wanted her to. “But, honey…” she gently explained, “You have to remember that red lipstick on a corpse can look a little gruesome.” She was right, and the pink lipstick remained. Since then, I have wondered what shade it was that she loved so much. I would like to have some.

Something brings me out of my reverie. Something has changed in the air. There is…expectation and it is electric. I look around, wondering what I missed and why it seems as if everyone is holding their breath.

I realize that the timbre of Brother Dwight’s voice has changed. Before, it was as deeply soothing as  a wooly blanket on a cold winter’s day. But now…it has risen an octave, and there is an edge to it that I don’t quite understand, until I realize that he has adopted that strange and comical cadence that I always thought of as the hallmark of disingenuous piety and profitable conviction.

“Dearest brethren-a. We are gathered here on this fine day-a, to honor this woman-a. She was a strong woman-a. A good woman-a. But most of all, she was a GOOOOOOOOOOOOODly woman-a.”

The exclamations started anew.

“Yes Lord. PRAISE Jesus!”

“AMEN Brother!”

The spotlight was making sweat pop out on Brother Walrus’s brow, and his postulations were causing a deep red flush that spread from the flesh overflowing his collar to the very roots of his slightly thinning hair. He mopped his brow and continued.

“But although we are saying good-bye-uh…we will not MOUUUUUURN for this woman-a. We will rejoice that she is with her father in heaven-uh. We will rejoice that she has gone home to GLORY-UH!”

The chorus of hallelujahs grows more fervent. Some people leap to their feet and sway to and fro with heads bowed and arms raised. Others clap. Some jangle up and down on the balls of their feet.

“You all know how much salvation meant to Mother-ah. You know how she longed to be called to serve in his heavenly kingdom-ah. You know she is sitting at his right hand-ah. Do not weep for her-ah, for she weeps for you-ah! She weeps to think the souls of her loved ones have not been committed to the Lord-ah.”

Oh, here it comes, I think to myself. He is going to fish for souls at a funeral. I am incensed. The boys perhaps feel me tense in the pew, for I sense both of their heads swiveling in my direction and I feel the question marks in their eyes. I look around, but nobody else seems similarly affronted. In fact, they are beaming and…expectant.

“I am going to invite anyone…anyone here-ah, who has not taken the Lord as their savior-ah, to come forward right now-ah. Speak the words-uh, and commit your soul to JEE-zuSS! Come now…and let the Lord into your heart-uh! ”

I raise my eyes from my lap to find Brother Walrus looking straight into me. His eyes are alight with a righteous fire, and they seem to burn clean through me, searing my heart, stealing my breathe. I have the distinct feeling that the pew behind me is smoldering and wisps of smoke rising from twin char marks. I raise my chin in defiance and hold his gaze, though I am trembling with an emotion I can’t name. I fear it is guilt. I fear it is fear. I manage to maintain eye contact, but I can’t suppress the shiver that runs cold fingers up my spine. I see him see it.

Suddenly, Brother Walrus’s eyes are torn from mine by a shout from the back of the church and the sound of heavy footsteps. A large man with a grey brush cut and thick glasses lumbers up the aisle, calling out.

“Yes Jesus!! I am here Lord! Take me to your bosom Lord! Wash away my sins!”

He prostrates himself at the foot of the podium behind which Brother Walrus stands. His forehead is touching the rough carpet and his large, soft buttocks are all that can be seen of him from where I sit. But I can hear him sobbing and begging for forgiveness.

I hear a whisper from the pew directly behind me. It’s the woman who had smiled kindly to my boys when we sat down, murmuring to her husband. “I thought Duane Sprague was already saved?”

Her companion grunts. “He is. The damned fool just likes making a spectacle of hisself. Gets saved every hodanged time he sets foot in a church.”

She tut-tutted in dismay, but otherwise said nothing.

I want to laugh. I wanted to leave. I want to demand that Brother Walrus explain to me why I should let his Lord into my heart. I want to ask him how his God can punish the good and reward the bad. I want to ask him how his God can let ugliness like child abuse, poverty, war and famine blight the beauty of the world he has created. I want to ask him why I should worship a God who discriminates. Why I should worship a God who puts conditions on his love, and holds salvation hostage.

But I merely sit and watch the drama unfolding. Again, I am stunned. Duane Sprague wails loudly and dramatically. He says he is not worthy, and Brother Walrus wearily assures him that all he has to do is ask and forgiveness shall be his. Duane Sprague wails some more. Diminutive One puts a hand in mine and rests his warm and sticky cheek against my arm. He looks up at me with his enormous blue eyes and says in a stage whisper, “Mom…I thought you said we had to be quiet in church.”

The lady behind me makes a small sound of amusement, and her husband chuckles outright.

The tension is broken, but I still I feel a little as if I am sitting in the pew naked. I feel raw and open, like a wound from which the blood still flows. I cross my arms in front of myself and try to remember that Brother Walrus is just a man. He is not my judge and jury. He is not my conscience. He is not my damnation or my salvation.

In the pew occupied by Jerry and his brothers, there is a stir. Jerry has slumped down in the pew and crossed his arms in a posture that is decidedly similar to my own. His brother Harold hovers over him whispering fervently and gesturing emphatically towards the front of the church. It isn’t hard to surmise what kind of emotional blackmail is taking place in that pew. Suddenly, I am profoundly grateful that I am not sitting over there. I wish I could help him.

I notice that my mother in law is angry. Her lips are compressed in a tight line and her shoulders are stiff with outrage. Barbara Jean puts an arm around her unyielding form and whispers to her. Linda Joyce shakes her head emphatically and then begins to weep, crumpling into her sister's lilac bosom. Barbara Jean glares at Duane Sprague with malevolence. He has eclipsed the mourning with his theatrics. It is the height of disrespect, and he will pay for it later in the form of cold shoulders and ignored greetings. People in SmallSoutherTown do not take such transgressions lightly.

Alas, nobody but Duane Sprague comes forward and with a sigh, Brother Walrus concludes the service. I suppose that fishing for souls in a town that already has a goodly number of Christian folks can be a fruitless and unsatisfying endeavor. For a moment, I feel sorry for Brother Walrus. I wonder if he fears coming up short on Judgment Day.

The mourners file past the casket, which, after some discussion, has been re-opened for the service. Some of those who have come to pay their respects are terribly, terribly old, and I wonder what they feel when they look into that casket. One woman, whose back is bowed over a walker, and whose skin is translucent with age, is visibly upset. The tears stream down her face unchecked as she speaks to Brother Walrus. He takes her chin in his large blunt fingers as if she were a small child and speaks to her tenderly. I don’t know and I can’t hear if it is grief or fear that causes her tears. She scares me. I know that sick and slimy fear. The thought of being so close to death and still not being reconciled to the terrible certainty makes me tremble once again.

© Blog Antagonist 2006,2007. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of all content, text or image, is prohibited without prior written consent.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Funeral In A Small Town - Part III

Funeral in a Small Town: Part III “Funeral”

I awake slowly, as I always do, reclaiming consciousness in degrees. Strangely, I am awake before the alarm has sounded and for a moment, I am confused. I remember setting it, but I can’t remember why. The kids are out of school and husband doesn’t have to work today because…because….ah, yes. The Funeral. The Funeral is today. In three hours. Suddenly lurching into full awareness, I spring from the bed, propelled by the sheer number of things I must accomplish to get us out the door on time. We have a long drive ahead of us.

I wake Husband, and then the boys, poking and prodding and cajoling them from their downy cocoons. Protesting, they unwind into lanky, shuffling wraiths, relying on instinct to guide them to the bathroom where, still stupefied with sleep, they assume that uniquely male stance and empty themselves. The sight of them in their boxers and socks with hair in riotous disarray always makes me smile. I am treated to a glimpse of dimpled buttock as Pre-Pubescent One scratches absently. Once I knew them so intimately; every inch of their rosy flesh as familiar as my own. Now it is off limits to me; the soft, baby smelling creases sprouting hair and stinking of almost grown-up.

I realize that Husband has not yet risen, though I know he is awake. I return to the bedroom and find him staring at the ceiling, blinking, unmoving.

“Honey? You okay?” I ask.

He sighs, his chest rising high beneath the comforter. “Yeah. Just…not looking forward to this.”

I can’t think of a single thing to say or do to make him feel better. Today, shoulders that have carried laughing toddlers and borne my tears will bear the body of his grandmother to her grave.

“Baby, can you pick out a tie for me?” he asks.

“A tie? You have dozens...just pick one.”


The mundane details of life are too much for him today. Nodding my assent, I coax him out of bed into the shower. I choose a paisley patterned tie in muted tones that will match his black suit. I remember that we bought it in Paris on our honeymoon. I remember how we fumbled with the francs, trying and failing to seem nonchalant and urbane while mentally converting francs to dollars. I still don’t know how much that stupid tie actually cost. It’s a thought that makes me smile. I wonder if he’ll remember. I place the tie on top of his shirt which is laid out on the bed with the arms spread wide, inviting me to lie down and wrap myself in its crisp, white embrace.

They all dress quickly and without incident, though the boys are not happy about having to dress up again and Husband is already perspiring in his shirt and undershirt, even in the chilly conditioned air inside the house. I shoo everyone downstairs so I can shower and make-up in peace. I hear my brood breakfasting and bickering while tendrils of coffee air coil upward from the kitchen. It is the language of our lives and it is beautifully ordinary.

An hour later I am nearly ready, but I vacillate over what to wear. I am usually very decisive about these things, but I am acutely aware that there will be many eyes upon us today. Husband left a long time ago, and when we go back, it is only to while away the afternoon on his parents’ front porch, sipping coffee and watching the kids play in the pond, where a grinning black skinned child in tattered breeches sits eternally fishing.

Few outside the family have seen him since he left 20 years ago and people wonder about him in that small town way. Most are merely curious and are usually appeased by a smile, a handshake, and the reassurance that of course! He remembers them…how could he forget? But some will be looking for proof that marriage to an outsider and life in the big city has changed him, made him less theirs. They look to see if his wife is snooty, his children spoiled, his moral fiber eroded.

I finally settle on a long black skirt, sleeveless silk blouse, and matching sandals. It is a choice made as much for its respectability as the knowledge that temperatures could soar into triple digits today. The Southern summer, always fiercely unkind, has been especially cruel this year. From my jewelry armoire I withdraw a set of antique mourning jewelry. It belonged to my grandmother and my great grandmother. I fasten the double string of jet beads around my neck, where they glitter with cold and somber beauty against my pale skin. Nobody will recognize their significance, nor are they likely to ask. But I wear them only for her. It is a small, private token of my respect.

At last we are all ready, and we set off with grim anticipation of what lies ahead.

We are to meet at the Funeral Home before the service, and when we arrive, the hearse and the limousine are already idling in front in an effort to keep the darkly upholstered interiors cool. They are sleek and sparkling in the shimmering waves of heat that quiver up from the asphalt. The boys are impressed by their elegance, which contrasts starkly with the utilitarian building. Diminutive One wonders aloud if the limousine has a refrigerator and Pre-Pubescent one rolls his eyes. Husband’s gaze lingers on the hearse for moment before we step inside. The ornate doors shush-bump shut behind us, sealing us inside. The interior is dim and cool and soundless.

We are a little early, but most of the family is already present. They are gathered around the casket murmuring to one another. This is the moment they must say good-bye. They stroke her hair; they kiss her cool, powdered cheek. They gaze lovingly, longingly at her serene face, trying to memorize every detail. One of her silver haired sons gently fingers the wedding ring that graces her left hand; strokes the veined marble of her knuckle with a calloused thumb. He whispers, “Hug Daddy’s neck for me Mama.” and then he begins to cry quietly, plopping tears onto the blue linen of her suit.

When everyone has said their good-byes, Young Mr. Funeral Director slowly, carefully, lowers the lid. Jerry can’t look. He turns away before her face is obscured from view. His eyes are dry and hard. The raw hurt of yesterday seem to be have been tucked away inside him. The only outward sign of his turmoil is the muscle in his jaw that continually tenses as though he is chewing something. His son steps forward to shield him from the awful finality of that tiny, muffled thud. They walk away leaning against one another, their bodies tilting together like sweetheart art.

A florid man with a handlebar mustache steps forward. I was introduced to him yesterday at the viewing. His name is Brother Dwight but I think of him as Brother Walrus. He will be delivering the eulogy today. He is a very large man, and when he took my hand in his to shake, it was completely swallowed up by the warm, dry ham of his grasp. He makes me feel very small.

After meeting him, I had asked Husband why they call one another “Brother” and “Sister”. He explained that it is a sign of respect for their brothers and sisters in Christ, and how they signify that they have been saved. I find it pretentious and irritating, which, of course, I shared with Husband. He said “Baby, not everything Christians do is designed to piss you off.” I am a little hurt by that. I count on him to validate my irreverent indignation. But he doesn’t have the strength today and my anger fades at the realization.

In a deep rumbling baritone that sounds like thunder and lightning, Brother Dwight asks us to join hands and I cringe. I am not a toucher or a hugger as so many Southerners are. I never initiate physical contact with strangers, and I usually studiously avoid any effort on their part to initiate physical contact with me. One thing that never grows any more comfortable for me is dealing with the Southern proclivity for touching, hugging, kissing, caressing.

Once at a job I held long before my marriage, I had to ask a co-worker to stop touching me. Every time she came to me for advice or instruction, she would drape herself around me like a stole. I felt suffocated, stiff, and violated. I thought that my inhospitable body language would eventually convey my discomfort to her, but she remained oblivious. I tried to ask her politely, but really, there is no kind way to say “stop touching me.” I saw the hurt in her eyes and I was sorry for it.

I try to surreptitiously position myself between my two boys, but Diminutive One has slipped away, and I have no choice but to join hands with the small elderly woman on my right. Her hand is cool and soft and dry, the fragile bones of her hand are gently gnarled with age, the skin slipping across them like water over pebbles in a brook. She gives me a small but sincere little smile, and suddenly I don’t mind holding her hand. We bow our heads, and everyone around me prays earnestly, while I simply pretend. I think she knows.

Husband has disappeared without a word, but I know that he has gone to join the other pallbearers. The casket is rolled to the hearse where he and the other five stand waiting. Young Mr. Funeral Director makes a small, subtle gesture and gently, wordlessly, they lift the casket and slide it into the hearse. The heavy double doors clang shut and the sons and daughters are ushered into the waiting limousine.

There is a state trooper waiting to lead the procession. As we line up behind him, I am amazed at the number of cars. There must be close to a hundred. There are vehicles of every size and shape; some shiny and new, some old and dented. Husband tries to get close to the front of the procession so that when we arrive at the church, he can get to the hearse quickly. But several cars insist on nosing in front of us. Husband is annoyed, but lets them go. It’s really the only thing that can be done given the circumstances.

At last, a small detail that Young Mr. Funeral director has overlooked. Pall Bearer cars should have been provided with flags and situated at the front of the procession directly behind the family limousine. He has handled everything so well that I am surprised by the oversight. Behind the wheel of our nondescript and unflagged minivan, husband is tense and anxious. He hunches over the steering wheel, peering ahead, trying to gauge how far back in the procession we are positioned.

As we pull out into traffic and make our way through town, it takes me a minute to realize that all the cars we encounter have come to a complete standstill. All of them. Even those on the opposite side of the road. Some of the people inside bow their heads respectfully. I have never seen anything like it. Husband is nonplussed. He shrugs and says, “This is SmallSouthernTown, baby.” He says it as if that explains everything. Maybe it does. I watch, waiting for someone to breech small town funeral etiquette and continue driving, but not one car moves until the entire procession has passed. It’s an amazing display of respect. It’s the kind of thing you don’t see in BigCity.

We arrive at the church after about twenty minutes. Husband shuts off the van and hands me the keys. He kisses me hurriedly, and rushes to take his place in line with the others. He is the second oldest grandson, so he is at the front. Young Mr. Funeral Director and his assistant open the double doors and the men step forward to take a hold of the casket. It glides out easily and they lift it with only moderate effort. As they carefully execute a turn to mount the steps up to the church, my eye is drawn downward by the crunch of gravel. I see six pairs of feet, six different kinds of shoes.

One cousin wears a pair of gray alligator cowboy boots, carefully polished and shining. One cousin wears a pair of sturdy black oxfords with thick, comfortable soles. One cousin wears a pair of charcoal colored orthotic hush puppies. The oldest cousin wears respectable brown lace-ups with a pointy toe, and Husband sports a pair of seldom worn Florsheim wingtips. The youngest, Jerry’s son, is barely 20. He wears a pair of battered workboots that peep out from under the hem of a suit so ill-fitting that it is almost certainly borrowed.

His appearance touches something in me. He was not supposed to be a pallbearer, but eagerly volunteered when one of the others had to step down. He is taking his role very seriously, and has taken pains to look respectable... He has no mother, and for a moment, I feel an absurd urge to dart forward and brush the shaggy blonde hair from his eyes and smooth away the lines of worry and tension on his sunburned face. I want to tell him he is doing just fine. Not just carrying Nanny, but carrying his father as well.

They are a motley but respectable group. Their shoes are different because they have walked very different paths. But as I watch I see that they all use the same oddly deliberate heel to toe motion, placing one foot directly in front of the other. They step gingerly, as if their shoes are filled with shards of broken glass. At first I think that the weight of the casket is causing their unnatural gait. But then I am struck by the realization that they are, in unspoken agreement, trying not to jostle their Nanny inside the gleaming silver casket. And in that one little thing, they are once again, very much the same.

Once those boys all ran the hills behind their homes in overalls and bare feet. They returned home with mud streaked faces and pockets full of worms. They were gap toothed, freckle faced, and knobby kneed, until one by one they grew up. And that is what the family sees when they watch these grown men carry their Nanny as cautiously, and as tenderly as they have their newborn children. They see not men, but dirty, smiling little boys.

“Them boys…” says a voice next to me. I turn to see Jerry at my side. He is addressing me, but he is inside himself as he speaks. His gaze is on the casket bearing cousins. “We used to give ‘em boys a quarter to faht.” He puts his hand on Diminutive One’s head, absently fingering the silvery blonde strands so like those of his own son. “I don’t know why we done ‘at.” He sucks hard on his cigarette and then flings it to the ground and grinds it out with a loud crunch. He exhales sharply. “They was good boys.” He pats Diminutive One’s head and then wearily joins his brothers and sisters in the procession behind the casket.

The boys and I fall in step at the back of the group, and we file into the church like royalty arriving at a state funeral. The pews are already filled to bursting on the left side, but the right is reserved for us. The pallbearers are ushered into the front row by Young Mr. Funeral Director and I realize that we will not be sitting with husband during the service. Husband turns around, searching for me. Our eyes meet and I see that he doesn’t like it either. This was supposed to be our time. Our moment to cleave to one another; to take solace and comfort in the strength our union. It was supposed to be my time to prove that I can be strong for him…that I am good for something besides keeping his house and rearing his children. So many times I have turned to him, in sorrow or pain or uncertainty, and always he was there to tell me everything would be okay. Always he was there to make it okay. I relished the chance to make it okay for him, and it is being taken from me. How can I do that when he is so far away…lost to his family?

His mouth turns down at the corners and he gives a little shake of his head along with a small shrug. I know he has to sit with the other pallbearers, but part of me wishes he would sidestep his way out of that pew and claim his family. Especially since it now appears that there is no more room on that side, and the boys and I are forced to take a seat with the common acquaintances on the left. Once again I feel marginalized as we are squeezed to the periphery of this family affair.

I know I am being silly. Nobody has purposely excluded us. They are focused on their grief, and rightfully so. But still it bothers me that we are sitting over here alone. Even Sister-In-Law, who often takes us in hand at family gatherings to make sure we are not overlooked, has forgotten about us today. From where we sit, Husband is almost completely obscured from view. In a room stuffed with people, I experience a profound and biting loneliness.

© Blog Antagonist 2006,2007. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of all content, text or image, is prohibited without prior written consent.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Funeral In a Small Town - Part II

I would like to thank Antique Mommy for posting the link to this story on her blog, and for all her unflagging encouragement and support as this piece has evolved. I value her opinion highly and deeply respect her ability as a writer.

I would also like to thank all those who have come from her blog and left such incredibly kind and personal comments. I thank you all sincerely, as well as my regular commenters, for taking the time to do so. This piece has been a labor of love and I'm deeply gratified that it is touching people in the way that I had hoped it might.

Funeral In a Small Town - Part II

As we creep up a crowded stretch of I-75 that used to be traversed only by tractor trailers and RVs, the mood in the van is somber despite the raucous Southern Rock blaring from the tinny speakers. Husband is subdued, which isn’t surprising. The boys are morose; uncomfortable in their stiff brown shoes and button up shirts. Pre-Pubescent One, mindful of my admonishments about attitude at a time when we really needed to pull together as family, said only “I look like Forrest Gump.” before retreating back into worried silence that anyone else would have taken for petulance.

I resist the urge to ask husband, again, if he is okay. I’m not used to him vulnerable. I feel the need to fix things…it’s what I do. But I can’t fix this with a cookie or a story. There isn’t a band-aid big enough to cover this hurt. At a loss, I simply squeezed his hand. The whining steele guitar jangles my nerves, but I realized the music is an anaesthetic for him. I leave him alone with his thoughts hoping he knows that I am right here next to him, always.

When we pull up to the funeral home, I am surprised. It looks cheap and somehow, impermanent. I expected a brick façade, graceful columns, a rolling green lawn. But the vinyl clad building we have parked in front of is not stately, or dignified, and it seems to be placed squarely in the middle of a parking lot, unrelieved of a blade of grass or greenery of any kind. There is astro turf covering the expansive porch and several straight backed rocking chairs placed here and there. I’m not sure if they are there for practical or aesthetic reasons, but they seem wrong somehow. Rocking chairs are for watching the sun set behind the majestic foothills that grace the landscape here. They are for lazy Sunday afternoons watching the kids run through the sprinkler. They are for stolen moments of quiet companionship between harried adults. They are for living.

Nevertheless, Nanny’s baby brother Jack, who must be at least 80 and who looks exactly like Santa Clause, rocks mournfully to and fro. Because of their suspicion that Jack is indeed Santa Clause (although my eldest had been disabused of that idea for several years now), the boys are excited to see him. He greets them with his customary warmth, but the twinkle in his eyes, which lent him that truly authentic air, is missing. His shoulders, usually straight and strong, sag with sorrow. Though his hair and beard have been snow white since the first day I met him, this was the first time he looked old to me. I would realize over the next couple days that grief paints time on people’s faces; the canvas of our skin becoming a perfect portrait of our mortality. It strips us of our pretenses and lays bare the awful truth…that every hour of every day, we are getting older. It denies us the illusion of forever. Jack is not Santa Clause today. He is a just a grief stricken old man, painfully aware that his own life grows ever shorter.

But he tries. He asks Diminutive One, “You been a good boy?” Diminutive One nods his head vigorously in reply. He turns to Pre-Pubescent One. “What about you slugger?” Pre-Pubescent One answers, “Yes Sir.” For a moment, the twinkle returns to Jack’s eye and he says, “Good, cause ain’t neither of yas too big for a whuppin!” The boys grin at him, fully aware that he is about as likely to whup someone as he is to put on a sequined gown and sing “Lady Marmalade.” I begin to grin as well, but stop myself, aware that as an outsider, I am being scrutinized. I do not want to seem irreverent or disrespectful.

It’s not that outsiders are unwelcome. But they are rare. Out of 35 cousins, husband is the only one who has gone to college, who lives elsewhere, and who married a girl not born and raised in that comfortable little town. Even those who accept me still wonder about me. They know nothing about my childhood, my “people”, my beliefs, my hopes or my dreams. They know I’m “different”, but Southern hospitality dictates that they don’t pry into my personal life, which means that relationships remain tentative and superficial. They are warm and kind, but we don’t have much to talk about aside from Husband. Conversation falters when the same tired anecdotes are exhausted.

People begin to arrive in larger numbers, and we congregate on the spacious veranda. There are many hugs and kisses, much back slapping and hand shaking, many proclamations over how the little ones have grown. Everyone is dressed in their very best. For many this means suits and dresses, but for some, this means a pair of overalls pressed into respectable pleats and unstained by fertilizer or axle grease. For others it means blue jeans stiff with newness and a crisp white shirt with mother of pearl buttons. There are cowboy boots buffed and shined beneath frayed hems, there are colorful Easter sandals worn with properly sober frocks. There is not a designer label in sight, but everyone has dressed with care. Their respect shows in their humble attire.

Nobody is crying yet, though there were plenty of tears shed earlier when making preparations for the service. The daughters especially have been assailed by memories as they laid out the trappings of Nanny’s death toilette: her powder blue suit and bone pumps, her “grandmother” necklace and her wedding ring, her gold rimmed glasses and dainty gold hoops. They recalled that she last wore that ensemble for Mother’s Day. They can see her in it, prim and ladylike, her little bird breast proud of her finery. It is a memory both precious and cruel; their tears are both joyous and heartbroken. They know they were lucky to have her for so many Mother’s Days. They wish they could have just one more.

Though nobody really wants to go in, the brutal heat, which saps the strength from our limbs and squeezes the air out of our lungs, soon forces us to seek refuge indoors. Everyone is damp and uncomfortable in their formal, multi-layered funeral attire. Husband mops his brow and offers me his hand. Together we go inside, ushering the boys in front of us.

The funeral director approaches and he impresses me immediately. He is a young-ish man, my age or perhaps even a little younger. He has a kind face. He is solicitous but not fawning. Respectful, but not maudlin. And he studiously avoids all the death clichés that impersonalize “the deceased”. In fact, he never says “the deceased”. Instead, he refers to her as Nanny, or Your Mother, or Mrs. Smith. I like him for that, and I like him because he looks like someone I might see at the ballpark coaching his kids, or in the halls of the elementary school bearing a forgotten lunch box. His youth is a little disconcerting to some of the older family members. There are some frowns and whispers. They were expecting someone else; the older gentlemen who helped them attend to all the agonizing details the previous day. I suppose his age and experience inspired their confidence. But he, thoughtlessly, has gone on vacation. I imagine someone in this line of work needs vacation more than most.

This makes me wonder about our young funeral director. How does one with so much life ahead of him choose to deal in death? The answer of course is that he probably didn’t. Southerners do love their legacies, which is why ideals abandoned by the rest of the world, still survive and thrive in the Deep South. From bible thumping to bigotry to bow-hunting, certain things just are. Tradition, custom, convention…these are the building blocks from which the foundation of Southern values is built. Which is why I suspect that young Mr. Funeral Director’s vocation was most likely a foregone conclusion before he even drew breath.

The private family viewing is scheduled for five o’clock, and as the hour draws nearer, the mood grows somber. People drift to the door of the cavernous chapel, beyond which lies the viewing room, where they huddle, reluctant enter. They remind me of a herd of forlorn little sheep, waiting for their shepherd. They are bleating and nervous, aware of their vulnerability.

The funeral director notices the peculiar little traffic jam, and comes over to ask if everyone is present. We all look around, mentally counting. There is one missing, and without even going down my mental list of all 9 aunts and uncles, I know it is Jerry. Everyone does.

Jerry’s life has not been easy. Some of it is his own fault; some of it is just bad luck. There have been a string of bad relationships and short lived marriages, there has been substance abuse and recovery, there has been one job after another, until finally there were no more chances for him in a town where everyone knows everyone else, and gossip is the pipeline by which information comes and goes. But his mother has always been there for him, strong and constant; uncritical and undemanding. She always loved him for who he was. She took him in when he had nowhere else to go, and she never asked how long he was going to stay. He had been living with her for the past couple years, drawing on her strength and enjoying the love and acceptance he had struggled to find elsewhere for so many years. Without her, he is utterly lost.

The young funeral director disappears out the front door and in a moment’s time returns with Jerry. His eyes are dry, his face resolved, his shoulders squared. Nothing is said, but his despondency bothers me a great deal for reasons I can’t quite identify.

At last we are ready, and the group moves forward as one in a hesitant shambling little surge. When the casket comes into view, a few sniffles are heard, and I am suddenly filled with panic. I can’t see this. I have my own death issues. The issue is, it terrifies me. I’m not certain I can stand here and watch people be overcome with grief without dissolving into a panicky mess. I’m not sure I can approach the casket and look my own death in the face. But I have to keep myself together for Husband and for the boys, who are nervous and fidgety like two lithesome little colts; prancing with anxiety. I squeeze my husband’s hand for strength and he squeezes back. He thinks I am comforting him.

The two oldest daughters, one of whom is my mother-in-law, have the honor of approaching the casket first. They were with Nanny when she died, and they took care of most of the arrangements. It is they who will stand at the head of the receiving line for more than three hours, kissing, hugging, thanking everyone. It is the last thing they will do for their mother and they do it with pride and heartbreak in equal measure. In a voice hoarse from crying, she says “Oh Barbara Jean, don’t Mama look purty.” and promptly bursts into tears.

Barbara Jean agrees, and then her tears begin to flow as well. She puts an arm around Linda and they sob together, gray heads touching, hands clasped. The rest of the family closes around them like a wave swallowing a pair of floundering swimmers. Husband is swept along with the tide of familial grief and also swallowed up.

The boys and I are left standing on the perimeter of this family throng. We belong, but we don’t belong. We watch, curiously separate, but deeply affected all the same. I feel a little abandoned and I chastise myself for being silly. But this is the first time Husband has needed me like this and I feel a little cheated. I feel usurped. I feel decidedly unnecessary. I look around and notice that Jerry is hanging back. He too is on the outside looking in. Our eyes meet, and I think that he understands what I am feeling for some reason. He doesn’t smile, but his expression is sympathetic.

I feel a hand in mine suddenly, and I look over to my oldest son, who is fighting to remain calm. Even as an infant, he was highly sensitive to the feelings of others. His plump, sweetly bowed lips would quiver and his eyes would cloud with concern if he perceived anger or distress. Now the palpable grief in the room is overwhelming him. He swallows hard and looks at me, imploring me with his huge hazel eyes. I don’t know what to do, so I just put my arm around his thin, but impossibly broad shoulders and place a kiss on top of his head. Any other time, this would have been completely unacceptable to him. But instead of protesting, he snuggles into me the way he used to, all but hiding his face against my breast. Diminutive One is struggling too, but in stark contrast to his brother, he refuses to acknowledge his distress. He stands stiffly, arms crossed, evading my outstretched hand. We stand, waiting.

When at last the family drifts away from the casket and begins the business of receiving the mourners who are scheduled to arrive at 6:00, Jerry hesitantly approaches the silver casket, which gleams softly under the recessed lighting. He places his forearms on the edge of the casket, bows his head and says simply…”Oh Mama. Oh Mama.” His voice is not that of a grown man mourning his elderly mother, but that of a little boy saying good-bye to the kisser of boo-boos, the banisher of boogeymen, the baker of birthday cakes.

When he cries, it is with the silent shoulder shaking sobs of a grown up man, and yet, I feel compelled to take him in my arms as I would a small child, and shush away the hurt. He is so broken, and my maternal instinct tells me to fix him. But I don’t touch him. I don’t approach. I simply watch, puzzled about why his grief more than any other has made me feel so unsettled and sad and vaguely afraid.

One of his brothers moves to embrace him and then leads him away talking to him softly. And then it hits me. Jerry is the inescapable truth, a testament to the fact that losing a parent at any age is a savage hurt. That it can make a person feel small and lost and adrift in a world they have navigated with comfort and confidence for so many years. A world that is suddenly very big and very empty when the root of all you are and all you will ever be is suddenly, completely, irreversibly…gone. With my deep seated fear of death and my mother seriously ill, it is a truth I do not want to face.

But I have to and I know that, so I lead the boys to the casket where Husband rejoins us, having temporarily extricated himself from his family. This is the boys’ first experience with death and he wants to be there with them. I put my arm around Husband who feels strangely unyielding in his stiff jacket and starched shirt. We all look down at the tiny form in the casket. “She looks beautiful honey.” I say softly. It’s a stupid thing to say, but it’s true. I am amazed by how lifelike she appears. Her snowy hair is glossy, and her skin is kissed with a gentle, rosy hue. I realize that I am waiting for her little bird breast to rise and fall with the gentle respiration of slumber. It seems so wrong that it doesn’t. The boys say nothing, but stand, unbreathing, and I wonder if they are waiting too. Husband sighs deeply and the boys glance sharply at him. They are afraid to see their Dad cry. Earlier, in a moment of rare candor, Diminutive One had confessed, “I can’t stand to see Dad cry Mom. I can’t take it.” I understood. Husband had always been there for them, strong, constant, unshakeable and resolute. His vulnerability unnerved them as much as it did me.

At long last it was time for the public viewing. The doors to the viewing room open and mourners pour through them in a torrent. Soon there are hundreds and hundreds of people filling the viewing room and spilling out into the cavernous chapel and the surrounding anterooms. 89 years worth of people have come to say good-bye to this simple country woman. Some are crying, some merely sniffling. Nanny was 89 years old, and her death was not unexpected. It was not a tragedy in the way that a life cut short by senseless violence or drunk driving is a tragedy. But when she passed on, many people felt that a little bit of light went out of the world. She was not perfect, but she had a rare goodness that people were drawn to. Underneath the sorrow was an undercurrent of joy; the joy of having known her.

Three hours later the funeral home is once again eerily hushed. The mourners have all departed, and the immediate family is once again alone with Nanny. One by one we tell her good-bye, and drift away to tend to the living. Children are tired and hungry, pets need to be let out, aching feet both young and old need to be put up.

We are among the last to leave. Husband is a prodigal son of sorts, and everyone wants to talk to him. He is speaking to yet another someone who remembers him from long ago and the children have already escaped to the van where they are watching a movie. I stand alone under the stars and exhale deeply. There is another exhalation behind me on the heels of my own and the acrid tang of cigarette smoke curls up to my nose. I turn to see an amorphous form huddled deep in the shadows and a shower of sparks as a cigarette is tapped by unseen fingers. The form slowly unfolds and steps into the weak light of the streetlamp. It’s Jerry. He looks beaten; physically and spiritually battered by the force of his grief. I don’t know what to say to him. I smile, and try, “Shitty Day, huh?”

He laughs… a short bark of mirthless amusement. “Yeah. Shore was. But tomarra’s gonna be worse.”

I nod, knowing he’s right. I am dreading it, but I’m sure my dread is nothing compared the cold hard ball of anxiety he is harboring in his gut. He drags deeply on his cigarette and for a split second I wish I had one to calm my nerves. It’s been a long time, but I still remember the soothing bite.

Thoughtfully he says, “You know, that little un’ of yours…he’s a saht.”

I give a short snort of derisive laughter, much like his. “Yes, he certainly is.”

“He’s Husband made over you know.”

Nanny used to say that all the time. Her words hang in the air between us.

“Yes, I’ve been told that a time or two.” I reply.

“He’s gonna turn out alright. Mama knew stuff lahk 'at. And now…” his voice trembled a bit, but he maintained his composure. “…well, I reckon she’s in a position to make sure.”

He squeezes my shoulder and walks away, leaving me startled, astounded and sad. I stood there for a long while, breathing in the boggy summer air thinking about what he had said and what lay in store. The last leg in this life journey was bound to be a rough one, for Jerry and for Husband and for all the people who owed their existence to one tiny, indomitable woman.

© Blog Antagonist 2006,2007. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of all content, text or image, is prohibited without prior written consent.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Funeral In a Small Town - Part I

It's been a year now. The event that sparked the writing frenzy has come and gone, and people have moved on. But the story isn't finished. And I need to finish it. I polished up an excerpt so I could submit it to a local writing contest, but that was just a quick fix.

So I'm going to be reposting it over the next few days for two reasons. First, because I've got too many things whirling around in my brain to blog anything new and interesting in a cohesive, coherent manner and second, because I hope, that seeing it, reading it, reliving it, will motivate me to get in there and end it.

Funeral In a Small Town - Part 1.

I have witnessed a life coming to a close.

Not the sudden violent parting of body and being, but the slow leave taking that occurs when a human being simply wears out. Like a candle that burns brightly until there is nothing left, flickers valiantly, then simply winks out; the smoky plume of it’s life force curling heavenward.

My husband's grandmother was 89 years old and lived a long, full life. She was born in 1916, and died on July 25th, 2006, in her sleep, with one of her beloved daughters snuggled against her, just the way they did when her children were small.
So many nights she stood vigil at one bedside or another; through fever, nightmares, heartache and hunger…this time they stood watch over her, even knowing they could not protect her as she protected them. Nine children; six boys and three girls, took turns waiting for the end, not wanting her to be alone when at last she was called home.

She was ready. Though her mind was still sharp and her blue eyes still twinkled with life, her body was ready to lie down for eternal rest. Though diminutive in stature, with all the substance of a sparrow, she was fiercely independent, capable and strong, even into her late eighties. Her dignity was affronted by the dependence and frailty that eventually confined her to her antique four poster bed; the one in which gave life, and the one in which she left it behind.

She was a woman of strong faith and she was one of the very few Christians I have known who lived as she believed. She was ready to go to Glory. She did not fear death, but welcomed it. For her it was not an end, but a beginning. As one who fears the finality of death and is stricken with terror at the thought of lying in a cold and lonely grave, her conviction was an awesome and beautiful thing.

As I stood at her bedside gazing at the diminutive form nearly obscured by bedclothes, I thought that I would give up my youth and my vitality for just a fraction of her faith; a tiny morsel of her peace.

I knew her for 14 years, but I did not get many opportunities to talk to her one on one. With 9 children, 22 grandchildren, 35 great grandchildren, and 3 great-great grandchildren, her time and attention were precious commodities. We usually only saw her at family gatherings, where numerous people clamored for her a seat next to her. I didn’t feel right about taking time away from anyone who loved her and so, I usually just sat back and listened. Mostly, she did the same, smiling and nodding as her family filled her in on the goings on in their lives.

There were rare occasions however when I was able to talk with her intimately. She saw a lot in her 89 years, and it was amazing to listen to her stories. She told me about her baby sister who died when she was 9 years old. Eighty years later it still brought tears to her eyes and a catch to her voice as she recalled it for me.

She said "I can still her crying. ‘Oh ma poor little hayed. It hurts fit to split Sissy’. Mama gave her some lixir but it didn’t help none. The next day she died, and we had to burry her right quick. It was the meningitis, but we didn’t know no better back then."

She also recalled the first time she wore pants, and how she worried over what Ennis (her husband) would think. She was married in a time when the man ruled over the household, so despite her independent nature, she deferred to him in all things. She fretted that Ennis would be angry, but all he said was "Just remember that attire ain’t fittin for church."

Ennis died before I met my husband, but their relationship was fascinating to me, because her submissiveness to him was so strikingly at odds with her strongly autonomous character. Once when asked why she had so many children, she replied "Why Lord a mighty child, a body just didn’t tell your Daddy no." But this was said with a funny little self-deprecating smile that led you to wonder just whose idea it really was.

She was the only one who never said anything critical about me nursing my children, or my views on childbirth. She told me how she birthed her first 6 babies at home in her own bed, attended by her own mother and aunts. She smiled as she described feeling safe and comfortable in her own bed with her baby at her side. But a grimace twisted her piquant little face as she described the first time she gave birth in a hospital. "It weren’t no kind of place to be havin’ a baby." she said with emphatic distaste.

This was said in support of my pursuit of doulaism, which might as well have been Satanism, so reviled and misunderstood was it by the women of that small rural town. She was letting me know that she understood and agreed that sometimes, the old ways are best. Her small, but potent expression of support stopped the comments and I never again had to defend my views or listen to imprecations about "titty-babies" or "hodang feminists".

Perhaps the most valuable to me where the stories she told about Husband growing up. She would laugh as she described his exceedingly mischievous ways, remembering how she had to whup him for this or that and how he would refuse to cry. He was the only one who was not contrite when she or Ennis had to discipline him. The other cousins would hang their heads in shame at having been naughty for Nanny and Papa, but not husband. He would glare at her with defiance in his eyes, little hands balled into fists at his sides.

She would gaze upon my son, my spirited child, as she spoke and then pat my hand in understanding. "That boy is Husband made over" she would say fondly, but with a note of sympathy in her voice. That comforted me more than she could ever know because I felt that she understood the struggles I faced with my stubborn, argumentative, determined child. She also said, "I reckon husband turned out alright." and that was her way of assuring me that one day the struggles would be over, and Diminutive one would eventually become a kind, well-adjusted and productive adult. I loved her for that.

When I think of all the things she saw and experienced in her lifetime, I am infinitely sad that I didn’t get to talk to her more. I should have made a point. I should have let the children run wild and the dishes soak in the sink and the floor remain unswept to spend more time talking to that amazing, intelligent, god-fearing and kind-hearted woman.

She lived through both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm and the War on Terror. She lived through the Great Depression. She saw all the Kennedys assassinated. She watched Nixon resign on live television. She watched Neil Armstrong walk on the Moon the month before I was born. She witnessed the death of Segregation and the birth of Women’s Lib. She watched her mother, crying with jubilation and pride, vote for the first time.

She watched her family grow from one to hundreds. The pride she must have felt when we gathered each look out into a sea of hundreds of people and know that they are there because they love you. I can’t imagine anything more satisfying.

Her children and grandchildren are a diverse lot. There are preachers and teachers and policemen and nurses. There are alcoholics and thieves and wife beaters. After all, a person can't plant a garden that size without a few bad seeds turning up. But she loved them all without limit or condition. She didn’t expect perfection, she only prayed that one day, those who were lost would be found.

She had a heart attack two months ago. Everyone knew it was the beginning of the end. And though her death was expected, and folks sat on pins and needles for months waiting for the news, the shock wave that coursed through the family at her passing was powerful and destructive. The outpouring of grief was at once upsetting and awe inspiring. She was so very loved.

We visited only days before she died. Her beautiful white hair spilled across the pillow as luxuriant as ever, and her blue eyes twinkled just as brightly. But her body was painfully thin, and her will to fight was gone. She wanted to see her beloved Ennis. She wanted to at last look upon the face of the God she had worshipped for so long. She wanted to go home.

The last thing she said to me with a wan little smile was "You tell them boys to behave". She told husband "I love you, hawn." He clung to her, knowing it was probably the last time he would embrace her tiny little form.

The call came at 4:00 am Tuesday morning. I had to wake husband and tell him that she was gone. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do in our time together, but it was nothing compared to what would come in the days ahead.

© Blog Antagonist 2006,2007. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of all content, text or image, is prohibited without prior written consent.

Saturday, August 18, 2007


I am somewhat obsessed with my eyebrows.

Let me just say in my own defense, that I do come by my various aesthetic obsessions mother was a cosmetologist for thirty plus years. My entire childhood was an exercise in vanity.

As soon as I sprouted hair it was in rollers. And I loved every minute of it. My mother often describes how even as a toddler I would sit absolutely still while she rolled, pin curled, teased and tormented my thick shiny baby locks into helmeted grown-up lady confections.

In my kindergarten picture, I am wearing a flip that easily rivals anything Marlo Thomas's Anne Marie could whip up. I was a pint-sized That Girl. A living breathing Barbie head and nearly as compliant.

Because I am naturally and surprisingly hirsute for someone so milkily complected, I did and always will require routine maintenance to keep the sideburns, moustache, chinny whiskers, and stealthy eyebrow hairs from overtaking my face like the kudzu that swallows everything that cannot fight or flee in this godforsaken place.

But I never thought much about my eyebrows and neither did my mother. I realize now that is because my brows have a nicely defined natural arch. They are, in their natural state, thick, but not unruly. I never touched them, other than to remove a few stray hairs on the bridge of my nose to keep the unibrow at bay.

Little did I know that I was going through life looking like the Geico caveman's bitch.

Now...I know how to shape and wax brows.

I watched my mother fry her lids with hot wax at least once a week for eighteen years. She would emerge from this process with splotches of fiery red skin adorning either eye, and a her top lip aglow with an angry rosiness, creating the impression that she had blown her nose something like...4,000 times without benefit of Puffs.

I watched her rip stiff yellow strips of hardened wax from the lips and brows of various aunts, cousins, and girlfriends, who, would stoicly stifle their inhuman shrieks of pain and blink furiously to keep the tears of agony from streaming down their cheeks.

In my junior year of high school, I decided that eyebrow waxing would make an interesting, unique and dramatic topic for a demonstration speech.

It was dramatic alright.

The unsuspecting classmate that I had talked into being my victim model was terribly brave when I spread the blistering hot wax onto her already perfectly attractive brow. She gasped in shock, and tears welled in her eyes, but she bit her lip and soldiered on as I repeated the process on the opposing brow.

When the moment of truth came, I ripped the wax from her skin with a flourish and tried not to be disconcerted by the rending sound.

When my mother did it, there was a soft, short "zhhhzip". This was a rather loud and dismayingly prolonged "RRRRRRRRIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIP!!!"

I held the strip aloft triumphantly, displaying the hair embedded in the wax. It wasn't until I saw that the entire class was frozen in shock that I looked at the strip myself. There I saw a profusion of ash blonde eyebrow hairs, perfectly shaped and disconcertingly complete.

I had removed her entire. Friggen. Eyebrow.

I looked at the teacher who had her hand over her mouth. Her heavily mascarad eyes were astonishingly wide and her face was completely suffused with blood. I wasn't entirely sure if it was mirth or horror that had caused the trasnformation, so I simply continued.

To her credit, my model's smile never wavered, even when her fingers stole to her now naked brow and encountered...nothing. She made a small sound in her throat, that was kind of like "snerk", but otherwise maintained her composure.

It took six months for her eyebrow to grow completely back.

She was an amazingly good sport about it. She had one of those swooping 80's hairstyles wherein the bangs nearly obscured one entire eye, so she simply reversed her part and was really none the worse for the experience.

My mother informed me that my error had been in removing the hair against, rather than with the growth of the hair. It was a rookie mistake, one she had made herself in the early days of beauty school, along with a misguided attempt to color her hair auburn over platinum blonde, which resulted in a beautiful shade of cotton candy pink.

So I learned from my mistake and surprisingly, earned an A on my speech.

Nevertheless, I wanted no part of such barbarousness.

But a couple years ago, I happened to see a picture of myself that was taken at unusually close range because I was holding my newborn son. And I thought...

Holy caterpillar Batman...why didn't anybody hand me a weedwhacker or something and tell me to mow those fuckers down??

I don't know if it was hormones or what...but I was looking decidedly Australopithecine.

(Heh. Hominid humor. How very "highbrow" of me. HA! Goddamn I slay myself.)

I decided it was time to give nature a helping hand, and I set about shaping my eyebrows.

I discoverd then that I have an unusual growth pattern, and thus, a hair that I thought to be growing in one direction, was actually growing the opposite. Plucking it resulted in a disconcerting gap. To rectify this, I plucked more and more in an effort to effect a shapely and uniform brow.

I hadn't intended to alter the shape quite so much, but overall, I was pretty happy with the results. Unfortunately, plucking is like anything else...too much of a good thing can be disastrous. I became obsessive about stray hairs and a sloppy arch. I plucked ever more ruthlessly. And over the years, my brows became not so much thinner, as...nonexistent.

I should explain that I have very large and somewhat protruberant eyes. Every single time I go to the eyedoctor she asks me if I've had my thyroid checked recently.

Like my ass would be this size if I had a thyroid problem.

But anyway...

After looking at pictures of myself from a recent trip, I realized, that like a bold painting or a stark photograph, my eyes need strong brows to frame them and offset their...bulbousness.

So of course, it was with some dismay that I realized I look a little like this:

Or this...

Or even this

While I'm sure these creatures are the very model of sexual appeal in the animal kingdom, in the realm of human sexuality....not so much.

So I decided I needed to grow them out completely and start over. I bid my tweezers and my trusty nail scissors a fond farewell.

For several weeks I was a paragon of self-restraint. While they were short, the stray hairs were easily concealed by my eye makeup. But as they grew longer, I began to feel a little...unkempt.

But I was strong. I employed all kinds of cosmetic trickery and for several more weeks, I convinced myself that I looked, if not perfectly polished, at least presentable.

Until this morning. Bleary eyed and groggy, I stumbled into the bathroom to put the first of my twice daily doses of Restasis into my eyes. When my vision cleared, I confronted this in the mirror:

I snapped.

Fortuitously, my mother had recently sent me a lovely basket of cosmetics, implements and unguents for my birthday, in which, was a wickedly sharp and beautifully gleaming new tweezers.

I tore the package open with my teeth and got down to business. I may or may not have been making simian like grunting sounds while I worked.

Thirty minutes later there was a small but satisfying mound of eyebrow hairs on my bathroom counter, some with the bulbous follicle still attached, so ruthlessly had they been ripped from my flesh. My cheeks were peppered with stray hairs as well, and I blew them away impatiently.

There on my face were two semi-spherical, perfectly shaped if once again maniacally thin eyebrows. I felt clean and new and unemcumbered. My mother always said that shaping one's brows is the quickest and cheapest face lift money can buy, and she was right. I looked amazingly refreshed and extraordinarily alert.

Marlene set the bar and I faithfully follow in your stilletto clad footsteps.

You can't buy glamour like that. can rip it out of your epidermis by the roots. name is B.A. And a motherplucker.