Archive for September, 2006


Sympathy, the Check are in the mail…

September 26, 2006

So, a couple days after Grandma’s funeral, my mom is opening the mail, which consists mainly of sympathy cards. She opens one from my sister’s in-laws, and out falls a check for twenty-five dollars.

Mom was confused at first, because her birthday was that same week, but when she checked the front of the card again, sure enough it said “Sorry for your loss.”

How prevalent is this practice? My friend April had much the same experience after the death of her great-grandfather, except she got multiple cards with five bucks in each of them.

I could make some jokes about this, but for once I’ll take the high road out of respect for the sympathisers in question. I was just not aware that it was customary to send cash in the case of death.

One thing I will make fun of: giving Wal-Mart gift cards as gifts. That’s like saying, “Happy Birthday!! Here’s twenty bucks, but you have to spend it on cheap plastic crap.” Would anybody not rather just have the cash?

My sister’s birthday was also last week. She’s an educator, so I gave her an old grammar textbook from 1885. After I bought the thing, I found a book of war ration stamps tucked inside.

Now there’s a gift for you, circa 1943.

“Happy birthday! Enjoy a tire! Or some Sugar!”

My brother-in-law swears they have new ration books printed already and stored in warehouses, just in case.

My own birthday is coming up, folks.

Send gasoline vouchers.



Calling the Law — The fate of tattle-tales in a rustic setting.

September 25, 2006

So the Deese County police came into Rabbit Hill last week and busted Julius Meeks and his crowd for some Heavy Posession of Drugs and Guns. They said it was heavy, anyway. They broke into Julius’ trailer down by Meeks’ Pocket and came out with nine hundred dollars, 200 grams of pot, 20 grams of coke, and five marijuana plants from the woods in back of the place.

It was the first time we’d seen law enforcement venture into the Meeks’ Pocket since Julius’ daddy Barton got drunk and started shooting out transformers with his deer rifle back in 2000. And by the way, if you ever want to see a show of force by law enforcement, try fucking with the infrastructure. We thought they were going to call in the national guard that night. Police were thick as flies along Pocket Road.

Nobody was particularly surprised that Julius and his boys were involved in the drug trade (again.) Since Julius’ rock band broke up in ’88 he’s not done much in the way of contributing to society  by holding down a regular job.

I’ll be honest with you.   I got no idea how to convert grams into ounces into pounds or what-have-you, but I’m assuming these boys were not high-level dealers.  I figure they were growing a little pot, and what they didn’t smoke themselves they just sold or traded for the cocaine.

Which didn’t stop the Rabbit HIll Journal from having a big writeup about the bust in the Tuesday edition, of course, this being an election year and all and Sheriff Dooley facing speculation again as to his capacity for the job, or his whereabouts in general during the average business day.

One of the newpaper reporters apparently cornered the deputy in chage that evening and asked for some quotes. Now here’s where this thing get interesting. The deputy apparently got chatty with the reporter and was quoted as saying something to the effect of “we wouldn’t have even found the plants except for the cooperation of some of the neighbors. Once they found out what we were up to, they started calling in with more information.”

Two things you need to understand about Meeks’ Pocket:

1) There are only about 7 houses down that road, and 6 of them are occupied by close friends and relations of Julius Meeks. The other one is occupied by a known asshole.

2) People in Meeks’ Pocket have been known to settle disputed by tying the offender to the back of a pickup truck and dragging him or her through the woods.

So Julius and his boys are going to sit in the Deese County Jail for the next week or two. They’re not going ot hav ea thing to think about except who it was that dropped the dime on them.

And what are they gonna do when they get out? They’re going back to the house to enjoy some cold beer, smoke a little pot, and maybe get ahold of some more recreational cocaine.

And if I was the asshole in the 7th house, I’d keep the shotguns loaded and maybe stay awake for the late late movie that night.

That means you, Clayton.



Immediate Family Only, Part II: The Hairdresser

September 18, 2006

Let me just say first that I’m not opposed to preachers in the abstract. There are a few here in Rabbit HIll in whom I happen to place a great deal of trust. Men of character, energy, and compassion, who truly aspire to be men of God.

It’s a noble and worthy profession. I’m just convinced that about half of the openings in that particular field are currently held by either morons or displaced used car salesmen.
Which brings me back to my new cousin Dan, whose lengthy ministrations I narrowly avoided on Monday night. Just as soon as I’d tacked the “Immediate Family Only” sign to the hospital door and pushed it shut, who should arrive but the Reverend Dan, his belly folded comfortably into a pastel golf shirt tucked into crisp khaki pants.

I guess the thing that bothered me most about Dan, aside from his generally unctuous demeanor, was his sense of entitlement. His wife was a cousin and once, forty or so years previous, had been a neighbor and close with my aunts. the Reverend Dan, however, hardly knew any of us. Of course that didn’t stop him from barging in on us. He didn’t knock, didn’t even pause at the threshold. “I told Spiffie I’d stop by,” he said. “And see how you all were doing.”


Like a bright light shining on the distant horizon, this one.

We were doing as we had been doing. I was holding one of Grandma’s hands. Aunt Bobbie was holding the other one. Every once in a while one of us would speak to her. Just so she’d know that we were there.

Dan stood about four feet from the bed and really didnt’ say anything until the passing of three or four quiet minutes confirmed his essenial uselessness.

And when the likes of RevDan has his uselessness confirmed, he has only one recourse.

“Let’s hold hands and pray,” he said. “And then I’ll go,” he said.


I finally gave up on enforcing the immediate family only policy less than an hour later when a plump redhead opened the door and took two tentative steps into the room. “Lill said I could come in,” she said.

“Hi Florence,” Aunt Bobbie said.

“Who’s that?” I asked.

“Mom’s hairdresser,” Bobbie said.

I knew at that point that if the hairdresser could gain admittance, resistance was futile. I thought my grandma deserved some peace and quiet as she struggled in vain to stay with us. And to see some distant cousins sit and watch her like the inevitable crowd gathering after a car wreck was too much for me to take.

But Florence fixed Grandma’s hair every third saturday for more than twenty years. One time, she said, Grandma brought her a sweet potato pudding. Everybody who came into the room during those long days – family or not – had been touched by Grandma in some way, and as much as I wanted tranquility and dignity to accompany her departure, I was not the only one who loved her or who got love from her. So they came anyway.



Grace. Love. Comfort.



Immediate Family Only, Part 1: Cousin Spiffie and Reverend Dan

September 18, 2006

Sometime Monday I reached my limit. I’d been awake going on 36 hours. Grandma’s breath was labored. The nurse came every two hours to give her a shot of morphine, but she was restless in her sleep.

When word came that Jeb Franks was on his way to the hospital to visit, I knew it was time to take decisive action.

Not that old Jeb would have caused any trouble. In fact, he’s one of the nicest men you’ll ever meet. But he’s also gone deaf as a tree trunk, and he’s too old to take hints. I wouldn’t let him stand and gawk for an hour, and the thought of bodily removing a frail octogenarian from my grandmother’s bedside was comforting but impractical.

After a brief conference with Aunt Bobbie and Aunt Lill – both of whom had been up longer than me – we agreed to restrict access to the room. I found a piece of notebook paper, folded it in half, and wrote “Immediate Family Only” across it in large block letters. The nurse at the desk grudgingly allowed me to borrow a sliver of tape, and the Era of Restricted Access began.

The idea had actually occurred to me the previous night – Sunday – when the “after church” crowd arrived en masse around eight-thirty. I went to the drink machine at 8:29 and when I returned there were people everywhere. Cousins, friends, hangers-on. Whole Sunday School classes loitered just outside the door to the hospital room, rising on tippie toes just to get a look. When I pushed my way in, I realized that someone I didn’t know – some cousin, no doubt – had taken my seat. This woman sat against the wall with her purse in her lap, speaking over my grandmother’s groans to tell my dad about some school official she wasn’t happy with.

“He knows who I am,” the woman said. “I’ve been in his office many a time.”

“Oh,” Dad said.

“I don’t think he’ll be at that school very long. Have you heard those rumors?”

“No,” Dad said.

“I hear them all the time. I just don’t like his personality.”

“Oh,” Dad answered.

I left the room again, pushed my way through the robed bodies of the newly-arrived Rabbit HIll Baptist Church Handbell Choir (fresh out of Sunday night practice) and headed for the exit. A cool-down lap around the perimeter of the hospital would do me good, I figured. And after all, these were good Christian people. They would have to be in bed by 9. I’ts like, a commandment. The “Epistle of Paul to the Southern Baptists” clearly states that babies conceived after 8:30pm stand a better than average chance of growing up to be axe murderers or homosexuals.

By the time I got back, the handbell choir had dispersed, but my self-assigned chair was again occupied. This time by my cousin Spiffie. I did not know at that moment that I had a cousin Spiffie, yet there she sat, bosomy and mascara’ed in her maroon dress, saying not a word, just staring at grandma in her bed and shaking her head.

Something about Spiffie I found disconcerting. Her hair was a little bit too coiffed. Her manner too reserved. She wore high heels and a dressy dress for Sunday night service. I put two and two together just as the heavy musk of cheap cologne charged my nostrils. Spiffie must be a preacher’s wife.

Which would mean…somewhere close by…that smell…a preacher!

I turned on my heel and lurched toward the door only to be met by a pudgy, outstretched hand. “I’m your cousin Dan,” he said. “Spiffie’s Husband.”

I shook his hand and took his measure. He wore a three-piece suit. He was short, stocky, wore a gold bracelet. His preacher voice and his preacher hair were both oily and well-trained.

“I have to go,” said.

Another lap around the hospital and I came back in the middle of Cousin Dan’s Marathon Prayer Session. Preachers , when they visit hospitals, often like to help out the family of the sick person by making everyone get up from whatever passably comfortable position they might be in, put away any food, drinks, and reading material, stand in a circle around the infirm person in question, and hold hands while he reminds God with much flowery language (flowery being God’s language of choice) of His grace and His comfort and His general Godliness.

Not that prayer is a bad thing, espeically in such a setting. I would only require that the one who presumes to lead the prayer a) asks first, b) keeps it short, and c) not be an oily bejeweled preacher type who I am bound by nature to detest.

I stayed just outside the door while my new Cousin Dan pontificated. He hit all the high points – Grace Love, Comfort – and then proceeded to repeat himself, employing slightly different qualifiers each time. “His Everlasting Love.” “His Enduring Comfort.” “His Wonderful Grace.” “His Abiding Love.” “His Sweet Comfort.” “His Merciful Grace.” So on and so forth.

Standing out in the hallway, I prayed that Cousin Reverend Dan might develop a allergic reaction to his hair tonic. Just a moderate reaction. A rash. Some minor constriction of the vocal chords. Nothing life threatening.


His Will Be Done.



more about the lady

September 17, 2006

Early in 1998, I was in the middle of a monumentally unsuccessful stint as a newly-educated “young Professional” in Winston-Salem, making just enough working in an office in the back of a cotton warehouse to handle rent and every other college loan payment. By March, the Bradford Pears were blooming and my truck would stalle very time it rained and so I called home like the proverbial prodigal son and announced that I was moving back to Rabbit Hill, taking up residence in the renovated tobacco barn across my grandma’s back yard.

I gave my notice at the cotton warehouse in Cornatzer, and my boss at the time, a really wonderful man named Darryl who I can say definitively is the nicest man in textiles, got his bosses to approve a pretty sweet deal for me: full-time, salary in the mid-20’s, and he knew some locals who had a spare room within walking distance of the warehouse. It would have been my first real foothold in the working world of textiles.

I turned him down. It had rained all winter, I was tired of living in a cookie-cutter apartment in a gray part of town. But more immediately, when Darryl made the offer, I knew I couldn’t accept because I’d already told Grandma I was coming home.

I don’t think I knew her very well until then. I was twenty-three and a little bit lost. I bought a hammock and scoured my ragged copy of Walden again on the back porch of that old barn in the evenings, and Grandma cooked pork chops and fried corn bread and I sat at her table and ate them and read the local newspaper. There was always someone in the obituary she knew or that we were related to, and some story to go along with it. I kept a running commentary on every article while she moved slowly around the kitchen or just sat in her chair and watched me eat.

She liked to watch me eat, and she liked to watch me work. She’d watch me mow the grass sometimes, sitting in the porch swing in the evening. I stayed for almost three years, left for three more, and I’ve been back two. Always temporary.

A few weeks ago, newly returned from her second-to-last stint int he hospital, she had her caretaker Mary E. push her wheelchair to the back door so she could watch me again, laboring behind that same old push mower. I watched her body in a slow decline for the better part of a decade, and when I cried for her it was usually with the mower running.

But I laughed with her more than I cried for her, and even now in the wake of her death, she makes me laugh.

Just a few days before she died, a baptist minister and family friend came to visit. Grandma was in the middle of a blood tansfusion and they wouldn’t let her get out of bed. Grandma was complaining to my aunt that she needed help getting up to go to the bathroom. The preacher came in and took her hand and said “Miss Lena Jane, can I pray with you?” Grandma said yes, and so the preacher leaned in close and asked, “What would you like us to pray for? Healing?” Grandma shook her head. “No, she said. “Let’s pray that someone in my family will help me up out of this bed so that I can use the toilet.”


In Jesus name we pray.



Memorial to Grandma…

September 15, 2006

Check the new link to my grandma’s obit.  The paper has a feature where you can leave comments.  It’s like an obitublog.

There’s much to say, but it’s not time to say it.  More later.



island medical schools and black market gall bladders.

September 8, 2006

My grandmother is sick enough (congestive heart failure,among other things) that the hospital here in Rabbit Hill has told us there’s not really much they can do for her.

Which probably says as much about the Rabbit Hill Hospital as it does about Grandma’s health. There are, after all, a litany of conditions for which RHH lacks the means to address. Anything more complicated than an ingrown toenail is shuttled off to a real hospital posthaste. Preferably by helicopter, homemade or otherwise. We have a saying here in Rabbit Hill that there are only two ways out of RHH…a helicopter or a coffin.

Which is not to say that the doctors at RHH will not take out a gall bladder, given the opportunity. Gall bladder removal is RHH’s foundation and cash cow, having the distinct advantages of:

1) being a relatively simple procedure (I once saw Hawkeye Pierce do it in the back of a moving jeep with Radar’s pocketknife, blasted out of his mind on bust-head hooch); and

2) being billable to medicare.

I also suspect there’s a thriving black market, and Rabbit Hill is like a huge Afghan poppy field of gall bladders. Regardless of my suspicion, it’s a fact that there is scarcely an adult of voting age in Rabbit Hill who still has their gall bladder. I personally know at least one citizen who swears that he’s had his gall bladder removed TWICE, at an interval of fifteen years, by the same venerable Dr. Poore.

I’m not going to besmirch my own reputation by launching personal attacks on Dr. Poore, there being – no doubt – many fine medical schools in Barbados, and likey not many Barbadans walking around with gall bladders, either.