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.


One comment

  1. Preach on, brother. Now if only you would have had a certain Mr. Hocutt there…

    There should be a law against annoying the infirmed with the monotony of flowery rhetoric.

    Oh that’s right, it’s called ‘common decency.’ I’ve found the Baptists have seldom let that guideline get in the way of their cornfield idiocy.

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