Wednesday, December 12, 2018

I'm Fine


          I had a headache.  My feet hurt.  My back was sore.  It was cold outside and I had things to get done.  I arrived at the UPS Store to find a long line of other procrastinators.  I took my place in line behind a woman about ten years my senior.  An attractive lady in the baby boomer uniform of jeggings, knee boots, and puffy vest, holding a Starbucks in one hand and a large overnight envelope in the other.  She stood as if she had not a care in the world.  She turned and smiled in greeting each time the door chimed, a gust of cold frosty air swept across her pink wrinkled face and blew her short silver hair from her bright blue eyes. 
            The door chimed, the chilly air swept a sigh through the room as a woman of equal age rushed in.  She spied her compatriot and quickly rushed to her side.  Now, we southern women greet one another in a time old fashion.  First, we squeal just a bit.  “Oh, my lort!  Ella May!  How in the world are you?  How’s your mommer and dem?”  Now keep in mind while this exchange begins our voices rise about two octaves and become twice as loud.  Second, we must hug.  Sometimes it is just a quick side hug; a quick squeeze and release.  If it is your church lady friend then it is the full-on greet your neighbor hug.  A front to front squeeze and a little bit longer linger.  If it is a long-lost friend who saved you from Bobby Joe in sixth grade in Dodgeball, then it is front to front full on bear hug that might or might not linger more than thirty seconds.   Finally, if it is that one friend that we all have, it is front to front full on bear hug with a back rub and a little squealing dance that usually last longer than is comfortable and might or might not end with a full-on mouth to mouth kiss.  This greeting was more in the Church Lady friend hug.
            The silver-haired woman was swept up into a hug while “Irma Jean!  How are you doing” was sung at a high loud pitch.   Irma Jean responded “I’m fine.  Just fine and how are you, Stacy?” 
            Stacy took a moment to quickly rundown the fact that her granddaughter was in her first year at S.M.U. and her son was getting ready to retire and he and his wife were going on a cruise.  She continued with the fact that she had just built a new house on the river and was getting ready to host the Sisters of Ruth annual Christmas party.  On and on she went about this and that.  Finally, she asked, “Irma Jean, how is your oldest daughter?”
Irma Jean smiled and wiped a tear from her eye “Oh, Tammy passed away last month.  The funeral was quite lovely.”
Stacy gasped “Oh, I am so sorry for your loss, I hadn’t heard.”  She squeezed Irma Jeans hand “And how is your husband?”
Irma Jean took a deep breath “Well, he’s on hospice.  You know his C.O.P.D. got really bad and then they found cancer and well, they don’t think he is going to make it to Christmas.  That is why I’m here mailing my Christmas cards.  I have things to get done before he goes.”
At this the room became quiet and the whole line of people was listening.  Stacy looked nervously around looking for a positive.  “Oh, I am so sorry.  Please send him mine and Jim’s best wishes.  We will be praying for him.  Now, your youngest daughter?  Is she still up in Denver?”
Irma shifted, took a sip of her coffee “Diane, is in a coma.  She is breathing on her own now but they don’t think she will come out of the coma.  She is in a nursing home here in town.  I go by and spend a couple of hours every morning with her.  Her husband has been a gem.”
             I am almost in tears.  The whole room is shifting from foot to foot and Stacy is speechless.    She clears her throat and marches on “Oh, my I hadn’t heard.  No wonder you haven’t been at the meetings or at church lately.  You have your hands full.  I almost hate to ask, but how is your son?”
            Irma sips her coffee and smiles “He had a heart attack last Monday.  They had to do a quadruple by-pass and he will be out of work for about six months.  They have moved in with me.  His wife has been such a God-send.  They have helped us catch up on the mortgage.  You know with all the medical bills I thought we were going to lose the farm.  They have helped so much and having all those kids around keeping the house active, has been really interesting.”
            I began ruminating on my complaints and realized, I had no complaints.  My life is good.  I am betting everyone in that room who was impatient and put-out about standing in line was feeling a little bit better about their life.   Then Stacy asked, “But Irma, how are you?”
            Irma Jean smiled a beaming smile “Oh honey, I’m fine.  Just fine.”
I wanted to scream “NO!  YOU ARE NOT FINE!!  YOUR LIFE IS SHIT!!!”  I wanted to give her one of those hugs where you linger too long and maybe even give her a big smooch.  I wanted to take her home with me and feed her chicken soup and wrap her in a blanket and let her watch sappy movies and drink hot cocoa. 
            Instead, I stood there.  I stood there a stranger to her, counting my blessings.  I stood there, my heart breaking for her.  Suddenly my back felt better, my headache wasn’t so bad and my feet were just fine. 
            At last, she made her way to the clerk, mailed her package and started out of the store.  One by one the patrons murmured to her “Merry Christmas, Irma Jean”.   “May God bless you, Irma Jean”. 
            It was my turn at the counter and the clerk asked: “how are you today?”
            “I am fine, truly fine” I answered.

Friday, November 30, 2018

They Call The Wind Mariah

You know how I come here and rant and rave?  You know how I go off on tangents?  I know my readers, all three of you, are saying, what?   Gladys goes off on tangents?  NEVER!  I know I rant and ramble.  According to my precious Aunt, I have always rambled.  Evidently, I used to sit and talk for hours and she would nod and smile and have no clue as to the nature of my oration.  Oh, who am I kidding?  People still smile and nod and have no clue as to the nature of my diatribe.  And, there I go again, digressing.

I am curious, where did politeness and common courtesy go?  Is it hiding under the bed?  Perhaps, it’s on the top shelf of the coat closet which no longer holds formal coats and jackets but instead is stuffed fuller than Fibber McGee’s closet with junk.  The one which when opened expels everything from hockey sticks to hobnails.  (Quick rush to Google and look-up Fibber McGee and hobnails, I’ll wait).  It is all but extinct, common courtesy that is.  Every once in a great while, a stranger will hold a door or greet you on the street, but it is a rarity. 

When the wind blows in my little neck of the woods, it wails.  It whistles and winds through the trees leaves scattering and swirling.  The dust puffs and paints the pavement with a coating of ever moving impressionistic paintings.  Harv Presnell, sings about it moving the stars around.  It was on one of those days that I was reminded of the loss of decorum and niceties.

Kahuna and I have been talking about buying a couch.  Not just a couch but a sectional.  Not just a sectional but it has to be very specific dimensions, fabric, and construction.  You see our last couches were purchased the year we were first a couple.  We bought two matching sofa’s that we made sure were long enough to nap on and when the back pillows were removed two people could sleep side by side.  We had the made specifically.  I mean you never know when a nap could overtake you.  As the boy scouts say, be prepared.   Alas, those couches are no longer ours having gone to a younger couple who can now have years of side by side naps.   We decided on a sectional so that we can seat enough people without needing a bunch of other furniture.  Honestly, if it were up to Kahuna, a bean bag chair and an orange crate would be fine.  Thank goodness it’s not up to him. 

Again, I digress.
We don’t have a lot of furniture stores in Itty Bitty City, heck, we don’t have a lot of stores of any kind.   I have been shopping for couches on-line.  The problem with shopping for couches online is you can’t sit on them.  I guess you could sit on your laptop, but, I’m afraid that would not be a good judge of it being a nap-able sofa.  There is nothing worse than a sofa that is not nap-able.  It has lumps or dips or isn’t wide enough or soft enough.  I decided to bite the bullet and stop by our local furniture store, Ye Old Furniture Shop. 
I pulled my little car into the parking lot as the wind whipped the leaves here and there, sand shifting on the asphalt.  The wind caught my door yanking it from my hand.  I stood just as a gust hit and flipped my hair over my face only to reverse and blow it back again.  I was pushed to the door by another errant gust, coat flapping, hair flipping, sand shifting pushing me all towards what might be the perfect napping couch.  I grabbed the door before the wind could bluster me back into the parking lot.  I took a deep breath of wood, leather, and foam as I entered the store. 

Waiting just inside the store, the proprietor, Buford, eyed me up and down, then glanced at the flapping door.   He scratched his beard, shut the door behind me and said: “Girl, comb your hair!”. 
Now, I have entered many an establishment to a variety of greetings.  How are you?   Can I help you?  It’s a great day at….   I can honestly say I have never been greeted with a disparaging remark about my hair.  Look, I have no illusions.  I know I have wild hair.  Some days it is wilder than others.  There are times it is so out of control all I can do is have a Shaman sage it and call it good.  Honestly, it has a mind of its own. I know the wind had whipped my hair.  It might have looked a wee bit out of place.  Did it warrant a greeting of “Comb your hair”?  I don’t know.  I just know that somewhere between women burning their bras and men not wearing fedoras and ties, we lost our sense of decorum.  We lost the finesse that once existed in civil social interactions.
How hard is it to say, Good Morning or Welcome to Sofas to Nap On?  I don’t understand.  What happened to be nice and polite?  What happened to civility?  I really couldn’t tell you.  Maybe it’s better this way.  Maybe we should all just say whatever comes to our minds.  Do away with our filters and just blurt out whatever pops into our minds. 
There I stood, windblown in his furniture store.  A customer there to search for the perfect napping sectional.  There to support him by patronizing his store, a local merchant.  I was stunned.  I was gobsmacked.  I was not speechless.   I closed my mouth, swallowed hard and replied: “and you just lost a sale”. 
I turned and grabbed for the door.  The wind grabbed it from my hand and yanked it open.  I walked out leaving Buford standing in the middle of some nice sized couches covered in dust and leaves with his hair blowing in the wind.  As I walked out whistling They Call The Wind Mariah.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018


When I was a kid my favorite time of year was summer.  It stayed light until ten.  I loved the smell of newly mown grass and sneaking down to the creek with my siblings to fish, hang out or just explore.  The cicadas would sing their songs and we would gather their exoskeletons and attach them to our ears like rare jewels.  The nymphs would crawl from their holes in the ground, attach to a surface and emerge as an imagoe to sing their song and live their short lives looking for a mate.  I loved watching the sky, a bright blue accompanied by big cotton candy clouds billowing in the afternoons with the promise of a cooling shower.  Summer rains were the best.  The sky would darken and open up to pour a cool liquid on the steaming pavement and the thirsty lawns and fields.  It was a magical time of year, lazy days that seemed to go on forever.  We went on trips to the lake and swimming pools.  We made our own fun, invented games and made up our own stories.  We were free range kids. 

Houses would open up and young tanned bodies would explode into the street after bowls of sugary sweet cereal and glasses of Tang.  We would ride bikes, build forts and in the heat of the day hiding in and under big Mulberry trees napping and reading comic books.  Our knees were skinned and our faces dirty but we were content. 

Then came the early vestiges of fall.  Leaves dropped like tears on the tired brown lawns as the winds became crisper.  The rain came in the form of spitting cold razors cutting through sweaters.  The days were shorter and our time of being free range children came to an end.  We were cooped up in a classroom with the paste eaters and silent flatulence emitters.  Instead of foraging and exploring we were forced to sit by the window as the rain fell or the wind blew keeping its own company.  Walter Cronkite and Chet Huntly spoke of the protest taking place on faraway college campuses as the street lights illuminated the near-empty streets. 
The days started cool and crisp, frost shinning on the still green blades of grass.  We ran from our houses in sweaters with our Buster Browns laced up tight.  Our mothers packed lunches of bologna sandwiches and thermoses of Campbell's chicken noodle soup.  Room mothers invaded our classroom with ghost-shaped cookies and orange and black Halloween taffy and in an instant, we were making turkeys from the imprint of our hand and brown and yellow construction paper.  Then the time would crawl as we prepared for the annual Christmas program.  We learned our songs and routines while mothers sewed red and green felt outfits.  Our excitement palpable

            As an adult, I have come to appreciate those days when the leaves turn and the wind changes.   I love that the green begins to morph into yellow, orange and brown.  The crispness on the kiss of the wind is refreshing and the chill is an excuse to bundle up and wrap my hands around a warm mug.  I watch the squirrels desperately gather their acorns for their winter stash with fascination and feel the need to fill my own cupboard with hearty comfort foods. 
            The light fades earlier and once again I find myself sitting watching the rain fall on empty streets that glisten like diamonds.  It is the putting to bed of the summer, giving it a good rest so that in three short months it can once again rejuvenate and give birth to a new, brighter world and free-range children.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Happy Halloween From Leon Ray Livingston

Halloween was different when I was a kid.  I remember being a Hobo  three years in a row because it was a cheap costume comprised of items we had around the house.  A pint-sized Leon Ray Livingston if you will.  Wait!  What?  You don’t know who Leon Ray Livingston is?  He is the most famous of Hobos.  If you had been a Hobo for most of your trick-or-treating career, you would know this.  He became a Hobo at eleven years of age and Hoboed the rest of his life, stowing away on ships and hopping trains.  He wrote journals and became somewhat famous.  I digress.

            Nurse Meme would drag out the Maybelline black eyebrow pencil and draw big thick eyebrows on us, then she would smear it across our jaws and cheeks making little five-year-old Gladys look like she hadn’t shaved in a day or two.  Then she would dress me in Buck’s old flannel shirt and a pair of jeans that were twenty times too big, cinch them up with a swath of rope and hand me a bandana tied to a stick for a bindle.   That was it.  That was the costume.  It was in this fashion I would tag behind my big brother, Quirky Cousins, and Matilda going door to door begging for candy. 

Buck of course was Superman, Matilda was a movie star, the Quirky Cousins always had some kind of imaginative and quirky costume and then there was Gladys the Hobo.  Oh, don’t get me wrong, I didn’t care that I was a Hobo, it was just that I watched other kids in their store bought costumes with their plastic jack-o-lanterns full of Dum-Dum’s and Tootsie Rolls.  I envied their polyester Casper Costumes with the plastic mask with eye holes but no way to breath.

  I would long for the Cinderella costume that tied with three ties in the back and had scratchy netting for a skirt and again a plastic mask with huge eye holes but no nostril holes. This costume always flummoxed me, if you didn’t wear something underneath it you have a draft in the back, but if you did wear something underneath well then it just wasn’t Cinderella like.   We would pass each other on the street, little Johnny in his Casper costume complaining to his mom “I can’t breathe!” as his plastic Jack-O-lantern full of candy swayed this way and that spilling out little pieces of Bit-O’Honey and Laffy Taffy.   I would pause, stoop, and pick up the stray pieces only to find that Casper had melded into ten other Caspers none of which knew they were leaking Nik-L-Nips and Candy Cigarettes. 

            House by house we trudged up and down our neighborhood, ringing door bells and yelling the same old spiel “Trick or treat, smell my feet, give me something good to eat.”   Every house on the block would have the porch light on and some kind of goody.   The elderly lady on the corner always had candied apples and popcorn balls wrapped in cellophane.  The old man that lived at the end of the road had rolls of pennies.  My favorite house was the big house half way up the block who always gave out little packages of suckers on a string, candy corn and Double-Bubble gum with the cartoon wrapper. 
            We had to wait until dusk to make our rounds and before we went we had to eat our dinner.  ALL of our dinner.  Nurse Meme was no fool. She knew that if she wanted us to eat liver at least once a year, then Halloween was the night to cook it.  We would never miss trick-or-treating over liver.  We would try not to gag and choke down our strip of organ meat smothered in onions and gravy, slog down our helping of spinach and head out the door.  Buck pushing back his red satin cape, Matilda fluffing her hair and checking the mole she had painted on her face and little Leon Ray Livingston in her too big everything. 
            I guess I’ve come the long way around to tell you Happy Halloween.  Today’s Halloween are much more sophisticated with costumes that look like they belong in the movies and decorations that equal those of Knots Scary Farm.  I don’t ever remember adults dressing in costumes but today everyone was decked out in some type of get-up from Freddie Kruger to a life-sized singing Elsa.  Everyone was in the spirit from the guy at the DMV dressed as a sloth to the cashier in Wal-Mart dressed as a giant Snicker’s bar.  I don’t know if Halloween is better today or if nostalgia skews my view.  But I kind of miss seeing a bunch of kids using their imaginations to come up with original costumes.  Or even some who ended up being Leon Ray Livingston three years in a row.

Thursday, October 25, 2018


 Her appointment was for seven thirty a.m.   Gladys fluffed her hair and applied her Burt’s Bees to her overly dry lips.  Gladys checked the clock and knew she had twenty minutes.  Her appointment was only five minutes away but if Gladys was anything she was punctual.  She firmly believed if you were on time you were late.  She drove up to the Laboratory and noticed there were several other cars in the lot.  Walking up to the building she realized there was a line already stacking up in front of the still dark doors.  She took her place in the que and waited for the lights to come on and the door to open. 
A light in the back illuminated the front office and a young woman dressed in scrubs made her way through the building turning on lights and adjusting the temperature until she finally made her way to the front and unlocked the door.  Now honestly, Gladys had never seen so many people in a hurry to get into a building to pee in a cup or be pricked with big silver needles with blood-sucking vials on the other end.  Yet, here were a group of overly anxious men and women fighting to be first in line. 

They all signed in the sheet to solidify their place in line to be poked, pricked or drained and then fought for seats nearest the space heater and positioned optimally to watch the morning news.  They waited as the weather showed less rain and more sun, they waited as the white toothed, too tanned anchor talked about the lastest crisis, they waited as the voices in the back ebbed and flowed and the smell of coffee brewing wafted through the ducts and into the waiting room.  They waited. 

Finally, after twenty minutes or so a young fresh-faced woman opened the door and called for the first victim.  “Pat Robinson?” she paused “Pat Robinson?”  The room was silent each of the patients looking from one to the other.  No Pat Robinson spoke up.  Perhaps it was trypanophobia or perhaps Pat was hearing impaired but no Pat Robinson claimed the spot.  She stood looking at the room then looked at her paper and called the name again.  An elderly man spoke “my doctor’s name is Pat Robinson, but I don’t think he’s here.”   The young woman looked at her paper again and went back behind the door.  A few minutes later she returned “Mr. Warren Jones?”  The elderly man raised his hand, leaned heavily on his cane and stood up “Called the wrong name, did ya” he asked.  Sheepishly she led him back to the chamber of blood and torture.  A few minutes later he exits, rubbing his arm and rolled his eyes in way of saying “Oh boy!”.  The young woman again appeared in the doorway and called “Estelle Grossman?” silence again befell the room each patron looking at the other asking “Estelle?”  Yet again, no Estelle.  She disappeared and resurfaced “Ruby Grossman?” To which a woman stood and followed the phlebotomist back. 

None of this was assuaging Gladys’ anxiety; yet she sat reading her book and listening to the ambient conversation around her.  “Well that doesn’t bode well” said Mr. Red Jacket.  “No, not at all” replied Mrs. Fuzzy Scarf.   “I hope she doesn’t mess up my urine sample with someone else.  I can’t imagine having them call me and tell me I’m pregnant at my age” said the octogenarian with the purple hat.  “I wish they would hurry, I need my morning tea” said Mr. Grumpy. 

Tea?  Oh, my GAWD!  Gladys panicked.  TEA!!!  She had made herself a cup of hot lemon water before she left the house, had she remembered to turn off the tea kettle?  She went through her morning in her mind.  Making the bed, drinking her first cup of hot water, then taking her little dog outside, gathering up dirty dishes and straightening up.  Had she turned off the stove?  Had she actually drunk her second cup of hot water?  Now her heart was in her throat.  What if she had left the stove alight?  How much time did she have before the kettle would be dry.  She did the mental math in her head.  She left and seven-twenty, they had waited outside and inside, it was now eight fifteen, the kettle had been full.  She took that and divided it by the number of people who had signed in before her subtracted the amount of time she had to drive home, check the stove and drive back subtracted three and divided by four.  Could she make it?  It was possible
In a panic, heart racing and head pounding Gladys jumped from her seat just as the young woman once again appeared in the doorway and announced the next winner. Mrs. Fuzzy Scarf rose slowly from her perch and headed to the back.  Gladys lunged for the door and hit the parking lot pavement in a smooth jog, okay maybe not so much smooth, more of a spastic lurch.  She jumped in her car and drove like a mad woman over the bridge and through town.  She stopped at the only traffic signal that stood between her and what she was convinced was her house on fire, the guilty tea kettle whistling its happy tune in the middle of yellow and blue flames.  Just as she reached the signal it switched from amber to red.

 She sat at the light panic now oozing from every fiber in her being, convinced that she had burned down the house and her little dog was trapped inside.  She could see it now, the fire department already there, nothing left but a charred shell of a house.  She makes her way to the fire men shaking their heads holding a half-melted tea kettle.  She hears a bark and there is her little dog in the arms of a fire-fighter.  “Is this your dog ma’am” He asks.  Make-belief Gladys reaches for him and the fire-fighter says “He is a true hero!  He ran down to the fire house and led us back here.  We are going to give him a medal.”  

A horn honks and Gladys is pulled from her horror story in her mind and races on through the morning drizzle and traffic.  She slides to a stop in front of the little cottage and runs inside.  There on the couch lies her little dog asleep not even realizing he is in mortal danger.  She runs to the kitchen where there on the stove sits a cold and un-whistling kettle. 
With a sigh of relief, she realizes the tragedy was all in her head and she, with a much lighter heart, kisses her furry companion goodbye and heads back to the laboratory.  She sails through traffic with ease, no lights to impede her progress.  “I am going to make it” she tells herself as she slides into a parking slot by the front door. She storms up the steps and into the waiting room just as the young woman appears in the door and calls “Gladys McGunthry?   Gladys?” 
“I’m Gladys McGuilicutty” she states breathlessly. 
The young woman looks at her paper and motions for her to come to the back. 
            Gladys sits in the chair as the young woman pulls on a pair of pink rubber gloves and lines up vials on a tray.  “Hi, my name is Bella Swan and I am a student at VSU and I will be your phlebotomist.  Is it okay if I draw your blood?”
            Gladys put her arm on the table “sure you have to learn somehow, right?  Did you say your name is Bella?  Bella Swan?  Like in the novel?”
            The young woman struggled into her gloves, tied a piece of rubber around Gladys’ arm and nodded “yeah, I get that a lot.  Now I need to take about 10 vials of blood so this might take a bit.”  She started feeling around for a vein.  She searched and searched.  She squinted and palpitated then she smiled and excused herself. 
            An older more seasoned woman came into the room.  They whispered conspiratorially then moved toward Gladys, whose arm was now numb. 
            “Always remove the tourniquet[BL1]  before leaving the patient” she admonished.  She released the pressure from the arm and felt along the inside of Gladys’ elbow. Then she searched the other arm, wrapped the tourniquet around the other bicep and stuck a needle in a big pulsing vein.  She drew blood quickly and adeptly until each of the ten vials was complete.  She picked up the order and looked it over once again “oh, wait, I need two more vials.  Is that okay?”  The young woman stood behind her watching as Gladys nodded affirmative. 

            Finally, all the vials were filled and the doctor’s order complete.  Gladys tried to stand but with the panic of a burned out house and melted tea kettle and the twelve vials of blood found herself a bit light headed.  She sat back with a thud.  “I think I may have stood too quickly” she sighed. 
            The older woman patted her shoulder “would you like a cup of strong tea with some sugar?” 
            The vision of the whistling tea kettle came to mind; Gladys responded quickly “No, thank you!  I will grab a cup of coffee on my way home”.

Friday, September 21, 2018


“Shut up Karen,” Gladys responded irritated “you don’t know what you’re talking about.”  Gladys put on her blinker and turned left onto FM 1225.  “I know where I’m going.”  She drove along at the maximum speed allowed enthralled by the lush green pastures and woods. 

She reached over and adjusted the volume on the radio which was tuned to one of her favorite Oldies Country station.  George Jones was stopping loving her today and Willie Nelson was about to be on the road again when she realized nothing looked familiar.  Karen yelled “make the next left on to County road Five- Five- Four”.

“No!  Damn it, Karen you are going to get me lost again.  The last time we took a road trip I ended up on the edge of an arroyo with no way to turn around.  I had to back almost a mile in order to get out of that mess.  Nope if I just stay on this road long enough it will take me into the next town and I can catch the highway.”

“Make the next left onto County Road Five-Five-Four, then go 2 and ½ miles to Highway One-Six-Seven” Karen demanded.

“Listen here, Karen, if you don’t stop being so bossy I’m not asking you to come with me anymore.   I am telling you I am just going to stay on this road until we get to that little town up the road.  What’s the name of it?  Teasletown?  Weasletown?  Anyway, I am NOT turning on some gravel road that will lead me to the edge of a cliff with no way to turn around.  Been there done that!” Gladys responded.

Gladys turned the music down even a little lower, hoping that would make her feel less lost and she slowed down to just above the minimum speed allowed by law.  So slow in fact a man on a tractor passed her giving her a big old one finger wave.  She crept along searching for something familiar. She looked over at Karen, who by this time wasn’t speaking to her.  She humpfed and went back to squinting out the front windshield and creeping along at a snail’s pace.
“Is the turn up here soon?” she inquired.

“When you are able, make a U-turn and go to County Road Five-Five-Four, then go two- and one-half miles to Highway One-Six-Seven” Karen stated adamantly.

“Gawddamnit Karen, I told you, I am NOT turning around.  How far is it to the next town?  I need a Starbucks or at the very least a Micky-D’s coffee.  I am beginning to get a migraine.” Gladys retorted.

“In eight and a half miles there is a Diner on your right.” Karen responded trying to be helpful.

“Is that where Weasle-Teasletown is?  I don’t want a diner I just want a drive through.” Gladys was getting short on temper. 

She drove down a hill and up the other side, she passed over Sleepy Woman Creek with its brown water flowing almost to the crest.  She sped up a little in anticipation of the bitter hot black liquid that would calm the pounding in her head.  She slowed to watch as a herd of cattle moseyed down a knoll and into a tank to get some relief from the late summer heat.  She pulled over, took out her phone and snapped a picture of a longhorn relaxing in the shade of an oak tree.  It really was a pretty drive, even if she didn’t know where she was.  She pulled back onto the blacktop and sped up a bit “how much further” she queried.

Karen sat silent.  Gladys nudged her, but Karen didn’t respond.  Gladys poked her; still Karen sat silent.  “Damn-it Karen!  I asked you a question.  Are you just going to sull up and ignore me?  How much further?”

Finally, after a few minutes “in three miles exit to the right.” 

“So that’s where the diner is or that’s where I turn to get on the highway?” Gladys asked

Again, Karen sat silent, in defiance.  She had told Gladys to turn on the county road, then she had told her to turn around, but Gladys wouldn’t listen.  She wouldn’t do as she suggested.  Okay, yes, there was that one time where she had instructed Gladys to stay on Arroyo Grande and it had ended in a deep valley with no way out.  She didn’t map it, she was just following the map she had been given.  It wasn’t her fault.  And traveling with Gladys was no picnic.  I mean she wouldn’t take her instruction and then yell at her for getting lost.  Also, she was horrible about changing her route on a whim and not giving her enough time to catch up and locate her on the map.  It wasn’t easy being Gladys’s navigator.  Heck, Karen thought, I’d rather have been Amelia Earhart’s navigator. 

“Has it been three miles yet?  I don’t see anything.” Gladys stated nervously.

“In two miles exit to the right.” Karen replied dryly.

Gladys drove on anxiously watching for the exit as Karen sat silently dejected in the passenger seat.  “I see it!” Gladys screamed excitedly.  She exited right and pulled in to the front of the Easy Inn Diner.  It was deserted and dark.  The windows were dust covered and the door was sealed shut with a plywood guard.  “It’s CLOSED!” she yelled at Karen.   “Where is the nearest fillin station with coffee?” she screamed.

Karen sat quiet.  She was not going to respond to Gladys’s craziness.  She was going to sit in the wasteland of nothingness and ignore the ranting and demanding of her companion. 

Gladys once more eased onto the black top and put her foot on the accelerator.  “I’mma tell you what, Karen.  This shit has got to stop.  I mean, you give me bad directions, you take me down dead-end streets and then you sull up and won’t talk to me for miles and miles.  Remember that time out in the desert on the Interstate?  Remember how you didn’t talk to me for almost five hours?  I mean I know there was nothing out there but dirt and cactus, but still a little conversation would have been nice.   No, you decided you just weren’t going to have any input at all.  Everyone told me to take you with me.  I would get lost without you.  Well, you get me lost, and here is another example of just that.  You got me out here in the middle of the state and I am lost!  L*O*S*T just like them people in that show.  What do you have to say to that?”

Karen sat quiet.  She had nothing to say.  What could she say? She spun on this.  She thought and finally responded “when safe make a U-turn.”

“Fine, I’ll make a U-turn.”  She eased to the shoulder looked both ways at the non-existent traffic and made a U-turn.  “Now what, Karen?”

Then she pipped up “In two and three quarters mile take a left onto Highway One-Five-Five, go 37 miles and your destination will be on the right.”

Gladys sighed, it was this way every-time she used Karen Cortana to map her route.  Maybe it was time for her to friend Suzie Siri.

Friday, September 14, 2018


 Gladys peered out the window at the ominous clouds rolling and bubbling.  They had just appeared, menacing and dark.  Jim Cantore had been preaching for a solid week that the storm would be heading her way.  Get out he preached.  He showed the graph’s and the models of where the storm would make landfall.  He pointed right at her little town on the coast of North Carolina. 

It was almost time for school to be out, so she grabbed the dogs and they made their way down the street to meet her daughter.  The air hung heavy with foreboding and her shoulders hunched under the weight of the weather.  Living on a military base has it advantages, one of which is security.  At each crossing stood a marine, stalwart and unmovable as the winds started to blow.   A simple “afternoon ma’am” was all the greeting needed as they protected the rambunctious children exploding through the door after a long day of confinement. 
Tadpole ran up to Gladys bookbag bulging with papers.  “Momma!  Mrs. Warren gave us all our homework for the next week.  She says that the storm is gonna blow us into next week!  Does that mean we don’t get a weekend?”  She shoved the bookbag and lunch pail toward Gladys and took her hand. 
Together they bent their heads to the wind.  Living only a mile from the coast of the Atlantic Ocean they were used to winds and storms but this one felt different.  The weather channel was reporting it to be one of the largest storms in history.  It was coming from Africa and gathering force as it moved westward.  There was a buzz about the housing development.  Cars loaded with suitcases, men boarded windows while women grabbed clothes from clothes lines and threw baskets into waiting hatchbacks and sedans.  They were bugging out, all of them, except Gladys and Tadpole.  They had no-where to go.
Gladys’s neighbor, Trixie, with her Irish Setter riding shotgun headed out for her parents in Charlotte, while Vera her neighbor across the street loaded up her four kids and set out for Ashville.  They all had a place to go.  The made their way across the state to the mountains or the city, to welcoming homes of loved ones and friends.  Gladys had no place to go.  The thought of a shelter in Charlotte or even to Elizabethtown scared her more than staying and facing a bully of a storm.   After all, how bad could Hugo be?  Hugo sounded more like a big fluffy character.  All blow and no show.  With this thought the mother and daughter duo made it to the door of their bungalow. 
Gladys surveyed her yard.  She secured anything that could or would become a projectile and then set about taping her windows with large X’s like the newspaper had instructed.  She moved furniture and electronics away from windows.  She filled the bathtub with water and filled every single Ziplock bag, jar and bottle with water and put it in her freezer and refrigerator.  She took stock of her canned food and made sure she had plenty of charcoal in her store room for her grill.  She had powdered milk and lots of MRE’s, or for you non-military, Meals Ready To Eat.  All was good at least so far.
Saturday the weather channel preached to all who would listen to get out.  Leave the coast they yelled.   She was a little frightened but she was a native-born Texan.  She had tornadoes and hurricanes, droughts and floods, sand storms and blustering winds, heck she had survived all those things, she would be fine. 
Sunday, they started reporting the damages.  The storm surged and the rains started.  The winds blew and the sky grew dark.  Gladys watched through the masking tapped X on her kitchen window as branches broke and debris swirled in Hugo’s breath.  She was still strong in her conviction that she had made the right decision, not traveling to Charlotte. 
The wind howled as night fell, rain pounded like the beating of a drum.  Gladys settled down with her book, flashlight at the ready.  She dosed for a bit, waiting for the storm to pass, realizing it hadn’t even gotten started yet. 
A loud shrill trill woke her from sleep.  It screamed again causing her to jump and run for the kitchen.  She lifted the receiver and listened to the scream of the storm invaded her call. 
“Hello?   Is this Gladys?  Gladys Mc…” came the voice through the static.
“Yes.  Hello???  Hello?” she yelled over the screech of the connection.
“This is mmhmmm from NPR.  Can you hear me?” the voice yelled back.
Gladys shifted the receiver and peeked out the window “Yes.  If you hell I can hear you.  It must be the storm interrupting our call.”
“Mrs. McGuilicutty, I would like to get a statement from you on the storm” came the request.
“It’s really blowing.  We started having heavy rain a few hours ago.  It seems like it is hitting the south facing beaches the most.  So far, we have only lost some tree limbs” Gladys shouted into the phone.
The NPR correspondent shouted “That’s great.  Can you see outside or are your windows boarded up?”
“No, I can see.  I taped my windows.  What would you like to know?” Gladys hollered back.
“What do you see?  What does it look like in your neighborhood?”  Miss. NPR queried.
About that time a strong gust began and from somewhere down the street a large galvanized thirty-gallon trash receptacle flew past her window, then another.  A child’s bicycle went sailing down the street along with a large Play School playhouse.  Gladys waiting thinking maybe Elmira Gulch pedaling her bike would be next but just more debris.
“Well, Miss NPR, right now I see debris.  I see lots of debris.  A trash can, a playhouse and oh, look there goes a UFO.”  Gladys yelled excitedly exclaimed.
“UFO?” the correspondent asked incredulously.
“Well, maybe it was just a trash can lid, but it was big and round a silver.  Could have been sent by aliens.” Gladys chuckled.
The correspondent grew quiet.
“Hello?  Miss NPR?  Are you still there?” Gladys asked concerned.
“Um, yes.  Thank you for your statement.  Stay safe.” And with that the NPR correspondent was gone. 
Gladys waited for a few moments listening to the storm screech and whine through the phone lines.  NPR was gone.  Her neighbors were gone.  Now it was just Hugo pitching a fit outside, knocking on her windows and doors like a vampire wanting her to invite him in. 
She looked at the clock and it was getting close to midnight.  Then it went quiet.  Deathly quiet.  The electricity flickered then popped off.   She grabbed her flashlight and checked on Tadpole sleeping soundly on the couch, completely unaware of the danger that lurked in the night.  She grabbed her up and headed for the hallway closet.  No windows, reinforced, in the middle of the house.  She hunkered down her black Labrador Retriever and her Yorkshire Terrier instinctively crowding in with her.  They waited for the worst.   They held their breath and counted the minutes which felt like hours. 
In the distance they heard the rumble and felt the shift of the house on its foundation as the winds once again began their assault.  The eye had passed and they were on the backside of the storm.  Relieved they made their way back to the couch and waited in the dark for the first hint of morning. 
When the sun rose, the traces of Hugo lay all around.  Piles of toys mixed with shrubs and trash blocked the storm drains.  The ditches swelled with water swiftly fighting its way back to the ocean taking the paths of least resistance, cutting new streams through yards and over roads.  The world was bloated and dismal, but Gladys and Tadpole had withstood the storm.  They began gathering debris, depositing it into bags and errant cans that had made there way on the wings of the wind to yards and on top of carports. 
The electricity was restored within forty-eight hours and yet her neighbors were still abroad.   The television once again working, Gladys tuned to the weather channel.  She watched mortified at the destruction, not in her neck of the woods but to where her neighbors had fled.  Charlotte had been devastated.  Jim Cantore stood in the aftermath of multiple tornadoes and high winds. 
Hugo had saved his wrath for the inland communities.  Gladys’s neck of the woods had remained safe, a little worse for wear, but safe. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

A MEMORY OF 9-11-2001

I was on my way to New Orleans from Shreveport, Louisiana for work.  The sky was gray with an ominous threat of a deluge as I sped down Interstate 49.  Traffic began to thin out down around Alexandria, which I thought was a bit odd but was a nice change.  The lush green of the fields caressed the sides of the highway with occasional stands of palmettos.  Here and there old houses and barns sagged beneath the weight of kudzu and time.  It was a lovely drive but at that time still a bit remote.

As I neared Alexandria, knowing this would be my last chance before Lafayette, I pulled into a truck stop.  It was as crowded as I had ever seen it.  There were big rigs in all colors and shades of road weariness parked willy-nilly, here and there.   Mother Nature was singing her siren song as I quickly made my way to the restrooms.  I passed motorist standing in the aisles staring at a small fifteen-inch television sitting on the counter.  Everyone was frozen as if an evil sorcerer had cast a spell upon them. 

I returned from the Ladies to find them all still in the same place spellbound by the small screen.  I noticed tears in eyes of big burly men and women openly weeping.  I edged my way forward.  A bear of a man was standing next to a lanky scarecrow, they both had tears rolling down their faces diluting the coffee growing cold in their hands.  I edged closer and followed their gaze to the T.V. that stood there.
My breath left my body.  My legs were weak as the second plane veered dipped and then flew into the second tower.  I felt a hand on my shoulder and I looked up at a complete stranger holding me up and cried “is this real?  Is this really happening?”  He nodded an affirmative. 

I looked around at the people standing in the rows of candy bars and beef jerky.  Tears flowed freely, choked sounds of dismay and disbelief drowned out the country music on the speakers.  A man toward the back said “do y’all mind if I pray?”  Not one person objected.  They may have been Jewish or Baptist, Methodist or Buddhist they may have been Muslim but they all bowed their heads and prayed with that man in the back.  We asked for peace and safety for those in the towers, we prayed for those poor souls on the plane and we prayed for ourselves. 

When he finished his prayer not a soul made a move.  Not a soul left that store in the middle of the swamps.  We all stood and watched, wondering if we were safe.  More reports came.  They had bombed the Pentagon, there was a plane down in Pennsylvania.  They were going to crash into the White House.  They were going to take out Wall Street. 

We watched as people covered in white ash and blood ran from those burning collapsing towers and brave first responders and heroes ran toward them.  We watched as helicopters flew over the crash site and reporters spoke in excited voices from the fringes.  We watched, we wept and we wondered.  What happens now?

I slowly made my way out to my car and pickup my mobile phone.  I called my mom and my dad and told them I loved them.  I called my daughter and we cried together.  I called my office and told my co-workers I loved them and told them all to be safe.  I wanted those I loved to know it and feel it. 
I eventually made it to New Orleans.  Late for my appointment but the client didn’t care.  We were all in shock.  I got to my hotel in the French Quarter.  The desk clerk looked shell shocked.  People, zombie-like, moved through the machinations of their day.   The bellman led me to my room and helped me with my bags.  I tried to tip him but he refused.  Life was different.

In twenty-minutes time, life had changed.  People were unsure and humbled.  The vitriolic rhetoric of retribution had not yet started.  We were just trying to sort through the terror and strife.  I sat in my room watching hour after hour of reports from New York.  People looking for loved ones and first responders looking like ghosts reporting both good news and bad. 

Then came the awful replays of bodies jumping from eighteen stories up and those towers falling.  They played clips of a burning field detailing the crash site and the Pentagon scorched and gaping. 
As I made my way to dinner that evening I noticed people were more polite, a little friendlier and ignoble. 

Where were you on 9-11-01?