Archive for the ‘Mom’ Category

When I Hurried Downstairs to Enjoy the Cool

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

I grew up in a house that demanded more gentility, income, and poise than my self-effacing family could muster. My dad’s vocation was hunting, fishing, and playing baseball with the neighborhood boys—to whom he contributed three. His hobby was running the family business, a mistress who demanded more than his convenient effort. Thus, our house, my grandmother’s house, oozed more elegance and munificence than its creature inhabitants. In short, like a blue blooded thoroughbred, rode by an amateur jockey, our house was more than we could handle. We were outclassed, so to speak, by our domicile and we all knew it.

The kitchen, in our awe-inspiring house beautiful that could have no doubt appeared in Southern Living was strategically placed close enough to the dining room to make food presentation quick and efficient. But it was far enough away to keep the heat from the kitchen, so to speak, literarily and figuratively, from the dining room.  

As the ceiling fans gently shook the cut glass crystal chandeliers, Mammy brought fried eggs, grits, and biscuits to our bountiful, olfactory Shangri La dining room table.

The adults never ate on a small table in the kitchen, like we do in all the houses in which I have lived in my adult life.  It must be a Yankee thing.  The adults always ate their meals—no matter how simple and unpretentious—in the dining room—with starched  1000 count Egyptian white cotton napkins and table cloth  (why not—we owned a laundry after all!).

We kids, though, were only allowed to eat dinner (lunch) on rare occasions but never breakfast.  We ate breakfast in the kitchen.

I loved those times.  The kitchen floor was made of New Orleans street cobblestones, as I mentioned previously, smelled like horse urine when they were warmed.  But the cobblestones, shiny and bright with floor wax generously bestowed by Mammy, felt awfully good on little boy feet.  The cobblestone kitchen floor was only second in line to the veranda blue tile floor.

No one every worried about dropping food on the kitchen floor.  Either Mammy would sweep it up, or another helper or what my mother called “a girl” who twice a week helped Mammy clean, would clean it.  Besides, Mammy had a habit of dropping wet sticky wax on whatever was on the floor so I distinctly saw traces of previous culinary masterpieces on the floor.  Like shellacked pictures on Christmas pictures to Mammaw, Mammy Lee carelessly preserved previous meal excesses by putting generous portions of commercial wax on previous floor messes.  Thus, in effect, our kitchen floor was a museum collage of previous meals we had eaten in the last ten years, or at least all the meals since Mammy Lee ruled our household.

In the right corner under the mixer was a stain from a memorable chili dinner last December.  Mammy’s chili was legendary.  The best in Southeast Arkansas. Carefully preserved by Mammy’s exuberance and wax, the remaining chili still felt good when I saw it. On the other hand, the green English peas under the right edge of the ice box, were a nightmare I would gladly forget.  Somehow Mammy spilled a few peas on the floor and forgot, or chose, to leave it there, even when she waxed the very same corner.  Those green peas were from the same genus and species, from the same meal, as the one I secretly deposited my requisite supply of English peas into my right front jean pocket. “No thank you,” I told my mom. “I am quite satisfied with the English peas I had already received.”  And I was.  The darn things had filled up my pocket!  Unfortunately, though, before I could deposit my treasure in the commode, I forgot about it.  The little rascals resurfaced in Mammy Lee’s Wednesday wash and I must tell you she was not amused.  Yes, I did not enjoy looking at the English pea shrine under our ice box.

Every morning Little Bill had two fried eggs—yolks broken—grizzled edges.  I had two over easy, with running yolk eggs.  We both loved thick bacon with heavy rind.  My big brother Bill was so good to me—he sometimes shared his precious treasure with his little brother—he would yank that sucker out and give it to me to chew.  He is still a generous soul.  John Hugh, on the other hand, inevitable preferred left over cornbread, buttermilk, and copious amounts of sugar.  To top things off Mammy would top everything off with fresh squeezed orange juice—I didn’t know they make it any other way until I went to college.

I don’t know what breakfast was like in the dining room but in the kitchen it was a veritable cornucopia of joy.  We were polite to one another.  We shared our homemade preserves and bacon.  There was a surplus of good feelings and good.  And, by the way, we did not worry about dropping things on the floor—in fact, to assure later good memories, we purposely deposited a few memorable items.  I wonder if that bacon rind is still where I dropped it?

The kitchen was not the dining room.  It taught us that life had limits and ceremony.  But we did not mind.  Life is that way too.  Sometimes the kitchen is not the dining room with crystal chandeliers but it is comfortable and it doesn’t matter much if you drop something on the floor.  Perhaps the price that one pays for pompous circumstance is too much and we should all be happy in the kitchen.  Think about it.

Hip Saga Continues

Tuesday, December 29th, 2009

In 1988 I was serving as a summer pastor at Matinicus Island (as in “Keep the Light House Burning Abby!”), ME. I was there with my whole family, Karen and our four children. Summer pastors served congregations for a month or two and for payment we were able to live in the parsonage rent free during our time there.

My duties were pretty light—I preached on Sunday and handled emergencies. But most days we were free to explore this incredible paradise.

On this day we had loaded up our backpacks, and Peter, who was three, on our backs and headed to the beach (about a mile away). Naturally we aggressively negotiated with Peter trying to persuade him to be a big boy and walk a little. Normally he resisted, but, today, thankfully he agreed to walk.

And he walked for about a mile! Despite occasional excursions—like the “butterfly expedition” and an inconvenient potty break—a task at this stage of his life generally relegated to the second team (me!). But we were making good time and he was walking by himself.

However, about 100 yards from the beach Peter began to cry, “I am tired daddy I am tired!”

No problem. He had gifted me with a glorious unencumbered morning and I actually wanted to carry him the rest of the way.

So I picked him up.

The closer we got to the beach, however, Peter was noticeably agitated. By this time he was weeping loudly.

“Why, big boy,” I asked, “are you crying?”

To cover myself with his mother who I earnestly wanted to believe I was not neglected our youngest charge I loudly added, “I AM carrying you. What else do you want?”

“I need mommy, Daddy, I need mommy.”

I pushed a little further—although I was ok with giving him to his mother—“Why mommy? Daddy is carrying you fine, right?”

“No, Daddy, I so tired that I need mommy. When I feel this way I need mommy.”

I handed him to Karen and he proceeded to tell her about his woes. She did nothing really but listen and hugged him—no special hug but it was a hug and a shake– but Peter looked noticeably better.

Peter reached a point where he needed his mommy. Period. Daddies are ok but the really serious hurts require the mommies—at least in my family. ; And it wasn’t just that Peter wanted to be carried; he needed to share his journey with someone who cared and, if need be, someone who would kiss a boo boo or two.

Which is why I looked forward to going to church the Sunday after I came home from the hospital. I wanted to be with my church family. I wanted to be with people of faith whose world view extended beyond their stethoscopes.

No, I was tired and I needed my church family. The church. I was tired, worn out. I was in sore need of a metaphysical moment. I relished every praise song, lifted my hands too much I know, but I was glad to be home. And, most of all I wanted to hear the Word. Now I am the pastor, and I did preach, but preaching is the best way for me to hear and to respond to the Word. Anyway, I had come home. Out of the fog of morphine, doubt and tentativeness, I found in my little mountain church, last Sunday morning, people who could carry me the last 100 yards, who let me be myself, and loved me anyway.

That is a great church!

Merry Christmas!


Friday, December 25th, 2009

I chose the coward’s path, I know, but it seemed judicious at the time. I opted for full sedation so I literally slept. It felt like I was traveling back in time to the earliest beginnings of the world.

The operation was a success that is good. But the pain was beginning!

That is also the time, it seems when, the miracles begin!

The time in the hospital—three days was mercifully short, and, in its own way, was rehabilitative. Now I am home recovering.


Thursday, December 24th, 2009

Father Mapple: Delight is to him who coming to day him down can say, “O Father, mortal or immortal, here I die. I have striven to be Thine, more than to be this world’s. Yet this is nothing. I leave eternity to Thee. For what is man, that he should live out the lifetime of his God?”—MOBY DICK

That was why, as I stood with my cell phone I cried. Not afraid of the pain exactly, and, of course, I am only joking about Karen—she has a short memory with me and always is my greatest supporter. I was frustrated and mad, mad with myself for picking up too many boxes and mad with God for letting this happen.

Like He caused it. Whatever.

I wish I had a little more idealism when I arrived at the hospital Tuesday morning December 8. But I knew what I was facing.

I was grateful when the anesthesiologist started the IV. “I am a doctor too,” hoping that credentialing myself would somehow impress the good doctor to go light on me. “Give him another stronger shot nurse.”

And I fell asleep.

Going up that river was like traveling back to the earliest beginnings of the world, when vegetation rioted on the earth and the big trees were kings. An empty stream, a great silence, an impenetrable forest. The air was warm, thick, heavy, sluggish. There was no joy in the brilliance of sunshine. The long stretches of the waterway ran on, deserted, into the gloom of overshadowed distances.—HEART OF DARKNESS, Joseph Conrad


Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009

Starbuck, first mate: To be enraged with a dumb brute that acted out of blind instinct is blasphemous.

Captain Ahab: Speak not to me of blasphemy, man; I’d strike the sun if it insulted me. Look ye, Starbuck, all visible objects are but as pasteboard masks. Some inscrutable yet reasoning thing puts forth the molding of their features. The white whale tasks me; he heaps me. Yet he is but a mask. ‘Tis the thing behind the mask I chiefly hate; the malignant thing that has plagued mankind since time began; the thing that maws and mutilates our race, not killing us outright but letting us live on, with half a heart and half a lung.

I was stumped.

It wasn’t that I didn’t want the surgery—I didn’t—I had done the darn thing before—and may I be honest?—it hurt. Really hurt. Let me be candid: in my darkest nightmare, in my worse dream, I never dreamed I would experience the pain I did twelve years ago.

Until you are too sympathetic, however, I have a confession. During the last recovery period, I was languishing with 6 or 8 old men (they were all 20 years my senior—and I am 56). It had taken us 2 days to finally walk on our fragile knees and hips. But we congratulated ourselves for making our first steps.

Until Alice joined us. Alice had had two—not one—but two knee transplants. We were prepared to offer her sympathy—she joined us on the second day and we were prepared to say “Alice, it is ok. We were there! Just move a few toes or something. We will pull you along.”

She sat in her chair, heard the physical therapist give her instructions. “Move a little this or that” sort of thing. Nothing too ambitious.

But, when she heard what we were doing she asked, with some irritation, “Why can’t I do what these men are doing?”

“Because,” we said, “Miss, you don’t know what you are saying. Move those little pinkies and be grateful.”

“Hey guys,” she smirked. “Out of the way.”

“You think this is pain? I have had 3 sets of twins. This is a walk in the park. Give me my walker!”

Our excuse is that we never had any kids, thankfully, but Alice certainly shamed us!

No childbirthing but on November 30, 2009, and even later, pain may be relative but to this man it was something I wished to avoid.

The thing that maws and mutilates our race, not killing us outright but letting us live on, with half a heart and half a lung. For a moment, just for a moment—because I am a dedicated Christian with all the right theology—for a moment—I doubted God knew what he was doing.

Captain Ahab: By heavens man, we are turned round and round in this world, like yonder windlass, and fate is the handspike.

I knew our funds were ending. Two months left to convention season—what was I to do? ; My son Peter, thankfully, had already agreed to take over the ministry/business part of this and let me do the speaking and writing. But when December and January arrived and I needed money I could get a part time job—subbing or something—I had already done this before.

But that was not going to happen. No lifting the way I had forever. No more hip banging jobs breaking up fights in public school.

My life as I knew it was over.

Ishmael: [seeing Moby Dick for the first time] Is it real? Do you see it, too?

The Manxman, a sailor: We all see it. That don’t make it real.


Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009

The surgeon did not laugh when he saw the x-ray pictures. But I did—it looked like somebody’s match house had lost its right corner. I guessed this was a warning to me about what my hip MIGHT look like some day. It could not be my hip. I mean it looked like something Victor Frankenstein put on his monster.

“What is that?” I laughed nervously.

“Your leg,” he smirked. “What did you do, Mr. Stobaugh?” He said—the same way Deborah says it to Raymond on EVERYONE LOVES RAYMOND. “Whaaaat did you do????”

I looked closer. It was not a picture of some poor slob’s hip, it was my hip. My poor pathetic hip!

The whole hip had shifted—”the way my life seemed to be shifting too.

I hoped the surgeon had placed the picture in a twisted way—the man obviously need to move the picture around–and it was all a mistake. My hip was headed to Dallas and my femur was headed to Baltimore. I was in big trouble and I knew it.

I also knew that I had been a bad boy, and, even worse, Karen had warned me. I don’t know what was more frightening the impeding surgery or Karen’s “I told you so!”

For 12 vendor seasons, 240+ conventions, 480 loading and unloading sessions, the old custom made hip thing was shot.

Funny thing. There is about $400,000 worth of technology in the thing but it all depends upon a round piece of hard plastic rotating on a Teflon ball. And that plastic thing was cracked or soon would be. Worse, it was depositing toxic plastic flakes into my right femur cavity thing. I knew there was space there—I had seen the old move INCREDIBLE JOURNEY—but I was unprepared for the pile of plastic in my leg piled next to my femur like parmesan cheese.

Something had to be done.

“Surgery, you need surgery quick.” He said. “You do not want this plastic cap to crack more or you will be begging me to operate.”

I believed him.

Well, one good thing: I met my deductable. And on Dec. 8, 2009, I went under the knife.


Monday, December 21st, 2009

I went to the doctor on November 30, 2009, for the noblest reason: Karen told me I had to go. Six weeks earlier, returning from a long SAT seminar road trip, I had dropped a full, heavy crate of COMPANIONS TO 50 CLASSICS on my right foot and ankle. After a Christian exclamation—I don’t remember exactly what I said—I cried in pain. But, even in this moment, I knew there was nothing I could do.

When I left my teaching job I obtained sorry health insurance with a $2 trillion deductible. So I could not afford a doctor’s visit so I did the next best thing—I whined and complained to Karen until she made me go to the doctor’s office.

I went. I went to an orthopedic surgeon in fact. The Harvard educated surgeon actually laughed as the x-ray of my foot and ankle, which, by the way, had visited a similar (but not the same) Harvard surgeon on September 11, 1975 (I kid you not, September 11) packed in dry ice next to my compound fractured right hip in a ambulance headed from Possom Fork, AR, to Pine Bluff, AR. I remember it looked like some fish bait or something—but I know that sounds gross.

For the next two months I languished in a tiny Pine Bluff, Arkansas, hospital between life and death. I kept the foot though and the new surgeon was laughing at it now.

“Mr. Stobaugh, really, there is nothing I can do. Maybe six weeks ago [sardonically] perhaps—but it is November 30!!!!!”

I was ok with that. I needed a handy sympathy getter for my wife who detests hyperbole and whimpiness. Seriously, do you know how many curb side garbage visits I had deterred through that old ankle? Since I passed 50 and learned occasionally to say, “Oh, it is ok, honey, a little pain builds character anyway” Karen had sighed and done some of my chores. Or maybe she made me do more chores—perhaps she thought I needed more character. I am still sorting it out.

To young people reading this blog: It is true: home school moms have this sixth sense—the gift of discernment?—to know when spouses and offspring are, shall we say, “exaggerating the truth to gain personal gain?’’ It amazes me how my 4 home school kids got away with NOTHING with that lady, but, here is a news flash: MOMS DON’T LOSE THIS GIFT WHEN THE KIDS FINISH HOME SCHOOLING. If anything, it is sharpened and focused on one object of dedicated attention—ME! My wife, the only love of my life, still keeps me on the straight and narrow with aplomb and vigorous realism as surely as she moved my children forward.

Anyway, my new doctor suggested, “why don’t we take a picture of your right hip—the one that was replaced 12 years ago?”

“It does not hurt at all,” I said. But what I was thinking was, “How much will it cost?”

“Let’s look at it anyway.”

Back Corner Part 3

Friday, August 21st, 2009

With surprisingly little compunction, Big Daddy banned Uncle Roy not only from the bathroom=2 0but also from the house.

A king snake, however, was too valuable a thing to loose permanently so Big Momma skillfully won Uncle Roy’s forgiveness by depositing half-dead, acquired from mouse traps, mice behind the ice box. Eventually Uncle Roy sullenly returned to the back of the ice box–a true ice box–full of block ice from Mr. Badgett’s ice house and on top of little mice. From this newly acquired launching point Uncle Roy effectively protected his, and my mother’s domicile. He occasionally protruded his nose from under the ice box, but only on the rarest occasions, like when a large roach wandered by. The naturally reticent Uncle Roy could not resist this delicacy. The family hard knew he was there although when the new kitchen disappeared Uncle Roy allegedly was the miscreant who disposed of the feline pet. However, this was never proven and a king snake was more difficult to replace than a kitten.

Despite Big Momma’s reptile approbation, the downside of having Uncle Roy in the family was the growth of a pervasive herpephobia that appeared in all my mother’s clan.

My mother’s childhood home was an old army officer barrack house moved by huge six wheeled trucks from a World War I Greenville, Mississippi, Airfield placed incautiously on eight concrete cinder blocks, it was a nature refuge for a menagerie of unwelcome visitors. Nonetheless, during the Depression years, this abode was more the rule than the exception.

Unceremoniously the movers had deposited this old barrack hut on buckshot ground by Macon Bayou, which also was the city sewage. The house was mortally wounded and exhibited a quarter inch crack all the20way across its middle portion. During the winter, when the ground swelled with moisture, the crack closed. In the summer, when the buckshot cracked so did the house. Over the years, the winters grew dryer and the summers hotter until there was a permanent crack behind Big Momma’s china cabinet to the edge of the screened in back porch.

A generous house for most families, the old army barracks was never big enough for my mother’s family. Three boys and five girls lived together in three-bedrooms. Big Momma and Big Daddy lived in one room, the boys in another, and the girls in a final room. Gender, not chronology, determined commorancy. Mercifully there were more girls than boys.

Back Corner Part 2

Thursday, August 20th, 2009

Nonetheless, both the Graystone and Back Corner were approximately of the same species, but the Back Corner Hotel had bragging rights–every Friday night the Back Corner Owls, our high school football team ordered steaks, fries, and milk shakes before the big game. This blessed dispensation assured the proprietors of the Back Corner Hotel that they would have a steady stream of customers. If the apex of Back Corner power and prestige chose the Back Corner, who in the general population would argue? To show solidarity with the football team, hundreds of residents would wait in line to eat black-eyed peas, gumbo, collard greens, and fried chicken before the game. They wanted to stand beside their heroes in body as well as spirit.

In addition to our two motels, there was one drugstore that gave credit and dispensed viscous chocolate sundaes to waiting patrons. The great attraction of the drugstore was the proprietor’s daughter whose bosom was the lodestone for dozens of excessive testerone endowed Back Gate male youth. There were two department stores: Wolchanskies and Martins.

Wolchanskies was run by Jewish survivors of the Holocaust. Dark, dreary, and always smelling different, like a scene from Casablanca, Wolchanskies had the latest fashions. Only stores in Greenville, Mississippi, could compete with Wolchanskies.

My mother grew up 10-12 blocks from Wolchanskies. Big Daddy’s house was only a little bit better than a shack. Born in a rambling clapboard house next to the city sewage, mom always understood limitation and constraint. Her home sat on buckshot clay that cracked and buckled every summer. The smell of feces and mildew intensified every hot summer afternoon. Behind her house was a wood-lot too often the victim of unscrupulous foresters. Enchanted trails and moss covered paths that would pique the imagination of most children were compromised in my mothers forest by young locust trees unimpeded by shade and larger competition. Sunlight was everywhere abundant. Since there was no reason to grow up and clasp sunlight, the young trees grew out, and selfishly deprived all the pretty things in the forest of light and life.

The forest was hardly a forest at all–it was a tangle of bush size trees– and since it was warm and dry enough on the western edge, cane rattlers loved to slither in the shadows of the deadly Arkansas summer sun. On the eastern edge, joining the sewage reservoir, moccasins hissed warnings at mockingbirds, snapping turtles, and inquisitive little girls. My mother learned very early the advantages of limitation and constraint. She learned to measure each step carefully, a lways looking at what was in front of her. Controlling, as much as possible, where her next step would land.

Not all snakes were my mother’s enemies. One huge, black and red king snake named Uncle Roy, lived under the old piano. Actually the piano didn’t carry a tune at all. Big Momma kept it around to house Uncle Roy. An aggressive king snake brought all sorts of advantages to my mother’s family–mice were noticeably absent. And no mocassin would dare bare his fangs!

Enjoying the only cool place in Big Momma’s house, occasionally Uncle Roy slept behind the family toilet during the inferno Arkansas summers. This very nearly was his undoing, however. Once, when Big Daddy was enjoying a respite and the latest Back Corner Times, Uncle Roy affectionately licked Big Daddy’s right achilles’ tendon.

Such unfeigned, if unsolicited affection was even too much even for Big Daddy, Uncle Roy’s most fervent supporter. While his admiration for Uncle Roy’s rodent venery skills were second to known, he could not tolerate this violation of his most private savoir faire. Saltating with no thought of modesty, Big Daddy, in all his sartorial splendor, quickly hopped out of the bathroom into the dining room where the whole family was gathered for supper. Then, with his pin-stripped railroad overalls around his legs, he ignobly fell to the ground with his uncovered derriere signaling his unconditional surrender to man and to reptile alike. Uncle Roy coyly retreated behind an old ceramic garbage can.

This was the first only time my mother saw her father in such a vulnerable state.

Back Corner

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009

Back Corner had 4081 residents when my mother was born in 1931. By that point she had four siblings ahead of her and three, all brothers, were still to come. Big Momma had five girls and then three boys. Like her husband, Big Momma’s family was slightly off-center but at least they came in gender order. This made housing assignments much easier.&nb sp; One daughter, Patricia, the youngest died, and while she was sorely missed, her presence set off an equilibrium that was critical to my mother’s fragile household.

Back Gate began at the railroad stock yard north of Edgar Dempsey’s Pepsi Plant and ended at the railroad round house south of Tip Pugh’s Rice Dryer. When the railroads stopped depositing customers and picking up cotton bails, Back Corner weakened and never really recovered. By the end of World War II huge Harvester Trucks replaced the Steam Clippers.

The illness was not fatal, however, and as I sat this last early December enjoying my mother’s last few weeks, Back Corner was still about 5002. By now, though, the tired town had deteriorated to a critical mass of old people too tired to move and young children too young to think about it yet.

When my mother was growing up, in the 1930s, Back Corner boasted of two hotels, the Back Corner Hotel and20the Graystone Hotel. If strangers stopped in Back Corner, they were stranded between more comfortable boarding houses in Greenville, Mississippi, and Pine Bluff, Arkansas. Most gladly traded the ebullience of the Sam Peck Hotel in Little Rock for the pecan pies of the Greystone Cafe.

The Greystone Hotel was strategically placed between the train station and the pool hall. It’s marble floor and chandeliers promised its patrons a luxurious evening with some equally roseate late evening activity at the pool hall.

My Uncle Cutter, married to my mother’s oldest sister, Aunt Mary, ran the pool hall. Besides being of the wealthiest men in town, and being an inveterate and successful bass fisherman, Uncle Cutter sold one of the best collections of girlie magazines in southeastern Arkansas. In a town where there was no real thing for white patrons unless they wished to cross the color line–prostitution in Back Gate was esseentially an African-American trade–Uncle Cutter’s pool halll was a veritable den of inequity. As a young visitor (Uncle Cutter was careful not to let me look at the magazines) I never understood why it was called a pool hall–virtually no one played pool in it. So much of life was like that in Back Gate–smoke andd mirrors. The genuine article was hard to procure.

The Graystone Hotel looked like what I imagined a Little Rock or Vicksburg hotel to look like–it was a four story white brick structure–th“the largest building in town. We were all proud that it greeted train visitors as they debarked from the train.

The Back Corner Hotel, on the other hand, was a one level Ranch that looked like most of the houses in which we lived. That disappointed most of the local people–who wantedd to stay in a hotel that looked like your house. But many visitors found it modern facilities–the Back Gate had toilets in each room–the Graystone asked itss patrons to share one on each hall–the Back Gate even had a coffeee peculator in each room–more appealing.