Since my grandmother owned the movie theaters in my hometown,I saw almost every movie that came to Eunice, Louisiana from 1960 to 1975.Movies were surrogate parents that gave my young head magical stories full of adventure, comedy, and music.
Cat Ballou remains one of my fondestmovie memories.Jane Fonda’s big-eyed bright blue innocence mixed with Lee Marvin’s slapstick drunkenness to create a revenge story full of heart and humor. I had a 9-year-old-girl crush on Michael Callan when he surprised and made advances on the naive school teacher, Catherine Ballou.Then the teacher teamed up with outlaws, both inexperienced and over-the hill, to find the villain who murdered her dad. And tying the whole comic western together were Nat King Cole and Stubby Kaye as the banjo-playing Greek chorus. (I still love the rhythmic sounds of “Wolf City, Wyoming…Wolf City, Wyoming.”)
I saw Cat Ballou 4 times in one week, and as I chomped on a full-sized Tootsie Roll, I thought Lee Marvin’s “Happy Birthday to You” mistake at Cat’s father’s funeral was the funniest thing in cinema in 1965.
Later my eyes got misty when Nat King Cole’s velvet voice crooned “They Can’t Make Her Cry” as Cat and her gang of guys slowly rode their horses toward their train robbery revenge plan.
At the end came the (Spoiler Alert) rousing rescue scene when Cat stands on the gallows in her virginal white dressand gives the sheriff “Let’s get on with it” as her final words. Next her merry band jumps into action with Kid Shelleensimultaneously threatening to fall off his saddle and shoot an escape path for the group.
That year Cat Ballou was nominated for 5 Academy Awards and Lee Marvin beat out Richard Burton, Laurence Olivier, Rod Steiger, and Oskar Werner for the Best Actor award! At 9, I was clueless about the status of the Oscars; however, I was aware that a movie could take me back to 1894 when a dedicated daughter could become a train robber and gun down the owner of Wolf City Development who ordered her father’s death.And a drunken, has-been gunfighter could sober up, clean up, and dress up in time to shoot his evil brother. Finally, the daughter, her young beau, and the other outlaws would still ride into the sunset to the jangly tune of “The Legend of Cat Ballou.”
I lost my voice….literally. It left me and in its wake, my confidence fell into a pit.
All during my years in education, I would occasionally get a raspy, scratchy voice. Too much talking and strain on my vocal cords. But, three years ago, that scratchiness returned with a slight tenderness, and I could not clear the gravel sitting in my throat.
With one visit to my ENT Doctor, an MRI and a laryngoscopy, it was determined that I had cysts on my vocal cords and they needed to be removed. “An easy day surgery with one minor detail,” my doctor explained. “You must have two weeks of complete voice rest. No talking and no whispering.” (as evidently whispering is worse for your voice.) “No sound for two weeks. Nada.”
Before the surgery, I envisioned the two weeks as total “me” time. Reading, writing and silent reflection, yet when my two weeks started I felt differently. I suddenly felt very vulnerable. One dear friend brought me a notepad with a little explanation taped on each page. “I just had throat surgery and am unable to talk. Please be patient while I write.” Someone else gave me a dry erase board to use at home so I felt prepared for communicating. I was NOT prepared for the frustration at getting people to understand what I needed or wanted. I was not prepared for the silence.
One day at Walgreens, I was checking out and while touching my throat, I mouthed to the clerk I was unable to talk. I started to write on my notepad, and she nodded that she understood. She then proceeded to use a rustic form of sign language to ask me if I wanted a bag and to point to cash or credit. I wanted to (scream) mouth, “I can hear you, I just can’t talk!” But, I thanked her in sign language and went on.
Slowly, I felt so withdrawn and yes, overlooked. My family stopped talking to me just so I wouldn’t have to answer, but I felt ignored. I felt what many others must feel every single day of their lives, yet, I knew mine would be temporary, or so I hoped. What if my voice never returns? More and more I retreated into my hushed, speechless world.
Finally, the end of my 14 days arrived. When I first tried to speak, I was unnerved at the sound of my voice. Complete gravel…..worse than before. I was told to give it time, be patient and try to relax my throat muscles, but I realized immediately that I did not know how to do that. Too many years of strain and stress.
I became embarrassed to speak in public, answer the phone or even go out. No one could understand me and I choked easily because I could not clear my throat. My doctor suggested a few things: another week of quiet, try a voice coach and if necessary, go see a specialist in San Antonio. Another week crept by with minimal speaking and it was determined that scar tissue had formed on my vocal cord. The specialist could give me shots of Botox to improve my voice and so I made the appointment.
Even though the specialist explained how the Botox would help and what I could expect afterward, I was ill-prepared for the exact details of how it would happen. The first thing they did was record me as I repeated chords and words so that there could be a baseline. Then I was ushered into an examination room that had low lighting, Feng Shui water fountain, calming lavender diffuser and a large screen TV. There was one large exam chair and lots of instruments….fear started to sink in.
The doctor sprayed my nose and throat with a numbing solution. A camera was put in my nose and down my throat and a light was put in my mouth down to my vocal cords. Then with a long, curved needle, he injected my vocal cord with Botox. The whole thing was projected onto the big screen TV and recorded. I would do this procedure three more times.
I admit, I was shy and self- conscious the first time I met my voice coach. It was unsettling and disheartening to hear myself try to repeat the scales and words she gave me. I could hear the pitch and sounds, but I could not make my voice mimic them. She recorded me as well. My confidence was in the toilet as I heard that first playback.
Sometimes life does send you angels and unexpected gifts, and Dara (my voice coach) was that for me. This sweet, beautiful and talented girl helped me find my voice. She encouraged me. She laughed with me not at me and she befriended me at a very tender time in my life.
Probably one full year after my first diagnosis, I came to believe that my voice might be as good as it was going to get. And now, three years later, I know it has gotten even stronger. Patience and time worked after all.
What is lost cannot always be found or restored, but sometimes a new thing takes its place. I gained a lot of strength from following through with the procedures and voice lessons, and with compassion and hard work, I found my voice. My new, hard-earned voice that sounds more like me than ever before.
Marriage ain’t always easy.Three kids and 35 years together have made Gary and me balance understanding and comfort with annoyance and anger. Once when I yelled at Gary for leaving his used dental pics on the coffee table, he answered, “Sorry. I guess these ‘Little Murders’ really chip away at us, huh?” Then I thought how I let small annoyances turn into large complaints.
One Thanksgiving in an effort to stop me from obsessing about whether my husband would have enough leftover turkey gumbo when he returned from visiting his brother, Momma said to me, “Don’t you worry about Gary.Gary always takes care of Gary.” These days I sometimes extend that thought to“Gary only has eyes for Gary.”He, however,justifies his self-obsessiveness with, “I’m not a noticer.” ( Noticer –1. The act of noting or observing; perception or attention:That detail escaped my notice. thefreedictionary.com)
So what if he ignores the whole world when he does his daily Sudoku or he can’t find ANYTHING in the fridge or he did not notice that he ate the last chocolate raspberry Haagen-Dazs bar from a box he “bought for me”?He also gives my 90 year-old dad countless rides to and from doctor appointments, always has a buck for the down-and-out guy at the stoplight, and cleans a stack of dirty dishes with no complaints.
His tendency to stop up a toilet, watch CNN constantly, dirty 23 dishes for one meal, leave his bike in the back of the car, and grab his mandatory 9 hours of sleep a night could be viewed differently.
He’s developed expert bathroom plumbing skills.
He stays well-informed on current events.
He cooks with creativity and zeal.
He stays fit and well-rested.
My mom’s dear friend once told me she used to fuss at her husband for leaving the kitchen cabinets wide open (one of Gary’s favorite hobbies). Then years after he had passed away, she looked at me with watery eyes and said, “What I wouldn’t give to walk in the kitchen and see every single cabinet door open!”
I used to believe all those Little Murders slowly smothered the love I had for Gary.Now I see they make pin pricks in my heart that make our love tough and real so we have enough strengthto deal with the many “slings and arrows” of this life. Gary makes me smile at life’s idiosyncrasies and laugh at love’s challenges.
Love Never Fails: It’s hard to be a mother. It’s gut-wrenching and heart-warming all at the same time. Most of us begin motherhood with rose-colored glasses and sheer determination to be the best parent we can be. We weave in and out of relationship advice, popularity contests, homework, and allowance. But, sometimes our idealistic dream is shattered when our child has a life-altering accident, unwanted pregnancy or time in rehab.
In 2001 as the Twin Towers were burning, my heart was aflame with fear and uncertainty. My youngest child had just gone to rehab for substance abuse. I was so afraid for her future, and I was overcome with grief. I never envisioned that the child I loved so much would one day become unrecognizable, foreign even to herself. I did not wish for this compulsion or plan for it as I would a college fund. Still, it was our reality….tough and raw.
I’ve always been skeptical of those parents who say their children are perfect. Or that ‘everything’s great! She’s my best friend.’ I felt guilty and ashamed that I had failed my job as a mother. How could this happen to my child? At times I cried myself to sleep at night because I loved her so deeply.
While my friends were sending out college graduation announcements for their children, I was celebrating the fact that my daughter had found a job on the bus route. While other kids her age were out partying, she was struggling not to and making a meeting every day. I was proud of her in ways other parents might never understand.
This beautiful child of mine turned 23 years old in rehab. None of us could have predicted how her life would be today…..16 years clean and sober, teaching school and being a wonderful mother to my grandson. Our lives are full of gratitude.
There are a few of us who have walked the path of booby traps and detours, not wanting to look down, trying always to look up. We carry our children over the land mines if we can, but if they must face the struggle themselves, we carry them in our hearts. This too shall pass, we silently repeat, wanting to believe it with all of our beings. We work hard to remember that ‘love’ will see them through. Love is determined not to give up on even the hardest case.
There was an oak tree with a long, low limb. A 6’4” dad would put a girl on his shoulders and let her scramble into the crook of the tree’s limb where she could hold on to small branches and settle into the oak’s saddle. The tall dad would then grab the limb’s end and pull it down, down to the ground. Anticipation made the girl’s grip tighten. The dad would go down and up, down and up to the tune of an old nursery rhyme:
“Here we go down to Banbury Cross
To see a fine lady ride on a white horse.
With rings on her fingers and bells on her toes
She will have music where ever she goes.”
Then the dad added an “Ole!” as he released the limb to make the girl spring up high as the tree was free to boing, boing, boing back into place.
Head and hair surrounded by branches and leaves, the girl felt equal to the free-flying birds.That 4-second thrill was a perfect balance of joy and fear.She looked down on her siblings from her queenly perchas they did the “Me next!” dance and she gave the mere mortals a slight smile before she accepted the dad’s huge hand that helped her dismount her tree throne.
Besides the wooden roller coaster at the beach, the “Bangberry Ride” was the girl’s favorite ride. With a rhyming song, a heavenly seat, a touch of danger, a parent’s attention, her sisters’ envy, and her stomach’s tickle, the ride was a moment of childhood perfection.
Overscheduled: I’ve overscheduled myself. I am irritable and a skosh unreasonable and I didn’t even know it….until now. This retirement gig is really working out for me except I’m busy from morning until night. There are so many things I want to do and so little time, that I often set my alarm for 5:30 a.m. Truthfully, I probably only have 20 more good years left (if I’m lucky) so I’ve literally been cramming my days with things I want to do.
There are lots of books I want to read and yet, I hear myself saying that I don’t have time to read them. Now, that is insanity!! Going for walks, going to the gym, photography, volunteering, crafting, writing, traveling, Grandchildren, lunch with friends, movies with friends, Words With Friends….Then there are still the household things to do like grocery shopping and laundry; my days are going by too fast.
I’ve even said to my husband that I’m kinda “done” with cooking and cleaning. It’s highly overrated and I seem to have lost my zing for new recipes and creative organizing. I know in my heart that I could do those things if I wanted to, but there you have it….I’d rather take my grandchildren to the park or snap pictures of butterflies. I think Joan Rivers said it best,“I hate housework. You make the beds, you wash the dishes and six months later you have to start all over again.”
I want to be outside some every day, and spend time with people I love every day, free from the computer or phone. I want to write and be creative in some way, every day. I want to exercise every day and do something for someone else every day. And, I want to LAUGH every day.
I thought in retirement I would slow down, but I have amped up in a big way, making up for all those working years when I rarely asked myself, “What do you want to do today?” Possibly, I could try scheduling a ‘day off’ every week, where I don’t have any plans or pressing engagements, but that seems a little extreme. I feel so blessed to be retired and to be healthy and to be able to live my life as I truly want. I want to do as much as I can for as long as I can.
It occurs to me that this “overscheduled” feeling is a hangover from the working days when often I felt overwhelmed and overworked. My context for overscheduled needs to be revamped. Being retired just means it is now time for a new adventure and that’s exactly what I’m doing. I need to replace “overscheduled” with “jam-packed with opportunity!”
I hear that still, small voice say, “Remember, Lucky Girl, each day is an opportunity for growth, excitement, and fulfillment. Spend each day wisely, in gratitude and you will not regret it.” Amen.
I haven’t always been a rule follower…in fact when I was 14 years old, I started to drive. This urge to drive took over my common sense like a speeding dart heading for the bullseye! Not having a driver’s license did not seem to bother me and I was even able to convince my best friend that I could teach her to drive, as well.
At the time, my Dad drove a white, ‘63 Chevy Impala, so logically that was my car, too. It was perfect! I could get three people in the front and four or five in the back. What could be better than taking your friends for a spin?
On this one particular day, my Dad had taken his ‘company car’ to work, leaving the Impala parked carefully in the garage. As soon as he left, I found the keys to the Imala and began making my plans. I’m not proud of this now, you understand, but for some reason, at that time I had no remorse.
My friend, Nitia, walked over to my house and we took the ole Chevy out for the day. Long, LONG ago, 50 cents would buy a lot of gas, so we came prepared to fill it back up if necessary. I can’t remember where we went, but I’m sure it involved ‘seeing and being seen.’ There was probably a boy or two and maybe a trip to the mall incorporated into our plan.
After our joy ride, I was making the turn leading back to my house. Unfortunately, it also went right by Nitia’s house. This would have been ok except her dad was outside watering the yard. When we noticed him, it was too late to turn around, and I instinctively yelled, “Duck!” For some reason, I thought that was a good idea, and I ducked too. It must have been a subliminal message or sheer ignorance, but surprisingly we crept safely by her house, ducked down in the front seat. When we made it to my house, we parked back into the garage and congratulated ourselves on having a great day and dodging her dad.
Later that night at dinner, Nitia’s dad turned to her and said, “The weirdest thing happened today. I saw Nancy’s Dad’s car drive by and no one was in it.” Of course, she acted like she didn’t know what he was talking about and miraculously, her parents never called mine, but that was a very close call.
All during my 9th and 10th-grade years, I sporadically took that grand ‘63 Chevy Impala out for a drive. I learned to drive in that car and finally got my driver’s license in that car. It was my signature ride until I went to college and had to leave it behind.
If that ole Chevy could talk, it would keep us entertained for days with stories of friends, secrets, near misses and more fun than should be allowed. I eventually told my Dad about some of my car adventures. He was shocked, to say the least, but managed to chuckle since it obviously was past the statute of limitations for being grounded.
There might be another story or two about that ole Chevy, but for now, just revel in its sleek, thoroughbred beauty, and imagine yourself at the wheel! It was a fine ride, yes indeed!
I miss you something fierce! Hardly a day goes by that I don’t think of you or see something that reminds me of you. I think of you every time I go to Walgreens and remember how you loved to get out and just look around. How you always bought a new Farmer’s Almanac and a Revlon lipstick, Wine With Everything, even though you had two in your purse. “Just in case, “ you would say.
I think of you every time I go into my closet and see the Rhinestone pins and necklaces you gave me from your overflowing jewelry box
I hear your voice when the weatherman flashes Oklahoma City on the map. You would call and ask, “Are you having any weather down in Austin?” And then proceed to say, “It’s so windy here it would blow the hair off a dog!”
I think of you every time I don’t want to go for a walk, because you braved the elements every day, even using your walker. You had a path inside and out at your retirement home, where you would walk one mile in the morning and one in the afternoon. “I’ve got to walk or die,” you’d say.
I miss the way we would laugh, especially at ourselves and tell the same stories over and over again, each of us acting as if it were the first time!
I miss you telling me how much I look like my mother; how much you love me and can’t wait to see me again.
I tried to come for a visit every few months or so. At the end of our time together, you would ask me when I was coming back. You didn’t like to say goodbye and didn’t want any long farewells, tears or fuss. As I would make my way to my car, I would turn around and look for your face in the window and you were always there waving back. We would stand there and look at each other for those few seconds and my heart would ache, already longing to return.
I like to think that maybe on your walks upon the streets of gold, you might pause in front of a big picture window looking down on us all. I like to think you are smiling and waving, your hand pressed to the pane and you hear me say, “I miss you something fierce.”
My dear Auntie Sue was the Original Sittin Ugly Sistah! She was funny, sweet, loving and true to herself. She loved God, her family, eating a good steak and Bob Wills!
How long do mosquitoes live?This persistent skeeter has been stalking me for days. He starts his shaky flying routine ‘round my head and over my morning coffee. His uneven circles tease my eyes. Midday he’s at my desk with a whine that wants to be a buzzing, and his sad circles resemble a drunken stumble.At 10:33 p.m. he reappears in the worst way: like a ghost insect skittering around my face one moment and disappearing after I swat the air with my book. I practice patience and wait for Mr. Invisible to land on my hand and bite me so I can better aim and destroy him. However, this sly bug outsmarts me and won’t reappear until I give up, turn off the lights, and settle down for sleep.
His finale is the whine of insanity around my ears with his half-second landing and leaving over and over. My batting the air and even throwing off my covers only increases his craftiness. He disappears long enough for me to believe I have squashed him before the irrrrrrrrrr…irritating whirr returns, and I cover my head with the comforter because it’s better to suffocate than slowly go insane!
This mosquito madness is a metaphor for the worry that consumes me. The dark side of the street is my mind’s preferred hangout.
What if my oldest son never signs up for Obamacare and needs a heart transplant?
What if my dad lives to be 104 and Gary and I never get to live abroad?
What if our home with a cracked slab splits in two, and the morning sun shining in my eyes is NOT from a bedroom window but from a monster crack in my roof that reveals an unwanted piece of sky?
Realistic fears square dance with cray-cray ones, and the fiddler speeds up until all I know are swirling images of catastrophe.The foot-tapping of the caller and the clapping of the demented dancers become a David Lynch scene of horror:“Forward and Back” &“Do Sa Do” with hillbilly dancers who sport massive mosquito heads!
So I swat the sick scene from my brain’s “Oklahoma”-meets-“The Fly” dance number, and I scrub the toilet or dust a bookshelf. Desperate times call for desperate measures.
I even Google “life span of a mosquito” and I now believe this demon skeeter will die before I do. Yet is there a mosquito nest in my bathroom cabinet? Do houses on cracked slabs harbor an alternative universe of zombie mosquitoes that never die?! (No more Stranger Things for me).
I must get out of my head and my house, so I head to the farmer’s market. Wait a sec! Are those fruit flies around the blackberries? Or is that soft buzzing really a whinnnne!!??
Bette Midler has long known, “You’ve Got to Have Friends.” From the first friend I made in kindergarten to the dog-walking friend I made a month ago, friends have given me the support and the empathy I need to stay sane.
Ever since I read Rebecca Wells’ Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, I daydreamed about that group of best friends that sticks together even after troubles may temporarily pull them apart. They snap back together even stronger.
Growing up in south Louisiana, my sisters were my closest friends, but technically they’re sisters, and each has her own best friend. I also have a first cousin I’ve gone through tragedies and comedies with, but she too has her own best friend.
In Texas I have friends who could be BFF’s, but they have friends they’ve known longer than me, and these friends know “where more of the bodies are buried” than I do.
So the single-best-friend-in-all-the-world is not my reality.
Instead, I have a group of Jockstrap Friends: friends who are close and supportive and know all my stinky secrets. (I considered calling them Bra Buddies, but a brassiere does not have the smelly, sweaty essence of a jockstrap). Jockstraps hold “the family jewels” in place, and in the bumpy, unpredictable ride we call Life, jockstraps have the comfortable elasticity to protect our most precious “friends” from sudden shocks and shoves.
Jockstrap Friends show up at hospitals and funerals as well as weddings and birthdays. In extreme situations they will even clean your house, cook your meals, hold your hair back while you puke, and take off work to drive to the International Crawfish Etoufee Cookoff in Eunice, Louisiana with you. Once three of my Jockstrap Friends even decorated my whole home for Christmas when my son was in the hospital!
Jockstrap Friends share many of your tastes in food, music, and movies. They accept your idiosyncrasies the same way your family does; however, you laugh more with Jockstrap Friends. Ya’ll share a 100%breathable cotton kind of comfortableness without them “riding your ass” the way family members might. You “show your butt” with a jockstrap friend and still maintain “optimum support and comfort.”
At times I’m sad I don’t have a one & only best friend, but it’s probably better to have a mess of Jockstrap Friends.That way whenever my next catastrophe hits, if one friend is having a hip replacement and another is flying to Oregon for the birth of her grandchild, I’ll still have that one friend who will help me clean out my grandma’s attic in August, help decorate the church’s activity hall for Momma’s memorial, or read the first draft of my YA novel.