Almost all of my family and friends know that I was accepted into the UMSL Irish Studies program. I’ll be spending 5 weeks in Ireland taking classes at NUI in Galway. This, naturally, comes with challenges. The first was realizing I’d be the oldest – by far!!! – student enrolled. Next came the panic of knowing this was REALLY happening and of all the things that could go wrong here at home in those five weeks. Then came trying to book a flight there and back – no easy feat!! In fact, I became so distraught I damn near had a panic attack, so Scott took over and finally, after about 4 hours, we figured it out. Nick, I’m sorry, but I won’t be able to see you on your birthday this year. I’ll raise of glass of Guiness to you, though, and thank all the gods that be for giving you to me 25 years before. Now, all I have to do is find lodging for 2 nights before classes start (shouldn’t be that hard) and find lodging for the week after classes end when Scott will be able to join me. This will be the first time I’m traveling so far alone and, I’m not going to hide this, I’m a bit terrified. I’m trying not to panic again, but now I’m thinking about all the packing and things I might need. Medication. Clothes. Shoes. Shampoo and conditioner. Razors. chapstick. bonine. notebooks. pens. computer. outlet converter. Euros. contact the back and credit card company. SO. FREAKING. MUCH!!! Then, a sudden thought occured to me. Ireland is a very, very civilized country. They have STORES there!!! As long as I have my medication, identification, passport, and credit cards sorted out, if I forget something, I can just buy it there. Whew!!! Only 3 months to go!
First, it’s a Hallmark Holiday even though it’s history predates that of the honorable Hallmark company. It actually, as many holidays do, began with the Romans. Read here
for more details. Basically, Lupercalia involved “fun” activities like sacrificing goats, men hitting women with the sacrificed goat skin or intestines to promote fertility, drunkedness, and lewd behavior – some of which I heartily approve of. Then came St. Valentinious, noteable for his beheading possibly on February 14 (hence the red color!). Then, the Jonny come lately of pretty paper hearts and tiny little candies with insipid sayings on them. Now, before any reader starts thinking I’m just being bitter because I don’t have a sweetheart, let those who know me remember that not only DO I have a sweetheart, I have a wonderful sweetheart whom I’ve been married to for over 30 years and dated for 6 years previous to our nuptials. I did not give him my heart – I rather need that to beat for myself. I did, however, share my love, my very limited wealth, my unlimited sense of humor, my desires, my sons, my fears, my heartbreak, my joys, and every other part of my with him. In return, he did not give me break your teeth hard candies with insipid sayings printed on them. He gave me his opinion, his protection, his love, his sons, his wicked and often inappropriate sense of humor, his friendship, and his respect. So much better than cavities.
In the interest of total honesty, though, my brother’s ill fated marriage began on Feburary 14 and we did, with untold sadness lay my grandmother to rest on Feburary 14 (different years!), so I have very personal reasons to dislike the day. These tragedies aside, I’m still not a huge fan.
Maybe I’m just sympathetic towards those who no longer have someone who loves them unconditionally. Maybe I’m offended (that is SUCH a Millenial word!!) by the amount of money spent on hiked up prices of cards, candies, flowers, jewelery, etc. Maybe I’m bothered by the idea that you can shower gifts on your loved one once a year and you’re good to go when really you should shower your loved one with – well – love – all year long. Maybe it’s just the winter blues. Maybe I’m still not over that time in the 7th grade when I really liked a boy and he gave a beautiful Valentine to the girl who sat next me. Maybe I dislike that we as a society have sanitized a truly interesting if bizarre holiday.
Here’s an idea – rather than spending an bucket full of money on gifts for your beloved that he or she will thank you for and, if you’re lucky, give you sex in return for, buy some books. Buy some self help books and drop them off at a local gym. Buy some children’s books and donate them to an after school facility. Buy some crossword puzzle books and give them to a nursing home. Do what those disgusting candies say – be kind, love, hug. Do some good instead of trying to buy love.
My oldest son, Michael, was a surprising child from the moment he was born. First, the good doctor assured me that the baby would be a girl and a small one at that. Nope. My baby boy was over 9 pounds. Second, many people told me that first children are often fussy. Nope. He slept through the night at about 7 weeks and fussed only when he was hungry (can’t blame him there!). He also woke up happy. Seriously. He was happy. I couldn’t quite understand this since I always woke up seriously pissed off and confused. Not Michael. He would be sitting up in his crib, playing and smiling. When he got a little older, he’d climb out of his bed and come running into our room giggling and wanting nothing more than to be cuddled. I have to admit, that did make me less pissed off when I woke up. I mean who can be pissy when you have a bundle of boy who smells of sleep and sweetness cuddled up next to you?
Anywho, Michael was just over 3 years old and it was December. For the record, I think 3 year olds are the absolute perfect age to fully enjoy Christmas! Everything is new and exciting and beautiful to them. They find magic in everything from a snowflake to a candle flame. Every night he wanted his father to read him “A Visit from St. Nicholas” before he went to sleep. To be perfectly honest, I was a bit jealous. I wanted to read it to him, but Michael had decided that bedtime was “Daddy read to me” time. It really was rather sweet to listen to my husband’s baritone voice mixed with my son’s little boy soprano questions. One moring I was almost ready to leave for work when Scott pulled back the curtain from the window in the front room. He said, “You want the umbrella? It looks like rain, dear.”
“Reindeer? Reindeer!!!! Reindeer!!! Reindeer!!!,” Michael shouted, jumping up and down in his warm, footy pajamas. “Where’s the Reindeer?? Where’s Santa??”
He was heartbroken when we finally calmed him down and explained there were no reindeer in the yard. For a moment, he thought we had played an awful trick on him. Then, typical of his nature, he brightened up and said, “That’s okay. It was just a practice for when Christmas really comes.” He was all smiles and sunshine again.
What a happier world it would be if we could all turn our disappointments into advantages.
A very long time ago in a place not too far away, I remember celebrating Thanksgiving. It usually began with Terry, my brother, and me getting up later than our usual 7:00 a.m., arguing over which cereal to have for breakfast, then watching early morning cartoons. My mother wasn’t home, she was next door at my grandparents’ house, already starting on preparations for the feast. We lived in a duplex with my grandpa, MeeMaw, and Aunt Rose (Grandpa’s sister) on one side and my parents, Terry, Aunt Blanche (MeeMaw’s sister) on ours, so she wasn’t far away. We, Terry and I, had full run of both sides. Eventually, we’d get ourselves dressed and wander next door to get in the way and watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. Aunt Rose always had a present for us and it was always the same thing. Something I looked forward to every year. A Christmas coloring book and a new box of crayons. (To be perfectly honest, I STILL love the smell of crayons!) Terry and I lay on the floor, watched the parade, and “died” of hunger smelling MeeMaw’s fresh rolls, turkey, and assorted other delights as they baked. One year, somewhere between 1972 and 1975, we had a massive crowd. My aunt, uncle, three cousins, and Grandma Doyle all came over along with my neighbors, Mrs. McDaniel and her three children, all older than Terry and me but not by much. The noise was phenomenal. I loved every moment of it. Family, friends, food, coloring, joking, catching a football outside (okay, so I didn’t really “catch” it, but I tried!!), even doing the dishes was fun because there were so many people. I was actually a fairly shy child, but I absolutely LOVED that Thanksgiving with so many people around.
Fast Forward to 1986. This was the year I married Scott. We married on November 29, the Saturday after Thanksgiving. The mean wasn’t nearly as chaotic as that one in the ’70s, but it was still pretty damned good. Both of my grandmothers were there )grandpa, Rose, and Blanched had passed away) along with Terry, his fiancee, Scott, and both of my parents. We laughed, learned about how Grandpa once brought home a live turkey on the bus after getting drunk as a skunk on homemade wine, ate our weight in turkey, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole and everything else. Not as many people there, but I still felt cocooned with family, warmth, and love.
1994. My house. I now had babies – 2 perfect boys. I wasn’t about to drag them out to everyone else’s house, so I hosted Thanksgiving. My mom held the baby, Nick, and Michael watched the parade with his grandpa and dad while MeeMaw and I cooked. It was great. While we ate, I looked around. The dishes, my great-grandmother’s sparkled. Michael gnawed on a turkey leg that was as big as his head and Nick discovered the pure joy of a corn casserole and MeeMaw’s rolls. I couldn’t help but notice, though, the empty seats that should have been filled with my grandfather, Rose, Blanche, and most of all, Terry. Still, I felt them there and loved them all.
2017. Time, it seems, moves faster as I get older. This year so many more will be missing. I will not even be hosting the dinner. Michael and his wife will be. Michael married a woman who is lovely in every possible way and I am so very, very happy to claim her as my daughter in law. At his table we, Scott and I, will sit beside her father and grandmother and enjoy a dinner my son and I will prepare. He’s doing most of the work, in all truth, which makes me so incredibly proud I can’t hardly contain myself. I’m bringing desserts which MeeMaw taught me to make. My baby, Nick, now lives 4 hours away and can’t come home again for the holidays. My father will enjoy his feast with his son, mother, sister, Rose, Blanch, mother-in-law, and father-in-law. My mother won’t even know it is Thanksgiving and will eat at the Nursing Home because she can no longer leave the facility. Even if I did bring her, she wouldn’t know where she was or whom she was with. I will feel the loss of each and every one of them.
My family has changed drastically over the years. I never would have thought, back in 1973, that I would be the mother of 2 men. That I would have to celebrate so many holdiays without both of my sons with me. That my only brother would have been killed at the age of 27. That my mother would lose her memory. That I would, by default, become the matriach of the family. But some things I hoped for, and they have happened. I HAVE 2 sons who are strong, compassionate, kind, and wise. I have a husband who has stood by me through all the grief and loss. I have a daughter-in-law who is the only person who loves my son as much as I do. I have a mother and father-in-law whom I respect, admire, and love.
I have lived a blessed life, and I am thankful.
Okay, so today was not awesome. First, background. Scott has a cold so he’s not in best form. We went to the Irish Fest in Milwaukee about 7 or so years ago. LOVED IT. We wanted to go again, but just couldn’t work it out. This year, we decided to go. It’s about a 5 hour drive, so we could leave after I got off work and make it to Milwaukee by about 9-10 and have all day Saturday at the festival. Then I remembered I needed a blood test, so I scheduled the appointment with labcorp for that day (the earliest I could get was at 9:30), took a day off work since I figured if they were running late I might not get back in until 10 and I wasn’t sure I could get to work by 11 (half a day). GREAT CALL. I got in roughly on time, they sucked the 3 vials of blood they needed, and I got back to drive home feeling a bit shakey, but nothing too bad. Then I got a call from labcorp. My insurance, it seems, had changed labs and would only pay for the testing if I went to Quest. I turned around, waited for about 10 minutes, got the blood they’d just drawn and all my paperwork and went to Quest to drop it off, had to sign the register, wait another 20 minutes until they called me in, hand over my blood, wait for the woman to print out the paperwork which was an ordeal since the printer was out of paper, sign the paperwork and leave, only to get a call when I’m almost home from Quest telling me that they simply cannot process blood which has been drawn at a different lab and I was welcome to come back, wait again, and have blood drawn a second time. By now I’m serious shaking, my arm from the first draw is bruising and hurts, so I got a little brusk with the person on the phone and asked why they didn’t tell me that when I was there. No answer, just an excuse. I said No. I hadn’t eating since 4:30 the day before (it was now around 10:45) and I was shaking badly. I went home, fixed myself a bacon/tomato sandwich, ate half, went to the computer, pulled up the reservations for our trip from Booking.com (DO NOT USE THIS SITE) and, when reaching for a piece of paper (for some reason the printer wasn’t working) grabbed a used tissue filled with dried snot and blood. Scott has been fighting a cold for over a week. If you know me, you know I don’t deal with blood well. The bacon/tomato sandwich turned into a hard ball in my stomach, which rebelled, and I rushed to the bathroom in time to vomit it out. Scott got home, we left, drove to Milwaukee, found the hotel, and discovered that Booking.com had not, in fact, made the reservation. At this point I was ready to screm. Luckily, Ken, the front desk guy, was not only friendly, but sympathic, intelligent, and efficient. He called booking.com, cancelled the reservation so we wouldn’t be charged, and made us a new reservation, gave us 2 complimentary drink tickets, provided me with the toothbrush I had forgotten to back, and was generally the knight in shining armour come to save the day. Her at the Hilton Garden Inn the room is lovely, the restaurant delightful ( I HIGHLY recommend the clam chowder) and the drinks hearty. Now, I’m sipping tea – which Ken also was able to find for me – and Scott is on the bed snoring a bit, exhausted from his equally awful day.
Tomorrow has GOT to be better!
It’s usually when I’m baking pies or Christmas cookies that she comes to visit me. I suppose this only makes sense since she’s the one who taught me not only to bake, but her philosphy behind feeding her family and friends. A philosphy I also embrace. That to feed those you love is an honor. Honor them and yourself by giving them the most nutritious, well cooked real food you can. Junk food is fine once in a while, but even if it takes time, sweat, and hard work, by preparing food from scratch, you know exactly what is going into the bodies of the people you love. Your food literally becomes their body. Honor them by giving them your best as often as possible.
Today, I was rolling out dough for an apple pie when she came. My grandmother. MeeMaw. She saw that the dough was sticking and I could hear her saying, “Better sprinkle more flour on your cloth. You don’t want it to be pulling apart now. Work it too much and it’ll be tough, you know.”
I was slicing the apples, filling the crust when I heard her ask, “You going to let that glaze burn?” I turned off the glaze which had thickened perfectly. She came up with the recipe. I’m sure she read the basics of the recipe somewhere, but she perfected it. Nick insists that this was done in her super secret underground kitchen. In truth, it was in the finished basement on her side of the duplex I grew up in. When my dad tested positive for diabetes, she came up with this recipe. Make the pie like usual, but instead of sugar, use 1-2 cups of apple cider. To this add all of your usual spices then set it on the stove to simmer. After it “looks right” mix a solution of corn starch and water until it’s smooth and then slowly add it to the cider. Let it cook a bit then pour it over the sliced apples in the curst. I’d give measurements, but I can’t. She didn’t really measure and taught me how to tell if something “looked right” along with eyeballing how much cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, mace, and ginger to use.
As I was brushing the top of the pie with an egg beaten with water I asked her a question. “How am I doing?” She is the person I most wanted to proud of me. She is the person I most wanted to impress. I thought about my house and figured she wouldn’t be all that impressed with my housekeeping abilities, but she’d understand that as a working woman, there’s only so much time in the day. I thought about beginning my 32nd (Holy Toledo!!) year of teaching. You work hard and you’ve helped a lot of kids. Yep. She’d be proud of that. Then, I thought about my sons, her great grandsons, the greatest joys of her life. The day I brought Michael home from the hospital almost 29 years (Holy Toledo!!) ago, she snatched him up, decided he needed his diaper changed, kissed him all the way to the changing table, and when he peed in her ear, she giggled like a school girl. Once Nick came along and had colic, she’d see how exhausted I was, take him from me, and sit in her rocking reliner. I have no idea what she was saying, but she murmured to him and he immediately stopped his screaming, cuddled into her, and calmed. She was magical. Both of them are now men with their own lives, jobs, homes. They are both in their own way compassionate, intelligent, and strong individuals. I can count on them for anything. Well now. They couldn’t have turned out better if they’d tried. It’s an odd saying, I know, but it was her way of saying they were perfect.
Then came the big question. I’ve been feeling lost lately, unneeded (after all, the boys are grown men now), superfluous. When they were little, they were my life – and it was a fabulous life. Now, I just don’t have a good sense of purpose. Did you ever stop needing me? she asked back. I smiled. She did this. She answered your question with one of her own which led you to figure out the answer for yourself.
And you thought this essay was going to be about pie.
Nothing good comes from an unexpected phone call at 4:00 a.m. On August 25, 1988, the shrill sound startled Scott and me. Scott, barely conscious, lunged for the phone. I rolled my heaving weight over in an attempt to sit upright. At 8 months pregnant I hadn’t been able to move my bulky, often quivering, belly easily in at least a month.
“Okay. We’ll be there as soon as we can,” Scott said.
My heart was about to thump out of my chest.
“Hon, that was your dad. We need to get dressed. Terry’s been shot, and they’re taking him to Anderson Hospital.
My heart skipped several beats. Terry, my older brother by 2 and 1/2 years, had taken a summer job at the Amoco (now BP) station next to highway 255 in Collinsville. He worked the night shift and last night had been his last night there. He’d be returning to his full time job as the grounds monitor at Collinsville High School.
Faster than I had moved in a month, I threw on some clothes. “Let him be okay. Let him be okay. Let him be okay” was my mantra. The baby, for once, was remarkably still, almost as if he too were praying. I have no idea how long it took for us to arrive at the Hospital. It was normally about a 20 minute drive, but it could have been 2 minutes or 2 hours early that morning. We pulled up next to my parents’ car. A quick scan also showed my sister-in-law and her parents. This could not be good. My mom was crying, MeeMaw was looking sadder than I’d ever seen her before, and my dad was pacing. He rushed to Scott as I went to my mom.
“It can’t be,” she repeated.
Scott knelt beside me and said, “He’s been shot three times. Once in his hand, his shoulder, and his head.”
I looked up, robbed of speech. That was when I noticed the helicopter on the landing pad. “They’re going to transfer him to SLU hospital,” Scott continued.
I tried to comfort my mom, telling her lies I no longer believed, saying that SLU was one off the best hospitals in the country. Terry had a hard head, nothing could penetrate that. He’d be okay. He had to. He was going to be the baby’s godfather. Then, an orderly came out of the hospital and asked us to come in with him. Scott helped me to my feet and I waddled behind the rest of the family. That, though, was when I heard the engine of the helicopter throttle down and watched as the blades slowed. I knew then, but couldn’t – wouldn’t – accept it.
We were all brought into a tiny room in the emergency room. Terry’s best friend, Greg, was also supposed to be there, so Scott went out to find him. I don’t think he realized what we about to be told. An unsmiling yet professional doctor came it. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be for a doctor to face a family full of hope and fear.
“I’m sorry. His injuries were too severe. He has expired.”
Again, I couldn’t say anything. The baby gave one big kick and I looked at the faces in the room. My mom and grandmother had tears streaming down their faces, but my mom’s eyes looked vacant, lost. My dad was openly sobbing. My sister-in-law looked stoic and stunned, her parents stood on either side of her, their hands around her waist, and looked at the floor. Scott came in then, along with Greg. He asked me what the doctor had said. I still couldn’t speak. My mouth opened and shut like a guppy who’d leapt from his bowl and landed hard on the ground. I just stared at my husband and shook my head. I think it may have been MeeMaw, I’m not sure, who told the two of them that Terry had died. Greg stormed out of the room. We had been told that we could see him if we wanted to, but looking at me, the doctor said that it might not be a good idea. I truly regret not seeing him that one last time. My dad, though, did. I desperately needed air, so Scott took me outside. The rest of the family followed. Over in the field next to the hospital stood Greg. His arms above his head, screaming at the sky. He bend down, elbows on knees for a moment, the stood rigid and came to us. My dad barreled out of the hospital, paler than any living being should ever be. He couldn’t look at any of us, but got into his car. Sobbing, my mom looked at me and asked if we’d come over to house soon. I nodded, no words left in me.
Scott drove me home so we could take care of the new puppy and change into cooler clothes. August mornings can be chilly and I’d thrown on a heavy sweater. I let the puppy out to pee and suddenly it all became real. I sat down heavily on the dew covered grass and sobbed. Then screamed. Then sobbed. I think some neighbors may have come to stare, but I’m not sure. Later, those same neighbors brought over casseroles. All I remember is Scott picking me up and carrying me inside while I kept shouting that I wanted him back. I have no idea how long I screamed and sobbed, but eventually I calmed. Scott washed my face off with a cool washcloth and we heading over to my parents’ house – puppy in tow.
Throughout that day we made and received probably a hundred phone calls. It’s odd, but as I told what had happened to friends and family, I became calmer. Later that day my parents and sister-in-law went to the funeral home to make arrangements. Five days later, on August 30, 1988, we buried my only brother. The line of cars in the funeral procession snaked behind us for over half a mile. Ten days later, the police caught the man who had killed Terry. Sadly, they caught him after he had killed another man and wounded a second who eventually became paralyzed and then died as a result of his injuries. He is now serving life in prison. This one random act of violence devastated my entire family.
Six weeks later I gave birth to a very large, active, healthy, perfect little boy. We were going to name him Michael James since the name of James has been in my family for several generations. Instead, he is Michael Terrence. Greg, rather than Terry, stood up for him at his christening. Michael was the balm we all desperately needed to help us heal. He was (and still is) the sweetest baby, filled with gurgling giggles and smiles bright enough to light the world – our world certainly.
Despite this blessing, I began to notice things about my mom. She forgot names of people she’d known forever. She would call me five, seven, ten times a day, often repeating the same conversation without realizing it. I’ve done the research and from what I’ve read, severe trauma cannot cause dementia. It can, however, propel it. Not only had we lost my brother, we had begun on a very long and arduous journey of losing my mother. My dad died at the age of 74 in 2004 from complications of heart disease. MeeMaw passed in 2010 at the age of 96. My mom is still alive, sort of. She’s now 86 years old and has never recovered from Terry’s death and then the loss of her husband and mother heralded further declines in her mental stability. She is now confined to a nursing home where time is very fluid. One day she knows me, knows my sons and their ages. Those are the good days. Most days now, however, she knows us, but also asks when her mom or dad (who died in 1976) are coming to pick her up. She told me the other day that she needed to catch a bus home because she didn’t like leaving her mom home with the kids too long. That same day she told me that my brother was “some man. You’re going to be aunt again.” Then, she asked where her mom was, suddenly deciding that she was at home babysitting Terry. I just smiled and said yes, she was with Terry.
Here’s a small sample of some “interesting” things students have said or written during the last 31 years of my teaching career.
- During confesiun, the prest gives penis after you tell him yor sins. (5th grader)
- It’s been a long week today.
- What’s inside a grape?
- How long is a minute?
- 18 months – wow, that’s a long time. Almost a whole year and a half.
- I watched the solar eclipse last night.
- Kid: My mom wouldn’t help me with homework. I knocked on the bedroom door and heard a lot of grunting and banging, but she didn’t open the door. When she finally came out I asked her what she and dad were doing and she said moving the furniture. (5th grader) Me: You can turn in the homework tomorrow.
- Kid (senior): Mrs. Jenkins, do you think I will ever have sex with a woman?
- King Arthur sent his massager out to warn the villagers.
- I really admire Moth Teresa.
I was a junior in high school when I started having chronic sore throat problems. Not only was this annoying, it was affecting one of my classes – Chorus. I complained to my parents who gave me Sucrets. I complained again and they took me a doctor who specialized in throat disorders. He diagnosed me with chronic tonsillitis and had me gargle with peroxide. Let me assure you, there is nothing more disgusting than gargling with a nasty liquid which slowly turns into a thick, bubbling froth. I felt like a rapid animal. This went on for months and there was little improvement. Finally, on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving of my senior year I had a tonsillectomy.
As soon as I woke up from the surgery, I knew something was wrong. I felt a distinct draining in my throat kind of like when you have a cold and there’s a constant post nasal drip. I made gagging noises and was quickly scolded by the nurses. This type of activity could damage the internal stitches. I wasn’t REALLY feeling a draining, that was just the effects of the anesthesia. I was just imagining something draining. Okay, I do have an active imagination, but at least do me the courtesy of checking my throat! They reluctantly agreed to keep me overnight for observation since I was so agitated. My mom stayed with me and as soon as dawn broke, they were in my bleach scented, sterile room bundling me up to get me out of there despite my insisting that I still felt the drainage. That day wasn’t much better. I spent the day in bed, too exhausted to even sit up and read. Thanksgiving Day arrived, but I still couldn’t get out of bed. I had a roll for dinner. It was a home made MeeMaw roll, so it was a damn good piece of bread,plus it was soaked in lots of butter to make it very, very soft. After that, I felt full – odd, huh?
I went to sleep early and around 1 in the morning I sat up and then ran to the bathroom. I didn’t even make it to the toilet. I was vomiting blood into the sink. No, that’s not really it. I just opened my mouth and blood poured out. My parents woke up and promptly freaked out (can’t say I blame them!) My mom immediately called for her mom – MeeMaw to come over and help (we lived in a duplex with the grandparents next door), and my dad called for an ambulance. I fainted and, according to my brother, my dad picked me up off the bathroom floor and in his rush out of the bathroom banged my head against the door with a resounding thunk. Then, he angled me another way and banged my ankles against the door. This explained those odd bruises on my temple and ankle! The ambulance got there and took me back to the hospital where they looked down my throat once and told my parents to make an appointment with the doctor for the next morning. Other than that, there was nothing else they could do.
The next morning we were at the doctor’s office. I’d never before heard a doctor curse, but he was highly agitated, let’s say, that the hospital had not informed him immediately of this problem and they had sent home an actively bleeding patient. Apparently, blood clots had formed on the arteries and held them open, an unusual but certainly not unheard of complication. That drainage I felt had actually been blood flowing down my throat directly into my stomach. He leaned me back in a dentist’s chair type of thing, had me stick my tongue out, wrapped it in gauze, grabbed it to hold it down, then jammed a hot caurterizing iron down my throat. I smelled the unappetizing aroma of burnt meat and watched in a dazed as white smoke rose from my open mouth. I fainted again and spent another night in the hospital – a different one this time. The next morning when I woke up, I felt no drainage, only hunger. I sipped some watery cream of wheat and then again went home. I really was feeling much better. Obviously, I didn’t eat anything but liquids for about a week. By then, I had lost so much weight I looked anorexic. I weighed in at a whopping 87 pounds. (Okay, I’d started at 105, but that was still a significant weight loss. Over a year later, I finally had gained back all the weight I lost.
Could we have sued the hospital for malpractice? Yes. Did we? No. I’m not sure why my parents didn’t, but I’m just as happythey didn’t. Yes, it was awful, but in the end, I was just fine. Part of the problem may actually have been that I’m a redhead. At the time, it was more strawberry blond, but nonetheless, a redhead. Today, medical science acknowledges that redheads react to pain, pain medication, anesthesia, heat, and cold differently. They also, according to myth – which I personally believe – bleed more heavily and heal more slowly. Can’t blame the hospital for all that. What does this all prove? It proves that shit happens. That’s it. Shit happens, but most of time, we survive it. My senior year was not a good one for a variety of reasons, but I got through it. One really good thing that happened throughout all of this? A really cute guy I had met at my boyfriend’s house and had shared a study hall class with my junior year was talking to me more and more. Six years later, we married. And the rest, as they say, is history.
So my first adult camping experience occurred in 1996. Family Camp for Cub Scouts. Michael was a Tiger Cub and Nick was just a little guy, 6 weeks or so away from turning 3. We borrowed a heavy canvas tent and I began packing. Clothes for me and Nick, supervising which Michael’s choices. Food, toothpaste and brushes, band aids, antiobiotic ointment, acetaminophen for adult and children, benydril, cooking utensils for a campfire and a camp stove, gallons of clean water, juice, coffee, creamer, hairbrush, comb, shampoo, soap, toilet paper, paper towels, matches, marshmallows, pillows, blankets, sleeping bags, plastic bags for laundry, a mountain dulcimer, games, dry shoes, water shoes, lots and lots of socks, jackets, and more – you get the idea. Scott got home, loaded the station wagon, threw a few things in a bag and we were off – a mere 10 hours after I began packing. Two hours later we arrive at Camp Sunnen, which now belongs to Greater St. Louis Boy Scout Council.
Setting Up Camp: Luckily, we weren’t the first ones there, so while I’m playing ringleader to the boys, Scott and some of the other dads put up our tent. Then he takes over with the boys and I set up the sleeping bags, pillows, suitcases, cooking supplies, showering supplies. We’d stopped to eat a quick dinner in Potosi, so at least I didn’t have to figure out the camp stove. The Scoutmaster got a nice bonfire going and before long we were all gather around it, long sticks in hand, making smores, eating cheese and crackers, laughing. Michael in particular thought Smores were the greatest thing on earth and ate his weight in them. He made more for me, his dad, his little brother, anyone who wanted one. As the evening became chillier, we bundled up and got ready for bed. That was when it started to drizzle. That was also when little 3 year old Taylor, the sister of another scout, said, “I gotta go potty.” She couldn’t go alone – her bottom was so very tiny and the hole in the outhouse was large. Her mom, a nurse, took her, held her over the opening then told her husband there might be a problem. She cried when she’d peed. I had, as it turned out, brought cranberry juice. Taylor drank all of that and then went to pee again. about five more times, actually.
The First Night. Just when we were settling in for the night, the boys in their jammies, tucked into their sleeping bags, we were assaulted by bright lights, slamming doors, loud voices. A family had just arrived and were trying to set up their tent – right next to ours – in the dark. After about 30 minutes of shouting and cussing, Scott and other dads got up to help. Turns out, the new family had just bought their tent – it was still in the box – and had never set it up before. An hour later, it was finally set up and things were settling down.
Taylor: I gotta Pee.
Michael: My tummy hurts
Ed (Taylor’s dad): I’ll taker her this time
New Guy: Grufffff, hoooonnnkkkkk (snoring)
Michael: I don’t feel . . . arghhhhh (throws up on MY cloth suitcase)
Scott grabs Michael, unzips the tent, and takes him outside.
Nick: pee. (I take him)
New Guy: Gruffffff, hooooonnnnkkkkk
Taylor: I gotta Pee again.
Dee (Taylor’s mom): My turn.
Michael: What smells so bad in here?
(Scott takes my suitcase outside and puts it in the back of the station wagon.)
New Guy: Gruffffff, hoooonnnnkkkkkk
Needless to say, it was a long night with very little sleep.
Day 1: Breakfast. Scott starts up the camp stove while I get the kids dressed. Michael, now perfectly fine, runs to joing his friends. I root through my suitcase and find my swimsuit, one pair of shorts, two t-shirts, one pair of socks, and one pair of sweatpants that have not been touched by smore vomit. I manage to scramble some eggs for breakfast. Scott and Michael go hiking with the group and Nick and I stay at the camp and do crafty shit. The ground is soaked from the constant drizzle, and Nick decides he doesn’t like the feel of wet grass and refuses to walk in it, so I have to carry him everywhere. Dee decides that Taylor isn’t improving, so she bundles up the little girl and takes her to the local ER (a VERY scary place!) Lunch is cold cut sandwiches. After, there’s creek crashing. Nick wants to be a part of this, but he’s afraid of the turtles, so while Scott keeps an eye on Michael, I go into the water with Nick in my arms. By now, my arms are numb. I take Nick back to the banks where he can look for periwinkles and crawdads. This works for a while, then he gets bored. He wants to go back to camp The grass is wet. I carry him again. Dinner is hot dogs cooked over the communal bonfire. This is when Michael discovers he doesn’t like hot dogs. Nick, however, loves them. More skits, stories, and smores – not to mention fireflies and mosquitoes. We get the kids cleaned up and are back in the tent trying to sleep.
New Guy: Gruuuuffffff. Hoooonnnnnkkkkk
Taylor: (now on antibiotics) I have to Pee
Michael: gawwwwww (yes, he snored as a child too!)
Did I mention Nick didn’t like the dark? He’s sleeping on top of me.
Day 2: Breakfast at the Hall. This was a communal breakfast held in the open air pavillion. Pancakes, bacon, strawberries, milk, coffee. We all eat and laugh and talk. Then, after it’s all cleaned up, we head up to the Point, an absolutely beautiful peak which overlooks the lake. It is also, however, a really long, steep hike, especially while carrying an almost 3 year old boy because the GRASS IS STILL WET!! The service is very nice. There’s singing. We’re almost to the end when Michael says, “I have to use the bathroom.” I glare at Scott. He sighs, gets up, and takes Michael into the woods. A few minutes later, they come back. Scott gives me that “you’re not going to like this” grin. I raise my eyebrows. Michael, “Runny poo isn’t any fun.” I closed my eyes and begged all the gods that be for strength. Nick, “potty.” I glare at Scott. He gets up again. Minutes later, they’re back and he holds up three fingers. OMG!!!! The service ends, we hike back down. Several kinds are taken into the woods by a parent and they all come back with an odd look on their face. Back at camp we begin to pack up. My stomach begins to rumble. Crap. Literally. I run to the outhouse. Wait in line. LOTS of intestines are grumbling. Around noon, we’re packed and ready to go – complete with having used the facilities OFTEN. We have to stop three times on the way home. Between the vomit soaked suitcase, laundry, wet shoes, and noxious gas, the car was unpleasant. We finally got home, I run to the bathroom and dig out the anit-diarrhea medication and hand it out like candy on Halloween night. Within 15 minutes I’ve got a load of laundry going. The rest of the clothes and bedding are on the back porch. NO WAY was I going let all that smell up the house. Two hours later, the car is unloaded and I’m lying on the couch wishing for death.
That night when I’m tucking the kids into bed, Michael says, “That was so much fun!! When can we do it again?”