All posts by markwaters01

Port Summerville- One wedding and a funeral

I’d like to share the memory of the happiest day of my life. After we dated for a while, and with her mother’s reluctant blessing, we got married. But not without a final attempt to get rid of me and called a few days before the wedding.

“Mr. St. John, this is Miss Aggie.”

“Hello, Agnes, or should I say, mom. You can call me by my first name now.” She was not amused.

“You know as well as I do, this marriage has disaster written all over it.”

“You don’t need to worry. I’m going to take good care of Darlene.”

“With what? You are a poor person, and Darlene is not used to being poor. My offer still stands, so give me a dollar figure, and with the stroke of a pen, and by your meager standards, I will make you a moderately wealthy man if you call this whole damn thing off.”

My turn.

“First, Miss Aggie, Darlene is a big girl, and she can do, say, think, and marry anyone she wants. Not you or your checkbook is ever going to change that.” I couldn’t see her but imagined drooling and a full set of teeth about to eat the phone.

“Don’t you ever talk to me like that again.”

“Then ponder on this, Miss Aggie—go to hell.”

“Well then, Johhhnnn, I believe our business has been concluded. I’ll see you two at the wedding. Goodbye.”

“Goodbye?” I believed the old gal was beginning to warm up to me.

***

It was a Sunday, and LBJ announced he would not run for re-election, but RFK did. The country was growing weary of the Vietnam War, and protesters marched daily.

On any given day, Darlene was as cool as a cucumber; the day of the wedding was not that day. Her temperament and demeanor had slipped the closer we got to the wedding date. I think she took bitch lessons from her mother just for the occasion. Darlene was of Polish descent with a proper upbringing; her heritage and background demanded a Catholic wedding. Her mother made sure it included all the bells and whistles, and money was no object. Though her mother had been kicking and screaming since we announced our engagement, she was not going to be embarrassed with a cheap wedding. After an eternity planning this thing, the day finally arrived. We broke many traditions, and among them—we drove to the church together. Along the way, I took a few moments to speak my mind.

“Darlene, I was thinking…” She interrupted, quickly, and rudely I might add.

“Oh, my God, John!” Then exclaimed, “What is it? Today isn’t a good day for you to be thinking. Please behave yourself.” I thought it was a little early to be getting cranky. In what I referred to as a “lady panic,” she said, “I’ve got a lot on my mind, and I don’t need any shit from you, especially today.”

I told you her temperament and demeanor had slipped. As calmly and politely as I could, said, “Can I please get back to what I was trying to say?”

“Yes, John, say whatever you need to say and get it over with.”

She squinted into her mirror to double-check her makeup and put on the finishing touches. “Missed a spot.” She stopped doing what she was doing long enough to give me a go-to-hell look. “Anyway, before I was so rudely interrupted….”

“John, we don’t have all day long for crying out loud, what are you getting at?”

I hesitated for a moment, then said, “Out of respect for me and my people, I….”

She quickly and sarcastically interrupted again. “People? What people, John?”

As earnestly as I could muster, replied, “Darlene, after all, I am part Jew, and think I should…”

“John, you’ve got about a tablespoon of your people’s blood running through those idiot veins of yours.”

“So what? I ‘ve got enough to call myself part Jew. A friend told me I got my last name from a famous Jew in the bible.”

“And who might that be?”

“Saint John. The Bible is full of Jews, especially the first half.”

“No shit. I hate to tell you this, but John didn’t show up until the second half, and yes, there are Jewish people in that half too.”

“There, you see, he was a Jew, and I was named after him—twice; John, pre-saint, and St. John, post saint.”

“But he was a saint; a far cry from someone else I know.” Then with a hint of disdain plus an added touch of sarcasm, she asked, “What do you want, John?”

“I want to wear that Jew cap thing and stomp on a glass at the holy altar.”

“First, John, it’s a yarmulke, not a Jew cap.”

“That’s easy for you to say.”

 Darlene ignored him. “And no, you are not going to stomp on anything at the holy altar. And stop calling them Jews, they’re Jewish.”

“Why not? Aren’t your Polish people called Poles?”

“Yes John, but we prefer Polish people.”

“Scottish people are happy being called Scots, aren’t they?”

“Yes, John, I guess they are.” For a few precious moments, there was silence as I prepared my next line of argument and got ready for her counter-argument.

“What about Negroes? I guess that’s out too.”

“They’re called Afro-Americans.”

“Since when?”

“It’s a new term. Where have you been?”

“I don’t keep up. My grandparents from Tennessee used to call them…”

“John if you say that word, I swear to God, I will slap you into next week!”

I thought, Maybe I should have said that word and let her slap me into next week to get out of this wedding mess. Smart-alack me chimed in with, “Wouldn’t that look silly, you all alone at the altar because you did a time machine slap and sent me into next week?” Again, she shook her head in disgust, and predictably, I laughed. She didn’t crack a smile, then tried to make a composed statement. I was aware she was put out by this conversation, but then came the uninvited history lesson.

“You’re right John, which is rare. Yes, we used to call them Negroes. After that, colored people, they went back and forth between Negro and Colored, then simply black, and now the new one. I’m aware other words are just plain rude, especially that one, and I’m sure you have an arsenal of them all. I’ve also heard the term Black Americans getting kicked around,” then she scratched her head and said, “I’m not sure if it’s official yet.”

To be irritating, I mumbled, “They’re really not black, more a shade of dark brown.”

“You say something, John?” I ignored her. I’ve seen all types of official forms, usually involving the government, and when asked to select what race you are, I check ‘other.’ Every time I did, I laughed. Some things made me laugh, and that was one of them. I continued this verbal sparring match with Darlene.

“But it’s still OK to call me a Caucasian even though I’m an ‘other’?

Darlene slapped her hands on her lap with a loud crack. “John, why are we having this conversation?”

“Because I am trying to make a point, Darlene. So, what should I call myself?” As soon as I asked, I knew I’d left myself wide open.

“Alright John, you win. You’re a Jew idiot. Check that box next time.”

“I beg your pardon? That’s Jewish idiot to you. While we are at it, Miss Know-It-All, what’s the new fancy name for your fruit cake, hairdresser friend?”

“Are you talking about Ken? And, yes, he is a homosexual. Is there a problem, John?”

“Are you serious, Darlene? I don’t care if your fruit basket friend is a cream puff.”

“Stop calling him those ridiculous names. John, I swear, you are hopeless. How long did you live under a rock before I came along?”

“I’m sorry Darlene. I don’t know about all this stuff. Hell, I don’t think I’ve ever met a ‘fru…,’ I mean a homosexual.”

“I’m sure you’ve met plenty. For your convenience, maybe they should wear a sign.”

“It might help.” Now for a lesson in the humanities.

“John, in a wasted attempt to try to educate you, they used to be called fairies and queers, but now I think they call themselves ‘gay.'”

“You’re kidding me. Gay? Fan-damn-tastic! So now if I say I’m happy and gay, I’m telling the world I’m a happy fruit-cake. ”

“John, when was the last time you said I’m happy and gay?”

“That’s not the point, Darlene. Now if I want to say I’m gay, I can’t. Being gay used to be an expression of extreme happiness, but now when Ken says, ‘I’m gay,’ it ’s a confession. I don’t get why all the ‘special people’ need to hog up all the neat words. Why don’t they just invent their own? I’ll never be able to watch the Flintstones again without thinking of a fruit bowl.”[G9] 

“I’m going to regret this, but what the hell are you talking about?”

“The theme song, Darlene.” I did a warm-up hum, then sang a few lines from “Meet the Flintstones.”

“Flintstones, meet the Flintstones,

You’ll have a yabba dabba doo time.

A dabba doo time.

You’ll have a gay old time!”

That brought a brief smile to her face. “Well then, the next time the Flintstones comes on, cover your ears or switch the channel and watch Maverick.” To add insult to injury, she added, “Now that I recall, did you ever notice Fred and Barney sure spent a lot of time together—alone?” Now she’s the one who laughed.

“What are you getting at, Darlene? Leave Fred and Barney out of this.”

“What about Mr. Spacely? He seems a little limp-wristed. ” She made the gesture, giggling while flipping her wrist up and down.

“Now who’s the idiot? First off, Mr. Spacely is married, and second, he’s on the Jetsons.” Now it was my turn to ponder and pout. “Why can’t those people just go back to being queer like everyone else?  I don’t mean everyone; you know who I am talking about—the Fruits.”

“Because queer is an offensive word John, and for the last time, stop with the name calling.”

“Must not be too offensive. I read a sign on Cronkite when a newsman was covering a cupcake parade. The banner read: ‘We’re Here and We’re Queer.’ I suppose they came up with it because it rhymes.” I used my best Walter Cronkite impression with, “And that’s the way it is.” It humored her for the moment; cynicism was its replacement.

“I wish I understood that mass in your fat head you call a brain. I’m going to promote you from being a complete idiot to just plain stupid.”

I ignored the insult and said, “If they wanted to, they could change the word from gay to jolly. I doubt it would make much difference to them. I don’t use jolly much anyway. I can do without that one, but come to think about it—there goes Christmas. I’m going to work on it.”

“John, I love you, and I am so happy to share this special day, and I want you to be as happy as me — but John,” — she’s on a roll —, “you are one of the smartest people I’ve met, but this whole conversation is putting doubts in my head. Maybe you’re not an idiot, or even stupid. Maybe you’re just retarded.”

“Can we still say retarded or is there a new fancy word?”

“You’re hopeless, John.”

“Darlene, while we’re on the subject…” Now she has resorted to yelling, and with more interruptions.

“What, John? she exclaimed. “What subject do you need to torture me with now?”

“You don’t need to raise your voice. I’m serious.”

“Get it over with. I’m sure when you’re done, I’ll have to kill myself.”

“If a fruit boy marries a fruit girl, shouldn’t that nullify the other, and can they live happily ever after?”

Darlene took a deep sigh, and as if in a surrender, she calmly replied, “John, I give up. If your intentions are to drive me insane two hours before my wedding, you’ve succeeded. Congratulations.” The occasion was an opportunity for an impromptu joke.

“Darlene, what do you call a hot tub full of gay guys?”

“I have no idea John, please tell me.”

“Fruit punch.” As you can imagine, she wasn’t humored, but it seemed funny to me. To make her happy, I said gay.

What I thought was an amusing joke, her only response was a mutter. “To think one day, me and this madman might reproduce.”

“Darlene, why do you suppose Band-Aids only come in Caucasian?” After that, I think she ran the madman and reproducing insult through her head again. I found this whole exchange entertaining, sadly at her expense. I realized now was a good time to tone down the rhetoric, or I might be the first guy to need a divorce lawyer before the wedding. As the conversation ended, we pulled up at the church. I conceded any celebration about my rich ancestry was now a foregone conclusion.

In defeat, I said to my sweet wife-to-be, “You’re right Darlene, this is a happy day for us, and I want the wedding to be perfect for you.”

“Thank you, John. I prayed reason would settle into that idiot brain of yours. ” Darlene called me an idiot a lot. She meant it as a term of endearment. I understood she is nervous about the wedding, but it seemed she’d been endearing me a lot lately. I told her being called silly was a lot better. She said idiot was a promotion. It felt more like a demotion.

“OK, Darlene, no Jew hat, I mean Yamaha.”

“Not Yamaha, Yarmulke. What else?”

In continued defeat, I held my head down and humbly said, “And no breaking of the sacred glass.”

“Sacred glass, are you kidding? Today they usually stomp on a light bulb because of the popping noise—it makes for a more dramatic effect.” I asked if she had a light bulb on her. “Yes John, I carry a couple all the time in my purse.”

“Good, then we don’t need to stop at a 7-Eleven.”

Darlene turned and glared at me. “No light bulbs, John.”

“OK, Darlene, you win.” Then she continued the lecture.

“John, I know more about Jewish customs than you do.”

Sweetly, I turned to her and asked, “Why do you think that is, my love?”

“Why do I think what is?” she asked with contempt.

“Your knowledge about my Jewness?” I said.

She about exploded. “Your Jewness? I swear to God, I’m going to slit my wrist right here in this car! I read books, John. You’ve seen them. They’re those thick rectangular things with pages and pages of paper with words on them, and a colorful picture on the front. I have them lying around my apartment.”

“I thought those were decorations.”

She gazed at me and threw her hands up in the air. “John you’re killing me. Please, no light bulb.”

“OK, you win. No sacred light bulb either. To clear the air, I’m proud of my part Jewness, and I can’t deny the facts. I guess the upcoming celebration of Hanukah is out, too.”

“Do you know what Hanukah is?”

“I sure do, smarty pants, — Jew Christmas!”

“Oh, my God, John!”

This was too easy, and I continued the torment. “It’s when Moses brings toys to all the good little Jew girls and boys.”

“I’m speechless, John. What on God’s green Earth am I getting myself into? I’m telling you one thing, if you do anything stupid before, during, or after the wedding, I swear to God, someone will have to hold me back from cutting off your head. When we get home, you can go back to be your same ole’ idiot self.”

A welcomed silence filled the car. We both needed a break. But I was having a blast. She was about to jump out of the car and take off running. I reminded myself the need to ease up. I sure didn’t need a crazy lady with no sense of humor on my hands. Darlene stared out of the car window for several minutes, probably contemplating where to hide the body—mine. I interrupted our brief quiet time and asked if I could keep Jerry.

“Jerry Feld, your best man? Of course, you can keep him. He’s been your best friend for years.”

“Even though he is a real Jew?”

“You’re kidding me, right? I thought he was Irish.”

 “Nope, he’s all Jew. He’s the one who convinced me I was part Jew — I mean Jewish.

“Dandy. Not only is he a Jew, but he’s an idiot too.”

“Darlene, you made a rhyme. You’re a poet and didn’t know it. A rhyme every time.”

She replied, “Here’s another rhyme… you’re an idiot.”

“That doesn’t rhyme.”

“Sorry. You’re an idiot, shmidiot. Are you guys in the same club together? The ‘I’m too Stupid to be Reasonable’ club?” And she was not finished yet. “It’s true what they say: birds of a feather flock together, and you are a pair of dodos.”

In a futile effort to regain posture and re-establish my role in the wedding I said, “Darlene, this is my wedding too.”

With increased scorn, she raised her voice, and in a firm and controlled tone said, “No John, this isn’t your wedding, it’s my wedding. My family paid for the whole damn thing. You’re just a glorified guest where the side benefit of such an honor is you might get lucky after this is over with.”

“Speaking of wedding, do you think we should get in there? The guests are arriving.”

 She gathered a few things from the backseat of the car and asked, “Did you remember to bring your elevator shoes? You still own a pair, don’t you?”

“Yes dear, I dragged them out yesterday from the closet.” Like I said, Darlene was a little taller than me, and she and the photographer decided the pictures would look better if we were at least eyeball-to-eyeball. I didn’t care, I was comfortable in my own shoes, so to speak. As a concession on her part, she wore flats to further equalize the height neurosis she and the photographer had. We entered from the back of the church, and I couldn’t resist, then needled her again. “Darlene, what are your thoughts on the Indians, not the India, Indians, our Indians, like cowboys and Indians? Why do you think they call them Redskins? Aren’t they more a darker shade of Mexican? I don’t see a hint of red in them.”

“John, I call you an idiot because it’s the simplest word I can think of when you irritate me, but now I realize you’re not only an idiot but also a sociopath.

“A what?”

“Look it up. You need professional help. I’ll see you inside. Love you.”

She went toward the back door, then turned. “John, do me a favor, Sister Mary Imucculata asked if we would pick up some colored toilet paper. I forgot.”

Confused, I said, “I wasn’t aware they had their own.”

“Oh, my God, John! Blue toilet paper to match the decor in the powder room—moron.” I really thought she meant colored toilet paper. I figured it was a separatist thing. I had no idea toilet paper came in a rainbow assortment of colors.

“John, just do it.”

She gave me a reluctant peck on the lips and went inside. The Indian thing ticked her off and set the tone for the rest of the day.

Her sister, Lucinda greeted Darlene, and the two embraced. Lucinda was her maid of honor. Lucinda said something to Darlene, and they both laughed, then looked at me. Afterward, Darlene and her sister went to the dressing room to get ready for the wedding. I met up with my gang, and we retreated to our dressing room as well. After everyone got dressed up, we broke another tradition and decided to be seen together before the service to greet our friends and family to take a few “before” photos. The girls in her wedding party looked fantastic. My guys looked like a police line-up, but at least their tuxes matched.

Miss Aggie arrived at the church in her personal stretch limousine. The driver got out and made his move to open the passenger door. All eyes were fixed on her, and she gobbled it up. Darlene’s mother loved an audience as she made her grand appearance. I walked up to her as she approached the church. “My, don’t you look lovely, Agnes.” I’d worked my way up to a first name basis.

“I believe the word you are looking for is alluring.” she dryly replied. We offered to give her a ride, but told us picking her up wasn’t appropriate. “Haven’t you two broken enough traditions for one day?” she said in her usual snotty tone. The word bitch again crossed my mind, but what a knockout. My father gave me the best advice he could when searching for a mate—check out the moms. As much as I disliked her, I had to admit; she looked beautiful. If Darlene ages as well as her mother, in twenty-five years, I’ll be in hog heaven. She wore a long pink silk dress handmade for the occasion, and to finish off the ensemble, a diamond necklace with matching earrings. Those two items alone, their value alone could have purchased a small country.

As her mother made her star-studded entrance, Brice almost tripped over himself to kiss her. He was such a suck-up, and she knew it. Miss Aggie gave him a hefty allowance since his untimely departure from Jaraslaw Enterprises and did everything he could do to protect it. Just like in the movies, Darlene, and her mother, about ten feet apart, both had outstretched arms as they moved toward each other. “Mother, so happy to see you.”

“Me too, my precious Darlene.” They both fell into a phony embrace, air-kissing each other’s cheeks. “Darlene, my dear, you look radiant.”

“You too, mother.”

“Of course, my dear, after all, this is a very special occasion for you and Tom.”

“It’s John, mother, and you know it.”

“Wasn’t there a Tom in there somewhere?”

“No Tom, mother, just John.”

Miss Aggie couldn’t resist. “Speaking about tradition, or should I say, lack of it, how was your slumber party at what’s-his-name’s place?” Darlene knew exactly what her mother was insinuating. Although Darlene had her own apartment, her mother knew they had several, what her mother called sleepovers. I struggled to like her. I didn’t—I loathed her.

As we met with our guests, her brother, Brice approached me. “Hey John, I noticed something.”

“What is it, Brice?”

“Did Darlene shrink, or did you grow?” He thought that was the funniest thing he ever said. I assume he was referring to the shoe/height issue.

Pretty good, Brice. How many parts of your brain did you need to re-wire to think about that one?

“Just comes to mind.” I can understand why; there wasn’t much competition for anything else. He nudged me and said in a teasing whisper, “Shouldn’t Darlene be wearing off-white?”

“That’s hilarious, Brice,” he referred to Darlene’s assumed lack of virginity. Two jokes in two minutes by a guy who must think about breathing in and out. I had to escape from this conversation and excused myself. I’d rather lance a boil than have a conversation with him. As we parted company, I turned back to take a final glance at him and thought, even Armani could make a bag of shit like Brice look good. Brice and I mutually disliked each other, and it showed.

Moments later, Darlene came running from the dressing room, fully adorned in her wedding gown. Like the parting of the red sea, she made her way through the crowd as they entered the chapel and found me. In a quiet, screeching tone, she asked, “Who in the hell is going to walk me down the damn aisle?” Oops. After months preparing and hiring a slew of professionals led by a wedding planner, everyone forgot to put someone in her father’s place. We needed an alternate to give her away—and fast. We could have figured this out at the rehearsal, but I convinced Darlene to skip the rehearsal and go straight to the dinner instead. Bad decision. I understood rehearsing for a Broadway play or a musical, but a wedding? What’s so difficult? Walk up the aisle, say a few things, get married, turn around and walk out.

Back to the problem at hand. The genius I can sometimes be, came up with a solution. “Wait a minute, Darlene. I’ll be right back.” I returned shortly with my best man Jerry. With my arm stretched around him, I said, “Jerry has agreed to do double-duty. He’ll walk you up the aisle and hand you over, then take his place beside me,” — then I proudly announced, “Done and done.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me? No offense Jerry.”

“Would you rather have Brice?”

She paused and thought for a moment. “Big choice. I guess he’ll do. Jerry, I know this is going to be difficult, but all you need to do is memorize this; “Her mother and I,” after the priest asks, “who gives this woman to be with this man.” Now listen to me very carefully, Jerry, — not before the priest, but afterward. Do you think you can handle it?”

Jerry replied, “I do.”

She looked at him, and said, “No, Jerry, —” then pointing at me, “that’s his line. By the way, you do know how to walk upright, don’t you? You also must escort me down the aisle. I had to teach your idiot friend to walk upright like a human being.” Then Jerry pounded his chest like a gorilla and grunted. “Very amusing. I need to finish getting ready.” I think she took out her anger on Jerry and me for her wedding planner’s screw-up.

***

With all the guests seated, the wedding party gathered in the vestibule. Another one of Darlene’s fancy words that meant lobby. Darlene patted me down one last time just to make sure I wasn’t carrying a light bulb. Everyone lined up like little soldiers, and on orders from the wedding planner, one-by-one, they headed toward the altar. I stood alongside the priest, and when the bridesmaids and groomsmen took their place. The organist played the wedding march, and everyone rose as Darlene glided down the aisle toward the altar with Jerry at her side. Even I got a little choked up and misty-eyed. She looked amazing. When Darlene  reached the altar, Jerry took his place beside her. Beads of sweat poured off poor Jerry’s forehead, and then the priest asked the question. “Who gives this woman to be with this man?”

He paused a second, took a deep breath, and right on time, answered perfectly. He kissed Darlene on the cheek then turned her over to me, and took his place with me. Before Jerry left her, she reached for him. “Thank you, Jerry,” then returned his kiss.

The priest was Father Romano, and of Polish/Italian descent, so the service was mostly spoken in Polish with an Italian accent. He threw in some Latin for good measure. And what gives with that Sign of the Cross thing? Darlene had to give me lessons how to do it. When show time arrived, I felt every eye piercing through my skull as the priest began the service.

I’ve been to a few Catholic funerals before, and they were fantastic! I’ve told everyone when my time comes that I want a Catholic funeral—very upbeat. Catholic weddings, on the other hand, I hated. I’ve been to a few in my day, and ours was no different. Up and down, kneel and pray, followed by a song. Then repeat, up and down and pray some more. I was worn out, and we barely got started.

Three seconds into the wedding, we got our indication to do the first of many Signs of the Cross, then I tried. I flailed my arms around doing it and screwed up. I looked like a retarded snake handler. I fidgeted using both hands and arms trying to remember what to do and how to do it. What made matters worse, you’re supposed to only use your right hand, not both arms. Darlene gave me a pass and signaled me with a cheeky grin. She thought my mishandling of “the sign” was cute. After a few giggles from the crowd and my blunder, the priest made a brief sermon no one understood, then afterward, raised his goblet and took a shot, then showered us with holy water.

After the sermon, the priest did another sign and an additional shot of wine, followed by another Sign of the Cross, then gulped down some more wine. He staggered a little, then proceeded with, “Repeat-a… after-a… me-a. I-a… John-a… St. a-John-a… do solemnly-a- swear-a… to… take-a, Darlene-a… to be-a… your-a wedded… a-wife-a?”

Stage fright took over, and “I do” were the only two words needed to be memorized. Not too complicated, even by my standards, but instead, I uttered “OK.” The guests fell silent, and Darlene’s mother about fainted. The priest took another swig—, this time out of necessity. If looks could have killed, Darlene would be handcuffed and facing the electric chair. I didn’t get a pass that time. Remember when I said earlier “OK” would come back and bite me? Well, that was the moment. The anger in her eyes told the story and thought to myself on her behalf. Two words. You only had to remember two words. I’ve been waiting my entire life for this day, and you ruined it because you’re too stupid to remember two simple words—Moron! I threw in moron because I figured that’s what she’d say, even though it was my thought.

Now in the ceremony when you repeat the phrase and in sickness and in health, I swear she whispered, “We’ll see about that. Don’t get sick.” All Darlene’s lines went without a hitch; however, her “I do” was not as enthusiastic as I thought it should’ve been. The rest was easy. With eyes rolling, Darlene looked like an adolescent teenage girl while we read our vows and repeated what the priest asked us too; added to the eye rolling, she sighed a lot. At last, toward the end, the priest did the ‘Sign’ deal—again, which led to more kneeling and another blessing, then he chugged down the rest of the wine. I’ve been to frat parties where there wasn’t this much drinking. To top off this blessed event, he smoked up the place with incense and flung some more holy water on us, followed by another prayer which automatically led to one more kneeling, then the priest spoke the final words establishing our holy union. “You may now-a … kiss-a-the-a- bride-a.” After a brief and reluctant kiss on her part, still mad about the OK thing, the priest turned us towards our guests and said, “I want … to-a … introduce you-a … to-a … Mr. and a-Mrs. John-a St.-a John-a.” The crowd went wild.

The priest gave our guests and us a final blessing, mostly in Latin this time, and in that monotone singing deal priests do, it sounded like, “My-a-father, plays a-dominoes better than a-your-a father plays a-dominoes. Amen.” And yes, you guessed it, another Sign of the Cross, then his exit line, “Go in a-peace-a.”

As we walked down the aisle, Darlene, unbeknownst to everyone, punched me in my ribs, and through gritted teeth whispered, “I could have taught my plant to say I do. There might not be any OK tonight if you get my drift — idiot.”

To summarize this blessed event, the priest got drunk, I nearly choked to death on sacred smoke, worn out from all the aerobics, got soaked in holy water and punched by my new little bride because I forgot my line. I’d never been too sure what I signed up for since I don’t speak Polish or Latin, but I trusted Darlene. I’m confident we got married, at least it appeared that way. The few words I clearly understood through this whole ordeal was, “Repeat after me, you may kiss the bride, and you’re an idiot.”

On a rather sad note, Darlene’s ninety-eight-year-old great-aunt dropped dead during the ceremony. The benefit being that old, was a lot of time for advanced planning for funeral arrangements; a hearse on standby, a coffin within reach and a mortician on-call around the clock.

As Darlene and I exited the altar and made our way down the aisle as man and wife, Aunt Gertie fell dead right in front of God and everybody else. She had been in failing health for years and was on the downhill slope. Everyone was amazed she lasted if she did, and as luck would have it, depending on your perspective, our wedding was the stage for her death. At least the old gal had the decency to last through the final Amen. In all the excitement, the priest passed out, and those around Aunt Gertie ran out screaming. Darlene yelled at the top of her lungs, “Can anything else possibly go wrong!” Which I thought was a little inappropriate given the circumstances.

The mortician, who happened to be a family friend and a guest, jumped to his feet and ordered, “Casket! Stat! Everyone clear the church!” Those who hadn’t already run out screaming, the rest followed as we exited the church. The mortuary staff placed Aunt Gertie delicately in the coffin and wheeled her off to the sanctuary next door. The coroner was summoned and pronounced her dead. No telling how much that cost, I’d done it for free. Blue in the face… check. Not breathing… check. No heartbeat… check. Dead… check. The family decided in advance not to embalm Aunt Gertie because the plan was to get her in the ground as soon as possible, obviously after her death.

The mortician went through the standard preparations, but because she was already in good shape for the wedding, not much to do. Dress… check. Make-up…  check. Just a thin coat of blush, puff up the flat part of her hair where she fell, and Aunt Gertie was set to go. The mortician walked up to me and said, “John this was easiest five-hundred bucks I’ve ever made.”

Which I replied, “Do you think the church will give us a two-for-one discount?” Church custom was to give the priest a little cash on the side for his services, so a discount for the funeral wasn’t so far-fetched.

Darlene still ranted and raved to all within earshot. “You would’ve thought she could have lasted for another five minutes! But nooooo! Between you and Aunt Gertie, you both screwed up what was supposed to be the happiest day of my life! Thanks, a whole damn lot, John.” Then she peered toward the casket being wheeled off and added, “You too, Aunt Gertie.”

“At least I didn’t die.”

“The day is young. Don’t push it, Buster.”

Our guests gathered in the reception hall, and we shared cake and champagne. Darlene loved me aside from my mishap at the altar in front of God and every friend and relative she had on the planet. For a short while, the good news for me was Aunt Gertie’s untimely death, because the attention was shifted toward her and away from me. Darlene grabbed me and whispered, “Aunt Gertie may have upstaged you with her little stunt, but you, mister, are not off the hook. OK?” So much for attention-shifting.

Though rare, I showed some class and made a toast to Aunt Gertie. I crafted my words carefully. I’m a quick study, and I didn’t want to go through any more pain because of poor word selection. I raised my glass with a simple, “To Gertie.” Everyone followed my lead and lifted their glasses in respect to the dearly departed of forty-five minutes ago. You think my OK stumble was a big deal? What a killjoy for someone to drop dead ten feet from the altar during your wedding. After the reception was over, the mortician announced the viewing was ready.

The mortician came up to me and said, “We had a hell getting the shit-eating grin off her face. I’ll need to charge someone for the extra glue.”

“I’ll handle it.”

“I won’t charge for the extra hairspray. It was a nightmare re-poofing it, but I got my best man on it.”

“Do you mean Bruce from Style ‘B’ Boutique?”

“Yeah, but he always bitches when I call him. He complains that dead people don’t tip worth a damn.”

After the priest regained consciousness and changed into his funeral outfit, a handful of guests at the wedding went over to the sanctuary. We had a brief, impromptu service in remembrance of Aunt Gertie and burial service the next day. Then came the crocodile tears from her kids and grand kids. You see, Aunt Gertie was filthy rich too, and the vultures began circling the corpse. The relatives couldn’t wait to tear into the will, but Aunt Gertie, even in death, had the last laugh. She donated her entire estate to the church and a few other charities in town. She left the kids and grand kids a thousand dollars, and in the words of the will it stated, “To be split equally.” I liked her style.

All in all, everything worked out, except for Aunt Gertie’s sudden departure. We are now officially married, and Aunt Gertie is in heaven; both in the same hour.

***

After I survived the wedding ceremony, Aunt Gertie’s death, a beleaguered honeymoon and Darlene’s forgiveness for the infamous OK fiasco, she was now Mrs. Darlene St. John; the most precious name in the world. A diamond ring upgrade helped a lot during the forgiveness process. My lawyer checked out the paperwork to be on the safe side. You could never be too sure with this crowd.

I’m also pleased to add, she was not one of those hyphenated last name liberals either, and proud to be a St. John—besides, her maiden name is Jaraslaw. Can you imagine, Darlene Zygmunt Jaraslaw-St. John? Plain ridiculous. If she hadn’t married me for any other reason, getting rid of her last name was worth it.

 After we returned home from the honeymoon, I felt the need to remind her of my man rules. As I sipped my coffee, I leaned back in my chair. “You do remember the rules don’t you, Mrs. St. John?”

She crossed her arms and leaned against the fridge, then glared at me. “You know what, John, I don’t remember. I’m sure whatever it is, was so ridiculous I forgot about it the moment it spilled from your lips.”

“Then I shall repeat it, and this time, pay attention.”

“I’m regrettably all ears.” She sounded so smart when she talks that way.

“OK, John, kindly remind me. What is the rule?”

“Keep me fed and bred, and don’t get fat.”

“I’ll try to remember next time. What I should do is get a pen and paper and write a note, then I’ll stick it on the fridge, so I can view it every day.”

“Good idea, Darlene, now I won’t need to remind you again.”

“You’d make a fantastic marriage counselor. I’m going to address ‘thank-you cards,’ and because of Aunt Gertie, I get to write another set.”

“Isn’t there a card that does both?”

“Thank you for the wedding gift and attending my great-aunt’s funeral? I’ll suggest it to Hallmark. I’m sure there’s a huge demand.”

After we been wed for a while, marital reality settled in. No more lovey-dovey stuff we used to do while dating and during our engagement. We’re regular married folk, and that was alright because we were happy — like two peas in a pod. We spent a lot of time together, did some traveling, and had the opportunity to get to know each other a lot better. I sometimes thought too good. On a Sunday morning, Darlene rummaged around in the kitchen and found an unopened gift from the wedding. “What’s this? John, did you see this in the pantry?”

“Yeah, almost every day. I figured it was a gift for a friend.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I put the dog food on top and forgot to mention it.”

She inspected the gift, then read the note aloud.

To John and Darlene, have a beautiful honeymoon. Love Aunt Gertie.

“Sorry, I never read the fine print.” She put the package on the kitchen table and began to unwrap the gift, then pulled out its contents. I picked up the box, fumbled with it, and asked what it was. She told me it was a bun warmer. Showing my ignorance in culinary devices, asked, “Is it too warm your buns on a cold night?”

“Are you kidding me, John? How can an adult, I assume, be so stupid? It keeps rolls warm and fresh.”

“To avoid confusion, why not just call it a roll warmer? Makes more sense. Besides,” — I grabbed her around the waist and pulled her in my lap and whispered, “I’m your fresh bun warmer now.”

She exposed a tiny grin. “Aren’t we the charmer?”

“I can be. Why don’t you whip up some of your famous biscuits and we’ll test this thing out? Seems to be a versatile device.”

“What do you mean, John?”

“It’s a bun, roll, and biscuit warmer all in one!”

After that, we had three kids.


God, poof, Tony, and hell

I spend some time thinking about the whole concept of faith. It seems so easy; maybe too easy. Many years ago, people had to prove their faith. Nowadays all we need to do is proclaim it. In my practice, I had to make many complicated business and legal decisions, and given my current set of circumstances; those didn’t mean a thing. Legal matters I’d decided on were often temporary fixes to the problem. A decision of faith will carry you through and beyond eternity. It finally makes sense.

“Tony, your time here in Heaven is growing short. When I send you back, tell this story of faith, and have those who hear my message, pass it to the many who will listen. Some will believe; some won’t. Also say to them, as quickly I created all there is, I can as swiftly make it go away.”

Then in an instant, God does an exploding gesture with His hands and whispers— “Poof.”

“Poof?”

Then He does the same gesture again.

“Yeah, poof.”

The love He has for us is immeasurable; equal to God’s love is His resolve to punish the faithless and unrepentant.

“I’m not big into threats, but I’ve about had enough. And when I come back, they’ll think of the flood as a spring shower. I’ll make Sodom and Gomorrah look like a scuffle at a Sunday picnic. Your scientists think the Big Bang was impressive? What I have in store will make their so-called Big Bang sound like a popping balloon!”

Overwhelmed at what “poof” might look like, and whatever the consequences are, I ask, “Is there a hell? The Bible speaks little of it.”

“Hell has several meanings, and many have tried to describe it. To put it plainly, it is a separation between them and me—forever. As far as I can tell, you people create your own kind of hell. I will show you Hell.”

Up to now, it’s mostly been fun and games, and a lot of teachings and learning, but now I’m frightened.

“Only one other has been a witness to Hell, and He conquered it and returned to me. You will also come back and tell the others what you have seen.”

With visions of a visit to the underworld spinning around in my head, I exclaim, “Why?” Then plead with Him.

“Please, no! I don’t want to see it!”

In a hushed tone, God says, “You must, Tony. Faith is only as strong as the test it survives.”

He reaches for my hand and brings me to His side. As we stand together, God makes a slow passing motion with His arm. In an instant, there are flashes of lightning followed by several loud claps of thunder. There is a moment of stillness, but it doesn’t last long.

The thunder, lightning and all the remaining light vanishes and is replaced by darkness, wind, and cold. In the dark, I hear faint sobbing and moaning all around. I begin to shiver, not because of the chill in the air—but fear.

At once, I sense His presence disappear and I stand there alone. The cold and fear have been overtaken with the deepest, most painful loneliness I have ever known. The ground starts to quake, and I am shaken to the ground. Rocks and other debris are falling all about, and everything around me has crumbled away. Where I had been standing, was now a small disintegrating island, large enough for a single occupant—me. It is surrounded by a river of flames thousands of feet below.

There is another massive quake, and again I fall from my small piece of real estate and plummet toward the fiery abyss below. I am tumbling and spinning out of control and screaming all the way down.

Paralyzed with fear, I cry out, “Please, God! Save me!”

He hears my plea, then a loud voice trumpets from above.

“This is Hell, and you are a witness to it. Remember it always.”

An instant later, I’m back on solid ground. I am drowning in my own sweat and hyperventilating when a small crack of light emerges from the darkness.

Faint glimmers of light slowly begin to shine through and His voice trumpets again.

“This is Heaven! All of this wonderment I created for the faithful!”

As the darkness disappears, in its place, a brightly lit sunny and cloudless blue sky appears. As far as I can see to the east, and as far as I can see to the west, a dazzling rainbow paints the sky with shades of red, blue, yellow, green, and other colors I have never seen. I stand in awe of the most beautiful and breathtaking scenery anyone could imagine. Far in the distance is a snow-capped mountain with a peak that seems endless. This world has so much majesty, Michelangelo would pray to duplicate its likeness.

Up to now, a slight haze has been all around, even on the golf course. The haziness lifts and in front of me is a crystal-clear lake with a trickling waterfall fed by a slow-moving stream nearby. All sorts of birds and animals are in perfect harmony with one another, and people from all walks of life are strolling about enjoying this divine beauty. I am in such awe, I can’t speak.

“Tony, all that you see, I created for you and the others who have faith in me and live by my rules. Sadly, many will not choose this. Instead, they will take other gods and put their faith in them.”

I’m beginning to catch my breath, not only because of what is front of me, but also about my horrific visit just moments ago.

“Why would you create such a place like that?”

“Me? I created nothing of the kind—you did. Let me tell you something from the Bible.”

Many will pay the penalty of eternal ruin, separated from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power.

“That place you witnessed is what separation from me would be like. Hell was a word someone threw in to describe it. What you saw were the remains of what your world will look like after I get done with it. But the way you people are treating it, you’ll do all the heavy lifting for me.”

“What do you mean?”

“Between your wars and weapons and treating the planet like a toilet, you folks might beat me to the punch. Nonetheless, the result will be the same; a smoldering rock floating through space inhabited by those who did not choose this as their home. But if things keep going the way they are, I might nudge it along.”

“Oh yeah—poof.”

“Yeah, poof. As I said, Heaven is forever and not a place for the unfaithful. What you saw was the future for the others if they don’t clean up their act. Might there be redemption for those left behind? Perhaps, but very difficult. I made it less difficult to have faith, but it will not be as easy the next time around. You are either for me or against me, and there is no in between—period.”

“Is there a compromise?”

“Yeah, have faith in Me.”

“Doesn’t sound like much of a compromise.”

“That’s the best I’m willing to do.”

Romans 8:28

God stands beside me, and using one of His fingers, pokes me in the side.

“Do you read the Bible?”

I confess not as much as I should.

“That’s OK; you’re a busy man,” then in an instant, He raises His voice and shouts, “Make time! There is a ton of useful information on those pages. Consider it a guide for living. Some say it’s a bunch of gibberish. It’s not. Inspirational words by inspired people and approved by yours truly. Can you guess which one is my favorite verse?”

“There are so many choices. Which one?”

“Romans 8:28.”

I rub my chin and say, “Hmmm, I’m not familiar with that one.”

“Figures. I’ll paraphrase: All things are for the good to those that believe in Me. So, you can clearly see the picture, I said all things are for the good. Not some things, not every so often, or when I feel like it, but all things, all the time for those who are faithful and believe. Get it?”

“Got it. But it’s tough to accept some things and trust there is a good in there somewhere.”

“It’s called faith, Tony. And no, I don’t expect you to do a tap dance when something bad happens. But trust me, those who believe will survive, no matter what.”

My Mountain; Your Mountain

My mountain; Your Mountain- An emotional perspective

My oldest son and his wife called me today with a book idea, (like I don’t already have enough) and told me what it should be about; basically, a self-help book. There are about a zillion self-help books out there written by some of the greats, and not so greats in the industry. So why me? The short answer, why not me? I have faced many battles in my sixty-four years and gained an amount of wisdom and experience along the way. So, to be a little different, and perhaps stand out from the others, My Mountain; Your Mountain is not a self-help book, but more of a self-awareness guide, and try to separate the truth from fiction of the conquests and the challenges we all share. Things happen in our lives every day; both negative, positive, and everything in between. The trick is how to savor the positive, and face the challenges, plus confront those things in between.

I hope to provide thoughts and suggestions for living an everyday life filled with joy and face obstacles head-on with clear direction.

I had a counseling practice for many years. My facility was a state-licensed drug and alcohol outpatient program for adolescents and adults. To be completely transparent, while in training, I did not receive full licensure as a counselor, but instead remained an intern. During my early training, I volunteered at an adolescent psych hospital as an intern and was a witness to the faces of sadness and despair up close and personal. Those kids suffered mental health issues I wouldn’t want to put on my worst enemy, and for many of them, their mountains were monsters.

The requirements to become a licensed counselor was to complete the education requirements; I did. Two-hundred fifty hours of supervised training; I did. The biggie was four thousand work hours. I logged in over twenty thousand. I attended several workshops and seminars for additional credit and experience. I did all those things a licensed counselor could do under the direct supervision of a Qualified Credentialed Professional, such as individual and group counseling. So, the moral of the story is that I picked up a thing or two along the way. My counseling approach was direct, but always aware of my client’s feelings and ego. In short, I was skilled at what I did and proud of the impact I made. It was sort of an oxymoron; I owned the facility but was the least credentialed on my staff. Part of my decision was because I had an ailing mother and needed to serve as the facility’s chief administrator.

Presently, I am a published author, writer, and entrepreneur. I’m a public speaker and have been a guest of several radio talk-shows. Much of my time has been devoted to suicide awareness and prevention.

My focus is not for those who suffer from a serious mental disorder, but those who want a clearer understanding of how to handle obstacles along their journey through life.

We’ve all seen and read the cute “memes” and “sayings” that make us smile, then get a bit of a surge. But how long does that feeling last? What actions are you willing to take to improve your plight in life? Many have heard inspirational speeches, attended rallies and seminars that pumped them up, afterward wanting to conquer the world! But many times, within a few hours and days, the excitement fizzled. Why? Then there were others who took the information in, something clicked, then went out into the world and achieved great things. Why?

The title of the book may need a little explaining. Some will look at Mount Everest, and think, “it is so high, I’ll never make it”, while others will say, “let’s get working and get to the top!” To the first crowd, their mountain is an obstacle; the second, an opportunity. It’s the same mountain, just viewed from a different perspective.

Welcome to Port Summerville

This is a fiction, but most of it is true.

On a map, Port Summerville isn’t distinguished with a dot like other cities. Port Summerville is more of a speck. If by chance you took the correct exit, and after about a two-hour trip down this winding stretch of a farm to market road, you’ll bump into Port Summerville, which confirms the expression, ‘a blind squirrel can find a nut every once in a while.’ At this part of your journey, you couldn’t miss it if you tried. Port Summerville is like a geographic cul-de-sac — one way in and one way out. Perhaps that was the plan. It sounds more like the opening of a Twilight Zone episode than a little trip to the coast. When you arrive at the imaginary entrance line, the first thing greeting you on the outskirts of town is an itty-bitty sign about the size of a postage stamp.

“Welcome to Port Summerville and Enjoy Your Stay.”

If not for the local scout troop, we wouldn’t have a sign. The city spends thousands every year grooming palm trees, but they’re too cheap to shell out a few bucks for a decent sign, but that’s Port Summerville.

Port Summerville was just plain weird and more like a movie set than a town, meaning you saw what the producers wanted you to see; just the pretty stuff. The leaders of the community, or in this case, the movie directors were aware of how their bread was buttered — by tourism. Tourists, or what I refer to as the cast and crew, and in a trance-like state, instinctively knew where to go and what to avoid. To help them stay on the beaten path, city planners in cooperation with the Visitors’ Bureau, cleverly positioned street markers. You will notice the occasional “You are Here” maps, aided by well thought-out “One Way Only” and “Do Not Enter” signs. All the time and expense were an attempt to keep the cast and crew near the set and shield their eyes from the ugly stuff such as the poverty, crime, and worst of all, unkempt palm trees. All the ugliness and eye-sores were neatly tucked away behind the stage, hidden from plain view. The movie was a constant, and never a rerun, and the players remained the same until the next election or new appointees. After spending more than a few days there, and as you continued your way through town experiencing all its charm, you will soon realize Port Summerville made Mayberry look more like Peyton Place.

Funerals and a Buffet

The best part of being a writer is that you have an opportunity to create different personalities. I can be an asshole every so often, but for the most part my temperament is well balanced, some even say I’m a nice guy. The main character is a bit of a jerk as well, but he can also be a nice guy on occasion. This was a bit I ran through my head, and I might add it to Port Summerville in the next revision.

Funerals and a Buffet

Something I’ve always been curious about, was all the food the day of a funeral. I suppose it’s a way of telling the survivors, don’t worry about dinner today, it’s all taken care of. What about tomorrow? They’ll still be sad—and hungry. I’ve been to several funerals, and the Baptists and Methodists have it going on! They know how to serve a spread. Fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and oh my God, the desserts are to die for! Sorry. Poor choice of words.

It’s sad that I think this way, but the next funeral I go to, and right after the graveside service, I’m certain I’ll be the one to say, “Well I suppose that’s it. Let’s eat!

All about sin, and a piece of fruit

A conversation between the main character, and God.

Chapter VII: Third Sun

“You know I have about a zillion questions.”

“OK, shoot.”

With some hesitation, I ask, “Why do you allow all the suffering in the world?”

He’s quick to respond, and I get an earful.

“You blame me for that? That has got to be the number one complaint I hear about, and this is my answer—you people do it to yourselves. You can’t lay that on me. I gave you free will.”

Pointing to the garden, He says, “Go ask those two about free will. I gave them a perfect world, and what was my thanks? Disobedience, that’s what. They acted like two little brats and got punished.”

He silences the rhetoric. “You have kids, what would you have done?”

“I wouldn’t have kicked them out of the house.”

“OK, Mister Know-It-All, again I ask, what would you have done? Ground them? Or maybe put them in time out? Their single act of disobedience set the tone for the rest of you. I created only good; they are the originators of suffering, not me. You want someone to blame? Start with them.”

Reorganizing my thoughts and reminding myself who I’m talking to, I humbly reply, “I didn’t mean to make you mad.”

“You didn’t make me mad, Tony. You’re not the first, nor the last who wants me to fix everything. Like I said, you people do it to yourselves. If I had wanted robots, I would have made robots. It would have been a lot simpler and a lot less disappointing, now that I think about it.”

He gets up and walks away.

Under my breath, I mumble, “Wish I’d never brought it up.”

“You say something, Tony?”

I also get up and race after Him.

“But you kicked them out over an apple?”

He rolls His eyes, as in here we go again, and He is not amused.

“Can we forget about the fruit for a minute? That’s not the point—it could’ve been a Twinkie.

Again, He tones it down a little, and I think, Thank God.

About ten steps ahead of me, He says, “You’re welcome. Now, let’s start over, and I’ll try to keep it as simple as ABC. You have three precious little ones, and you gather them around the dinner table for a family meeting. You tell them they can have anything in the pantry to snack on. Everything in the house their little tummies can handle, but don’t under any circumstances touch the chocolate chip cookies—period.”

Then He begins to mimic in a child’s voice: “But why Daddy? Why can’t we have any of the chocolate chip cookies? Because I said so! Capiche? You are free to eat from any other bag of candy or goodies in the house, but not those—get it? It’s called obedience.”

Again, mocking in a child’s voice: “But why, Daddy?

Then answers Himself in a loud thunderous voice that echoes throughout this place, “Because those are the forbidden chocolate chip cookies of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat of them, you will surely die, all because you disobeyed one tiny little rule!”

“Don’t you think that’s a bit harsh?”

“You’re right Tony, after all, they are little kids. I’d tone it back a notch or two. Let’s return to the story. You go outside and do some yard work, create a new galaxy or whatever, and when you turn your back, one tempts the other. A debate ensues over should we, or shouldn’t we? Then one takes a bite and the other caves in. All at once, when they eat of the cookie, they find themselves naked and ashamed. As a result of disobedience, you toss them out of the garden because they couldn’t keep their hands off the chocolate chip cookies. If you’d like to know about all the stuff in the middle, read the book.”

 

Suicide by Death- The birth of Clair

Chapter I

At midnight, the grandfather clock announced the time. It was old, worn and grossly out-of-tune, but never missed a beat.

Ding, dong — clang. It repeated itself twelve times, representing each hour.

Trying to compete with the noise, the young mother’s wailing cries echoed throughout the house.

“Curtis! Wake up! My water broke!”

Startled, her husband woke from a deep, restful sleep. The sound of the clock with its irritating melody, combined with yells from his wife, confused him in his state of absolute tranquility. In the near dark, he tried to untangle himself from the covers to rescue whatever was in distress. Instead, he fell to the floor with a heavy thunk.

She’d been awake for a while and spent the time cleaning herself, then gathered a few toiletries from the bathroom.

With the continued dinging, donging and clanging, she yelled again.

“Curtis! Did you hear me?”

Unscathed, other than his pride, he mumbled, “Dammit to hell. Again? What? What is it? Another false alarm?”

He conjured a deep, surprised response while lying on the floor.

“What do you mean your water broke?”

Panicked, she flipped on the glaring bedroom light and packed a small leather suitcase.

“The baby’s coming. We have to get to the hospital… now!”

Cinderella thought she had it tough, this was no match.

The clock went silent, and Curtis lifted himself from the floor, jumping on one foot attempting to put on his pants… hiding and stifling a yawn so she wouldn’t see. Curtis scratched his head in confusion, though he shouldn’t be —it had been this way the entire length of the pregnancy; one problem after another. Groggy, he staggered around to find a shirt, socks, and shoes.

Digging through the dresser, he said, “I thought you weren’t due until July.”

“I was.”

Worried and concerned, she reached for her husband’s hand. Swollen with a baby and in pain, took a moment and dropped to her knees. Curtis stood by his wife. She let go of his hand, clasped hers together and prayed.

“Please, Lord, don’t let the baby come too early.”

Ignoring her prayers, he blurted out, “Have you seen my tie?”

Forgoing her sincere prayer, she went from the holiness of a saint to a woman from the underworld in two seconds flat.

“Forget the damn tie!”

She reached for the dresser and pulled herself up from the floor and returned to her small suitcase, snapped it shut and waddled toward the door.

“We have to go.”

This whole ordeal seemed like a sign of things to come for the yet unborn child.

They arrived at the hospital within minutes and rushed her to delivery. Her husband was at her side but whisked away and ordered to the waiting room.

In those days, women’s rights were not a topic, and the hospital delivery room was a metaphor for that sentiment. It was cruel at best, barbaric at worst. Fathers were never allowed in or near the delivery room. Any communication about the progress was only back and forth communication with an orderly or nurse. The doctors were gods and never questioned, and the patient intuitively remained subservient.

All the humiliation and embarrassment young women went through to have a baby, almost made motherhood not worth the trade. At most hospitals, there is a psych ward somewhere around, and I’m convinced many of these new mothers got to spend a few days there.

After several hours of labor, it was time. The baby was as eager to come out as much as the mother was to keep it in.

The doctor was in position and gave the final order.

“Push!”

She strained and screamed so loud that her husband heard the cries all the way down in the waiting room. He paced back and forth and was biting his fingernails down to the nub. The screaming stopped, and all he heard was an unnerving silence —followed with more nail-biting.

The baby saw its first ray of light, but lifeless.

“We have a blue baby!” cried a nurse.

The doctor cut the cord and took the infant over to a nearby warmer and did a quick assessment, swept the mouth, and suctioned the nostrils. He removed his surgical gloves, and like rubber bands, shot them into a wastebasket.

“That’s all I can do. Nurse, call me if anything changes.”

“Yes, doctor. We will get the mother ready to move.”

“Good. And you,” — pointing to an orderly — “clean up this mess.”

“Yes, sir.”

The doctor glared at him.

“Sorry. Yes, doctor.”

“That’s better.”

As soon as the doctor left, a nurse muttered, “What an asshole.”

After some tense moments, the baby’s skin tone returned to normal, then the nurse offered comforting news.

“Don’t worry, everything is fine. The cord may have gotten tangled around the neck.”

An aide leaned in close to the new mother and added, “He may be a jerk, but he wouldn’t have left if there was a problem.”

Another nurse finished cleaning the newborn, and the mother asked, “May I hold my baby?”

“In a few minutes. I need to dress and wrap her.”

“Her?”

“Yes, Mrs. Reynolds, you had a little girl.”

That was the first time she got the news the baby was a female.

The smell of ether lingered, and Mrs. Reynolds was still woozy from its effect and laid flat on blood-stained bedding. The nurse fluffed her pillow, then placed the baby on her chest.

“Be careful, she’s delicate and weak. You can have a few minutes, then we have to take her away.”

She cradled and gently stroked her hair, then whispered, “Hello, Clair. Happy birthday.”

Two of the nurses were mothers themselves and shared a moment of joy with Mrs. Reynolds, but that joy was soon interrupted. While the nurses were celebrating, a tech entered the delivery room with some test results, and it revealed the baby was Rh incompatible, meaning the newborn’s blood type was positive; the mother’s, negative. It can be a lethal cocktail.

Everyone was quick into action, including the doctor who returned to handle this emergency. Treatment options were limited in those days, and many newborns died because of it. Clair showed symptoms of anemia and was becoming jaundice. To avoid further damage, the doctor ordered a blood transfusion and took Clair away from her mother. Two hours later, they sent Clair to another room for the procedure. Not a pleasant way to start day one.

With the transfusion complete, all that remained was an empty bottle of blood still hanging above the young patient. The IV needle was removed, leaving a few drops of blood behind on her tiny arm.

Clair got introduced to the world with little fanfare, but came a few weeks early, and by all standards in Nineteen-fifty-seven was premature.

She remained in critical condition for several days, and her chances of making it out of the hospital remained thin. The troubles she endured, literally began at birth, but fought and won her first of many battles to come. She learned as an infant the skills to survive, and it would be those skills Clair employed for the years that lie ahead.

The best picture, “Around the World in Eighty Days” got the Hollywood nod, and Elvis Presley was “all shook up” the year Clair was born. The best picture and top song seemed symbolic for what was to become her life. She was shaken emotionally, and instead of an eighty-day trip; her resolve took many years.

 

 

Port Summerville- A little warning if you move here

A little warning if you decide to move to Port Summerville, make sure you are healthy and have plenty of homeowner’s insurance.
 
Most small communities like Port Summerville only have a volunteer fire department, so if your house ever catches on fire—good luck! By the time they drag the volunteers out of the bars or wherever, the only thing left to do is call the insurance adjuster and build a new house.
 
If you’ve ever been diagnosed with a chronic illness and think you are having a problem, you might as well shoot yourself in the head and get it over with. The result will be the same, except for some blood and a hint of brain matter. If you think the EMS will save your ass, and to no surprise, you will be sadly mistaken, post-mortemly speaking. If you experience a heart attack, by the time they get to you, you’re already stiff as a board. Flies are swarming all around and snacking on you for brunch, then you become an incubator for their offspring.
 
Before rigor mortis has reached its final peak of stiffness, your stuff starts getting parted out by the relatives, and whatever’s left that hasn’t been pillaged, is off to Goodwill. So all that remains, (pardon the pun), is a loving memory and a will. As far as Port Summerville having three leading economies, I failed to mention another one; funeral homes. We have three, and business is good. The moral of the story is, at the first sign of anything twitching or aching, no matter how inconspicuous, I don’t care if you’ve got a hangnail, head to the emergency room, and while you’re at it, get a longer water hose.

Port Summerville- Road and Bridge Tax

Chapter 12

The United States had just celebrated the two-hundredth anniversary of our nation’s’ birth. Port Summerville had a big firework show, boat parade, and barbecue. It was getting toward the end of the festivities when I ran into the county clerk; Miss Odem. As I was about to leave, she said, “Hello, John, I haven’t seen you in a while. Did you pay your road and bridge taxes this year?”

The biggest government pet peeves I had was the annual ritual to renew automobile license tags. I went through the same routine every year and gave my speech to the newest girl working there. The others stepped aside because they’d been through this before, — a rite of passage for the new girl. Every year, and without exception, it went like this.

“Hello, Sir, how may I help you?”

“I’m here to pay my road and bridge tax.” The others who knew me snickered; they’d been through this before.

“I don’t understand, I’ve never heard of a road and bridge tax.”

“Yes, I know you haven’t, but you will.” I was about to get on a roll, and this poor young girl was the next victim. “Let me ask you a question, —” as I glanced at her name tag — “Rita, do you have a birth certificate?”

“Yes, I do.”

“OK, having established that, does the state know when I buy a vehicle?”

“Yes, they do, the vehicle is registered when purchased, then titled.”

“Exactly, so conversely does the state have evidence when I sell a vehicle?”

“Yes, it is a title transfer. I’m sorry, but I didn’t catch your name.”

“Last name, St. John, first name, John, it’s right here —,” then pointed, — “on this registration form. Now, Rita, you said you had a birth certificate, and when you die, you get, — not you per se, — but someone gets a death certificate. Correct?”

“Yes, that’s right.”

“You see Rita, while you are alive, from birth until death, the state issues two pieces of paper to prove you exist, or in the end, used to exist, and that’s that. Born, you get a piece of paper, and when you die— another one.

“Mr. St. John, there are others in line, can we please move along?”

“Rita, they can wait, this valuable information might help you further along with your new career.” I knew most the people in line, and several have witnessed this annual rant and waited patiently, then I continued educating Rita. “Where was I?”

Irritated, she said, “You’re born then you’re dead.”

“Oh yeah, now let me continue to explain. Your birth certificate is like a new vehicle registration, and the death certificate, well, more like a vehicle transfer in a weird way, and another fee to the state. The death certificate, or in this case, the vehicle transfer analogy should help explain my rationale.” Miss Odem and the staff rolled their eyes as I continued. “You see Rita, the state issues all kinds of paper while you are alive, like a driver’s license, permits, marriage certificate, and if it doesn’t work out— divorce papers, but only two share a commonality; One says ‘welcome, ‘ and the other says ‘goodbye.’“

“Yes, Mr. St. John, but what does all this have to do with your vehicle registration?”

“My point exactly. Do you need to remind and pay a fee to the state every year to prove you exist by registering for a new birth certificate? Or for that matter, does someone who survives you, not necessarily you, but someone else after their demise needs to pay another reminder fee they are, — well you know, — passed on?”

“No, I don’t think they do.”

“Then why should I re-register a vehicle year after year for an automobile the state knows I already own? They should call it like it is; a road and bridge tax.”

“I see your point. Do you want a receipt for your road and bridge tax fee?”

“No thank you, Rita, a receipt is a complete waste of paper and taxpayer money.”

“Is there anything else Mr. St John?”

“I don’t believe so. Thank you, Rita. See you next year.”

“I’ll be counting the days. Goodbye, Mr. St. John.”

I always felt a little bad when I put someone through that, but this message needed to be passed along to others. Can’t wait until next year.