Friday, April 29, 2011

Reba J. Jones of Pleasant Grove, AL

Reba J. Jones, 516 7th Ave. Pleasant Grove, AL 35127. It was a mailing label that I found in amongst the roses yesterday in our backyard garden. The label was still adhered to its waxy sheet, ready to be stuck to a letter or a bill that Ms. Jones needed to get out in the mail, something she probably kept, like me, in a drawer of her desk, with her postage stamps, envelopes and her good Walmart Thank You cards. But the label was dirty and tattered, and it was about seventy miles northeast from where it should’ve been…

I recall my first experience with a tornado. I was about four or five years old; Vicki, about six or seven. The radio told us we needed to seek shelter, so mom and dad took us down into the basement to wait the storm out. It was there under the glare of the bare overhead bulb that dad described what a tornado was. He wasn’t trying to scare us, he just wanted us to know what why it was important for us to go to the basement for this storm, when we didn’t have to go to the basement for other storms. The one thing that I remember most vividly was that Dad said if you are close enough to a tornado to hear it, it will sound like a locomotive coming at you. My only experience with trains was with the toy ones that my male counterparts played with at school. So in my child’s mind, I thought it was funny to think of hearing the sound of a choo choo train during a storm.

There are only two other memories that I have of that night. 1) At one point, as I watched a small trickle of water make it’s way along the dirt floor of the basement and heard the storm grow to a fevered pitch outside, the light went out. In the dark, I heard dad say, “Here it comes.” The next memory of that night was this: 2) Emerging from the basement at the break of dawn and seeing the path the tornado took around our house. I remember holding mom’s hand while walking around the terrace, thinking the snapped pine trees looked a game of Pick-Up-Sticks that had gone awry.

Now, I’ve been through other tornadoes since then: lots here in Alabama, and a few in the other places I’ve lived. I was around for the Palm Sunday tornadoes of 1994, which devastated Calhoun and Cherokee Counties, destroying the Goshen United Methodist Church while parishioners worshipped (Rick Bragg covered the story, which can be read in his collection Somebody Told Me). I was at a Radiohead concert at Red Rocks in 2001 when a tornado formed just beyond the Rocky foothills where I sat, and made its way towards downtown Denver…towards my Capital Hill apartment. But luckily, it changed course and missed the city. I don’t get freaked out by tornadoes like some folks do, but I do respect them, and head for the basement when one is spotted in the area.

Yes, if you are close enough to a tornado to hear it, it does sound a lot like a locomotive…an angry, mean locomotive, with sharp teeth that bite and rip, and with forceful breath that picks up houses, cars and anything else in its way when it inhales, and dashes those things to the unforgiving ground when it exhales. Which is how we ended up with Reba J. Jones of Pleasant Grove, Alabama’s mailing label in our yard. Pleasant Grove, Alabama was destroyed in Wednesday night’s storms, leveled by a mile wide tornado.

After it left Pleasant Grove, the tornado tore through downtown Birmingham and made its way up to Etowah County, Calhoun County, Cherokee County. While Eric reported breaking news from the Gadsden Times building, and I sat in our basement with our basementless friends Danny and Jillian from down the street, my dear friend Beth and her husband lost their chicken houses on their poultry farm, thereby losing their livelihood. Her father-in-law lost his home and everything in it, everything except the bathroom in which he hid…

I hope Reba J. Jones had a basement in which she hid Wednesday night as the tornado raged around her. I hope that if she didn’t have her own basement to go to, then she had a neighbor who did have a basement, and that she took shelter there. And although her personal mailing label being in our yard indicates otherwise, I hope that by some chance Reba J. Jones still has a house in Pleasant Grove. I just hope that Reba J. Jones is still alive…

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Sittin' in the grass, after dinner...

Bisons on the lawn of the Catoe parsonage. Photo by the Dame Catoe.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

With the birds I’ll share this lonely view…

They came to cut the trees Friday. Had gotten a call the night before from Jake Cranford saying they could come in the morning, and could we have the cars moved? You bet! Bring it on! I was just going to nap all day and maybe read Ree Drummond’s Black Heels To Tractor Wheels. But I’ve pretty much already read Ree’s story through her blog, and who needs to nap when you can watch tree cutters cutting down hundred foot-plus pines that are growing about five feet away from your house?

There were three guys working the job: owner Jake Cranford, a fellow with a CDL who drove the trucks and held the lines, and Mike the Climber. About an hour into the job, my neighbor Joel got hired to work the lines and load lumber (he used to cut trees for a living, so he just stepped into the job like he had never stopped).

Everyone was pretty low key…except for Mike the Climber. He reminded me of Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Was Appalachian lean, with a shaved head. Looked like an Irish bare-knuckle boxer, missing his two front teeth. High strung and moved real fast, but with the grace of a mountain cat. Talked fast, too. He was out front revving up the chainsaws while the other guys were gone getting the log truck. Strange sound, chainsaws outside your window on a Good Friday morning. But you gotta have good working chainsaws when you’re a climber. And you gotta make sure they all are in working order before you get up in a tree to start cutting. Takes a special kinda person to do the climbing part of tree cutting.

Took probably six hours for them to get finished. And that’s with a very short lunch break. Jake Cranford said that it would’ve taken far less time if the trees hadn’t been so close to the house. That’s okay. It was a good show for the neighborhood. Pretty much everybody and their mother came out to watch. Jilly Jill brought out a chair to the sidewalk, and Danny Dan filmed part of the cutting for a project he was working on. Dad even came from Rainbow City…

For about five minutes that day, I felt like the Once-ler from Seuss’ The Lorax. Here I was, not treating my trees with care. I was not giving them water, nor feeding them fresh air. I was allowing my trees to be, in a literal and literary sense, hacked at with axes. But these trees needed to go. They had been tossing their pinecones to and fro. And dropping big limbs when the winds did blow. I promised that in their place one day, we would plant smaller trees under which the children could play. And there the smaller trees forever would stay…and the Barbaloots in their Barbaloot suits would once again be happy and gay! Okay, I’ll stop…

Later in the day, it got back to me that someone had asked Mike the Climber how long he had been doing this kind of work. His response was, “Oh, my first day was yesterday. But I stayed in a Holiday Inn last night…” Wiseguy.

There was a point during the job where Mike the Climber was way up in the last tree standing. He’d had to go back up to take it down a bit more so that the bucket truck could comfortably reach the tree. I was standing by Jake Cranford across the street, watching. About the time I noticed that Mike the Climber had not hooked his safety up, Jake Cranford said, “He’s not got his safety on. I better remind him.” He yelled up to Mike the Climber, who laughed, and exaggeratedly hooked up his safety, then went back to work without missing a beat. I may have remarked at this point about a certain level of certifiable-ness or thrill-seeking that I thought climbers had to have in order to work the jobs they did. Jake Cranford somewhat agreed. He said of Mike the Climber, “He’s keyed up before he starts a job…and when he’s working. Will probably get off of this job, go home and kill a six-pack just to come down. Gotta be keyed up and nervous to do what he does. A climber isn’t nervous about a job, that’s when bad things happen.” Well, that sure put it into perspective for me. And Mike the Climber was far lower-key when he was finished with the job than when he started the job. No doubt about that…

So, after the last log was loaded, and I had settled up with Jake Cranford, I fell in love with The Bungalow all over again. Slim and I sat on the front porch for awhile to celebrate the yard with no trees, and to plan the landscaping we dreamed of doing. There are still two stumps that need to be ground (the stump-grinding guy will come next week), and two big holes in the yard where logs were dropped repeatedly (we’ll fill in with the mulch from the ground stumps and then add top soil), but it sure beats having two frighteningly monstrous trees so close to the house. And, I may be imagining it, but I swear that the cross breeze on the porch is even better than it was before (and it was pretty darn good when the trees were there).

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Winnie the Poops

Irene Latham gave a poetry reading from her new book of poetry (The Color of Lost Rooms) Tuesday night at the GPL. I absolutely LOVE hearing Irene read, as not only does she read beautifully and sincerely, she also actively gets the audience to participate. On this visit, Irene included a slide show of images, one of which she asked us to create a group poem about. On one index card, we were asked to write down five descriptive words about the woman in the image. Next, we were to write down a happy memory from our past, a memory that was brought to mind by the image. Third, we were to write down something that we would like to happen, something again, that was connected to the image we were looking at. On the second card I wrote something like this, “When I would spend summers at my grandmother’s place in Kentucky, after dinner we would go out and sit in the grass. The grass was cool on our feet.” On the third card, I wrote something like this, “I would love to have an early summer dinner party with friends. We could eat, and then sit out in the cool summer grass.”

It just so happened that while I was in this reading with Irene, I had gotten an email from Laura Catoe entitled “Eating Outside,” and stating the following: “Yesterday, the weather was nice, so we ate dinner outside. As we got seated, Ben asked 'are Carol and Eric coming over?'"

Now, how is that for serendipity? And, how is that for sweetness?

We eat with the Catoes almost every Saturday evening. You know all about it. Dining al fresco when the weather permits. Eatin’ some food. Playin’ some bison. The usual. There are just some folks you think of when you think of dining outside. I’ve taken part in some wonderful dinners that took place outside. It is one of my favorite ways to dine. Dining outside with the Catoes always ranks as wonderful.

Eric and I have a Hollywood nickname, courtesy of Zoe. Like Brangelina and Bennifer…we are Carrot. Carol and Eric=Carrot. It totally works if you want to say our names together quickly...and especially if you are a tabloid doing a story on our glamorous 10th Street life. Zoe is not the only Catoe child calling us Carrot. Ben is calling us Carrot, too. And I suspect that when Cash collects all of his language faculties about him, he’ll call us Carrot as well. I like it. No, I love it.

Colonoscopy and endoscopy went well this morning…and I have such a clean colon now! All we have to do is wait for the biopsies of my various upper and lower bits & pieces to come back, and it is all over (Dr. Amin doesn’t expect to find anything). Slim was admittedly a bit disappointed that I wasn’t a Paper-Lace-singing, crazy-talking fool when I woke up from the anesthesia, and also that I remembered my conversations with both the nurse and Dr. Amin afterwards (because I guess normally you forget the stuff you talk about right after waking up from anesthesia)…but if it’s any consolation, he had to hold on to the back of my hoodie as I bounced out the door of the center and into the arms of ma, pa, and sister. I was a bit loopy and my feet felt HUGE (get out of my way FEET), so I kept tipping sideways.

I’ve been home since 9:30AM ish and I’ve eaten oatmeal, napped, eaten a baked potato, napped, washed dishes, inspected the roses, finished watching the Bukowski bio, eaten ice cream (cause Slim thought I deserved some tasty treats…awwwwww), and I’m thinking about another nap. I have a license to nap right now, and I’m using it to the full extent of the law. I can’t drive a car today. Because I may decide to take a nap at some point while I’m driving.

Exchange between me and E this morning:
Me: I’ve got rumblies in my tumblies…
E: Alright, Winnie the Poops…

Topeka, KS Part II, Section A

Because I promised more about our day of sightseeing…

We started the day off by driving past Topeka High School, home of the Trojans. Topeka High does not look like an average high school…as a matter of fact, for some reason, Topeka High reminds me of Cornell, what with its collegiate gothic good-looks, its bell tower and its bronze Trojan statue out front. All they need is a quad with a pair of statues of the founding fathers who, as legend goes, will get up from their pedestals at midnight, walk to greet each other with a handshake, and then exchange places (which Cornell has…Arts Quad, statues of founders Ezra Cornell and Andrew Dickson White…but I think there has to be a virgin standing in the quad, too, and maybe the chimes have to be ringing, also…what are the odds of that all happening at the same time? Thus, old Ezra and Andy have never actually changed places…that we know of). But, Topeka High has something Cornell doesn’t…one of the spars from Old Ironsides. They use the spar as a flagpole.

Ay, tear her tattered ensign down!
Long has it waved on high,
And many an eye has danced to see
That banner in the sky;
Beneath it rung the battle shout,
And burst the cannon's roar;
The meteor of the ocean air
Shall sweep the clouds no more. (part of Old Ironsides by Olive Wendell Holmes)

Go Trojans!

Next, we went to the Kansas state capital, which is undergoing some major renovations (much to the consternation of some government spending watchdog groups). The capital is a beautiful domed building, in the traditional domed-capital sense. And it has a lovely statue of a Native American shooting an arrow to the stars on top. But, what thrilled me to NO END about this capitol were the murals painted on the walls within…specifically, one mural in particular: John Steuart Curry's John Brown mural entitled Tragic Prelude. I grew up listening to the 70s band Kansas, especially their first, self-titled album featuring a close up of this mural on the cover (another tidbit: Kansas founder Kerry Livgren is still very active in the Topeka music scene. Lauri and George have heard him collaborate with the symphony.). To finally see this mural was incredible (Slim had mentioned a particular mural of John Brown that he wanted me to see. I had no idea that it was THE mural of John Brown. Thank you, Slim.)

A little John Brown aside: John Brown was an abolitionist. He did not believe in passive resistance. He believed in straight-up, full-contact resistance. I read somewhere that he suffered from eye inflammations…which may be why in every photograph I see of him, he has the crazy eyes. But, seriously, I don’t really think his crazy eyes came from inflammations, I think he had the crazy eyes because of all the hardship he had in his life, and because of his fiery dedication to end slavery.

See, back in the day (Civil War), pro-slavery supporters called the Border Ruffians were “willing to violate the rule of law” to turn Kansas into a slave state. Bleeding Kansas was a period of skirmishes and out-and-out bloody battles that were an attempt by the Border Ruffians to exterminate the anti-slavery contingent. From the sound of things, Brown was ticked off at both sides of the conflict: the pro-slavery folks for using such violent tactics; the anti-slavery folks for being so weak and passive in their defense. Brown, who was living in New York at the time, headed to Kansas to help out (he was not the only person who helped out the anti-slavery Kansans. Henry Ward Beecher, a preacher and abolitionist, snuck rifles to the anti-slavery settlers by hiding them in boxes of Bibles). One such skirmish was the attack on Lawrence where the pro-slavery folks destroyed the press, several homes, some people, intimidated women and children…and generally acted like dangerous fooligans. Yup, those ruffians were definitely willing to violate the rule of the law.

I think Curry’s mural depicts a rightly ticked off John Brown. He’s got a Bible in one hand, a gun in the other, and he’s mad. Clearly depicted on either side of him are the two opposing forces. There are two dead soldiers on the ground at his feet: one union, one confederate. There is a tornado tearing its way across the plains to the left, raging prairie fires to the right, which somehow makes me think that John Brown wasn’t the only one upset. Looked to me like the good Lord may have been a bit unhappy at all that foolishness, too. I’m just sayin.’

I’ve got to take a break from Part II. Today is colonoscopy/endoscopy day. I will refrain from the jokes I could crack right now. Yesterday’s prep wasn’t too bad (a nasty headache complicated things a bit. I was unable to take the meds I normally take for headaches, and was unable to keep down the meds I was able to take. At least I was eventually able to keep down the laxatives). I slept well last night, but I am so hungry, my shoes are looking edible. Slim is to have me at the center by 6:40AM, so I am only an hour or two away. I don’t know why, but I have the Paper Lace song The Night Chicago Died stuck in my head. Mix that with anesthesia, and everybody in the place is going to get a real show today. Please Lord, just help me keep my mouth shut…
In the heat of a summer night
In the land of the dollar bill…

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Topeka, KS Part I

Short crocus blades sheathed the purple-and-white hearts that so wished to be first they endured the chill and rain of early spring.
Toni Morrison, from The Bluest Eye

The crocuses here bloomed over a month ago. So did the violets, the irises and the wisteria. We are in full spring mode now, with hop vines taller than me; rose canes falling over from the weight of so many buds and blooms; watermelon-colored azaleas aflame; gladiolas, cannas, crocosmia lucifers all poking up or unrolling from their winter hiding places. We went away for one week. During that one week, our yard became a jungle. If I had a machete, I’d have used it to cut a path through the back yard. But we don’t have a machete. We have a reel push mower…and our hands. And I used both the reel mower and my hands last week to cut the grass. Slim broke out the weed eater last night. Some things you have to force into submission. Our back yard is one of those things…and so are the sawflies that are eating our rose bushes into skeletal remains. What is the most organic way to get rid of sawfly worms? Pick them off by hand and squish them. Which I’ve done most mornings before work. And because I would like to NOT have to spend precious moments picking sawfly worms off of roses, I neemed them, too. Neem is my best friend.

So, I mentioned that we went away for a week. Slim and I went to Topeka for his brother Steven’s wedding to the lovely McKenna Hall. Our visit was a whirlwind of nuptual merriment: brunch supplies shopping at Sam’s Club, reception room set-up, visiting the new apartment, wedding ceremony run-throughs, rehearsal dining at the Brickyard Barn Inn, photographs in Gage Park…and then, the wedding itself! Oh my, but it was a beautiful ceremony, with a delightfully sweet and funny slide show to start things off, communion with the bride and groom, and a reception of good food and jubilant dancing (with many touching toasts). The bride and groom were sent off in a literal blaze of glorious sparklers…sparklers that (for several tense moments) didn’t want to be lit.

The following day was made up of a relaxing brunch with visiting relatives, concocting embrocation with soap-lotion-lip-balm-specialist Lauri Wright, and dinning on Kansas strip steaks from a corn-finished animal of the bovine variety. All was right in the world…

Monday was spent sightseeing in Topeka (the state capital and Monroe school, where the Brown vs. the Topeka Board of Education Museum is located), Lawrence (the KU campus), and in Kansas City (the Plaza, the Nelson-Atkins Museum, Arthur Bryant’s Barbecue). I reserve the right to create a separate blog post for this day, as I am still cogitating on all of it…and may still be digesting some of the burnt ends I gobbled up at Arthur Bryant's...

Our final day in Kansas was spent sailing on Lake Perry. Lauri and George are negotiating the purchase of a new, somewhat larger sailboat, so we took Scout out for what may have been her last voyage with the Wright family. The weather was perfect for sailing…a comfortable temperature, mild winds, and lots of sunshine. Later that evening, we dined on delicate squash soup, field greens with fresh goat cheese & strawberries, sea bass (E) and scallops (me) with mashed potatoes & green beans at the quaint French restaurant, Chez Yasu. It was divine. Seriously, it was more than divine. I ate so much, I felt like a tick on a dog. Yep. That’s how I felt. And then I felt even more better (if I may mess with our language a tiny bit more) when we had crème brulee for dessert. I LOVE CRÈME BRULEE. DO YOU HEAR ME? LOVE IT! I slept like a log that night, and dreamt of jumping on a trampoline made of a giant scallop. My hair was flying high with each jump, and every time I landed, I took another bite of buttery scallop…when we got up to leave the next morning, I had leftover mashed potatoes and green beans for breakfast. Now that’s the way to end a vacation. Shazam!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Easy Breezy

After a terribly busy week last week (mom’s exciting first week of chemo…the little trooper…the Three Poets Reading Thursday evening, Library of Congress truck all day Friday and the Gadsden Reads kickoff Friday evening, which consisted of a Parrothead Parade and Buffet karaoke), I was looking forward to an easy breezy week this week. That was not to be. While sitting in my digestive specialist’s (the gloriously named Dr. Vipul Thakorbhai Amin, who happens to be one of the glorious doctors responsible for saving my dad’s life a year and a half ago) office to see him about some recent even-more-shocking-er digestive issues, I received a call from my tree cutters saying that they had us on the schedule to take out our massive pines Tuesday and Wednesday. Well, when it rains, it pours…literally. We were due for some typical Southern spring weather in the form of tornadoes and straight-line winds that very evening, so I thought, “Great, you can remove the arboreal behemoths tomorrow, AFTER ONE MORE nail-biting night of storms.” Sure, I told Jake Cranford of Cranford Tree Service. I’ve got nothing better to do in the next couple of days except try to get ahead at work, exercise my body of some digestive demons, pack for a trip…you get the picture.

So, we survived severe thunderstorms last night, and today they will begin to remove the trees. Take one more look at them, cause in two days they will be gone. I am sad that I don’t get to watch the guys take them down (I had dreams at one time of being a tree cutter who specialized in climbing…those dreams lasted about five minutes when I thought about being suspended in a tree from a rope while having to wield a chainsaw). They will not be missed.

And on a side note, Dr. Vipul Thakorbhai Amin is treating me for giardia and…and…wait for it…celiac disease. He looked at my life history of digestive issues and listened to what I had been experiencing recently with the removal of gluten from my diet. The jury is still out on the blood work. And I have an endoscopy and colonoscopy scheduled for later this month. Now, if I can only get mom to quit calling the Giardia Ghirardelli. We’re blaming chemo brain (but we all know that she would still call it Ghirardelli, even if she wasn’t taking chemo right now, cause that’s the way she rolls). I WISH I had Ghirardelli…

Mom update: In my last post, I mislabeled mom’s cancer as rectal cancer. It was not rectal cancer, it was anal cancer. There is a difference between the two, and I wanted to make sure that everyone who was following her story had the right information. Mom is doing great. She’s had a little over one full week of radiation, and one full week of chemo. Her radiation guys are two terrific chaps who allowed sister and me to accompany her into the radiation chamber until it was time to zap her. They then allowed us to watch the computer that showed mom’s insides as the radiation was administered. Mom says that they usually play cool music for her when she’s in there. The Beatles. And now Creedance, cause mom brought a disc from home and left it with them. They are good guys who are taking great care of my mom. Chemo took place last week with an hour-long drip of mitomycin, and then a week-long hook-up to her port of 5FU. She was unhooked on Friday. She will get another drip of mitomycin and another week-long hook-up of 5FU the last week of radiation. Right now, she is unhooked. And she’s off the charts in my book ‘cause she’s doing so well. So far, the only side effects have been a daily tiredness and some relatively minor bowel issues. She works a half-day everyday, going in after her morning treatments. Her attitude is as it always has been, one of greeting each new day with thankfulness and humor. Which is why she’ll go in this morning and tell her radiation techs that her daughter has a bad case of Ghirardelli…

Tree update: Just talked with Cranford Tree Service. They couldn't get out today because of the storm damage last night. Too many folks with trees down on their houses. That's okay by me. There are other folks who need tree cutters more than we do right now. And the wait continues...