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Tarnished Glory

The battle is on again in our sister Southern states of Georgia and Mississippi. With a generous selection of crises available from the fields of economic, educational, and social issues, the topic just seems to get stuck on the ethics of the Rebel Flag.

The Rebel Flag- symbol of independent-minded men who won’t be downtrodden by a whole nation of outsiders trying to tell them what to do in their own land. The Rebel Flag- held high and waved furiously by loyal Southerners who want to make damn sure the world knows they are proud of their heritage. The Rebel Flag- symbol of….of….what, really?

Few Southerners know Southern history any better than they know the history of Afghanistan. Southerners read too many romantic novels and watch too many TV shows about Dixie and the Glory Days. The facts are far different and shocking and disgusting.

During the time of the Civil War, not every white man was a plantation and slave owner. Not even half the white men were, nor a third. The truth is that the wealth and lands and slaves where held by only a handful of wealthy families. The rest of the whites, who were poverty stricken beyond belief, often found themselves in circumstances as dire and demeaning as their Negro counterparts. Poor whites were the sharecroppers who eked out an existence on the fringes of the plantations. In return for the use of the land, where they lived in inadequate shacks, they planted and grew crops. The major portion of the crops was given over to the plantation owner and the sharecropper was allowed to retain just enough for himself to keep him alive to repeat the entire cycle the following year. The white sharecropper was not a slave by law, but he was enslaved by economics to the plantation owner.

When the Civil War began, the plantation owners and their sons received commissions and officer standing in the Rebel Army. The poor whites were rounded up and sent to fight for the South without uniforms, training, and often, even without shoes. The rate of desertion by Southern soldiers eventually grew to over a thousand a day. These poor whites knew they were fighting to preserve an economic system that was enslaving them.

So when the Rebel Flag floats over the capitol of Georgia and flaps itself at the University of Mississippi football games, it is no wonder that some decent-minded people object. It is enough to make a fair-minded, honest person ashamed. Perhaps the day will soon come when Southerners quit knocking themselves out to display their ignorance to the world.

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6% Grade

6% Grade

In a way I feel like the whole thing was my fault. It’s not like nobody else in the family ever did it, too, but maybe I was worse than the others. You have to understand that my mother fancies herself as some sort of an inventor. Not that she doesn’t have some good ideas, but the problem is that she never does anything about them. She’ll get up one morning all excited about some new gadget she has thought up and for days she’ll keep the whole house in an uproar about it. She’ll go on about how she’s going to design it and produce it and market it and then— well, it just sort of dies a slow death.

Then, a year or so later, we are subject to see Mama’s invention on TV or in a newspaper or magazine, but it will be someone else who marketed it. Once I picked up a ladies’ magazine in the doctor’s office and there, big as life, was a full-page color advertisement for Mama’s idea of a shave cream for women. A company called SilkySmoothe was selling it; only Mama had got this same idea years ago because she liked to use my dad’s shave cream on her legs. She said it worked a lot better than soap, but that she smelled like a eucalyptus cough drop and that it clashed with her Shalimar. She even wrote several cosmetic companies saying that she had this brilliant idea for a great new product, but the companies either didn’t answer or wrote back saying that they had a whole mess of people who do nothing but sit around thinking up new products and it was unlikely Mama had thought of anything they didn’t already know about.

Another time, Mama came up with the idea for a locator device for keeping up with kids or old people who wander off. Mama just knew she was going to put me through college with that one. Then we saw it on TV one day. Some company out in Phoenix, Arizona was making it.

At first, we used to get excited right along with Mama when she got her ideas. Then we just sort of got tired of it and would say stuff like, “Well, if it’s so good, why don’t you do something about it?” Then we took to making fun of her and calling her Thomas Edison or Rube Gold whatever-his-name-was. Finally, I said I never wanted to hear about another invention, I wanted to seeone. That was my big mistake.

There is another thing you have to understand about my mother. She is just a little bit crazy. We tell her that all the time, but she just laughs. See what I mean? A normal person would get mad. Mama just says she will be glad when she gets old and people call her eccentric. I asked her what was the difference between crazy and eccentric and she said, “About forty years.”

I’ll give you an example of just how crazy she is. When we lived down in some God forsaken pothole town in Alabama, Mama decided that I couldn’t get a decent education there so she packed me off to a boarding school up in the Georgia mountains. Then, she went home and decided she missed me, or got to feeling guilty or something, so she quit a perfectly good job and moved up to some God forsaken mountain top that is just 45 miles from my school. Now I ask you, what is the use of living at boarding school when every time you turn around, there is your mother? I went to school with kids whose parents had the decency to stay in Japan, Russia, Denmark, South Africa- all over the country and world. But not my mother. She was at every dance recital and track meet. Now boarding school can be a lot of fun if you know how to work the system, which does not include your mother showing up every time you bend the rules.

But then again, it does have its advantages. Like if you get homesick or just get bored or something. You can’t run home for the weekend if your family is in Peru. So, Mama would come get me and anyone else who wanted to come along. We would haul ourselves up the mountain, which just happened to be the highest mountain in the western part of North Carolina. Going up was no trouble. Coming down was another story. Mama had a system for downhill trips. She would stop at the top of the mountain, shift into first gear, and let the car start down. After a bit, she would shift into second because she said first got to sounding like it was going to grind out. Then she stepped on the brake so she could slow down enough to go back to first. All this foolishness was on account of she had already worn out several sets of brakes on that mountain and on account of she had given up her good paying job and she didn’t have the money to keep buying brakes.

Along the road down the mountain we would pass signs that said “8% grade” and “6% grade”. “I used to not know what those meant,” Mama said one day. “At first I thought it meant that the road was 6% off horizontal. Then I decided it was 6% off vertical. Now I know it means you have a 6% chance of reaching the bottom without burning up your brakes.”

Then I heard those ominous words. “I’m going to do something about that,” Mama said.

“Sure you are,” I replied, sarcastically.

The next time Mama came to school to take me home for the weekend she seemed almost as normal as anybody else’s mother. We hopped in the car and headed home. As we started up the mountain she became what I later realized was dangerously cheerful. She asked about my classes and said she was going to fix my favorite foods all weekend. The closer we got to the top of the mountain, the antsier Mama got. I began to sense something was different, but at the time I just couldn’t put my finger on it.

Just as we crested the mountain, Mama made a quick U-turn in the road and stopped the car heading back down the mountain. I got an awful queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach. Before I could open my mouth, Mama had hopped out of the car. She stuck her head back in and said, “I told you I was going to fix this brake dilemma. I’ve had a brainstorm and the best part is I don’t need any help to do it!” Then she added, “Now, don’t look. This is a surprise!”

Damn right it was a surprise. The woman who couldn’t market a can of shave cream was fixing to do something stupid on the tallest mountain in 200 miles. I could feel it in my bones. I kept trying to look over my shoulder, but I just couldn’t make myself move. It was sort of like being paralyzed with fright. I heard Mama open the trunk and felt the car shake as she thrashed around in it. I felt the car move again and thought I heard a sound like a chain or something metal. Just as I started to turn around, she hollered, “I told you not to look. It’s a surprise!” I stared ahead. Far, far, below I could just make out a town that lay at the bottom of the mountain. Every time Mama stopped here to downshift she would gaze at the town below, provided you could catch a glimpse through the Smoky Mountain haze, and say how quickly you could get there if you just had a hang glider.

“Oh, my God,” I thought. “She’s going to tie a damn kite to the roof and drive us off the mountain!” I reached for the door handle to jump out, but I was too late. Mama was already in the car.

“Are you buckled in?” she asked without waiting for an answer. We were already rolling. I leaned my head to the right and looked up. Nothing. No kite. I looked in the side mirror. Nothing. Everything looked perfectly normal. I began to relax just a little. We were gathering speed. No first gear this time. Up ahead I saw the first curve coming up fast. I started to get nervous again.

“Any minute now,” Mama said with growing excitement.

We didn’t have a minute, so I held on to my seat as tight as I could. Then, it happened. I heard this kind of– of whooshing noise, and the car gave a terrific lurch, sort of like we had hit a tree. If I hadn’t had on my seat belt I would have hit the dashboard. At this instant Mama threw the car into neutral and began to carry on like those people on TV who have just been told they won the Publisher’s Clearing House Sweepstakes.

“I knew it would work! I knew it would work!” she kept hollering.

I knew something had happened because the car had slowed to a steady pace and was rolling leisurely down the hill. I looked in the side mirror. Still nothing. I turned and looked over my left shoulder out the back window. Nothing there. I felt disoriented. Something was missing. I realized that the trees and mountain had disappeared from behind the car. All I could see were white clouds. I got a sick, sinking feeling like when you are in an elevator and it goes down too fast. I turned again to see out the front windshield and there were the road and trees again. But out the back were clouds. I looked again over my shoulder. That’s when I noticed the ropes. It wasn’t a cloud I saw. It was a parachute. The largest parachute I had ever seen. Well, actually, it was the only one I had ever seen; I just never knew they were so large.

Mama read my mind. “Army surplus store in Atlanta,” she said. “I got the idea from those drag cars on TV. I figured if it worked for them, it would work for me. Of course, the idea needs a little refinement, but the basic concept is sound.” Mama should have been a politician. She can sound convincing even if she hasn’t got a clue what she is talking about. I had to admit, though, it did seem to be working. The car was still in neutral and rolling steadily downhill. About every hundred feet or so, when we neared a sharp curve, Mama would lightly touch the brakes and then let off. I was beginning to get into the spirit of it myself.

Mama leaned over and popped a tape into the tape player. She is an absolute fool for classical music so I wasn’t surprised to hear Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. Mama said we needed something dramatic for the occasion and turned the volume up. So there we were, practically floating down this isolated mountain road, laughing and sounding like we were hauling the entire Boston Symphony Orchestra in the back seat.

I’m not sure when it happened, but later I guessed it was probably when all those cannons were booming in the Overture. You couldn’t have heard God sneeze with all the racket that was coming from that car. Anyway, apparently the parachute caught on a dead tree limb that was hanging over the roadway and it snapped the limb off. Of course, we couldn’t have seen it even if we had known about it on account of that parachute blocking the view. We just kept rolling downhill. A couple of curves later we met up with a truck that was going uphill.

You know how sometimes in your life you get these little episodes that last only a few seconds, but they are forever etched in your mind like you had stood for hours staring at the same thing? Well, that’s the way I remember that man in the pickup. His eyes got wide and his jaw slacked a little. Then, he jerked the steering wheel to the right, slammed on his brakes, and the last thing I saw before he disappeared into the parachute was his spit cup toppling over into his lap. You have got to understand that we live in the tobacco capital of the country and chewing tobacco and carrying a spit cup around with you is a way of life. Me, I think it is about as classy as walking around with a handful of used toilet paper, but my opinion doesn’t count for much.

Anyway, like I was saying, the truck just disappeared into the parachute. Mama tried to stop, but she was all fumblethumbs. It only took a second or two for the parachute to become firmly lodged around the front of the truck. That stopped Mama’s car just fine. Jerked the back bumper clean off her car.

Mama jumped out and disappeared under the parachute to see if the truck driver was okay. He was cussin’ and yelling and Mama was hollering and when he realized that she was the “damn fool woman”, as he put it, who was driving the car, he made a grab for her. Mama didn’t like people putting their hands on her, so I could have told him that was a bad mistake no matter how sorry she was about his truck.

By this time, I realized it was going to be a long day, so I climbed up on the trunk of the car and watched the parachute. It had completely deflated by now and it enveloped Mama, the driver and his truck. The part that was over the truck was real still, but the part where Mama and the driver were looked like two cats fighting in a giant pillowcase. When they finally worked their way out of the acres of nylon and I got a good look at the driver, I knew we were in a lot of trouble.

If you don’t live in this area of the country there is no way you can fully appreciate this, but I will do my best to explain. This part of the country is not just redneck, it is mountain redneck. The best way I can explain that is to say it is equivalent to redneck taken to the second power. This man had on Liberty overalls and no underwear. I know, because the overalls were a size or two too small and he couldn’t button them on each side. His arms were tanned, but that little patch of skin peeking out the overall sides was as pale as a turnip root. It was not a pretty sight. Sticking out here and there from the bottom of his lace-up work boots were pieces of straw. From the crowing sounds coming from the truck bed, I had a good guess as to what was adhering the straw to his boots. In his back pocket was one of those wallets with a chain on it like truck delivery men use. It was thick, too. Small wonder. There is big money in raising fighting roosters. I took a quick inventory of his tattoos, but quit counting around fourteen. I didn’t get a good look at his right arm.

All the time I was taking this in, Mama and the driver were still going at it. They were at the vent-your-frustration stage and hadn’t settled down to reason yet. It sounded like the driver was going to claim that his rusted-out, Bond-O-covered, primer-painted truck was a classic. As far as I could tell from where it sat under the parachute, looking like a snow-covered hump, it hadn’t even run off the road.

About this time, I saw a heavyset man come huffing and puffing down the mountain. He stopped at the parachute and looked puzzled. Then, he tried to walk across it to where Mama and the driver were. Every time he took a step he forced the air from where his foot was into the area around him. The effect was to make it look like he was walking in a cloud. Each time he stepped down his feet disappeared in a puff of nylon. When he joined Mama, everybody got excited all over again. I figured this was as good a time as any to get in it myself, so I slid off the trunk of the car and wandered over.

I was beginning to feel a little sorry for Mama. She looked so small with these two big men towering over her, yelling and all. She introduced the new man as Mr. Pittman and she was real upset about him. This was when we found out about the limb the parachute had pulled down up the mountain a way. Mama said this poor man had run right over it and wrecked his car and broken his arm. She was awfully upset about his arm. Mr. Pittman just looked confused. He kept looking at Mama like he thought someone had forgotten to medicate her properly. He glanced at the stain on the front of the truck driver’s overalls and looked a bit uncomfortable. Of course, I knew that was where the truck driver had spilled his spit cup, but I wasn’t opening my mouth.

The way Mr. Pittman was flapping around, it didn’t look like his arm was broken to me. When it dawned on me what the truth was, I got Mama back to the car and left the two men to commiserate and plot against her. “Look,” I tried to explain to her, “Mr. Pittman’s arm is not part of his anatomy. It’s part of his car!” Mama just looked at me blankly. I tried again. “A Pittman arm is part of the steering mechanism. He ran over the log and broke his Pittman arm. On his car. He can’t steer his car. His arm is not broken. Christ,” I added, “His name isn’t even Pittman!”

“It isn’t?’ asked Mama. “I didn’t know you knew him. You didn’t even introduce him properly.”

“For God’s sake, Mama. I don’t know him. It’s just not likely his name matches the part of his car that broke.”

“A— Pittman— arm— is— not—Mr.— Pittman’s— arm,” Mama stated, finally getting half of the point.

“That’s what I’m trying to tell you,” I said.

Mama turned and looked over her shoulder at the two men standing in the parachute. “Well, then,” she brightened up, “the experiment was a complete success, wasn’t it?”

That pretty much sums up what happened that day. Except that a sheriff’s deputy finally arrived and took down everyone’s statement. He was half illiterate so Mama had to write most of the report for him, which enabled her to shade it to her advantage. A tow truck came and moved the tree limb and towed Mr. Pittman’s (Mama still called him that) car away. The deputy unchained the parachute from Mama’s bumper and Mr. Pittman and the pickup truck driver loaded the bumper in the back of Mama’s car. The deputy gave Mama a handful of tickets- which she had to write out herself- for improper use of a public road, obstructing traffic, public endangerment, reckless driving, and threatening an officer of the law. The last ticket was on account of what Mama said to the deputy when he told her he was confiscating her parachute.

Well, that was Mama’s last invention. And I feel sort of like that is my fault, too. After all, I was the one who told her I didn’t want to hear about any more inventions. I wanted to see one.

A POSTERIOR PERSPECTIVE
University of Georgia
School of Animal Science
April 23, 2001

Dear Mother,

Today we learned how to examine a cow to properly feel her fetus. Because you don’t want to introduce bacteria into the uterus, you perform this little exam by going in through the cow’s rectum. Most of the cows are surprisingly cooperative with this procedure. Perhaps years of students have practiced on them and they are used to this invasion. Perhaps they are slightly perverted cows. I’m not sure which, but I was too occupied with trying to accomplish this feat to give it a great deal of thought at the time.

In order to perform this exam, you first don a rubber glove that reaches all the way to your armpit. The next step should seem obvious, but I encountered a slight obstacle. I am only five feet tall, so obviously, my shoulder does not even reach quite to that height. The portion of cow anatomy to which I aspired was a bit higher than my shoulder. Since I would have to reach downward once I accomplished entry, it became necessary for me to find a bucket or a box to stand on. I grabbed an empty milk crate that was nearby, turned it upside down behind the cow, donned my glove, lubricated it, climbed onto the milk crate, moved the cow’s tail aside with my left hand and began to slide my right hand inside. I guess my arm was in a few inches past my elbow when two things happened. First, I realized that when my arm became fully inserted, I was going to be very close to this cow, breast to butt, you might say, and I was beginning to wonder where, at that point, does one put one’s face? The second thing was that the cow clamped down on my arm with a force I would not have thought possible. I began to understand what a mouse feels like once a boa constrictor has gotten hold of it.

I felt around for the fetus, but my hand and arm were quickly becoming numb from lack of circulation. I could not tell what might be fetus and what was cow poop. I decided to withdraw my arm and try again… perhaps on another, more accommodating cow. But Miss Bessie would not let me go. She clamped harder. I began to teeter back and forth on the milk crate on which I was performing a tiptoe balancing act. After a few wild wobbles, I lost my balance. When I realized I was going to fall, I grabbed the first thing I could find. Bessie’s tail. Apparently, tail pulling is against the rules, because Bessie let out a terrible bellow. The effort caused her to release her grip on my arm. She also released the contents of the canal in which my arm was inserted. I hit the ground and managed to roll out of the way just ahead of Bessie’s gift… or most of it, anyway.

During this entire procedure, one of the barn maintenance men had watched me intently. “Harder’n it looks, ain’t it?” he drawled.

I am having a hard time realizing that I am actually paying good money to participate in such activities.

Much love, your destitute daughter

TIFTON 85
University of Georgia
School of Animal Science
May 19, 2001

Dear Mother,

One of the great advantages in knowing the students who preceded you in a particular class is their ability to give you a heads up on the idiosyncrasies of the class’s professor. I have found my forerunners’ information to be invaluable, although it is necessary to utilize their advice with discretion.

I am currently taking an animal nutrition class, and one piece of advice I received from my predecessors is to never say “I don’t know” in this particular professor’s class. I have heeded this advice, and made diligent attempts to prepare myself for class. On several occasions, it has been necessary for me to improvise an answer, but, as I was told, this is preferable to giving no answer at all. I guess I should have known that this tactic would not serve me sufficiently to survive the semester.

The professor gave us all projects. My project involved developing a presentation on the proper feed for cows. This included a detailed paper in which I had to delve into the nutritional needs of bovines, the bovine anatomical structures that digest food, and the physiological processes that accomplish digestion. It was quite an undertaking, but I enjoyed everything that I learned. One of the requirements was that I should have illustrations of all feeds, grains, and grasses that I presented in my paper. Given the technical detail of the paper, one would think that one of the simplest things would be to find photographs of all the feeds. Indeed, it seemed so at the beginning, but one grass eluded me. I desperately needed a photograph of a grass called Tifton 85. I searched high and low, and could find no picture. I searched the university library, the cow barn, local pastures, the Internet, and asked everyone I knew if they had a picture. The only thing I could come up with was a picture of some man kneeling on the grass and holding a Tifton 85 sprig. I grabbed up the picture and put it in my Power Point presentation.

You know how it is when you have done well on a paper or presentation… you just know you have done well. You are prepared, confident, and secure in the knowledge that you have mastered your subject. I presented my paper and Power Point presentation today, and I answered all the professor’s questions with an air bordering on aplomb. That is, until he asked, “Who is that man in the photograph with the sprig of grass?”

Was he kidding? Like I would know! What the devil does it matter who sits in a cow pasture holding a grass sprig? The old fellow must be getting senile, I decided. However, I remembered my predecessor’s admonition never to say “I don’t know”, so I thought quickly (and rather cleverly, I though) and I said, “Oh, that’s just my boyfriend.” I silently congratulated myself on my quick thinking.

The professor leaned forward, slowly pulled his glasses down to the tip of his nose and stared stonily at me. Then, he said, “Well, your boyfriend’s name is Dr. Glenn Burton. He developed the Tifton 85 grass. He’s now 89 years old and still works at the Georgia Coastal Plain Experiment Station. Be sure to give him my regards the next time you two go out.”

Love, Your financially deficient daughter

THE DUNWOODY DAUGHTER
University of Georgia
School of Animal Science
June 21, 2001

Dear Mother,

Remember this old joke: “When a Dunwoody man dies, how do you know which woman at the funeral is the widow?” Answer: “She’s the one in the black tennis outfit.” Well, today I met The Dunwoody Daughter.

When our animal health class ended yesterday, the professor told us that we would meet today at the sheep farm. He told us all to wear work clothes and boots. I had a premonition that this was going to be an interesting day if the professor felt it necessary to instruct students on the proper attire for socializing with sheep. I was not disappointed.

At this school, there are quite a few pre-vet students who have grown up entirely in the city and whose personal experiences with animals have been limited to cats and dogs. When first presented with a rubber glove that goes to their shoulder and told to perform a rectal examination on a cow, many of these students suddenly develop passionate interests in subjects such as “Arabic for the Modern Southerner”, “Artesian Wells of the Past and Present”, and “Feminism in Mexico and Related Latino Cultures.In short, these students’ idea of down and dirty is when the maintenance man at the zoo takes a hose to elephant poo and washes it down the drain. They abandon their rubber exam gloves and head for student services to change their major.

So, when I got to the sheep farm today and saw The Dunwoody Daughter, I gave it about 10 minutes before she abandoned ship, or sheep, and strutted her stuff over to Art History. I’m not sure I can accurately describe her attire, as most of it came from stores I have only heard about. A couple of years ago, I decided to check out some of the stores in “her” part of town, but the cops kept stopping me and asking me what I was doing. I think it was the Bond-O on the Celica’s doors that make them think I didn’t live in that area. I accused them of “financial profiling”, but they were unsympathetic and I finally gave up and left without getting any closer than ten blocks to stores I have only dreamed of.

Anyway, Miss Dunwoody Daughter showed up at the sheep farm in her work clothes. From Paris. Boots that looked like they were hand made by some poor third world woman who had chewed the leather until it was soft and pliable enough to be worthy of covering her dainty, professionally pedicured tootsies. And her fingernails! I haven’t had ten fingernails all at once since I began riding horses when I was three. Miss Dunwoody Daughter not only had ten, she had paid at least $75 for her last acrylic touch up. Her hair was frosted just enough to bring out the highlights and it hung in soft waves that cascaded across her shoulders and seemed to move in slow motion when she turned her head. It flowed and billowed just like hair in those shampoo commercials where the girl tosses her head and her hair dances strand by strand across the TV screen so you get to envy every luscious lock and become obsessed with the notion that you, too, can look just like this if you purchase a bottle of Sultry Tresses.

Miss Dunwoody Daughter climbed up on the fence and perched beside me. I was working on getting the second of three splinters out of my hand. Apparently, fate had saved the only splinter-free section of fence for my perfumed companion. The professor appeared and walked to the middle of the sheep pen. Someone over to the side opened a gate and about 50 sheep rushed into the pen. Huge wooly balls on Q-tip legs raced around baaing and bumping into each other. “Now,” the professor shouted, “each of you is going to have to catch a sheep, throw it to the ground, tag its ear, and give it an injection. Students will be given a different color ear tag, so I will be able to tell which students have properly tagged their sheep. To throw the sheep, you grab it like this…” but the bleating sheep drowned out the rest of the professor’s words. I eyed Miss Dunwoody Daughter. She turned her head slightly, tucked her chin down, and arched her perfectly waxed eyebrows. Her whole expression screamed, “You have got to be kidding!”

Lucky me, I got to go first. Actually, this really was to my benefit. Since none of the sheep had been tagged, I could work on the first one I grabbed. If half the flock had been tagged before I got my turn, I would have had to try to separate out an un-tagged sheep… and sheep don’t exactly line up and let you ask, “Ooookay. Who’s next?”

I had an advantage on some of the students, having grown up around farm animals. I knew to give the injection before I tagged the ear in order to lessen the chances of dropping the syringe and getting it dirty. I also knew it was best to put the needle in first and then connect it to the syringe. That way, if your animal does run off when you stick him, you don’t lose your medication. I loaded the tag gun and stuck it in my back pocket. I put the syringe in my left front shirt pocket and stuck the plastic capped needle between my teeth. It was relatively easy to catch an unsuspecting sheep, throw it down, pull the needle from the cap I held in my teeth, stick the sheep, grab the syringe, connect it, inject the sheep, get the gun and tag the ear, then let the sheep go, retrieve my syringe from the ground and go back to my spot on the fence post. The whole thing took about 45 seconds. I expected Miss Dunwoody Daughter to be awestruck at my expertise. Instead, she barely acknowledged my return and seemed to feel that if I could do this so quickly and effortlessly, then there really couldn’t be much to this assignment after all. I was beginning to dislike her more intensely than I though possible.

Four or five more students took their turn, with varying degrees of success. Then, the professor walked over to Miss Dunwoody Daughter and handed her a syringe and the tag gun. For the first time since we arrived, she showed surprise and consternation. I think that, up to this point, she really had though of herself simply as a spectator. The professor walked off and Miss Dunwoody Daughter climbed down. It was a different world on this side of the fence. For one thing, this side was awash in little sheep pellets. Puddles of urine made muddy spots here and there in the arena. Miss Dunwoody Daughter looked down at the ground and began to tiptoe her way carefully to the center of the arena, trying unsuccessfully to avoid the sheep droppings. The effect was to look like she was playing hopscotch. Her arms were held out at shoulder height to balance her in some of the longest leaps. When she arrived in the center of the pen, she stopped and looked around for a sheep. Naturally, the sheep had all moved away from her and they now formed an irregular ring between her and the fence. Miss Dunwoody Daughter was accustomed to being the center of attention, but not in this manner. She began to pout. I thought, “Art History, here she comes.”

But Miss Dunwoody Daughter decided to give it another try. After all, she did have to get back to the fence, so she might as well try to catch a sheep on the way. She took a step toward a sheep, this time allowing the entire ball of her foot to touch the ground. Mud began to ooze over the sides of her boots. She looked down at the boots, sighed, and planted both feet flat on the ground. She put her hands on her hips and looked around. Her pout was gone. Miss Dunwoody Daughter was getting mad. She spied a sheep that looked more cooperative than the others and began to stomp towards it. The sheep eyed her suspiciously and then bolted just as she reached hesitantly for it. Miss Dunwoody Daughter ended up about five feet in front of me, sheepless. She looked up and I saw the frustration in her eyes. I cocked my head toward the flock of sheep, which now huddled near the gate where Miss Dunwoody Daughter could exit to student services and to a less challenging and more sanitary world. “It’s doctor or debutante,” I said to her. “Take your pick.” I figured it would take her about two more seconds to be out the gate.

Miss Dunwoody Daughter just stood there staring at me. Then, she slowly began to run her hands over her clothes searching for the tag gun and syringe. She felt the gun in the waistband of her pants and pulled it out, still staring at me. She brought the gun up to her shirt pocket and still she stared at me. I gave just the slightest shake of my head and she put the gun in her back pocket. Then she moved the syringe to her shirt pocket and smiled. And before I realized it, she had taken off toward the sheep, which ran in all directions like silly little girls on a sugar high. Miss Dunwoody Daughter ran first after this one and then after that one. It took a couple of passes before she got near a tagless sheep, but when she did, she lunged for it and grabbed a handful of oily wool. The sheep put on an extra burst of speed, but Miss Dunwoody Daughter held on. Her right hand held a fistful of wool on the sheep’s back and her left hand had a grip on the sheep’s left flank. It was not exactly a hold destined to bring down a sheep, but it sure brought down a debutante. Miss Dunwoody Daughter was dragged through the mud and muck for about 15 feet before she let go. The sheep were about hysterical now and were running wildly in every direction. Miss Dunwoody Daughter got to her feet and grabbed another sheep, this time around the neck. She planted her feet in front of her and brought the sheep down, a good portion of it on top of her. I saw the syringe fly out of her hand and land in the mud several feet away. But when she let that sheep go, it sported a perfectly placed bright yellow ear tag.

Miss Dunwoody Daughter walked, limped, toward the fence. Six or seven of her acrylic fingernails were missing. Her face and hair were streaked with mud and other products foreign to her culture, her shirt pocket was torn off on one side and there was absolutely nothing left of her boots that even resembled the ones she had worn to class. She looked down at her filthy hands as though she could not believe they belonged to her and then she slowly wiped them off on her shirt. She climbed up on the fence and sat beside me. We both looked out at the yellow ear tagged sheep in the center of the flock.

“Doctor,” she stated.

“Good choice,” I said, nodding.

Love, your affluently challenged daughter


The ancient horse clip-clopped his way down the dusty dirt road, his head bobbing lazily with each step.The horse’s driver let the reins fall slack as he nodded in syncopation.So drowsily oblivious of their surroundings were they that an observer might have thought them somnambulists.In contrast, their passenger sat rigidly erect and alert in the carriage.She was Anne Marie Stillwell, now nearing ninety years of age.Her destination was a home not far down the road where relatives anxiously awaited her.

This was the late 1800’s and the ignominious institutions of the twentieth century, the geriatric warehouses, were not yet in vogue.And so it was that Anne Marie’s relatives had developed a care-giving system which periodically rotated Anne Marie between the homes of the various families whose responsibility it was to care for her.On this particular day, Anne Marie was making the brief journey from the home of a grandson to that of a great niece.

Anne Marie had long been called “Gran” by all her relatives and at the home down the road all preparations had been completed for Gran’s arrival.All physical preparations, that is. It was not so simple to prepare emotionally for Gran’s tyranny.Nevertheless, what had become a ritualistic scenario was about to begin.

The family members were gathered on the front porch, each face emblazoned with what would years later be called a Vanna White Plastic Smile.Gran approached the house, ignored all greetings, declared that she was exhausted from the incessant relocation of her domicile, and demanded to be shown to her room.In her hands she clutched her most prized possession, a small, delicately carved and highly polished black walnut curio chest.The chest bore a small brass lock, and Gran bore, somewhere smothered in the wrinkles that had once been cleavage, the key to the lock.Gran always placed the black walnut chest upon the most conspicuous piece of furniture in her room.

Thus began several months of autocracy in which Gran expected, and received, occupancy of the finest accommodations in her hosts’ homes, with apparent disdain for any inconvenience this might cause its rightful occupants.She demanded specially prepared meals, which, once served, she often refused to eat.If she suffered an attack of insomnia, the entire household could expect to be concurrently afflicted.

From time to time, various family members would succumb to the strain of Gran’s invasion and would threaten to confront the old lady, to assault her verbally, or, if they were near emotional collapse, to evict her.Quickly, the remaining members whose stamina had not been depleted would rally around the afflicted.Invariably, he would be persuaded to persevere and Gran would remain the undisputed sovereign until her departure.

And why was it that the various households welcomed their elderly relative, tolerated her outrageous behavior, and allowed themselves to become servants in their own homes?Because locked inside the black walnut curio chest lay The Lincoln Letter.Gran had long ago promised The Letter to the family that provided her with the finest care in her declining years.And she never hesitated to threaten her hosts with the loss of this bequest at the first sign that one of them might vacillate in meeting her demands.

At night, behind closed doors, The Lincoln Letter was often the topic of discussion.Such a priceless artifact was surely worth a few months of inconvenience!Although no one in the family had actually ever seen The Letter, there was never the slightest question of its existence.After all, Gran had lost a husband and four sons to the Great War, and it was well known that President Lincoln often wrote to the survivors of those who had been sacrificed for The Cause.When questioned, Gran always said that The Letter was personal, and would be read at its proper time.

And so the years passed, each family vying with the others to accommodate their obstreperous relative, all the while Gran’s longevity due, no doubt, to the superb care she had garnered for herself.But nothing is forever, and when at last Gran had gone to her Great Reward, the family gathered to collect theirs.

Alas, Anne Marie Stillwell died in testate.

Years of frustration erupted at this announcement.Each family turned upon the other as each vowed that they were the rightful recipients of The Lincoln Letter.Even in death, it seemed, Gran could plunge her family into chaos.William Henry Stillwell, patriarch of the family, clamored for quiet.He declared it shameful that people who for years had exhibited such munificence (albeit a facade), should now display their avarice.After much discussion, it was decided that The Letter would be sold at auction and each family would share equally in the proceeds.

It was time for the reading of The Letter.

The walnut chest was placed upon the dining room table.William Henry inserted the key into the brass lock and slowly turned it.Carefully he lifted the carved lid of the old walnut chest.All eyes were on the aged yellowed letter as William Henry cautiously unfolded it.The Letter was several pages long.Those seated near could see that at various places the brown ink had faded through the yellowed stationery.

William Henry cleared this throat and began to read. “June 21, 1864; My dear Mr. Lincoln,” the letter began. The Lincoln Letter was a letter Gran had written to the president, but never mailed.

The Love Child

Once, in a land far away, there lived tribes of people who had never seen anyone from outside their country.In fact, they had never known people who lived outside their jungle forest.When food and rain were plentiful, the tribes that inhabited this land coexisted in harmony.But sometimes, after a drought, food would be scarce.Then, the various tribes would begin to bicker and fight with each other over water and hunting rights.Eventually, these tribes realized that survival in the jungle was difficult enough without killing off each other.The tribes began to think that there must be a better way to survive during times of famine, so they got together to seek a solution.

While these tribes were trying to survive in their jungle forest, there was a whole other civilization on the other side of the world; an advanced civilization with machinery and gadgets and with peoples who had much education and who knew great things.Living in this advanced civilization was a young man who wanted to become a missionary and to travel to the jungles in the deepest, darkest parts of the world.This young man wanted to take the good news of God, and of Jesus, to the uncivilized peoples in the remotest parts of the earth.He wanted to tell them all about God’s love and how God had sent His Son to save us all.

Finally, this young man got his opportunity to go to the deepest, darkest jungles of the remotest parts of the earth.With great excitement and glorious plans, he packed his bags, said goodbye to his family, and set sail on his mission for God.The new land and people he encountered fascinated him.The music was hypnotic; whether it was the pounding of drums that shook the ground and vibrated his body to its core or the soothing a cappella harmony of the native songs, he loved it all.Color was everywhere- in the native’s clothes, in the forest and jungle, even many of the animals and birds were colorful.But there were problems, too.The jungle was hot.Very hot.All the jungle people wore sensible clothes, often embarrassingly skimpy clothing, but the young man suffered terribly in his dark suit.He perspired beneath the tight clerical collar and developed an itchy heat rash beneath it.Mosquitoes assaulted him every night and half the day.

He got on well with the natives, though, and for this he was thankful.All the villagers thought he was the friendliest person they had ever met.He waved all day long and they always smiled and waved back at him.It was a long time before the villagers realized he wasn’t waving at them; he was swatting at the mosquitoes.

After he had been in the jungle costal area a short time, the young man was sent deep into the remote jungle.He was very excited about this opportunity to bring the news of God’s love to all the people.This was the fulfillment of his life’s dream.

He soon learned that life with this tribe of isolated, primitive people was very strange and so different from the people he had met when he first arrived in this far away land.Although he had studied their language, he often had no clue what these people were saying.He understood the words, but the context and connotation were often confusing.He realized that the language he learned in the classroom was very different from the actual language these people spoke.He was especially confused about the love child.That was the closest translation he could discern to define this unique child who had a mother, but seemed to have no father.

At first, the young man was very embarrassed when he learned the little boy was a love child.But he did his Christian duty and tried to explain to the people about morals, and that it was a shameful thing to have a love child.The villagers smiled and listened politely to the young man. Then, they turned away and went back about their business.It became exceedingly important to this young man to make these people understand that it was not right to have a love child.

Every day, the young man taught a Bible lesson to the people.He told the people how the world came to be made.Everyone thought this was very funny, for anyone living in the vast and varied jungle knew the world could not be created in seven days, but they all said it was a good story even if it was ridiculous.The people thought this man’s God had a good sense of humor.

The young man became very frustrated with these people who treated him kindly, but would not take him seriously.The thing that frustrated him the most was the way the tribe treated the love child and his mother.In fact, making them understand the immorality of this was becoming an obsession with him.

The young man was accustomed to a culture where a love child and his mother were shunned, and while he didn’t think this was right, he didn’t like the way everyone in this tribe seemed to think the love child and his mother were the most important people in the village.And try as he might, he could not figure out who the father of the love child was.

The mother of the love child took exceptionally good care of her child.She rocked him and sang songs to him.She held him and cuddled him.It was as if she could not give this child enough love.The villagers, also, insured that the child had the best of care.In fact, everyone in the village kept an eye out for him, protected him, and kept him safe.

Three months passed, and the love child had become a very thorn in the young man’s side.He simply could not get these people to understand.The young missionary told the people about the great love God had for mankind in sacrificing His Son for our sins.The more he preached about Jesus and the more he explained to the people that God had sent his only son, Jesus, to save us all from our sins, the more the tribe seemed to lavish attention on this little love child.

One day, the young man heard loud voices in the village.Drums thumped, people shouted, and a great excitement was in the air.He looked out the door of his hut and saw people running by.He ran with the crowd to the center of the village to see what was happening.There, in the midst of the village was the mother and her love child.The child was dressed in the finest clothes, but the mother seemed apprehensive.The young man became frightened by the look of distress on the mother’s face.Obviously, something important was about to happen.

Suddenly, the villagers became quiet.In the distance, more drums could be heard, coming closer and closer.No one moved or said a word.When the distant drums ceased, the village drummers took up the beat.When they stopped, the distant drums began again, coming closer and closer.Finally, a group of people materialized from the forest.First came men with spears, and behind them, the drummers.This group of strangers stopped at the edge of the village and all was quiet.

Then, the strangers stepped aside and a young lady came forward.In her arms, she carried a young child.From the young man’s village the mother of the love child picked up the child and carried him forward.As the people from the two villages watched in silence, the two mothers exchanged children.Immediately, the mothers began to weep and to hug the child they now held in their arms.Each mother inspected this new child from head to toe.Both mothers rocked the children and hugged them tighter.They crooned to the child they held.After about five minutes, the drums sounded, and the two women began to wail above the sound of the drums.One man from each village stepped forward and took the children from the mothers.The men passed each mother the other woman’s child.The young missionary was very confused.

Immediately, the strange visitors disappeared into the forest from where they had come.The young woman held her love child as the looked longingly in the direction where the strangers had vanished into the jungle.Then, she cradled her child in her arms and returned to the village, caring for the child even more tenderly than before.Completely confused, the young man returned to his hut to ponder the ways of these strange, uncivilized people.

Later that day, the chief of the village came to see the young man.He seemed greatly pleased and asked the young man if he was not now very proud of the love child.Wearily, the young missionary tried once more to explain that a love child was not something to be proud of.He tried, once again, to tell the chief about Jesus, and how God had sent His Son, the Prince of Peace.The chief sat and listened, looking quite bored.Finally, the young missionary asked the chief to please try to explain what went on in the village that morning.

“Ah,” said the chief, “Three moons have passed.It is the time of making sure.”

Wearily, the young man asked, “Making sure of what?”

“Well, that the children are well and safe, of course.Each mother wants to know that her child is well cared for.And so do the villagers.It would be a great shame to not care for the child.It would mean war.The child is most important,” the chief said emphatically.Then, the chief brightened.”He is our prince of peace,” he announced proudly.”Of course, you understand this!”

No, the young man said.He did not understand.

The chief explained.  “Many, many years ago, long before any of us can remember, our people fought with other tribes who live in our land.  But we soon realized that this was not good. There are too few of us.  If we continued to fight, there would soon be none of us.  To keep from destroying ourselves, we had to do something to guarantee peace.  So, we have a love child.  A Prince of Peace.”  The chief smiled with satisfaction, as though he had just explained the obvious.

When the chief realized that the young missionary still looked confused, he continued, “A woman from each tribe is selected to give up her child.  It is a great honor to be selected to make this sacrifice for the good of everyone.  The women swap children.  Each tribe knows that the other tribe is caring for the child of the opposite tribe.  We know that if we do not take good care of the love child, the other tribe will not take care of our child.  We cannot go to war, for we might injure our own child in the conflict.  Every three moons, we must produce the love child to prove that we are good caregivers.  We cannot go to war against the people who have our child.  Therefore, we must learn to live in peace.  The children guarantee our peace and good will with our neighbors. “

The young missionary finally understood.  He had misunderstood ever since he arrived.  Without ever hearing of God, or of Jesus, these people had given one of their own in order to guarantee peace and harmony in their lives.

The chief stood to leave.  As he exited the young man’s hut, the chief turned back and said, “So, we understand the love your god had when he gave his son to mankind.  But we savages are very different from you Christians.  We would never kill our love child.  The child who guarantees peace and love must always be treated with the utmost kindness and respect.  We would never think to nail him to a tree.”

Trusted Physician

Only a few feet of earth seperates us, and yet, there is an eternity between us.

For over two years I have watched that woman visit her child’s grave. Watching her is the punishment I have inflicted upon myself for the secret I keep. Who would have thought she would bury the infant in the cemetery that lies across the road from my home? That cemetery, where generations of my own family lie buried, was once our plantation cemetery. All that is left of the original home place is this house where I was born, as were my father and my grandfather.

The Westerfields are a prominent family here. I am Jackson Donald Westerfield, III, and I am the third Westerfield to become a trusted and respected community physician. People look up to me. I have positions of responsibility. I am on the board of directors of our local bank. I served on the school board and I have been the country coroner for over 30 years. I am an honest man. My integrity has never been questioned.

Perhaps, if the sanctity of the Westerfield name were not so sacred, I could unburden myself of my secret. How often I have desired to do just that! But the Westerfield name does not belong solely to me. I have a responsibility to my family and to my community to uphold the dignity of this name. Were it not for this woman and her baby, my reputation would not be in jeopardy.

It has been over two years. You would think she would have gotten over it by now. It was only an infant, for God’s sake. It never opened its eyes, or moved, or nursed. It isn’t like it ever could have been real to her, or at least, the real should have worn off by now. She could have had another baby, but I didn’t tell her that, did I? She assumed that, somehow, she was the cause of her baby’s death, and I… I never told her differently. I wanted to, but I could not think of anything to say that would not set her to wondering what went wrong. She would ask questions, and then, perhaps, others would ask questions, and so I kept quiet, telling myself that, after all, I could not bring back her baby, so there was no point in discussing the subject.

She sits by that grave for hours at a time, often just staring at nothing, and, sometimes- would you believe it- crocheting! Who in their right mind goes to a cemetery to crochet? She’s daft, all right. It’s probably better she isn’t responsible for a child.

What I did wasn’t illegal. At least, it would have been legal if our local hospital had not banned the use of the drug for obstetrical purposes. Lots of doctors use the drug for labor induction. In fact, it has become practically standard to use it. Of course, I don’t know of any doctors who tell their patients they are using it. But why should they? Patients aren’t doctors, now, are they? Can you imagine how ridiculous a practice would become if, every time a doctor treated a patient, he had to explain what drug he wanted to use and ask if it was okay? Preposterous! We know what is best for our patients. We know their needs better than they do themselves. Half the time, they can’t even correctly pronounce their own diseases or body parts. Well over half the men who come to see me actually believe they have a “prostrate” gland! Even when I tell them how to pronounce it, they still say it incorrectly. When a person is so ignorant he can’t even pronounce his own body parts correctly, why should I consult with him about his medical treatment?

In the past two years, as she has come and gone from the cemetery, I have never, ever, seen her look this way or wave. Of course, I’m glad she doesn’t, but still, it is odd. Everyone waves to Dr. Westerfield.

I wouldn’t have used this drug had it not been absolutely necessary. I’m an excellent doctor and I take good care of my patients. But I can’t be expected to work 24 hours a day. I’m entitled to a life, too, am I not?

It isn’t easy, delivering babies. They don’t come on any schedule, and labor is so unpredictable. There are ways to speed it along, though. Especially with the little pill. Just one quarter of a pill; just 25 micrograms. Not milligrams; micrograms. Do you know how small 25 micrograms are? It’s hardly worth talking about.

Probably, I would not have needed to use the pill had the governor not been the guest of honor at my sister’s dinner party that evening. Not only, as our town’s esteemed physician, was I expected to attend, but my sister specifically had requested that I say a few words of welcome to our guest. I’m sure you can understand that it was unthinkable for me to send last minute regrets. It simply could not be done.

And so, when I realized that a labor and delivery likely would prevent my attending to my prior obligations, I assessed the situation, and, as competent physicians do, made a decision. I could speed up the delivery process and still attend the dinner party. Perhaps, I would even be a few minutes late, an excusable faux pas for a man of my profession.

At my office, I split the little pill into quarters, each quarter being only 25 micrograms. When I arrived at the hospital to examine my patient, it required almost no subterfuge on my part to insert this piece of tablet into the patient’s vagina. Very shortly, as expected, she began to have strong contractions.

As I have said, this medication is commonly used in many obstetrical settings. But the board of directors of our hospital, comprised primarily of local businessmen who, obviously, have no medical background, have restricted the use of this medication to that condition for which the FDA approved the drug- the treatment of peptic ulcers.

It is somewhat infrequent, but the drug has been known to have unpredictable side effects in some patients. It appears that my patient was destined to fall into this group of unfortunate women. Her normal labor became suddenly erratic. She screamed in agony, and it was not at all the sort of carrying on that women in labor are prone to exhibit. I was, in fact, somewhat taken aback by the intensity of her distress. Her blood pressure plummeted and her fetus’ heart rate dropped proportionately. There was only one option, now. I would have to perform a Cesarean section. I checked my watch, making mental calculations regarding both the time remaining before my dinner engagement and the length of time the fetus had been deprived of oxygen. Time, I concluded, was not favorable for the fetus.

I delivered the lady of a severely hypoxic male child. Efforts to resuscitate him were unsuccessful. Fortunately, for the mother, she suffered only placentia abruptio, and not the ruptured uterus I expected to find. I did my best with her, and left her in the recovery room in the capable care of skilled nurses. There really was no need for me to remain with her. I had done everything for her that I possibly could do.

That was over two years ago. When I realized the infant was buried across from my home, I was, at first, annoyed. I am always annoyed that our family cemetery has become a public burial ground. But this lady’s incessant visitations have become an invasion of my privacy. Often, as I leave for my morning rounds, she is pulling into the cemetery. Frequently, when I arrive home, she is there. I have no way of knowing if she comes and goes during the day, or if she spends the entire day loitering by the grave. I have become obsessed with watching her. When she is there, I silently denigrate her for her foolishness. When she is absent, I obsess over why she has abandoned her own obsession. I moved a small table to the front window of my living room so that I can observe her while I am dining. Next, I moved my easy chair beside the table. If I awake during the night, I am compelled to go to the window and look. She is never there in the night, but I cannot force myself not to look.

This morning, everything changed. While I was eating my breakfast, she pulled into the cemetery, opened the trunk of her car, and removed a folding lawn chair. This she placed, not facing the infant’s grave, but facing my house. Horrified, I closed my curtains. For eight hours, she has sat in that chair. I dare not look again. I dare not leave my home. I do not know how she knows, but I know… somehow, now… she knows.

 

 

Little Boy

Colored Boy c.1902

Colored Boy c. 1902

You’re dead now, whoever you are… just some little colored child from the turn of last century. No name. Who even remembers you?

Look at you. Toes sticking out of your shoes like little brown worms poking their heads out of a cigar box that some child with a pole is carrying down to the fishing hole. Did you wear the ends out of those shoes? Did you cut the ends out to give yourself growing room? You don’t even have any shoelaces. Why, I bet those aren’t even your shoes. Just some old hand-me-downs or something you found in a trash heap.

Those pants don’t look too much better for wear than your shoes do. How’d you bust out the knee? You’re knee’s not skinned up, so you didn’t fall down and ruin them. Looking at the side of your pants, I’d say you, and a heap of other folks, just plum wore them out.

Raggedy old shirt. The collar and the cuffs are gone. Why, the steps you are sitting on are in better shape than you! I bet you don’t know how poor you really are.

You know, I’ve seen kids dressed just about poor as you running and playing and laughing and never giving a thought to poverty. Clothes don’t make children sad or unhappy. It isn’t the clothes that make me feel bad for you. It’s your face. That look on your face isn’t poverty. That’s hurt. It’s not the kind of hurt you feel when you find out your mamma just died. No, you would be crying with that kind of hurt. This hurt passed right by your heart and went straight to your soul. This is the look of hurt that is rooted in senselessness.

You feel it, don’t you? But you don’t understand it. Still, you know it has you in its death grip and you know you won’t escape it for as long as you live.

This is the look of a little boy who just realized his whole future is hopelessness. This is the look of a child who just learned that his worth in this world is less than that of two mules.

You’re dead now. I wonder what your life was like. How many years did you learn to live with a smile on your face while you wore this face on your soul? What happened to you to give you this look? What words did you hear? Words, like little freight train box cars strung together, and it all depends on how we line them up that determines their sting.

Little boy, when this picture was taken, I bet you never dreamed that a hundred years later your face would bring an old white woman to tears.