Thursday, October 20, 2005
Somewhere along the line, previous to our current war in Iraq, the Director of the Homeland Security Department issued a series of advertisements aimed at helping the American people slowly wake up from their sense of innocence and be prepared for a biological attack on our own soil. It was no longer out of the question for this to happen on the continental United States. On its purchase list were essentials: duct tape, plastic tarp, flashlights, canned food and bottled water.
Had this warning occurred at any time prior to September 11, my mother would clearly have paid it no mind. She scoffed at such notions and titled any such warnings as political propaganda. She would label these men and women as naysayers and would give them no further attention, striving to live her life in a way that a post-9/11 American should… going about life as usual.
I am not certain whether it is her age or whether Tom Ridge poses such an impressive figure that would cause her to pay attention to the television commercial that appeared in the months and weeks before the United States began its invasion of Iraq, but something did. However, as any logical parent would do, she kept her fears and plans hidden from her family. She did not want to do anything to make them believe there was need to fear.
She was “outed” from her preparatory plans one day whilst I was shopping with her at a local pharmacy. She and my father have become quite the coupon clippers during their retirement years. They watch the local newspapers for too-good-to-pass-up bargains on the essential things in life… namely soft drinks and two-for-one sales on canned Vienna sausages. They plan their weekend outings to various supermarkets as masterfully as General George Patton planned his military campaign in Europe during World War II. They know when the banks open and what each store schedule is like. They have their targets in sight and they are masterminds of the coupon-clipping crowd.
One afternoon I was drawn into the fray by my father’s desire to remain in the house and watch, what I can only assume, was the 57th viewing of “The Godfather” marathon on television. My mother needed to make a trip to the store because there was a sale on 12 packs of Coca-Cola products, but you were limited to four packs per person. I was to be the “ringer” that would allow my family to abscond with eight packs of the sugary concoction. I was given my assignment, handed my own currency with which to procure such extravagance, and we were on our way.
We loaded our respective shopping carts with our treasure when my mother asked me if there was anything else I wanted to purchase. Since we were in a pharmacy and I was not suffering from a mysterious malady, I told her I really didn’t think there was anything I needed. However, we soon passed a section of six-packs of bottled water. I felt my body would probably appreciate having something to dilute the 1,152 ounces of carbonated sugared drinks that were purchased and I reached out to grab a six pack of the clear liquid that would prevent me from going into a glucose coma.
Now my mother has never appreciated the idea of selling bottled water, let alone the idea of purchasing it. Why would someone want to buy extra of the very thing that you are paying for at your house? The tap water from the faucet has always been just fine for her family. When I began cross-training a few years ago, bottled water was an everyday part of my diet, as I was chugging about 64 ounces a day. I would watch, as she would shake her head at me in disbelief.
Then came the notion, after watching an investigative report on the news, that certain bottled water was not as pure as it was advertised. In fact, there were some hazards to drinking bottled water, as it could be tampered with at the bottling plant. This would cause concern for her, but the inadequacies of the water purification plant never crossed her mind. Our drinking and bathing water may be filled with mercury and lead, but she had not seen that investigative report and therefore had no cause for worry.
Imagine my shock when my mother prevented me from purchasing bottled water at the pharmacy because we had some at home. I was quite sure that the last bottled water that I purchased had been consumed, but she was adamant that there was plenty of water at the house. After a moment of prodding, she explained that she had made the purchase. I was bewildered. My very own “anti-bottled water” mother had crossed the line of her own psyche and delved into the evil that was buying water off the grocery aisle shelf. I asked her what could possibly have led her to perform such sacrilege. Her answer was astounding.
“Do you remember back before the war began? Did you ever see any of those television commercials with Tom Ridge?”
“The Director of Homeland Security?”
“Yes.” She had something of a sheepish look about her. I was completely unaware of where this conversation was going. “Well, they did these commercials about how we needed to be prepared for things in the event of an attack on our country. One of the things we needed to buy was bottled water, so I bought some.”
“Really?” I was just a little impressed that my mother had gone out and had followed the instructions of our Commander in Chief, through the Homeland Security Director. This was a woman who lived on various military bases with my father through most of her life. She survived the cold war and ideas of bomb shelters. She even worked for a short period of time as a secretary for NASA and her claim to fame was that she signed a rocket that was launched into space. This was a woman who lived life to the fullest and knew when to put on her poker face to bluff, or knew when to play her hand. “Did you purchase plastic tarp and duct tape too?”
“No, just the water. If we come under attack, I just can’t stand to think about going thirsty.” With this statement, reality struck me in the face. I returned to the skeptic child I had been raised to be in an instant and began to question her.
“Where is the bottled water? I haven’t seen any in the house.”
“I have it stashed away in the hall closet.”
Our hall closet has undergone various transformations in the almost 25 years we’ve been in this house. It has stored an old slide projector and slide photographs of my parents’ life in the military. There are quilts that my grandmothers and great-grandmothers made. There are sheet sets and bedspreads and comforters. There are empty boxes of collectible dolls and china figures that dot the landscape of our house. There are blankets and pillows, tablecloths and candles, kitchen appliances and a broken VHS player. If it has crossed the threshold of our house, it has, at some point in time, been stored in the hall closet. I never attempt to find anything in the hall closet. It is worse than staring blankly at an open refrigerator waiting for dinner to prepare itself.
I imagined that my mother, in her desperation to save her family, had gone to a local retail warehouse and bought pallets of bottled water. I could see how she would empty the closet out and store this treasure under lock and key. I knew that she would have purchased enough to allow her to not only remain refreshed physically, but she would be able to bathe and brush her teeth with it as well. She had become the epitome of the Proverbs 31 woman and was providing for her family.
“How much water did you buy?”
Her reply was not quick in coming. I saw different expressions cross her face as if her brain were trying to compute a theorem. I assumed she was trying to remember the exact quantity, as she would want to give an accurate account of what she deemed appropriate to save our family from impending catastrophe. Finally, she spoke.
“Six? Six what… cases?”
“No. Just six.”
She became exasperated. “No… just six bottles.”
“Six bottles,” I replied. “Six bottles.” I repeated myself. She was busy at this point loading eight 12 packs of soda in the trunk of the car. The realization of the moment was becoming clearer with each second. “Six bottles of water.” I was going to have fun now.
“Yes, dear.” She was closing the trunk of the car.
“Do you really think that six bottles of water are going to save the family from a nuclear holocaust here in Smyrna, Tennessee? I mean, we are the hot-bed of political power. I assume that Al-Queda have operatives roaming the streets at night just waiting for the go ahead from Osama Bin Laden. Will you ration the bottled water out in cap-fuls at a time? How long do you think we’ll survive on six bottles of water?”
The response she gave was beyond belief, “Well… I really didn’t plan on sharing.”
My mother’s decision to lose any maternal and marital instincts during “wartime” quite appalled me. I was in utter disbelief. The look on her face was priceless, however. I could tell that she was disgusted with this selfish act and even more disgusted that she confessed it to me. Since the war had been declared over some months previous and it was not apparent that we would suffer a biological or nuclear attack, I gave my final two cents’ worth.
“I sure am glad Dad and I have all this Coke to drink. We ought to outlast you in the long run with plenty to spare.”
Sunday, October 16, 2005
We last left the Bell family with Mama Bell wringing her hands and declaring we’d not be using the dryer. This was out of fear that the two foot long Eastern Ring Tailed snake had crawled into the dryer vent and was anxiously awaiting the opportune moment to strike and kill off every member of the Bell family, and their little dog too! Papa Bell was quietly seated on the back porch, still appropriately attired in his Easter Sunday best. Baby Bell (that’s me [for the sake of the Goldilocks-type story… but in reality I’m the middle child) had enlisted the help of her friend Leon to dispose of the ferocious back yard python, that was a good five or six inches in diameter. (Leon, as you will recall, came equipped with a shotgun and 9mm handgun). It’s hard to imagine that it has been almost a year since that fateful Easter Sunday afternoon, but indeed it is true.
It is harder still to believe this same monster has survived the various lawn cuttings, freezing temperatures, and other woodland creatures that are higher up on the ecological food chain. But it has! This must not be your normal everyday predator/killer. This, my friends, is the Super Snake!
I was quite tired Friday night, after having put in a good 12 hour work day, when Mama Bell entered the Bell den, wearing her lovely sleep shirt, and announced that Papa Bell, our hero, had indeed thwarted the advances of the killer viper and crushed his head under his foot. My mind immediately traveled to the recent showing of “The Passion of the Christ” where Mel Gibson’s foot crushed a rather large, yellowy, evil serpent that had been sent by Satan to inflict pain upon the Christ. Almost as instantly, my mind returned to the reality of my 72 year old, arthritic father, and I wondered only how he kept from hurting himself as he faced such an impressive foe as the two-foot python from the back yard.
Mama Bell proudly let it be known that Papa Bell threw a large stone over the snake, just in case it had not died under his foot, to keep it from returning to the dryer vent… where… it can only be assumed… it has lived these past 12 months knitting a sweater from the dryer lint, to keep itself warm during the cold winter months. “We should go see if its still there,” my mother gleefully chirped. Of course, the fact that we were in the midst of the first spring thunderstorm, held no consequence to her. This was a woman on a mission! Off to the music room we went; past the five-foot Baby Grand Piano and my Gran’s antique Hammond Organ; past the five wrought iron Baker’s Racks stocked full of my mother’s Beanie Babies; to the front door.
“You know, if the snake isn’t dead, and the rock wasn’t large enough to hold him, it might be that it has crawled up to the door and is coiled and waiting for you to welcome him into the house.” My words were no match for the adrenaline that was coursing through my mother’s veins. She would not be sidetracked from this adventure. She flipped the light switch and the door swung open in one timeless moment, and there it was! There was the massive deadly creature that had haunted the sleepless nights of my mother’s dreams for so long.
“You have GOT to be kidding me!” The tone in my voice was the first thing to break through my mother’s conscious thought. “That is the snake? I mean really… that’s it, right?”
“Well of course it’s the snake. What does it look like to you?”
“It looks more like a giant earthworm than a snake! Seriously… Mom… is that it? Are those markings the same as those on the snake you saw last year?”
“Yes.” My mother was proud of her ability to remember the markings on this unruly beast. I can only hope that she never witnesses an event that would require her to give a description of a criminal to a police sketch artist. Had one been called last Easter to investigate the “viper sighting”, the drawing would have more likely resembled the Loch Ness Monster. “That is the same snake as last year.” Her voice was naturally calm now that the terror was, at last, safely held underneath the rock.
“I see.” I waited a moment for dramatic effect before I completed my thought. “You know Mom… I hate to burst your bubble… but that snake is not close to being two feet long.”
“What are you talking about? Are you looking at the same snake I’m looking at?”
There were so many replies to that question floating in the cosmos of my brain, that it was difficult to choose only one. I concluded that any sarcastic remark would be wasted and resolved to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. I cleared my throat before proceeding:
“It would appear that this snake is considerably smaller than two feet long… and is really only about as thick as my index finger.” I picked my index finger for fear of utilizing my middle finger in a manner not becoming a southern lady. Realization was beginning to sink in for my dear mother who could only reply, “Well, it looked a lot bigger last year. It may be coiled up underneath the rock so that you can only see the head and tail.”
“Mom… the rock isn’t big enough to cover a coiled snake.” I left it at that and began moving through the house to greet our fearless leader, and my mother’s hero… Papa Bell.
“Quite some snake you’ve got trapped under that rock on the sidewalk Dad.”
“Yep!” I could see his chest expanding with pride. I imagined him as a daring young Indian warrior who returned from his first test of courage. I saw him in my mind’s eye receive an eagle feather for bravery after overpowering a bear in the wilderness of the Great Smoky Mountains. “I stomped on his head and threw that rock right on top of it.” The image of the young Indian warrior quickly vanished as my father’s toothless reply crossed the threshold of my eardrums. The whistling ‘s’ bringing me back to reality so fast that I was grateful to have been standing behind him for fear that he would not have appreciated my doubling over with silent, contained laughter. I struggled to regain my composure.
“It’s not quite the size I imagined from the description given last year at Easter. Is this the same snake?”
“Yep”, his pride was undaunted. “It’s about two feet long.”
“Have you resorted to Old Testament Biblical measurements? Back then a cubit was from your finger to your elbow.”
“You’re just talking nonsense now. That’s a two foot snake.”
“That’s a five inch earthworm that I’m thankful Leon couldn’t spot! I’d hate for him to have unleashed the artillery he packed with him last year to kill a garden snake.”
My mother was quick to reply, “That is an Eastern-- Ring tailed—snake”… her words carefully and evenly spaced to indicate the seriousness of this subject.
I was getting nowhere fast. I moved on.
“So, will you ask the pest control people to dispose of it on Monday when they come spray the house?”
My father replied, “I figure a cat or dog will probably snatch it away. I don’t think the pest control guys will handle snakes.”
“I don’t either… but earthworms… they can probably deal with those.” I quickly walked away and pondered, yet one more time, whether there had been some sort of switch in the delivery ward of the hospital on my birthday.
Saturday, October 15, 2005
This Easter Sunday was not boring either. I woke up late, raced through the house to get ready for church/work… grabbed the flower that my father still buys for me… gave him a quick thank you kiss, let my mother take my picture, and then was gone. I came home after the second service to a house that was jumping! When I arrived, I found my mother wringing her hands and my father doing what he does best... sitting and watching my mother wring her hands.
It appears that we have a friendly snake in our yard. Black with yellow stripes... since identified in the old World Book Encyclopedia (circa 1950's) as a non-poisonous, eastern ringed tailed something-or-other. Depending on whom you ask will depend on the size of said creature. My mother swears it is a good 4 feet long while my father gives a more sedate measurement of between 10-12 inches. That is quite a discrepancy, but not an unusual one. The colloquialism “there’s two sides to every coin” takes on a new meaning at Casa De Bell. It is a rarity indeed when my parents share an opinion of something. It amazes me that they've not just weathered, but have successfully kept their marriage alive for 50 years.
At any rate, he (the snake) has shown himself twice, but neither time long enough for anyone to get close enough to take a whack at him. We’d sic the dog on him, but we have a poodle, and according to my mother, the snake is larger than the dog who would only be a nibble away from a fate worse than death.
Being the only sensible member of the family in the time of crisis, and being unable to locate either of my brothers... I contacted my friend Leon. Now, I’ve known Leon since we were in the third grade. We went all the way through school together, went to our senior prom together (we were each other’s mercy dates), went our separate ways during our college years when he entered the Air Force, but kept in touch all along the way. Leon is now an over-the-road truck driver and still lives in relatively close proximity to our house.
A word to the wise… don’t call for help unless you are ready to accept it in whatever form it manifests itself. Leon showed up ready to take on the snake... with a 9mm handgun in one hand and a 20something gauge shotgun in the other. I didn’t ask for the crocodile hunter, but that was apparently what I got. Its not like we live in the outback, we’re in a nice quiet middle Tennessee neighborhood with people living all around us. I started looking in the trees to see if there was surveillance equipment. I needed to know I wasn’t about to get “Punk’d”. To his defense, I’m sure that Leon wanted to be prepared for a snake that had perhaps been lost from a traveling circus passing through town. It may be a cobra or a rattler… but Leon would have the upper hand. I suppose he just wanted to keep his options open.
I quickly relived in my mind the only one other incident I remember my mother having with a snake. She was raking leaves in our yard when I was in elementary school. The leaf piles were pretty large. As she reached down for the last little bit to go into the trash bag, something in her hand moved. In one electrifying moment, she screamed, ran, and tossed the leaves (and accompanying snake) straight up in the air. A neighbor was mowing his lawn and saw the leaves go flying. He was quite taken aback at the fact that my mother was barreling down on him and his lawnmower. Before he had a chance to say anything she whipped the push mower from his hands and headed back to our yard, cutting a large and rather crooked swath on her way. She said nothing at all to the neighbor.
The poor snake never had a chance. Before it could have even thought about slithering away, it became compost… scattered all around the back yard. My superhero/anti-snake mother calmed herself and returned the impromptu snake execution equipment to its rightful owner with a simple “thank you.” I believe she treated him later that evening with a homemade cherry pie for his assistance in ridding the community from such terror.
So, when Leon broke out his arsenal, I was mortified. I was really opting for the old cut-'em-up-with-a-hoe method. It was perhaps a little bloodier, but hopefully less likely to have the police storming down on you. Gratefully the snake didn't show himself again. I was elated that I wasn't going to have to call all the neighbors to tell them my parents had determined that 50 years truly were enough and they’d been forced to shoot each other. I was also thankful that I wasn’t going to have to explain to the authorities that I had not shot either of them.
Of course, I did have to deal with the fact that Leon saw the location of the dryer vent and remarked to my mother that it appeared low enough to the ground that the snake could actually have crawled into it. That was exactly what had happened to his father once, you see. He went on to describe in vivid, Technicolor detail the time that his father opened the dryer one afternoon to get clothes out and there was a snake! He continued the story as I stood in a state of dread and watched my mother’s eyes get larger. I’m sure that I actually did see gears turning in her head. I also saw my father gingerly pick up the poodle and go inside the house.
My mother now will not get near the dryer, and won't allow any of us to either. She has plans to put some sort of grate over the vent. It makes me long for the days of my youth when as a young girl, I would hand clothes pins to my mother who was hanging our clothes on the line to dry. Then I remembered that we live in the 21st century, and clotheslines don't exist anymore.
Tuesday, October 11, 2005
Christmas Day, 2004
Having been raised by a father who has a love for history, and particularly for World War II history, I know my share of military jargon and tactic.
My first drive-in movie was “Patton” in 1970. I was six years old and seated squarely between my mother and father in the front seat of our station wagon wrangling popcorn and a soft drink and watching with keen interest the monologue of a General wielding a riding crop and standing in front of a large American flag. My little brother was asleep in the back seat having worn himself out with me earlier at the playground as we waited for dusk to arrive and the movie to begin. After all the fireflies had been captured and set free and our obligatory trip to the drive-in bathroom and concession stand, it was time to settle in for the evening’s adventure on the big screen. I am as sure that the devastation I witnessed on that screen went clearly over my head as I am that I had about a thousand questions for my father about the movie itself. I am also sure that by the time General Patton had his first discussion with Field Marshal Montgomery, my father was tired of having a discussion with me and willed me to the backseat to join my little brother in blissful slumber. I have watched this movie many times since I was six years old and have marveled at its cinematography every time and have never walked away disappointed.
As I joined the student ranks and began taking Social Studies and later History classes, my father’s influences were clearly etched in my psyche. I can still, to this day, hear bombs bursting in air and find my father either watching a History Channel documentary or an old war movie. While my friends basked in what I deemed to be a waste of entertainment time with a half-naked Brooke Shields romping through “The Blue Lagoon”, I was enthralled with “Midway” or “Tora, Tora, Tora”. My father usually at my side giving tidbits of information that made the movies appear to have a “Pop-up video” feel to them. He was never without information and was always willing to share it.
It stands to reason then, that I would understand the term “Kamikaze”. There are other reasons that I would understand this term as it relates to a vodka-lime juice concoction, but that bears little meaning for this venture. The Kamikaze that I refer to now is the terror that plagued our American soldiers in the Pacific as they fought against Japan in the 1940s. The Kamikaze pilots were a group of Japanese men that had been instructed in how to take off and fly a plane, but had no training in landing an aircraft as they were suicide missionaries out to relieve the south Pacific seas from the evil Americans. “Kamikaze” translates into “divine wind” by the Japanese, who believed they were leaving this world with honor and a courage unsurpassed by any other fighting man on the face of the planet. They were sadly misguided.
The Japanese are well known for a pride that surpasses any other culture. Their samurai and other soldiers were taught from the beginning what honor meant to their families, their culture and their country. The feudal system of Japanese government in the 1600s developed Harakiri (translated: open the belly)… an act by which a soldier could elude dishonor by taking his own life by… oddly enough… opening his own belly with a dagger. This notion has generally left Americans scratching their head and asking for another Kamikaze to make sense of it all.
Suicidal tendencies among bipeds are often considered irrational at best and maniacal for the most part. Suicidal tendencies among quadrupeds are truly without reason. Why is it, one wonders, that a coyote will gnaw off its own appendage to escape the metal teeth of a man-made trap? The fight or flights endorphins in this species have run amuck, as it were.
Mice, on the other hand, are a different story. You never hear of mice that have willingly gone to their death trap for the sake of springing it on themselves so their little mice friends can stand over their lifeless bodies and retrieve the cheese that was tempting them greatly. You never see a brave mouse with his determined beady eyes set on a five course meal and willing to plunge itself head-on into the gravy boat, which will certainly be its demise.
I imagine the most honorable mouse is named “Mickey” and has set out to rid the world of any preconceived notions that mice are icky and evil creatures destined to spread disease and rid our society of the best gorgonzola on the planet. He has a fan base in the millions and is a snazzy dresser to boot! He has his own club, the likes of which Annette Funicello has given way to Brittney Spears, and a money-making empire that makes him the most beloved creature in Western Pop Culture. He even has a girlfriend… and they have been together without getting married, longer than Brent Gambrell and I.
It probably wasn’t long after I saw “Patton” with my father that I had my first real life encounter with a mouse in a house. It was scampering through our home in Burkburnett, Texas when my mother first saw it and screamed loudly for my father… who, I can assume, was either watching the news or reading the paper. My courageous father began tracking the mouse, while my mother planted herself on the kitchen cabinet and began to frantically wave her hands in gestures to my father, who was looking for a weapon. That mouse would have been better off to do himself in than to meet the fate that was my father raining hellfire down on it in the form of a two by four. I can still see the little bits of flying… well… guts… coming over the shoulder of my father, and then the sight of my mother running to the nearest bathroom with her hand over her mouth. In a world before color television, with the highlight of Sunday afternoon being the Lawrence Welk Show and the aforementioned Mouse…this was entertainment.
My next personal encounter with a mouse came in my own bedroom as an older, wiser, preteen girl. This was after my mother wallpapered my bed room in pink roses, but before all the Bay City Rollers posters covered her handiwork. This was in a time where Barbies still ruled my life, but music was on a fast track to over take it! I remember that Barbies were still present because the mouse came out from under my bed and scared the mess out of me. Having received training from my mother, I promptly jumped onto my bed and began screaming at the top of my lungs, all the while keeping a sharp eye on the intruder of my bedroom. The door swung open and my older brother (I am sure that my father was a work) came rushing in with my mother right behind him. As I explained our predicament and the location of the mouse (now in my bedroom closet) my brother began looking for something to rid the world of this mouse, and my mind went immediately back to the flying gut scenario. I was unwilling to live through that horror again, until I realized that my brother had grabbed my Barbie doll house and in one quick motion, had swept the trespasser into it and was heading out the door. I’m sure that Barbie and Ken had to honeymoon for the next few days in a new location as I waited for my little brother’s GI Joe ranger team to infiltrate Barbie’s home and rid it of any reminder of the mouse and all the horrors that came with it.
I have been in contact with mice from time to time in my adult life, and they have always met their untimely end at the hands of a trap, or a bored dog that caught a glimpse of them eyeing the refrigerator. I have never really cared for real life mice and have felt no remorse for their lack of ingenuity for getting caught in the never-ending pursuit of cheese or other food morsels. Even when my father was still in the military and he took me to the lab with him, and I saw the mice that were being tested on… I never thought “Oh… that poor mouse…” I usually thought “Hmm… good thing Mom’s not here.”
What was it in me this afternoon when I found myself face-to-face with what appeared to be a tiny baby mouse next to my car? Where did this sympathy and maternal instinct to protect this creature arise from? Why would this happen on Christmas? As I went to warm up my car on this very cold Christmas Day, what to my wandering eyes would appear but a tiny life form… so small and delicate… unmoving except for its shiver from the sub-zero temperature. Had I become the transformed Grinch? Had my heart that was two sizes too small burst through the confines of a metal frame? Why was I suddenly intrigued and amazed at this helpless rodent? Why were those beady eyes now very large, brown… doe-like? Why didn’t this mouse move away from me when I approached him? I was… essentially… about a million times larger than it was. Was he frozen? Was he searching for his mother? How had it suddenly taken on a gender and found meaning in my life. Had I determined that this same mouse could have been a descendent of a mouse that, in Biblical times, witnessed the very birth of the Christ child? And why was I suddenly talking to it?
I found myself explaining to this now precious pet, that I was about to turn on the car, and for it not to be frightened from the loud sound it was about to hear. I began to plan my own escape route should the engine frighten the mouse enough that it would scamper towards me, up my pant leg and jump into the car with me, where I would never be able to drive until I could find this creature, now lurking about waiting to nest in my hair. I turned the key… the engine started… and the mouse didn’t move.
“Oh my… he really must be cold.” There was an abundant amount of sympathy for this woodland creature and the need to help relocate him with his family, who were certainly desperately worried about his location and… more terrifyingly… had sent out a search party with thousands of his kinfolk. But I dared not touch him… it was fear of the mouse cooties all over again.
I returned inside where I told my parents, now firmly in their 70s, of the little lost mouse by my car. “Run over it”, was my mother’s Nazi reply. She had no inclination towards sympathy. “Just back up over it… its not big enough to even feel it under your tire.” How could I have come from this woman’s womb? Where was her maternal instinct? Obviously it was tucked safely in the drawer with my father’s. “Just kick it with your foot. It’s probably half-frozen anyway. Or… we can send the dog out to deal with it.” Um… right. My father’s prancey, not-so-masculine poodle is going to rid the grounds of the mouse. More likely he would sniff at it… pee on it… and bark his way into the annals of family history as being the dog that did nothing with the mouse. If it came down to a fistfight… I was putting money on the half-frozen mouse.
My horror was only increased as I stepped back outside to load a few packages into my car for a Christmas exchange with my friend Connie. The mouse had indeed moved… to a position right behind my back tire! Oh No! I was certainly in a quandary now! What was I going to do? This poor, pitiful creature had determined that life was no longer worth living and saw me as the Dr. Kevorkian of the mouse kingdom. I has horrified that this resolute little being was throwing all his chips in on the big poker game of life and was waiting for me to deal his death blow. I couldn’t move. I tried to reason with the little fellow… I tried to explain that there was indeed more cheese in the world and that he could not possibly give up now.
When that failed, I took a new approach. I began to call upon the spirits of Walt Disney and the One True Mouse! I explained to him the Circle of Life and sang “Hakuna Matata” in the key of G. He would have no part of it. I would not be the Mufasa to his Simba. He was determined to meet his end… He was determined that I would play the part of Cruella D. Ville in his dastardly plan. He was… the Kamikaze Mouse! Upon closer inspection, I even saw a “K” emblazoned on his fur, and a little Japanese headband appeared while he was sipping his ritual sake.
But… I would have the upper hand yet. I leaped over his shivering little body with the grace of Bambi’s mother and procured the nearest broom. Then, just as Mary Poppins would have done, I swept him into the flower garden that was about 8 inches from where he had taken his last stand. He cowered and remained motionless for about 20 seconds. I wondered if I had killed him after all. Then… he moved. He stirred about. I explained the benefits of the leafy nature of his new-found home. I told him he would find warmth there, and possibly food. I exhorted him to remain on the outside of the house, where pleasures and the natural food chain of life afforded him a greater adventure than the seemingly warm house where he would certainly find his demise under the strong boot of the Fuehrer and his Fraulein.
Saturday, October 08, 2005
A small town gets big coffee.
“Well I was born in a small town, And I live in a small town, Prob’ly die in a small town, Oh, those small communities…” John Mellencamp
For all intents and purposes, I have lived in Smyrna, Tennessee my entire life. I was born and raised here until after I graduated kindergarten. I attended Stones River Baptist Church, where my parents are members to this day.
I graduated from kindergarten. I wore white patent leather shoes that my mother purchased for me that were, by far, the most uncomfortable things I had ever worn on my feet. I wore a white cap and gown as did my other classmates, and my blonde hair was in ringlets. I am quite certain that my mother spent 30 minutes creating curls with bobbie pins and Dippity-Do the night before my big day. We left Smyrna for a few years when the Air Force Base was closed and resided in San Antonio and Burkburnett, Texas.
After my father’s retirement from the Air Force, the Bell family returned to Smyrna, where we lived just down the street from the house we had left a few years earlier. We lived at the end of a dead end street which was a PERFECT place for a family with small children. There was a large back yard where the grass was worn in a baseball diamond path. One of my favorite pastimes was sneaking up into the second floor bathroom and watching my little brother from the window. He mimed many a great historic ballgame in our backyard while he thought no one was watching… complete with crowd cheering noises and incredible leaps of faith while sliding into home base.
Just beyond a tree line in our back yard was the favorite haunt. A thicket of overgrown trees and weeds with bike paths and secret hiding places. Many days and evenings were spent there playing hide and seek, or riding our bikes through rough terrain. We loved to play outside.
Smyrna was a small town where everybody knew everybody else. There was no escaping controversy here. When someone hurt, everyone helped. The one mar on our city’s fine reputation was a once-a-month meeting of the Ku Klux Klan that occurred in the city’s only small dirt racetrack. I can remember every Friday and Saturday night playing in the cul-de-sac with my friends and hearing the car engines roar on race night. On Klan nights, it was eerily different. There was a glow on the horizon, just over the tree tops, and the muted sounds of rage and anger melding into a cacophony of savage hatred replaced the thundering roar of stock car engines. The glow was that of the bonfire that burned each time they met. I would stand and face that glow and pray the Lord’s wrath down on the heads of anyone who would dare throw a bed sheet over their heads and participate in such complete debauchery. I was in elementary school, but I knew the difference between right and wrong, and I understood the Lord answered prayers. Mine were quite fervent.
Our small town remained small through my junior high school years. The end of my sixth grade year fast approaching and the excitement of knowing that I was going to the junior high school the next year overwhelmed me. I would finally be out of the elementary school genre. Even the word “elementary” left a bad taste in my mouth. It was so simple and demeaning. If Sherlock Holmes used that term to let Dr. Watson know what an idiot he was, how was I to feel? Ready to reach for loftier goals, I set my sights on my next level of academia.
At Thurman Francis Junior High School, I was no longer relegated to remaining in one classroom my entire day. I had responsibilities! My books were not conveniently tucked underneath a chair that never changed throughout the year. I had a locker! I would intently watch the clock on the wall of my home room class and wait for the first bell to ring. It was as if I had become a thoroughbred horse in the Kentucky Derby. The bell rang and I was out the door to face the most awe-inspiring experience of new junior high school Life… namely, the seventh grade Murder Hall.
Each grade had its own Murder Hall, and it was appropriately named. Not because a murder had occurred in any of the school’s hallowed hallways, but because it was murder trying to get from point A to point B. The higher the school year, the rougher Murder Hall became. It was a good introduction for young people into the world we now know as adulthood.
I experienced my first taste of social anarchy at Thurman Francis in my ninth grade year. Elvis Presley had died and the world had gone to… you know where… in a hand basket. We were eager young people who were, once again, looking to the future and our journey across the street to Smyrna High School. We would shed our blue and orange colors for purple and gold and we would trade the Ram for the newly beloved Bulldog.
The high school was on a different schedule than the junior high. Its schedule was a semester driven college track schedule: three courses on three days and three different courses the other two days. We were certainly going to be adults at this point. There was no doubt about it. The excitement of the entire freshman class was thick enough to swim through. We did not realize the schedule was only a test for that year. Our fine educators had already determined it was not working and the high school would return to a normal schedule the following year.
I could have cared less about the school schedule. There was a very vocal minority who would not be consigned to being treated as mere children any longer. We were, after all, ninth graders. A political coup was in the making. A staged protest was formed. A sit-in where students would refuse to attend class until the demands of a new school system was met. Smyrna being a small town, everyone knew about this plan. My parents warned me of becoming involved with these “ne’r do-wells” and instructed me to keep far from their wicked ways.
The fateful day arrived and Murder Hall was full of people making final preparations for the demonstration. I was quickly changing books in my locker and heading towards my class when I rounded the corner to come head on with the demonstration in mid-stream. Viet Nam anti-war activists would have been proud. There were fists pounding the air and chants filling the room. There were arms interlocked and students seated Indian style. I looked to see if Andy Warhol was crouching in the corner painting a portrait of young teenage angst in a small middle-Tennessee town. I looked to see if CBS had sent Walter Cronkite to cover this breaking news story. I turned my head slightly to try and make out the strained vocal chorus of “We Shall Overcome.” But I didn’t experience any of those things. It dawned on me that I was a ninth grader at Thurman Francis Junior High School in Smyrna, Tennessee. A town so small there was only one stop light and one gas station.
In a blaze of fury our Principal was there. His friends called him “Pusher” and he was a “run-a-tight-ship” kind of man. No one DARED cross him. He did not say a word as he went straight for the gang leader. In one lightning swift motion, he stood him to his feet by the collar, pushed him down a set of four stairs, and outside into the hot, cruel world. He closed the doors and chained locked them to keep this ruffian out. He turned on his heels and made his way back to the group, which had begun to disperse, except for a few remaining martyrs to the cause of a high school class schedule who were promptly removed from the building and suspended for the rest of the week.
Residing a small town meant that my parents knew all the details of the attempted coup before I ever got home that afternoon. The next morning there were angry parents (whom I can only assume had been hippies in their earlier years) who were at the doors of the school demanding their children be allowed back to class and threatening lawsuits if they were not. All of this activity, however, still did not prompt a visit by Walter Cronkite.
Smyrna began its transformation during my Senior High School years with the announcement that the Nissan Manufacturing Company would be building a car plant within her borders. I was a junior piccolo player when the “Pride of Smyrna High School Marching Bulldog Band” played at the ground breaking ceremony and had mixed feeling about what this would do to our quiet little town. Suddenly there were many large fleets of black cars jamming our two lane highway and many more Asian people walking around town. We got a Hardee’s… and a Taco Bell. There was a Kroger coming in and a McDonald’s. Where would the madness end?
The Klan melted into non-existence (as far as I know) when the race track was torn down because it was on the property that Nissan would be acquiring. The two lane road quickly turned into four, and an overpass interchanged continued to remodel the landscape that was this small town. Housing developments began rising from the dusty ground and Rutherford County is now the fastest growing county in the state of Tennessee.
It still feels like a small town to me, for the most part. My parents are still members at Stones River Baptist Church, where my mother continues to be the church organist. We have two Kroger grocery stores now, and the new Publix store just opened. There is a Lowe’s hardware store and a bowling alley, not far from the Smyrna Public Recreation Center. A few years ago the fine citizens of Smyrna voted in liquor by the drink, and now we have a Ruby Tuesday’s, a Logan’s Roadhouse and a Chili’s restaurant, to name a few.
But this morning Smyrna officially threw off her little town title with the opening of a Starbucks Coffee Shop. I have passed by this structure in its building stages for about two months now. I have eagerly anticipated seeing electricity wired and furniture trucks in the newly paved parking lot. My parents were stunned by my excitement. I was not a coffee drinker in their minds. They were life-long coffee drinkers. My mother is known for having taught her grandchildren to drink coffee with her while they were still toddlers. My nieces and nephew to this day drink coffee when they stay with my parents for a night or two.
I did not fit that mold. I don’t think I even had a cup of coffee until I was in my 30s and at that point, it was more of a desert drink after a fine meal. My friend Brent Gambrell taught me to drink coffee with an incredibly delectable cheesecake served at a dive bar on Second Avenue in downtown Nashville, and I believe he took me to my first Starbucks Coffee Bar as well.
At Starbucks I learned how a good espresso could turn your night into day. I found that cinnamon and hazelnuts were not just for flavoring pies, but could spice up a steaming black concoction of the finest Columbian coffee around. What my parents would pay a dime for in the 50s I was ready AND willing to pay $3.50 to experience. It was worth it to learn what caramel and white chocolate could do to the taste buds as they waltzed together down your throat on the coldest winter day. I have found myself excitedly lounging in rich purple velvet chairs with a thick book in a warmly lit coffee shop where no one knows your name or cares that you want to be alone. They do not ask what your sign is, nor do they want to dance with you in a rhythmic fashion that would leave you dripping with sweat. I have enjoyed the time while I mentally redecorated my home with Starbucks furniture and have found solace from the stress of the daily madness that can engulf your thoughts by simply downing a Grande Café Mocha.
I have been forced to travel to find this incredible luxury in the past, but no more. Starbucks has come to Smyrna, and our small town has finally been placed on the map of good taste!
Friday, October 07, 2005
OUT OF BODY EXPERIENCE
A novice's guide to a Praise Team Audition
Last week my question to Carey Dean should not have been "why did you put me on the praise team?" but instead, should have been... "What happens in a praise team audition?"... Because I didn't have a clue!
Having just experienced my first (and prayerfully last) praise team audition, I'm writing this so Ministers of Music everywhere can be sensitive to future vocal auditions with people who... say... played in a marching band and read music, but have NO vocal experience whatsoever. They should refrain from using catchy vocal terms for things that pierce through the ear of the auditioner and send signals of fear and danger to the brain... immediately releasing adrenaline, causing hyperventilation, and the ever unattractive nervous pee-pee dance!
If said victim, er, auditioner actually gets through the short chorus he/she/it have sung (with the goat voice that is so shaky, it can't even be passed off as vibrato) do NOT be like an esteemed panel member Jon Rushing who will say... "You know... I'm hearing something in there... sing that again, but really belt it out". This does NOTHING to put your auditioner at ease... instead, he/she/it begins to mentally journey to their "happy place"... but when they reach it, they discover their happy place has been temporarily closed and find themselves on a detour into the deepest recesses of "the pit".
If you do choose to put your prey, er... auditioner, through this third level of hell, you should note that such actions will bring about a certain child-like "deer in the headlights" gaze from the person who is standing on the backside of the piano. The barrier is both physical and mental and the auditioner comes to the horrible realization that he/she/it is going to have to sing that song again. (Kudos to my empanelled friend Requelle... who was looking out for me and suggested that Alexis, world-renowned accompanist and now a praise team director, drop the song down a couple of steps). He/she/it will determine that they'll not "tag" the ending... they just want the song to end... and they have persevered through it yet a second time.
This is where the vocal "words/jargon" come into play. If you've never been "vocalized" before... and you hear the phrase "let's vocalize now"... the inexperienced praise team patsy... er... auditioner... will go visually to a surgical procedure. The built in "fight or flight" endorphins will be released into the bloodstream, making one almost light-headed with the panic that begins coursing through the body. When your friendly redheaded praise team director/panel member says to you "do that last one again and squeeze your butt to hit the note"... the pawn... er... auditioner will realize the third level of hell was decorated nicer than the fifth level where she is currently residing.
Also, make sure to warn auditioners who are standing in the hallways and are waiting for their moment of impending doom to never speak to each other. This will prevent someone from engaging in a conversation that may go something like...
CB: "So... what exactly happens in this audition? I've never done this before"
Kelly Mills: "Oh girl... you'll do great... you're soooooo on the praise team! As for me... I'm getting booted off the island tonight."
"Yeah, that's great. Answer the question please."
"It’s really not that bad. They'll have you sing your song and then sing another song with them to hear how well you blend."
There is a dramatic pause while this last statement is processed through a nervous auditioner’s brain. Her next statements roll off her tongue quickly with increased intensity.
"They aren't going to make me sing like, another part are they? I don't have to try to figure out what an alto sings, am I? I really don't have an ear for that."
Her friend responds in a most calm, lilting, and reassuring way.
"NOOOOOO.... They don't make you do that. You'll just sing the soprano part. Girl... I can't sing alto, because I don't read music, and I just go in there and sing the soprano part."
"Whew... that's good. I'm not sure what I'd do if they made me sing another part."
This conversation will run back through the mind of the sucker, er... auditioner when he/she/it reaches the tenth level of hell that is singing the alto part of "Blessed Assurance" with panelist extraordinaire Amy Ellis. Because Amy will step out of the picture and stop singing about two phrases into the song and this leaves you struggling with the unknown while Cindy Roberts and Jon Rushing sweetly sing along. You do notice, however, that this level of hell is certainly benefited by Alexis Cruz who can make any hellish situation not so intense, just by the movement of his fingers over the ebony and ivories.
The stunned look on the judging panel's faces make you wonder if you've just done something really well... or if they simply need to throw up! I'm told the latter was not an issue... and that was right before I was told that I'm a strong alto. I believe I entered into the Twilight Zone for a moment and am currently trying to return to this dimension
I was applauded for keeping up with the "licks" that Jon and Cindy were doing (obviously another vocal term). However, I insist that I licked nothing and nobody before, during or after the audition... and I'm only glad that I have lived to tell about it.
Sunday, October 02, 2005
I've been putting this off... obviously, and now with a new YMCA building going up in November, and my determination to be a member of said facility (and my absolute horror at how I will not only look, but will participate) I figured I needed to get something going on the exercise side of life. I would be mortified, no doubt, if the fine staff at the Y were to have to call 911 and paramedics brought to the facility just to revive me after having treadmilled my way to the Great Beyond. The other reason I have put off this exercise is because it has been so stinkin' hot outside. I'm just too old to deal with heat stroke.
The fall weather has appeared and so I had no excuse on Friday afternoon to continue to put this off. So off to the outdoor track I went. I knew better (oh so much better) than to ever believe that I should attempt to run. Who are we kidding here... I have not run in probably four or five years, and definitely have not experienced the pain of running since I hit this new decade in my life. So... to the local park I went, parked my car, grabbed my keys and hit the trail. I was going to walk two laps... which is about two miles.
There's something uplifting about walking alone through a wooded trail in Middle Tennessee. There are disgusting things too... namely gnats. I hate gnats. I would love to be puffed up and proud to say that I'm certain to have made a fine rugged pioneer woman were I to have been born in that time, but let's be honest. I wouldn't. Why? Gnats. More importantly, gnats and bugs. Apparently I hit the trail and the United Union of Gnat Invaders called their meeting to order and not only encircled me, but followed me through the trail.
Their other nuisance is the fact that if you are power walking (I was probably only semi-power walking) you typically cannot simply breathe through the nose, instead you find yourself gasping for air through your mouth. Can you imagine how many gnats one can consume in a 2 mile walk? I only hope that they are high in protein and low in carbs! Besides, it is not a lovely visual to see a big-boned woman of my size flailing her arms about in an effort to kill as many of these pesky visitors as possible. I can only hope that the flab on my arms will have stopped shaking by the time I finish the walk. I am unsure that this is the case. I walk the opposite way of most people on the trail... I have always liked to be different. I do my best NOT to flail my arms when people are approaching me on the trail, for fear of another 911 call... this time sending the men in white coats to remove the crazed lady from the neighborhood park.
But I press on. I make my way past the senior citizen who could easily lap me if I were not moving in the opposite direction as he; I speak with the young lady and her rather large dog who is bent upon chasing a squirrel up a tree; I nod to the young married couple who are very much in love; and I comment on the weather to the older bleach blonde lady walking the furry yippy dog. She's pushing a stroller without a baby in it, and I can only imagine that it will transport Yippy when he becomes too tired for the walk himself. I secretly wish that the brutish dog with the nose for the squirrel will rid the world of Yippy.
As an overachiever (it runs in my family) I get on the backside of the track during lap one. It is a slight decline of a hill and once I am at that point I get a bright idea. "Hey! I should try to run a little bit. It's downhill. I'll be fine. I'll even set a goal. The Bible talks about running towards the goal... so I know this is what I am supposed to do!" I visualize my goal and I begin.
Five feet later and my lungs are collapsing. My heart is exploding through my chest and I want to vomit. But I have not reached my goal. I will not stop until I reach it. I find a rhythm for my breathing and it begins to get better. I see my goal and I determine that I want to go farther. I look ahead and I pick a landmark. If I can just make it to that tree... and I do! I am so proud. I am also dying. It is a slow and painful death. I see the Grim Reaper through the trees and I wave politely to him. "I can't meet with you right now, I need to do another lap. Hang around... I be back soon."
I am now red-faced and sweating profusely. I meet the senior citizen again and he looks worried. I come upon the young lady with the brute dog at the water fountain and she asks me if I want to take drink. "No (heaving breath) thanks (heaving breath)... I'm fine... " The young married couple stare at me but are too polite to say anything and both the older lady and Yippy gaze at me much like a deer in the headlights. I am overwhelmed by the concerns of my fellow exercise partners.
Lap Two starts out much the same. I'm just walking along... swatting at gnats... squinting in the sun and I get back around to the declining hill. "Hmm... I didn't die my first time out. Maybe I should try again, but I'll start earlier and therefore will have run a further distance. Ready... Set... Go!" About halfway to my goal, my body begins to really put up a fight. Those muscles that have been happily sitting around enjoying pizza, movies or good books have had enough! Specifically that right hamstring muscle begins to wonder what the heck I'm doing. I hear my body parts speaking to each other:
Brain: Okay lungs... come on! Give it all you've got.
Lungs: We're going on strike right now. Find another helper!
Brain: Heart... I know you're pumping down there. Good work!
Heart: Keep your positive comments to yourself, you brainiac! I'm dying here!
Brain: Visual department... you see that tree up there? That's the goal...
Eyes: Any way we can get that goal here quicker? Legs, what do you think?
Legs: We've done a run down of our major compartments. The feet and ankles are with us. The knees are wondering why she's running on asphalt instead of a softer surface, but we may have a problem with some muscle tissue. It appears that the right hamstring is starting to fade... no... Wait! Yep... its gone! DANGER, DANGER, the hamstring is gone!
Brain: Um... Cathy... you might want to slow down now...
Cathy: No way Jose! I'm not to the goal yet, just a few more steps... AHHH (sigh of relief)
Brain: Isn't that the Grim Reaper over there?
Cathy: Yeah... but I don't have time for him.
Hamstring: We're talking with him now...
By the time I make it around to the footbridge (which is aromatically close to the water treatment plant) I turn around and look for the Reaper. He is still in the trees, watching me. He motions for me... I motion back. He doesn't want to walk to me, and I cannot walk to him. We determine to meet back on the track another day. Maybe then we'll get lucky.
Saturday, October 01, 2005
There are thousands of body shapes in the world today. Tall, short, lanky, round, pear-shaped, board-shaped... the list is endless. But in a world that is constantly challenging its occupants to be politically correct and accepting of all peoples, there is one group that has fallen terribly short of acceptance.
For instance, there's really nothing worse than say, a big-boned, tall, full-figured chick (like myself) walking into a retail outlet that specializes in dancewear. You learn rather quickly that there is another dimension that co-exists on the planet with big people... namely very small framed, stick people that you swear never reach puberty. They don’t worry about things like having deep, husky voices or shaving. They are; however, concerned with their ability to reach the can of condensed soup that is perilously close to the edge of the top shelf in their kitchen pantry. They’ve been relegated to purchasing stepladders and have rearranged their pantry so that only the once-purchased-but-never-utilized spices hold the top shelf honor. They’ve been destined to place their coffee cups on the lower level of the cupboard food chain.
I say this as I have just experienced taking my size 10 foot to said establishment and having "Twiggy" ask me if she could help me. When I said that I was looking for a dance shoe, she asked me what size "her" foot was. It was obvious to her that I was purchasing this for someone else. The good Lord knows that I would not take my size 16 body into a store that specializes in size 0 and 1, and as far as I know... negative size clothing as well. I let her know immediately that the dance shoe was for me specifically. I understand that my feet are larger than the normal dancer foot might be... unless we are talking about Mikael Barishnikov... and my feet are probably bigger than his as well.
The astonished and quite doubtful look on “Twiggy’s” face was irritating at best. I refrained from telling her where I wanted to place my size 10 foot. I found myself wanting to prove to her that I was quite capable of dancing in the finest ballet. As far as she knew, I was perhaps an astute tap dancer. I may be a stand-in for the currently touring Riverdance troupe. My abilities at this point were as limitless as the Montana horizon. I immediately wanted to prove to her that I was quite capable of moving around a pole, and there was many a table with stories to tell of my youthful escapades. I was certain these stories would have left her as unimpressed as if I began whirling around her and leaped off the platform where the dance shoes were residing. I knew my prowess would be wasted.
To make matters just a little worse, she insisted on taking the brochured diagram of my little shoes out of the box to show me how to put them on. She let me know that this endeavor was indeed a little tricky. I hope the look on my face was sufficient to let her know that while I am indeed a southern lady, I was not born yesterday. I have not spent my life in a kitchen, barefoot and pregnant. I am completely capable of putting shoes on my feet, and I can even tie shoe laces without a diagram. I know this is an amazing accomplishment for someone from this region... but I consider myself quite proficient in shoe etiquette. I assured her that I was capable of both putting on shoes, and reading a diagram if it became necessary. I then paid Twiggy for my shoes, skipped over the yippy dog that stood guard at the front door, and dashed over to the mall for a lunch that would have sent Twiggy to the emergency room. I suddenly felt good about my life, my size, and my big feet as a memory of my mother’s voice clearly came back to me... “Always remember, Cathryn... it takes more foundation to hold up a mansion than it does an outhouse.”
Take that Twiggy!