The Wish

He knew he was dying. He had this realization for a long time. And, he was. But he wanted to say something first. Something important. He knew he could trust her.

Lonis was born in south Mississippi in an age of Jim Crow, 1911 or maybe 1913. We don’t know because he frequently changed his mind about it. It was funny when he asked his wife, “How old am I?” At the time I thought the old man was getting senile. But the truth is he had used different dates so often he could not settle on one and had to be reminded by his wife of the most likely alternative.

In the early part of the twentieth century in the south and to a slightly lesser extent most of the north, African Americans “knew their place”. White people did too. Society was a parfait of class and segregation and to pass from one layer upward to the next was often difficult, but for black and brown people not just difficult but impossible and illegal. There were elites with old money and land. There was the struggling middle class. And, there was a vast layer of poor whites. Then, finally, African Americans – most of whom were the children and grandchildren of former slaves. They were on the bottom economically and legally. This situation was acute in the south where power was in the hands of the very, very few at the top near the whipped cream.

Those days are gone and good riddance to them. Desegregation, educational opportunities, and the elimination of Jim Crow voting restrictions have contributed to a more homogeneous society. There are African-American mayors, supervisors, and sheriffs throughout Mississippi now. We are not perfect but have made progress. Still, the parfait remains. Churches for the most part are either black or white. The same with social clubs. Our culture is mixed but voluntary associations are still influenced by race. Not by law, but by choice. That does not make it right, but merely an accurate reflection of how it is.

Lonis Ladner was the child of this era. His people, as we say, were lower middle class farmers. They never starved but they never got wealthy either. They held their own, raising their own food, hunting, fishing some, and tending to a few cows. The mother maintained a house where she enjoyed primacy and although a small woman her word carried the day. Her husband, Stephen, knew this. Ella, Lonis’ mother, had streaks of intense and debilitating headaches. We now know them as migraines. When a streak began she sent one of the children walking down the road to the little country store. It would take credit. It had to. There was not that much money around. Ella’s personal remedy was a root beer and a BC Headache Powder. This was followed by tightly tying a rag around her head and excluding her husband and all of the six children from inside the house until the pain eased. Over a century later we now realize that caffeine, and soft drinks are full of it, actually helps with a migraine. She was prescient.

In many areas in the rural south back then if one had a front lawn it was considered a disgrace to allow grass to grow anywhere near the house. Bad form as the British might say. Allowing grass in the the yard was a sign of laziness and Indulgence. No self respecting lady would allow such a thing. Thus, Lonis’ mother, Ella, spent countless hours sweeping the front with an old broom Made from twigs and sticks. If a blade popped up by the next day it was quickly dispatched with a sweep. I always found this peculiar until I took a sociology class and discovered from a lecture it was not an uncommon practice. I wish this had been the custom when we had our first house and many hours were spent mowing and trimming the lawn.

The Pearl River runs down from somewhere near the capitol at Jackson, Mississippi and slowly meanders south through the extensive forests and fields. It leads to the Gulf of Mexico through Lake Borgne. It’s not really a lake but more of a lagoon of sorts having long ago had its boarders washed out by hurricanes and erosion and the large appetite of the Gulf of Mexico which hungers for devouring land. In French borgne means one eyed. Above one eyed the river is the boundary between a part of Mississippi and Louisiana. Pearl River County has gentle areas of cleared fields full of small subsistence farms and a few scattered cities.

Lonis and his family were French descendants and many of their children bore French first names. Yet, as is said in the south with a smile, over the years and because the language was mixed and shaken with a dose of English these beautiful names were “red necked” into words and pronunciations unrecognizable even to a first year high school student of the French language. Plisead and Dicede, twin relatives of my wife became pronounced “Pli-seed” and Di-seed”. Something you would expect to read on a fertilizer sack. Almachene and Almada, another set of twins, became “Al-ma-chin” and “Al-ma-die”.

Other French relatives down the years simply had their names truncated into mere letters. Thus, RL and XL and RZ were Ladners. There were no first or middle names. RZ and RL were girls. Made it easy to remember your initials I suppose. Our children delighted in the names and often would beg their grandmother to “tell us some names” and she would. They would ask she to talk French and she would break into poems and ditties such as “Me and My People”. My mother-in-law was throughly French and did not learn English until she entered the first grade. English was not spoken in her home. She was a Dedeaux and Ladner and Dedeaux marriages were common.

If asked who settled America most people would answer the English along the east coast, but this is not true. There were Spanish and French and Germans and Dutch and a smattering of other countries. The English centric idea belies the fact that in south Mississippi and Louisiana it was the French. In 1699 a colony was begun in what is now mOcean Springs, Mississippi by Frenchmen Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville and his brother, Jean Baptiste de Bienville. The French were desperate for women to come to the colony and they sent to France to send some. Thus, in 1704 they arrived.

In its earliest days, before Mobile was part of Alabama, it was a struggling French colony in need of settlers. The men far outnumbered the women, leading not only to a decrease in probability of new progeny but also to the problem of men with little to keep them occupied. The women, largely penniless and recruited from orphanages and convents, had few prospects in France and readily agreed to sail to the strange lands of Mobile and Dauphin Island in hopes of becoming colonists’ wives.

The girls were given several nicknames – Pelican Girls after the ship that transported them, Le Pelican; or Cassette or Casket Girls for the boxes, called casquettes, used to carry their belongings to a new world. They weren’t prostitutes or convicts, as many forced colonists had been in the past. In fact, the girls – ages 14 to 19 – were chosen because they were virgins. They were not assigned husbands but, rather, were courted and allowed to choose among the men. Many of the brides carried yellow fever that killed 22 of the settlers. Conditions were harsh and their houses were inadequate. To force their husbands to build better homes, the Pelican Girls launched the Petticoat Rebellion and denied their husbands “bed and board” until better homes were built. The ploy worked. My wife was descended from these brave settlers. Or, as southerners express it, they are her people.

My father-in-law always advised my wife not to be too quick to claim another Ladner as being related. Of course, they all are. He warned there are two basic types of Ladner, the school teacher Ladners (which they as ascribed to) and the bootlegger Ladners (which they did not). This does not account for Uncle Osvald Ladner who ran a small store in Pass Christian, Mississippi. He lived upstairs and sold “hootch” from the back. One year we visited Uncle Osvald and despite being raided by the dreaded Revenooers he still made some moonshine. I took a sip which was offered to me. A good sip. My eyes rolled back, my throat was on fire, and my stomach felt like it was a smelter for liquid steel.

“Son”, Lonis said, “you can’t drink this stuff, you have to slowly take some in your mouth and let it melt. You understand?”

“Ugg, umm, ah.” I nodded. The power of speech eluded me. So did my taste buds until the next day. So much for the small bootlegger portion of the Ladner clan.

Mr. Ladner was an educator and taught in the classroom and served as principal for thirty-six years. My mother-in-law taught elementary school for forty-three. my wife for twenty-four until she became disabled. I tried it and lasted one year. My father-in-law was my principal.

I was thankful I taught math because the kids in rural Hancock County couldn’t read much. This was over fifty years ago. I will never forget Jimmy Gibson in the seventh grade. It was my first class and my first day and suddenly his hand shot up.

“Mr. Teel, Mr. Teel.”

“What is it?”

“Paul farted.”

My ears could not have been working.

“What did you say?”

“Paul farted.” He shouted out again.

Dumbfounded, I said, “Get up here, boy.” Back then we were allowed to paddle a kid, and I gave one good solid wack. I heard Paul in the background saying, “I didn’t mean to fart”.

“Why are you whipping me? Paul was the one who farted.” This time it was his turn to be dumbfounded. And, he was.

As far as I know Paul either never farted in my class again or if he did my class was afraid to bring it to me attention. Either way I had their attention, but that day convinced me my career choice should not be education.

My in-laws adored our children. I f it was going to be cold the next day we would get a call warning us if the dire weather threat to their health.

“You know it’s going to be cold tomorrow?” My mother-in-law Tecia asked my wife, Myrna.

“Yes, mother.” she answered with a I already know that voice.

“You need to put out a blanket in their beds.” Tecia offered.

“Yes, mother.”

“They are going to need warm clothes too.”

“Yes mother.”

And on it went for years. One time Myrna stunned her dad.

“Myrna Ann.” Her dad, Lonis, said. When this appellation was used her folks meant serious business. “It is freezing out there now. Use an extra blanket on their beds and wrap them up real warm tomorrow.” He instructed her.

“Daddy, they like sleeping on the cold floor and they want to wear shorts to school.” Myrna spoofed him. He did not take the bait.

“Myrna Ann, don’t make me come down there and check on those children. Now you listen to me.” He firmly said. He would have too.

I was blessed with most wonderful in-laws. My father-in-law became my friend, my hunting buddy, and my substitute dad since my own dad had died when I was very young. My mother-in-law was like a second mother. She would come visit us for a week or so and she cooked all my favorite meals. Anything I wanted. That Frenchwoman could cook the phone book – you remember those – and make it taste good. I loved them dearly and still miss them.

My memories include the time when we had stopped at a roadside cafe somewhere between Oxford and the Gulf Coast. When we were ordering at the counter Lonis saw some pickled peppers and he asked for one assuming they were mildly hot. We were sitting down and the first thing he popped in his mouth was a pepper.

“That’s a hot little son of a bitch,” he loudly yelled. Heads turned and we started laughing. He gulped down a glass of water and of course that set off the pepper on another round of heat in his mouth. “That’s a hot little son of a bitch he yelled again. U this time my wife and I had choked on our first bite of food and were laughingstock hard we cried.

“Lonis, you stop that. Hush now. I mean it. Hush up.” My mother-in-law ordered. Then she began to laugh and she cried because it was so funny. He reached for my water and drank it down. The more water he poured on his pepper fire the more intense the heat from the pepper became. I will never forget it.

One night we had to take Myrna’s mother somewhere and suddenly she told me to stop at the next place because she had to go to the bathroom. We pulled into a little country store and she went in as we stayed in the car.

“I’ll only be a minute.” She said.

Five, fifteen, and then twenty minutes went by. My checked on her and came back to the car.

“She’s almost done.” Myrna advised.

Thirty minutes later we are still in the car. It was night and at ten o’clock the store manager came out and I saw him turn off the lights and lock the door. Just in time I ran out to his car as he started the engine and begged him to open up and let my mother-in-law out. He had no idea she was still there. Kindly, he did.

“You’re going to have to tell her to hurry up.” He said.

My wife begged her through the bathroom door to finish. Finally, after nearly an hour Tecia walked back to the car and the exasperated manager closed up for good. I doubt there was any toilet paper left.

“I had to use up all the tissue and the ones I keep in my purse and even my good scarf.” She was mad.

“Mother, please tell me you didn’t bring back that scarf.”

“No, but I should have.”

Lonis was the hardest working person I ever knew. When they visited he could not keep still. We always left some small project for him to accomplish when they visited. Trimming the flowers, mowing, raking leaves, helping to put up the swing. Something. Anything. He was miserable without a task at our house. Foolishly I asked him on a call if he would me paint the trim on our house.

“Sure. Glad to. We’ll see you Saturday.”

At five thirty in the morning the doorbell rang and as my mother-in-law walked in he was unloading his ladder from the truck and banging around making noise. It was still dark. For the rest of the day we painted and painted. He did not believe in stopping until something was completed. Nor did he believe in taking a break. He gave me a dirty look when I told him I needed to use the bathroom. It took all day and the old man just about killed me. He was almost twice my age and could outwork me hands down.

Once he asked me to help bale hay on his farm. That took all day too. I am a city boy. I worked with my mind not my hands. I was so tired my wife had to drive home while I slept in the car. Like I said, the old man almost killed me again.

As he lay dying of cancer he called for my wife. His last wish was for her to take good care of the boys, his grandchildren to whom he was devoted. He was not a perfect man. None of us are. He let our little kids put his unlit cigar in their mouths for just a second which enraged Tecia, but made them laugh. He took out his false teeth to tease them, which also enraged Tecia. He was generous and kind and funny. Most of all he taught me how to be a grandfather to my grandchildren and Tecia taught Myrna how to be a grandmother. I am crying as I write this because I miss them. My wife will cry too when she reads this. They are tears of happiness and remembrance and thankfulness. Our footsteps are numbered but out path is for us to determine. Let us be one of kindness.

Wes Teel

Well, Is He Dead?

“Please come over, now. Come now.”

“What’s wrong?”

“I think he’s dead.”

“Who’s dead?”

My mother was a widow for three decades when she decided to remarry. She had known “Doc” for many years and they lived in the same subdivision in our town. My brother and I were grown and so was his son. As far as we were concerned it was fine with us. Dad died from a massive heart attack when I was in the third grade. I regret not getting to know him better, but I certainly did not begrudge mom’s marriage.

I used to tell this joke – but never in front of my mother. They were much older when they remarried. The first night of their honeymoon Doc reached over and patted mom’s hand. She patted his and they went to sleep. The second night Doc reached over and patted mom’s hand and she patted his and then they dozed off to sleep. On the third night, Doc reached for her hand and she pulled back, “Not tonight, Doc. I’ve got a headache.”

She would have killed me if she had heard it. And, deservedly so. The thought of my mother having sex makes my brain hurt. Bad. Our house was a proper southern residence in a nice subdivision. It sat on a nice lot. We had a large yard. We had a pool. We had a maid. Sex was not discussed at 4503 Kendall Avenue. Not ever. I never asked…except for the boys in the neighborhood. I learned about sex in the time honored way….listening to the lies of my friends.

My wife and I had been married six years before our first child was born. I was nervous when we went to tell my mother. She sort of looked at me funny and skewered her head sideways.

“Mother, I don’t know how this happened. I swear, I never laid a hand on her!” I actually said that, and she said, “Wesley.” My mother could say my name like an accusation, and, as southern women do, she stretched out the two syllables into three or four. Weesslleyyy… I can hear it now and some twenty plus years after her death (I hate that silly word passing), it still makes me cringe. I am cringing now as I write this.

“I think Doc’s dead.” She said as she opened the front door for me.

“Mother, what do you mean you think he’s dead. Either he’s dead or he’s not dead. So which is it?”

“I don’t know. He wouldn’t drink his coffee.”

Silly me. After all, in high school science class in Mississippi they teach us if a person in the south won’t drink coffee he is dead. As they say in poker, it’s a tell.

She pointed to the bedroom where Doc slept. I admit I was a little relieved he was sleeping in a different room from my mother. But, it was my room. That is the room where I grew up. Wet my bed – once or twice only. My damn bedroom. Mine. All my childhood memories are in that room and Mother has a dead guy in my bedroom. Oh, the indignity of it all.

Just then a neighbor came over. “I think Doc is dead.” Mother reported to her neighbor. Please, please mother don’t tell her he is in my bedroom. Several other people showed up.

One lady who came over actually said, “I heard you think Doc is dead.”

“We think so.”she replied.

My brother showed up at last. “Tommie. I think Doc is dead.” She told him. She always called him Tommie, not Tom, not Thomas, not Tommy, but Tommie. It’s on his birth certificate spelled like a girl. He always hated the spelling. When Tom was a practicing attorney he had his name changed to the somewhat more dignified Thomas. Of course, we never told mother about it.

My brother got me aside and asked what I thought. “Well, brother, the consensus seem to be that a lot of people at this house think Doc is dead. I’m waiting for something more definitive . You want some coffee?”

My old aunt “Dede” arrived in a huff. She was one of a kind. When southern women reach a certain age and are unburdened by dead husbands who have blessed them with ample life insurance proceeds, they tend to be somewhat outspoken. Dede was such a lady. She was refined, but down to earth. Truth is she was downright “earthy”. She detested hypocrisy, religious nuts who knocked on her door and tried to convert her, and politicians of all ilks and persuasions. Her house was on the beach and she survived Hurricane Camille riding on her mattress hanging onto her dog and clinging to the upper reaches of her bedroom window as the swirling dark waters rose from the Gulf and destroyed her home. She was one tough lady and she loved me as I loved her.

“Emile (my mother), what the hell is going on here?”

“Oh, Virginia (Dede), I thing Doc is dead.” My mother whined.”

Just about then the real doctor came out of the bedroom. He turned to all of us in the den and solemnly said, “Well, I think Doc is dead.”

Just as Dede was about to explode she said, “Even the damn doctor can’t tell us if he’s dead. Damn it. I’ve got a hair appointment. When somebody finds out if the old SOB is really dead, y’all call me.” And, with a huff she flew out of the house. My wife gave me a look. I gave her a look. We knew to remain quiet.

Not that I didn’t trust the official opinion of a medically trained person, but since there had apparently been some debate about the subject, I sneaked into the bedroom to see for myself. Oh yeah. If there ever was a dead looking person he was that person. Morbid curiosity.

At the funeral Aunt Dede sat with my mother. The church was full. Just as the coffin was being wheeled out of the church, my mother looked at Dede. “I don’t think I’ll go to the gravesite.”

“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, Emile, you married the old bastard and you’re going to the grave. The very idea.” Dede had spoken. My God, everyone in the church heard her. Eyes turned and got very wide, but no one chastised her. I was kinda thinking about not going to the gravesite myself, but I knew better than to risk her wrath. By the way, as a good Catholic, Dede often invoked Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Sometimes she added “and all the saints in between”.

I’m a Presbyterian and we don’t usually make a big fuss about the saints and such. Presbyterians don’t say Jesus, Mary, and Joseph in one breath, much less all the saints in between. I’m not making fun. Half my family is Catholic and the other half Protestant. We don’t allow atheists or Holy Roller Primitive Baptists in the family. No offense, of course. It simply isn’t done, as my mother would say.

My other aunt, Betty, had a problem with dead husbands. She lived in New Orleans where due to the high water levels the deceased is buried above ground in a crypt. Husband number one died and she bought a crypt and planned on being buried next to him. Although it had three slots, she got a bargain on it. Hummm?

When husband number two died some years later, Aunt Betty put her plan into action. Since there were fortuitously three slots, Aunt Betty was going to go in between Uncle Ralston and Uncle Tom. All set. The problem developed when she married Uncle Minor. He died, of course, and Aunt Betty had a problem. Where was she going to put everyone? Fortune smiled on her and a plot (excuse the expression) opened up next to her’s so she bought it. She told me she was going to put in her will every few years one of the husbands would have to spend a few years next door by himself, and then on a rotating schedule he would eventually be in line to be shifted back to the main grave with everybody else. Seems fair. Nice and cozy forever.

My mother never remarried. I’m glad too. I don’t think I could bear waiting around for an hour or two just to see if another husband was dead.

You want some coffee?

Wes Teel

Have a Heart Doc

When people say don’t worry.” That means you obviously have something to worry about. This social nicety is expressed by well meaning people to make a person feel better, but strangely the more you hear all will be well, the more a feeling of ultimate doom gnaws at your soul. Anxiety likes to make friends. We are well acquainted.

I had a replacement pacemaker installed a few weeks ago. I didn’t think there was anything wrong with the old one. It functioned for years and I never paid any attention to its constant monitoring and beneficial adjustments to my heart rhythms. My doctor has always followed my health with great care. He takes time to explain things. He adjusts my meds and he freely answers all of my questions. He is never in a rush to usher me out of the examination room. Medicine as it used to be.

“Can I do without having a new pacemaker doc?” I asked. I was not afraid of the surgery. I simply did not want to go through the inconvenience and hospital stay.

“Of course. This isn’t really an emergency.”

The “isn’t really an emergency” part concerned me. If he had said you don’t need a new unit or there is nothing wrong with you or why are you in my office, I would have felt more at ease. The word really is the key. If it isn’t really an emergency, then why am I in your office with my knees knocking out a Tango beat and my palms sweating like a bad kid in the principal’s office? What happens if it gets to be an emergency? Then what?

“Well, we just don’t like your ejection fraction.” He offers.

I thought he said erection fraction.

“Doc, I’m sixty nine years old. I can tell you right now my erections are a fraction of what they used to be.”

“No, no, no Mr. Teel. Ejection fraction, not erection fraction. This is the amount of blood the heart pumps out. Your’s is too low. You’re going to have to see someone else about that other problem.” And, he started laughing.

Naturally, I had a consultation with my wife. “Don’t think twice. You are getting it. Period!” After giving careful consideration to my wife’s orders, I mean wise and thoughtful advice, I decided to get the new pacemaker. So I did. Nothing to it.

Right before I went into surgery I taped a note to my chest:

MAKE SURE IT IS WORKING BEFORE YOU WAKE ME UP

The nurses thought it was funny. They didn’t realize I was serious.

I went for my follow up with the cardiologist today. I like him and his partner. They laugh with me and have a sense of humor. Medical personnel who can step out of the antiseptic clinical mode and be human make me feel comfortable. I am not being treated by someone who considers me to be a specimen under the microscope rather that a person. So we joke.

After any cardiac surgery, post op follow up is a must. With a pacemaker the rate of assistance the unit provides to the heart can be adjusted. This is done through minute electrical charges traveling through leads implanted around the heart itself. You cannot feel this when it happens. The pacemaker is adjusted by running a cord over my neck and centering the main round device over the my chest. No big deal. When checking the pacemaker’s performance they jump up the heart rate dramatically then phase it downward to the optimum level of efficiency. When they boost it up high you feel it and your diaphragm starts to bounce wildly and uncontrollably. I didn’t know I could dance hip hop, but I can. I think Philip, my cardiac tech guy, enjoys doing this. He tells me, you might feel a little something. “Jeeze…”

I thought it would be funny to tape a note on me chest for the doctor to see when he came in to do the examination. It read,

“WHEN CAN I HAVE SEX, LIKE WITH OTHER PEOPLE?”

I opened my shirt for him and he took a close look at my note and smiled.

“Well, with yourself, now. With other people six weeks.”

“I knew it. I knew she was lying.” I shouted.

“What do you mean?”

“My danged wife said three years!”

When we both calmed down he asked me how I was feeling.

“Before the surgery, you told me I would feel better and have more energy. It may be the power of suggestion, but I do feel better.

“That’s right.” He said.

“But doc, why couldn’t you have just told me I’d be better looking and I’d be smarter?” I asked.

“We don’t do that until you come back after three months.” Smiling, he didn’t miss a beat.

“Yeah, but what if I’m not?”

“You didn’t read all those consents you signed right before we gave you that sedative, did you smart guy?”

My doctor slapped my funny little note in my permanent medical record and pasted it down with tape – there for all time. Now, I couldn’t change cardiologists if I wanted to because they would see that note and think I am strange. I am strange, but I don’t want some goofy nurse to look at it one day and strongly suggest immediate psychiatric intervention.

Wes Teel

Time to Stop and Smell the Kitty Litter

The large animal is close. The air is flat. No breeze, no ruffling of leaves. The dry harshness has wilted the green ferns by the edge of the trail and only the strongest of plants are not brittle with the heat. He growls loudly and you know you are on his one track mind. He hasn’t eaten for several days and it was time. His nature and his stomach tell him to eat and eat quickly. When our arrows hit the antelope he died for the good of the tribe, not for sport or fun. The spirit of the deer deserves respect as he did nothing wrong. He merely wanted to live. We did not want to kill his beauty but we had to end his life in order to allow ours to continue. Now the big lion in the bushes comes close. He would not take our food. We would defend ourselves, if necessary.

Chores are decided in a sexist way. Thousands of years of evolution have been completely overturned. Men hunted. Women raised the children and performed all of the varied tasks necessary to live. But, not now. Not now. Things have changed for the better.

Sometimes I get up before she does. Not often though because the moment I stir, the moment my eyes begin to focus, the moment my feet touch the floor her extraordinary super powers kick in and she is awake. I try not to make any noise. Don’t let the slipper drop. I use the small middle bathroom in the hall. Occasionally, I escape her scrutiny and have the morning to myself. Oh, I love her being with me. That’s not it. I want her to rest because she has medical problems and not much energy.

Slowly, I edge to the side of the bed. Darned old antique bed creaks and resists as I rise up. Ah, one foot on the wooden floor. I steal a sideways glance and detect no movement by my wife her head turned away in the blue silk pillow. And, I’m off. Coffee, an apple pastry, feed the cats, sit down, check out the current outrage on the tv, and finally, the ultimate, see who’s dead in the obits. As I age, the startling realization that I am older than many of the dead people I am reading about sinks in. My God, that person is so young. And, the names. Frank “Big Tubby” Evans, R. Bobby “”Slicker” Davis, “Streaker”Morris, and Susan “Big Momma” Randall. Where do they come up with these names, and moreover, why do the families put the nicknames in the paper? It is a source of quirky entertainment for me. I collect them.

We went to our high school reunion a few years ago and there was a large memorial board set up dedicated to our deceased classmates. Black bunting around the edges. It even had their pictures on it. Very professional. Except…. there is always an except, and when someone says except or but, a big problem looms. One guy was not happy. People were coming up to him and just staring. “Oh my God. You’re alive.” “Steve, we thought you were dead.” “Hey, man, you ain’t dead?” After a few of these greetings a person’s sense of mortality begins to sink in. Over a beer we were laughing about it. I wanted to go check the board, but was too chicken. What if the memorial was a harbinger of what was soon to come? What if I were listed there? Safer to drink the beer, laugh at that other guy, and not be inquisitive.

“There you are baby. Sit down and I’ll bring you some breakfast.” This is our normal ritual. We relax on the old soft grey couch and ask how each other slept through the night. Sometimes, she reports a “schoolmare”. After retiring as a teacher for twenty four years, she has occasionally experienced dreams about school. This morning she says she had one.

“Donald Pride was at it again last night.” She explains. This kid would repeat his name over and over in the third person. Not “I know the answer teacher”, but “Donald Pride knows the answer. Donald Pride wants to go to the bathroom. Donald Pride did his homework.” He was the nephew of country singer Charlie Pride and he apparently relished his one claim to fame. The relationship was a mark of honor. Is he was simply advertising his uncle?

Sometimes, my wife dreams about the third grader who pooped in his pants. All the kids are laughing and cutting up. “What’s that smell?” “Oooo, stinky.”

“James smells, Mrs. Teel.” Kids do not hesitate to point out the obvious.

Out into the hallway Myrna shuffles James. “Now, James, do you need to go to the bathroom?”

“No, ma’am.”

“Are you sure?”

“Uh huh.” He declares.

“James, there is something running down your torn blue jeans pants leg. Don’t you want to go to the bathroom?” She is pleading now.

“No, ma’am.” He is in denial. Perhaps, he thinks she will quit asking and leave him alone, or possibly he believes if his will power is strong his “accident” will somehow dissipate into the ether and he will be saved the embarrassment. Or, more likely, he believes if he continues to refute reality his lies will be believed and he can go about his business. This boy has a future in law or politics! Exasperated, Myrna marches, a better description would be waddles, him down the cracked green linoleum floors to the office to call his mama. Oh, the shame. Then Myrna wakes up. No Donald Pride and no James the Poot Boy, but the memories linger.

The lion creeps ever closer. I am unaware of the danger. He jumps and as he does the clean ripples of his muscles stand out. I am the target. I neither move nor escape and he lands after a leap of many feet. The big cat is one of our house cats and his trajectory lands him in my lap as my Worlds Greatest Grandfather coffee cup goes one way and my hands the other. I am the designated kitty litter cleaner. I am cat friendly. I am not cat proof. My pride as a warrior is injured beyond repair. I married a Cat Lady. She can name and describe every cat she ever owned. We have pictures of many of them from Prince to Malty to CC Woman, to Sid and so on and so on. The dead cat album I call it as I get a dirty look. In fairness, I knew about her obsession beforehand. During the first two decades of our marriage I was able to avoid cat leavings sanitation duty. When my wife’s bad back no longer allowed her to stoop down, the litter box became my exclusive domain.

“But, you clean it better than me.” “I’m busy and it really needs it.” And, my personal favorite, “Honey, they like it better when you clean it.” Actually, she might be right about that since both of the cats stand guard at the door making sure to their satisfaction I perform my duties. It makes me so mad when the moment I finish scooping out the litter with the little plastic shovel one of them jumps in the box and uses it again.

“Wes, I smell it.”

“I don’t smell anything.”

“You don’t smell that?” She doesn’t believe me. She’s right too. I’m lying. She knows I’m lying, but she cannot with absolute certainty prove my nose doesn’t pick up the pungent odor of what she refers to as cat doodle. I give it another name.

“Please go change it.” No amount of protest on my part will suffice. The lions I tangle with have collars and names; I am no longer the hunter, weapons at the ready. I am the designated kitty litter scraper and chief disposer. I confess I like the cats. They like me. There is no greater bonding experience than when a certain twenty pound cat named Winston lays across your good pants depositing grey and black hairs that won’t easily brush off and it is time to leave. The other cat, Layla, a black and white girl is, according to my wife, a lady and primarily cottons to Myrna.

My private man cave is the official cat litter sanctuary. As I work at my desk often the unmistakable molecules of cat doodle fills the air. I gag. I choke. I cover my nose. My manly instincts are thwarted. The forrest is calling me. I will guard the meat from the hungry lion. Or, maybe, I just want to relax and finish the paper, down another cup of coffee, see who’s dead. What the heck. But first, the kitty litter calls. It is an urgent shrill call that cannot be ignored.

As I give it more thought, I’m lucky. Blessed even. I have a wonderful life partner, a nice home, and I am retired. The best job I ever held. My health is reasonably good and I have all my teeth. I don’t need a combover and I no longer have to wear a tie. Our kids and granddaughter love us, and the cats love us too. It could be worse. I suppose it is time to stop and smell the kitty litter after all.

Wes Teel

Oh, he died …..

Rubel Lex Phillips was a politician from the State of Mississippi. Phillips was a circuit court judge and a Democrat. But in 1963, he ran for Governor of Mississippi as a Republican. Phillips was only the third Republican to run for governor since 1877. Phillips ran on the slogan of “K.O. the Kennedys”.

Phillips told a story about going into a rural area and asking an old fellow sitting on a porch in his overhauls to vote for him. The man told him, “I ain’t never voted for a Republican, my daddy ain’t never voted for no Republican, and my granddaddy ain’t never voted for no Republican.

Not to be deterred Phillips then asked him if he minded if he asked his wife to vote for him. The old man replied,

“Wife. I ain’t got no wife. My daddy never had no wife, and my granddaddy never had no wife.”

The story is not about politics, but ignorance. It is the character of the candidate not the label of the party that matters. Labels come and go and change with the times. Character on he other hand is constant. It is measured in courage. It is weighted by the ability to make intelligent choices. It does not depend on slick slogans or fancy ads. Character does not have a party affiliation. Nor does it depend on which way the political winds are blowing.

.

There was a pain. Not sudden but steady and gradually increasing. Tired, oh so very tired. The walk back to the bedroom, although familiar in the way one knows but does not realize his surroundings, seemed interminable. A step and another step. Concentrate now. Supper wasn’t appealing. It was not bland but the taste…so indistinct. Another step of two. The bottle of aspirin was in the medicine cabinet. Always available for those minor headaches. Nothing to that pain. Nothing at all really. The aspirin washed down easily with the water cupped in my hand followed by two more quickly swallowed.

Not instantly, but after laying down for what was a short break, the pain under the arm was a discomfort and the weird feeling in my teeth lessened somewhat. One must not complain.

You know when your body is telling you something is wrong. A person should always listen, but you don’t want to be a wimp. So I’m tired. Everybody is tired. The pain that had subsided an hour ago shot back like a tree falling on your chest with deranged squirrels sitting on a downed limb cursing you. You want to curse back but you enter into survival mode because you are dying. You need help. Self help is not an option. I didn’t know it then but those aspirins helped save my life.

As I grabbed my chest and clinched my teeth the paramedic said, “Sir, do you know what’s going on?”

“Yeaah”, you reply through gritted teeth,”I’m dying.”

“Right you are.” The cheerful son of a bitch says while my heart has decided it has had enough of my neglect. Note to self: do not piss off heart again. If there is an again, again. Off we speed to the hospital ER. It is a blur of activity. I take priority over the lady with painful hemorrhoids, the anemic goth looking girl who is faking her back pain for drugs, and even the hooker who sprained her ankle and broke her high heel.

Doctors, nurses, technicians, and a dumb hospital lady asking about my insurance card hover all about. Then, Bam,”Mr. Teel we gave you morphine. This should help.” It did and if I had had the strength I would have kissed him right on the mouth. Nothingness sets in.

Blue scrubs. I recall blue scrubs. Two docs were standing by the ICU bed. “You had a bad time last night, Mr. Teel.”

I want to make a smart remark but my mind won’t let me. The tubes, oxygen mask, and blood pressure cuff expanding at random cause me to pause.

“Uh huh.” Brilliant repartee.

“We would like to explain to you what happened and suggest a course of treatment.” They tell me in that calm clinical voice that means we got you fella. I wanted to say doc if you need to spay and neuter me to keep that agony away, count me in brother. I always wanted to sing falsetto anyway.

Meekly, I say, “Uh huh.”

There is nothing to a triple bypass. All you have to do over a course of years is develop arteriosclerosis followed by a cardiac infarct (heart attack). A team of docs does their thing and boom you are back in your lovely ICU room. There is a trick though.

Before the surgery a nurse explains when you wake up your wrists will be tied to the bed. This is a precaution because you will have a tube running down your throat to your big toe. Like the dummy you are, you say ok.

I was groggy. Then I hear the nurse asking me if I am coming around. I say, “Gruggle da gabb a gur.” Translated, this means I have a damn tube down my throat lady. She understands though. Off I drift again.

I awake. Intubation tube in place and taped on. Wrists tied. Back the nurse comes. “Looks like you are awake. We’ll leave the tube in until the anesthesia fully clears. Ok?” Sure, like I’m going to argue.

You ever have a sudden itch? Maybe one on your head, Or on your elbow, just a little one, so you scratch it. All over. No itch. Think about it for a minute. Right now there is a place on your body that has a slightly irritating feel. See that I mean? You want to scratch don’t you? Well, go ahead. In the instant the nurse left, the tip, the very tip of my nose began to itch uncontrollably. It had a power all it’s own. It was irresistible. Humans are hardwired to scratch an itch.

The cavemen knew to scratch an irritation. It is human nature to relieve the problem then move on. Ugga Bugga feels the tingling so he scoots his hairy hands down his crotch. Mrs. Ugga Bugga spies him and yells,”Bluu tha oo ya.” Which in caveman means, “Hey, take it outside. My mom is in the next cave. Why don’t you act Neanderthal for once.”

I instinctively try to raise my hand to scratch. Nope, all tied down. My mind races. Ok, ok don’t panic. You got this. Turn your head and rub it on the sheet. But, I can’t turn my head. It is all secured with tubes and pillows. I attempt to raise my shoulder to my nose. Try it without turning your head. Remember Beetlejuice, he could spin his head around and that possessed little girl in The Exorcist, oh yeah, she was good at that head spinning trick. Bet they couldn’t do it hog tied like I was.

My brain wills the nurse to return. Thank you God. Here she comes. My eyes convey pity. “Just came in to see how you’re doing. Everything ok?”

“Uggg, mag ugg. Mag ugg.” Translation: my nose itches.

She nods in understanding. “Thirsty? Well, you can’t have anything yet. I’ll get something to rub across your lips.”

Noooo. Don’t leave me. My nose is now on fire. The more I tell it not to itch, the more it itches. You cannot not think of your nose when you don’t want to think about your nose. Get it?

“That will help.” She tells me as she wipes my lips with some kind of wipe thingy. Why couldn’t I have a psychic nurse? I would gladly have paid out of pocket. Forget the coverage.

Nooo. Don’t leave.

Seven days later (or so it seemed) she returns. “Are we Ok?”

Ah, no. We are not ok. Our nose is itching. Why is it medical personnel always say ”We”.

“Our catheter needs changing.” No, nurse, my catheter. You shoved it up my junk…not your junk. You ever have a yeast infection nurse? My mind responds. I am wishing fate would slap you down with one this instant. And, I wish just for thirty minutes or so I could be the nurse and you the strapped down victim with your mouth taped, hands tied, and your yeast infection roaring like a open pit barbecue grill in August. That’s how not ok I am.

“Aguu. Aguu. Aguu.” I plead.

“You want more wipe on your lips?” She asks.

This time I have a vision. I grab her smock with my left hand and hold on with a death grip. I ain’t letting go.

“Aguu, Aguu.” I am begging, pleading, and performing mental telepathy.

“Do you want to tell me something?” My eyes roll back in my head. Ever so slightly I move my head up and down as best I can. “Aguu, Aguu.”

“Can you write it down? Thank God. We are making progress. She brings me a pen and holds the pad for me to write with my tied up right hand. Yes. You guessed it. She brought the pad to my left hand. My head is tilted back and I cannot see the pad. What can I write to make her understand? Then it came to me.

N S E O. Best I could do. Squiggly, but semi legible I pray.

“NSEO?” She asks with a bewildered look on her face. “What is NSEO?” I want to strangle her and would have had my hands been free. Did Hellen Keller have this much trouble?

“Aguu. Aguu.? My eyes cross. Maybe if I go all cross eyed she’ll respond.

“Nose?” Is there something wrong with your nose?” Eureka!

“Aguu. Aguu. Gobba Abbu!” I explain.

“Mr. Teel, does your nose itch?” My eyes roll back again.

She gently begins to scratch my inflamed nose softly and then with more pressure. Ah. The nose scratching was better than any sex – real or imagined. One evening when the kids were away and it was adult play time our little Scotty dog jumped on the bed and put his black ice cold wet nose on my exposed white butt. I scream and wildly gyrate as the dog scampers down. My enthusiasm was somewhat temporarily dimmed. “Baby, I think I’ve lost the mood.” My wife, her voice all throaty and teeth gritted closed, says, “Put-The-Dog-Back!” Sorry, I digress.

Fast forward seven years and I walk up to the desk at the hospital with my wife.

“Can I help you?” The nice hospital auxiliary lady asks me. She has on a loose fitting pink jacket with oversized pockets. Her pearl necklace and genteel manner are are reassuring. I am already nervous. A group of different pins covers over her jacket pocket – badges of honor. She has one of those elderly lady voices – slightly shaky but clear and precise. I estimate her age to be eighty at least. To her credit she has given up watching boring game shows, Whoopi, and The Price Is Right to help people at the hospital. Nice lady.

“Well, I’m having surgery today and I don’t know where to go.” She checks her computer and after a few pecks prints out my data.

“Oh, I’ll be glad to show you.” She turns over her chair to another nice lady and down the hallway we go, her head toggling ever so slightly side to side, but every hair in place, of course.

“What type of surgery are you having, young man?” She must really be old to call me young man.

“Oh. I’m having a pacemaker.”

“That’s nice. My husband had one of those too.” She tells us.

I want to be friendly so I ask her. “How is he doing now?”

“Oh, he died.”

She keeps walking. I stop, feet frozen and knees locked. I want to ask who was his doctor? Did he have it done at this hospital? How long did he live? My fear is overwhelming. My wife scolds me into following the auxiliary lady telling me to be a big boy. I don’t want to be a big boy. I want to pee my pants as I tear out the door running and yelling.

I lived. I am happy with the pacemaker and don’t even know it is there. Now, years later my doctor wants to replace the original pacemaker with a newer model with more bells and whistles. Automatic transmission instead of stick shift. Eight cylinder and built for speed, but hang the cost. Medicare will pay for it. When the doc told me I had a low ejection fraction, I thought he said erection fraction. I told him,”Doc, I already know that. My erections are a fraction of what they used to be.” Once he stopped laughing he corrected me.


This time if that little old auxiliary lady is on duty when I check in I am going to tell her I am having a brain transplant. If she says, “That’s nice, my husband had one too.” I’m out of there.

Wes Teel

Ladnerville and Other Strange Mississippi Places

The winds were fierce. Tree limbs scattered along the street. Wet piles of leaves seem to know how to associate with each other as they lay there saying nothing in particular just wondering why their green lives ended so suddenly.

“There’s no picture tonight”, Lonis Ladner, my father-in-law shouted. He was upset because he was going to miss the evening weather. Promptly at 6 pm all activity ceased in my wife’s household. No bathroom breaks, no cooking, and absolutely no talking. None. He had to hear the weather. These were the days when there was no Weather Channel and no weather radio blaring out urgent meteorological alerts. Jim Cantore wasn’t born. But, good old Nash Roberts on channel 6 was there and you dang sure better listen to him. For Lonis, Nash was the greatest human in the world.

I once mistakenly asked if I could have a refill of my soda during the agricultural report section. My shocked wife got bug eyed. My mother-in-law, Tecia, put her hand over her mouth, and the old man bit his cigar it two. I had broken a sacred ritual. In Ancient Rome if the priest skipped a single word the entire ceremony had to completely begin again. In “Ladnerville” (my designation for the home my wife grew up in) there was no do over and the vital words of the weathercaster were lost for all time. The old man didn’t speak to me for a week.

I loved my in laws. They were wonderful to me. At first I was referred to as “that boy”, then “that Teel boy”. I graduated to “Wes” upon our marriage. I had arrived. Upon the birth of the first grandson I became “son”, a true form of endearment which I valued. I still remember the day I asked to marry his daughter. He was sitting on the porch and I sat near him and asked his permission. Not a word in response. We sat there. Still no word. After a silence that I thought lasted hours he got up, said OK, and left the room. When I reported the encounter to my bride to be she was thrilled.

“ But, honey, he didn’t say yes.”

“Yeah, babe, but he didn’t say no either.” She was excited. I was bewildered. Ladnerville at its best.

There are, according to my father-in-law, two kinds of Ladners: Teacher Ladners of which they were included, and Bootlegger Ladners of which they were not. Of course, there was Uncle Oswald who ran a little store with a giant still upstairs. I guess he didn’t count. Once, I was treated to Uncle Oswald’s Christmas Brew. I was not advised to carefully sip it. My tongue was on fire and my stomach felt as if someone poured gasoline down it and lit a match, which was close to the truth. Moonshine is clear and does not mix with coke, orange juice, or any other substance known to man or redneck. It sort of floats there with a distinct line separating shine from cola. All the stirring and shaking in the world won’t help. Neither will all the pepto bismol.

As the fuzzy pictured refused to clear, frantically he fiddled with all the dials and then went outside to further investigate. “Damn it. The damn rain blew over the damn antennae.” No one had cable tv and at the time satellite tv was unknown. On a good day their set could pick up two out of the three local networks in range. Lonis was not a cursing person except when it came to Ole Miss losing a football game or not being able to see the weather.

He taught school for 36 years and Tecia for 43 and they still managed to farm 100 acres dedicated to vegetables and the cows. His cows were more like pets. They would come to him when he called. Once we were eating roast beef for supper. I didn’t know Lonis had one of his cows slaughtered. As we ate he sadly commented, “This was the one with the white spotted face.” He then put down his fork and couldn’t eat another bite. I did the same thing. My wife cried, “Not that one, daddy.” I don’t want a close personal relationship with the food I eat. Eat all your food kids and remember that’s Jim the carrot there. No.

Out came the ladder and the chain saw. He was determined to cut off the broken limb hampering the reception. I was detailed to hold the ladder. Up he went. Revvvv, revvvv and a cloud of exhaust. You ever enjoy slow motion? Nowadays, the camera slows down the long pass and the receiver just barely lets the ball slip from his outstretched hands. Lonis made a cut into the limb. As I watched, the large limb twisted around and pirouetted down in a spiral headed for the antennae. In slow mo speed a person’s mind is tricked into thinking you can reach out and stop the action. But, you can’t. I could see Lonis’ mouth moving as his cigar fell out plummeting to the ground The flimsy aluminum antennae crumpled and imploded onto the roof. All this time the chain saw roared and Lonis’ mouth never stopped moving. I cannot read lips, but 30 feet below I knew every cuss word he was saying.

Paul Bunyan of Ladnerville

My wife and mother-in-law heard the racket and came around to the side of the house. I was laughing so hard my eyes teared up and I fell down to my knees screaming and hysterical with laughter rolling into the ditch full of water. Lonis saw me and I believe it made him cuss more. He called down damnation on the saw, the antenna, the limb, the roof, and perhaps on me too. He made his way down from the ladder and threw the saw on the ground stalking back into he house. I was still laughing like a hyena. We dared not enter the house. After 20 minutes he came out and said to me, “Fun’s over. Get in the truck we’re going to buy a new antenna”, and we did.

In the fall Ole Miss plays football (sometimes). Ladner family ethics demand the attendance at some, if not all, such events. Lonis was a great fan and we went to many games. The rain fell harder and harder as we were beating LSU. We sat in the stands soaked, despite the rain gear and garbage bags covering our feet. Lonis turned to us and said, “Can you believe all these jackasses sitting out here watching this game and getting wet?”

“Ok, let’s go, daddy.” My wife said.

“Go now, are you crazy. We’re only behind two touchdowns and a safety. We got this. Sit tight.” And we did, but we didn’t “got this”. We lost. Only one thing was worse than Ole Miss losing a football game – Mississippi State winning one.

On the way home Lonis pulled over and we went into a small roadside cafe. He was not above savoring pickled quail eggs, tripe, hogs head cheese, fried squirrel and other delicacies. He spotted a jar of peppers and ordered one with his meal. As soon as we got our plates he slipped the pepper into his mouth and chewed.

“That’s a hot little son of a bitch.” He yelled out.

“Lonis!” Hush up. His wife whispered.

“Damn, that thing is hot.” He shouted again.

Everybody in the little cafe was looking our way. Foolishly, he drank down a glass of water which magnified the pepper’s intensity. We knew not to laugh. I was choking to the point I bit my cheek.

Johnny Bull was my father-in-law’s favorite bull. He was quite tame, never minding if the kids were placed on his back to ride and coming when Lonis called. He would eat corn cobs from your hand, although he trapped my wife in the corn crib once because he insisted on more being fed more corn.

Our son Ryan was maybe three years old. Lonis and I had him in the field with us when suddenly he looked over at Johnny Bull and asked, “Pawpaw, what is that under Johnny Bull?” At first we didn’t know what he meant until we realized Ryan was eye ball to, well ….. We suddenly understood. “Pawpaw,” Ryan demanded as he squatted down and peered under Johnny Bull, “What is that hanging under Johnny Bull?” We started laughing. The more we laughed the more inquisitive Ryan became. “Why won’t you tell me what is under Johnny Bull?” He would not stop asking and we could not cease laughing.

What’s that under Johnny Bull?

When we somewhat recovered Lonis said to him, “Go up to the house and ask your grandmother. She knows.” Off he went to the house a few feet from the field. After a minute or so we saw the back door open and Tecia, my mother-in-law, was standing there shaking her finger at us. We became uncontrollable.

I was blessed to have two wonderful people in my life. There are many stories about terrible in-laws. Mine were special. My mother-in-law would cook any dish I ever wanted. My father-in-law was my hunting buddy. I never had a cross word with them. They were friends, not just relatives. Tecia showed me the power of unconditional love for children. Lonis taught me how to be a grandfather. I miss them still. I always will.

Wes Teel

Stop and Smell the Ugh, That Ain’t Roses

He was, when he worked, a hard worker. When he showed up at our house he didn’t waste any time. Then one day he completely vanished from the face of this planet. No form of communication could break the barriers he had set up. Phone calls, letters, even my personal surveillance of his house were to no avail. The people who run witness protection would do well to take lessons.

My olfactory senses are keen. My mom raised flowers and growing up the house where I lived was filled with the fragrances of roses, and camellias, and lilies. The kitchen stove perked with dishes whose odors made you imagine the familiar taste of ordinary food – sometimes with a twist. We never had fast food. It wasn’t invented. We thought fast food was when your mom slapped a peanut butter and jelly sandwich together and handed it to you as you ran out the door.

My mom invented blackened cooking, not the New Orleans Cajuns who stole the idea and made it famous. We had blackened roast beef, blackened eggs, blackened soup. When I got in college and ate my first breakfast in the commons I thought something was wrong. The toast was buttery and lightly brown. It was soft. My God, you didn’t have to scrape the blackened surface off of it. Fearing it was undercooked, I almost didn’t dare eat it.

When our kids were babies I could instantly tell when they messed in their pants even two rooms away. If I was holding a baby I would make an excuse to have my wife take over.

“Honey, please take the baby for a moment. I have to: use the bathroom, make a call, wash the car, check to see if the sun is experiencing a solar eclipse.” Any excuse to hand off that smelly child. Our firm family rule was he or she who has the baby in his or her arms changes the baby. No exceptions.

My wife’s nose does not work as fast. “Wes, this baby needs changing. Why did you give him to me?”

“Myrna, he was fine when I handed him to you. It just happened. Baby’s use the bathroom when someone hands them off.” I had her convinced babies poot when transferred. She doubted it deep down but couldn’t prove it. Dr. Spock was silent on the subject.

I love kids and babys. I do not love baby droppings. For months I had the wife fooled, or so I thought, but then she caught on. Child rearing was fun, except for smelly diapers. I was a hand’s on father. I have done my duty. Feeding, bathing, holding, baby bottles (cleaning and feeding), and yes, changing the baby, driving to school, T ball and soccer coaching, camping, swimming innumerable trips, homework, and all the rest . Our oldest is over forty and having wrestled with so many dirty diapers, to this day, I cannot look Creole Mustard in the face and would not hazard adding it to a sandwich. Instantly, the floating vapors of digested prunes and spinach come to mind. Just writing this I can smell the stuff.

The fellow I was talking about earlier was making custom cabinets for our new house. Since we were between houses and were living in a cramped apartment waiting to move in, I had the cabinet guy on a strict schedule. I am used to meeting deadlines. Thursday means Thursday. Don’t be late. We had a firm contract. Everything had to be ready by a specific day so we could move in and avoid another month’s rent. I remember when I first met the guy I had an awful cold. I spent about an hour with him and noticed a strong but distinct odor emanating from the direction of the cabinet contractor but I discounted this and attributed it to my cold. When I got back to the apartment my wife asked what was that smell. I had no explanation, she made me take bath immediately.

The stinky contractor and I crossed paths again when he came to install some, repeat some, of the units he had crafted. They were works of art. But, my God, he reeked, he stank. The cumulative stench was a combination of rotten eggs, wet straw, and chicken yard particles. My nose was fully healed but I was wishing the cold to return. I could not approach within 6 feet of the man. I left in a hurry.

A few weeks later the house was completed except for the balance of the cabinet work. Where was the man? More time elapsed. I finally gave up and hired someone else to complete the work. Of course, my original cabinet man slinked back into the picture wanting to get paid for his efforts. I am ashamed to say I employed many time honored verbs and adjectives to describe his ancestry when I told him a flat no. Stray cats began to congregate nearby sensing a meal, of sorts. I sprayed the front porch with an entire can of Lysol when he left. No way was I letting him in. We would have had to decontaminate.

First Aid for the Stinkee who is exposed to the Stinker

George Estes is a decent guy and a good attorney. I had known him for years. He called me one day and told me the odorous man was in his office asking George to sue me over the money for the cabinets.

“You gotta be kidding. Let me tell you exactly what happened.” And, I did. Finally, I asked, “George, are you suing me?”

“Of course not, the guy just walked in the door. He’s in my office right now because the secretaries were getting sick smelling him in the waiting room. I’m out in the lobby because after two minutes with him I was getting sick. Look, Wes, I really will sue you if you don’t get this guy out of my office. One of my secretary just threw up in the garbage can and the other is threatening to quit. I am going to have to fumigate the whole place.”

My loyal and sneaky friend sent the aforesaid noxious carpenter down the street to see me, I refused when the receptionist told me he was here. He wold not leave. She buzzed me again. I said no. The receptionist and my secretary came in my office and begged me to see him and get rid of him or they were quitting. I thought they were bluffing and I said no. My partner, his secretary, my secretary, the receptionist, and a client whom I never met and who was waiting to see the partner walked in my office and begged me to see the guy because they were becoming visibly queasy.

“Ok, ok, ok. I’ll see him – on the patio.” I am not polluting my office. They filed out holding their noses. I stood upwind from the guy and offered him a few bucks to go away. He accepted and I made him sign a release. Carefully, I sealed the envelop and put it in the safe. I have no clue why he smelled. I do not think he had seen a shower for years and his underwear (if he wore any) long ago must have rotted away. I called George and told him he owed me half the cost of getting rid of the man. He said if I would send him an invoice he’d gladly pay. I didn’t, but I should have.

My wife is a sweet tender hearted lady. She would never intentionally hurt someone’s feelings. Nor would she allow me to do so.

We were at the mall in line at a Piccadilly’s Cafeteria edging along making our selections. I don’t care which slice of pie, dinner roll, or prepared salad the person behind the counter gives me. I cannot tell the difference. Not so with my wife. She holds up the process and inspects each offering. The largest pie is her prize.

“No, not that one”, as she points and motions. “Give me the one in the back. No, the other one next to it. Yes, that‘s the one.” People behind us are become anxious. Sometimes customers who are behind us think there is something wrong with the food items she rejects.

As I was about to choose the chopped steak, an awful odor arose. It smelled of dead rodents blended with the scrapings of a cattle rancher’s shoes after a hard day of castrating unfortunate young bulls.

“Myrna, what is that terrible smell?” I ask.

“Just keep moving”, she instructs.

“I am not going to be able to eat.” The line stalls and we are trapped. “What is it?” I have the feeling she knows but is keeping it secret.

She whispers,”It’s the man behind us. Now, quiet.” As I turned to look I saw a nice looking older guy with a nice lady. Wham. It hit. The guy smelled awful. I got louder and louder.

“What is that stinking?” Admittedly, I am trying to get him to leave…quickly.

“Do not look at that man.” She commands. “He might not know he smells.” She is mindful of his feelings.

“Not know. Not know?” I am loud. I notice the customers behind Old Rotten Butt there have retreated and left their trays half full.

We plow through the interminable line. I happened to glance over my shoulder as I paid the ticket. Cabbage, two varieties of beans, a greasy sausage looking thingy, and three rolls were on Mr. Dodo Pant’s plate. My punishment begins.

“I can’t believe you said those things? You embarrassed that man.”

“Hey, I am the innocent one here. He is the stinker and under the law I am the stinkee.”

“No, honey, I was trying to perform a public service. He and his poor wife do not have noses. Maybe they were born without them, or lost them in a tragic accident while exploring an ancient city’s sewers. I don’t know. Point is they cannot smell. Ah, make that sniff.” I theorize he must have craped in his pants. “Sadly, they don’t realize it.” I lie, but with a straight face and it was a good lie too.

“You know better.” This means in Myrna Speak (of which I am fluent), I give up, you are hopeless.

We change the subject and as we pass by the Stink Family Robinson to leave, she says, “They do kinda smell don’t they?”

I consider this a singular vindication. I say nothing knowing to speak further will spoil the moment.

Wes Teel