January, 2011


“Okay Mom, it’s your turn. What have you been up to the past few weeks?” asked my ex-husband, Jim, as he looked around at our two sons to pay attention.

“Time out! Mom’s turn,” our older son, James agreed.

“Show time, Mom!” Jon said, “What’s happening?”

“Nothing much, just work. You know, Mama knew the Matthews way back when this place was a coal company. Mrs. Matthews brought her fried chicken here, and sold it at lunch time to the Tucker workers. When the coal company closed down, Mrs. Matthews continued to serve her famous fried chicken here, and here we are today.”

“My favorite is the chicken pot pie,” added James.

“Nope, it’s the fried chicken for me,” said Jon.

“I guess my favorite is the vegetables, especially the collard greens,” added Jim, “But it’s hard to beat these biscuits and country ham. Now don’t try to change the subject, Di. Tell us what you’ve been doing lately.”

“What’s going on with me is to enjoy breakfast with you guys in my hometown of Tucker – to catch up with y’all.”

“No, no Diane,” said Jim. “We’ve already heard it. I went fishing, James played touch football with his friends and Jon’s watching the girls. You have to do something besides work. Let’s hear it.”

“Yeah Mom,” both sons agreed.

“Well, I did do one thing a little unusual, but I don’t think you’d be interested in stuff like that.”

“Sure we are. We’re interested in you, and we want to hear it,” urged Jim.

“Sure Mom, let’s hear it,” replied both James and Jon.

“Well, one night last week, I went to a healing circle. You’ve heard me speak of my friend, Sherry Henderson, who lives on a horse farm – she held the circle in her pasture.” All three guys were quiet and looked on with curious interest as I continued, “It was really nice. Everybody paid five dollars entry at the gate. As we entered, Sherry saged us, and then we found a place to sit around a campfire. The fire was enclosed with stones…”

“Why did you have to pay five dollars?” asked Jim.

“Oh, the money went to Mr. Three Trees for holding the healing circle…”

“Mr. Three Trees?” asked both boys in unison.

“Yes, Mr. Three Trees is a Native American…”

“How many showed up?” asked a curious Jim.

“Oh, I’d say about twenty, maybe more.”

“How long did it last?”

“Maybe an hour and a half.”

“That’s good money,” remarked Jim.

“It was really worth it…”

“Saged? How do you get saged?” asked James.

“You just stand up straight and hold your arms out, and someone allows the smoke from a bunch of dried sage to encircle you. It just takes about five seconds, then you’re allowed to enter the circle…”

“Hmmmm, never heard of anything like that, and I’ve been around horses and pastures all my life,” mused Jim as he looked around at the boys who returned a puzzled look. “Where’d they dig up Mr. Three Trees?”

“He’s a friend of Sherry’s from out west. I can’t remember the name of his tribe, but I know it’s out west, because we sang about the return of the white buffalo…”

“White buffalo?” Jim seemed a little shocked, “never heard of such a thing.”

“Well, according to legend, when the white buffalo returns, the people are in for good times. It’s a meaningful story and cute little song.”

“How’d it go?” asked Jim.

“I don’t remember.”

“Really? Well, camp songs are fun, getting outside with your friends, that’s always fun,” replied Jim, trying to be supportive.

“Yeah, we sang several songs. It was a nice autumn evening. The sky was clear with a full moon. Mr. Three Trees was something of a philosopher. He said even where we sat told him a lot about each of us.”

“How so?” asked Jim.

“Direction, I sat south of the fire. That means I’m facing the sun for a good time – looking for the lighter side of life. The ones who sat on the north side of the fire have a desire for higher education such as a student or teacher. That’s where Mr. Three Trees stood – in the north.”

“What’d he say about the east and west?” asked Jon.

“I don’t remember. But before we smoked the peace pipe, all women having their period had to back away from the circle by thirty feet.”

Jim, James and Jon stopped eating and put their forks down. I had their undivided attention. Apparently I’d misjudged them. They were interested.

“Peace pipe? Mom, you smoked a peace pipe?” asked my younger son, Jon.

“Yes, the pipe was an incredible piece of artwork with feathers and tiny animal claws hanging off of it. Mr. Three Trees said we smoked a special blend of herbs – seven herbs. He named all seven of them, and correlated each herb to a different part of the human body. I can’t remember the names, they were those biological terms.”

“Cannabis?” asked Jon.

“No, Jon, it was not pot.”

“Mom, you smoked pot! Out there in that pasture! I guarantee it!” insisted Jon as he shook his head in disagreement. “Then, why don’t you remember stuff? You remember everything! Doesn’t she Dad?”

Jim laughed, but refused to agree with Jon as he remained silent on the subject.

“I have never smoked pot in my life, and did not smoke pot that night. Jon, if you heard the words to a song for the first time, would you remember? Would you remember the biological or scientific term for seven plants? Hearing them only one time? And, anyway, I was there in a casual environment, not a classroom.”

“Mom, would you know the difference? If it had been pot?” quietly asked my older son, James.

“Yes, I think so, son.”

“Let’s hear what else Mom has to say,” instructed Jim, “Go, ahead Mom.”

“Well, as I said, it was a beautiful clear night, a night where it is easy to tell the Big Dipper from the Little Dipper…”

“Hash-sheeee!” exclaimed Jon.

“It was not!” I defended myself and Mr. Three Trees, as peace loving James held his hands up to once again call for time-out.

“Why did the women – having their time of the month – have to sit outside the circle?” asked Jim, “I’d hate to say something like that to a woman, especially in these days.”

“The peace pipe has a long tradition of prayer – a lot like the prayer shawl. And a woman having her period has a powerful energy about her. According to Mr. Three Trees, it would have interrupted the energy of the forty years of already gathered prayers.” All three were quiet and wide eyed as they listened for more. “We passed the pipe around – right over left. In other words, we crossed our heart with the pipe as we handed it to the next person. While holding the pipe, each person said aloud what he or she wanted the group and God to hear…”

“What’d you pray for Mom,” asked James, “or was it personal?”

“I asked God to grant peace, love, and happiness to the all children of the world; to bless my two sons. Then I smoked the pipe. I then passed the pipe across my heart to my friend, Sherry. She asked God to bless the Inner Space, a place where all religions could study, and thanked Him for our nation, a country where religious tolerance is the law of the land.”

After taking a deep breath, I continued, “After everyone smoked the pipe…”

“What about the women asked to leave the circle?” asked Jim, “They didn’t get to pray or smoke?”

“Yes, they did after we finished. Mr. Three Trees chanted a song and then walked out to the women and heard their prayers, and then they smoked.”

“They could smoke out there? But not in the circle? That’s absurd.” Jim said, “Today – in the real world – a man would get sued and probably do jail time if he asked a woman to back off from a business meeting, because she was having her monthly.”

“It had something to do with the power of the group, the circle. If she smoked during that time of month, she could destroy the power of the pipe – or something like that. It made sense when he told us. It all boiled down to that time of month as something very powerful, so powerful that it would ground the pipe. Anyway, when we finished smoking, we ate salsa, chips and parched pumpkin seeds out by Sherry’s swimming pool.”

“Sounds like Sherry has a nice place. What’d you have to drink?” asked Jim.

“Apple cider. It was a very enjoyable harvest moon evening.”

The boys were all ears, but remained silent. “There’s nothing like being outside,” Jim decided to break the silence, “That’s why I love being on Lake Lanier on a clear night.”

“Mom, you really have to be careful what you smoke and what you do hanging out in a pasture at night…”
“I’m sure Mom knows what she’s doing, Jon,” interrupted James.

“More coffee?” asked a polite waitress.

“Yes, please,” I replied, thankful to change the subject.

We all began to chatter at the same time, and the healing circle was soon forgotten. We left Matthew’s Cafeteria with hugs and kisses. As I opened my car door, my son, Jon, yelled out across the parking lot, “Mom! How do you get seven herbs out of three trees?”

“His name was Mr. Three Trees!”

“Oh, yeah, that’s right.”

We left Matthews by way of Main Street – each in our own separate car – going our own separate way – until next time.

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“Find me a house on some acreage, something that backs up to a lake or better yet, to a state park with some sort of reserve. Diane, I just can’t take the barking dogs anymore! I tell you, the dogs in this neighborhood are driving me crazy! I can’t get any sleep,” sobbed my good friend, Susie.

“How many cats do you have now?” I asked.

“Eight, eight cats,” Susie answered.

“I see, well, what will you do with the cats if you sell your house here, and have to move into an apartment for a while?”

“I can’t do that. No one will let me. And anyway, all of the cats but two are feral. And, they wouldn’t be happy in an apartment. They are not happy now. They are spraying everything in sight. Those dogs bark twenty-four seven, and the owners act like – ‘who doesn’t like dogs?’ You should see the way the neighbors look at me. I can’t take any more dirty looks.”

“Why would they do that?”

“I guess because I’ve called the cops so many times. Diane, you don’t know how bad this situation is. And I am tired of moving, but I can’t get any sleep. I have to work at night. The daytime is the only time I can sleep. I explained that to the neighbors that I’m a night-shift nurse. I need to sleep during the day.”

“What was their response?”

“Another slammed door!”

“I’m surprised you moved out of that retirement community.”
“I thought that would be perfect too. No big wheels, no loud music, just older people. Some of them did their own yard work, and I heard lawnmowers and weed eaters from sun up to sun down. The noise was constant. Please find me something in the country,” sobbed Susie.

“I thought you had acreage here in Stone Mountain.”

“I do, I thought this would be the perfect place. I’m on almost three acres, but am surrounded by houses and they all have dogs. Dogs that bark at my cats all the time…”

“I see, we’ll have to go pretty far out and even then, folks in the country like having hunting dogs and dogs for security. How far away from the hospital can you be?”

“Distance doesn’t matter. I work the night shift and my training is in demand. I can work most anywhere, maybe Rome or Dawsonville. It doesn’t matter.”

“Susie those places are more built out than you may think.”

“Diane, I don’t care. Just find me a house, a trailer, a log cabin – anywhere my cats will be happy.”

“I’ll get on it right away.”

As I searched for a home for my good friend, Susie, I came to the realization that no such place existed. Every place I previewed, I heard at least an occasional bark. People have dogs in the country. And a Realtor cannot guarantee a bark free property. Susie is a perfectionist. She is the very one any sick or hurt person would want to care for them in dire need. But trying to fit into a casual relaxed neighborhood situation was almost impossible. She was one-hundred per cent devoted to her patients and cats. No dogs allowed.

The desperation in Susie’s voice reminded me of the days gone by in Tucker with my baby sister, Barbara. Barbara became just as frustrated with perfection. My older sister, Patricia, and I always found ways to keep ourselves entertained, usually together. Barbara insisted on playing with a worn out stuffed  monkey, Monk-Monk, a blonde doll, Sally, and a mason jar of cat-eye marbles. As a child, Barbara sat Monk-Monk and Sally near her to carry on a conversation. And then, she opened up a quart jar of marbles, and spoke to each marble – commanding them to do her bidding. Day after day, she ordered each marble to stand still and stay in a straight line, and most of the time the marbles did cooperate until she got to about the twentieth marble. Slowly but surely, one insubordinate marble broke ranks and rolled away. This disturbed the other marbles and they followed suit, one by one. This behavior made Barbara furious. She stomped her foot and bawled out each marble. Then she cried. Monk-Monk and Sally always agreed with Barbara.

I wish I could say this went on for a short period of time, such as a few weeks or months. But the truth is, Barbara argued with her army of marbles for at least a year or two. I often felt a need to help her.

“You know that those marbles can’t hear you. They don’t have a mind at all. And they are round. Why don’t you line them up against the wall or a groove in the hardwood floor?  That will keep them in line.”

“No, I told them what to do!” replied Barbara.

Barbara Gail Story and Sally

Barbara Gail Story and Sally

“I tell you marbles can’t think! They can’t hear you!”

“Diane, leave your sister alone,” called out Mama.

“But Mama, she thinks the marbles are moving to be mean…”
“You sweep around your own backdoor and let your sister take care of her business.”
“But I’m finished sweeping around my backdoor, and she…”

“She will learn. She’s just a little girl. Now, go find something else to do with your time and leave Barbara alone,” said Mama.

And Daddy was no help either. When he walked past Barbara arguing with the marbles, he encouraged her by patting her on the head and saying, “That’s right Bob, you make ‘em mind!”

For years, Barbara trained her marble troops. She sometimes punished them by making them live in another jar. But no matter what, the marbles did not obey. The situation always ended with at least one insubordinate marble and lots of frustration. It’s the law of nature. Marbles roll, and dogs bark at cats.

“All people die,” explained my five year old cousin, Linda, after watching television at Linda’s Henderson Road home in Tucker. The movie showed the awful truth about dying – a shock to a four year old.

“Yeah,” said her neighbor Gary, “You die and they put you in a grave, and you turn to bones.”

“Well, I’m gonna talk to Aunt Nancy about that!” I said as I left the room. She was in her kitchen when I found her.

“Aunt Nancy, is it true that all people die and are put in the grave and turn to bones?”

“Why do you ask, Diane?”

“’Cause that’s what happened to this man on TV and they buried him. Gary says all people turn to bones in the ground.” I could not contain myself any longer. I jumped in her arms and trembled with fear.

“Oh good Lord! What are y’all watching? You were watching cartoons when I left the room. Now, there, there,” she said while rubbing my back. “There’s no reason to be afraid of death. It’s as natural as living.”

Well, to me, it actually seemed like a bad trick to play on someone. Just when I was really enjoying life, I had to find out that I have to do death too. I did not like it, and was frightened.

“What are you most afraid of Diane?” Aunt Nancy asked me, as she gently rocked me in her arms.

“I don’t want to be buried and turn to bones.”

“Well, maybe you won’t have to.”

I was all ears.

She put me down and said, “Follow me.”

Aunt Nancy took my hand and led me into the no enter zone – her living room. It was a big room with shiny hardwood floors. That room stayed spotless, because she did not allow anyone to enter unless you were important company. And when we did have to cross through that room to get to the other parts of the house, we took our shoes off. But today was different. For some reason, I was the important company. We sat down on the sofa as she turned her attention to the family bible on the coffee table. She opened the huge book up and thumbed through the pages, “Let’s see now. I believe that’s in Kings. Here it is. Everything in this book is God’s holy word. You can believe it girl! Now Diane, I want you to listen to this.”

 

And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. II Kings 2 verse 11

 

“What do you think about that?” asked Aunt Nancy. “And just look at this picture.”

“Wow! It’s beautiful!”

And it really was beautiful. The picture covered both pages of the Bible. A golden chariot pulled by a team of white horses took an old man with a red wrap on – across the sky.

A stream of light opened up the heavens, and the chariot was ushered into Heaven by golden flames of fire with little bits of twinkly sparks of fire all about. I could not take my eyes off the picture.

“That man is Elijah. He was favored by God – so much that he was not put in a grave when he died. In fact, he did not die at all. God took him straight to Heaven in that chariot!” explained Aunt Nancy. “Now tell me what you think about that.”

“I want to go in a chariot too. Do you think that’s possible?

“You can always ask. Asking won’t hurt a thing. God likes for you to talk to Him about everything. That’s what He loved so about Elijah. God and Elijah were like best friends. They were always together – always in Elijah’s heart. And who knows, He did it once, He could do it again!”

What a relief! Every time I visited Aunt Nancy’s house, I asked to see Elijah and the chariot. She left the book open to that page, and I had permission to look at it anytime – just so long as I took my shoes off and sat quietly on the sofa. I loved that picture and I can still see it today in my mind’s eye. Aunt Nancy would walk by me as I admired the picture and every time she said, “He did it once, He can do it again!”

I told God how I felt and asked Him to send a chariot to take me to Heaven when it was my turn to die – just like Elijah. I convinced myself that He would do that. And what a wonderful thing! I was no longer afraid of dying.

Months later, I went on a fishing trip to Clarke Hill Lake in Lincolnton, Georgia with my family, and the family of my father’s other sister, Sarah. Back in the fifties, Atlanta’s population was only about two-hundred thousand. We did not have the restaurants and shopping centers that we have today. We found entertainment mostly with family, who enjoyed playing Rook, and bluegrass music. Family outings were my number one way to have fun, especially since I had so many cousins.

And this trip was no exception. We met early one morning and drove a few hours to the Story home-place in Lincolnton County. The Story family moved from Lincolnton to the Atlanta area when my father was five years old. His family loved to go back to Lincolnton when the water was low, so that they might catch a glimpse of the chimney of their old home.

The day started out with plenty of excitement. Mama, Aunt Sarah, and my teen aged cousin, Pheobe, unpacked picnic baskets while Daddy and Uncle Doc pushed their small boat into the water. Daddy gave strict orders to Pat and I, “Stay with your mother and do what she says.” Mama had her hands full with lunch and taking care of my two year old sister, Barbara. My five year old cousin, Roy, wanted to go fishing with the men. He was told to stay with the girls. He was not happy. His older brother, Gene, was invited to go fishing with the men. But Gene decided to stay with Roy, and go fishing with the men after lunch. After a while, Gene went swimming on his own.

Gene was tall with dark hair, and boy could he swim! Gene swam way out into the deep. I watched him as he swam gracefully away and disappeared from sight. How easy he made swimming appear, barely disturbing the water. One day I’d be big and would swim like that. I wanted to learn.

“Mama, can I swim?”

Gene Graves

Gene Graves

“Will you be careful?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Okay, but don’t go out too far, stay close.”

I could not believe I had Mama’s permission. I ran into the water and really just played at getting wet. But I listened to Mama, and was determined to obey her so she would continue to say “yes” to me. My sister, Patricia, said that was the trick to staying on Mama’s good side. In my excitement, I got farther away from the group. In fact, I was at the opposite side of the cove, but I was still within three feet of the bank. I knew Mama meant to stay close to the bank, and I did. I looked out and strained my eyes to see Gene. He was nowhere in sight. I tried to imitate him as I lied down on my stomach and lifted my arms and legs up. I could at least pretend to swim.

Suddenly, an invisible hand grabbed my foot and pulled me backwards. I was sucked under the bank, and pulled into a whirlpool. The roots of the trees grabbed and strangled me. Earth covered me. I fought with all my strength, and made a desperate dive for the opening. I barely made it, and was able to get a gulp of fresh air. And then it grabbed my foot again. Back under the bank I went.  I struggled, and again broke loose from the roots, and made it back just long enough for another gulp of fresh air. But  the current was too strong, and I could not escape. Back under I went.

On the way back in, I heard a loud umpire scream in my head, “three strikes and you’re out!”

I know, I know. I have to get out of here! I struggled. I fought with all my heart and soul.  But to no avail, my energy was spent. I wanted to sleep. In a far away distance, I heard Mama and Daddy say, “Night, night. Sweet dreams.”

I succumbed to the hairy roots and wet darkness. I was exhausted. I relaxed and let the roots take me. It was dark. I could not see anything.

For some strange reason the solid bank above me opened up, and I saw a bright light come streaming through. My dark watery grave was full of the brightest sunshine I have ever seen, yet the brightness soothed my eyes. Tiny twinkling stars began to glitter all about me, as though they were communicating with me, telling me not to be afraid. I was not afraid. I was comforted when I noticed that the glittery lights looked just like the twinkling bits fire in Aunt Nancy’s picture of Elijah being taken Up Yonder in a chariot. I felt a sense of joy, and a strange tingling sensation throughout my body from head to toe. I smiled as my body smiled back at me. The horses. Where are the horses. Many voices surrounded me as they whispered, “They’re coming. Be patient, they’re coming.” I blacked out, and never saw the horses, but I did feel the chariot swoop me up.

My last thought was – I’m dying.

That is all I remember until I woke up on the bank of Clarke Hill. The first thing I saw when I opened my eyes, was my mother’s face. She looked different. Oddly, she had dark circles around her eyes. Those circles eventually lightened up but never completely went away. But on that day the circles around Mama’s eyes were very dark. She held me and cried. She threatened to spank me.

Oh yes, and the chariot that God sent for me was the arms of my cousin, Gene Graves.

 

Picture of Elijah Taken to Heaven, courtesy of  Clyde N. Provonsha, Artist, Copyright 1954 by Southern Publishing Association.

I was a patient in hospitals many times as a child. I suffered from rheumatic fever and Sydenham chorea. Just about the time I was over it, something happened and back in the hospital I went. Being away from my home and family in Tucker was difficult. Atlanta can be a very big and scary place for a small child, even while surrounded by caregivers. I remember one time more than others. This time I was in the big new hospital. My room was very large with four big beds in it. The halls were brightly lit day and night. The floors were shiny clean, but the best part about it was – I had a roommate – a smiling roommate.
I called her Alice because she looked like Alice in Wonderland with her long blonde hair. To tell the truth, I cannot recall her real name, so today as always, I’ll call her Alice.
This particular time I was hospitalized because the medicines I was taking settled into my gums, and I woke up one day with four abscessed teeth. And there, early in the morning, an orderly would come in and take me to the dental office which was down in the basement of the hospital. But before I could go, I had to take an injection of penicillin. The doctor explained to my mother, that this injection was as much penicillin that an average person would take in a lifetime. The shot temporarily paralyzed me and I was forced to lie on my back while they applied pressure to my leg. This was extremely painful, but the worst was over in about a half hour. Still, thirty minutes is a long time for a child to be in excruciating pain. This happened about every two days until all four teeth were extracted. Except for my wheel chair ride to the basement, I was on strict bed-rest.
I looked forward to getting back to my room to talk to Alice. We were about the same age, nine or so. We shared books, flowers, and enjoyed visits from each other’s families. Alice did not seem to be very sick. Her leg was hurt. But as the days went by, Alice became more and more sick.
“Daddy saw a snake doctor that morning,” Alice said to me one day.
“A snake doctor? Why?”
“’Cause that means there is a snake nearby,” she tried to explain to me.
“I don’t get it.”
“I went with Mama and Daddy to the garden…”
“What garden?” I asked.
“In our backyard, well actually, it’s a big field. We live on a farm and we have big gardens all around our house.”
“Why was a snake doctor there?”
“A snake doctor is a bug that warns folks that there is a snake nearby.”
“Are you kiddin’ me? We don’t have anything like that in Tucker.”
“Yes you do. You just don’t know it ‘cause you aren’t farmers.”
“Daddy has a garden in our backyard, and my Aunt Sarah and Uncle Doc have a huge garden across the street at their house…”
“Daddy saw it and warned Mama and me to look out for a snake. Daddy says the good Lord sends snake doctors to warn us. That’s why Mama’s so sad when she’s here. ‘Cause she didn’t heed the warning close enough, and I got bit by a copperhead snake!”
“Does it hurt really bad?”
“Yes, it does and it’s not getting better. It’s worse. See how swollen my leg is? Come over here Diane and look at it,” Alice pulled back the covers from her leg and I sat up straight to look across the way at her leg. I could not see it very well, but could not get out of my bed to really take a good look at it. The nurses were very strict and I did not want them to tell my parents that I had disobeyed them. And Mama would be here soon. She came every morning and Daddy picked her up every evening. I changed the subject.
“What does a snake doctor look like?”
“Well, it’s long and skinny and has wide wings. My Mama says it’s really just a dragonfly, but a special dragonfly. It’s larger than a normal one and is black and white. Not pretty and green like most dragonflies. They say that’s how you know it’s a snake doctor. You heed the sign of the snake doctor or you’ll be looking for a human snake doctor. And that’s what happened to me.”
“Did it hurt really bad when the snake bit you?”
“Gosh, yes. It really did!”
“What were you doing in the garden? Pulling weeds?”
“No, Mama was picking okra. She wears socks on her hands ‘cause the okra bushes are itchy and prickly. She needs me to hold the bucket for her to throw the okra in.”
“Where was your father?”
“He was pulling corn – down several rows from us…”
“Alice, I’m sorry your leg hurts. My leg hurts really bad too when they give me that shot. The pain goes away, but my leg is sore all the time. But, not like you, Alice, not like you. I’m so sorry.”
Then one morning I woke up and Alice was gone. I was the only one in the room. I asked about her. The nurses said that her treatment had to be intensified and was moved into another room. Every so often, I heard Alice cry and sometimes scream out. The crying and screaming reminded me of the burn victim I was in a room with when I was seven years old. Every night, they took her away for skin grafts. She screamed when they came to take her. I could see her struggling in the shadows on the wall. I covered my head with pillows to drown out the sounds. They would bring her back just before day break. She was reduced to quiet sobs all day. It was awful and now, my friend Alice was suffering too.
I wanted to see Alice, but was told to stay in my bed. When Mama was there, she read Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm to me, and encouraged me to listen to her and not Alice. Sometimes Mama had to read really loud to drown out Alice’s sobs.
One night after my parents were gone, I slipped out of my room and tipped toed down and across the hall. I peeped through a window where the curtain made a small crack. I wanted to see Alice. And I did. Alice was strapped down to a weird looking mattress. Her leg was black and swollen huge.
But before I could slip through the door, I heard someone’s squeaky shoes coming down the corridor. I ran into the nearest open door. There I found myself in a room full of high up aluminum baby beds. I walked over to see one of the babies. He was beautiful and perfectly normal, except that he had a giant head. He looked old enough to walk, but his head actually anchored him down. As I walked from one bed to the next, I realized there were three beds in that room and each bed had a baby in it, all with giant heads. I didn’t know what to think about all this. I stood in the middle of the room spinning in circles, looking at each baby, trying to understand it all.
About that time, my nurse, Miss Lavenia Lavianna, walked up to me and took me by the hand. She led me out of the room and bent down to talk to me. She asked me if I was okay. I nodded my head yes, because I could not find my voice to speak. I felt numb and confused to the point of dizziness. She did the talking.
“Miss Diane, you know not to get out of bed. If you need something, you press that button! You are on strict bed-rest! What would your doctor say? What would your parents think if they thought you were not being looked after here? What are you thinking? And what in the world are you doing in that room?”
I took a deep breath and found my voice, “What‘s wrong with those babies?”
She put her arms around me and held me close. I really think she did not want me to notice the tears in her eyes. “They are water-head babies,” she whispered.
“Will they get well?”
“Sweetheart, we don’t know.”
“They will never get well and go home?”
“Miss Diane, I cannot answer that question. We can always hope and look to research for answers. We don’t have the answer to everything. One day maybe the doctors will find a way to cure them, soon I hope. There is always hope. Okay, now young lady, it’s back to bed with you!”
I did not budge, but pulled back, “Alice is tied up! Why do you have Alice tied up?”
“Well, I see you have been making the rounds tonight.”
“I saw Alice! And she’s tied up! In that room!” I said as I pointed in that direction.
“Listen to me. Miss Alice has snake poison in her system. We did all we could with meds. But she lives far away on a farm, and was way out in the field when she got bitten. Her mother and father took turns running her to the house. They couldn’t get her here soon enough. We have her on an ice mattress part of the time. And sometimes we have to pack ice packs around her leg. We are trying to save her leg, and we will! And I promise, Miss Alice will get well and she will go home.”

My nurse picked me up and carried me back to bed. She adjusted my bed so I could sit partially up. She then rolled my bed over to the big window in my room. There she pulled the drapery cord. She opened up a sparkling view of the city of Atlanta just before sunrise. Then she turned to me and said, “This is what you should be looking at. The skyline of Atlanta is glorious! And look, the Capitol. See the dome? That’s real gold. Did you know that gold was panned by volunteers? All Georgians, up in Dahlonega, in the North Georgia Mountains, they panned that gold and then loaded up a long line of old timey wagons. Teams of horses pulled those wagons of gold all the way to Atlanta.” She smiled as she explained, “Yes they did. And they presented the gold as a gift to Governor Marvin Griffin. And now they are making the Capitol Dome look just like a king’s crown, something for all Georgians to be proud of!”
“Exactly what do they do there?”
“That is where important men and women make laws and budgets. That’s where part of the money comes from for hospitals and research.”
“For the water-head babies?”
“Yes,” she said smiling at me, “for the water-head babies.”
“Could they buy a helicopter to bring hurt children to the hospital?”
“Yes, they can.”
Then she suddenly became stern again, “Young lady, let me take care of the children on this hall. I promise to do my best. Now as you can see, this bed has wheels on it! I can roll your bed out to the nurses’ station and keep an eye on you there. Or you can stay here and keep your eyes on the Capitol. What do y’ say?”
“I’ll stay here and keep my eyes on the Capitol.”

“Promise?”
“Yes ma’am, I promise.”

Diane and Linda before the storms of life.

Diane and Linda before the storms of life.

Why in the world did I move to Forsyth County? I am a stranger here. Not even a familiar landmark to comfort me. And here I sit in the waiting room of a Forsyth County hospital on Highway 20 at the 400 Autobahn, in a town with multiple lanes of traffic as far as the eye can see. I sit here alone with my ex-husband, Jim, waiting for a miracle, at three o’clock in the morning. It’s July, but you would never know it. Except for the two of us, the waiting room is empty and the air conditioner is set to cool dozens. It’s just Jim and I and a bubbling fish tank in a freezing room.
I am here because of a telephone call. It was Jim. He said, “I hate to call you at this hour, but Jon is in the hospital – up in Cumming. When they started talking exploratory surgery, I knew it was time to call you.”
I left for the hospital immediately. The dark sky was pouring buckets of rain with strong winds. It was impossible to stay dry. Not thinking about how cold the hospital would be, I did not take a wrap or dry clothes. I just wanted to get to my son.
So there we sat, worried and watching the rain come down like sheets on the hospital windows. From where I sat, I faced a wall that had words on it:

 

And He sent them to preach the kingdom of God, and to heal the sick. Luke 9:2

I tried to focus on the words, but worry pushed them aside. I tried to pray, but the only words I could think of were – “Help, please help.”
“Exactly, what did the doctor say, Jim?”
“All the tests came back negative. They don’t know why he’s in pain…”
“How much pain?”
“Excruciating – in the stomach area.”
“What about appendicitis?”
“Negative. They don’t know what it is. They have to go in there and look around. That’s what the doctor said. They just left before you walked in.”
“Maybe he will be all right. What did you think about the doctor?”
“Didn’t have time to really talk to him all that much. He told them to get him into the O.R. and they rolled him out.”
“Sounds like they were in a hurry.”
“Yes, it did to me too. But I believe he’ll be okay. I have a good feeling about it.”
I sat there shaking from worry and the cold. Jim nodded off to sleep. I was aggravated at myself for not working harder at prayer. I tried again and again, but could not focus. I went into the chapel and sat in a chair and looked at the cross. “Lord, please help my son. He has a stressful job and a baby on the way. His wife is on bed-rest, because my grandson is insisting on coming too soon. We know he has an ulcerated stomach. Of course, I know You already know all of this, but for some reason I feel like I need to explain it.” I went back out into the huge empty waiting room. Jim was sawing logs. I sat down and tried to resume my prayer. I could not. I could only focus on the cold.
I recalled a time on Morgan Road in Tucker when I felt this cold in the hot summer time. It was at my Uncle Doc and Aunt Sarah’s house. Aunt Sarah was my father’s sister, number three of the Story children, my father, Tom, was number eight.
Aunt Sarah and Uncle Doc lived across the street diagonally from our house. In the summer-time, we worked with Aunt Sarah and Uncle Doc in their big garden. The kids shucked corn or shelled butter beans. One night, Aunt Sarah and my mother took the vegetables we worked on and made homemade soup for dinner. Later that evening, my father and uncle churned homemade ice cream out under Aunt Sarah’s backyard trees. We little cousins ate all the ice cream our tummies could hold and started shaking with cold. Aunt Sarah brought out one of her handmade quilts and wrapped the little cousins up together. We huddled together and shivered trying to get warm. The next day, Aunt Sarah called to let us know that her son, Roy, woke up this morning with the chicken pox. All the little cousins got the chicken pox. We had incubated together.

Patricia, Roy and Linda

Patricia, Roy and Linda

Jim now awake asked, “What ya smiling about?”
“Oh, nothing.”
“Sure you’re smiling about something…”
“Oh, just thinking about something that happened a long time ago in Tucker…”
“Oh yeah! Your roots are in Tucker Tiger town! Let’s hear your roar!” laughed Jim.
I know Jim was trying to cheer me, but I was not in the mood. This was a serious situation. I ignored him and quickly focused again on our son – in the operating room. And Jim nodded off.
Tucker Tigers! Please. This was not a time to be teased, though I know Jim had good intentions. He thinks humor will fix anything. I must focus on being serious and pray again. “Help,” was all I could think of to say. Thunder was booming and the storm raged on. I recalled a time back in Tucker when I got caught out in a bad storm.
I had spent the night at Judy Falandys’ house on Oak Avenue in Tucker. The lake in Tucker had been drained and we talked Judy’s mother into letting us go to the Tucker Pool by walking across the waterless lake. The roots of trees were exposed while the weeds were taller than us. It was quite an adventure, and not all that easy getting in and out of the big hole of a lake.
Judy and I showered ourselves clean at the pool. We joined our friends poolside. But before long, the thunder, wind and rain rolled in. It came suddenly and we had to get home. It was too dangerous to go back across the dried up lake, and too far to walk around it to her house. We took a short cut – up Ball Park Drive to Chamblee Tucker – to get to my house on Morgan Road.
As we crossed Chamblee Tucker to Morgan, an old turquoise car pulled over. It was packed full of the hunkiest Tucker Tigers football players ever. One of them shouted, “Get in! We’ll take you home! We have room. You can sit on our laps!”
Yes, they knew where I lived because they knew my Tucker Tiger Drill Team sister, Pat. Judy started toward the car. I suddenly had a three second movie run through my mind. I saw my mother’s face as she stood on the front porch and saw Judy and I pile out of that turquoise car full of Tucker’s finest! I grabbed Judy’s arm and shouted, “Oh no, we like a good storm! Don’t we Judy?” Judy looked at me like I had lost my mind. “Come on Judy! Where is your sense of adventure? We crossed a lake today and now we’re gonna walk through a storm! Come on! This is great!”
The trees were bending with the wind and water, and I was looking about for a funnel. It really was a bad one. But I had rather meet the wrath of a tornado than my mother. Judy and I walked to my house, without the help of those perplexed jocks. The boys could not believe it. They drove slowly passed us, stopping periodically shouting, “Really, we can make room!”
“No!” I shouted back, “I love the rain!”
“The rain is slowing up,” said Jim.
“What?”
“The rain is slowing up. Where have you been? A million miles away?” asked Jim.
“No, just wondering why it is taking so long. Did they say how long the surgery would take?”
“Di, the doctor didn’t hang around long enough to ask questions. It’s been almost three hours already. Looks like the sun is beginning to come up. He’ll be out soon. I hope so anyway.”
Jim nodded off. That man could sleep anywhere. There I sat alone, just the fish and me and those words on the wall.

And He sent them to preach the kingdom of God, and to heal the sick. Luke 9:2

What perfectly wonderful and beautiful words. And Jim was right, the rain was slowing down and I could see an orange hew of color peeping up over the trees. And beyond those trees was the never ending line of cars and trucks, all going somewhere. The streets are one big parking lot during rush hour traffic. Oh, how I longed for Tucker – the days when I knew everybody and knew I was home. Why in the world had I moved way up here in Forsyth County?
I tried to focus and pray, but I could not. “Help, we are in the trenches here,” was all I could get out. No eloquent words here. My mind drifted back to Tucker again. When I thought of Tucker, the time went by faster and I didn’t feel so cold. I found myself on Henderson Road.
My cousin, Linda Goss lived on Henderson Road. Linda’s mother was my father’s baby sister. Aunt Nancy was the ninth child in the Story family.
One day at Linda’s house, we spent hours writing songs to her father’s brother, Uncle Bill, who was away in the military. We wrote about the beautiful world that God made. Our little songs were written on Rainbow tablets. We wrote all the songs to the tune of – I Shall Not Be Moved.
We really wanted to go outside, but Linda and Aunt Nancy had just gotten new perms and Linda was not allowed out in the “dampness.” We asked time and time again to go out to play, but Aunt Nancy said it had to be “bone dry or Linda’s perm would be ruined.”

Nancy and Carl Goss with Tom Story

Nancy and Carl Goss with Tom Story

The rain slowed down to a drizzle that day at Linda’s house, just like the rain slowed down here at the hospital today. Oh, how I missed living in Tucker. Why in the world did I move so far away? The traffic, that’s why. I could not work here and drive to and fro from Tucker. The traffic on 400 and I-285 is a killer and I have no patience. Here in Forsyth County, I’m just four miles from my office. I am very happy here. But here, today in this hospital, I longed for familiarity. Every time I tried to pray for my son, my mind wandered to Tucker.
Linda and I tried everything imaginable to get out of that house.
With all that songwriting, we had been inspired to go to Heaven and not Hell. And with all this rain available, we made the decision to get baptized. We were both very young then, and did not contemplate going before the church with this revelation. All we had to do was get Aunt Nancy to let us out of the house and into the rain. Linda would baptize me, and then I would baptize her.
Finally Linda remembered that, “Diane left her little doll out in the woods, down the bank, next to the creek.”
That’s right – I remembered it too. And now Aunt Nancy was aware of it. And how I missed my doll and surely she would ruin in the rain. Linda hoped that the creek did not get out and whisk the little doll away. I cried. Linda cried. Aunt Nancy tied our heads up with stiff plastic rain bonnets. She put raincoats on us. She gave us an umbrella.
“Linda Sue, if you get your hair wet, your perm will be ruined tomorrow. Your Aunt Miriam (Story child number five) spent all day here yesterday perming our hair. Now you go straight down that bank and get that doll and get yourself back in here! Do not doddle! Do you hear me? Both of you! Do you hear me?”
“Yes ma’am,” we said in unison.
Finally, we were out of that house and carefully made our way down the slippery steep back-door steps. We gingerly walked to the woods at the edge of Linda’s backyard, and down the bank we went. When we were sure to be out of sight, we threw down the umbrella and Linda leaned me back in her arms and allowed the rain to soak my face. She said, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.”
Now it was her turn. “Be careful not to let my hair get wet,” she reminded me.
I put my arm around her shoulders as she leaned back and said, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.” The rain bounced off her plastic rain bonnet, but her hair was safe and dry. It was time to go back and say we could not find the little doll and get out of this rain. Only thing, the umbrella was gone. We ran all the way down the slippery bank and followed the creek. And there it was! The current was taking Aunt Nancy’s umbrella away – really fast. Linda and I ran after it, but the current was too fast for us. We ran faster, and the faster we ran, the harder it rained. We passed the back of several houses along Henderson Road. We really tried hard to catch that run-away umbrella. Linda was a year older than me and was out running me by a bit. But every time Linda almost had the handle, the current took the umbrella away.
I saw the hopelessness of the situation and yelled out to her over the rain, “Linda! Listen! We are almost at Tucker Elementary, why don’t we go there, cross Lavista to Doc Newsom’s house? Daddy’s working over there today! We can get him to drive us back to your house!” Linda ignored me. I shouted louder, “If Daddy’s not there, we can go next door to Emory Plunkett’s house. He or Marie can drive us back to your house! They are nice people! They gave us our dog, Rusty! The cocker spaniel. Remember? Linda! We have to get out of this rain!”
Linda must have heard me, because she looked back at me, and her eyes were as big as saucers. And then a miraculous thing happened! She dug in and her little legs out ran that current, and saved Aunt Nancy’s umbrella. We had to sit down a while to catch our breath. We then hurried as fast as we could to back track our way to Linda’s house.
Linda and I climbed up the bank and regained our composure as we steadied the umbrella over our heads. We took tiny obedient baby steps as we walked across the backyard to the back door steps. And there at the top of the steps was Aunt Nancy. She had a pink towel tied around her head which was topped off with her own plastic rain bonnet. She had on a raincoat and rain boots. She was about six feet tall, but standing at the top of those steep steps, she looked even taller. And – number nine was not happy. Linda and I froze in our tracks. We were in big trouble. Then I realized, I was not in big trouble at all, but it was Linda that was in big trouble.
“Linda Sue Goss!” shouted Aunt Nancy.
I turned to look at Linda to see why her mother was so upset with her. And, we were not going to have to wait until tomorrow. Linda’s perm was ruined – just ruined!
I was jolted from Tucker back to the Forsyth County hospital as I saw a young man in blue scrubs coming toward me. He was almost running.
“My son?”
He took my hand, looked me in the eyes and said, “He’s going to be okay. I removed his appendix. I don’t know why the tests came back negative, but…” He stopped talking for a moment and tried to catch his breath. He noticed I was staring at his name tag. “Please allow me to start over, I’m…,” but he stopped in mid sentence and shook his head as though to clear his thoughts. “I can’t explain it, but the whole time I was operating, I had a tremendous pull on me to finish quickly. It was like someone screaming at me to hurry up and get out to the waiting room, because someone out there is worried sick!”
I could not take my eyes off his name tag.
He took another deep breath, “I apologize. Please, allow me to introduce myself. I’m the surgeon who operated on your son. I’m Dr. Jeffrey Tucker…”
The doctor continued to speak, but I cannot tell you what he said. Although I had one eye on him, my other eye was on the words on the wall. As I looked past the words on the wall – out into the sunrise – the words came to me that I really wanted to say. I pretended to listen to the doctor, but I was involved in a private conversation.
Oh my awesome Father! Thank You for the rain, thank You for the sunrise and thank You for all that traffic. Traffic means You have blessed this community with commerce. Traffic means folks are busy with their lives and soon my son will join them. But most of all Father, thank You for Tucker.