Saturday, April 20, 2013

Jesus-Hair Grass

Part III of Sun Jelly Pastures

     Maynard's first inkling that something was terribly wrong with Enid occurred shortly after they'd replaced the "Whistlin' Dixie Acres" sign out front with a new one that read "Sun Jelly Pastures." Enid had painted it herself, and he had to admit, it was..."innerestin'."

     Shocking was more like it. "What're the neighbors gonna thank?" he wondered, trying hard to contain his bewilderment. Delivering what he hoped would come across as helpful praise-a-cism, Maynard observed, "Momma E, you done a real nice job on this sign, what with this here mama and baby cow eatin' the Jesus-hair grass and all. I never knowed you was sucha arteest." Indeed, Enid's painting depicted two cows consuming meadow grass that appeared to be growing straight out of Jesus' head. Considering how much she loved the Lord Almighty Above, this didn't seem all that odd to him. Ill prepared for the response he was about to receive, he proceeded with his surprisingly gentle inquiry. "But, why's he dancin' barefoot on top a one a them mushroom-tainted cowpatties, shootin' a peace sign with Sun Jelly settin' on his shoulder?" 

     When Enid turned to answer him, he immediately noticed the dilated pupil in her lazy eye. Had it been like that before? He couldn't remember the last time he'd really looked at her up close. "Somethin' goin' on with that eye a yers, Momma E? It don't look right today." Matter-of-factly, she offered the following explanation: "Welp, Jesus's been using this here eye a mine as one a them there mind-readin' portals 'cause Sun Jelly done got hisself all tangled up inside the roots a my hair just like a dang turnip, and we need the Lord's hepp gettin'im out. Lately, I been seein' that child ever'where, inside a the dishwarsher, betwixt the onions and taters in the vegetable bin, and up under our bed. I been tryin' for 'round about a week now to dry mop them dust bunnies that's growed and multiplied theirselves under there, but ever' time I get around to it, his head pops right up outta the floor, just like a gopher, an' then Jesus whispers, 'Shhhh...go back to sleep now, ya hear?'" Equally perplexed and frightened by Enid's incoherent rambling, her newly crazed eyeball, and calm demeanor, Maynard carried her over to Earl Busbee's office that afternoon. He and Earl  had gone all the way from kindee-garten through high school with each other; now Earl was the town's internal medicine doc. "I'm gonna admit her to the hospital for some tests," Earl informed Maynard dutifully. "She's got me a bit worried."

     Enid spent a week in the hospital, undergoing one test after another: CT scans, MRIs, and bloodwork. At times, she was clear as a bell, back to her regular old self, which made Maynard hopeful that her condition was only temporary. Maybe it was that new fertilizer he was using. Maybe she'd had some sort of reaction to it. She was only 34; how bad could it be? She'd never been sick a day in her life. Healthy as a horse, she was. Maynard hurried to Enid's room, having made the last of that day's 40 mile round trips back to the farm for chores and feeding the cattle. Maybe they'd hear something today. Exhausted yet hopeful, he walked in to find Earl and his team of white coats crowded around her bed. 

     "I'm afraid the news isn't good, Maynard," Earl said. "Enid's got stage IV ovarian cancer that's spread to her brain. Her dilated pupil and these hallucinations are both from little seizures she's having in her right temporal lobe. Hers is a very unusual presentation. Normally, a woman with this type of cancer would have symptoms that are more localized, like indigestion, belly pain, or having to pee a lot. Had she complained of anything like that, we might have been able to diagnose her cancer earlier." Putting his hand on Maynard's shoulder, he continued. "I'm so sorry, old friend. I've arranged a consultation with an oncologist, but even with treatment, her prognosis isn't good...a few months at best." Pressing a business card into Maynard's palm, he continued, "I'd really like for y'all to meet with Dr. Homer Owl Song, who's in charge of our hospice program. You've heard of him, right? He's a bit unorthodox, but I think he'll be able to help y'all in ways that I can't. Please consider giving him a call." 

     Cancer? Hospice? Homer Owl Song? Maynard felt as if he was in the middle of a bad dream, only this was all really happening. To him. To her. To them. First Sun Jelly, now Enid. They'd only just gotten their grass-fed beef business up and running. Neither of them had health insurance; they'd never been able to afford it. Now, they never would. Lord, what's she ever done to you? he lamented silently, frustrated by Enid's stoic reaction to the grim news.  She done spent 'er whole life, givin' you nothin' but praise and glory, and you gonna treat 'er thisaway? If you wanted some-boddy ta pick on, I wurshed you'dve picked on me instead. His thoughts turned to Enid. Maybe if she'd of been more of a complainer, the cancer wouldn't a gotten this far. He'd noticed her weight gain and swollen ankles, but chalked it up to grief chased away with female hormones and too much ice cream. He cringed, realizing  suddenly how indifferent he'd been, always looking right past Enid to that damn picture of George W. Bush that was hanging on the kitchen wall. Maybe if I'd of given her the time of day...

     Amidst Maynard's private contemplation, Enid had fallen asleep. They hadn't spoken a word since Earl Busbee and his clinical posse left the room. There were things he'd sorely wanted to say to her, but couldn't. Talking was hard for him. Feeling his feelings was even harder. His parents had taught him to be a man, after all. "A real man keeps to hisself, no matter how sensitive a soul he is," Mama'n'Daddy'd said. Lord only knows how many times he'd heard that.  The way things were going so far, this was gonna be harder on him than it was on Enid. She don't seem to have a care in the world no more. Sitting quietly next to her, Maynard turned the card Earl had given him over and over between his trembling fingers, then finally reached for the telephone. 



Sunday, April 14, 2013

Whether Help Come

Part II of Sun Jelly Pastures

     Homer Owl Song was a fixer of folks an' other things that was broke. He didn't much care to admit it, but he had hisself a reputation as a legend, one a them there folk heroes. The man had a knack fer showin' up in the right place at the right time. Ever'one knowed about 'im, but ain't too many'd ever seen 'im up close. For a fella who hadn't never set foot in church, the Holy Spirit done smote Homer good. He was, as high falootin' Pastor Bob liked to say, "a casual intercessor of people and situations that seemed downright hopeless." Now, Homer didn't go a-lookin' fer folks that was downtrodden, but darned if they didn't find their way ta him. Maybe he done swallered hisself a charity magnet or somethin'. Most folks'd agree he had the Midas touch 'cause ever'thing he done seemed ta turn to gold. Some thought he was pert near off his rocker. No two descriptions of Homer ever matched up, and that raised a few eyebrows from time to time. The holier'n-thou goody two-shoers all thunk he was nothin' more'na renegade dodger of Johnny Law, but Sister Louisa and her lazy dimwit son, Tater, was dead sure Homer was one a them shape-shiftin' bearded wizards, after a vision they seen in her Bedazzled crystal ball. Botha them spit swore on the Holy Bible they seen Homer transform hisself into a serpent that had itseff wrapped up around a walkin' stick. It warn't that Homer believed hisself above the law, he didn't believe in law, period. He had no use for authority. Homer 'splained it thisaway: "Why subscribe to the laws of men when Nature's order is so accommodating?" Lord only knows.

     The way Homer seen it, rules was "designed by people who didn't trust their own hearts." Instead of bringin' about order, he declared that "rules create fear, distrust, and more rules, and people who live by the rules are only trading the chaos of uncertainty for the entropy of expectation and disappointment, thinking they're getting a better deal. They don't like surprises. That's why they keep schedules and agendas, to ward off the unpredictable." Some a his ideers flown smack over peoples' heads, but alott've 'em made sense. He'd get to talkin' and soundin' real poetic, but he warn't uppity or nothin', he just got folks to thinkin' on things they ain't never thunk about afore. Like the notion he had that people get drunk offa control, same as moonshine. They's under its spell all right, but control don't loosen 'em up like hard liquor, no indeedy, it puts their minds ta sleep to where's they cain't think fer theirselves, and pert soon, they ain't whatcha call a individual no more. It's sorta like when a hard-headed caterpillar winds hisself up in one a them cocoons, only he don't never turn into a butterfly. He's in there all right, justa fightin' with Mama Nature, stubborn as all get out 'cause he wants to be the one callin' the shots. What he really is is scared; his fear a change done got the besta him. He done missed his chance, an' all he's got to show for his orneriness is a never-been butterfly and a has-been caterpillar. Just goes ta show, there ain't no need fer playin' it safe when ya trust in the way things are.

     That's why uptight types is so miserable; they ain't never satisfied with what they got, 'cause they done throwed the baby out with the bathwater. Homer was sure a lotta folks's problems in life was rooted in fear.  The way he put it, "fear of the unknown is a consummate grifter. It leaves a person short-changed, afraid of oneself, which ironically is the greatest unknown of all." Homer was one big mystery, most've all to hisself. Ya know how a dog gets all excited when 'is people come home from work, actin' like it's the first time he'd ever seen 'em? Well, for Homer, ever' moment of the day was brand spankin' new...maybe that's why he was never bored. Life's plumb fulla surprises, and so's ever' last one've us. Homer reckoned no one could really know theirselves, other'n how a baby knows it's hungry or cold or wet or feels its mama'n'daddys love, 'cause each've us is a work in progress. Alls we can be sure of is what our bodies're tryin' to tell us, and then try'n listen to them gut feelins' down deep inside. The rest is hearsay n'hogwarsh. Ain't none've us the same person we was even a minute ago.

      Even though Homer come acrosst as some sorta mystic philosopher, he really wasn't much've a thinker. "Thinking puts a damper on experience," he'd say. When a person's all caught up in hisself, he ain't gonna notice mucha nothin' else. A tree ain't just its roots and bark and branches, it's the sunshine that's streamin' twixt its leaves and the wind that comes a-rustlin' through 'em. There's more ta that tree than meets the eye. It's got sap runnin' ever' which way up and down its trunk, roots lookin' for a drink, branches branchin', and leaves turnin' sunlight, air, n'water into vittles. It don't hafta think about none a that; it's just being what it already is. People ain't no differ'nt, really. We grow ourselves same as that tree, ain't no one else doin' it for us. 'Cept somewhere's along the line, we got the ideer we ought not take credit for doin' what comes natural, that we's just s'posed ta set back  and watch it all happenin' from over yonder. Sorta takes the wind outta yer sails, don't it? If we ain't the ones responsible for walkin' our legs and speakin' our voice, then who is?

     Pastor Bob summed Homer up as such: "He's an enigma, a curiosity, and a threat." Fer sure, he was one a them free spirits that wasn't real concerned with what people thunk a him, a travellin' man who never met a stranger, and called ever' place 'is home. That was the Injun side a him--he done growed up on a reservation in New Mexico, the son of a medicine woman. He learnt the old ways first, then he went off ta Harvard. Got hisself a MD and a PhD in ethnobotany, then come back to the reservation ta become a full-fledged healer, just like 'is mama.

     Traditions like healin' don't get taught in medical school. Regular doctors ain't too concerned with keepin' folks well. They got a pill or a fix fer darn near any ailment, an' don't none of it involve a person helpin' hisself.  Problem is, they think've people as parts that ain't workin' right, parts that ain't necessarily connected to each other or nothin' else. There's a whole lot more to Bubba than just his bad heart. Injun healers get that. To them, health is harmony 'tween the physical body and what's surroundin' it, and disease is whatever's disturbin' the peace. The big differ'nce 'tween doctors and healers is their attitude toward patients. A set of symptoms with a few pills chucked at it cain't help itseff no how, but a person whose body is tellin' its own story most surely can.

     Homer believed in helpin' people help theirselves. There warn't a person alive that was beyond help, neither, whether help come as recovery or deliverance. He was a cancer doc afore he gone inta palliative care, so he seen his share a death. Most've us ain't walkin' around ponderin' our deaths, even though we all know we's gonna die some day. Folks that're terminal ill ain't got that luxury; the hand a Death's done reached out to grab 'em. Homer knew he warn't gonna save ever'one that come ta him, but he didn't think dyin' meant a person had to suffer. Like the law, sufferin' don't serve no real purpose in life, lest it's overcome. The differ'nce 'tween a good death and a bad one's as simple as dyin' in the comfort a home amongst loved ones or dyin' sterile and alone in the ICU, hooked up to a buncha tubes and machines. A good death is knowin' when to let life take its course.

     Dear Lord, please let Homer deliver Momma E, even though she done chased 'im off our property. She didn't know she was et up with cancer.

Yours in Christ's Bountiful Mercy,

Part I, Sun Jelly Pastures
Part III, Jesus-Hair Grass
Part IV, Happily May They All Return
Part V (Conclusion): The Most Terrible Sad Rainbows of Love Left Behind


Sunday, April 7, 2013

Sun Jelly Pastures

Part I
      Enid's lazy eye wandered intently across the weathered formica tabletop, temporarily shifting her focus from the torrent of salt her husband, Maynard, was showering over his corned beef hash onto an old wicker Easter basket that, under normal circumstances, she'd use to gather vegetables or eggs or flowers. She sighed wearily, massaging the tight, shiny skin that now enveloped her cankles. Back in the day, she'd been what Maynard considered "a real looker": petite and short-waisted with long black hair and legs up to there, sporting a nice-sized pair of melons that efficiently diverted attention away from her rather unfortunate ophthalmologic* condition.

     "That eye of yers is gonna trouble certain folks, Enid," Mama'd warned on her first day of kindergarten. "They cain't tell if yer lookin' at 'em or not." She coaxed a renegade lock of Enid's hair into place with a dab of spit before guiding her through the classroom's door. "Don't pay people like that no nevermind, ya hear? Long as yer minding yer own business, praising Jesus, and tellin' the truth, it don't matter if yer lookin'em in their eyes, their ears, or their bee-hinds," she said, gesturing flamboyantly, pointing at her own head and rump. Mama's animated pep talk gave Enid the giggles. "Mama, don't you worry 'bout me," she countered reassuringly. "Like Daddy always said, I got me the skin of an armadiller."

     "We're gonna hafta do something about this," Enid complained, fixing her good eye firmly on Maynard, letting the afflicted one dance violently upon the tangle of bluish stained mushrooms spilling out over the basket's edges. "I seen them college kids ag'in yesterday, moseying around our south pasture. They was about to help themselves to these here good-for-nothin' mushrooms, but I done chased 'em off and picked ever' last one a these up offa them cow pies myself. And that hippie freak doctor from the cancer center turned up th'other day, nosing 'round the property like he's lost or somethin'. I surely do wish you'd salt the herd's sweet feed to get ridda these damn nuisances."

     Maynard seemed more disinterested than usual. Raising his eyes slowly from the plate of overly-salted, half-eaten hash sitting before him, morsels of it clinging for dear life to his unruly neck beard, he glanced first at the framed portrait of George W. Bush adorning the wall behind Enid, then stared at her hard. "What kinda nonsense you talkin' here, Momma E?" His tone was frustrated. "How many times do I hafta remind you that our business is down 'cause people ain't eatin' beef like they used to, and the only way we gonna turn that around is to go strickly grass-fed? That's as close to organic as Sun Jelly Pastures' gonna get without payin' for a certificate."

     Sun Jelly was the nickname they'd given their only son, Arliss. Born too late and taken by the Lord too early, Arliss's enormous head had gotten stuck in Enid's birth canal for so long that he was half-blind and retarded by the time he popped out. Bless his heart. Poor thing could barely lift his head, much less suckle her tit, but to his mama and daddy, he was a true miracle. From the moment that child was born, he was justa grinnin' from ear to ear. "Don't his smile remind you of sunshine?" Enid observed as Maynard cradled sweet baby Arliss in his arms for the first time. "It's like sun jelly spread all over a slice a Wonder bread."

     They both knew Sun Jelly wasn't long for this world. Enid would park him outside in his stroller while she worked in the garden, and in the afternoons, she'd take him down pasture to visit the cows. He'd get so tickled, cooing and babbling, trying to say "moo." He went home to Jesus on the night of his third birthday, and though Enid rejoiced in knowing he was one of God's angels, his passing left a hole in her heart that never quite mended. Maynard's, too. Not being one to talk about his feelings much in the first place, Maynard drew up into himself even further. They tried for another child, but Enid had one miscarriage after another. Finally, they just gave up.

     On many an afternoon, Enid would wander out to the wild muscadine grove bordering the south pasture where Sun Jelly was buried, wondering what he was doing up in heaven. To her, the pasture seemed heavenly, so green and blessed with God's beauty. She thought about her precious son, and how he'd come out smiling. Whether he was smiling at being alive or smiling because it was the only thing he knew how to do, she'd never really know. She decided to talk to Maynard about changing the farm's name. "Whistlin' Dixie Acres sounds kinda rednecky, don'tcha think? Whaddya say we change it to 'Sun Jelly Pastures'?" she'd asked, confident that he'd ridicule her suggestion. "Well, I'll be," Maynard said quietly, looking pensive, his eyes welling up with tears. "That's the best idea I think I've heard in years."

*ophthalmologic: the branch of medicine that specializes in disorders of the eye
Part II: Whether Help Come
Part III, Jesus-Hair Grass
Part IV: Happily May They All Return
Part V (Conclusion): The Most Terrible Sad Rainbows of Love Left Behind