Tate's Hell Part 4

Tate's Hell Continued (Part 4)

Read part 1 here; 2 here; and 3 here.

(This is a fictional account of a folk story from my native Florida and (c) 2009 to me.)

Aunt Magdalen was weakening every day. She no longer smelled of violets and lye--and I pitied the odors that she either bore with fortitude or forgot after being so long exposed to them. Her hands were so delicate now, like little birds, shaky and unsure of their use, and she could no longer feed herself. But her voice had lost no strength, only gained it - as if leeching up the sinews and muscles of the rest of her body for a singular purpose. Salvation through confession.

"Jeremiah was a young boy at the time, nearly a man at 12 years. So when he was orphaned to live alone in the swamp, the rest of us thought that if the fevers didn't harm him, he would make out fine for himself. Of course, none of us could risk traveling the five miles out to him. There were more snakes and beasts than you could ever imagine traveling towards Jeremiah's homestead. Tis why no one ever found Old Jack for two years."

Aunt Magdalen motioned for some medicine which had been set aside in a glass for her on the bedside table along with a white powdery substance she was supposed to put on her tongue and drink together. I handed her the packet first and tried to gently tip some of the powder on to her outstretched, pink, dry tongue. Most of it ended up on her lace nightgown and I got a terrible scowl for it. Then her hand impatiently reached for the glass on the table, nearly spilling it until I could bring it to her mouth.

This new intimacy made me so uncomfortable. Would I one day be an invalid? Would someone who didn't like me very much be my caretaker?

"There, that's better. Now, as I say, Jeremiah was left to his own devices for a month or two and no one even saw him at church. But then, again, what could we have expected given his rude behavior at his family's funeral. Surely he didn't have a taste for salvation. What we didn't know until one day when the Wickermans were traveling down the post road, was that Jeremiah had been spending his Sundays with John Fletcher and his friend Josiah Polchowsky. We all knew Josiah and John were very close indeed, some day unnaturally so. And we supposed that it was to be pitied but only fitting that Jeremiah would fall in with those two good for nothing men and their leaning log cabins and dirty rags for clothes.

Josiah mentioned at the general store one day that he had been teaching Jeremiah how to trap birds for feathers to sell in Tallahassee and here in Liberty. He said that Jeremiah was getting awfully good at it and would be able to make a fine living for himself if he kept to it.

Of course my Pa couldn't be ready to get rid of Josiah whenever he visited. He always smelled like a barnyard and flies buzzed around him like he was crock of butter. He frightened the ladies in the store away. And the old gentleman would fidget in their seats on the porch and hold on to their tobacco like they got a gold mine in their cheeks.

Jeremiah must have been doing well for himself because he would come into the store on his own and pay cash, never credit, for his flour and coffee and salt pork. He was a good looking lad with red hair that hung over his eyes. A brown beard was beginning to conquer his cheekbones, and his eyes were so blue they were better than the sky on a summer evening. I am ashamed of how I thought of him then, but that was the truth. I hoped I could bring him back to the Lord and every time he came into the shop, I would ask him whether he was going to go to Church the next Sunday. He would always reply, "I'm sorry Maggie," that's what he called me in that familiar way of his that I was so sinful to be proud of. "I just can't," he says. "I got too much trappin' to do to keep me fed."

Of course we all knew that he was really going to loiter and smoke with John and Josiah. A few months after Jeremiah's parents had died Mary Beth Sanderson saw the three of them on John's front porch when she had to go home early from Church because her stomach had gotten the flux after eating too many red beans the night before. Of course Mary Beth didn't say anything to them and they didn't say anything to her. But we all knew then how things stood. Of course, back then, I was just too naive to believe that once gone bad, someone stays bad."

Aunt Magdalen shooed me away to get some rest and we had a visit from my Uncle Sam who was back from being in the Navy. He had just returned from South America when he got word of "Maggie" he said when he shrugged under the doorway and dropped his heavy coat and carpet bag in the hallway. Of course he dropped himself into the "best" chair and Euphemia's lips disappeared into a thin line of blue when she saw him kick his muddy boots onto the hearth. She mumbled some excuse to get coffee, wringing her hands and wrinkling her nose at Sam's stocking feet. But Sam and I were very good friends. He wrote to me in South America about the steam that rises from the trees and ground like the whole forest is one big tea kettle, and the snakes and lizards are red and yellow and green like colors from a fairy land. And the people, Sam had said, "are the very best kind who will give you their last helping like any of your neighbors here would to a stranger, Clara."

I was the one who had told Sam about Aunt Magdalen, but he and I had agreed to keep that a secret. We were pretty sure she didn't want Sam here at all, since his skin had turned the color of burnt leather and he'd been "living with those heathens and got himsself a heathen wife and might as well be goin' to hell." But he was here now, and after coming all this way, we knew Aunt Magdalen wouldn't turn him away.

"Aunt was telling me about Jeremiah Nabors," I began, carefully putting the tin coffee cup down on the table. It was still too hot to drink and Euphemia had hoarded all the sugar near her tray. She looked up from her sewing then, clearly interested in what her mother had been saying to me all this time. I figured, this was one way to appease her curiosity and end some of that bitterness between us and another way to find out more from Sam.

"Ah," Sam said carefully. "Well, Maggie and I don't agree about poor Jeremiah." I'd only met Sam once when I was five before he wrote to me, being his first niece or nephew of any kind. I thought I knew him so well from his letters though and it was strange to see him so reserved now in person.

"You see, our Pa thought Jeremiah was a bad soul and Maggie and he disagreed a lot on whether Jeremiah could be salvaged into something they thought resembled a Christian. Of course, Jeremiah and I were friends for a little while before my Pa found out and forbid me to see him. But every once in a while Jeremiah would leave me a feather or a rock or a seashell on my windowsill and I would leave him some rock candy or something else we liked as children from the store. Eventually, we stopped exchanging presents and I got caught up with helping my Pa run the store and Jeremiah got caught up with his trapping and John and Josiah. I only saw Jeremiah rarely and we would just say hello to each other on the street like everybody else does." I could tell there was something more Sam wanted to say, but he spent a lot of time packing his pipe, lit it, and began smoking as if his story naturally should end right where it did.

Fortunately, Euphemia didn't like the smell of the smoke and made some excuse to go check on Aunt Magdalen. When she was gone Sam popped out his pipe and leaned in toward me.

"As we got older though, around 16, Maggie got more and more impatient to change Jeremiah. She even gussied herself up one day in this yellow dress and hat. She marched up to Jeremiah in the middle of the street and said 'You gotta marry me Jeremiah for your soul to be saved!' And well, Jeremiah everyone knew was only interested in birds and feathres and snakes and smoking on his pipe. He couldn't have wanted a wife and Maggie is about as sweet on the inside as she is on the outside. He said something like 'I'm sorry Miss Maggie, but I really can't afford a wife. But if I could, that would be a real generous offer indeed.' Well, Maggie threw the wildflowers she'd been clutching, near wilted now, right at Jeremiah. and ran away crying.

Everyone saw it. I still never know what possessed her to make such a public fuss about it. Maybe she thought she could pressure him into it, with everyone else looking on like getting married was the right thing to do--" Sam sat bck in his chair and only moments later Euphemia came bustling back into the room and sat down at her sewing.

She eyed us for a bit to see if she'd missed something, but Sam just started humming "Amazing Grace" and I smiled and sang along.


Tate's Hell Part 3

Tate's Hell Continued (Part 3)

Read part 1 here and 2 here.

(This is a fictional account of a folk story from my native Florida and (c) 2009 to me.)

Aunt Maggie had gotten very upset by this time. Coughing and sputtering and she had to take a rest. I knew how the story ended, but I hadn't been ready for how it began. My insides felt a little sick thinking about how only Providence kept Aunt Magdalen and my Pa from sharing Jeremiah's fate. Losing parents too soon can turn anyone wrong. Baby James, my two year old brother was taken by the very same sickness that came here to Liberty one summer when it was too hot and too wet. The fever came up that morning and he was gone by nighttime.

I closed the door quietly on Aunt Magdalen as she settled into snoring and wheezing. Cousin Euphemia glared at me. I'd never been close with Aunt Maggie and Euphemia couldn't figure out why I should be the one to receive the death bed confession. I had no idea myself. Aunt Magdalen was always yelling at me as a child. I wasn't to share candy with that lowlife's son Joe. I wasn't to bother with that sparrow that had fallen out of the tree. No sense in getting in God's way since he was taking the bird up to heaven anyway. My braid was always too ragged and my apron never white enough.

"What are you doing gawking around," Euphemia growled as she stitched some lace on Aunt Magdalen's burial dress. "Here," she said as she thrust some red and blue linen scraps in my hands. "Make some flowers for the bouquet." I set to work with scissors and thread, showing Euphemia every once in a while what I was doing so she could either nod at me or tell me what I did was all wrong. She didn't look much like her mother. Aunt Magdalen had fine bones and must have been beautiful when she was my age. Euphemia had never had any suitors, but she had plenty of character and backbone to make up for what she lacked in a high forehead and button nose. Back when Uncle Tom was alive, he had tried to send Euphemia off with a logger who was a bit long in the tooth, but a very kind man who liked the fact that Euphemia never smiled at him or gave him a kind word.

I was visiting when he called and gave her some rock candy one Sunday afternoon around Easter. He stroked his beard smiling and said it was "as sweet as I know your kisses will be if I'm a lucky man." Euphemia looked at the candy like it was water and she'd been wandering in the desert. She surely did like rock candy, I'd seen her buy some slyly when Aunt Magdalen wasn't looking or around. She'd always threatened to whoop me if I ever said a word. Aunt Magdalen used to yell at Euphemia for eating too much candy and told her she'd break her stays if she wasn't careful.

A few hours later, as Euphemia and I ate biscuits and chicken for dinner, Aunt Magdalen started calling for me. Euphemia pretended not to hear my name and went bursting into Aunt Magdalen's room like a runaway bull.

"I said I wanted Clara, not you!" Aunt Magdalen's gaze was blazing fire and brimstone now.

"But Mama, she ain't your daughter. I'm supposed to care for you as you die, not some half relative who can't even sew in a straight line. You never even liked her when she was young! You used to say she was "half ruined before she was even born!"Now you can't stop talking to her and I'm you're flesh and blood!" Euphemia whined, dropping herself into the chair next to the bed. It strained and creaked under her weight.

"What I have to say to Clara doesn't concern you and if you have a Christian bone in your body you'll let me finish my purpose and then you can tend to me all you want," Aunt Magdalen leaned back onto her pillow and looked weary from the effort.

"I don't understand why this story about Cebe Tate and Jeremiah Nabors is so important anyway," Euphemia muttered and she picked at a loose thread in Aunt Magdalen's yellow quilt, pulling up bit by bit from a an embroidered rose.

"And that's exactly why I'm tellin' Clara and not you. Now go make me some coffee with a little bit of sugar in it. And you mind how much sugar you put in." Euphemia grudgingly rose up and walked out of the room, leaving the door open. Aunt Magdalen asked me to close it and we began again.

"That girl will be an even sooner death of me. Now. I told you how Jeremiah's parent's all died from a fever and he was left alone and ungrateful for any help...."

To be continued


Tate's Hell Part 2

Tate's Hell Continued (Part 2)

Read part 1 here.

(This is a fictional account of a folk story from my native Florida and (c) 2009 to me.)

"Well, I should start from the beginning," Aunt Magdalen said, interrupting herself with a coughing fit. We had to adjust her pillows and Lizzie brought in some tincture of steaming water that made Aunt's face look like she'd eaten a lemon. Aunt stopped wheezing and hacking very suddenly, placing her right hand on her chest and taking a deep breath, almost like she was ready to walk outside or get up from her knees after prayer. It was hard for me to think of this as a deathbed confession, which is what it certainly was. All I really wanted to do was put her hair up. It was grey and black and oily and hung tiredly around her shoulders. Aunt Maggie and her hair used to have more discipline than that. But at least her pale blue eyes were clear, keeping me serious,--and scared.

"When we first met the Nabors, they had rolled into town on a wagon, just like everybody else. You see the Governor had offered up land in Sumatra for 1 penny an acre. It was almost too good to pass up, unless you were no fool. And the truth of it was, all of us were foolish back then. We all thought the wilderness was something you could just take and make it as good as any other town, maybe even better. We didn't think about the swamps, the mud, the fevers - or why the Indians didn't bother to settle in some of these places. They knew better.

Your grandpa came down from Charleston. He was a shipbuilder, but that was a tricky job. Lots of folks got crushed under heavy timber or burned by the tar. Once he had your daddy, he decided he wanted something safer, where if he were killed, wouldn't be nobody's fault but his own. So he and Momma saved up some money and he went looking around for land. I heard he went to Alabama and Georgia and finally found something down in Sumatra. I would have liked to see all those places I think.

Me and your pa and uncle Sam were all learning our letters and psalms when he sent for us and down we went in a mail coach with Momma to Tallahassee where your grandpa met us and we took a wagon load of supplies with us from there.

I was surely an ungrateful child--and God forgive me now--but I'd never go through that journey again if I had to. The sun punished our skin and turned it red and sore and insects buzzed in our ears and ate at all our bits and pieces. I had bruises all over my body from bouncing around in the coach and wagon. And it was hot. Good lord it was the hottest I'd ever felt in my whole life. I even asked my momma if Hell felt as hot as Sumatra did. She gave me a good slap for that.

Well, you know how we settled in and Pa, your granpa, had already figured out the place weren't good for farming. So we started a store. A few families in the area started to buy things from us and soon we were doin' just fine. But, we'd see family after family coming in and you could tell right away that they hadn't even seen the land they was buyin' --just read some flyer at the post office. Some poor folks even wore wool clothes and came from as far away as Boston. By the third month, they were all thin and raggedy and Pa had to start charging things for them on account.

Some of them scratched a living through by hunting and trapping. And we were close to the ones that did and even built up a church. Folks got married and buried and babies were born. We prided ourselves on the fact that God must have given us a purpose for being in this harsh place, and doesn't the Bible say, "So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand."

Well, I remember the day the Nabors came into town. They had one skeleton of a horse foaming at the mouth. Their boy, Jeremiah, was my age. He was dirtier than sin. His clothes could barely be called that - there was more holes in 'em than cotton. The mother looked like she was going to collapse any minute in the wagon and her face was an awful white and green color. Her baby was just crying and crying and she didn't even look at it.

We hadn't seen anyone come in looking so pitiful from the start. Pa gave them some corn meal on account and showed them how to get to the plot of land they were looking for. When he came back inside, he shook his head and said, "That family ain't gonna make it a week, or I'm Rutherford Hayes."

Pa told us that the Nabor's place happened to be Old Jack's cabin right on the swamp. Old Jack had drunk himself to death two years before, and his brother Thomas, coming for a visit found him the next year, a skeleton with a bottle in his bony hand. Nobody had known all that time and we only really guessed he'd been gone three years, since that was the last time anybody remembered seeing him.

Living that close to all those wild things and animals of the devil was bound to kill you one way or the other, if the drink didn't anyhow. Thomas had cleaned out the cabin, but how he sold it was a mystery. I think Joe Nabors told Pa once that he had thought the house was a mile outside Liberty not in the middle of the swamp. And they paid dollars for it too.

Well, none of us went to school then, we worked. But I got to know Jeremiah on Sundays when the family would come in to church. He was a sweet boy even if he was always dirty with this clothes hangin' off his bony elbows. Jeremiah came by the store one day and told us the baby had died and his ma and pa were also sick. He was fidgety and his stomach growled. Pa gave him some more cornmeal and told him to come by if he needed help.

Two nights later, we heard a knock at the door. I'd been fast asleep until I heard the house stirring. I looked out our window, my hair all in curlers, and Jeremiah was standing there without even a torch. He must have walked all the way to our house alone in the dark! It must have been five miles.

He said his ma and pa were real sick, maybe dying and he didn't know what more to do. They didn't want water or food. One minute they were deathly cold and the next sweating buckets of water they were so hot. Pa put his hand on Jeremiah's shoulders and said, "I'm sorry son, but we can't help. I've seen those fevers before and they are catching. You best go home and care for your folks."

Jeremiah's shoulders sagged. He looked so small and so tired. I felt badly for him, but I was glad Pa didn't want any of us to catch the fevers. Jeremiah didn't say anything to Pa. Just turned his back and walked back into the woods. I watched him until the darkness swallowed up. I didn't sleep well that night and neither did Pa. He stayed up and finished a whistle he was making for your Pa.

The next morning, Jeremiah walked into town and bold as brass asked Pa for two coffins for his ma and pa, please. The other customers in the store were shocked how rude the child was. Pa said he wouldn't take Jeremiah's money. He said it was the only Christian thing to do.

The whole town came to the funeral. We still don't know where Jeremiah got the money for it. Maybe his folks weren't as poor as we all thought. Anyway, Jeremiah didn't say a single word the whole time. Just stood next to the graves and looked down at the coffins the whole time. He didn't even cry. When it was over everyone in town wanted to have Jeremiah over for dinner, but he walked away from everyone. Apparently, he was too good for charity kindly given.

We heard from the Wickermens, though, that Jeremiah had gone to them for help the night his parents died. They had turned him away too because they already had lost one baby to a fever and had two small ones to care for. The Ericsson's heard from Jeremiah close to dawn, but Mrs. Ericsson felt ill herself and Mr. Ericsson had to stay to care for her. But it was Jenny Salso who told me that she heard Jeremiah's parents had died while he was out wandering in the night. He came home without even having been there for them in their final suffering.

To be continued.....


Tate's Hell - A Short Story by Me

(This is a fictional account of a folk story from my native Florida and (c) 2009 to me.)

Sumatra is a dying memory. Homesteads built by grandfathers, faint paths to neighbors’ houses, even the plywood-covered Sumatra Baptist Church, are all of little value now. Every last, living inhabitant of Sumatra has packed up and gone, headed out like the exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt. Those that aren't living probably would have wanted to come too. They wouldn't have wanted to be left all alone in the swamp, with its vapors and miasmas, and animals screeching devil songs. But there was no hope for it.

The townspeople had been stubborn for 60 years. After that, the hunger gets to you and maybe so does the dirt, and the poverty, and the hardwork that never seems to go anywhere. Then, there were the fevers, and the storms. It was always hard to believe anyone wanted to live there. But wanting to leave was another thing entirely.

Tallahassee is much nicer even if we have the fevers and sometimes the storms. At least we also have the dripping spanish moss, and the cool breezes, and very refined people coming through with new clothes and hats and songs to sing. And we don't have gators either.

My great aunt Magdalen remembers Sumatra the way it was before. But she never finished that sentence when I was a little girl.

"Before what?" I'd crinkle my skirts in my sweaty palms and look up at her hoping maybe this time she would tell me. Maybe I could go to school the next day and tell all the children about the place where my family came from and how come we decided we liked Tallahassee better. I remember I hoped I could wear my hair in two braids and my green apron and go skipping over to Jamie and say, "You know what? You ain't never been anywhere else, but my family has. And we CHOSE to live here. You just got born here." I suppose I thought that would be a pretty fine thing to do to Jamie, since he always teased me about my green eyes and puffed chalk dust in my face.

"Before things changed," Aunt Magdalen snapped at me. But I didn't pick up on her meaning. Instead, I had a dozen questions about what things, and why did they change, and Aunt Magdalen would start wringing her hands and tell me to hush up before she whopped me one good and then I would learn why children shouldn't speak until they are spoken too.

That was so many years ago. It was only this year, now that I'm a grown woman, that Aunt Magdalen called me to her side before she passed. She said, "You had better learn the story of why we left Sumatra, because after I go to Jesus, no one else will know. And we wouldn't have just given up our land for no reason. No one gives up their land for nothing. But it was the devil, I tell you, he drove us out. And you mark his name in case you ever run by him. His name is Jeremiah Nabors. And he wanted to marry this innocent young girl named Mary Tate."

To be continued....


George Clooney Can Make Anything Better

I once had a discussion with a friend about how peanut butter goes with just about anything. Go on, try to think of a food plus peanut butter that doesn't sound feasible. Barring any peanut allergy, you'll likely find that the endeavor is as intellectually rigorous as attempting to identify the complete value of Pi. It cannot be done. And perhaps if it could, the very fabric of our universe would unravel. 

Similarly, George Clooney goes with just about anything--unspeakably bad Batman interpretations, B-movie horror flick sequels, football comedy romances, southern prison gothic--he is as unoffensive as he is, well just awfully suave. And when he cries while watching Oprah in Oceans 13, I'm still attracted to him. 

So, a few weeks ago, when I had to take my mother to the emergency room on a Friday night per her doctor's anxious urging, I tried to think calming thoughts of George, who even made ER more tolerable. 

I've seen my fair share of emergency rooms, with a stepfather who had heart disease, and my own rather clumsy tendencies. But they never fail to haunt me for days after a visit.

I should be more used to human suffering. I worked in a hospital's Coronary Care Unit for several years in high school. It was in CCU, among the many wonderful nurses who took the time to explain what medicines did and what x-rays said, where one room suffered a patient death and another celebrated a new heart, that I fostered a lifelong devotion to public health. 

Even today, I can visit the very unit, with its white floors and green moulding, where I volunteered hundreds of hours on summer breaks and during the school year. Where I answered phones and brought wheelchairs round. It was the same unit that last cared for my stepfather before he passed away. I remember the nurses who whispered among each other that Mr. H was my stepfather. I remember for the first time being a family member of an ill loved one, and how empty and frightening it felt. I remember overwhelming gratitude for their clear-eyed promises to take good care of him. As awful as it was, I remember the comfort to be had in knowing there was order to his bathings and IV drippings and bleeping machines. 

There is no order in an emergency room. People groan with pain and complain and yell. They bleed and vomit and cough...always cough. There is a television blaring with something totally inappropriate like Larry King Live or an Ace of Cakes marathon, and a clock that makes a habit of turning time slowly. 

The seats are never comfortable. They always have arm rests that are too small or part of the upholstery torn and spikey. You are afraid to touch the Reader's Digest on the chair next to you as you suspect it hides a biohazard. Cafeteria grease wafts through the air (I begin to pity the green-looking patient a few feet away) and intermingles with Virex disinfectant (a smell I know well from years at the hospital). 

It is easy to imagine it is any time of day or night, and even easier to imagine this is really pergatory. None of us feel human. We feel like ghosts waiting for entry into the next circle of hell.

You may find a friend or two as the hours tick by and your eyes grow red from flourescent lights and lack of sleep. You latch on to a commiserating soul who looks as brow beaten as you feel, and with whom you will share all the grisly details of your condition. He or she (usually its a she) will guard your seat for you while you go to the bathroom, or tell you where the coffee machine is. That is until it is her time to go and you feel her loss deep in your bones. You are reminded that you are so terribly alone on this scary journey. Until your name is called for triage. 

Then, sick as you may feel, you are barraged with questions, your blood pressure and temperature are swiped. Before you have time to make eye contact, you're tossed back into the pond--a fish off a hook. I keep thinking of the location chips they give to fish to identify their swimming patterns during the seasons. You, too, are tagged with a little plastic bracelet that will tell them everything they care to know about you. 

After three hours in pain, my mother ended up on a stretcher in her own clothes in the hallway of an emergency unit. We were both cold although she at least had a sheet. Of course, my mother's stretcher was next to a clock, a painful reminder that my guess of being out of the emergency room in 5 hours was woefully inadequate

We waved to our friend from the waiting room and her family member. She chatted with us, in between bites of fries and chicken she cradled in a styrofoam container. She quickly moved to the side, as some paramedics wheeled an accident victim past us. Our friend kept talking like we'd met at the grocery store. 

I took pity on a young woman, college age, who lay across the hall on a stretcher. "Tiffany" had been there since early afternoon complaining of chest pain. She was overweight, clammy, and terrified. She hadn't seen a doctor at all. I told her to ask for the head nurse.  She did and was seen by a doctor soon after. 

I overheard the doctor explaining to Tiffany that she was sorry for the wait, but that they had had a lot of people very ill, likely dying that night in the ER. They have to see patients in critical condition first. Poor Tiffany resigned herself to accepting a cup of water and having her IV fiddled with. She still didn't know whether her condition was life-threatening. 

I kept checking on Tiffany throughout the night. I would want someone to do that for me. 

Another nurse came by with sodas and other drinks for those who were allowed them. She was the "patient comfort specialist." Imelda wanted to be helpful, but she couldn't provide the one comfort anyone wanted--to know whether they or their loved ones would be alright. 

It is rare for me to ever turn down free Diet Coke, but I couldn't stomach  drinking anything while a woman nearby moaned into her bucket, "oh jesus." 

By 3am, I noticed some semblance of calm take over the place. The most serious patients had either died or been moved elsewhere. My mother was seen by a physican. We began to get more test results back. I gossiped with her nurse, "Tom"during his downtime. Tom used to work at the hospital where I had been a volunteer. 

Tom, a middle-aged, former firefighter told me of his dream of working in Africa one day. His teenage daughter was about to start nursing school. He and his wife just bought a craftsman house, for a very good deal. He was so normal, cheerful even. He was trying to find out where the pizza had been delivered for the staff. I watched a doctor blow him off as Tom checked to make sure the doctor knew where his patient was. I told Tom I thought the man was an a$$. He smiled at me.

And when my mother's results came back normal, and we were cleared to go home, Tom seemed as happy as we were. I hugged him.  He didn't look like George Clooney, but he did make everything better. 


Whisky Dreams

I am a lucky American. My mother owns a home in Ireland, although my Irish heritage comes from my father. Mom spends most of her time there with her partner Donal. Our 18th century home is on the main street facing a public beach and the town hall. We're also next to a funeral parlor. 

Things can get a little interesting when everybody and their cousin twice removed comes to pray the rosary next door. And let's face it, in Ireland, if you even nodded to a person on the street and they died, you're expected to attend the funeral. So, some days, it gets a little awkward leaving our house when there's a hearse next door, or a bunch of praying, smoking people leaning on our windows. 

But in exchange for a few moments of morbidity, I get to watch rainbows grow across the bay, children catch crabs on the beach, and feel the warmth of a blazing wood fire on my cheeks after a long walk to the lighthouse. 

There's whisky and Bulmer's cider  and gossip--the kind that only a small town in a nation of story tellers could come up with. Although I haven't been back for a year, I know everything that's going on thanks to Mom and her network of information. 

For example, there's something wrong with the neighbor's dog. She's a big black lab who used to be a bit high strung but friendly. She had 1500 Euro surgery on her back and since then she's been really nasty. And Connor farther down the street is becoming quite the boran player. He's also a charmer. I swear he's gotten more cookies out of my mom than I ever did as her own daughter!

And recently my mom's friend Joan was harassed on a bus by a drunk tramp. She described the man to her husband, Colin. Colin recently went to the pub with Donal and based on Joan's description of the tramp identified him at a local pub. Oxford-educated, former financier Colin, is sophisticated, incredibly soft-spoken, and has a wicked dry wit. But Donal said once Colin saw his wife's attacker, he went ballistic. Donal said he'd never seen him so mad. "Colin's built like a rugby player, if he'd have hit him, he'd have broken his jaw!"

And of course all of this has happened in the last week or so....Enough to make anyone need a stiff drink

Even with all this "intelligence," it can be easy to feel an outsider amongst people who have lived in the same place for generations, who can all tell you about Cuchulan or the "wee folk" as naturally as they can tell you about the Duke of Devonshire owning the riverbed and the new menu additions at Pak Fuk (no joke) Chinese restaurant. 

But whenever I come to visit, I'm always asked "how long are you home for?" I always assumed the question was simply part of the generous hospitality of the Irish, who never let me pay for a meal or a drink and tsk pitifully when I tell them how many vacation days I get in the States.

But the moment I step off the plane in Shannon, I feel something different. Maybe it's the smell of sweet grass that's so pungent even in the airport parking lot or the Sean Nos singing on the radio as we drive through miles and miles of small towns and sloping farmland. I'm home. 

Erin go Bragh, and Up Cork!



Of course I knew the house would be huge. It was on the same street as the Governor's mansion. I assumed, that given it would be a large party, I would be one of the first few guests, even arriving 15 minutes late.

The street is already lined with cars and I silently berate myself for not arriving earlier and missing prime real estate near the driveway. Of course, it's too dark to tell which house I'll be visiting, so I just take the first available spot near a likely cluster of houses.

Exiting the car is treacherous. I'm parked just under a telephone poll and next to a gutter, both of which are being slowly consumed by a jungle of kudzu. I keep thinking this is perfect fodder for a horror movie. As soon as I leave the car, I'll find there is no house, no party. It's all a hallucination induced by pheromones an alien species of plant-like creatures releases to lure their human prey into the forest. I pull my gigantic flashlight (for emergencies) out of my backseat, take a deep breath, and open the car door.

Its not easy walking in heels for a quarter of a mile. I hadn't realised how far I was. My feet begin to blister, my only solace being a couple I spy ahead of me walking toward a house. 

I try to catch up with them, nearly tripping over myself. Then I look up. I have to cross a bridge over a small creek and walk about another 1000 ft. There, in the misty distance, illuminated dramatically by spotlights is The House. White. Greco Roman Revival. Portico bigger than a space shuttle docking bay. Four Mercedes parked neatly in a row in the driveway. I suddenly wonder if I'll start laughing hysterically when a butler opens the door.

I've been to my fair share of fancy events. For some reason, my brain has never developed an immunity to them. Southern affectations I never had before emerge from my subconscious. I start slouching. I forget how to walk without bumping in to things or my Diet Coke keeps threatening to spill as I'm jostled back and forth between elbows and handbags.

There is china; hundreds and hundreds of orange, blue, and gold pieces all over the house. There are worn tapestries and paintings in the classical style whose signatures are curiously hidden. I am greeted by a woman in dashing gray silk and a gold torc around her neck. The hostess. She is very friendly, encourages me to eat, get another drink. 

I found acquintances, chatted around the usual topics. I tiptoed across the glorious Persian carpets (the family was Persian so of course they had exquisite pieces), afraid my heels would do irreperable damage, though nobody else seemed to care. I stood up while eating my three-course, buffet style meal. There weren't any seats anyway, other than the two Louis XIV gilded reproductions in the foyer. It seems to take a lot of energy out of me to be in places like these, that never have dust bunnies or dead batteries in the remote controls. I like a little dirt under my fingernails, a few moldy oranges in the back of the fridge (well, that's a little gross come to think of it).

Its an awful lot of pressure to live up to these impeccable surroundings. To be as delicate and pristine as the marble patterned floors. It seems wasteful to have such amazing possessions hoarded for the enjoyment of so few. I remember feeling this way when I visited an antiquities dealer on Lexington Avenue in New York a few years ago. He had ancient Greek helmets, Egyptian statuary, Byzantine mosaics for sale, for a price. I took home a brochure that could have mirrored for a coffee table book on ancient artifacts. I poured over it at my uncle's apartment, imagining what might exist for sale behind closed doors. What might I be missing of relics of the ancient world, of the marvelous that are kept in people's country homes and city apartments.

Back at the party, I hadn't had any of the Johnny Walker on offering, nor any of the other alcohol offered copiously by the catering staff, but I was drunk on wealth and like any good drunk, felt a morbid longing. I craved my pajamas, a good book, and a nice cup of tea. 

So, I excused myself to my hostess and my friends and pulled my flashlight out of my bag. The walk back to my car was uneventful aside from a few times my heels got stuck on the lawn. The kudzu remained innocuous as I fished my keys out of my purse. I revved the engine, pulled out of my spot and turned the Saturday night Techno show up full blast. I'd been dropped back into my own world where you had to listen to commercials on the radio, and stop for gas, and honk at bad drivers. I pulled into my driveway, expertly stepped over my tower of shoes near the door, and dropped my purse on the floor. My clumsiness was gone, my accent was gone, and I sighed the sigh of a weary traveler come home.  



I have a tradition with YiQi that goes back about 12 years from our earnest days as high schoolers desperate to be different and just a little bit eccentric. Through thick and thin, rain and shine, we have gone together to bookstores to wander and read book descriptions to our hearts content.

I've mentioned before that I have a rather guilty pleasure when it comes to cheesy books. As a writer, I should hate them. Screw Danielle Steel and her third grade grammar and large fortune in bestsellers. So what if I haven't even written a book before? I've written loads and loads of other things, and I'm sure I could do better than her if only someone would give me a chance. I mean I think a lot of people would want to read a book about my quirky thoughts and feelings. Right? Of course. Thank you.

But back to Barnes & Noble where YiQi and I entertained ourselves earlier this evening. (You'd think that becuase they pipe in classical guitar music that we'd subconsciously choose to behave in a dignified manner and discuss intellectual subjects like avant-garde cinema or sushi-making. Obviously, we're too sly for that little ploy.)

I was practicing my "Scot-ish broooogue" on a Highlander romance novel and YiQi was finding highly excellent typos in sentences. Somebody actually hyphenated "seldom-seen."

I was morally compelled to buy a book that mentions "nostrils flaring" twice in one sentence (the first reference was direct; the second was sort of implied). I decided I needed something to balance my stupid brain cells with my smart ones, so we went over to the sci-fi/fantasy section.

I had in my mind the kind of book I wanted to read, but was overwhelmed by the selection and frustrated by the necessity of looking at each book's binding to see if the title/binding art was appealing enough to get me to pick it up and look at the back descriptions. This was all YiQi's fault anyway. She forgot to bring me Coraline, which I had planned to read this weekend. :)

I want to make it quite clear that I do have principles as regards fantasy/sci fi, just as I do for romance novels: I don't read Robert Jordan, and I don't read any book whose cover portrays scantily clad women riding dragons.

Maybe I shouldn't lump the two together. Robert Jordan (may he R.I.P.) wasn't so very bad. His adventures just exhausted me. First, they found this one thing or person, I can't even remember. Then they had to spend 200 pages finding some other thing or person. They go to some inn and eat good food and listen to stories. Another 600 pages later and they're still traveling somewhere for no reason. At least Bilbo Baggins was trying to destroy the One Ring the whole time.

Another rule I have for reading sci-fi/fanasy, although less important, is to be sure that I don't have to sound-out more than one word per sentence. Dune broke this rule on multiple occassions, but I already was too invested in the outcome by then to care. I also despise writers who just replace perfectly reasonable nouns with random, madeup ones to sound smart.

E.g.: "in the middle of Kuth fastness of Habrigure" (Seriously. "Fastness" was a noun used on the backcover of a book we read today. However, it could have been a typo for "vastness." It was the same book that hyphenated "seldom-seen.")

Since I'm not a prolific sci-fi/fantasy reader, I had little knowledge of authors or series. Too many of the books I picked up had that awful cop-out of getting an author's friends to provide quotes about how great the book is. I hate this. Who the hell is Joe Thomas, author of "The Valiserlaifhg of Kathugurh" anyway?

And why should I take his word for a book's value? After all, if the author can't even get a Publisher's Weekly review for the back, then it can't possibly be worth $8. Yet, this evaluation is complicated by the fact that "Girls With Swords and Magic Powers" book may be the first in a series of 15. Isn't this economic evidence of people liking it? Perhaps, it wouldn't be so bad?

I balk at buying books without knowing whether I'll like them. I also grow very attached to every book I own, whether I like it or not. (I've only thrown away Tender is the Night, and in my opinion, that was an unusually terrible book. For the record, I did not throw out The Old Man and the Sea, even though I could barely finish it for being bored off my bum. Other books I don't need I turn in for credit at a used book store or donate to charity or the library.)

Most of the time, I rely on the library to help me save my bookshelves from further crap infestation. Yet, you can't get good cheesy fiction in the library. Libraries' paperback sections are usually relegated to true crime paperbacks and stories about teenagers with cancer (and of course, my donations).

But, eventually, I found two cheesy books and one semi-smart book, so I suppose I'll be ok. I had to whittle these choices down from five books and I kept finding more along the way. I really am greedy in bookstores. I've decided that when I retire, all I'm going to do all day is hang out at the bookstore and read whatever I want. ::sigh:: It's a lovely dream.


Main St USA

Savannah bus station

My bags

I told my friends I had decided to take a bus from Atlanta to Savannah, hang out with my friend Olga for 36 hours and return home Martin Luther King, Jr. day before dinner. Larry was not enthusiastic about my plan--referring to Greyhound as having been "cleaned up a lot, but still bummy." P gave me a look of pity mingled with disgust when I mentioned it. I might as well have told her I had a boil that needed lancing.  

Yet, the writer in my heart looks forward to having a good story to tell when I returned--even if I had to suffer six hours listening to a phlegmatic cough or risk developing a lice infection from my seat's upholstery. I can't bear the boring travel stories people tell at cocktail parties about the thread count of the sheets in the hotel or the disappointing service at a "must do" restaurant. Give me strange people, weird food, harrowing transportation methods, or at the very least wasn't there something strange about that Days Inn in Union City where the receptionist had bright green fingernails three inches long?  

I felt a little self-righteous sitting in the Forsyth Street station in downtown Atlanta as dayworkers in bandanas bought Cokes and a young girl wearing fairy wings slept sprawled over three chairs. I wasn't some Birkenstock-wearing yuppite, who needed a neck pillow and bottle of Perrier on even the shortest flight. I was traveler, with a junk food-filled plastic bag, hungry for the wilds of Interstate 85 South! 

I noticed that the differences between the Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson Airport and the Atlanta Greyhound station were stark, much like the economic prospects their respective clientele. The airport's palate of cream and black is complimented by a wide variety of abstract art, including a bronze dinosaur sculpture. You can have a drink at a fancy piano bar or buy an iPod from a vending machine. The Greyhound station is across the street from an abandoned building and the inside is painted in stain-hiding blues and greys. 

The Greyhound "restaurant" is a grill that has what looked like day old hot dogs under a hot lamp. Actually they had to be a day old, because it was 9:00 in the morning. Ironically, food costs about the same no matter how you're traveling: $4 for a blueberry muffin (taken from the freezer, so I was told it needed time to defrost), $2 for a 20 oz Coke, $1 for a 5oz bag of Cheetos. I wanted to cry out "highway robbery!" in the way only obnoxious American tourists can. But we all know Americans only behave badly when traveling outside of our borders, or when our flight has been delayed, or when our taxi driver wants to cheat us, or when our team looses a game-- oh, never mind.  

The bus smelled like baby powder and mildew when I climbed on. My muscles strained to hoist my backpack high enough above the seats as I walked down the narrow aisle. I chose a window seat five rows behind the driver. I didn't want to be too close to the front and the wheels, nor too near the back and the bathroom--knowing from my experiences in Europe such a position could become very undesirable assuming any "stoppage" occurred.  

We started our journey with only a handful of passengers. The bus driver pulled closed his bullet-proof glass protective door separating us from him and the bus rumbled forward around a tight corner, bringing us within a hairsbreadth of the abandoned building across the street. Instead of the lulling, polite tones of a flight stewardness asking us for our safety to do this or that, the driver--who sounded like Judge Joe Brown--chastised his handful of passengers. telling them to get off their cell phones and listen to the rules, namely: "no cussing, no smoking, and no loud music."  

Unlike on planes where everyone wants to know who you are and where you're going, on buses, nobody wants to talk to you. I tried to strike up a conversation with an elderly woman wearing fur a few rows across from me. She was on her way to Fort Stewart and got right back on her cell phone as soon as she finished answering my question. I didn't want to ask the pony-tailed man with dirty jeans anything. He reeked of cigarettes, like he hadn't changed his clothes for a few thousand smokes. There also was a middle-aged man with a vintage 90's leather jacket and crisp white hair who kept chatting up the pony-tail man. Only pony-tail man wasn't very amused with having a seat buddy. This may be because there were about 40 empty seats.  

There also was a man I thought might be a drug dealer on the bus because he kept talking about "making a delivery" in St. Thomas and how he wasn't allowed to finish the job because, "Ben was really stressed out and didn't want [him] to even get on the boat." I tried to listen in to his other conversations throughout the rest of the trip, but got no further juicy details. He later turned on his iPod so loud I could hear the Dave Matthews Band lyrics if I concentrated. He was breaking rule #3, but I'm not a tattle-tale.  

We drove and drove and I felt the steady buzz of the bus from my feet into my spine until my extremities were numb. The smell didn't bother me any more, but the empty package of Edy's Dibs at my feet kept rolling back toward me, no matter how many times I kicked it away. 

We passed Hapeville (the Delta international headquarters), Dublin (featuring four churches all within 100 yards of each other as well as Jo-Jo's Burgers and Fish where you can get a shrimp and fries basket with a drink for $4.99), and Macon (where there was a stark difference between the rows and rows of mobile homes and all the chain hotels and restaurants immediately off the interstate exit ramp).  

I smiled as I noticed the pine trees getting leaner and taller along the road. This part of the South brings back so many fond memories for me of driving with my father through Macon and Perry, Thomasville, and finally Tallahassee on my visits to see him. I used to look out at the old houses zooming by, large dots on the landscape amidst miles of cotton fields and pecan trees. 

I'd absorb all the names of the mom and pop businesses on the town main streets and look in their windows. Somebody would have a sign up at their pharmacy selling wigs and just down the road you could see a fishing equipment display next to a clothing consignment store.  

There were never any grocery chains like the Krogers and Harris Teeters I was used to. The bank always had the nicest building and the clock. 

I would wonder what these areas looked like before anyone lived here and cultivated large farms. I'd imagine who used to own the boarded up gas station or cafe. Soon a whole group of fake people would clutter up my mind. The First Baptist Church pastor's wife had a big bosom and imposing grey hair. The mechanic never married; he wasn't very good-looking and always kept to himself. Tabitha the shopkeeper only traveled out of town once to go to Gainesville for a funeral. She didn't like it very much and decided she was just as happy in Vidalia. The family living in that one room shack with the trees growing out of it were very musical, especially the oldest son who knew almost any song you asked him to play.  

At some point about 100 miles from Atlanta, you begin to notice that the roads have flattened out and the sky has ballooned above you, a brilliant blue with fluffy clouds, assuming good weather. (Why does the sky look so much more beautiful the closer you get to sea level?) My dad and I would listen to Mozart or Bob Marley or Jimmy Buffett, and I felt almost overwhelmed with how much I loved this part of the world and the stories it could tell. Even if they were just figments of my day-dreaming.  

As we entered Savannah city limits, I came back to real time and my heart dropped a little. Savannah is certainly beautiful and full of mystery, but like so many great American cities, she makes her bread and butter off of her "character." Her tour guides and home owners are itching to tell you in great detail about this or that murder, or military siege, or historical house's cost in 1888. They leave little room for stories about Joe the plaster worker who enjoyed a fairly uneventful life--but did get to work on the Mercer house--and used to drink his coffee every morning with his wife while watching the barges come in with the tide. 

This is why a bus ride will tell you more about American history than any trolly or museum. Tour guides will never show you the charity shop with the 1972 china that Mrs. Wilkinson donated after her husband died in 1987. They aren't interested in the Elk's club scandal last spring where Thom Gleanly refused to vote for Bill Robinson because Bill hadn't given him his lawnmower back yet.  

The same kinds of people riding the bus today, lived in these towns 50 or 60 years ago (although no doubt they were segregated). They were the ones upon whose lives the rest of us built our futures. Because if great-grandpa Harry hadn't gotten in that mine accident and lost his leg and decided to leave Harrisville and get a job in Factoryville, maybe I wouldn't be in Atlanta now. And his story, although not one for the history books, is my story too.



9Volts of Despair

Have you ever noticed that things in your house or in your car go to decide to quit on you all at once? My attempts to fix them are something Paulo Coelho should write about--there's always a simpler answer that never occurs to me until many repressed tears later. Perhaps, the ancient Mayans knew that one day, many thousands of years later, a blue-eyed child would be born, far to the North. And this child would be unique, for she would find order, and bring unto it chaos. 

I believe this is why the Mayan calendar ends 24 hours before my 30th birthday (2012, for those of you who want to start brushing up on your post-apocalyptic survival skills).

Alternatively, I could just be an unlucky clutz and a dangerous DIY-er. 

But I digress.

A few days ago, I heard my smoke detector chirping. It was a high pitched squeal that recurred every minute. Of course this means the battery is low and the chirping was annoying enough to get me to go to the grocery store that afternoon to buy new Duracell 9Volts. 

Once home, I drag my striped ottoman (one of two that are a sort of velvet material that really isn't meant to be stood upon, but is all I have) to the spot directly under the smoke detector and the attic door. I pull down the cover of the smoke detector and see the two batteries. I pull one out, then the other. 

I think, "Hey, this isn't so bad." I imagine myself bragging to friends at a dinner party about how I am pretty handy around the house. It feels empowering, like I am a pioneer woman baking cornbread in a wooden stove or making soap from lye and ash.

I pop in the first battery. "Easy as pie!"I say. Oh how brash and overconfident I was then! I should have remembered the lesson of the pie. What I think is easy, usually ends up being a debacle. 

As soon as the second battery made contact with the smoke alarm, the alarm started going off. I felt a bit like a dog getting hit with a super high frequency whistle. I clutched my ears in pain and gritted my teeth to pull out the second battery. Had the alarm only needed one battery? Why then were there two slots? Was there a crossed wire somewhere? Was the alarm supposed to go off until you replaced the cover and hit "silence"?

I had no clue what the answer was so, like any dutiful scientist, I decided to try replacing the second battery again a few hours later to see if I got the same result. My ears regret that decision.

Meanwhile, I left one battery in the detector and, strangely, there was no chirping. Something, as they say in afterschool specials, was terribly wrong. 

Embarrassed though I was, I called my neighbor Mr. B and asked him to take a look. He works at Home Depot and is a close family friend. Mr. B wasn't available for a couple of days, so while I waited I assumed that one battery was probably fine. 

As I came to learn, however, from Mr. B's thorough examinations, I had shorted out the smoke detector upstairs and it was likely upon inspection that none of my other three smoke detectors were in working order. 

On the one hand, I was glad I discovered this now, given I've taken up oil painting and chair refinishing and have multiple, highly flammable substances in the house. On the other hand, my stomach is hollow and my brain can't stop rummaging through all the various "what if" horrors that could have happened. I experienced a similar reaction after Barak Obama won and I couldn't believe that I really didn't have to face a future with Sarah Palin as vice president.

It being 8pm when Mr. B goes back across the street, I decide to pick up new smoke detectors immediately after work tomorrow. I can make it through one night can't I?

Sort of. I have to stay up half the night reading so I don't think about the odds of having a fire the one night that I am aware that none of my smoke detectors are working. I have to not think about the gas stove and the clutter in the garage that is near some weird wiring. I have to meditate so that I don't contemplate a scenario in which some hot sauce in my fridge drips upon the moldy gingerbread below it causing an intense release of heat that results in spontaneous combustion and a resulting fire so ferocious I am burnt to a crisp before you can say, "Bob's your uncle." 

Of course, I'm paranoid--to a certain extent--for good reason. It's true that most fires occur at night and 2/3s of deaths from home fires could have been prevented if people had properly working smoke detectors. Sadly, its despicably natural to forget about regularly testing your smoke detector and changing the batteries when mourning the loss of an hour or celebrating the gain of one. And in my neighborhood, two houses have been completely destroyed by fires in the past 10 years. 

At some point, I fall into an uneasy sleep and wake up late and go to work with globs of concealor over the dark bags under my eyes. I invest in four Diet Cokes (twice my rationed allowance) to keep me awake and as soon as 5:00pm hits, I'm out the door to the Home Depot.

I assume the choices of smoke detectors will be limited, but there, again, I am wrong.  Perhaps its a symptom of our previously healthy economy that you can choose between 30 different types of smoke detectors. 

You have your most basic, battery operated beeping devices to those that can warn you in English or in Spanish that there is a fire, to those that can be set up around the house and can send each other messages to warn people in English or in Spanish that there is a fire. And of course, there are combination smoke/carbon monoxide detectors, carbon monoxide and combustible gas detectors, infared photosensitive detectors--it's a plethora of safety devices that ends up making you feel guilty by choosing anything less than the most sophisticated, and extremely expensive version you can find.  

So, I buy three smoke detectors for $47 each plus tax. I feel good about my purchase. I've done the right thing by buying the best, the most sophisticated detectors. They're so advanced they might as well brew me coffee while they lie in wait like sentinels on castle guard. I sigh with relief as I drive home and listen to Delilah counseling a love-sick trucker.

I cook myself a delicious spaghetti dinner, without a care on my mind as the gas stove pops and crackles to boil water. I run the 19 year old GE dryer which has served my family well, but has a small problem with the lint catcher that makes it a bit of a hazard, and I blissfully rock out to Dolly Parton's "Jolene." 

My belly full, and a couple of episodes of All Creatures Great and Small on "The Netflix" and I am ready to tackle my smoke detectors. 

I put them on my bed in a neat little row and open the first box. It's wrapped like a Christmas present  in a plastic bag and then a translucent red "shower cap." I open the owner's manual and start reading. My face falls. My dinner does backflips.

Apparently, I bought the wrong kind of smoke detector--correction: three of the wrong kind. This one requires some kind of electrical wiring to work. The "battery operated" bit displayed on the packaging is more like a footnote, a backup to the real deal.

They'll have to be returned, I whisper solemnly. I put everything neatly back in its wrapping, check to make sure I have my receipt, and go downstairs to check the gas stove and dryer one more time. 

Another sleepless night. 

By the end of the week, I've reached a reckless hysteria. I still wasn't sleeping well and I wasn't making time to return the smoke detectors either. I had given myself up to the benign indifference of the universe. I could be toast or I could be Taoist. But today, I found myself back at Home Depot, returning the smoke detectors and buying the second cheapest ones available--double-checking they needed no special wiring. I spent 10% of what I had the first time. 

Of course, what I hadn't reliased was that, because they were new and a different size from the old detectors, I would need to drill new screws into the wall. More problems bubbled up like dinosaur victims in a tar pit. 

I didn't have the right drill bits for the right size screw--and how are you supposed to know what size a drill bit is anyway if it's not written on the bit? The "minor" secondary concern of how to get the old bit out of the drill was also befuddling me.

Then of course, I was a bit unsettled by the idea of screwing things, unsupervised, into my freshly painted ceiling. To rub more misery into the mix, the first detector I put together wouldn't stop chirping after I tested it. So every few minutes I would hear a high pitched squeal that pierced my ear drums and set my nerves on edge. 

It seemed a comedy of errors. Shouldn't installing a smoke detector be the EASIEST thing for a homeowner to do? It certainly is one of the most important. And yet, at every turn, I was thwarted. I thought I had brought order to find only entropy. 

I resolved the chirping for the smoke detector by doing what any technologically challenged person would do. I pushed buttons, removed and replaced batteries, until some random combination of actions resolved the problem. I had to repeat this cycle for the other two detectors after testing them. 

I'm now half deaf.

While I seemed so close to the finish line, I am sorry to admit, I gave up. I gave in to temptation and surrendered myself to asking my neighbors and friends for the name of a good handy man/woman. 

For now, I have put the smoke detectors in places where they would be effective although not permanently installed and I have a couple  of easy reading books next to my bed. Like my great-grandmothers before me, who settled in wild and dangerous lands centuries ago, I'm prepared to wait it out.