Friday, February 17, 2012

The Childhood Pediatrician

I just joined the "You Know You're From Chattanooga if...." group on Facebook and I'm having a blast. One of the posts has been about the pediatricians of long ago. There must have been only a handful of them around when I was growing up because the same names keep getting mentioned over and over and over again.

Our family pediatrician was Stewart Smith. I think, with four kids (everybody had four kids back then) always needing something checked or fixed, my mother could drive to his office blindfolded. I was a small, sickly, wimpy little tyke and it seems I spent an extraordinary amount of time at his practice—judging, at least, by how vividly my visits are burned in my memory.

The first thing that would hit me when we walked in the door was the smell. It was a smell of rubbing alcohol mixed with cruel intent and fear. Then I would be met with an assault of cries coming from the far reaches of the building. Piercing screams or traumatized wails or exhausted whimpers coming from the mouths of my comrades who had gone before me. It never boded well.

My mother would check me in and then proceed to the waiting room. There were two sections of waiting room divided by the central desk so that the sick kids would sit on one side and the well ones on the other. No matter how sick I was my mother had us sit on the well side so that we wouldn't pick up any other disease while waiting which, of course, defeated the whole purpose of the split waiting system. There I would quiver and quake in fear while I wandered my way through the Highlights magazine, following the lessons of Goofus and Gallant. Goofus was, of course, a jerk but even I, the compliant, shy, "good girl" could not stomach the sweet, sweet sappiness of Gallant. Eventually, after a trip through something or 'nother by P.D. Eastman (always placed for my reading pleasure by some philanthropic organization), I would get called back to face my demise.

Now this part wasn't so bad. A trip through these swinging, saloon style doors, a step onto the scale that was somehow built into the floor (how did they DO that?) and a check of my height (I never seemed to grow) and I was deposited into the examining room. That is where things would get a bit hairy.

Dr. Smith was a large man. A large man with a booming voice and a bushy beard who, despite reports to the contrary, did not like children. In fact, he hated children. He liked to poke and prod and torture them for his own purposes. Most of the time these tortures came in the form of a long, sharp needle escorted to the room by a beautiful nurse in a crisp white uniform with what appeared to me to be a large, paper, Krystal hamburger box on her head.

At the sight of the needle, or even before the sight of it, since I knew the error of his ways, I would haul ass off the table and tuck myself as far under whatever other piece of furniture I could find. Somehow, and I don't know how, this was never a permanent solution to my problem and I would inevitably leave the place scarred for life and with an aching back side. As if it made any difference, some kind older woman at the desk would hand me a small lollipop with a loop handle (remember those?) and send me on my way, usually with a prescription for some awful tasting sludge so that Dr. Smith would continue to work his evil agenda on me for days to come.

A few years ago Matt and I were driving down Brainerd Road and I saw the old building and said "Hey, that's was my pediatrician's office!" To which he replied, "That was MY pediatrician's. Imagine that! We might have shared a waiting room. He might have even caught the flu from me because I was sitting on the well side, fingering the Highlights with my germy little fingers. We may have started sharing our life together long before we ever knew it. And for that, if not for anything else, I can thank mean Dr. Smith.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Make Me Over

I am not a terribly photogenic person. Or at least I hope I'm not, as in "Please don't tell me that I actually LOOK like that". There have only been a handful of decent pictures taken of me in my adult life. It has become a joke with my husband that it will take about 100 shots to get a decent one in the bunch. That being said, I stare down a camera lens as if it's the muzzle end of a shotgun. The more worried I get, the worse the picture. The worse the picture, the more worried I get, and so on until I resemble a bloodhound with an anxiety disorder.

A few years ago the real estate company I work with was having professional photos made of all the agents for our new website. I was struck with an intense dread until they gave me the news: there would be a professional makeup artist there to ensure that we looked our very best for the camera. How fun, I thought! A real makeup person who knows what they are doing putting real makeup on me. I felt like I was getting to play Princess for a Day. I was giddy with excitement. Maybe someone would be able to make me into a silk purse after all!

Now my experience with makeup has been relatively limited for a 21st century professional woman with no ties to the Amish. I don't wear anything that cannot be purchased in a grocery store or the like. A splat of blush, a swipe of lip color and, if I'm ambitious, a scribble of navy blue eye pencil is about as good as it gets. The entire production takes about 7 seconds. And I'm not the type to get "done up" in any sense of the word. I've never had a manicure or a pedicure. I haven't painted my fingernails since high school. And I used hairspray once and only once in my life, with dreadful, stiff, hay-like results.

So you can imagine the thrill that set in when I heard a professional was going to get a hold of me. Holy cupcakes! She might make me look like somebody! Yee-hah!

She plopped me down in the chair and started to work. She wasn't very friendly. A perplexed and serious look swept across her face. Then she began to mumble and click her tongue and shake her head, ever so slightly. She had clearly been given a sub-par canvas with which to work her masterpiece and was losing confidence in her ability to perform. She muttered something to the effect that she had to make me not look quite so harsh. Harsh? Me? I'm not harsh. I'm squishy. A total wimp. A pushover. I look harsh? Goodness! Had I known I would have used it to my advantage during all those years of herding small children around my house. Anyway, she tisked and clucked and rubbed and daubed and, with a resigned sigh, finished off my face. She rubbed something almost white on my lips, making me resemble what I guess I really am, a child of the 60s. Then she set to work on my hair.

All my life I've had straight-as-a-board hair. I began attempting to bend it, quite literally, to my will in sixth grade with my first set of heat rollers. By high school I moved higher up the hair modifying scale with the perm. I spent a couple of decades attempting to modify the hair God gave me until I grew weary and just let it be. You can imagine my delight when my hair began to wave, not as in greet with a gesture, but as in curve, on it's own, especially in humid weather. It was doing its curvy thing that day. I was overjoyed. And then Lady Cluck and Frown took hold of it. She brushed and combed and pulled and sprayed until my hair was clinging to my head like Saran Wrap.

With an obvious air of defeat about her, she announced she was done and whisked her plastic cape from around my neck. All in all her labors had taken about 15 minutes. She never spoke a word. No "Well, this looks nice." No "I hope the pictures turn out well." No "I enjoyed working with you" even. She just turned away to her next client and squealed in delight at my fellow agent. "Well, look at you! You are so pretty I'm not going to have to do a THING to you!"

So, my life as a cover girl began and ended that morning and I will go on being the plain girl that I am. The photos themselves turned out relatively decent. I even got a few positive comments and one not so positive one: "You looked so good I couldn't even tell it was you." Hmmm. Thanks for the compliment. I think I'll avoid the camera from now on.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012


I grew up where people had maids. That's what we called them, anyway. Rose came to our family in 1961, two years before I was born. She would ride the bus in the morning and be at our house by seven or so. Then we would take her home sometime in the late afternoon, often after she had prepared our supper. She would occasionally show up on Saturdays, but never, ever on Sundays.

Rose was an immense woman, and her dark, heavy, almost 6 foot, 250 lb. frame loomed large over my life. And she was strong. I would go to school and come home to find an entire bedroom rearranged or furniture transferred from my grandmother's house next door down to our house and she had done this. Alone. There wasn't a jar she couldn't open or hair she couldn't braid or a chicken she couldn't fry. She could iron for hours, watch soap operas for hours, and rock a sick kid for hours.

The first day she came to work she wanted to make my mother a banana cream pie to show off her handiwork. Rose had never used an electric mixer before but she set to work anyway with my mom's Mixmaster. Somewhere along the way she wanted to stop the thing but didn't know how so she did what seemed logical, she stuck her fingers in the beaters to stop them from turning. Best I can tell, her fingers were tangled and twisted and caught up in the beaters like spaghetti around a fork. And then Rose panicked. Her lofty frame grew wobbly and her face turned white. My mom was able to get her on the ground and called the fire department. They weren't able to do a thing for the poor woman but my father came home and, with some wire cutters, freed her strong, meaty fingers. Not a one of them was broken. Rose came back the next day and the next and the next for decades to come but never again used the electric mixer. Or any other electrical appliance.

Rose had a funny predisposition for kleptomania. It was as if, being part of the family in so many ways, she was free to make use of our possessions as she saw fit. One time my mother took her some food after she had surgery and there was Rose, on her bed with her head upon one of my mother's monogrammed pillowcases. My mother wisely didn't say a word. After the occasional visit to her home we would come out exclaiming "So THAT'S where that went!". I doubt she ever took anything of any real value, except for perhaps the Beatles dolls, but even if she had, we really didn't care. She was one of us.

Rose continued to work for my mother and my grandmother until 1991, when my grandmother went into a nursing home. Thirty years of love and loyalty, with some laundry and dusting thrown in for good measure. Even after that my mother kept in regular contact with her and I and my own family would go by and visit when we came in town. The last time I saw Rose she had shrunk a good six inches or so and I could see her eye to eye and I noticed something for the first time, she had the most beautiful eyes. Deep, dark BLUE eyes.

We never knew very much about Rose's history. Somewhere along the way I heard that her mother was born in the 1867 in Louisville, KY. Rose had to come to Chattanooga via New Orleans. Her husband had been killed in WWII. She had a son in St. Louis. But we were really her family.

A couple of years before she died my mother finally found a copy of Rose's birth certificate. She was born in April 2, 1896. She had come to work for us, to begin her almost 40 years as part of our family, at the age of 65. Rose died in February 2000, two months before her 104th birthday. At her funeral, in front of the urn full of her ashes, I got up and spoke about Rose and, with a voice full of longing and sadness and joy, told stories of growing up with Rose as a fixture in my life. My second mother.

Rose had made her burial wishes clear to my mother. Rose wanted to be buried in a dress that my mother had bought her, but Rose's son preferred cremation, seeing how it was less expensive. So cremation it was. About a year later the news story broke about the crematorium in Noble, GA that had not been cremating the bodies but was stockpiling them around the property. Lo and behold, Rose was there. I can't remember if they found her under a tree or if I just picture her sitting there, enjoying the shade, but there she was, toe tag and all. That urn at her funeral was nothing but a vase of Quickrete. I think she would have chuckled. So this time Rose got her wish and was buried. And her son got his wish. He never paid for anything other than a cremation.

Some people assume that those of us from the South, those of us who grew up with black maids, were prejudiced. I don't know. I guess we were, in some ways. Who isn't, if you get right down to it and are really honest? But we loved Rose and she loved us. And that is all that matters.