Lessons learned with the harshest consequences are those you never forget. Your best bet is to learn from someone else’s experiences without making the same mistakes.
One thing is sure. There are few “sure things” in life. There are always those curve balls life hurls at you and you didn’t see them coming. When you get struck by one of them, it can knock the wind out of you. When you manage to pick yourself back up, you are a lot wiser at ducking future curves.
My dad was not a gambler. The best bet to have a nest egg, according to my dad, was to work hard, earn your own money, be frugal and save what you could of it. That was the lesson I learned from the older, wiser version of my dad. Little did I know that my dad had once learned that lesson the hard way. There were only a couple of times dad repeated this story. Whenever he did, I could still hear the pain in his voice reflecting the suffering caused in the learning of this valuable lesson.
It was the late 1930’s/early 1940’s in the midst of World War II. My parents married in 1936 and were still newlyweds. They were both in their 20’s and my dad had been working as a coal miner since he was 16. (He had lied about his age and said he was 18 in order to get the job. That is the only lie dad ever openly admitted telling.) Neither of my parents had much to bring to the table in terms of financial security or worldly goods.
A traveling carnival had come to town. In an isolated coal mining community, a carnival in town was a big deal. As a young man in his 20’s, my dad was no doubt fascinated with the novelty. He had just gotten paid when he decided to go to the carnival and had taken a portion of his paycheck with him. Soon he was wooed into some type of gambling game. He never said whether it was a roulette wheel, rolling the dice, or an actual game of Poker. Whatever it was, he was losing. The more he lost, the sicker the feeling in the pit of his stomach. In a very short time, he had lost all the money he brought with him. His best bet would have been not to take more money with him than he could afford to lose.
The truth was, dad couldn’t really afford to lose any of what he lost. Desperate to win back his own money so he could break even, he came back home, got the rest of his paycheck and went back to the carnival to continue playing. I’m sure you can guess how that scenario ended. Dad lost his entire paycheck that day. I cannot even imagine how sick that must have made him. I could still hear the pain in his voice as he remembered the ordeal and retold the story over 30 years later. Dad had learned a valuable lesson at a very high price. He wanted to make sure I learned the same lesson without having to repeat his mistakes.
If you’re going to gamble, your best bet is to be good at it. (How, I wonder, does one learn to be good at gambling without a great deal of financial losses?) What could you afford to pay for an evening of entertainment? Whatever that amount is, you should view the gambling as your entertainment and not have expectations of winning. Otherwise, you’ll be just another sucker and lose what you brought to the table.
What an anti-gambling lesson my dad had taught me! I internalized the pain I heard in his voice more than the money he lost. I never wanted to feel that pain or desperation he had felt.
Over the past 15 years, I have been to Las Vegas 3-4 times to conventions. The motels where I stayed all had large casinos. Up and down the strip were places that would allow you to mortgage your home so you could continue gambling. Plaques near the entrance doorways offered “gambling help” for those addicted to gambling.Every time I walked past those various gambling machines and tables, all packed with people depositing their money in the hope of “beating the house” I could hear my dad’s story over and over again in my head. I could still hear the tone of desperation in his voice each time. The house always wins. Your best bet is to know that in advance. Consequently, feeding my money into those machines was about as much fun as striking a match and watching it burn. Either way, it was going to be gone. Every single time I’ve gone to Vegas, I have “beat the house” by simply refusing to lose.
The same applies to lottery tickets. By one calculation, the odds of winning the Powerball lottery was 1 in 175,223,510. If you’re looking for better odds, the odds of being struck by lightning in the U.S. in any one year is 1 in 700,000. Essentially you have roughly the same chance of being struck in the head by a cow falling out to the sky than you do of winning the lottery. Who would gamble with odds like that? The deck is already stacked against you. It’s a lesson in both futility and absurdity. Thanks, dad. In your hardest lesson, I truly found an Ace that I could keep.
I’d love to hear your comments!
Pam Baker, RN
Posted in Gambling, Mindset, STORIES, Uncategorized and tagged Gambling by Pam Baker-Redman with no comments yet.
If you are a “daddy’s girl,” nobody has to tell you are. You know it because your daddy will always be your hero, whether he is still with you or not. Daddies like my dad and my son continually raise the bar for dads everywhere by exhibiting love in action. Through their determination and creativity, their little girls come to believe there is nothing their daddies can’t do (or fix). I am not talking about the kind of daddies who hand over a credit card or who are financially able to buy their children everything their hearts desire (or enable them by bailing them out every time they get in trouble). I am talking about the evidence of love through intangible gifts of time. One such friend is Bryan. He recruits an entire team to join him as he jumps in the chilling waters every winter to support Special Olympics and honor his daughter. My friend Jonathan supports his children in their sports and musical aspirations (even the basic cooking and baking skills). These dads are part coach, part mentor, part hero and each of them exhibits love in action in their own unique way. THIS is the kind of daddies that inspire this story.
As a child, I thought my daddy could do just about anything. My earliest memories of him cannot be confirmed. Apparently a baby of crib age doesn’t remember. The experts can’t disprove the memory I have of my daddy’s smiling face leaning over my crib wearing a red plaid cap. Granted, as an adult I can’t imagine my daddy wearing anything other than a UK blue cap, but that’s a different story altogether.
I remember the tender moments shared by the little girl version of myself and my dad. I remember him teaching me to tie my shoes. I remember the piggyback rides. I remember writing notes back and forth with him when he was on evening shift and gone to work before I got home from school. I remember the storytelling, the banjo playing and his infamous “Bottle Rump Jim” jig he did while playing that banjo. I remember the whistles he made for me from the stalks of Speckled Jewel Weed But of all these, the thing that stands out in my mind as a huge gift of time and love was the hand made swing set.
I grew up in the 1950’s when children still spent a lot of time outdoors playing instead of indoors on electronic devices. My dad had grown up in the early 1900’s when there simply were no toys in a family of 11 children in the rural areas of southeastern Kentucky. As a child, he and his siblings learned to play games and create their own fun. They swung on grapevines and climbed trees. But the 50’s were different. On our playground at school, we actually had a real swing set. Unfortunately, there was also a really long line for those swings at recess. I must have mentioned this to my dad more than once, but I never remember actually asking him to buy me a swing set.
One day, my daddy went into the woods with a double bit axe and came home hours later carrying a huge locust post on his shoulder. I didn’t ask why. I didn’t even get curious when he made several more trips on subsequent days, bringing home still more locust posts. However, I became curious when he started digging holes in our back yard below a huge Mimosa tree. At this point, I began to do what any daddy’s girl would do. I stuck by his side, watching his every move as the poles went in the ground, holes were drilled, boards were cut for the seats and chains were hung suspending 2 swings—one for me and one for my brother. Our swing set was constructed of rough-hewn, unpainted locust posts, but it was so sturdy, nothing could tear it up.My daddy couldn’t afford a store-bought swing set, but he cared enough to use his creativity and take the time and energy to build one for my brother and me. I spent hours every day swinging on that swing set while singing the lyrics of Que Sera Sera. I was a child and I didn’t have a care in the world.
We were the only children in our neighborhood with a swing set and it wasn’t because we were rich. My daddy loved us enough to want to give us the little things he couldn’t afford to buy. As you might imagine, neighborhood kids enjoyed that swing set right along with us for years to come.
Since my own daddy was a stand in dad for my children, I am sure my son learned a lot of those same wonderful attributes from him.
“I’m not a carpenter. I’m a Baker who’s a farmer. But when your little girl begs for a doll bed, you cobble something together.” These were the words of my son, Shad as he began construction of a doll bed. He is that special kind of daddy inspiring yet another little girl (my granddaughter) to become a “daddy’s girl.” With all the doll houses and dolls my eight-year-old granddaughter has to play with, what she lacked was a suitable bed for them. Thanks to a little girl’s “need” for a doll bed and the creativity of two loving parents, my granddaughter now has a doll bed that may one day be handed down to her own daughter.
In writing this, I give due recognition to my wonderful daughter-in-law as well as my son. My daughter-in-law Melanie makes doll clothes, furniture, and even made the mattress, pillows and blankets to complete this doll bed project. She is extremely creative and talented and is inspiring the same in my granddaughter. Together she and my son are a great daddy/mommy team (which is as it should be!)
Are you a daddy’s girl? What special memories do you have of the way your dad showed love in action through the intangible gift of his time and/or talents? Please share in the comments below.
Pam Baker, RN
Children today don’t have to wait for the Christmas catalogs from Sears, Roebuck and Company, Montgomery Ward or J.C. Penney to shop for toys. Children know how to search for the newest and greatest on the internet. They haven’t yet learned about budgets and the fact that money doesn’t grow on trees. Sadly, children are continually the targeted for advertising on television as well as the internet. Advertisers know how persistent children can be when they want something. This is why it is important to teach children the difference between something they actually NEED versus something they WANT. It is important to teach them the value of money and saving their money to buy the things they want most. It is also important to inspire children to be creative.
Posted in Leaving a legacy, Mindset, STORIES, The Journey, Uncategorized by Pam Baker-Redman with no comments yet.
Have you ever been a little too overconfident in your own ability to perform a task? Discovery that you weren’t quite as knowledgeable or skilled as you thought is a very humbling experience. You might find a little bit of knowledge is dangerous.
In the late 1970’s/early 1980’s, I was enrolled in the Mining Technology program at Pikeville College. (They no longer have this program since the decline of the coal industry in Eastern Kentucky.) One of the required classes, along with mining law, coal preparation, mine safety, rescue and first aid was mining electricity. Adjunct faculty for this course was a very successful electrical engineer.
As a class we studied schematics of circuits and I learned the meaning of such terms as ohms, resistance, voltage drop, circuits, etc. Prior to this course, my brain had never been “wired” to think about such complex concepts. I struggled in this class and I was not alone. Fortunately, due to some group effort by those with the real aptitude and a lot of grace from my instructor, I managed to pass the course. If you quizzed me today on what I learned, it would be a short quiz. The most profound thing I took away from this course would not be realized until about 3 years later. I can personally vouch for the fact that “A little bit of knowledge is dangerous!” 🙂 Read on for my personal moment of revelation.
I’m a self-proclaimed connoisseur of good coffee and as you may know, all really good coffee must be brewed at an optimal water temperature of 195 – 205 F. Life is far too short to accept cold, stale, or substandard coffee! I happened to have a Bunn coffeemaker at the time and it was not keeping my reservoir tank hot enough for that perfect brew. I thought this must be due to lime deposits on the inside element. I decided I’d just repair it myself. After all, I had taken a class in electricity. I knew how to do this. It would be a piece of cake!
I slowly disassembled the coffeemaker, trying to make sure I’d remember where each screw and part should be. I recognized the problem immediately (or so I thought). I spent the next 2 hours scraping “lime” deposits off the heating coil. No wonder the coffeemaker wasn’t working! The heating element/coil looked to me like the spring inside a ballpoint pen. Only it wasn’t connected continuously. This must also be a reason my reservoir tank was not hot enough. It simply wasn’t getting a good connection. So I “fixed” that too. I made sure the coils were all connected to each other in a continual loop.
More than two hours later, when I finally reassembled, I had only a few extra screws left over. The moment of truth always happens when you reconnect an appliance to the power source. I extended my hand toward the outlet, cautiously drawing back the rest of my body and turning my face away as I did so. At the moment the plug made contact with the outlet, there was a huge blue flash from the outlet. No breaker was tripped, but I’m certain my heart skipped several beats! I should have had a ground fault breaker. (Thank God I didn’t attempt to “fix” that too! Otherwise my story might have made the evening news.) My heart continued to pound as I imagined I had just narrowly escaped electrocuting myself!
I immediately gathered up the remains of my seriously defunct coffeemaker (& the left over screws) and walked next door to ask my neighbor for help. He was an old retired coal miner with a lot of common sense and I thought he might tell me what I had done wrong). I watched him slowly take it back apart, then suddenly he started getting a smug little smile on his face. He looked up at me and asked in a low voice that I’m sure was struggling to hold back laughter.
“Pam, do you know what they use porcelain for in electrical work?”
‘Yes, I sure do,’ I replied. ‘It’s an insulator.’
“That’s right.” He said.
“Do you know what all that white stuff was that you thought was “lime” on the heating coil? It was porcelain!” What you have here is a dead ground.
I learned two valuable lessons that day (after discarding my coffeemaker and investing in a new one):
1) A little bit of knowledge is dangerous
2) Leave all electrical work to the real expert electricians & electrical engineers!
The best stories are made when you learn to laugh at yourself! Confession is a good thing too. Surely I’m not the only one who has acted on “a little bit of knowledge.” There’s another story I haven’t shared about the time I watched a video on installation of laminate flooring and thought I could do that myself too. (After all, the woman in the video didn’t seem to be having a problem.) Fortunately I realized I needed a real carpenter. Feel free to (admit to) and share your own stories under the comments section.
Pam Baker, RN
The quote “A little bit of knowledge is dangerous” is attributed to Alexander Pope (1688 – 1744). The reference is found in An Essay on Criticism, written in 1709. Lengthy as his essay was, the content is just as relevant today as it was over 300 years ago.
Posted in HUMOR, STORIES by Pam Baker-Redman with 2 comments.
This is Part 2 of a 3-part story. Little Granny’s House Part 2 contains memories of my childhood visits to Granny’s farm on Beefhide Creek in Pike County, Kentucky.
Milking the Cow
Being a “city girl,” I was pretty sure milk came from a glass bottle until I spent a week at my Granny’s house. Until then, I had taken a lot of things for granted. When my uncle Vernal (who all kids called “Buddy”) grabbed a milk pail and headed to the barn to milk the cow, I was right behind him. I watched with interest as he sat down on a little stool and placed a pail under the cow’s udder. So that’s where the milk comes from, I thought! I watched but still nothing happened.
Before I could wonder why the cow didn’t know to turn on the faucet and let the milk flow into the pail, my uncle reached up and took hold of an udder. In a rhythmic motion, he moved his hand in a downward stroke on the udder until the milk began to squirt into the pail. I was smart enough to realize he wasn’t just yanking her udder. His wrist had a unique motion I couldn’t quite figure out. He went from one udder to the next, making the whole process look extremely easy. Then he turned to me and asked whether I’d like to try my hand at milking. I quickly shook my head, realizing where I’d have to place my hand. After the experience with the hen, I wasn’t at all sure the cow would be cooperative and I wasn’t taking any chances. My uncle laughed a hearty laugh and continued the milking process until the pail was nearly full.
My mother told me the story of how she had once ridden one of Grandpa’s best cows bareback when she was a child. Grandpa swore she had nearly killed his cow and my mother had gotten in a lot of trouble. As I surveyed the size of this cow, it didn’t look like something I’d want to repeat.
There was no pasteurization or homogenization of milk. To my knowledge, there was only straining and refrigeration. Milk has never tasted as good (or as rich) as it did then. (There was no such thing as skim or 2% milk.) Nobody got sick from unprocessed milk and it was the best nature could give.
Along with the fresh milk came hand churning and making fresh butter. If there is anything better on hot homemade biscuits than freshly made butter, I haven’t discovered it.
The Barn Loft
After the cow was milked, my brother and I got acquainted with Vernal’s niece Mae, who was a little older than my brother. The three of us gathered butternuts from a tree on the path to the barn then climbed a ladder to the barn loft where we discovered a vice. We cracked and ate nuts until we had our fill.
There was no indoor plumbing. Perched on the edge of the creek opposite the road from little Granny’s house was a 2-seater outhouse constructed of rough-hewn lumber. After quickly surveying for spiders, (and splinters), it was time to choose your seat. Sometimes a friend joined you and nobody thought anything of it. That’s the way life was in the country. There was no toilet paper; instead the outhouse was well-stocked with Sears and Roebuck catalogs. A lot of reading and catalog shopping happened while sitting in that old outhouse. The “paperwork” happened after the shopping was done.
Wading and Swimming
We always looked forward to wading in Beefhide Creek. The water was cool, and the pebbles were rounded. We either wore shorts or rolled up our pants legs and took off our shoes. (Nobody bought swimsuits to wade a creek.) Regardless of the half-hearted effort, we always come out soaked.
We were very smart about where we waded. We always made sure we waded above the flow of our Granny’s outhouse. The thought that there were outhouses on up Beefhide Creek never entered our minds, yet here I am, still alive to tell this story!
Just above Granny’s house was a narrow footbridge about 35 feet long that spanned the width of Beefhide Creek to the houses on the opposite side where my uncle Vernal, his wife Billie Sue, her sister Mae and Granny’s step-dad Lee lived. The bridge was constructed of logs and boards, just wide enough to allow one person at a time to pass. It swayed as we walked across it and it took me a long time to get up my nerve to cross the bridge to go visit uncle Vernal’s house.
Uncle Vernal and Billie Sue had a pick up truck and they were also rural mail carriers. Nobody we knew owned a convertible, but we got the same pleasure riding in the bed of their pick up catching the breezes while they delivered the mail up Beefhide Creek. Vernal also had a horse, which he tried his best to get me to ride. I would have no part of it. Perhaps it was the memories of the time I tried to ride a horse at Girl Scout camp. The horse reared on its’ hide legs with me on top and tried to throw me. I was terrified and I have never been back on a horse since.
Pam Baker, RN
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This is Part 3 of a 3-part story. Little Granny’s House Part 3 contains memories of my childhood visits to Granny’s farm on Beefhide Creek in Pike County, Kentucky.
Flying June Bugs
Who needs toys when you can play with bugs? June bugs were plentiful and a form of entertainment. I never knew you could actually fly a captive June bug until Granny taught me. Mae and my brother were already flying their June bugs and it looked like fun. With a June bug in her hand, Granny carefully tied a string around one of its legs and handed it to me. The June bug flew all around but couldn’t fly off because I had the other end of the string.
I was having fun until the June bug decided to fly completely around me and land on my back. When I felt its barbed legs against my bare skin, I started to scream. “Get it off!” (More laughter from my Granny!) That was the end of my June bug flying experience.
The Wash Tub
By the time evening came, I was wearing a dirt necklace and it was time to wash off the grit from a hard day of play. There was no bathroom, no shower, and no bathtub, but there was a galvanized steel oval washtub and my bath took place in the back yard under the supervision of my Aunt Brenda where I could splash all I liked.
After my outdoor bath, it was time to look each of us over for ticks. Granny carefully parted my hair, inspecting my scalp. Without saying a word, she gave a tug and told me she was finished. What she held in her hand was a live tick with its legs still moving. Without a word, she ran it through with a safety pin and pinned the impaled tick to her dress.
I have long since had children of my own and have pulled live ticks off them and smashed them with rocks but I have never impaled one and pinned it to my clothing like a brooch.
Evening entertainment had nothing to do with television. There was no television, only a floor model wooden Philco radio (with tubes) that I never remember being used.
Instead, we used what nature gave us as evening came. The lightning bugs began to blink off and on and we went outdoors to make a game of catching them.
When nightfall finally came, we were lulled to sleep by the sounds of a symphony of bugs outside the bedroom window. I never knew which bugs were making these sounds, so I’ll just refer to them as the “night critters.” There were no sounds of automobile traffic, honking horns or ambulances in the distance. There was only a sea of stars as we gazed out a window. A warm breeze blew through the open, screened window. There was no central air-conditioning, but there was the luxury of a plush feather bed.
Sleep was deep and restful and night soon changed to morning. The gentle breeze blowing through the window was cooler now and carried the fresh smell of fallen dew. We were awakened by the smells of bacon, homemade biscuits and gravy as Granny was preparing breakfast. Nobody had to encourage us to get out of bed and start a new day of adventure.
The scents, sounds, tastes, and memories of the times I visited Granny’s house (and those who were part of those memories) have become more precious to me as I’ve grown older. Maybe it was because of the simplicity of the way life was then that I miss most. Granny has now gone to meet Grandpa and her 49-acre farm is now a new highway. They call that progress. As I travel the road that cuts through Andy Wright Fork, I can no longer recognize that small farm where so many memories were made. Nevertheless, my life is richer and I treasure the memories that forever changed this small town “city girl.”
What special memories do you have of your grandparents and your childhood? I’d love to hear your comments.
Pam Baker, RN
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I grew up in a town so small it didn’t qualify to have a traffic light, yet my rural relatives teased that I was a “city girl.” I treasure the memories when I got to spend a week at my “Little” Granny’s house in rural Pike County.
I had two Grannies and since I didn’t call them by their first names, I had to have some way to distinguish between the two. My “little” Granny (Eliza) was petite while my “big” Granny (Martha) was taller and heavier. In the coming years, my “little” Granny gained weight and eventually was bigger than my “big” Granny, yet I continued to refer to her my “little” Granny. [This is Part One of Three]
My Grandpa “Big Andy” Wright (a direct descendent of “Devil John” Wright) passed away when I was only 8, leaving behind 11 children. There were 5 sons and 6 daughters, my mother the oldest. Of these children, 1 son and 4 daughters remained in close proximity to their Pike County roots for the season of my early childhood. The others were called away by World War II and later to seek their fortunes in the auto industry. The 2 daughters who left followed their husbands to urban areas. (This story shares my childhood memories of “little” Granny’s house.)
During summer break from school, I got to spend a week with Granny Eliza. Her house was far up Beefhide Creek road in Lionelli, KY. Beefhide Creek was a long gravel road that extended for miles. As I neared Granny’s house in our ’57 Ford, we passed an enormous barn and then the huge, solid white farmhouse came into view. It had wrap around porches that extended across the front, right side and a short distance around the left side. The property was surrounded by a rough-hewn wooden slat fence and gate, all made by my Grandpa. There were wooden screen doors and a tin roof. Nobody had concrete sidewalks. Wooden boardwalks went around much of the house.
The Hand Dug Well
Out back was a hand dug well and a well house. The first “chore” I always begged to do upon arrival was drawing water from the well using a galvanized steel bucket with chains and a pulley. I carried the fresh water to Granny’s kitchen where a small table and common dipper awaited. We all drank from a common water bucket, using a common dipper and nobody thought anything about catching the other’s germs. We were all family and that’s what families did when I was a child.
The Well House
A well house just beyond the hand dug well housed a drilled well with a pump. Rows of shelves held Mason jars of food Granny had canned. The well house was also a cool storage place for her potatoes.
The Hen House
Another fun chore I always begged to do was gather the eggs from the hen house. The lot was filled with red and white leghorn and black and white Dominique hens (and of course a crowing rooster or two to make sure the hens stayed busy). It didn’t take me long to learn to watch my steps after I entered the front gate! Once inside the hen house, there were rows of straw nests all around the wall, some with more than one egg. It was like opening a treasure chest to the “city girl” as I carefully gathered them and placed them in the metal pail Granny had given me.
I eyed one particular large red hen contemptuously. Unlike the others who were off their nests and wandering inside the lot, pecking at whatever bug or cracked corn they could find, she remained on her nest, stubbornly refusing to move. I could see several eggs beneath her so I tried to “encourage” her to move by gently poking her with a small stick. I didn’t understand, nor was I prepared for the objection she gave. I don’t know which scared we the worst, her squawking, trying to peck me, or flapping her wings as she nearly flogged me. My heart pounding from fear, I raced from the hen house grateful for the eggs I had already gathered.
When I reported back to Granny what the hen had done, she started to laugh. This was a teachable moment for me and she took time to explain “sitting hens.” As she sorted through my eggs, she laughed again. Among my pail of eggs were a number of “hen foolers” used to encourage the hens to start sitting on their eggs to hatch out baby chicks. She said “These must be little girl foolers too!”
(To Be Continued with Part 2)
Pam Baker, RN
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We didn’t travel often when I was a child. An automobile, might remain parked an entire week (or longer). My world was a one I could usually explore only by walking, on a bicycle or by reading books. Summer vacations did not involve traveling to a lake or a beach. My childhood reflections from eastern Kentucky are from a simpler time when people seldom traveled away from home.
Summer vacation seldom meant travel further than 20 miles from home when I was a child. Amusement was created out of childish imagination and I don’t recall ever saying the words “I’m bored.” My entertainment involved such purposeful activities as picking wild blackberries with my brother while trying to avoid snakes and briars in a thick grove of vines. Our reward for braving the thorns and the heat was the fresh blackberry cobbler our mother made that evening.
Our Natural Playground
After our berry picking, we escaped the hot summer sun by playing in a “mining break” (sinkhole subsidence) in Bronx Hollow.
There was no fear of further earthen collapse or that our natural playground would swallow us. There was only the adventure. The subsidence had existed without visible change for decades because of a cave-in beneath the earth from underground mining. There were many such sink holes in Bronx Hollow and they grew the finest gardens because of the richness of the topsoil.
One such subsidence area was our favorite spot to play. We simply called it “The Spring.”
The path down to our “mining break” playground was strewn with wildflowers such as Queen Anne’s lace and Speckled Jewelweed.
Often I would collect of bouquet of Queen Anne’s Lace and wild clover blooms to take home to my mother. (She always placed them in a glass of water and placed them on our kitchen windowsill.)
A thick canopy of trees surrounded most of the area, filtering out the heat and light from the summer sun.
Over a wall of boulders, a natural mountain spring flowed over the rocks and afforded us cool drinking water. Hidden in a crevice between stones and concealed by the lush growth of water thistle was an empty glass jar with a lid our daddy had stashed there on a previous visit. We collected spring water in this glass or from one of Daddy’s empty metal Prince Albert tobacco cans.
On either side of the natural spring was a natural clay bank, also surrounded by wildflowers. Often we collected small rocks and dammed up the water below the spring, creating seals with the clay to construct a wading pond for our bare feet.
To the right of the natural spring was a steep incline of large boulders amidst an entanglement of thick grapevines. I resisted the urge to use the grape vines as swings once I surveyed my certain landing on the bed of boulders below. (I remembered my mother’s precautionary story from her own childhood. The vine had broken, landing her hard on a pile of rocks. I didn’t have to repeat her experience to learn her lesson.)
If Daddy happened to be tending a garden nearby, he usually joined us at the spring for a cool drink of spring water. While there, he made each of us whistles from the long straight stalks of speckled jewelweed.
When the seed pods ripen in the Fall, they are the best ever touch-me-nots, and now my granddaughter and I “play” with those same wildflowers. I delight as much watching her experience one of the favorite memories of my childhood as I do joining her in the fun.
With no watches and no thought for time, my brother and I played for hours until berries weren’t enough and hunger called us home. There were no neighbors nearby, no cell phones, and sometimes no adult supervision. Nobody thought you were a bad parent if your children went off to play in their natural environment. We were protected by the remoteness and size of our small town. There were few things we had to fear, and crime was not one of them. My childhood was one of exploration with innocence and without fear, and for that I will always be grateful I grew up in a small town.
A Childhood Without Fear
We never locked our doors at night, much less during the daytime. On a rare trip when we all traveled to visit a relative in neighboring Pike County and were gone for most of the day, we still didn’t lock our doors. Nothing was ever missing or stolen. Neighbors watched out for each other’s children. Neighbors talked to and helped other neighbors. It was a real community. There was a sense of pride and trust I learned there that has helped mold the person I am today.
Even when my children grew up in the same area roughly 20 years later, things were different. People changed. I’m not sure when it happened that people could no longer feel safe without locking their doors. Highways were built and people traveled more. The world outside the protection of those eastern Kentucky hills finally found its way into my tiny hometown. With it came ideas, changed values, habits and crime that I wish had stayed out forever.
I left my hometown in the late 1980’s. It had changed then, but is even more changed now. Can we ever turn back that clock?
A friend recently shared a fitting and thought-provoking reflection:
“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” (Heraclitus of Ephesus, c. 535 BC-475 BC) Perhaps I’m a changed person as well.
What memories do you have of your own childhood? I’d love to hear your comments.
Pam Baker, RN
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It was August 29, 2005 when Hurricane Katrina touched down on the Gulf Shore causing mass devastation and loss of lives. I was with a locker room full of gym friends that morning as we watched a live news channel and anxiously waited to hear how Louisiana and Mississippi survived Katrina’s landfall. It was an intense feeling of helplessness and anxiety as each of us wanted to rush to help. None of us had a clue where to begin or how to prioritize help where it was most needed. This is a story of my experience as a Hurricane Katrina disaster volunteer.
A Cry For Help
In the weeks following Katrina, the world watched as desperate people literally begged for help without an immediate and coordinated flow of relief and aide. Most of us have learned something from that event and fortunately it has changed how the world views and trains for natural disasters.
Bureaucracy and the Call to Volunteer
Appalled by the slow response and lack of coordinated effort, churches and small teams of volunteers all over the U.S. began descending upon Mississippi and Louisiana to help meet the urgent need for Hurricane Katrina disaster relief volunteers. Our church was one that committed to send groups of volunteers on a weekly basis over a period of months to help with recovery work. Volunteers were based at First Baptist of Slidell, an official Red Cross Feeding Station and a hub of recovery activity.
I was with a team of 13 volunteers, the second sent from my church, departing the week of September 19th, 2005. We journeyed by church bus, packed in with supplies and luggage like sardines. It was an 11-hour, almost 800 mile non-stop journey with all of us upbeat for the tasks at hand. We were eager to roll up our sleeves and give those unfortunate survivors our best efforts, hoping to accomplish miracles in the process.
We watched in amazement as the scenery around us changed in route from huge trees snapped off like toothpicks to near-total devastation.
Upon our late evening arrival in Slidell, we were greeted by scores of other very weary-looking, but none-the-less smiling volunteers. We were then shown to our spacious co-ed accommodations, a sea of cots completely filling a recently flooded church sanctuary.
I have no idea how many of us, mostly total strangers, who slept side by side on those tiny army cots. Later, when I heard volunteers were still finding snakes from Lake Pontchartrain’s breach of the gymnasium roof, I was grateful for that tiny cot.
Psychological Effect on Volunteers
There were watermarks over 3 feet high on the walls throughout the church. Wet insulation had been recently torn out and the walls treated to prevent the formation of mold.
All disaster work is intense. Disaster relief workers themselves are often running on empty both emotionally and physically as they reach out to help others. Faced with the enormity of the tasks at hand, it is hard to shut your mind off even to get a few hours of sleep. It is very humbling to feel equivalent to the size and strength of an ant compared to the magnitude of the need.
If you’ve ever studied ants at work, they are a visual lesson in the teamwork and personnel required to accomplish disaster relief work.
Like colonies of ants, volunteers can accomplish amazing things when they work together in a well-coordinated effort. Desire alone though, is simply not enough.
My mind refused to shut off, flashing images in my head of desperate, broken people who had lost everything. My desire to help was so intense, the task so enormous, who could possibly be selfish enough for the luxury of sleep? The workdays easily stretched to 16 hours, leaving us fatigued to the point of exhaustion. Still I could not sleep. There were too many tasks to be accomplished to sleep.
The “Colony” of Volunteers
We had little time to tour the devastation around us as our team was assigned a variety of tasks, subject to change at a moment’s notice to accommodate fluid priorities. (If you’re not flexible, disaster relief work is probably not for you.)
Men helped tear out walls and insulation, treating for mold afterward. Some helped feed the masses and give out food, water and cleaning supplies to the disaster victims.
Some helped unload and organize donations as they arrived in a continual flow of tractor/trailers from all across the U.S.
I happened to be the only nurse on our team, so my initial task was to render any necessary first aid to our team of volunteers. That too was a fluid assignment. St. Tammany Parish (Slidell) Health Department was out of commission and only the emergency room remained open at the local hospital.
There were names and faces of both volunteers and disaster victims we never had time to learn. Regrettably, there was contact information we never had time to exchange. Photos are my only reminders of the temporary bonds made as each of us was gripped by the power of the same disaster that brought us together.
Preview of Coming Attraction
Be sure to subscribe for the follow up story: “If You Build It They Will Come”
This is the story of how my initial assignment as team nurse evolved into something far bigger.
What has been your experience as a disaster volunteer? Have you ever been impacted as a survivor of a natural disaster? I’d love to hear your stories.
Pam Baker, RN
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Every nurse should write memoirs of their memorable patients. Some of the stories I could tell from my home health nursing days you probably would never believe. Still others could only be appreciated by another health care professional that has spent some time in the “trenches” of home care. It’s not the health condition, but the environment and the personality attributes that often make the person memorable. This is the story of one such lady who was homebound with ingenuity.
“Miss Ella” was a large, matronly African-American lady around 72. She resided in a bustling housing project near downtown Lexington. Her neighborhood (aka. “the hood”) was located in subsidized public housing. Residents “came to life” around 3 p.m. in the afternoon. All our nurses made certain we scheduled our home visits in this neighborhood prior to 11 a.m. In doing so we could avoid being witness to drug trafficking, hustlers and other neighborhood riff-raff.
Miss Ella required close health care monitoring because of her diabetes and inability to see the markings on her own insulin syringes. For this reason, one of the services our agency provided was to pre-fill her insulin syringes, monitor her labs and redress a small wound she had developed on her foot. She had severe arthritis and therefore had managed to obtain a motorized scooter.
She was primary babysitter for a brood of grandchildren in her tiny 2-bedroom ground level apartment. Every morning she sent the older grandchildren off to school, watching as they caught the bus from the corner of her street. Every afternoon, she rolled to the front door waiting for the school bus to drop off her grandchildren. She dutifully watched to make sure they arrived safely to her apartment. They remained indoors (or closely supervised from her doorway) until their mother came to pick them up.
Miss Ella’s chief concern was to make certain her grandchildren didn’t become caught up in a life of crime from the negative influences of the neighborhood where she lived. She told me she wanted a better life for her grandchildren. She seemed apologetic that her financial circumstances had left her with few choices. I remember her as a kind, polite and respectful lady, teaching those same attributes to her grandchildren.
I sadly recall Miss Ella’s financial dilemma of whether she should use her limited resources to buy her medication or instead buy the groceries she needed. No patient should ever have to make choices like that. She took a variety of medications such as cholesterol lowering drugs, high blood pressure medications and a fluid pill in addition to her insulin and blood glucose monitoring supplies.
As nurses, we spent a good bit of time teaching Miss Ella the importance of monitoring her diet and keeping her blood sugars under control in order to help her wound heal and prevent further complications. We could of course tell by her 270-plus pounds, that once we were gone, Miss Ella was going to eat what she liked, what was available, and what she could afford.
Some days, we realize that, regardless of all that teaching and effort, a patient will just get a craving for fried chicken and nothing else will satisfy until they get it. Homebound status was no match for the ingenuity created by desire.
On one such day, around the first of the month, there was a temporary cash flow with the arrival of her Social Security check. I happened to be driving up Winchester Road, several miles from Miss Ella’s house on my way home from work. There was a very popular chicken restaurant chain about 50 feet from where I spotted her, close to 3 miles from home, doing the spend limit in that motorized scooter, with a large bucket of fried chicken tucked under one arm.
How could I resist laughing? Miss Ella technically met the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services criteria for homebound status in that she wasn’t driving—at least not an automobile. Homebound status and medical necessity criteria can be interpreted in different ways. Miss Ella had her own interpretation.
The language in the Health Care Financing Administration’s (HCFA) home health coverage guide, (HIM-11) states that a person may be considered homebound if leaving the home requires considerable and taxing effort. Absences from the home are acceptable, provided they are infrequent, of short duration or to receive medical treatment. Words such as “taxing”, “considerable”, “infrequent” and “short” may have very different meanings depending on the interpreter. Miss Ella won this battle of semantics. (I suppose I can appreciate how her intense craving for a bucket of fried chicken might be interpreted as an “emergency”, justifying her ingenuity in obtaining it.)
The next time I made a home visit to see Miss Ella, I admonished her, pretending to write her a speeding ticket. I asked her what she would do if she ran out of battery power on her scooter? Would she simply call Triple A for roadside assistance or a jumpstart? What if she had a flat tire on her scooter, what then? Could Triple A fix her flat? Did she have a spare?
It has been many years now since my nursing career changed course and I left home care. I’ve provided care for the homebound in 26 Kentucky counties; yet I’ll never forget this lady’s devotion to her grandchildren, desire to keep them safe and determination to protect them from their environment. I seldom ever drive up Winchester Road that I don’t remember Miss Ella. The vision of her speeding on her scooter, bucket of chicken in tow, will always bring a smile to my face.
If you’re a nurse with a funny story about one of your patients, please share (just protect their privacy by changing any identifying information.)
Pam Baker, RN
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As soon as I awakened and entered our kitchen, the epicenter of where my mother could always be located, I knew it was laundry day. Our Browning wood stove was fired up to serve the dual purpose of making breakfast and heating water in the large galvanized steel tank mounted on the back. Periodically mom would step over and brush her hand lightly across the tank to see whether the water was hot enough to begin the weekly wash chore. Mountains of presorted laundry were already piled up in anticipation on our screened back porch.
From a child’s perspective, I enjoyed washday. As soon as mom filled the tub of our old Maytag wringer washing machine and poured in the powdered detergent, I asked if I could pull the knob that set the agitator into motion. Soon there were mountains of suds rising from the lid of the washer and the fun began as I smacked the soap bubbles between my hands, causing bubbles to fly in every direction. This usually continued until I got caught in the act of making a huge mess.
“Can I put the clothes in?” I eagerly asked.
“Yes,” Mom replied, “but keep your hands away from the agitator and the wringers.”
She instructed me that white clothes were always done first to keep the whites white and prevent dinginess. Since the water wasn’t always changed between loads the white clothes were washed before the darker clothes.
Nothing smells fresher than the fragrance of sun and wind-dried laundry! Additionally, the invention of the wringer washer was a major advance over doing laundry by hand on a washboard. Wringer washers conserved both water and energy. For people who had drinking wells, water conservation was a must to prevent running their wells dry of vital drinking water in drought seasons. However, none of this mattered to a 10 year old girl who wanted to be any place her mother was, doing anything she could to “play” with her mommy, even by “helping” with a chore on wash day.
I’ll never forget the loud sound of that agitator. Dirt didn’t stand a chance against a wringer washer. As long as you liked, you could keep those clothes agitating to remove heavy soil. The cleaning cycle ended when you pushed the knob in on the agitator. The next fun step was retrieval of the washed clothes from the tub. My mother used a long handled galvanized steel spoon with holes (which I still own) to fish out each article of clothing. I stood peering overtop of the tub and begging her to let me put the clothes through the wringer.
“No, you might get your hand caught in the wringer.” She replied. “People have gotten their whole arms caught in the wringers.” She continued. “Just stand there and watch me.”
I stood fascinated, watching the soapy water squeezed out of the freshly washed clothes as they passed through the wringers and dropped into a waiting bin of rinse water. I waited expectantly as my mother put a pair of my brother’s heavy jeans through the wringers and water became trapped in the pockets. As the jeans continued through the wringer, water squeezed out and sprayed me in the face. Even more fun, I thought!
Once the clothes were in the rinse bin, mom would lift each piece up and down in the rinse water a few times, and resend the rinsed article back through the wringers to a waiting clothesbasket beneath. As soon as the basket was full, she would fill her apron pockets with wooden clothespins, pick up the basket of freshly washed clothes and head out the back door to the clothesline my daddy made for her. He had sawed, felled and carried the locust posts on his back out of the hills behind our eastern Kentucky coal camp home.
Heavier towels, blankets and jeans always went on the line first to catch the full sunshine and summer breeze. My brother’s jeans were hung with adjustable pants stretchers to give them a simple crease and smooth out wrinkles.
Lightweight “unmentionables” (underwear) were always modestly hung in the center of 3 lines and out of public view. Before the evening dew fell, the laundry was done and the last load retrieved from the clotheslines.
I was allowed to unhook the hose from the tub and dump the dirty wash water into the sink drain. “Helping” my mother with the laundry task was now completed. It may have been a chore to my mother, but it was complete delight to me.
The bonding experience of this routine chore became a way I was able to both play with and help my mother. My memories of her are not of a glamorous lady. Instead they are memories of a strong woman, the oldest of 11, struggling through the Depression years as a traditional homemaker in a small coal camp town. The vision of her wearing a simple cotton print dress and an apron, with her mouth full of wooden clothespins while using both hands to pin clothes on a clothesline has been “photographed” and stored many times in my memory. These are the cherished but simple laundry day memories from a little girl’s heart.
Do you have stories you’d like to share about your mother? I welcome your comments.
Pam Baker, RN
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Writing or sharing stories about my mother has never been easy. It has been hard to separate the simple memories of my mother from the pain of losing her when I was only 19. Just 3 days before the birth of my first child, I lost my mother when she was only 52. She had lived her short lifetime with polycystic kidney disease—a hereditary disease that is terminal without a kidney transplant. Because she was not physically well throughout my childhood, simple details of her daily existence are now bittersweet memories.
Personality and Traditional Roles
My mother had an uncanny knack for making people laugh. Despite her traditional stay-at-home homemaker role, she had a wealth of friends. Most of her friends were telephone friends in the 50 – 60’s era before email and social media. Occasionally she chatted across the fence with a neighbor on a late summer evening. Often she chatted with a neighbor across the road from her front porch swing where she sat wearing a homemade short-sleeved shirtwaist style cotton print dress. She wore an apron with large pockets to keep “essential” treasures (such as a pack of cigarettes and lighter) close by. A large towel draped across her lap as she strung and broke green beans for the evening meal and exchanged small town gossip and laughter as our home cooled from the summer heat. There was no air-conditioning then, and I suspect neighbors became better acquainted because of it. Forced outdoors due to the sweltering heat inside, neighbors bonded with each other every evening. A fly swat was a close companion until hungry mosquitos ran her indoors.
My mother’s short, naturally wavy, raven black hair, hazel brown eyes and olive skin evidenced her Native American (Cherokee) heritage. She was 5’8” tall and heavyset. Her weight was a lifetime struggle. When I asked why she started smoking, she told me she was advised by her doctor to start smoking to help her lose weight. I’m amazed that doctors actually used to give their patients this advice! The weight stayed despite the negative habit, but the cigarettes contributed to other health problems, including the asthma I developed in childhood from breathing secondhand smoke.
I never thought my mother had time for vanity, but she had few exceptions. She had a personal philosophy about gray hair. “As long as there’s a bottle of dye on the shelves, this head is not going gray.” She insisted. Consequently, I ran many errands on my bicycle to purchase Jet Black Tintz Color Shampoo. I watched her apply it with fascination, then scrub the excess dye off her forehead and temples with scouring powder afterward. You didn’t see gray roots showing on my mother’s hair! (The process costs more now, but I have adopted her philosophy concerning gray hair.) When asked her age, her automatic response was “27!”
I used to love to watch her get dressed up to go shopping with a friend who could actually drive a car. [Refer to The Tale of Three Drivers for a story about my mother’s driving experience.] My mother always wore dark pink, almost red lipstick.
The mascara she wore was velvet black Maybelline and came in a slide out red plastic tray with a small brush.
Face powder, mascara and lipstick were her only makeup products. The only other adornments she wore were a Lady Elgin wristwatch and a pair of screw backed hollow red glass ball earrings. (I treasure the remaining unbroken earring to this day.)
Mom not only didn’t wear fingernail polish, she strongly opposed it and imposed that objection on me. She believed brightly colored nail polish made a woman look cheap and there was no dissuading her on the issue. Toes, however, were exceptions. As long as someone else was painting them (me for example), colored toenail polish was permissible. She wore size 10 shoes and I believe I know why; women’s shoes simply didn’t come in size 11. Consequently she constantly suffered with ingrown toenails until her sister Brenda periodically had her lie across the bed at Granny’s house and began the painful process of prizing them out. Open-toed footwear readily accommodated her true foot size and the multiple pairs she owned were a welcomed relief.
She never wore long sleeves or pants. She complained that long sleeves made her hot and the “personal summers” of menopause were nightmares for her. Pants were not considered acceptable attire for women during this era. She wore short beige nylon hosiery, rolled below her knees with garters. (These were often visible below her hemline when she sat, but surprisingly this didn’t seem to matter to her.) The stockings helped conceal the severity of the broken (varicose) veins in her legs. The back seam of the stockings, my mother pointed out, had to be precisely straight; otherwise your reputation would be called to question as a woman who had dressed in a hurry. [wink, wink] What a relief it must have been when those seams were no longer popular!
My mother’s purse was the “holy grail” and the only allowed touching of her purse was when she personally requested I hand it to her. There were no filing cabinets for personal business, in those days. There was just my mother’s purse. It was large, black and with multiple sections. To this day I couldn’t tell you its contents. I was on a “need to know basis” and I simply didn’t need to know. If I needed money for school, my mother would either ask me to hand her purse or direct me to a specific coat pocket in a closet. Unless I was instructed, both these areas were out of bounds to me.
My mother didn’t always carry a purse. Sometimes she traveled lightly and her storage compartment was inside her bra. I will never forget the time we went shopping at one of our small town grocery stores and she made it all the way to the check out counter, forgetting where her money was stashed. Had there been security cameras in those days, they would surely have seen my mother walk away as though she had forgotten an item, round an aisle out of sight of the cashier and reach inside her bosom to retrieve her cash.
Her favorite flower was a bleeding heart, given to her by her dad, planted just outside our back door. She protected it every spring from early frost. It was a simple gift, but a treasure to my mom. Eventually I planted a bleeding heart at my own home, over 30 years later. Of course mine wasn’t a sprout from the one given by my grandpa. Nonetheless it was a way to remember my mother and the simple things that mattered to her.
I kept silent the simple memories of my mother because of the pain of losing her at an early age. I buried many of those stories deep inside, depriving my children of a vision of the grandmother they never met. It took me years to realize that this 19 year old young mother felt abandoned, and even resentful at times. She was supposed to be there to hold my children in her arms and to teach me how to be a good mother. As a wounded child, I buried her memories so I wouldn’t continue to feel the pain of losing her. It didn’t help me heal and it wasn’t fair to her grandchildren not to hear about her through the retelling of those memories. As an adult, I realize it would never have been my mother’s choice to leave me. I had 47 years with my dad, compared with the 19 I had with my mother. I regret that I never got to have a relationship with my mother as an adult.
I can’t change the past Mom, but I treasure your memory. Happy Mother’s Day.
Pam Baker, RN
Do you have memories of your mother you’d like to share? I welcome your comments!
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In the early 1990’s, many acute care nurses still wore traditional white nursing uniforms, often with more formal white dresses, support hosiery, clinic shoes and nursing caps. This is the unlikely and humorous true story of one such nurse in The Nurse and the Parking Lot Mishap.
It had been a grueling 8-hour evening shift that stretched into 10 hours by the time I got all my charting completed on our busy Medical/Surgical unit. As I recall, it was mid-January and the temperature had plummeted to a hard below-zero freeze on that blustery night. I walked out into a silent parking lot, with tired aching feet as most visitors and off duty staff had already gone for the night. I had given every last measure of energy and I was anxious to go home for some well-deserved rest.
Street lights illuminated the quiet parking lot as I approached my 1985 Maroon Nissan Maxima. I had bought the car from my brother and hadn’t bothered to learn how to change the code that unlocked the doors. I retrieved my key and tried the lock, finding it frozen solid and uncooperative. I recall thinking this was a bitter last insult to a long shift.
After I tried the locks on both sides, I decided to go back inside the hospital and heat a cup of water in the microwave to pour over the locks. With this effort, I was able to get the rear driver’s side door open, but not the front driver’s door. A plan was born. I would get in the rear seat, reach over the front seat to the ignition, start the vehicle, turn the heater on high, and wait for the locks to unfreeze. (The power windows were as frozen as the locks.)
What I didn’t see coming was the almost instant refreezing of the rear passenger door (thanks to all that water I had drizzled) once I was inside the car. So there I sat, trapped inside the car, engine running, windows frozen, locks frozen, and I couldn’t get back out, no matter how hard I pushed against the rear door. (Amazingly, not everybody owned a cell phone in the 1990’s, so I also couldn’t even phone for help.)
After what seemed like an eternity, the inside temperature warmed, and I was able to get the power window to go down about 5 inches on the front driver’s side and 2 inches on the rear window. The locks remained stubbornly frozen. Feeling ridiculous, I reached over the front seat, now with creeping support hoses beginning to crawl down my legs from all that reaching, and started blowing my car horn.
After about 5 minutes a man who I couldn’t even identify if I passed him on the street now, walked within 30-40 feet of my vehicle. When I saw him, I once again leaned over the front seat to the partially open front window and desperately started yelling for help. Thankfully he walked up to the window and, fear laid aside due to desperation, I began recanting my dilemma. ‘You’re probably not going to believe this, but here’s my problem.’ He didn’t laugh.
Although he was unable to get either of the doors open, he managed to reach his arm through the partially opened front window to the lever that lowered the backrest of the front driver’s seat.
‘Now what?’ I asked.
“You’ll have to climb over.” He directed.
‘You’re kidding.’ I replied. ‘I have on a dress and pantyhose. There’s no graceful way I can swing my legs over the back of this seat and climb between the console to the front seat.’
“You’ll have to; this is the only way. You’ve got to get in the driver’s seat. By the time you get home, you can push against the door from the inside and the locks will thaw. Ma’am, nothing matters but you getting home, right?” He replied matter-of-factly.
‘I know you’re right.” I responded, ‘but this is pretty embarrassing. Nobody would ever believe this story. I hardly believe it myself.’
To this day I have no idea how I contorted these legs, my generous torso, a white nursing dress and support hoses as I threw my legs over the back of the seat, between the console and slid feet first into the driver’s seat. I must have been quite a spectacle! All I remember is that my face was 20 shades of red from embarrassment during the transition and those support hose had nearly migrated south to my knees by the time I completed the hurdle.
It was a “Kodak moment” that could’ve won a prize on “Funniest Home Videos” but instead of watching it, I was living it. (Thankfully I am a person who can laugh at myself!)
Unfortunately I never got the stranger’s name that helped me that frigid winter night, I was just too embarrassed. I’m guessing he never has a frozen lock that he doesn’t remember the night he helped the nurse in the parking lot. Say what you like about traditional whites, but as professional as I might have looked at work, this nurse decided that night to embrace the practicality of the transition to scrubs.
I hope you enjoyed the nursing humor! If you enjoy humorous true stories, you might also like to read “The Great Dungeness Crab Caper” the “Story of the Dueling Wheelchairs” and the “Tale of Three Drivers.”
Pam Baker, RN
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Lawn Mowing “Old School”
I grew up in a time before gasoline & electric powered lawn mowers. There may be a few around who still remember, but for those who don’t, class is in session. Riding lawn mowers were probably not even conceptualized in the late 50’s and early 60’s and would have been totally impractical for the hillside lawns in my small hometown in southeastern Kentucky.
A Man’s Home (& His Lawn) Is His Castle
Male versus female roles were very traditional “Ozzie and Harriet” style during that era. While we had cookie-cutter style coal camp town houses that lacked originality in design, no owner of a half-million-dollar estate could’ve taken greater pride in his lawn than my dad. Our lawn was a reflection of the male of the family and the pride he had in his “castle” just as much as the interior of the home was a reflection of the female domain.
Observations of a Lawn Manicurist
While our home furnishings were Spartan on the inside, by contrast we had the most lush, green lawn in the neighborhood and my dad manicured it to perfection at least once a week. Lawn mowing was typically reserved for Saturday evening when the sun was going down and dad carried out the task with an old reel type push mower, the kind that is powered by muscles and oomph rather than gasoline or electricity. Despite the sweltering humidity and heat, dad mowed in long pants and a shirt. You didn’t see men my dad’s age wearing shorts and sandals. (Neither did they work on anything vainer than a “farmer’s tan” from rolled up sleeves while working in their vegetable gardens.)
Gasoline or electric powered string trimmers to edge the lawn were also tools of the future. Dad had only a pair of hand held (manual) clippers, with which he dutifully squatted down and edged every inch of our property line every time he cut the grass. For this reason, dad knew the value of keeping mower and clipper blades well sharpened. Too often those sharp blades failed to discern which were weeds and grass versus which were my mother’s treasured perennials and he justified the cutting by insisting she had planted her flowers in the wrong places.
Sense of Pride
My brother and I were taught at an early age that littering was totally unacceptable and were rebuked for tossing down even a small chewing gum or candy wrapper, which we were responsible to promptly retrieve and dispose of properly. I remember dad taking me out to the back yard, extending his arm from left to right over a freshly mowed lawn, then pointing out how even the smallest piece of litter detracted from the appearance of his masterpiece.
From a child’s perspective, it was comforting to step barefoot on that lawn and roll downhill in the grass on a sunny summer day. Searching for 4-leaf clover and picking dandelion seedpods from the grass were child’s play, and nobody sprayed chemicals on their lawns.
High traffic areas around the front and rear porches (& our homemade swing set) refused to grow grass and were therefore swept with a broom to remove pebbles that would bruise a child’s bare feet.
I remember when dad finally upgraded to a gasoline-powered mower. With its heavy cast aluminum frame, it was a monster in size by comparison to the old reel mower and very hard to push on the slopes of our hillside home. Dad didn’t get a smaller, lightweight and more manageable mower (still not self-propelled) and rechargeable battery powered lawn clippers until the early 1970’s. By this time, dad was in his 60’s and retired.
The Frustrated Mower
I remember the exact day dad decided to retire that aged gasoline mower. By this time I was married, living only 2 houses above the home of my birth. One day I was sitting on my front porch as dad was taking on the task of mowing his lawn. First I watched him bring the monster mower out of the tool shed to a level spot in the lawn where he always cranked the mower engine. I knew the routine well. As I was watching him, he began to yank the pull cord to crank the aged engine. Yank. Yank. Yank. Yank. Yank. Sputter. Sputter. Sputter. Start. I watched as dad began to push the sputtering mower out onto the slight slope of the yard, speeding up the engine as smoke emitted from the exhaust. About 3 feet out onto the lawn, the mower died.
Without a word on his expressionless face, dad dragged the mower in reverse back to the level spot and began again. Yank. Yank. Yank. Yank. Yank. Sputter. Sputter. Start. Sputter. Die. Yank. Yank. Yank. Yank. Sputter. Sputter. Smoke. Sputter start, and away he goes, not giving that old mower another second to change its mind. About 2 feet out onto the slope of the yard, it died again. Dad repeated his efforts once more, but this time, the mower was making no effort to start. I remained silent, watching this whole scene played out from the vantage point of my front porch. I could feel my dad’s frustration on that hot summer day.
As I continued to watch, dad turned and walked back to the tool shed. I expected to see him emerge with wrenches and tools to beginning working on the ailing mower. Instead he came out of the tool shed flourishing a razor sharp double-bit axe. I was extremely puzzled at this point, wondering how he was going to repair the lawn mower using a double-bit axe.
My answer came soon enough. Whack! Whack! Whack! Whack! After about 4 whacks on top of that old Briggs and Stratton engine with his axe, my dad, still silent, finished his “repairs” resulting in some enormous gashes on the mower engine and replaced the axe in the tool shed. Next he pushed the dead mower carcass to the curb for trash pick up. I continued to watch, still speechless. I was torn whether to acknowledge the scene I had witnessed followed by the obvious question: ‘Are you okay dad?’
Sometimes it just makes more sense to remain silent, which is exactly what I did. It was late evening after the heat and my daddy’s temper had cooled when I finally paid a visit to dad’s house to inquire (rather tongue-in-cheek) whether he had gotten his mower fixed.
I already knew the answer and he responded that indeed he had; he had just bought a new mower.
Keep That in Your Yard
Have you ever noticed how your neighbor’s dog never does his business in his own yard? The same was true of our neighbor’s dog. Dad believed a certain chocolate Doberman named Max watched and waited, spitefully and with malice intent, for the opportunity to unload his business on his freshly mown grass rather than the unkempt lawn of his owners. Our neighbors, including the dog owners, all knew how particular dad was with his lawn. They didn’t even get upset that day, while they sat on their back porch watching, when my dad carried out a small shovel and began flinging doggie poo airborne over the fence into the lawn of the rightful owners.
Modern Day Mowing
Spring has finally emerged and once again I hear the myriad of mowers as I drive by meticulously mown lawns, now striped with crisscrossing patterns by those just as OCD as my dad was; when I smell the essence of freshly mown grass, I remember my dad and I smile. Then I wonder whether there are children to appreciate that plush green carpet with bare feet. Is there a wife who appreciates the man who takes such tremendous pride in his home? I certainly hope so. However, the thing that makes me burst into laughter is when I spy an appreciative dog living next door.
Posted in STORIES, Uncategorized by Pam Baker-Redman with no comments yet.
Remembering those precious years with my dad and the bond created by a common love of University of Kentucky basketball has always made me smile. Every year, especially around “March madness,” I fondly remember a legendary University of Kentucky basketball fan.
My earliest memories of University of Kentucky basketball were captured through the sounds of a vintage 1946 Philco radio (the kind with tubes) while sitting on a screened-in back porch with my dad during the early to mid 1960’s.
My dad was the first UK fan I ever knew so that qualifies him as a legendary University of Kentucky basketball fan (if only in our family). I have no idea how he first came to love UK basketball. Perhaps it was the NCAA National Championship wins in 1948 and 1949 that first caught his attention and began his lifelong love of all things UK basketball.
Play-by-plays were heard via radio, amidst my dad’s yelling, cheering (and yes, sometimes even critical “arm-chair” coaching) during some very intense games when Cotton Nash, Larry Conley, Pat Riley and Louie Dampier were iconic names in UK basketball, Adolph Rupp was coach and Caywood Ledford was the undisputed voice. The volume was cranked up so loud, other distractions couldn’t compete for priority.
Leaning close to that old Philco radio, dad would hold an ear to the speaker when poor reception faded the volume in and out, catching such Ledford phrases as “puts it up and in”, “got it”, and “he shot than one from Paducah.”
When the radio lost its reception at critical game moments, dad would raise his hand and give it a hard smack as though to refocus its priorities. The smack almost never worked on the 17+ year old radio, and there were a few times I think he was close to throwing it out of sheer frustration.
Apart from dad’s hard work to provide for our family, UK basketball games were his undisputed passion. He derived pleasure listening to players he would never actually see play, but was nevertheless held spellbound through the commentary of the voice of Kentucky basketball, Caywood Ledford.
I learned basketball etiquette from my dad around the age of 10. It was appropriate and encouraged to cheer, (the louder and more animated the better) but otherwise inappropriate (& met with swift correction) to interrupt with unrelated conversation during a game. (There were no games that weren’t considered “big games.”)
Conversation was allowed briefly during a time out, so long as game strategy remained the focus. An ice cold 16 ounce glass bottle of cola was the beverage of choice, and shared with children who didn’t breach game etiquette.
If a UK player missed a key shot at a critical game moment, dad would jerk off his cap and throw it on the floor in exasperation. There were a few times, when UK’s score was trailing by a substantial margin I even saw him turn off the radio, protesting “If they’re not going to play, I’m not going to listen!” He almost always relented and turned the radio back on to hear the final moments and score.
Game losses were met by moments of silence when the outcome was just too painful to speak about, and always followed by an undetermined period of mourning. I realize that may sound overly dramatic, but the entire mood of our home was as though a death had occurred for a day or two after a game loss. In my dad’s competitive spirit, there were no options but a UK victory.
Even when games began to be televised in the 1970’s and 80’s, dad turned the volume down on the TV, preferring the game commentary of Caywood Ledford to the station commentators whom he believed to be inferior and biased in favor of the opposing team.
Nobody, but nobody got to talk trash about University of Kentucky basketball! Furthermore, there was no second choice team to win if UK couldn’t claim the victory. It is fitting that I, his only daughter, born the year of one of UK’s 8 NCAA National Championships, would become a first generation college graduate from the University of Kentucky.
A Lifelong Fan
In the late 1990’s, the final years of his life, my two children would make him an even prouder grandfather when they also became UK alumni.
That first legendary fan, a man who was born in 1912 and completed 4th grade, taught me the love of UK in the 1960’s, then later taught that same to my son and daughter in the 1980’s. And so the legacy left by the legendary UK basketball fan continues in our family, now five UK graduates strong and counting.
My dad’s love of all things UK basketball spanned his lifetime. From the Hospice care unit in 1998, wearing his UK cap, the fan who was never able to actually attend a game played in Memorial Coliseum or Rupp Arena, watched a televised UK basketball game just days before his death.
The Legacy Continues
I share this story as a tribute to my dad’s loyalty and devotion to UK. If he could only see from that great Heavenly vantage point, perhaps he, Adolf Rupp and Caywood Ledford himself would all be smiling as the legacy continues with my granddaughter, now age 7. She has been yelling “Go Cats” since she was barely able to speak. Game etiquette, however, is still a work in progress.
***This story was published 04/14/2014 in The Lexington Herald-Leader newspaper: UK Roundball Ties Bind the Generations
If you enjoyed this family story, you might also like to read: My Father, My Daddy: Storyteller, Scientist, Coal Miner, Teacher
Posted in STORIES and tagged University of Kentucky basketball by Pam Baker-Redman with no comments yet.