One Hour, Five DUIs

The day didn’t go as planned. Some are like that. Most aren’t. It was 12:30 and our Wednesday was pretty much complete. Grocery-shopping done, senior citizen discount received. Leisurely lunch. All we needed were afternoon naps to top off the fulfilling lives of retirees. A call came from a friend we hadn’t heard from and had been concerned about since her recent divorce. “How’d you like to get tanked?” It wouldn’t have been my first choice for the day, but I knew there had to be more behind her question. I wanted to be a good friend. My husband’s motives may not have been so pure. Within an hour we were on the road. Our friend knew exactly where we needed to go, a joint she called TLETA. Seems it was over forty-five minutes away. Though I’m a non-drinker, I didn’t need to be a barfly to know we were passing lots of places to get a drink, so why drive so far to get “tanked,” as she put it? When we finally arrived, we saw it wasn’t a place we would have chosen, but this wasn’t about us.   It was all about helping our friend. The building was large and brick, institutional in appearance. We parked in back, but found the first door locked. A rather large individual, a bouncer I assumed, came around the corner and showed us another door to use. Inside didn’t look much better. We were directed to a small, musty-smelling room, where clearly little to no money had been spent on atmosphere. The basics were there: tables, chairs, and a boom box. The music sounded like what I hear coming from the cars of teens driving through my neighborhood, by singers whose names I don’t know.  The bar itself was questionable—a mere table, two bartenders, several cardboard boxes of liquor bottles, and a couple pitchers of Coke. Our friend really knew how to pick a place. The bartenders looked us over and decreed how many drinks we could have: seven to ten for my husband, four to six for me. We considered protesting, but they looked like men who could handle any situation and wouldn’t take an argument. Further backing that conclusion was the fact that the only decorations in the room were display cases on the wall that contained knives, guns, and brass knuckles, obviously confiscated from less cooperative customers. The room was pretty quiet as we started our first drinks, but it was only 3:00, a bit early in the day. It quickly came alive, though, as more people came in and the bartenders doled out drinks to each of their patrons. New friendships were being forged among vastly different types of people: the retired prosecutor, the kindergarten teacher, the corrections officer, the MADD employee, the welder. Secrets were being shared. And while everyone else was getting into it, I quickly noticed our friend was not drinking, nor was she pouring her heart out to those around her. We knew better than to press her; best to just give it time. We turned out attention back to our drinks. We already had doubts about the place but were still surprised when, out of the blue, the bartenders announced, “Breathalyzer tests for everyone and this place is shutting down.”   It was only 5:30 in the afternoon. They directed us to the door, then escorted us down the hall and into a large room where there were approximately two hundred law enforcement officers standing in small groups. Whoa! Turns out TLETA stands for Tennessee Law Enforcement Training Academy. It seems the trap was already set when our friend, Amy, who happens to be a sergeant on our local police force, called us earlier in the day. No wonder she hadn’t been chatty like the rest of us; she was the only one of the participants not drinking. Each trainee who approached me went through a spiel, introducing himself, asking about any medical conditions I had, and explaining what he was going to have me do. He tested eyes first, having me follow a finger without moving my head. Then I had to walk nine steps, up and back, heel-to-toe, starting from a position where my feet were together, arms straight down by my sides. Next, with my arms again flattened against me, I had to stand on one foot with the other foot pointed in front of me, six inches off the floor, and count until they told me to stop. After five trainees had tested each of us, they had us blow into the machine again, one last measure of our blood alcohol content. We went...

Call Me Granny

We got stuck behind a pokey driver this morning, doing 35 in a 55 mph zone. Couldn’t get around him because of the double centerline, so cars were lining up behind us. I wanted to scream because I like to do everything quickly. Wasting time is not an option for me. “Why doesn’t the old geezer speed up?” I asked my husband. “We don’t know a geezer is driving that car,” George said. “It has to be! It’s against the law to go that much under the speed limit and the people behind us are liable to think it’s our fault, that we’re the old people who don’t know how to drive!” “I don’t care what people think,” George said, “which is obvious since I’m driving a car that says Call Me Granny on the back of it.” Oh, yeah. That’s right. A gift bestowed on my little SUV by friend, Tracy, is a license plate frame that reflects those very words: Call Me Granny. (Is it any wonder that George prefers to drive his car rather than mine?) The words give fair warning that the driver of the vehicle could poke along–or drive like a bat out of hell. I guess since I’m old enough to have reached Granny status I’m entitled to do either one. Perhaps I should allow the geezer in front of us the same...

Easter Egg Hunt

Easter egg hunts for the elderly don’t require a team of organizers. The old folks can fill the eggs for a fun activity at the assisted living facility. Great way to keep them busy and happy! The best part is that the seekers themselves can hide the eggs for later discovery because they certainly won’t remember where they placed them. When you reach a certain age, all things become new.

Chocolate, Revisited

Dove dark chocolates, in their unmistakable red foil wrappers, are my favorites. I eat lots of them and everyone, friend and family alike, knows of my great weakness for these tasty little pleasures. When walking our big black dog with my husband on a recent day, I saw one of those red wrappers in the street, the luscious piece of chocolate squished flat by a car tire. Who knows, I may have been the one who dropped it since I always carry an emergency Dove in my pocket, but it distressed me just the same. Such a senseless waste of good chocolate! My greater concern, though, was the chance my dog would see the morsel. Prince is quick to snatch up anything edible he encounters on our walks regardless of how spoiled it might be, so when I saw the flattened chocolate I warned George to not let him get hold of it. Chocolate can be deadly for dogs. “Prince isn’t the one I was worried about,” George said, his hand poised to pull me back as he so often does with Prince.   Perhaps a normal reaction for the family member of an addict. That’s exactly what I am: an addict. Just when did I develop this passion for chocolate? I remember as a preschooler, playing in our backyard in the hot summertime and being thrilled to have M&M’s in my pocket without the worry of them melting. The other memory from that young age was of a playful uncle picking me up by my feet while I had a mouthful of chocolate. Not a good idea. The chocolate ran up the roof of my mouth and into my nose—it actually came out my nose–and burnt like the dickens. I learned that chocolate does not belong in the sinus passages, but obviously, the bad experience did not change my taste or desires. Nor did my years with teenage acne. My dermatologist included chocolate on my list of banned foods, but I ignored that warning, unwilling to believe that something so good could be so bad. Through the years I naturally gravitated to chocolate desserts, not wanting to waste calories on anything else. But my favorite remained M&M’s–until Dove dark chocolates appeared. Now, I can’t get enough of those pretty red wrappers. Chocolate, for me, is one of the major food groups. Though I’ve gone through spells in the past when I’ve eliminated it from my diet, I’m not likely to do so again. I plan to enjoy my twilight years. But wait a minute… is that a zit on my...

On-the-Job Training

I grew up Southern Baptist, in a home where we were taught to not smoke, drink or cuss, or hang around with those who did. I obeyed the rules without fail through childhood and even as an adult. When my career began, I spent a significant amount of time at out-of-town training classes, one of a large group of trainees. We became close while sharing meals and work hours. After the first night, however, I realized that everyone—except me—was a drinker. My old training kicked in and I began to stay in my room in the evenings, dining on Coke and vending machine snacks, rather than going out with the others. And then there was the cussing. These people knew words I had never heard before and used them freely. My innocent ears were aching in a way they had not throughout my sheltered upbringing. Our first phase of training was a very long six weeks. Staying holed up in a hotel room for an extended period gave me lots of time to think. By the time phase two training rolled around, I had acquired a new perspective. I had been eating breakfast and lunch with these people and been in class with them every day. They had become friends so why should it matter that they cussed and drank alcohol? These friends were as amazed by the fact I didn’t do these things as I was amazed by the fact they did. Our differences led to some interesting discussions. It was refreshing to live with an attitude of acceptance. My ideas were being challenged; my mind, stretched to consider things other than what I had been taught. Six years later, when I was twenty-eight and newly divorced, George entered my life. He was from an entirely different background and I was surprised at my willingness to date someone who cussed and drank alcohol.   Going through a divorce, though, from a man who was quick to invoke God’s name or lead in prayer but who couldn’t tell the truth for the life of him, had resulted in major reevaluations of what was important. George had more integrity than any man I had ever met; what did cussing and drinking matter in light of that? We got married, but after kids came along, my worries about the children picking up bad language from their dad made me more determined not to use such words myself. Then I met Miss Jennie, who lived in the assisted living facility where I volunteered. Miss Jennie entertained me with her surprisingly honest takes on life. She was forty-one years older than me and spoke more freely than any old person I knew. After she was paralyzed by a stroke, Jennie liked to complain to me about her caregivers, but typically ended every bout of complaints with two threats. “If things don’t improve, I’m going to live in a box under a bridge,” and “if you tell anyone what I said, I’ll beat the shit out of you!” I laugh to remember her words, the impossibility of any follow-through, and my surprise that a ninety-one-year-old would even know the word shit. I was fifty at the time, with a growing awareness that I needed to loosen up. If old, half-paralyzed Jennie could speak her mind, why couldn’t I? What was wrong with using a word that clearly expressed how I felt? The word shit crept into my vocabulary. I felt naughty at first, but no one shunned me in my newfound freedom. Not a soul showed any reaction to my speech until I was sixty and in the midst of helping my son and daughter-in-law remodel their condo. I was trying to hang a window blind, which was not going well, and I said, “Shit!” My son, Chris, ran in from the next room. “Mom! What did you say?” I finally shocked someone, one of the two people whose ears I tried for years to protect. Oh, well. My children are fully grown, old enough to say whatever they want. And, as Granny, I’m more than old enough to say what I want. Perhaps Chris agrees, since, in spite of the shock he verbalized, he had the slightest hint of a smile on his face. I wonder what else is going to change as I age. I’ve tried alcohol, but didn’t like it. Smoking? That hasn’t tempted me at all, more from the awful smell rather than on any moral grounds. That covers the three sins I was cautioned about. But there are others I could learn. No telling what shit looms on my...

Chocolate

Dove dark chocolates, in their unmistakable red foil wrappers, are my favorites. I eat lots of them and everyone, friend and family alike, knows of my great weakness for these tasty little pleasures. When walking the dog with my husband on a recent day, I saw one of those red wrappers in the street, the luscious piece of chocolate squished flat by a car tire. Who knows, I may have been the one who dropped it since I sometimes carry Doves in my pockets. Our dog is quick to snatch up anything edible he encounters on our walks regardless of how spoiled and nasty it might be, so when I saw the flattened chocolate I warned George to not let Prince get hold of it. Chocolate is poisonous to dogs, after all. “Prince isn’t the one I was worried about,” George said, his hand poised to pull me back as he so often does with the dog. Perhaps my addiction is more serious than I...

Decompose

We had been with my daughter and her family for three weeks, helping them through the adjustment of adding newborn Caleb to their existing children, two-year-old Josiah and three-year-old Hannah. In addition, we had spent several days packing and hauling boxes as they moved to Missoula, Montana, from Seeley Lake, about an hour away. We were exhausted as we began our drive back to the Seeley Lake house, the car quiet now that the young family was settled enough in Missoula to spend a first night in their new place. I offered to drive. “No, thanks,” said George. “I need to drive for a while to decompose.” “Umm…decompress?” He thought for a moment. “What is it you do when you die?” he asked. “Decompose,” I said. “I meant the other word, but maybe decompose is more like it.” It’s said that when children are born, they come out with a third of their mother’s brain clutched in their tiny hands. There’s no doubt I lost some chunks of gray matter at the births of my children. Apparently, the brains of grandparents are also at risk, simply by spending time with the little people. So, yes, decompose is the...