Friday, August 12, 2011

Driving Home

On my way home from my recent travels I hit a spot of rebellion. I just did not want to be traveling the interstates dodging the killer 18 wheelers. The weekend before my trip two of those haulers had a slam up spiraling from northbound to southbound lanes  killing the drivers and a couple of other innocents in their path.

Folks traveling that same patch of  interstate were stuck in hundred degree heat for 8 hours. They had to turn off the engines and just absorb the heat from hell radiating into the cars off the melting asphalt. The Red Cross sent volunteers out there on ATV's with bottles of water and sacks of apples.  Families begged the volunteers  to take their babies and their elderly to some air conditioning and  food.  Horrible.

If you are traveling from Florida to the Carolina's your primary options are I-75 or I-95.  Both of which are about 65% tractor trailer saturated slabs. So I decided once I got beyond  the major traffic areas I would  get off the super slabs and go  another way. North of  Lake City I went  East on I-10 taking the first exit in about a mile to get on US 441.   You can take this road  North into Douglas , Georgia then pick up the 221 and ride it all the way to within 25 miles of my home county. Which I did.

 It was bleak. The drought has burned up the cotton fields. All the fields were tragic. It is painful  to see mile after mile of devastation. Very few of the farms I passed had irrigation so their crops are a sad, hard loss. More than cotton was lost. Food. Cattle. Livlihoods. Hope.

Definitely not a scenic trip, but no tractor trailers either.
Me, the Fizz and a not too terrible audio book cruising up the road was fine by me.

When I reached the intersection of 441 and 221 I gasped aloud.
There was a sign saying: McRae 52. OMG! I had not thought of my summer in McRae, Georgia in decades.  There was no point in listening to the book cd after that. My head was flooded with memories.

In my fifteenth summer a long time family friend went square dancing on a Saturday night  stomping her way through the raised platform and fracturing her leg. Badly. It required surgical  hardware and six weeks in a wheelchair with her leg straight out in front of her. Once she was able, she telephoned my mother and asked her to send me to McRae to " be her legs" for the Summer.
Mama said ,"of course".
I begged and wailed and wrung my hands but Mama still loaded me up on a smelly Greyhound bus and shipped me to Hell. I won't say that bus ride was as horrible as Frida's but it was terrible. Extremely. I thought I would be glad to get off that bus but the reality of McRae  was worse.

Some sweaty, weary, dusty old man in a rusted out pick up truck came up to me and explained he was there to take me to  Mizz McRae.  Our family friend had married into the McRae family  which is how she came to be living there. Sadly, Mr. McRae had died shortly after their marriage . Bernadine had stayed on as the nursing supervisor of the tiny Telfair County Hospital. The only doctor on staff was another McRae and the specialists who came through when called. Bernadine was practicing medicine  too. They didn't actually have "Nurse Practitioners" in those days as a title. They sure did as a reality. When doc was not there  the back up physician was the vet. When he too was unavailable medical care was a toss up between Bernadine, the pharmacist and the voodoo woman in the block house.

Bernadine was the only registered nurse in the county.
I was the only slave.

My "job" was to get Bernadine to and from the hospital and, to do her rounds/duties with her while at  the hospital. With that straight out leg she could not get close enough to the beds to take vital signs or change a dressing or check a pupil for reaction or help in the ER/OR. Nor could she hold a bedpan or an emesis basin or change a bed or empty collection bags or give bed baths.  Before the Summer was over I was a pretty good nurse practitioner too. I had done all kind of nursing and a surgery or two when doc was away,
we couldn't contact the vet,  and Bernadine couldn't reach  the patient who was about to bleed to death. I delivered a baby too. The mother was 12.

Also, a very, very great distance from my usual poolside at the club summers.

Back to my arrival.
I refused to get in the truck with Weary Man. I went to a pay phone, called the hospital, talked to Bernadine before I would agree to get into a car with this suspicious stranger. Imagine my shock when upon arrival at the hospital he took his leave by taking Bernadine's car and leaving the truck.  Bernadine explained she could not get in and out of her car so we would be using  the truck now that I was present. I hadn't quite figured out how she could get in and out of the truck until I was instructed to back it up to the hospitals loading dock, pull out a sheet of plywood and roll her onto the  truck bed.  She gave me directions through the back window on how to get "home". Which was a trailer in a dry field.

Seriously, I nearly died of the shock of it all.

I am certain my manners were not up to snuff  but you try making a plywood bridge from a truck bed to a metal trailer door and shove a 250 pound wheelchair bound woman through it. A woman who could not stand without crutches, or take a bath or get in a bed or use the facilities without assistance. Once we were through that door, before I moved the truck, I searched for the telephone. I'd been in McRae for about 6 hours and  that was enough for me. I called home and as soon as Mama answered I said,
" Come get me. I'm not doing this!"
" You are".
" NO ma'am! I am not!  Come get me now!!!!!!!!!!!!"
" Good night Fishy, give Bernadine a hug from me." 

I could write a book about my summer in McRae.
It could be divided into the hospital horrors, the home horrors and the horror of the butterbeans.
The basic outline of life in McRae was this.
Get up, make breakfast, clean the kitchen, do laundry, make beds,  be Bernadine's full time step and fetch.  After lunch it was  help Bernadine get groomed and dressed for work. Get the truck, back it up to the trailer, roll Bernadine out , climb down, get in the cab, pull up enough to clear the door, get out of the cab, lock the trailer, secure Bernadine in the truck bed, get back in the cab and drive to the hospital.  Work at the hospital from 2pm until midnight, do the transport thing in reverse, get Bernadine changed and in her recliner for the night. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Some nights I would just fall asleep from sheer exhaustion. Other nights I  cried giant tears of self  pity  until sleep finally   came.

By the end of the first week I was reconciled to this awful reality. In the evenings  the hospital was the town square. First people came in to visit. Others stayed in the lobby/lounge area because the hospital was just about the only air conditioned public building open at night. It is hot like you cannot believe in McRae, Georgia in the summer time. That kind of heat makes people crazed. Bernadine allowed as how it was good medicine to let the townsfolk hang out in the air conditioning. She said it made for fewer stabbings and shootings. Eventually I  think I met everybody in McRae. After the first week there were not many who had not stopped by the hospital to meet " Bernadine's legs".  Bernadine's legs learned she had skills but no desire to be a doctor. Or a nurse. Or a Georgian. I learned how to focus on whatever emergency presented and deal with my own responses afterward. I witnessed the spectrum of humanity.

Have you ever grown butterbeans? They do taste great but they are a chore to harvest. They grow  low to the ground on a bush about a foot tall. The bean pods hang down under the leaves so harvesting them is backbreaking work because you are picking at ankle height

Just steps from the trailer door was the kitchen garden. A few rows of each of the summer vegetables.  I would go out most mornings after breakfast, water the garden,pick the bugs off the crops,  pick what was ripe, feed the outdoor cats and at the end of the property make sure an old white horse had fresh water.  Just that little bit in the hot still air was enough to make you shower wet with sweat. If the air was moving any at all you became covered in a fine coating of dust stuck to your sweat.  I hated it there. Hated.

One morning, once I came in with the harvest and headed for the shower, Bernadine asked if I didn't want to go back out and pick butterbeans.
" They are not ready".
" Are you sure, you haven't picked any all week and they are my favorite".
" They aren't ready"
" Now Fishy, I know it isn't enjoyable to pick beans but you  don't want to be wasteful".
"They aren't ready!!!!!!"

Bernadine studied me a minute then said, " Please will you go look again?
Eve Lynn said last night if we got 'em picked she would cook 'em for us. She makes the best butterbeans of all . Go on back out there and check that first row, those butter beans should be ready."
Reluctantly I went back out there, walked down the row a bit and then headed back to the trailer. Just as I was placing my foot on the first step I heard a click. Bernadine had used a crutch to reach across the trailer and lock the door. I was beyond fury. When I stopped screeching  and door pounding Bernadine called through the door something about letting me come back inside once the butterbeans were picked. I learned a whole new level of rage that day.

But, the truth is rage takes energy and it gets expended quickly in relentless, scorching heat. It wasn't long before I had to go  get the hose and cool myself down. I looked but the keys were not in the truck. I needed some shade but there was none. I could walk to the McRae family home but it was a healthy hike. The home is nice, surrounded by a pecan grove so there was shade and a pond up there. When Bernadine first married she and Mr. McRae lived in the family house but once he died the next one in the family line up moved in and they "let" Bernadine move to the trailer. It was situated far enough away on the property so it would not be seen from the main house. I was just too tired and hot to make the hike.  And what would I do when I got there? Go for a swim?

What I was for damn sure not going to do was pick any butterbeans.
Not one.
No ma'am.

Eventually I got the idea to go down and see the old white horse.
I do not know what came over me but I got the notion to get on that horse.
That's not unreasonable  except when there is no tack. No bridle, no saddle.
You can do without tack if you can ride and know your horse. It is crazy to place yourself on the back of a large animal without knowledge or skills. But I did. I must have been heat crazed because I coaxed that old horse over to the gate, climbed  on his back, grabbed mane, opened the gate and clucked.

Soooooo stupid.

The horse lived in a dry dusty lot. Nothing to eat but the little bit of hay morning and evenings. He headed for the only green stuff in sight. The kitchen garden. He did not show a lick of interest in corn, tomatoes, peppers or squash. He headed straight for the butterbean rows, dropped his head and started to munch. I came off straight away. Once he dropped his head like that I slid right down his neck like a slide. Once I stopped laughing I got worried about how I was going to get the horse out of the garden and back to his pen. He wouldn't budge. I went and got the hose to squirt him out of the garden. That did not work. He  loved the cool  shower and even took a drink from the hose before returning to his busy consumption of the butterbean plants. Eventually I quit worrying about the butterbeans and began to wonder if they were okay for horses to eat.  In desperation I unhooked the hose and tried using it as a lead rope to get the horse back to his lot. It did work. The process of having a tug o war with a resistant horse in a garden is devastating to the garden.  Once the horse was secure and  I returned to the garden it was ...over.

Too bad.

I returned to the trailer to find the door unlocked. I stomped inside, told  Bernadine she was a witch and headed for the shower. She sweetly asked if I had picked the butterbeans. She wanted to get them shelled while I showered. I stuck my head around the corner and explained where the beans were. Bernadine said,
" Fishy! You've killed that sweet old horse!"
" What?"
" Those butterbeans will colic that horse. We have to get the vet out here immediately !"

The vet wasn't available but he told me how to put a tube down a horse's nose to empty it's stomach. I cut up the garden hose, greased it with lard and became a vet. Once I got the stomach emptied I had to give the horse a paste of oatmeal and water and then walk him. For hours. In that dreadful, relentless heat. A horse with a stomach ache is not a willing creature. They communicate this in awful ways. Eventually someone came to take Bernadine to the hospital while I kept walking the horse. Late in the afternoon the vet came to have a look and told me to keep walking. Later,  Bernadine sent some town kids from the lobby/lounge out to help with the walking.

The horse lived.
I lived.
I didn't kill anyone .
I didn't pick any butterbeans.
I learned a lot about ...everything.
Bernadine got her cast off.
I went home.

The Telfair  county  hospital today


chickory said...

OMG. its like Scarlet helping the doctor with the civil war wounded - and the camera backs up and the street is filled with them. overwhelming horror. 'course, she had cap'n Butler to take her away.

Astonishing story. IM pretty sure i would have run away and joined the carnival to run the tilt-a-whirl.

fishy said...

Scarlett did not have air conditioning.

She also did not live in a trailer with Bernadine.

The entire population of McRae, Georgia is not as large as that civil war triage scene in GWTW.

"Overwelming horror" is pretty accurate.

Part of the time there were no patients staying in the hospital. On those days, the hospital served as the local walk in clinic dealing with snake bites and farm accidents. When there were no patients and all the chores and charts were done we sat up in the lobby and visited with the townfolk.

I made some progress. It wasn't long before I flat refused to ever again try to get 3/4's of Bernadine in the trailer shower while keeping her cast out of the shower and dry. I learned to get her transfered to a stretcher, wrapped the cast in plastic, then rolled her into the shower room at the hospital. Once I was so furious I left her in there, buck nekkid, for hours.

Carnivals do not come to such places.

It was too hot to run, I didn't have bus money, did not in fact have a driver's license(just a learners permit) and anything that would pick me up hitchhiking would return me to Bernadine or worse. I did use the hospital phone to call my beau Sam long distance. I begged him to steal his family car and come get me. He refused. I sent him hate mail. It's the only time in my life I sent my mother hate mail.

It was hellish and there were no Rhett's living in McRae. You never want to know about Denny, Donny and Dummy.

moi said...

First of all: That poor horse! So many of them around here languish under similar circumstances, in 10x10 pens with nothing but hay and the torture of the great "out there" that they will never see.

Secondly: Oh, I can so relate to poor, shell-shocked teenage Fishy! Although my own similar story is nowhere near as traumatic as yours, I remember the summer of my 14th year when my mother had had just about enough of my slothful ways (no-brainer babysitting in the morning, lounging poolside in the afternoon, running around with friends in the evenings), that she got me a gig candy striping at a local hospital, four days a week, 5 hours a day. To which I had to take the BUS. In my UNIFORM. And spend my days helping care for sick people in a place that smelled like a mixture of blood, urine, death, and the gawd awful antiseptic employed to try and unsuccessfully erase it all. Miserable, miserable Moi. And that experience cured me forever from any notion I may have had to grow up and work in the medical field.

fishy said...

Candy striping is what got me called to duty! I had done that and moved on to the green and white striped uniforms of the "para medicals" ... a step up for those showing promise in a medical path.
Our friend Bernadine ( before husband number 3 and the move to McRae) had been the nursing supervisor at the local hospital and had placed me in the ER. One phone call to the current supervisor to ascertain my skill level was all the data Bernadine needed before calling my mother.

I NEVER experienced the trauma of having to wear my striper uniforms on public transport in my home community!!!!!! I can imagine the horror of this for emerging fashionistas!

Agree about the horses. I am always sick when I encounter a horse in confinement hell.

Aunty Belle said...


Fishy, while ya' should write a book about it, the book I wanna read is the one of what yore mama an' Bernadine said to each other every night after ya dropped in bed.

heh..a BUS? A UNIFORM? no wonder ya went punk.

@ Chick9

it WUZ a carnival. Good thang yore mama din't try that stuff on ya'-- or Moi's Mama's stuff. else we'uns be lookin' at de-limbed chicken an' dawg paintings.

Very good story Fishy.

fishy said...

You know, over the years when we have not seen eye to eye on a thing I have said to my mother "It's a damn good thing you can't ship me off to McRae". Everytime she laughed so hard she couldn't stop or catch her breath. Nor has she ever shared her perspective on things.

I see kids today glued to their gizmos and having a melt down if they have no signal. I can't help but wonder if it would even be possible to require such service from today's teens. Of course, I would have been in service VERY briefly had I had a way to get out of McRae.

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Jenny said...

did you do something REALLY REALLY bad at home to make you pay?

I don't even know where to start with comments, but the last picture took me by surprise. First, to actually see the hospital and then the "For Lease" sign.

I'm with Chickory.... I would have run away. Channeled Scarlet O'Hara and WALKED home. :-) Impressive amount work and responsibility for a teen. I think you were smart to not get in the truck before you made sure it was OK.

Pam said...

Oh Fishy! What a scar on your soul this story turned out to be! How horrendous! Beyond horrendous. But, you know what, you learned how you did NOT want to live your life. Talk about a character building experience. Sheesh! This reads like a young adult novel. I see a movie script in your future. Seriously. You couldn't make this stuff up. And I especially love the pic of the abandoned hospital building. How did you get home? Whatever happened to Bernadene? Wow oh wow, what a story.

I had about six months living in a trailer in rural Oklahoma when I was married first time around ... It was ten miles down the gravel road once the pavement ended. Stayed with some of his family members, an army of cockroaches (they would climb out of the toaster when heated), a litter of puppies that lived in smelly card-board box that was never cleaned. I still have scars from it also. Why did we stay so long? I still have no idea other than it was rent free. But it did breed the seeds of my discontent with the man, I'm sure. It was existence, not a way of life.

fishy said...

No I did not!

Had Bernadine not been present, my youngest sibling would have been stillborn. This is a debt of gratitude my mother always took seriously. Their great friendship was a bonus.

Bernadine's daughter Ruth was stricken with terrible issues. One required her to live, part time, in an iron lung. At age 11 Bernadine taught me how to read to her while she was in there and how to suction her out when she could not swallow. Bernadine, a single mother of three in those days, would take the boys with her to the grocery store and leave me to look after Ruth. Only once did I have to call for help.

Ruth died Christmas day the year I was 13. On New Year's Day Bernadine's sons, Jay and Mark , officially adopted me as their new 'big sister'. Both boys were away for the summer with their Dad when Bernadine went dancing and broke her leg. I learned an incredible amount from knowing this family.

One day, maybe I will tell the story of Bernadine and I stealing Jay out of a VA hospital.

The desolation in some regions is so severe it makes you wonder why anyone would live there!

That summer the hospital was brand spanking new. The McRae family had worked for years to get funding, grants, donations to build that county hospital. They were so proud to finally get this very modest facility built. Bernadine's husband died from an aneurysm right before it opened. By then she had already signed a two year contract to be the supervisor/ administrator. She left Georgia for good once that facility was running smoothly and her contract was honored.

I returned on another nightmare bus ride. I don't think it would make a very good movie, who would you cast as Fishy????????

Ugggghhhhh to cockroaches in the toaster.
Bleaker than bleak.

Pam said...

Dakota Fanning! Or the younger sister! It is bleak to you but character building and lesson-learning ... tell kids today and they just wouldn't believe ya.

grins said...

My son almost had a fit today when the internet went down. About three his mood got better I did the dishes but I wasn't supposed to. Spent some years on a cotton farm in canyon TX. Not a fun life but the one I remember most. We remember what we attach emotions too. I remember my Uncle RB (RB was his full name) would walk out to the mailbox every day to get the mail. He got cancer but he would go to get the mail every day It was a generational farm and all his kids were aggies. The reason he went to get the mail is because we were loosing the farm and he didn't want us to know. I was just there for a few summers. I remember the dust most of all the farm went dry in a drought. I forget things now. I would forget my anniversary if it wasn't marked on the calender. I remember Uncle RB walking to the mailbox. Those are not scars on our soul they are stars in our crowns. curmudgeon out.

Anonymous said...

"Had Bernadine not been present, my youngest sibling would have been stillborn."

And a certain redheaded man you love would have died at 9 months.