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Sunday, November 16, 2014

Stepping Back in Order to Step Forward

     About a year ago, a few months after I moved home to Saint Simons Island, still staggering under the weight of the loss to my dear husband, Clint, I scheduled an appointment with my psychiatrist in Macon, where we lived for most of our marriage. I never loved Macon; I never even liked it very much. I had wonderful friends there and still do, but since we had a home here on The Island for all but four years of our married life, I claimed dual citizenship and never felt as though Macon were truly my home. It happened that I loved Clint more than I disliked Macon, so life was good there as long as I had him. In the years after his death, I began to feel like an exile, homeless in my own house. Riddled with an unrelenting and complicated grief, it would be four years before I came to the realization that I needed to move back home, back to the place where I attended elementary school and graduated from high school. My roots are here, and as you know if you read my last post, and I am again grounded and content.
     As the day of my appointment approached last November, I got so anxious that I cancelled the trip. I simply could not make myself go, so I began having phone visits with my doctor, and I relied on phone calls and social media to keep up with my friends and family.
     Several weeks ago, after what turned out to be a difficult summer and early fall with my son’s brain disorder and alcohol addiction, I scheduled a phone appointment with my doctor for November 13. 
     I was in the final stages of settling into my house, and one of the chores I had been putting off was going through the boxes of things that were in Clint’s desk when he died. As I sifted through the boxes and began replacing things in the desk, I had what I can only describe an epiphany, a moment of clarity and realization that most of the items should not be here with me. I painstakingly sifted through old photos and slides of Clint’s children, photos of him as a boy, his medical school class pictures, and newspaper clippings touting his youthful football prowess and his surgical role in the first kidney transplant in Southeast Asia. There were letters from his daughters when they were young, greeting cards he saved over the years, and all manner of memorabilia that predated our marriage. I came to the knowledge that these things to which I had been clinging so tightly are not mine - and they are not Clint. They predate the incredible time during which we fell in love and began a life together.
     Keeping only those things that are a part of my life with Clint, I began to repack the boxes with all those items that I wanted to give to his children, grandchildren and yes, his great-grandchildren. I broke down and wept, big chocking sobs that shook me to my very center, each tear representing the dissolution of an unrealistic and unhealthy tie to a past that isn’t even my own. There was freedom and healing in those tears. Will I ever be completely healed? I think not, but I am confident in the knowledge that my wounds no longer continually ooze emptiness and sorrow and loss. They are real but they are no longer white hot reminders of everything I lost on June 8, 2009. I am learning to accept them as part of me without Clint in my life, reminders of the devotion we shared, the love that bound us together.
     After tearfully rereading the dozens of cards and notes we shared over the years and the poems I wrote and dedicated to him, I tucked them into the desk drawer along with his love letters to me. I polished his brass statue of a laughing Buddha and placed it on an end table in the living room. His hole-in-one trophy is on a shelf in the den. Photos, some organized in albums, some not, of us traveling together to see Europe and watch whales in the Sea of Cortez and explore Alaska’s Southeast Passage as well albums of other trips - with and without family - are safely stashed away in the desk drawers. 
     Several days later, it occurred to me that I should actually go to Macon, to see my psychiatrist and deliver the family treasures to their rightful owners. But it was with some sense of dread that I changed my appointment to a face-to-face. In the days leading up to the trip, I became anxious, but I didn’t cancel. I had to revisit my past in order to move completely into the present.
     So, on Wednesday afternoon, I drove to Macon. I was there for two nights, and while I was in town, I saw my dearest and oldest friends, Nancy and Frances, and my stepdaughters, Gretchen and Kristy. I had time with Marnie and with Sophie, the Angel who has been looking after me for over 40 years. I saw my doctor. After literally being unable to make the trip a year ago, the time was right and my anxiety faded. I gave Kristy the boxes of memories with a sense of purpose and completion and even joy, and I arrived home having delivered myself of an emotional load I didn’t even know I was carrying.
     The parts of me that have been so locked down for five and a half years are emerging. I’m willing to venture outside  the safety of my widowhood, and I’m eager to continue my quest for a life well lived as a individual, not as half of a couple. I harbor no belief that my wounds will ever completely close, but then again, they probably shouldn’t. They are a big part of who I am today and who I will be in the future. They are part of my story.
     For today, Parrish is sober and stable, and we are looking forward to our first Thanksgiving in this house. Marnie will be joining us for our family tradition - a seafood feast of oysters and jambalaya with sweet potatoes and green bean casserole. We don’t really like turkey.

Copyright 2014
cj Schlottman


Monday, November 3, 2014

Home At Last

          It has been along time since my post back in June, but that doesn’t mean I haven't been writing. I’m in the organizational stage of my memoir and will soon be ready to begin to bring it together into what I hope will be a good book, a valuable book about the challenges and rewards of having an adult child with a brain disorder, it’s impact on all of those who love him so much. It was a long, hot and arduous summer, but it is behind us, and I pray for continued peace. But, that’s a story for another time. 
     Fall has brought with it the departure of the Hummingbirds who graced my deck from the time I first hung the feeder. We moved into our new house on August 8, and three months later, we are finally settled, art on the walls, furniture placed - after several false starts. I am happy here. Our street is quiet, nestled under a canopy of live oaks and flanked by the marsh and a lovely tidal pond where Great Blue Herons and Great Egrets regularly fish for their dinner. Our bird feeder is a flurry of activity. Carolina Chickadees and Tufted Titmouse (there doesn’t seem to be a plural), Pine Warblers and all manner of Sparrows frequent the feeder. At this time of year, even Red-bellied Woodpeckers feed off the seed, and the ubiquitous Cardinal is a regular visitor. As I write, the Chickadees are buzzing down, one after another and in pairs, sometimes landing on the top of the feeder hook to position themselves for a run to fish out the sunflower seeds. The squirrels are happy with the corn we provide for them at the other end of the yard. Honey takes a sunbath nearly every day in our fenced back yard, which is just the right size.
     On this chilly morning (50-something degrees), the sun is bright and the sky is a cloudless blue, shimmering like stained glass. After a windy weekend, the air is moving gently, just enough to ruffle the leaves on our evergreens. The neighborhood is rich in ligustrum, wax myrtle, oleander and old tall pine trees. It’s the perfect day for a bike ride, and we have one planned for later this morning. The Island is covered with bike paths, and we can pedal for miles on them.
     The summer tourists have departed and the Georgia-Florida football onslaught of students and alumni and other rabid fans is behind us. The Island is quiet and peaceful and the pace of living has returned to its languid norm. 
     With “The Holidays” looming, I’m in cooking mode and ready to take down the Christmas China and start baking cheese straws and wedding cookies. This house feels like home, and I, after a little over a year back on The Island, finally feel grounded and settled and dug in. It’s a wonderful feeling, and I am grateful for it. 

Monday, September 22, 2014

I Bend my Own Rules 02/08/13

After Monday’s call from Parrish, I didn’t hear from him until some time Tuesday.  He called to say he has a place to live and that he paid in advance for one month and that he paid his probation fees in full.  It sounds like he is living in some sort of boarding house.  I don’t know.  I think I heard a large bird screeching in the background.  

He said he was going to Social Security to change his address and try to get benefits in Georgia.  He said he would go to River Edge, the community mental facility, and get started there.  When he called (three times) last night, he asked for money and food.  When I told him no, he launched into a diatribe about how he didn’t understand why I wouldn’t help him, telling me he could not believe I would let him go hungry and broke, without enough money to take the bus to Social Security.  He ignored my every word as I repeated that he would have to make something happen, that every time I give him money, it leads to disaster.

The next call was worse.  He attacked me for not being willing to go to the store and get him some food and take it to him.  In the next breath he said he doesn’t need anything from me, accused me of being a Macon social butterfly who just wants him put away so I can go on my way and forget about him.  He told me he has issues ranging back for years, that there are many reasons he should hate me.  He denied being impaired and continued to ramble on, saying he is done with me, that there is no excuse for him to being in jail for 55 days, saying no one in his right mind would do that to him, that I needed to look into my dark self and see what I am.  He said he never wants to see me again.  There’s more, but these are the highlights.

My reaction to all of this blather was eerily calm. I am numb and disinterested in anything Parrish has to say.  I care about my son, but I have no inclination to help him go down the drain yet again.  Helping him is a planned disaster.  
This morning he called and wanted to come over to get the bag with his things.  I said I would sit it by the garage door, and he could pick it up there.  It was no surprise that he came around the garage to the kitchen  door and banged on the window.  
I debated going to my room and hiding until he went away.  I didn’t want to see him, but I was weak and opened the door and went outside to talk to him.  He was contrite, depressed and looked like hell. He said he walked from Riverside Drive, a few miles away.  He again asked for money and food and I immediately regretted the decision to answer the door.  He did not seem to remember his words of last night.  I offered to let him listen to them but he declined.  

He asked if he could have a cigarette and smoke it on the deck.  I let him.  The passive aggressive assault continued.  I remembered I have a money order made out to him that I sent him when he was in jail.  It was returned to me because he was already out when it was delivered.  I gave it to him.  He constantly complained of how tired he was, hinting that I should drive him home.  I refused.  I suggested he take the bus but he was not interested.  He brooded for a while and I told him to go home. 

PS - Those of you who are tempted to scold me, you have every reason to do just that.  I can take it.

© 2013 cj schlottman

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Lucky in Real Estate

Last Sunday, after driving up to Speed’s Kitchen for lunch in celebration of Poppy’s life, P and I rode down to The Village Pier so he could see his daddy off. Lawrence was waiting there for the pilot boat to ferry him out to a large car carrier so he could climb aboard and pilot it into the harbor. We talked for a minute while we waited for the pilot boat to reach the pier, and then he was off. Honey was in day care at Puppy Paradise, and we drove toward mid-island to fetch her. I decided to go the old way and drive down Old Demere Road and through to Frederica Road by way of our old street, Broadway.

When I turned the car onto Broadway, I noticed a real estate company's “Open House” sign. Something moved me to follow the sign. Hell, it was late Sunday afternoon, and we didn’t have anything better to do. For a month I’d been trying to find a new place to rent because, for several reasons, not the least of which are the exorbitant rent and the aggravating view of a doctor’s office across the street, where, every afternoon at six-thirty, a white van pulls up and the driver allows a young child to honk the horn incessantly until the door opens and a woman walks out, I had decided to move. My lease expires on August 15, and with only two months to find something, I had been scouring the internet and the local paper for prospects.

The signs led us to Meadows Drive. I’m familiar with the street. It’s practically around the corner from where our old house on Broadway once stood, and it curves around a lake with a house built on an the island in the middle of it. When I was a kid, I always wanted to live in that house, and one of my best friends in high school lived on Meadows Drive. The houses, most of them red brick, some ranch style and some bungalows, date from the early 1960’s. As we continued down the short street that dead-ends at the marsh, I got the feeling that I was at home.

About half way down the street that only has six houses on each side, I saw the for-sale sign. The red brick bungalow sits back a decent distance from the curb, sporting a small white picket front porch and white shutters.  There are old azaleas planted around the largest of two huge oak trees in the front yard. I pulled up in front of it, and not knowing what I would find inside, went to the door and rang the bell. 

The agent, Robert Jennings, who was two years ahead of me at Glynn Academy, greeted me and showed me into the precious little house. I was in love before I completely negotiated the threshold. There are beautifully finished hardwood floors throughout - not a scrap of carpet in sight! Oh, how I detest wall-to-wall carpet. The rooms are small but charming, and the master bedroom suite has a sitting area between it and the master bath. There are two other bedrooms and two other full bathrooms, and a den (with a fireplace) as well as a living room. The owners added a sunroom, paved with the brick they took from the exterior wall, and it features sky lights and ceiling fans. 

And - drum roll please - it has an outdoor shower off the deck! When I saw that shower, I knew I was home, that the house was meant for me. If you’ve never had an outdoor shower, you don’t know what you’re missing. We had one on the deck off our bathroom on The Point, and we used it exclusively. It was never too hot or too cold to shower outside. Hell, even our guests all showered out there. It’s what I miss most about that house.

The back yard of the bungalow is fenced, which is a must for Honey. The house measures 2400 square feet which means there is plenty of room for our things. There are two attics and a storage room in the carport. The more I saw and learned, the more excited I got.

Without hesitation, I decided to make an offer. Unfortunately, Robert told me that a couple had just that day made an offer and the owners had accepted it. There was hope, though, he said, because the prospective buyers had attached three contingencies to their contract, one of which was that their closing would hinge on the sale if there current home. I'd never wish ill luck on anyone, but at that moment, I had every intention of doing my best to kick that couple right out of the sale.

It was Tuesday before The Inspector General (that would be Lawrence) could meet us at the house and give it his once-over. He inspected it thoroughly, checking all the important things like heat pumps, plumbing, the crawl space, and the roof. He loves that kind of shit. I was surprised he didn't arrive with a tool box. He was almost atwitter about the copper wiring. Pleased at the prospect of us finding a place of our own that’s in good shape at an excellent price, he advised me to make a clean (no caveats) offer of a little more than the existing one. So, on Wednesday afternoon, I went to the bank, got pre-approved for a loan and drove myself to Robert's office and started signing papers.

Then the waiting began. Once notified of the new offer, the couple who made the first one had 48 hours to decide whether to drop their contingencies or withdraw their offer. 

I’ve always been lucky in real estate dealings and had a good feeling about this little beauty from the moment I walked through the door. Not intending to buy a house at all when I arrived, I left with every intention of making it my own.

On Friday, the 13th, almost 48 hours to the minute after I submitted my offer, Robert called me with the happy news that the other potential buyers had withdrawn theirs.

We close on July 15, and all I have to do before we move is have the deck framed up and screened in. Ah, the prospect of a sleeping porch is almost more than I can bear. 

© 2014 cj Schlottman

Saturday, June 14, 2014

A PVC Ain't Always a Pipe

Ever feel like there might be two small cats scrapping it out inside your chest, thumping and bumping and rolling around, making you feel as though someone has a little syringe of adrenaline and is popping you with it every few seconds so that you get that anxious feeling of being suddenly startled into a feeling of impeding doom? 
There’s a name for what causes that disconcerting sensation: premature ventricular contractions, or PVCs. Even the name is unsettling. They started tormenting me about two weeks ago, and I immediately knew what they were. You see, I’ve had them before and taken medicine to stop them. Cardiologists call them runs of PVCs. I call them a waking nightmare. Try to imagine feeling really frightened for fifteen or twenty minutes at a time. It’s distracting and eventually leads to undue fatigue. Who gets tired just sitting at a keyboard and tapping the keys? It happened to me, and, believe me, for a while there, it was difficult to transfer my thoughts to the page.  

Okay. Let’s back up. I've had atrial fibrillation (A-fib) for about five years. It's a condition which causes irregular heartbeats that are generated in one of the upper chambers of the heart, the right atrium, as opposed to those that come from the ventricles, the lower chambers of the heart. Sometimes the medicine used to control A-fib can control ventricular premature beats. God! You didn't sign up for nursing school, did you? So, enough already. You get it. I have a history of rhythm problems in my heart. 

When this bout with premature beats started, they lasted only a minute or two, and having experienced them before, I knew to take an extra dose of the medicine that can hold them at bay. At first it worked. They went away. Then they came back - and lasted ten or fifteen minutes. So, I called my cardiologist in Macon to ask for a referral to a heart specialist in Brunswick, which is only five miles from my apartment via causeway. The nurse was no help. Rather than make me an appointment with someone near me, she chose instead to bitch me out because I missed my EKG appointment at their office last year. Some of you may remember that just about this time last year, Parrish attempted suicide for the first time. I was a little tied up. Then we moved. A one-eyed monkey could understand why I missed the appointment. Not only was I not symptomatic, I had other things on my mind.

Never mind that. I took it upon myself to call a reputable heart specialist in Brunswick. Scheduling the appointment turned out to be an orgy of miscommunication and phone tag. A less refined person than I would call it a cluster-fuck. I phoned the office and left a message with the appointment person. She called me back two days later, but I wasn’t home. Since it was after five o’clock on Friday afternoon when I received the message, I couldn’t return the call until the following Monday. When I did get through to her, the appointment person claimed she didn’t understand that I was having a problem. Believe me, the message I left with was not vague, but that is neither here nor there. 

When I explained to her what was going on, she scheduled me to be seem the next morning at seven-thirty. Still not seeming to understand that I was symptomatic and wanted help right away, she also offered me an afternoon appointment later in the week - in case I’m not a morning person. Seriously. I grabbed the seven-thirty. Where do these people come from?

I took extra medicine the night before the appointment and again that morning because I was having runs of PVCs that were lasting not minutes but hours. I was “in rhythm” when the nurse did my EKG, and I remained so throughout the echocardiogram they performed that morning. An echocardiogram is a sonogram of the heart which is diagnostic for decreased blood flow or a heart valve problem. Shit, I'm doing it again - lecturing. My echo' was normal, and I came away unscathed except for a hematoma the size of a silver dollar on my arm where the nurse tried to inject me with contrast medium. Medical people are cursed when it comes to health care. If it can go wrong, it will go wrong for nurses, doctors and their families. I’m used to it.

I left the office with a sheet of instructions and an appointment for a stress test in two days.

Not wanting to miss even a moment of art class, I dropped off P at the apartment and drove directly to the studio, where I finished my first painting since grade school. (It’s a still life of oranges and lemons in a bowl. What else?) Then I went home to get P, and we took Honey to day care at Puppy Paradise and went to lunch. Two bites into my cheeseburger, there it was: bu-thump, bu-thump, bu-thump. Great. My new doctor, like my other one, advised me to take an extra Betapace when symptoms appeared, so, ever the compliant patient, I had taken along an extra pill for just such an occasion. I popped it into my mouth, expecting everything to be better in a little while.

We ate. We went to Winn-Dixie and milled around in there for a while, and the beats just kept on coming. (Sorry. That just slipped out.) I dropped P at our apartment with the groceries and drove to fetch Honey. It was a few minutes after five when we got home, and my chest was still thuh-bumping. 

I was exhausted, took another pill. Remember that four hours had passed since lunch, and I was still out of rhythm.

When I got no relief from the extra Betapace, and my symptoms became worse, I, at Parrish's insistence, I drove to urgent care, where again my EKG was normal. But, the nurse there kept me on the monitor, and within two minutes, the dreaded PVCs showed their ugly faces - every other beat, every third beat, painting a graph of steep hills and crashing valleys across the screen. While we waited for the doctor to finish his coffee, Ella, the nurse, regaled me with her husband's A-fib story.

He’s a Merchant Marine and went into A-fib while at sea working long hours in an engine room. He was flown back to the mainland, where doctors tried to no avail to convert his rhythm back to normal. A couple of days into his treatment, he wanted to have sex with his wife. She demurred, but he insisted that if it killed him, he would at least die happy. When they were done, he was in regular rhythm and has remained so since, which bears out my late husband’s belief that sex is the treatment of choice for anything that ails you. Too bad I don’t have a lover.

Back to my story…

The arrhythmia continued in spectacular fashion…and the doctor came into the room and clucked over me. I was surprised when he didn't wring his hands. He, of course, insisted I go to the hospital, and he denied my request to drive myself. Hell, I had been driving myself around for days. I had seen a cardiologist that morning, and he didn't tell me not to drive. 

Parrish did well during this time of uncertainty. His fears can be unreasonable, which is normal for him, but he remained as calm as he could under the circumstances. The urgent care folks put me in an ambulance, and Lawrence drove over here to gather up P and Honey and meet me at the ER.

For an hour after I arrived, my heart was wildly out of rhythm. Then it converted to normal. The doctor, an adolescent who didn't look old enough to drive, kept me for two more hours and let me come home. On the way, the damned extra beats returned, and I had to take extra medicine - again. The next day was a long, marked by hours-long stretches of arrhythmia and its attendant chest fullness and fatigue.

The next afternoon, I returned to the doctor’s office for a stress test. It went well. My blood pressure responded normally to the stress and the test revealed no blockages. Yea! There were, however, plenty of PVCs, the first documented at the doctor’s office. Afterward, plagued with a headache, I was so out of rhythm that the technician had to reset the imaging machine to accommodate the irregularity. I left the office wearing a heart monitor and I was symptomatic the for rest of the day, through art class and up until bedtime - in spite of extra medicine.

I returned the monitor this Monday morning and have not yet heard from the MD’s office. My follow-up appointment is in three weeks, and not being willing to wait that long for some relief, I doubled my medication. The heart doc advised me to take extra if I needed it, so rather than wait for the PVCs to start, I'm taking a proactive approach to my own health care and comfort. Don't worry. I'm not all that stupid. I researched the maximum dosage of Betapace, and I'm taking a reasonable amount.

It took a couple of days, but I am back in rhythm, going to Music Night and walking. In this era of healthcare, when one has to be dying to get much attention, it's essential to thoughtfully make decisions for ourselves. 
No, I'm not advocating the abandonment of a doctor's care. If not for my cardiologists, I wouldn't have the medicine I need. My doctor would be treating me aggressively if he thought I were in danger. It's just that my symptoms, though not lethal, are mine, not his. I wish, for just thirty minutes, those cats would romp around inside his chest. I wish he had to work through that kind of distraction. I believe he would be more eager to treat unsettling symptoms in his patients, whether or not they are life-threatening. 

Any thoughts?

copyright 2014
cj Schlottman

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Electric Icicles and Christmas Lights - Eating out at Shellman Bluff

This is a follow-up from my last post.

Our journey to Shellman Bluff last Sunday afternoon held its share of surprises. As we approached Ridgeville, my memory was refreshed. I was reminded by a marker on the side of the road that an entire portion of the community, The Ridge, is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The three houses that compose The Ridge are Victorian (1837–1901), not Antebellum (1781–1860), and are closer to the road than I remembered. And the massive oaks I remembered on the lawns are actually on the sides of the road. There are plenty of magnolias and azaleas in the yards, though. Entering Ridgeville, it feels ten degrees cooler as the car passes under a canopy of giant oaks dripping with Spanish moss.

How is it that memory can be so faulty? I’ve driven through that place countless times during my 66 years, and I still had a little girl’s image of wide expanses of lawn in my head. When you’re small, everything seems enormous. The first time I saw “New” Casino - now long gone - on Saint Simons, when I was about five years old, it loomed over me like a white stucco giant, and the letters spelling out C-A-S-I-N-O soared 20 feet tall in my mind. The sidewalk leading to it was a wide as a paved road.

As we continued on Highway 99, we passed tiny houses, some made of cinderblocks, others of clapboard or aluminum siding with metal awnings. How could I have forgotten the periwinkle blues and mustard yellows and bright pinks of their paint? And what about the once-white ones, now faded to gray with rusted window screens hanging from single hinges? And the trailers? I purposely use the word trailer instead of mobile home, because there is nothing mobile about them. They have sat where they are for years, most secured by concrete block foundations. While some are still inhabited, others sit among weeds as tall as I am, oxidized to a dusty brown. Scattered about the sandy and barren yards of the houses that have people living in them are concrete chickens and other fake livestock - deer painted brown with white spots, ducks, a pink pig, some goats and the occasional forgotten reindeer crumbling in the humid air and harsh sunlight of the coastal plain. There are rusty old cars and pickup trucks with weeds growing up through their decayed bottoms and out the windows. One yard boasts a broken down shrimp boat, and there is no shortage of old mattresses and box springs. Sawhorses serve to support makeshift tables made of plywood sheets in front yards and on sagging porches - none of them screened and some sporting strings of Christmas lights made up to look like icicles. 

We arrived too early in the afternoon to bird-watch at the rookery, so we drove onto Tolomato Island and through another tunnel of oaks arching across the road. We have lots of those here on the coast of Georgia. We inched past the ruins of the sugar mill and rum distillery that operated there 200 years ago. It was thrilling. No kidding, I am that big a nerd. 

We followed Highway 99 back toward Old Coast Road, as I like to call US Highway 17. The roadside is littered with still more rundown houses and trailers with dirt yards sporting the occasional leggy rose bush or top heavy sego palm among the old bicycles and cars.  Then there are the intermittent manicured lawns strewn with camellias and fronting midcentury modern red brick ranch houses. Long abandoned service stations display rusty old signs advertising Coca Cola and Pure gas and Orange Crush. Night clubs in block buildings, some of them still in business and painted red or blue, pop up on a piney lot from time to time.

We didn’t move to Saint Simons until I was nine, and those sights were reminiscent of the roadways of my early childhood when we lived in Woodbine, about 30 miles south of Brunswick - except for the Christmas lights. I vividly remember the colors of those houses and the contents of those yards. Why were these suddenly so new to me? Had I not noticed them before? Surely, that can’t be true. Maybe I really did live in Macon too long.

In Eulonia, both of us needing to use a restroom, we pulled into a dollar store to buy something so we could use theirs. Right there in the middle of nowhere, is one of the best dollars stores I have ever seen, but they had sold their last wine opener the night before. I needed one to take to Speed's. If we hadn’t been so eager to get to Shellman Bluff, I could have shopped for a while, but we went next door to the liquor store only to find out that they also had sold their last wine opener the night before. I suppose there must have been a busy Saturday night in Eulonia. I finally settled on a bottle of wine with a screw top, as the selection was limited. 

The drive from Eulonia to Shellman Bluff was as I expected - only the roadsides are cleaner of debris and decaying vehicles. There are more plastic flowers in washtubs and real shrubs than the stuff of junkyards. One neat white cottage had window boxes filled with dark purple and bright yellow petunias, those hardy sun-loving flowers that will bloom through the summer. 

We turned onto Speed’s Kitchen Road and drove past where the pavement stops, and there wasn’t a single car in the dirt yard. I immediately noticed a “For Sale” sign stuck in the sandy yard next to one of the trailers, and there wasn’t a light on that we could see. P had heard from someone that Speed’s had closed, but since we checked their Facebook page before leaving home, we had dismissed the rumor. 

“They aren’t open!” exclaimed Parrish. “The rumor must have been true. Now what are we going to do?”

We sat for a moment and stared at the unlit windows of Speed’s. The blue and red neon “Open” sign hung dark on the side of the entrance. 

“Well, that’s the end of an era for our family,” I said, crestfallen at the loss of a family tradition that spanned 38 years. I wanted to cry, but I rallied.

“Well, there’s always Hunter’s Cafe,” I suggested.

Disheartened, we turned around slowly, bidding our old friend a sad farewell, and drove back past the Rehoboth Baptist Church and onto the road that leads down to the river. We passed an assemblage of little cottages and the ubiquitous trailers on our way to the one-lane dirt road that creeps along the river. The river is on the right, and Hunter’s sits across the road, facing it.

We parked on the side of the road facing the river, and walked across to a shack of a place strung with Christmas lights and some of those electric icicles. There are white lights spiraled around a palm tree beside the entrance to the screened porch as well as multicolored Christmas lights strung from the roof of the front porch. Without its adornments, it would look like just any old shanty sitting beside the road.  We walked across the yard through a blanket of leaves to the front door and were shown to a table on the screened porch. It was much too fine a day to sit inside.

If Speed’s is notable for its lack of decor, Hunter’s is its opposite. On the porch, where we joined two other tables of diners, the windows are draped in wide strings of shiny silver aluminum icicles that serve as curtains of a sort. They are knotted at the bottom, adding a certain je ne sait quoi to the ambiance. There are more Christmas lights hanging from the aluminum roof and around the edges of the ceiling. And there are dollar bills tacked on the walls and door, each signed and put there by a visitor. It is a sight to behold, as we say in The Deep South.

The food was outstanding, much better than I remember, but then we know how tricky my memory can be. Parrish feasted on a whole flounder stuffed with crabmeat, and I had fried shrimp. We learned that ordering a broiled flounder at Hunter’s means a minimum of a thirty minute wait, much like Speed’s, and we also learned that it is worth the time it takes. Parrish was in heaven. The shrimp were good, but not like Speed’s. 

We enjoyed the wait. The breeze was stiff but not cold, and since they have a bar at Hunter’s, I sipped a glass of wine as we chatted and reminisced about Speed’s and mourned its passing. We admired the Broro, a tidal arm of the Sapelo River, and it's view across the marsh to Sapelo Island.  

It finally dawned on me to ask our server the obvious question. 

“How long has Speed’s been closed?”

“I didn’t know it was closed,” she said with some surprise.

“We drove down there and it was dark and there was a for sale sign in the yard. My son heard a rumor that it was closed, but we didn’t believe it. What do you supposed happened?”

“I dont know. That sign’s been up for a long time, but last I knew, they were still open for business. Maybe somebody’s sick and they had to close for that.”

For those of you who’ve never frequented small towns in Georgia, the fact that somebody’s sick is a perfectly sound reason for closing a business. Remember in the movie, "My Cousin Vinnie," when the dry goods store was “closed for flu?” It happens, believe me. 

We shared a slice of homemade key lime pie for dessert, and when we left Hunter’s, full and happy, we drove back to Speed’s - just in case. 

And sure enough, there were cars in the yard and the sign was on. When we went inside to see Clint’s picture on the wall, we learned that they had forgotten to turn on the "Open" sign! Jubilant, we stood in front of the photo of Clint and Miss Virginia, admiring it and remembering the night it was taken and promising ourselves that we would soon be back. 

And we will.   

Copyright 2014 
cj Schlottman

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Breaking Out For a Trip to Speed's Kitchen

I am ready to climb out of this funk that has enshrouded me for days. My knee and back are still painful, but I have learned that pain medicine makes me constipated and does little else. My knee hurts every time I put weight on it. Walking is a chore, but no manner of rest or ice has proved to change the situation. I am weary of sitting on my ass as it grows wider by he day. 
Today, P and I are going to drive up to Shellman Bluff to eat at Speed’s Kitchen, my favorite place in the world for fried shrimp and crab stew. We will take the Old Coast Road to Darien, passing through the marshes where centuries ago, rice plantations thrived, driven by slave labor. We we will ride up Highway 99, through Ridgeville with it’s clapboard antebellum homes that sit back from the road, fronted by wide lawns lush with azaleas and dotted with ancient oaks. 

We will pass through Meridian and a few miles down the road, we will turn east at Carnigan toward the Tolomato Spanish Mission Ruins. There lies a rookery populated by Wood Storks and Ibis (glossy and white) and Egrets (great and small) and other herons, like the Great Blue. We will pull out the binoculars to peer at them and speak in hushed tones as we take photos.

The tiny communities of Valona and Cedar Point and Crescent dot the road on the way to Eulonia, where we will reconnect with the Old Coast Road. From there it is  only a few miles north to the turn-off for Pine Harbor and the hard left that takes us to Shellman Bluff, one of the oldest fishing villages on Georgia’s coast. We will drive through the piney coastal plain with mobile homes and churches scattered along the roadside. On a Sunday there will be gatherings for preaching and dinner on the ground, with ladies dressed all in white - right down to their shoes and stockings. And they will all be wearing hats.

In 1976, when my brother, John, introduced Clint and me to Speed’s and we began traveling the forty-or-so miles up the road from Saint Simons to eat there, Shellman Bluff was a sleepy little fish camp, not even a hint on most maps. But fishermen knew where it was, and they launched their boats into the Broro River there. A few cabins were scattered about and there were two restaurants - Speed’s Kitchen on Speed’s Kitchen Road, just past Shellman Bluff Baptist Church, and Hunter’s Cafe in downtown Shellman Bluff, across the road from the river.
We used to have to walk through the kitchen to get to the dining rooms, comprised of two trailers hooked together to form a T. Today, there is an addition on the front where the main entrance is. Even the “new” room feels like a mobile home. In the first “old” room, there is a photo on the wall of Clint and “Miss Virginia,” taken by Kay on the night of Homer's 60th birthday dinner. Miss Virginia took care of our rowdy group that night, and the spirit of that evening lives on. On my last visit to Speed’s, while I was still living in Macon, I borrowed the picture, took it home and had it reframed and mailed it back.
The menu, for as long as I can remember, has been printed on a blue and white paper place mat. On the side of the menu, you will find this statement:  “Shellman Bluff. Not a place for Fast lane folks. Ain't got no red lights.” And they mean it. If you order broiled flounder stuffed with crabmeat, the girls will prepare and stuff that fish to order, and it can take as long as 45 minutes to an hour to be fed. It was Clint's favorite food in the world, and we always enjoyed the wait. 
Loosen your belt when you sit down. Have a cup of crab stew and some slaw while you wait for your meal. If you order a fried dinner, it will be out fairly quickly, and you will be amazed at how delicious it is. As I mentioned above, broiled dinners come out more slowly, as do crab au gratin and deviled crab, but they are more than worth the wait. I can taste the crab au gratin right now. Oh, and the hushpuppies…sweet with onions and crunchy as fried chicken. Kay Nelson taught me how to peel a hushpuppy and feast on the crust, dipped it in Speed’s incomparable tartar sauce. 

And take your checkbook or be certain you are flush with cash, because they don’t take credit cards. If you want anything hard to drink, take that with you, too. They don't sell alcohol, but they're happy for you to brown bag it.
So, I am off to shower and dress for our outing. The anticipation of the drive and the wonderful food have me excited and hungry. It will be my second trip to Speed’s since Clint’s death in 2009, and I expect to shed a tear or two when I see his photo on the wall. They will be good tears, though. He will be there with us, not like old times but like new times, better times.

Copyright 2014
cj Schlottman

Sunday, March 16, 2014

It's only allergies, BUT

Dr. Phil says that when you follow a phrase with the conjunction “but,” it negates that phrase and essentially means that the words before it are bullshit. 

I know there is never a good time to be sick and that I should just shut up and not complain, BUT I’m here to complain. It is my God-given right to bitch and moan about it as much as I please, and if you want to just stop reading right now and spare yourself the agony of hearing me whine, I will certainly understand.

Last Monday was such a sparkling day in the park that Honey and I added a loop through the fitness trail to our established route under the oaks along the river. It was warm and we were sweaty when we returned home a little out of breath, happy and feeling refreshed. We had a drink of water and both flopped down on one of the navy sofas to catch our breath. I picked up my Kindle and resumed reading Fear of Flying. Honey promptly fell asleep with her head propped on a pillow. So far, so good.

It wasn't until that night that I started to cough. It really wasn't much of a cough, just a persistent tickle in my throat , a nuisance that did not in any way foreshadow how I would feel six days later. In fact, I wrote it off as an allergic reaction to the tree pollen with which the air is thick all over The Island. 

It is, after all, Spring. I don’t care that the calendar says the Equinox won't occur for four more days; it’s Spring in The Golden Isles. The bees are in a frenzy over the azaleas that are beginning to bloom, and the pansies in pots on the balcony are wilting in the warmth of the bright sun and warming air temperatures. They need to be pulled up and replaced with heat-hearty dusty miller and petunias and portulaca and lantana. 

Cliché alert:  Spring has sprung.

So, I gave little notice to the persistent irritation in my throat and upper chest, writing it off to the change of the season, which, as anyone who lives on the coast of Georgia knows, brings hacking coughs and runny noses to many of its inhabitants.

Undaunted, on Tuesday we were back out in the park, soaking up the sun and breathing in the pollen. That night, I took a Zyrtec to combat the cough and the feeling of something fuzzy sitting in my chest. 

I woke on Wednesday feeling more congested and scratchy and announced to anyone who would listen that I had “allergies.” I haven't been sick in two years, so why think I would be now? It was hay fever, for God’s sake, nothing more. 

I had my first appointment with a new therapist that afternoon, and I went, armed with a wad tissues, to try her out. She bought the “allergy” story with good grace, and in my defense, I thought I was telling the truth. The same goes for Music Night that night, where I warned everyone off kisses and hugs, just in case, saying I thought I had “allergic” bronchitis. I played the cabasa and sang, pausing occasionally, or maybe more than occasionally, to cough into the elbow of my shirt. Relishing my time of music and friendship, I gave it my all. I left before the others because The Ex-Husband was staying with Parrish so I could have the night out.

And here’s another BUT:  I realized when I got in the car to drive home that I was inordinately tired BUT gave it little thought, being worn out as I was with my “allergies.” The cough got worse during the night and I woke with severe pain in my throat and upper chest. So I took a Lortab. (I’m never without a small bottle of them for emergencies, like pain or, God forbid, a cough.) Still telling myself I wasn’t really sick, I finally got comfortable enough to go back to sleep.

On Thursday, still deluding myself that I was not sick, only “allergic” to something, I spent the day shuffling from my bed to the refrigerator for cold water and juice. I felt like I had been hit by a bus and was coughing so deeply that I thought I would spit out my toenails. I had Parrish walk Honey, keeping myself out of the pollen and telling myself that all I needed was more Zyrtec and another Lortab and some rest. I tried to write. I tried to watch a movie on TV. I tried to read. BUT, I kept falling asleep, so exhausted was I from coughing and taking drugs.

By that night, unable to sleep except in short intervals because of the chest pain and a cough that made a hack saw sound like a lullaby, I felt as though I were coming down with pneumonia. If you’ve ever had pneumonia, you know what it feels like, and I’ve had it three times. With the rising sun, though, I thought better of things and decided another day in bed would have me back to speed. After all, the  Lortab kept the cough at pay for a couple of hours.  That’s when I slept, day and night.

I should pause here for a little background that, in your eyes, may or may not excuse my ignorant behavior and cavalier attitude about something as serious as bronchitis or pneumonia. I was married to a physician for thirty-four and a half years, and as we all know, doctors’ families are never sick. We are like cobblers’ families who never need shoes. An aspirin would pretty much fix any minor health issue we might have, and believe me, all of our ailments were minor. We needed to have arterial blood spurting from a deep wound or be unconscious in order to garner any real attention from the House Doctor. The second and third times I had pneumonia, it was under the watchful care of my husband. Both times, I had to listen to my own chest and hear the rales before he would even reach for his stethoscope.  So you see, I come by this attitude honestly.

I sat in my usual spot in my writing nook and began, well, writing. I had some thoughts for my other blog and wanted to put them on paper, telling myself that if I weren’t better by Monday, I would insert myself into the health care industry and visit the walk-in clinic that is conveniently located in my neighborhood. BUT I couldn’t stop coughing and the pain got worse. So, I brushed my teeth and fluffed my hair and trundled myself over there.

My temperature was 101 and there were patches of pus in my throat. The doctor kept saying “Tsk, tsk, you sure have some congestion there, and your throat is infected.”

He pronounced that I am suffering from bacterial bronchitis and had the nurse give me a shot of Rocephen, a potent antibiotic that is supposed to act like a carpet bomb for all sorts of infections, and a shot of Decadron to help control the inflammation and swelling in my throat and breathing tubes. I fell asleep on the examining table while I waited the obligatory twenty minutes to make sure I wasn’t allergic to the antibiotic.  

Armed with prescriptions for a potent cough syrup and another antibiotic, I went by CVS on my way home, where I have remained for forty-eight hours, in and out of bed, sleeping in two-hour cat naps and coughing.

Feel sorry for me yet? I won’t blame you if you don’t. Clearly, I am unbalanced and think I can wish away an illness that could have easily landed me in hospital. 

The birds are chirping happily now, and I’m taking my not so chirpy ass back to bed, at least for a couple of hours.

Copyright 2014 cj Schlottman

Friday, February 28, 2014

Why I Shouldn't Have a TV

Here is one of the reasons my television sits blank and mute for days at a time. I should be over at Madness Mania and Muddlement, writing my ass off and telling the story of this week with Parrish. Instead, I am all worked up over the situation in Ukraine. And it’s my fault. After playing music all day, at seven o’clock tonight, I decided to check out the news of the day, get Parrish engaged in something current, get his mind out of the past by rubbing his nose in the present.

I was standing over a pot of risotto, stirring away, when I heard a newswoman report on the situation in Crimea, a peninsula of Ukraine that sticks down in the the Black Sea. Most of the peninsula is home to the Republic of Crimea. With it’s ethnic Russian majority, it is the last holdout of opposition to Ukraine’s new political leadership.

Today, officials of the Ukrainian government accused Russia (and Vladimir Putin) of trying to take over two airports in Crimea. They said their security people prevented the takeover. Now Washington is seized up with trying to figure out what’s going on and what, if anything, the US should do about it. 

Puleeze. I have stories to write and ideas to put forth and don’t have any time for Russia to start taking over other countries. So, I turned off the tube and finished the risotto. It will be days before the I turn on the damned thing again.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The fog comes on little cat feet. It sits looking over harbor and city on silent haunches and then moves on. - Carl Sandburg

The fog won’t lift. I tried to wash it away with the salty air of the park, tried to walk it off but found myself looking at the ground moving under my feet as Honey ran around on the end of her leash. I made myself go to the marina and look out over the river and marsh but the sky was gray and there were no birds in sight. Both doors are open and there is fresh cool air blowing through the flat but I don’t feel anything except a gloomy chill even with a sweater on. And I took my medicine; I always take my medicine unless I forget.
Yesterday I washed P’s clothes so they would be fresh and sweet smelling when he gets home tomorrow. This morning I folded them carefully and tucked them into the drawers of his bureau, shorts and undershirts and socks together in neat piles. I hung his shirts in the closet in careful rows alongside his trousers and  jeans and jackets and made sure the towels are fresh and in good supply. His cashmere sweaters are in a plastic storage box to keep them fresh and safe from moths. I arranged pictures along the walls with an eye for where to hang them, took his baseball cards from the old smelly cardboard box and fitted them neatly into a plastic shoe box and put it on the bottom shelf of his night table, put Huggy Bear on his bed. I made sure the lamp has a good bulb. Then I stood in his room and wondered aloud how I would move the walnut cabinet from one corner to the other so there would be a place for his TV. I gave up wondering about and sat down to write.

Unmoved by their brilliant faces, I poured water on the pansies on the porch. There is a pile of clean towels on the other navy-blue love seat, waiting since last night for me to fluff and fold and put them away. They are glaring at me, demanding attention but here I sit at my laptop doing nothing except acknowledging their existence. They can stay there forever for all I care. 

The grill pan sits unattended where I left it last night after cooking some chicken breasts so we could have supper and Honey would have a decent breakfast this morning. I haven’t eaten today even though there are strawberries and blueberries and blackberries and Greek yogurt in the refrigerator. Coffee is all I want, coffee and cigarettes and this keyboard.

Yesterday I began rearranging the painting on the walls but I stopped and haven't gone back to them. It will make me feel better when they are all where they should be and maybe I will work on them some more today. Maybe not.

I don’t want to go back to bed because I’m afraid I will stay there all day except to make coffee and go to the bathroom. Maybe I will do that anyway. No, I won’t. I’ll get up and do something, anything to cut through the inertia, stop the stillness. It’s what I do. It’s not like it used to be when I could’t type or walk a straight line or remember a thought I had a moment before. The fog will move on, perhaps on Sandburg's little cat feet, but it will move on.

The rain started a few minutes ago. 

Copyright 2014 cj Schlottman

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Sylvia Plath and Some Other Stuff

My Kindle Paperwhite came yesterday, and last night I started reading The Bell Jar. Honey got me up at seven-thirty this morning, and I started reading it again, amazed that I could read without eye strain.

After about an hour, my eyes were fine but I was wake until a little after eleven. We started on our walk, but a storm was brewing and the wind nearly blew us over before we could get into the park. Honey did her business and we hustled back inside just before the rain came. It was a hard, wind-driven rain that came into the east window, and I had to close it. Honey hunkered down with me on the sofa but it was clear to me that she would rather have been in bed.  

I was tired of being in bed and wanted to read my book here in the good light. I never read The Bell Jar before. No, it’s true. Why? I just never did. I seem to remember being in college or maybe it was after college, that  the title didn't appeal to me. I suppose now that I’ve read the book, the title was off-putting to me because of my own bell jar.  

I was already depressed by then.  It started when Parrish was born. I had postpartum depression and no none knew what the hell it was. My doctor didn’t turn a hair when I told him I was sad all the time, just suggested that I get a hobby. What the hell did that mean? I already had my hands full with a colicky baby, and even with a great deal of help from Mama, I was barely coping. I ended up teaching myself to do needlepoint but it would be years before I could enjoy the art of it. My first pieces were as sad as I was.
I was miserable and couldn’t eat and couldn’t concentrate on anything. I quickly got back into my pre-pregnancy clothes because I couldn’t swallow food. I remember what a challenge it was to cook a meal. I remember feeling guilty because I couldn’t breastfeed. Nobody showed me how and I thought it was something that just happened naturally. Boy, was I naive. I think it was about that time that I started drinking alcohol. I liked the way it made me feel - still do. 

The depression deepened when I left Lawrence, even though I was sure I was doing the right thing. My appetite dwindled to nothing and I ended up weighing less than a hundred pounds. I worked through it, though, and was able to move forward with my life

Where did that come from?  Oh yeah, The Bell Jar. It’s one of the most incredible books I’ve ever read and I want to read it again. I may just start over tomorrow. I downloaded a book of Sylvia Plath’s poems tonight and started reading them. I’ve tried to read her poems before but never got into them. Now I think they are incredible. All of a sudden, I can read them with some understanding that I suppose has to do with me reading the book. I want to read some of her short stories now. I just went to Amazon and none of the are in Kindle edition. Maybe some day.

I finished the book this afternoon. It’s unheard of for me to read an entire book, even a short one, in a day.  My eyes get too tired and my vision blurs. The Kindle allows me to crank up the font to a size that doesn’t cause the crippling eye strain I get when reading hard copy. I only put it down every now and then to do some small chore, like clean up my room since Lawrence is supposed to bring over my dock box some time this weekend, and since it’s going in the bathroom, he’ll have to go through my room with it. I made an half-ass attempt to start cleaning the kitchen from Wednesday’s dinner with Bob, but I only managed to put the dishes in the sink to soak. I didn't give a shit about anything but that book. 

Tonight I started to think about arranging P’s room. The carpet is filthy on the side of the bed where The Famous Writer sat and smoked weed and spilled the ashes on the carpet. I suppose I should be grateful he didn’t burn it, but I’m not grateful for anything about him except the fact that he is gone. I’ll call a carpet cleaner to scrub the last of him out of the room. And I need to hang pictures and buy Parrish a decent chair. I also need a room divider - a handsome screen - to wall off my office and bedroom from the great room. And I need a storage unit of some kind for the garage. I need a lot of stuff, but I don’t want to spend money right now.   

The rain didn’t last long and by mid afternoon the sun was shining, so we got in our afternoon walk, actually extended it by making a loop around by the slave cabins after we left the park. I feel stronger in my legs and today there was no pain, even when I woke up. I wish I could figure out what makes the pain so bad at times and nonexistent at others.

I called Sophie last night, and she’s not coming. She says her brother is sick. I’m terribly disappointed but I understand. I called Melvina and left a message for her to call me back but never heard from her. I can do Parrish coming home by myself if I have to but I’m not looking forward to it. 

I’m unsure about P’s dismissal. It’s supposed to happen on Monday, but my understanding is that we are to have a family meeting with the Dr. Snow and Wayne, the social worker, before he comes home, but no one has contacted me about that. I called Wayne yesterday and today, left messages to call me both times but never heard from him. What’s with that? He threatened by an involved family member with guardianship? Just sorry-ass and not concerned? I really don’t give a shit. I just want him to do his job.

Parrish is still intermittently confused, which is a worry, but he is so much clearer and present than he was a week ago, I can’t complain. Maybe he will continue to be more in the here and now as the Clozaril takes effect. God, I hope so. We could have a pretty good life together if he can stay on his meds and stay sober. Anyone with half a brain and one eye can tell I want to live alone and unbothered by another person in my flat, but this situation is what I have and I will deal with, and I can make the necessary adjustments if P continues to improve and doesn’t throw crazy and chaos all over the place.

Copyright 2014 cj Schlottman