Where I Come From

Posted on May 13, 2013 by

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It’s always raining when I go home. About once a month, I pack up my small daughter and we drive, across town, on two interstates. We take Coalburg Road to the new highway that everyone still calls “Corridor X” and that has been in the process of being built since before I was born. We head west to take my mother to the doctor.

We drive for an hour through beautiful countryside; it’s all rolling hills and evergreens and fast, shallow waterways cutting through them. And then, on the side of this new and mysteriously named highway, a giant white cross comes into view.  When I say giant, I mean giant. Remember, this is Alabama, so I have some perspective on the size of religious displays. It is lit from the bottom with bright white lights that make it glow through the rain. It is then that I think, “Good God. I come from a weird place.”

We pick up my mother at my grandmother’s house, which is where she has lived since my grandmother died. It is next door to the house that I grew up in, and that was once my great-grandparents’ house. No one goes in that house anymore, because it is depressing for various reasons and is inhabited by smelly feral cats. My mom and my daughter smile at one another through the window of the backseat for a few minutes before she gets in the car, and then we’re off to the doctor’s office.

This is my mother’s third doctor. Her first, the one she has had for over twenty years, died in a bicycle accident. The second died of cancer after she’d only seen him twice. Now her current doctor has patients from both of the deceased doctors and the waiting room is always full and the wait time is four hours, sometimes five.

On her first visit there, she was immediately struck by the signs hanging on every wall and door that warned patients against being loud, rude, or invasive of others’ privacy. She quickly learned why they were there.

On that first visit, she was informed of the life story of the woman sitting next to her. She had been married to a man who  “didn’t treat her right,” and she worked herself to the bone for him and for their children. As a result, she neglected her own health, particularly her teeth. One of them became infected, and the infection worked its way into her brain. She was comatose, not expected to live. Her husband got a divorce. She was placed in hospice care. She had a male nurse, a young man who stayed by her bedside almost all the time. He brought her back from the edge of death with his care, and when she woke up, he was there with an engagement ring.

At this point in the story, the office door opened and a young man in his twenties walked in. The woman, in her late fifties, waved and he came over and sat down beside her. He was good-looking, with neat blond hair and good clothes. He was the hospice nurse husband.

“And Amy,” my mother said, “he was just about the gayest gay man I’ve ever met.”

These are the kind of stories I get every time I go home.  My mother tells me about the thieves who came in the night and stole several broken appliances from her carport.

“Did you call the police?” I shriek at her. She can never remember to lock the door, they could have walked right in.

“No, I’m afraid they’d catch them and give me that washer back. They saved me a couple of hundred dollars by hauling all of that stuff off. I don’t want it back.”

“Did they take anything else?”

“Yes. My mop. I had it drying on the back porch. But if it only costs me an old mop to have all that crap taken away that’s fine. I’ll get a new mop.”

So, this is the place I come from, and it is so full of stories that all I have to do is call my mother or Google it to find something new, some new gem to file away under “Jasper, Alabama.” If we are a product of place, if this is my Yoknapatawpha, then God help me.