An Only Child with a Dozen Brothers and Sisters

My mother-in-law fell in March and broke her hip. For the next two weeks she lay in the bed, and for only a few minutes did she recognize anyone. The times were trying on Amy as she watched he mother slip from this world to the next. For me, those weeks were filled with wonder as I discovered that my wife, who is an only child, has several brothers and sisters.

Amy is blessed with close relationships with her cousins. They came to the hospital to offer their support and help to Amy. At the same time, these folks poured out their affections to “Aunt Mary.” Scott had taken her to dialysis treatments recently, and he developed a closeness during that time. He stood by her bedside, held her hand, and talked to her with a tenderness usually reserved for one’s parents. Tommy and his wife Debbie made several trips during the ordeal. Tommy, too, held Mary’s hand, and he offered prayers for her and the family. His brother Mike made sure to spend some time with his aunt as well. Tim lives in Nashville, but he took a day off in order to make a visit to the hospital. Melinda and her husband Howard frequented the hospital and sat with Amy during some rough times. John, the eldest cousin, brought his mother Georgia Lee and cooked a meal for us one afternoon. Jimmy came by as well.

We were fortunate to have had an area to sit close to the room. Most of the time, no fewer than six people filled the chairs on most days. Frances and Bruce were their almost every day and night. During those times these cousins, aunts, and uncle reminisced about the good old days when they were children. The stories about parents, and grandparents, as well as extended family members, had us laughing most of the time. Hospitals are dreary, depressing places, but that seating area was one of the happiest places of all. One voice would rise over another and then another would take the lead, and before long, Amy had to shush us lest the hospital staff throw us out.

What was so astounding to an outsider looking in was the love that these nieces and nephews had for their aunt. They kissed her and patted her. They cried to see Mary in such terrible shape, and they held hope that just for a minute she could have a clear moment so that they could tell her how loved she was.

After a two-week struggle, Mary passed. It was a blessing for her; it meant no more pain and frustrations with failing health and constant medical procedures. It also became a blessing for Amy. The cousins, as well as aunts and uncles, closed ranks and circled her with love. Their grief was close to Amy’s, and they assured her that all she needed to do was ask and help would be on the way. The nephews served as pall bearers, and they carried Mary to her resting place. They couldn’t have been sadder or more caring in their services if their own mothers had passed.

It’s been nearly a month since Mary died. The cousins have maintained their contact with Amy. I can only equate it with the close contact that Jim, Dal, and I kept after the death of our mother years ago. John and Joy, another cousin, have worked to put together a reunion in July. It will be a day with much food, fellowship, laughter, and tears. They’re all excited to be together.
One night at the hospital, I told Amy that she wasn’t an only child. She had a dozen brothers and sisters in her “cousins.” My thanks forever goes out to them for loving Amy and taking her in as a sister.

A Madden Addiction

We just got home from Nashville. Amy was determined to travel to see "the boy," and I was given the choice to go or stay at home. Right! If I'd stayed home, Lacey would have been none too happy with her daddy. I just couldn't figure out why we were making this trip. Next Friday is Madden's birthday, and we are attending his party on Saturday, so in just a few days Amy and I will again climb into the car are make the two-hundred mile jaunt to middle Tennessee.

It didn't take long to figure out why we made the trip to see Madden. When we arrived, he was eating his supper. His attire for that event was a diaper and nothing else. Lacey loads up the tray of his high chair, and Madden dives in.

I don't recall any child or adult enjoying a meal as much as this little guy, but Amy says that Dallas was the same way. She used to take our son from his chair and call it quits for him; otherwise, he'd have eaten until his stomach exploded. I recall one Easter when Dallas was barely a year old. We ate dinner at Mother's house, and all of us stacked our dishes on a table located in an adjacent sun room. We enjoyed our dessert, and then someone pointed to Dallas. He was standing at the pile of dirty dishes and eating from them. His face was covered with sweet potato casserole, and the look on that mug was one that indicated he'd been caught in the act.

Madden is the same way. He crams food in as fast as possible. He is an indiscriminate eater. So far, he hasn't culled much of anything. Broccoli, chicken, ravioli, carrots--all are fair game for this little guy.

Amy and I walked into the kitchen when we arrived and were met with hugs and kisses from Lacey and her husband Nick. Madden was too busy for such acts, but he did look up and flash a big smile at us. Of course, his lips were rimmed with whatever foods he'd been poking in his mouth, but that smile was enough.

All Saturday, Madden split his time between eating, sleeping, and capturing our hearts. His best trick is reaching for either Amy or me. Of course, we whisk him from the arms of a parent or the carpet on the floor, and the boy can have pretty much anything he wants. However, all that Madden seems to demand is attention, and the supply of that is endless.

Lacey, Amy, Madden, and I went shopping for next weekend's birthday party. While the two women looked for suitable birthday items in the women's section, I pushed my grandson around the store in a buggy. He didn't whimper once, and I strutted around the store like any proud granddad would. We walked through the children's area, and I decided Madden needed a pair of "something" to wear at the beach. I couldn't find mesh shoes that fit, but I did come across a navy pair of crocs. Got'em! I eyed a water sprinkling system for children's play in during the summer months. Got it!

Later Saturday, Amy gave Madden a bath, read him a story, rocked him, and put him to bed. She was on cloud nine. It's amazing how much more enjoyable those tasks are when they are done as a grandparent than as a parent.

We loaded up the car Sunday morning and arrived in Knoxville by early afternoon. Amy commented in the evening how much she missed Madden and Lacey and Nick. I shook my head and told her not to worry; we'd be back in Nashville in only five more days. That'll be fine with me too. I'm ready to see the little guy and my grown kids too.


My mother-in-law fell and broke her hip. After surgery her condition turned precarious, and doctors zipped her from the surgical floor to the heart floor, and finally to the intensive care floor. It was at this last stop that I noticed the families of patients, and to be honest, they were entertaining.

One family had its father/husband in a room. The group numbered as many as ten at times. They sat in the waiting area next to the elevators, although seating was available outside the rooms of patients. The mother of the group was a short, rotund woman who wore glasses and always seemed to have on the same red polka-dotted blouse and matching red slacks. For some reason she sat in a wheel chair, and other relatives pushed her everywhere. The woman seemed to delight in seeing familiar faces and insisting they stop by to see her husband.

The son of the man was memorable. He wore his shirt untucked, and it cascaded over his large belly. His receding hairline ended at his slicked down brown hair. The man was in his twenties, and he spent much of his time sitting in a chair at the desk in the outer waiting room and holding court with other family members. Often, he walked to the nurses’ station to engage in conversation with the staff. After the first day, nurses suddenly needed to take care of a patient when the son ambled toward them.

Another patient’s condition required staff and family members to wear gowns and gloves. For the family, the throw-away yellow gowns were improvements to their wardrobes. Those individuals wore the same clothing every day that they appeared in the unit. Men with grubby faces and mud-covered boots sat in the waiting areas for long spells. One staff member was overheard saying that the group would benefit from being hosed down; at least that would knock down aroma that was a combination of cigarette smoke and sweaty bodies. Another commented that he didn’t need to wear a gown because no germ could live on him.

One woman in this family was of particular interest to all. She must have injured her right knee for she wore an elastic brace each time she visited. The amusing part was that the brace was worn “over” her jean leg. None of us had ever seen a brace worn that way. The woman had a perpetual smile and glassy look that helped to explain the situation.

The group of which I was a part had its own personality. For one, not enough seats were available for every bottom. We had assembled a small crowd, and some of us were too loud. In fact, my wife Amy “shushed” us on a couple of occasions and warned that the nurses would toss us if we didn’t back off. Most of us speculated about Mary Alice’s condition, but I don’t think a single person had a licensed to practice medicine. Amy was reserved, but polite, and the strain of the situation showed most on her and her Aunt Frances. Her uncle Bruce was silent, partly because he doesn’t deal well with sick loved ones, partly because he has little patience with this bunch of big talkers. Mary Alice’s other sister Georgia sat like a bulldog beside the bed and made sure she heard every word that doctors said.

When loved ones fall ill, families and friends unite. They come faithfully to check the status of the sick person. Then they spend much more time catching up on the latest gossip and just enjoying each other’s company. Most of us can do little for the patient, so we hang around and try to figure out what to do next. Waiting room crowds are fun to watch. Some of them, however, can do more harm than good for the ailing person.


I’m a southern boy, born and raised. No one can be prouder of his heritage, and I’ve bragged over and over about living in a small community outside the city limits of Knoxville. With that said, I’ve seen some things of late that disturb me about the south that I love so much.

For one thing, the land below the Mason-Dixon Line is being eaten by suburban sprawl. Once upon a time, the south had few “true” cities. Towns were scattered throughout the states. These days, towns have turned into cities, but folks don’t like living in them, so they flee to the countryside. Before long, the city reaches out to annex areas, which in turn, drives people farther away. This vicious cycle is responsible for the development of Farragut and points beyond. Currently, development reaches all the way to Dixie Lee Junction. I wonder how long it will be until “city” and sprawl, complete with strip malls and subdivisions gobble up the land all the way to Kingston to the west and Sevierville to the southeast.

With the growth of small towns in the south has come the flood of folks from the north. No, I don’t hate Yankees. In fact, I have some friends who were once residents of such places as Chicago, and Minnesota, and Michigan. What bothers me is that this influx of folks is slowly killing the southern accent used by natives to the area. In fact, those who speak in such a manner are dismissed as illiterate or ignorant humans for whom there is little hope. My fear is that one day our native East Tennessee tongue will perish. Already words such as “warsh” (warsh your hands for supper), “poke” (put those groceries in a paper poke), “rat” (“sit rat thar”), and “fixin” (I’m fixin to watch some television) are disappearing from everyday conversation.

I worry that my grandson might never learn to speak the language of the south. In school, he’ll be taught the “correct” way to speak. Never mind that losing the accent from a section of the country in many ways destroys its true identity. I don’t want Madden to speak the same as Midwesterners. They’re good people, but the lack of an accent makes identifying their origins impossible.

Food is another thing that’s disappeared from the south. When I was a boy, Crisco was a staple in every household. Meat was served as often as folks could afford it. Bologna on white bread was what we ate for lunch, and sometimes Mother fried it for supper as well. Now, the health industry tells us that everything we ate then is bad for us. In its place are nutritional foods. They taste like cardboard and are void of salt, another thing that will kill us.

I travel I-40 to and from Cookeville often. For some time now, I’ve noticed an unpleasant site just passed the last exit at Monterey. Some individual has unfurled a confederate flag atop a pole that can be seen by passersby. That flag is not one of the proudest things we in the south have. It doesn’t stand for pride in the area. It doesn’t serve as a unifying banner. Instead, it symbolizes the fracturing of our country that came to a head during the Civil War. For some, that war is still being fought. They still want separation from the rest of the United States. And of course, too many of them want to keep black Americans in second-class citizenship. They might want to look to Washington to see that most of the country no longer thinks that way. No, things are perfect, but huge strides have been taken over the years.

I love the south and always will. I hope that it can keep many of the good things that have come from it—scenic country settings, the drawls that give richness to the language, and the foods that make eating a delightful activity. At the same time, I hope that those destructive things from our south will be recognized as divisive and forever dropped.