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A long time ago, in a hicktown far, far away........

Posted Nov 30 2008 12:21pm
Man wonders but God decides When to kill the Prince of Tides.(Pat Conroy, "The Prince of Tides")

I don't know why I've always loved that poem. Maybe it's because it's so dramatic, and I always wanted to be "dramatic". I always wanted to be a beautiful maiden with long, flowing, butterscotch-colored hair, wearing a beautiful white gown, who ran along a misty seashore, the waves crashing around her as she held a delicate hand to her forehead calling out to the Prince of Tides: "Townsend? Townsend!"

Unfortunately, I am not that girl. Instead, I'm an average sort who lives in a tiny little podunk town in Texas near an Interstate and a Dairy Queen, where the largest structure in town is the SuperWalmart. (No kidding. The courthouse comes a close second and they're right next door to each other.) There's no misty seashores to run along here. And if I ran down the Interstate calling for Townsend I'd probably get run over or arrested. And the irritated cowboy cop who arrested me would drawl: "What in the Sam Hill are you doing running down the highway like that? And where's this fairy Townsend?--we shoot people with names like that."

This is red-neck area. The men wear cowboy boots, the ladies wear Cruel Girl jeans, and the children wear camouflage. And everybody's very patriotic. There's flags all over the place down here. Everybody is loyal to their country. Some are loyal to America in general.... and some are loyal to er...the former South. There are still people around here who are positive that the South will win the next skirmish. They think we're just in a very long half-time.

But back to being patriotic--here's a camouflage baby sweater I knitted for a veteran buddy's grandkid:

As for being "dramatic", I have been accused of many strange behaviors but not that one. My parents thought me ill-mannered, my friends think I'm strange, and my sister just thinks I'm an asshole. A nun at the convent nursing school I attended once tried to be kind, stating that she believed that I am (and I quote) "er...uh...eccentric?" I once had a boyfriend who called me brilliant. I lived ecstatically on that compliment for a few days until I did something idiotic and he changed his mind and stated that he now believed I was simply a "looney toon". Most people just roll their eyes around me.

I basically do three things in my little life here in the far country. I work as a home health nurse, I knit, and I attend 12-Step meetings. Really.

It's a little different being a home health nurse here than it is in urban areas. Here in Texas ranch country we "road nurses" drive Jeeps loaded with medical supplies. Sometimes we might carry a dozen eggs or some milk to someone who had forgotten those items when they went to the "Walmark". We might stop at the local pharmacy and grab Mr. so-and-so's rheumatism medicine so he won't have to make the trip. We meet at our office in the mornings, laughing and joking around as we jockey around the giant assignment board to see what our assignments are for the day. It is not uncommon to bargain at this point. "Lord, I can't stand doing Mrs. so-and-so's medicine boxes," someone will gripe, "She whines for so long about who she's mad at at her WMU that it always puts me behind all day". Another person may make a tentative offer: "I'll trade you her for Mr. so-and so's blood draw--his veins roll and he yells before I even stick him", and the deal is struck. And then there are the "secret coffee breaks" to meet up and gossip..... One sly nurse whispers to a pal: "I'll meet ya at the Bar-Be-Que place and we can talk--I'll call you on your cell phone when I'm done at the so-and-so's"....and another deal is struck.

And then we all jump into our SUV's and roar out of the parking lot like it's "Ladies, start your engines" time. And out we go to the cattle ranches, chicken farms, donkey farms, and the occasional goat farm.

I don't like the donkeys. They stare at me rudely. And they know they are being rude. So I am rude right back. A farmer's wife once accidentally witnessed me saying: "What in the hell are you looking at?" to her donkey, who was staring at me over a fence. "Take a picture, it lasts longer," I continued belligerently. I was going to really get into it with this donkey when I noticed the farmer lady. "Oh don't mind him, sugar," she said, flapping a dishcloth at a fly. "He's just mad because I put that paint pony in there with him. He thinks the paint takes on airs."

I just don't like donkeys.

The sweater-coat I am knitting, pictured up top (bunched up at the waist to show that I intend to knit a belt for it), is made in the colors of the uniforms my company allows. I've ripped out that collar and am now doing a different one. I make up my patterns as I go. It needs sleeves. I knitted it in circular, cutting steeks for the front and sleeves, and I knitted facings for all the raw edges so that the inside would be neat.

But about those colors of our uniforms. It's a sore point with some of our nurses. Now, some people might not think it's a big deal to get into a snit over uniform colors. It's the very fact that the colors are dictated to us. In the big city the nurses can wear any scrubs they want, even wrinkled ones. They can wear wrinkled scrubs with Harley flames all over them if they wish. But not here. Not with this company. So if you had to wear starched, creased, scrubs with your name embroideried on the breast pocket (yes, our company actually has them laundered, starched, and embroideried for us) out to dirty ranches and farms, in little bitty towns where everybody stares at you in amazement because it IS unusual for country nurses to wear such crisp uniforms, you'd have some preferences, too.

Now don't get me wrong, because I like some of the colors. The sage green is my fave, and there's the hunter green. I'm even fine with the cranberry. But the "pinks" have GOT to go. You should see me in those horrid things, trying to get out of my Jeep at a cattle ranch, juggling my nursing bag, navigating my way carefully through the pasture to the farmhouse-- while a yard dog has his jaws clamped onto the hem of my pantleg. "Just kick him!" the rancher will always yell. With WHAT? The dog's got one leg and I'm using the other leg to try vainly to step around the huge cow-pies. I do not like stepping in cow-pies.

Sometimes I get knitting inspirations out on the ranches. Here's some leopard socks I knitted once. What? You don't think there are leopards out here in Texas? It took me forever to graph out my own leopard pattern on knitters graph paper. I used a number 2 pencil and I marked and erased for days till I got it the way I wanted. A fair isle pattern with no floats longer than 5 stitches. (Several people have asked to use the leopard graph and so I've put it on my website--see links section. Although my graph is copyrighted, I don't mind if you use it for a knitted project. I haven't published the socks pattern yet because these socks were the "mock-ups" to see how the graph worked-- and I haven't perfected the pattern yet--but I will some time and stick it on the website.) I named a rancher's new calf "Taffy" once and it completely irritated him. "You don't name CATTLE" he stated, as if I were the stupidest city-girl he'd ever come across. "But he comes to me when I call him," I persisted, petting the little thing on his ear where they'd stapled that big ID tag. The calf bleated at me just like a goat. The rancher just rolled his eyes. One day I went to that ranch and witnessed that damn dog bite that poor little calf right in the hindquarter. Then I DID try to kick the dog. But I slipped in the mud and sat down hard right in the middle of a giant cow-pie. Fortunately, I was wearing the hunter greens.

Actually, I am a stupid city girl. One day I pulled up a farm house and stood stock still in the drive way, transfixed by what I saw in the distance. There were these huge, strange-looking horses grazing on a hillside nearby. The farmer's dogs were all barking at me but I just stood there stupidly staring at the animals. The farmer's hired hand came out of the back door (nobody in this area uses front doors--it took me months of futile knocking to find that fact out) and called out: "Hey, are the dogs scaring you?"

"No," I replied. "But those are the strangest looking horses I have ever seen."

He turned to look at what I was looking at and his face took on the most shocked expression I've ever seen. "Do WHAT?" he exclaimed.

(Translation: in hicktown USA, the expression "Do WHAT?" can mean various things, from "You're kidding!", or "No Way!" to "She didn't!!" Sometimes it can mean "Why in the name of the Great Jee-Hose-a-Phat did you say a dadblame thing like that for?")

Anyway, in this case it meant that the guy thought I had said something extremely stupid. He finally just started laughing and said "Them's not horses!" They're not?" "Naw....them's camels."

But in my defense, a one-hump camel bent over grazing in the grass CAN look similar to a big horse in the distance, okay?

But back to the horrible pink uniforms. I did include that color in the sweater coat but only minimally. The pinks are the bane of my existence. One of the most horrible moments of my life occurred last Christmas when I was forced to wear them while riding our company float in the town Christmas Parade, waving my hand in the perfect imitation of a prom Queen (which is also one of my secret dreams). I was thrilled when I spotted the town newspaper photographer honing his camera in on me. I cocked my head in what I thought was a coquettish look, purposefully causing my Santa Hat's silver pom-pom to dangle darlingly, imagining myself on the front page of the next day's newspaper, riding the float to glory.... And then suddenly my co-worker next to me looked at my butt and her face went a deathly pale. I looked down and was mortified to notice that I had accidentally chosen bright purple paisley underwear that morning, completely forgettting that anything but white shows through those damnable pink pants. I didn't make the town newspaper but I did make the company's publicity shots, which strangely never made it to our monthly newsletter like they usually do....

(By the way, here in redneck country nobody uses the word "underwear" for ladies' undergarments. They're "pannies". Not "panties". "Pannies".)

Anyway, so I'm a road nurse. What I really hate are the chicken farms. This area has hundreds of them. The big, long, barracky-looking structures remind me of chicken concentration camps. And many of the farms lie in the valleys surrounding huge chicken processing plants, their smokestacks visible for miles. Whenever I see those horrid chicken trucks carrying hundreds of chickens to their doom, I want to liberate them. I want to throw open the back door of the truckbeds and yell: "Run for your lives!!! Remember 'Chicken Run'?"(Although the truck driver would most likely be mystified at how in the world anybody could goof up the slogan about remembering the Alamo, thinking I was just a stupid city girl who didn't even know the proper local slogans......)

Seriously. I want to do that. If I could save one chicken it would be worth it. Um...I just remembered that I had Kentucky Fried Chicken for dinner tonight. I'm sorry. That was rude. Forget the chicken thing.

Knitting is my hobby, and my passion. I love to knit! I love fondling yarns and mixing/matching the colors. And I'm a very rebellious knitter. Show me two colors which don't match and I'll knit them together just for spite. Tell me I can't use a certain technique with a certain type of yarn and I'll knit a pullover using them.

And the third thing I do with my days is that I attend a 12-Step meeting. Last night I even took a knitting magazine with me to one. I carry knitting magazines with me as sort of security blankets. I wouldn't dream of opening one in a 12-Step meeting while somebody was talking, though. The meetings are way too interesting to miss even one minute. They are usually raucous affairs where we crack ourselves up for one hour. Some of the best stories I've ever heard were at a 12-Step meeting. (Remind me to tell you the one about the speeding pickup truck pulling a boat with gallons of soap suds trailing behind it like smoke and knocking over a road divider, a 'Catfish King' sign, and an Interstate Exit marker.) Funnest hour of the day. It's the only place I know of where I can go and be my absolutely strangest self-- and I fit right in. And my 12-Step meeting keeps me sane, truly it does.

(Yes, I'm sane, truly I am.)

I don't know why I worry so much about fitting in around here, though. This place is the complete back-40 of the State of Texas. I mean, this area is not just "southern"--it's "suthern", if you get my drift. Nurses here are country girls. Once, one of our nurses couldn't open a door to a helpless patient's room one day when the patient's son was way out in the barn and had accidentally left that particular door locked. So the nurse simply got a screwdriver and unhinged the door.

And the nurses here talk "suthern". You don't say "Thank you" around here. You say "thank YEW!" When I first started working for my company we were sitting in a case conference one Thursday afternoon and our manager was droning on and on with the usual weekly announcements. Don't do this, don't do that, DO do this, DO do that, etc. etc. "And oh yes," she remembered. "When faxing messages to the doctors, please try to use better grammar, okay? No phrases like 'he harked up a lot of stuff' or 'Ms. so-and-so says her husband has a risin' --you know what I'm talking about." But nobody did. So she elaborated. "Just try to clean up your grammar and don't sound so redneckky. Don't use the word yall for gosh sakes." Now THAT did shock everybody. One of my co-workers, a corn-fed country nurse who wears Cruel Girl Jeans when not in company uniform, looked straight into the eyeballs of our manager and exclaimed: "Lord Jesus! And just WHAT would an alternative word for 'yall' BE????"

Our manager couldn't really think of one so we still use the word y'all in our faxes. The doctors write that word on their doctor notes in the hospital. "Y'all give Ms. so-and-so a milk & molasses enema every night or she says she cain't go in the morning."

I like to crochet, too. But I like to be rebellious there, too. Once I threw caution to the wind and crocheted a granny-square scarf out of cotton and metallic yarn and then sewed applique's onto the squares. Don't laugh--because I sold that scarf for $50 in a boutique. Here's the pic:

Well, perhaps I'll sign off for today. I'm just learning how to blog. Perhaps I bore you to tears. But it's the only way I've figured out to share pictures of stuff. So I'll leave you with another Pat Conroy quote from the "Prince of Tides" poem:

I blaze with a deep southern magic,the bombardiers taxi at noon.....

(I'll tell you what the bombardiers do another day. )

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