In the 1969 movie “Midnight Cowboys,” Dustin Hoffman’s Ratso Rizzo, a New York street conman befriends naïve Texas cowboy played by Jon Voight. The latter’s character had gone to the city to hustle his living but finds himself out-hustled by the crippled Rizzo who also suffers from TB or pneumonia—result of a tough street life.
I always remembered this movie….
In 1985, while teaching school, in one of the worst years in my personal life, I lost 20 pounds…became ill… but kept trying to go into school and do my job. Sometimes, I’d stand at the chalkboard and proceed to cough, uncontrollably. My kids (7th and 8th graders) would say “Miss Mellor (you’re always a “miss”—no matter how many times you’ve been married,) you’ve got A-mmonia.”
Finally, I went to a doctor who confirmed what my kids apparently knew: “Mrs. Mellor…You’ve got pneumonia.”
During that period, I felt a kinship with Ratso Rizzo for his vulnerability…his weakened condition…the life situations that can kill.
That year I seriously doubted whether I’d make it.
From “In the Shadow of Princes”…a future book, about a girl raised in a family of male superstars….
Last night, at the Poetry read, “Synergy,” at North Kingstown Library, I asked how many believed a home took on the spirit(s) of the occupants. Half the room’s hands went up.
I then told them I lived in an evil house, in Edgewood, Rhode Island, for 8 years, a period of time when my family suffered greatly.
Last night was my first foray into a public reading of my own poetry before an audience.
Here’s one of my poems:
My grandsons (3 of them) are as far away (in Seattle) as they can be from Grandpa and me, so what do I do? I write letters to them, including photos. I kind of know what will interest them…and always include humor. I will be speaking about this and a whole lot more in my upcoming TedTalk at Salve Regina University, on March 25th…
Here’s my most recent letter…..Just remember, I am writing as if I am talking to little kids (cuz I am)…
Some Day in March…. 2017
“Little Miss Sunbeam”
When I was a girl, a new kind of white bread came on the market named Sunbeam Bread (kind of a stupid name) but everybody loved it because it had no holes…In other words, its texture was all smooth. The commercial on TV was of a little girl with her blonde hair pulled up in a ponytail. Well, your Mom looked like her, so lots of my friends called your Mom “Little Miss Sunbeam.”
I took your Mom everywhere with me for at the time I was raising her by myself. In the morning, we had to go off together at 6:30 (I taught junior high school, so we had to leave VERY early) and I brought her to her babysitter’s—Maryanne’s house, in a nearby town. She was only one year old.
One day it was so pitch black that I didn’t see the car parked in the road across the street (it was usually never there) and I ended up backing into it–slightly. Not enough to do any damage but it was a real wake-up call.
Other times the gasket (that’s a rubber sealant) around the front window leaked in rainstorms and the water puddled up on the floor, and it FROZE. Now, we were really in a jam, because I had to pull up the accelerator, to get it unstuck from the floor, before I could drive.
I took your Mom to Maryanne’s house every morning for four years. Maryanne had five of her own children and they were all well-behaved. I liked Maryanne very much and I wish I had a picture of her today. I wonder, too, if your Mom remembers her.
Now, back to the car. It was my Chevy Malibu and it was a greenish/blue color—my very first car which by this point was showing signs of wear. It had 200,000 miles on it and in that day, that was a lot of mileage. It used to break down 3 times a week…every week. That’s when your Mom and I would be stuck along some road, waiting for help from someone to pick us up, get the car to the local fix-it gas station…whatever. It was a constant problem with that car but I couldn’t afford a new one.
Finally, after a year of this torture, I got enough money for a down payment to buy a little yellow Datsun—the cheapest car on America’s highways.
Now, what happened with us in that car? Two years after I had it, I was out (with Kerry) to meet a friend at a Chinese restaurant. We heard this awful racket on the tin roof of the restaurant and I wondered what it was but not enough to get up and see. We stayed for an hour or so and when we left, your Mom (she was 5 now) went bounding out the front door, only to skid on her butt for several feet. Apparently the noise was hail and the ground was coated with ice. That meant the roads were, too, which was dangerous cuz we had to go a half hour to get home.
So, I started up the car and slipped/slid out of the parking lot. I was terrified. Slowly, I inched along and the car wipers went jeht (I’m trying to make the sound of the wipers)…jeht…jeht…jeht…back and forth and then suddenly ….JEHT to the left and that wiper never came back. Bigger problem still? It was on my driver side! So now I had icy roads and no visibility on the driver side.
Because the car was so little, I could reach my hand out and try to use my hand as a wiper as I drove. Well, you know what my hand had to look like by the time we finally got to our apartment 15 minutes later…a frozen paw of a hand, curved from using it as a wiper. It took me a while putting it under warm water to thaw it out.
Yep, we had some pretty rough times in those days, but everyone considered Little Miss Sunbeam the group mascot for I was the only one of my friends who had a small child and she went everywhere with me (well, almost everywhere). The women baked cookies for her, a man I knew at school who had a candy shop as a second business used to bring candy treats for her. And many people helped us out when we were in trouble—which was often.
Here’s the real Little Miss Sunbeam and here’s a photo of your Mom and me one Mother’s Day when I was young and skinny and she was little–about the same age as when she skidded off the restaurant steps onto her butt.
From “The Asheville Experiment”
I’d put up this neurosurgeon’s arrogance for weeks, and I was simply having no more of it. Friends told me “Oh, just let him go…They’re all like that” (neurosurgeons, that is). In other words, it was sort of expected that with their level of skill, we in the public were supposed to tolerate such behavior, as if it were a necessary corollary.
But I’d had it. He’d insulted me (suggesting I might need valium when I reacted to Paul’s crazy behavior after his heart and lungs shut down,) and he tried to discharge Paul– as if nothing were wrong with him. That’s when I lowered the boom.
I told him: “This man is NOTHING like the man I came in with!” And he’s not leaving until he’s had a psych-neuro evaluation and an EEG.”
You see, I knew the dread result of someone merely taking home a seriously-compromised patient from the hospital. I watched our neighbor deal with her wheelchair-bound, almost comatose husband for years. She did the exhaustive work, almost alone, for years–all because she took him home.
But our medical crisis story and how I handled it, successfully, is just one of the items I share so any consumer can use.
That…and much more (laugh-out-loud funny episodes, useful information if you’re a buyer or seller of any home, life in a new region of the country)…is coming in “The Asheville Experiment” (soon to be published.)