The algorithms at work on the internet know way too much. I googled “Interesting things to do in East Springdale” as a joke. Literally, the first thing that popped up was an ad for funeral services. Note that even the maps of this part of the town convey a very specific message…
It was an unexpectedly cold morning. Even so, tulips were everywhere downtown, giving me splashes of color in bursts as I walked. It was beautiful to witness so many installations of canopy and outdoor lights in alleys and nooks and crannies.
There are places in Downtown Springdale that startle you with a mix of form and function. If the right people are involved, this could be amazing. I’m hoping that color finds a better home here.
Downtown Springdale is substantially different than it was a year ago. Entire blocks and buildings have surrendered to history, while others sprouted in their wake. It feels like the area is awakening. Even as the national economy falters, it’s difficult to miss the fact that Downtown64 (as it should be called, by the way) is the focus of a lot of energy and attention. Art, storefront displays, food, outdoor dining/drinking, public spaces, the Apollo Events Center, a trail, bike shops, lofts/apartments off Emma, a marathon, murals, and outdoor dining events; the area is markedly different than it once was. That’s a good thing.
The Arts Center of the Ozarks, often overlooked. Even though the picture is blurry, I’m leaving it, if only because I didn’t have my glasses on when I took the picture.
One of the many murals showing up all over Springdale. If I had a say, every wall would be covered in color and beauty.
Perhaps the ugliest logo in human history. Not quite the ugliest, but I still hate how this logo somehow made it through the process of becoming the city’s logo.
Don Guero’s is no Mr. Taco Loco, but it adds flavor to Emma.
Out of the last several times I’ve dined out, it’s been on Emma. Fair or not, living in East Springdale isn’t conducive to fine dining.
The one thing that is missing for me is a coffee shop for early morning. Such a place would bring visitors to Emma at an earlier hour. As the number of people working near Emma increases, it is inevitable. The question is who’ll realize the pull of such a place first. Art economies require copious amounts of both alcohol and caffeine. I included Bike Rack’s picture because the hours posted on the door don’t coincide with them being open. Trailside Coffee inside the Phat Tire Bike Shop is the other competitor, located off of Shiloh Square and Turnbow Park. Maybe we’ll get back to normal when the pandemic is over.
Speaking of ‘open hours,’ the barbershop adjacent to the Apollo had the same problem the other morning. Unless the clientele is vampire-oriented, someone forgot to turn the light off by 4 a.m.
That is a fox in the middle of the picture. I heard yipping and scampering behind me for at least a minute. I assumed it was a dog following me. It wasn’t. It was Mr. Fox. He was mostly unafraid of me. I took the picture near the intersection of Grove and Quandt, where the vacant church that should be a private residence sits. Years ago, I lived on Grove Street, near the Arts Center of the Ozarks.
I like Emma much, much better now that someone wisely installed multiple 4-way stops and mostly eliminated the one-way street nonsense that once plagued downtown.
Taken from the creekside portion of the trail approaching Huntsville Avenue.
Many people are unaware that there are loft apartments above James & James off Emma.
Storefront art installations; this one is across from The Odd Soul and Mr. Taco Loco on Emma.
Small house tucked away near the Apollo Theater. I love such residences, along with upper story apartments and condos in urban areas. A smart developer built a row of apartments near the old Washington Elementary building past the Community Clinic and near the Jones Center. I think it’s brilliant. (Little Emma apartments) They look sleek and modern. The picture I snapped of them looked terrible.
The old Layman building property. Except for the corner on Water Street, the entire block is gone. For Springdale residents, the absence of anything here is striking.
… as does the block that once held the Bank of American and HelpCard building, along the railroad excursion depot.
If you’re interested, you can still go back to 2007 using Google Streetview and ‘drive’ the old Emma and its old buildings. It’s worth the time to do so if that sort of thing interests you.
No matter how you feel about the changes to Downtown Springdale, you should prepare yourself for ongoing transformation. Millions of dollars will continue to funnel through this corridor. I predict it will be both functional and beautiful. That Springdale is building its new Criminal Justice Center within pitching distance of the Shiloh Museum and Turnbow Park is genius. It anchors downtown and adds an element of safety to visitors. It’s possible to walk for thirty minutes and witness millions of dollars of investment happening right in front of us.
If you’re a fan of Springdale, I recommend that you walk the area when other people are still asleep. It’s another world an done conducive to discovering new things about our common geography.
The Springdale diner once stood proudly along Highway 71. Its gravel parking lot was a declaration of authenticity for those who frequented it. Though the town was growing, most residents chose the diner as their default. The waitresses were all grouchy, except for Macy, who loved everyone. The owner’s wife Mildred hated Macy for that very reason. It didn’t help matters that Macy was pretty and outgoing; Mildred looked an anvil with legs. Her singing voice in the church caused several devout Methodists to defect to the Baptist camp. If Mildred handled the register, tips usually went up due to many people choosing to pay the bill by dropping money on the table and bypassing Mildred.
Coffee flowed through the diner and the people inside it like a caffeine river. Had self-serve carafes existed then, the residents of Springdale would not have been pleased. Half the reason to have a go-out, sit-down meal was to interact and verbally jostle with those you’d encounter doing the same. Many of the wives claimed that such things didn’t matter, but most had carefully applied lipstick and checked their hairdo at least ten times that morning. Quite a few used Saturday morning to see their hairdressers.
On that March day, the wind blew and howled across the two-lane streets, taking dust and chicken feathers to every crevice. Not that townsfolk were uppity enough to drive convertibles, but if they had, their smiles would have been feather-filled and their lungs coated with the detritus of poultry.
By noon, all but one seat in the diner was filled. The exception was the chair always reserved for the diner’s unofficial number one eater. Earl only visited once or twice a week because his nephew Lou needed to drive him there. Earl saved the diner owner’s life in WWII. He would never pay for a meal for the rest of his life. Many people were unaware that Macy, the pretty waitress, was Earl’s daughter.
Macy and the other three waitresses ran from the kitchen window to tables, their fingers doing triple-duty as they placed plates, refilled drinks, and cleared tables. Wives secretly watched their husbands as their eyes followed Macy as she did her work. Most tolerated it as harmless fun. It was easy to see which wives were easygoing and which could rain hellfire down on their spouses’ heads. You could witness moms hitting the husbands with the same frequency they swatted at their kid’s perceived misbehavior.
Most of the diners chose the Saturday special. Today’s was meatloaf, mashed potatoes, green beans, rolls, and a slice of one of seven pie varieties.
As the families ate, you’d occasionally see different folks stand up to give a quick “Hello” to someone. Such courtesies were a requirement of Saturday eating. If someone needed a longer word, they could step outside and have a cigarette and watch the traffic pass by. The ladies opted for the coat rack. Gossip was expected there, even though they disguised it with half-whispers and cautious glances around before divulging the latest news.
As the wind howled, the front door of the diner came open. Dozens of feathers eddied and blew inside. None of the people inside looked up or noticed.
The diner welcomed all visitors: even feathers, both the curse and the fuel for this town.
Recently, a friend posted about kayaking on Lake Elmdale. He also mentioned that many people seem to be unaware of its existence. (The lake, not kayaking – although I do wonder if such people who kayak really exist.) I tend to agree with him. Lake Elmdale is an artificial lake built in 1953. It derives its name from a mix of the names for Elm Springs and Springdale communities. I think they missed their chance by not naming it something extraordinary, like “Devil’s Tooth Lake,” or even “Drowning Hole.” Arkansas already boasts Nimrod Lake, named after Noah’s grandson. (Sorry, but the word “Nimrod” was forever redefined by Looney Tunes.)
Since I have your attention, in 1950, Springdale had a bit over 5,000 people. Ten years later, the population doubled. Elm Springs started at 217 and, by 1960, added a whopping 21 additional people.
I have dozens of stories from my youth involving this body of water. Many from my early childhood are fishing stories involving my Dad and Uncle Buck or a rotating series of misfits called friends. Other stories are from the time when I lived in Elm Springs in the mid-80s.
If you look at the picture, you can see one of the lake access roads on the right, about halfway up. Just a short drive beyond, and you can take a left on Lakeview and quickly reach Elm Springs road. Continuing on the circuitous route past the lake entrance, and you’ll emerge on Elm Springs Road further east and headed to what is now I-40. This story is really about the roadway’s right side, where the lake access ramp road intersects with E. Lake Road.
(GPS coordinates if such things interest you.)
My Dad loved a good scare while driving. Whether it involved turning off the headlights at any random moment, cutting unexpectedly through a field (fence or not), jumping out of the vehicle if it were going slowly enough, leaving the wheel to whoever might be both inside and paying attention, shooting a pistol or shotgun from inside the cab, playing chicken with unsuspecting people dumb enough to be on the road at the same time, driving on railroad tracks (sometimes suspended) over creeks, marshes, and rivers, or hitting things for no discernible reason, my Dad often had no limits.
I know that the last sentence is intolerably long. I wanted to pile it all out there to give you an idea of the level of crazy that might Dad exhibited. Sometimes, it was scary. Looming death tends to be that way. Other times, it was fun – but after the fact. Surviving such ‘fun’ colors the ability to laugh about it.
My apologies for taking so long to get to the point. Before this picture was taken, the road was less maintained. Edges weren’t graded appropriately, and erosion and run-off worsened already bumpy or uneven roads. This specific spot was no exception.
While I don’t remember the first time Dad revved his truck to 50+ mph and fly across the edge of this entrance as he passed, I remember coming off the cab’s seat and floating for the briefest instant. Whether the vehicle had a solid axle or good suspension had a say in managing the landing. If you’re thinking of the Dukes of Hazzard reading this, you’re not far off the mark. Though you might think I am exaggerating, Dad once convinced me and my brother Mike that he would do it at 80 mph. He did, after telling us he was going to for a long approach. Our butts were clenched until the point we realized that Dad wasn’t bluffing. Afterward, I felt that Dad would have regretted doing it had he not been three sheets to the wind. When I tell the story, I usually say, “I could see Kansas from up there.” It’s a joke. It was decently dark when Dad took that last quarter of a mile stretch before hitting the bump at 80 mph. After keeping the truck in the road, he hit the brakes and skidded to a full stop. He took the Camel cigarette out of his mouth with a flourish, looked at Mike and me cowering against the other door panel, and said, “Which one of you wants to drive and do it again?” Dad took the same jump, albeit slower than 80 mph, while we were in the back of the truck in the bed, too. We failed to determine whether clutching the truck’s side was safer or to lay against the tailgate.
At times, Dad doing this sort of thing would involve Mom being in the car or truck with him. Mom’s reaction to being scared like this can best be described as “murderous rage” or by one of her signature phrases, “Go# Da## It, Bobby Dean!” shouted at ear-piercing levels. If it lands me in hell for saying so, I’ll admit that hearing her squawk like that was amusing as long as we weren’t witnessing the oft-overlooked attempted murder aspect of many of our weekends.
If you are wondering if Dad ever wrecked, broke an axle, or blew out a tire doing these things, the answer is “yes.” Likewise, if you wonder if any of us ever suddenly experienced bladder control issues, you’d be right for questioning.
On one occasion, Dad drove with his boss back to his house in Elm Springs. The truck was a Cheyenne or Chevrolet truck of some sort, one of their favorites to restore. In those days, rednecks often stated with confidence, “I have to blow the cobwebs out.” Being young, I didn’t understand the cliché but did know that it roughly translated to mean, “I’m going to go incredibly fast and possibly die in this vehicle.” Dad wasn’t drinking. I was in the bed of the truck with Duke, Dad’s german shepherd. Charles sat upfront up with Dad. He had a cigar in his mouth as he often did. Charles was also married to one of Dad’s cousins. I didn’t figure that out until years later.
We drove down Highway 112 and turned on E. Lake Road leading to the lake. About halfway between Highway 112 and the lake, Dad slowed and shouted to me out the window, “White lightning!” I immediately realized that it was a “go” for Operation Scare the Boss Shi$less.” The phrase could refer to the hell-raising 1973 movie starring Burt Reynolds or to moonshine – and sometimes both.
About 100 yards from the side road to the lake, Dad pushed the gas hard and shifted gears. As we hit the bump and sailed off the ground, I laughed. I heard Charles scream in surprise and then scream at Dad, asking if he’d lost his ever-loving mind. By the time we reached Charles’ house, he was laughing and jokingly cursing at Dad.
One more note. Thanks to Dad, I learned how to drive through barbed-wire fences, closed gates, front lawns, flooding creeks, and just about anything else. Here’s the secret: you have to not give a damn about what happens when you do it. Once you master that skill, sober or inebriated, you too can be an amateur stuntman. I wish that I had experienced that version of my Dad freed from alcohol. There’s no doubt he would have still managed to convince me I might die at a given moment.
When my brother Mike came home from leave in the Army, I didn’t get to spend much time with him. Life’s demands and the constraints of his limited time conspired against us. We did drive the road leading to Lake Elmdale, though. I knew Mike was going to ask before we ever approached the jump zone. “Should we?” he asked me, laughing. We were in my car. He was driving. “How can we not?!” I shouted. We hit the bump going 50 mph. As soon as we started to lift, Mike regretted testing his courage. After the adrenaline subsided, we drove for another hour along what once were quieter roads. 33 or 34 years have passed.
In the years since, in the spirit of full disclosure, I too have excessively sped toward that same bump without warning the occupants of the car. Though the ridge is considerably flatter than it once was while I am much fatter, it never fails to fill me with nostalgia for both the times that were and those which weren’t.
As we learned in “Like Water For Chocolate,” the emotions experienced while preparing food can significantly affect the culinary experience. (If you haven’t read this book or seen the movie, I will wait while you do so. You can read it in English if you need to.) The book on which the movie was based is separated into twelve sections, much like the months of the year. Each era is associated with particular foods that define the protagonist’s life.
It was important for her to unexpectedly inflict a bit of terror (or at least a sense of dread or apprehension) in someone in her vicinity while cooking. In part, it would explain the tendency for someone to wail, cry, or whimper while we ate supper. You might presume we were whimpering from the flavor otherwise. In mom’s defense, she didn’t need to concern herself with food. We were trained to eat anything without an audible complaint. In my case, I loved macaroni and any vegetable, even if coming directly from a can. Because I trusted my Grandma, I’d eat anything she offered. While there were times I didn’t like something she made, I never questioned whether it SHOULD be eaten. With my mom, this definitely wasn’t the case. There were exceptions. Because of my youth’s craziness, people often overlook the exceptions that were not characterized by the lesser human emotions I experienced growing up.
While it may not come across as funny, dad often did have a humorous way of driving mom bonkers about food. “What’s cooking,” he might shout. Or, “What in f$$$ is that smell?” Mom sometimes would scream back at him – and sometimes be funny in her response. It’s hard to explain how shouting and annoyance are funny, but it was. “Whatever the g####mned f### I want to make is what you’re eating,” she might scream. It probably sounded like WWII from outside. While they were often angry about it when their ability to tease back and forth emerged, it was obscenely sublime.
More than once growing up, we’d wake to the horrid smell of a burned cast iron skillet. A couple of times, mom did it. But it was usually dad who left the skillet on the stove. He’d arrive home drunk and cook a chunk of meat or fried bologna on the stove. There were a dozen times he’d try to cook frozen meat – and eat it anyway. It wasn’t unusual to pass through the kitchen and see an array of meat, grease, and a mess left there. Because mom usually got up insanely early, we knew dad left her a mess because mom would be in the kitchen cursing and banging every metal surface possible with pans, metal spoons, or by slamming the stove repeatedly. I’d generally not recommend this behavior if you have someone with both anger issues and a hangover in the house. By the way, a scorched cast iron skillet leaves a stench in the house for DAYS.
Much of the drama could have been sidestepped if someone had just asked us what we wanted. They could have fed me incredibly cheaply and often without the need for any actual cooking – and no ritual sacrifice of animals. In my world, kids were not asked what they wanted. Such a thought was heretical nonsense to people such as my parents. They didn’t need to tell us about starving kids in other countries; we knew that they wouldn’t be bothered with such an explanation when a good backhand said a thousand words. Note for those who don’t know: a backhand can be rendered at twice the speed as a forward-motion slap. Mom certainly could have handed me a can of tomatoes, corn, or green beans and sent me outside to eat in peace. Sitting at the table brought unseen battles to the front. By the 4th grade, I could expertly tip an opened can and eat the contents without utensils. Or without cutting myself.
We were lucky mom didn’t poison us, even if her target was my dad. Like most women in her class, she had no choice but to work full-time and perform all the other menial but necessary tasks of living for the household. Obviously, a lot of mom’s cooking stress was anger and resentment at being married to a lout. Mom didn’t have ‘signature dishes.’ I don’t remember her being romantic about cooking or the subtle art of gastronomy. To her, cooking was limited to the practical necessity of getting it done. It was a bizarre sight to witness her in the same kitchen with other people cooking. It might as well have been alien races sharing cooking space.
On another note, mom could have easily taught us to make one or two meals each. We would have willingly learned and helped had we been shown the attention—anything to avoid potential stress and drama of a ‘family’ meal. I know I couldn’t have been trusted to prepare any meal with meat. My recipe would have consisted only of tossing the meat carcass directly out the door and into the jaws of our succession of German Shepherd dogs named Duke.
Looking back, I’m still surprised that so many supper meals blur together into one indistinguishable mass in my memory. Few at-home suppers were devoid of distrust, dread, or unease. More importantly, I have no memories of meals wherein we gathered to eat where we shared our day, laughter, or happy moments. This was not part of our DNA. I like to think it must have happened accidentally. If it did, my treasonous brain has erased most of these memories. Exceptions tended to happen if dad arrived home drinking without his surliness or if extraordinary circumstances were at play. Watching sitcom families verbally teasing and laughing during dinner were Twilight Zone episodes for me.
On a typical day, mom had to read the tea leaves and decide when or if dad might come home. She was obligated to prepare some horrid slab of meat, partially cooked on the stove in a frying pan if he did. Dad was one of those absurd men who proudly pretended that the meat he consumed could indeed be eaten half-alive. “How in the hell can anyone eat that smell?” was a thought I often had. Along with the immutable truth that you don’t want to see sausage being made, the other is that no one should witness my dad eating meat. He was proof that our ancestors once jumped on wild walruses and ripped their ears off with their bare hands.
As you would guess, I generally wanted no part in the meat process. Given a choice between the meat prepared and eating live crickets culled from the underside of the trailer, you could find me with a mouthful of insect legs protruding from my mouth. Note: crickets thrive under trailers if you happen to be in the market for a truckload of crickets. If a vegetable were offered, I fought to eat an excessive portion of that and be happy. Truth be told, many of my supper experiences revolved around trying to be small and avoid my dad’s gaze. Though I’ve mentioned it before, his barbaric streak often led him to force me to eat things that should never pass the lips of a human being. If he noted I didn’t want meat, I often found myself chewing the fat off a bloody half-cooked ‘steak’ or the dark meat near the bone of an unidentifiable piece of chicken. (I shudder.) Or worse, the skin of a piece of chicken. I ate chicken skin quite often when I was very young and without dad around. It didn’t occur to me to think of how horrible it was. Later, though, I ate a mile of poorly-cooked or unappetizing skin that ruined me for the rest of my life.
It happened so often that I still have no desire to eat such meat. People underestimate how true this experience was. I was the youngest child; as such, dad felt offended by the lack of overt masculinity. He spent much of his life committed to ensuring that I consumed an array of inedible pieces of animals. His alcoholism is probably the single biggest factor that helped me escape his scrutiny. Unless mom was at his throat, dad’s drinking made him magnanimous at times, and his insistence on forcing me to eat things I didn’t like vanished. Some of the Terry family cooked very well and with love, so I didn’t understand how dad could be so barbaric in his approach, and other members of his family could prepare a wide selection of both meat and vegetables. My Uncle Buck cooked a few things extremely well. He also enjoyed cooking and preparing dishes. Especially gumbo and fish.
While I noted I disliked an increasing number of poorly and inexpertly cooked animal carcasses, it did at least drive home the idea that who and how something is cooked can often be 75% of whether you’ll like something you are about to eat. I felt like a medieval court taster who was anxiously waiting to feel his throat constricting against whatever poison had been inserted into the king’s food.
Despite all the instability in our house, mom spent a sizeable chunk of her money from her SW Bell operator’s paycheck going to the meat shops. It seemed strange to me that her dedication to doing this was so pronounced. Dad often could not discern the difference between a decent cut of meat and something found in the dumpster and fried in a pan for 30 seconds. Dad’s nutrition plan included chunks of meat, cigarettes, whiskey, Dentyne gum, and Brach’s peppermint candy. If I accompanied mom to the meat shop, I stood in amazement that there were more than 2 cuts of meat or 3 types of sandwich meat. It seemed odd that anyone needed something except bologna, salt pork, or bacon for a boy who loved mustard sandwiches. Mom was an impatient customer at such shops. It’s hard to believe that smoking was permitted inside them. And smoke she did, tapping her feet as she moved from one foot to the other, expecting her choice to be hurled toward her in less than 3 seconds. It seems strange that the building that currently holds the Las Margaritas Mexican restaurant in Springdale once was mom’s ‘go-to’ meat shop. I doubted my memory so strongly that I once searched for proof in the old phone books at the library and then matched the addresses against old maps.
Between errands, it seemed like mom was always buying cigarettes and alcohol. Much of my Springdale geography command resulted from the infinite trips to liquor stores and places to buy cigarettes. I could walk from Uncle Buck’s house to the liquor store that once stood at the intersection of Gutensohn and Highway 68/412, but wasn’t sure about the route to one of the grocery stores.
My access to the larger world and food expanded only because of my cousin Jimmy and infrequent visits to other people’s houses. Everything seemed exotic to me. Things like bbq sauce, olives, flavored pickles, and lemon pepper ignited my imagination. At home, we didn’t have these things. If such a store existed, my mom would have gladly shopped at “Bare Minimum Essentials.”
This impacted my brother Mike much more than me. He enjoyed eating meat. He also was a bigger boy, more athletic when we were younger, and had an expansive appetite. This annoyed the hell out of my dad. Unlike me, Mike loved grabbing a handful of dad’s prized sliced deli ham and stuffing it into his mouth as a snack. It was a perilous day to hear my dad holler, “Who ate all the g$$$amned ham!?” In turn, it annoyed Mike that I loved mustard sandwiches and was happy to eat basic food. If I annoyed him, he sometimes would take a piece of ham, roll it menacingly into a ball, and stuff it into my mouth, laughing at my cries of torture. I detested ham so much that I might as well be Jewish. Don’t get me wrong; I’d eat it sometimes but never with any enthusiasm and certainly not as a first choice. Having been in my brother’s ham hock of a hand, I liked it even less.
When the grocery store opened across from Johnson Road, my cousin Jimmy went to get Ron Calcagni’s autograph. Mom later went to the store and scoffed at the incredible selections, after listening to my Aunt Ardith list its array of food. I was mesmerized by the dozen types of bread and the endless row of assorted pasta. I wanted to live inside that store and stuff myself with gallons of marinara and spaghetti. Other kids could be seen getting politely or angrily admonished by their moms as they begged for treats from the candy aisle, special cereals, or ice cream. So dedicated was my mom’s brutality regarding asking, this simply didn’t happen with me. I didn’t touch – and never asked. It was a sin akin to peeing on someone’s head while riding the bus. There were a couple of memorable times I forgot myself and vocalized my desire to have something. Because I was a little strange. one of those times was when I saw Mexicorn, the kernel corn in a can with peppers. I didn’t want sweets or chips. I wanted that exotic can of corn. Not only did mom swat me with the wrath of Khan, but she waited to ensure that dad could put his 5-knuckles-worth into the equation. By the way, I had my first can of Mexicorn at my cousin Jimmy’s. Aunt Ardith bought several cans. She watched in amazement and then horror as I ate all of them, at once. When she put butter in them and stirred it, I felt as if Heaven had descended upon me and wrapped its arms around me. While I don’t know for sure that Aunt Ardith treated me to endless Mexicorn because of how my mom behaved, it seems likely. She smiled at me like Christmas while I ate. “You’re going to be sick,” she kept repeating, her voice growing more amazed as I emptied the cans one by one.
It was sometime in the summer of 1st or 2nd grade that I discovered that canned corn and green beans were delicious. Heating them was a needless step for me. Being able to skip steps to eat was a revelation for me. Soon enough, I learned how to make macaroni and spaghetti. Though I’d seen it made one thousand times, I was stupidly surprised by the fact that cooking it only required boiling water and waiting long enough for it to soften. A monster was born, one that still resides within me. While I could eat noodles plain, if tomatoes or tomato sauce were available, I would dump it into the water and noodles. We didn’t use strainers; we had to risk burns over the sink using the pot’s lid to drain spaghetti. I think the lack of good strainers is one characteristic that most poor kids share in common. Skipping all those steps was a benefit. Regardless of the size of the package of pasta, I cooked it all. And then ate it. Wasting it wasn’t a consideration.
All of which brings me to the Golden Macaroni Era at City View trailer park. Infrequently, mom would recover from the cyclical violence with dad. She’d violently clean the trailer and then later that evening make a pot of macaroni soup. Instead of simply making macaroni and adding tomatoes or sauce, she would cut up potatoes, onions, and a few other things and boil it into submission. Mom and I would sit at the table and eat. She would watch me eat a gallon of it in one sitting. Though it was simple, it was delicious beyond measure. While she made this after City View a couple of times, I’ll never forget the period at City View when she often did it. Usually, only she and I would eat this soup. She must’ve realized from Grandma that this was one of my favorite things in the world. Over one summer, my Grandma made a version of this for me at least every other day. Weirdly, I didn’t mind that mom had magically used at least 2 large onions in the soup. I count these nights eating macaroni soup as one of the few ways and times that mom tried to have a selfless connection with me, even if only through food. One of the other memorable times was her return from alcohol rehab in Fort Smith after I graduated high school. She made a mammoth pot of macaroni soup, and we ate the entire pot. I can’t see this moment as accidental. Mom returned from rehab, a completely different person.
When our trailer burned at City View and we moved to Tontitown’s fringe, this tradition died. My “cousin” Leta, who owned the house in Tontitown, where we moved, worked at the Venesian Inn. Because she could bring home endless food, it was from there I discovered my love of Italian dressing. Even as dad and family and friends had endless drunken cookouts, I found that salads with huge cut-up tomatoes and a bottle of Viva Italian salad dressing were available. I consumed truck loads of rolls and salad.
In closing, I’ll finish with mom’s secret Mashed Potatoes recipe. This recipe has been sought after for years, so share it only with trusted friends and family.
You’ll need whatever kind of potatoes are on sale, a bit of milk (canned if you have it), a bit of pepper and salt, and access to non-menthol cigarettes. You’ll need to smoke constantly while boiling, mashing, and mixing the potatoes. Also, don’t knock the ashes from the cigarette as you cook. Allow them to fall freely into the potatoes. If you’re adventurous, coarsely cut a large onion into preposterously large pieces and throw them in the mashed potatoes. If the potatoes are lumpy, don’t notice. Hungry people don’t notice, much less comment, that the potatoes are lumpy. If you get a particularly large chunk of onion, spit it into your hand and keep eating. If anyone notices something that looks like ashes in the potatoes, tell them it’s pepper. Fun fact: it is almost impossible to taste cigarette ashes in mashed potatoes, no matter how much is present if you add pepper and onions to them. It’s for that reason that I mentioned that you shouldn’t smoke menthols – which are easily detectable.
Note: I was pleasantly surprised to learn that no one else puts onions in mashed potatoes. In 2017, I wrote about “Newport Potatoes.” Many people thought I made it up, even after citing the episode of “Master Of None.”
Yesterday, I exited through the back door of my house to collect the trash blown loose from my villainous neighbors. I went house left to the front.
Note: I am using the term “house left” just like actors would when reading or hearing “stage left.” It’s a handy trick to distinguish which side of the house you’re talking about, mostly when gossiping about your neighbors. If you don’t gossip or speculate about your neighbors, chances are you’re not one of my people.
My Latinx neighbor was outside with another gentleman. A ladder was near the front of the garage. I peered up to see that they were installing security cameras. The neighbor tends to work at nights, leaving his wife nervously at home. I used to tease him that his encompassing fence managed to conceal potential intruders rather than thwart them. Additionally, when working, his lights often pointed annoyingly in my face or a random direction.
Now that I know he has installed cameras, I can’t get the idea out of my head of doing weird puppet or stick figure shows above the fenceline so that the rear-facing camera on the right side of his house will capture my imagination come to life. I laughed earlier this afternoon when I realized that I was Googling creative and bizarre characters to buy for just such an endeavor. The internet being what it is, there are a lot of websites for this sort of zaniness.
Now that it’s starting to take form, the urge to bring the idea to fruition is almost insurmountably overwhelming me.
The idea of my neighbor’s face reviewing his camera footage to discover that someone has staged a stick or puppet show above his fenceline brings me joy.
Once again, having pictures of my house during the stages of construction saved me a lot of heartaches today. If you own a Rausch-Coleman home, these pictures can quite literally save your life. And also a lot of time, if that sort of thing is important to you.
The other morning, my wife texted me to tell me the cheap wire shelf in the laundry room had broken free from its mooring on the right side. When I got home, I remembered that not only was the shelf cheap, but only one undersupport was installed for the entire length. Per the manufacturer, 3 were recommended for that length. When one of the people in charge came to visit me to address some major concerns that weren’t addressed, I mentioned this to him. “We take that sort of thing very seriously.” They took it so seriously that houses built after mine had the same horrible wire shelving – and insufficient supports on their shelving too.
I couldn’t find the screws that attached. There’s a reason for that!
Before starting a massive overhaul, which it needs, I opted to fix the loose end. I bought toggle bolts of varying sizes. I climbed up unsafely on a small unstable stool and pushed my screwdriver through. It was solid behind both holes, which puzzled me.
I took out my cutters and clipped off the two plastic protuberances, expecting a lot of resistance from the screws or broken screws inside. Surprisingly, they cut easily. Still no screws.
Just as I was about to screw a replacement through to push through the toggle bolt, I had a flash of caution.
I walked around and exited to the garage and confirmed my suspicion.
I came into the office and found my picture file from 2015, the one containing a couple of hundred pictures from various stages of the house being built. By the way, we didn’t get permission to do this. By the second visit to view the progress, I decided to do it. I wish I would have caught them doing the groundwork and pipes, too, because we had some strange issues with that, as I wrote about before. One of our delivery drives discovered the sinkhole in the front yard by running directly into it. I imagine this dampened his urge to shortcut through people’s yards for a while. Especially Rausch Coleman homes.
Behind that wall was the main electrical panel for the house.
Worse yet? The installer didn’t use screws at all in the connector for the wire frame to sit in. He made holes about 1/8″ of an inch deep with a screwdriver and just pushed the small protuberances into those tiny holes. Nothing was holding the connector holder up, nor supporting the weight of the rack.
I shook my head, not in surprise, but in confirmation.
It’s a small thing but the person taking a dangerous and simple shortcut like that could have caused a really large problem. Everyone who notes such things can’t help but wonder what else they skimped on and especially those things out of sight.
By the way, every time we visited, we found alcohol in the house. It’s not uncommon for subcontractors. No one is watching. An employee of the company who came and ate lunch with us a few times told us that it was very common and that they were constantly being told to hide the evidence. (Instead of not to drink while working on houses.) I saw contractors drinking while working on houses, too.
Having access to people who will tell you the literal truth was refreshing. One of the project managers told me a bookful of stories before leaving his job.
I still believe that if you buy a house, the contractors and builders should provide pictures of all the stages of construction. It helps everyone. When you need to repair, install, or modify anything, these pictures give you an immediate view of what is lurking.
Also, just because I’m weird, I think that if I were a builder, I’d include pictures of me, too. And probably in costume.
*Legal note: this is written under the auspices of both employee safety and in the interest of public health and debate. This commentary is almost universally applicable, regardless of geography. The policies I’m complaining about have negatively impacted thousands of lives without furthering our collective public health interests. They piss me off because people don’t understand the implications until they affect them personally. (Which might well be the national motto for the United States.)
Not all healthcare facilities and hospitals adopted a blanket approach, precisely because such policies wrongly isolate patients and reduce the quality of life of everyone involved. To those who properly implemented precautions without simultaneously severing the vital family-patient link, I thank you. Were such a facility nearby, you can be sure that you would be my first option for all healthcare services. The idea that a family cannot interact in person with their family member when they are ill is one of the most abhorrent ideas I’ve dealt with as an adult.
I have serious concerns about the no-visitor policies healthcare facilities adopted when covid made its appearance. Most of these policies weren’t based on science; they certainly went too far. When I see ‘heart-warming’ videos of long-wedded couples communicating through windows, my heart doesn’t melt. It hardens – and against those who insist that isolation in lieu of reasonable precaution is in the public health interest. We allow millions of Americans to wander in public without taking basic precautions. We are not making good decisions as people, as citizens, or as businesses.
Though it says something less than positive about me, the above angers me. It’s not an irritation that can be overlooked. I see the impact that misguided and poorly-executed policies have on real people. Your mom, sister, grandmother, son, daughter, and friend. Now, me.
Perhaps my inside view of how healthcare works discolors my opinion. Healthcare is a mammoth business. We routinely forget that healthcare is at our service. Though it is a business with a mission, it is one that should focus on the human impact of policies. They all say they agree, though when I outline my argument that demonstrates the no-visitor policies to be draconian, their faces harden and they fall back to a “trust us” stance. Failing that, they aggressively insist. After all, they hold our family members hostage inside their facilities. What can we do? Before you think that ‘hostage’ is too harsh a word, I suggest you drop a family member off at an ER without knowing they have policies that endanger your family member and isolate you from them.
Is there any other business you can think of that operates this way? By invoking the label of public safety, they can hide any motive or lack of reasoning in a policy that harms your interests. The fact that not all hospitals adopted blanket no-visitor policies logically indicates that there is strong disagreement among experts. In my case, it was nonsensical.
I did not have a voice in these policies. No family member did. As you’ll see through my emails, my presence in a hospital as a visitor constituted LESS of a risk to hospital staff than even those very hospital workers. One of the dark secrets of our covid response is that we failed to test each and every healthcare worker. Even while we were in Phase I, we didn’t test. Although the state mandated that surgical candidates would have to be tested prior to entry into the hospital, efforts to test healthcare workers at the same level of sensible precautions were stymied. The motive for such decisions probably jumps into your mind in the same manner as it does for everyone else. The public interest would have best been served by universal testing for everyone in a healthcare facility, followed by stringent testing on a scheduled basis thereafter. This can be done without fear of dismantling the healthcare industry. It would, however, make us all safer.
It is true that it would expose the fact that healthcare workers are working while infected with covid. How many might be up for debate but it would be foolish to insist that the answer is ever ‘zero.’ We can’t fix a problem by ignoring huge variables. Even though I’ve said it already, my commentary is couched inside the box of the public health interest. Only the most feeble arguments would stretch to claim that my mentioning it somehow lessens the confidence of our healthcare industry. The industry is staffed by fallible people, as is any other field such as aviation, police, or engineers. People try to do their best. When policies are shown to cause harm, they need to be modified in the same way that ‘best practices’ evolve within healthcare.
Although I intervened in the cases of others when they were fighting hospitals needlessly keeping them at a distance from their loved ones, I knew eventually the policies I loathed would affect me personally. I had several conversations with my wife. During each, I repeated that I’d rather risk a lower chance of survival in exchange for the simple human right to have her visit and watch over me and my care. It is for the same reason I’ve instructed her that I don’t give consent to ever be airlifted anywhere. I trust my local healthcare facilities. I trust them more because proximity increases the chances that people who know me will be able to visit and observe my care. I do not want to ever be in a facility that denies her access to me unless it is a prison. Weirdly enough in the case of a prison, she’d still be able to visit.
Hospitals of course weight varying interests when establishing policy. Covid, though, has caused a lot of decisions to be made with inadequate information or in fear of liability. You, as a family member, are powerless to appeal, threaten, or sue hospitals for their policies.
One of my friends in particular was forced to endure days of being away from her dying husband. She finally was allowed to see him shortly before his death. I think Northwest Arkansas was on the verge of mounting an insurrection had she not been granted access. All those days they were separated were needless and harmed the public interest. Anyone looking at the issue from a wide perspective agrees that blanket no-visitor policies only serve to hurt human beings. They are written to protect hospitals – which already enjoy immunity and liability protection. If you read my emails below, I address the futility and stupidity of these policies that prohibit loved ones from seeing their family.
During those weeks, despite the fact that the policies did not affect me personally, I wrote opinion pieces and contacted as many interested people as I could to object to these horrific no-visitor policies. The silence from those who could have made sensible changes was astonishing. The same was true regarding efforts to test everyone working in healthcare.
My mother-in-law was rushed to the ER. She was suffering from what we presumed to be diabetic shock. We all met at the ER entrance at the hospital. No one was allowed to enter the ER with her, despite her deteriorating condition and her complex medical condition. A State Trooper, complete with gun, badge, and uniform sent a clear message to my sister-in-law that family members were the problem.
My mother-in-law is 80. She sat in a chair unattended for quite a while, getting worse. No one was there to insist they be cautious with fluid intake, insulin, or the other things that were vital to her proper and safe care. My mother-in-law’s inability to have someone there as her advocate and loved one contributed to a level of care that suffered as a result. Now that the moment has passed, the hospital can claim this to be untrue. As we’ve discovered once again with our recent riots and the events that precipitated them, events that are recorded or witnessed are more difficult to excuse away. Prior to covid, one of the best means to improve a patient’s care was to have both companionship and oversight for that patient. Those will diligent family members directly improve and suffer fewer health complications than those who don’t. No-visitor policies have stripped patients of the right to have oversight by those who care for them.
I wrote the hospital through its portal. My goal was to request permission to assist in better care for my family member, as well as provide companionship. I knew that the approaching holiday weekend would increase her isolation. Here’s what I wrote:
“My mother-in-law is in your facility.
I work at another hospital. I’m COVID-negative and get screened each day.
I’d like to know why I am not allowed entry into the hospital to visit my mother-in-law.
She was admitted through the ER without a COVID test. I also know that even though hospitals are testing all elective surgery candidates, they are not testing all employees within the facility.
IF you have a method to allow me to visit, please advise me as to the protocol.
Thanks, X Teri”
Someone wrote back:
“Thanks for reaching out to us and I’m sorry your mother-in-law is ill. If you will send your phone number, I can have one of our nursing leaders call you. I’m copying our Interim CNO in case she is able to respond by email but I think a phone call would be easier.
These are certainly tough times for everyone and we are sorry for the pain and inconvenience these temporary policy changes on visitation are causing. As you know, they are in place to minimize risks of patients or staff health being compromised, particularly since many people are asymptomatic before they test positive for covid.”
In short, the above is a “No, you may not visit” response.
The next day, I received a reply from someone else, presumably higher in authority:
“Teri, ____________ copied me on your request to evaluate the possibility of visitation at _______________ hospital. As I am sure you recognize, this is a difficult time, the surge of Covid patients has required administration at our hospital, as well as the region, to place restrictions on visitor access. These efforts are to mitigate any possible exposure to our patient population already managing their illnesses or post surgical recovery.
We have made available to our staff access to ipads or recommended the use of phones to support face time calls and discussions with the nursing and physicians if requested by the identified contact family member to provide additional means of support. Nursing staff are available 24/7 to connect with families.
I can empathize with the challenges this places on families but safety is our priority at this time as we continue to care for our community.
Please reach out to me personally if you have any additional questions or needs.
Thank you for your understanding.”
Here is my reply:
“Thank you for replying.
My first name is X, as unusual as that is. This isn’t a “gotcha” email. Please don’t interpret this email as an attack. I am writing it in one fell swoop to voice my objection and concern.
I have a family member in your facility. I know that her initial care was less than desirable due to no one being allowed to accompany her during her initial ER visit. No matter how the issue is characterized, she did not receive the care she could have, precisely because the adopted no-visitor policy prohibited her caregiver or another person from being present. This absence needlessly caused the healthcare workers to lack information that would have affected both the timeliness and effectiveness of her treatment. I don’t expect anyone to enthusiastically agree with my assessment. It is, however, a hard truth – and one supported by the facts.
I understand the issues surrounding covid.
One of the things that has long puzzled me is that while hospitals pre-test elective surgery patients, we still haven’t tested all healthcare workers.
Statistically speaking, we know that we have covid-positive healthcare worker cases. We had the opportunity prior to resuming surgery schedules to test each team member at our local hospitals. For a variety of reasons, we didn’t do so.
This continues to trouble me greatly as I see families grapple with the ‘no visitor’ policies. I knew it would eventually come around and affect me personally.
Knowing that “we don’t know” whether healthcare workers continue to expose patients is an issue that I can’t get around. While I, as a worker in a healthcare facility in Northwest Arkansas, get screened daily, have been tested for covid and follow routine precautions each day, can’t assist in the healthcare of my family member. This disconnect isn’t logical and doesn’t serve my family’s interests or those of public health.
While I still would not agree with the visitor policies most hospitals have adopted, I find it illogical that hospitals are not doing everything possible to help our community; such efforts would include testing each and every team member at your facilities. It certainly would allow for those of us in healthcare and who have been tested to be allowed to see our family members.
The fact that I’ve been tested when most of your staff has not should be sufficient justification to be allowed to wear PPE and see my family member. Once you see it written that way, it is hard to continue to see fit to disagree with my claim that I should be able to visit my family member.
I don’t expect my reasoned response to draw a change of heart for your hospital.
I’ve argued against these policies from the day they were implemented.
Each of us is exposed and exposes others on a daily basis. It’s true that we might hopefully reduce our involvement, the statistical truth is that we have passed the point of logical precautions.
While it might be easier to issue a blanket no-visitor policy, it is one not based on consistent logic or one taking into account the needs of human beings when they are ill.
I only wrote back in the futile chance logic would prevail and I’d be allowed to visit my mother-in-law.
Absent that, I did not want my silence to be interpreted as agreement with a policy that goes too far and without merit to the extreme of impacting our companionship and oversight of the care our family member might receive.
The first person wrote me back, instead of the person higher up. A holiday weekend was approaching. It’s likely the higher-up was off for the holiday.
“X – thank you for copying me on this. I am not a clinician but what you say does make sense to me & I can assure you it will be discussed. In fact, we all know that – in ordinary times – we encourage involvement of family members & other caretakers. ______________ checks email regularly and would encourage you to reach out to her or the house supervisor any time you want to discuss a concern or have a question. Again, I’m sorry for the issues that have led to these temporary very strict policies”
I waited and heard nothing directly about my appeal or request. So, I wrote both of the people I’d heard from:
“I know the holiday probably exacerbated _________’s lack of enthusiasm to attempt a reply to me. I forwarded the email to you because you were the first point of contact for my issue. Each day that passes with rules that force distance between family members is one that cannot be reclaimed.
In your reply, you said something critical to my issue: “…these temporary very strict policies…”
From a family point of view, the policy that prohibits me from seeing my mother-in-law isn’t temporary. It could very well be permanent. I know people who experienced that very issue. They didn’t get the chance to speak face-to-face with their loved ones. They’d entered healthcare facilities without oversight and companionship. And they died in those conditions.
While I objected to these policies when they did not personally affect me, I’m flummoxed to explain to someone who hasn’t experienced them how needlessly draconian they are. Because I have a view from the inside, I know that these policies are blanket policies and do not generally advance the objective of public safety that they purport to. In my case specifically, they only do harm.
I enter a larger healthcare facility each day, get screened, and have been tested for covid. Yet, when misfortune touched my family, I was somehow classified as the general public and denied access to my family member. I’ve been tested for covid, which is far and away more than the overwhelming majority of healthcare workers in your facility can say.
Additionally, your healthcare workers live and work in one of the hottest hot spots in the United States. They eat, shop, and move about among a high concentration of people who do not wear masks and do not observe proper social distancing. Your healthcare workers, the ones caring for my mother-in-law, come to work after such exposure each and every day. Even though I work in a similar but different environment, I am lumped in with the general public, despite being tested and despite following protocols when out in public.
It is lunacy to deny me access to my mother-in-law. Factually speaking, I present LESS exposure to your staff and other patients than your own healthcare workers.
It’s easy for me to get preachy in these emails. On the other hand, hospitals are places where people experience tragedy daily.
When people are ill, especially as old as my mother-in-law, there is no such thing as temporary.
The policies you are enforcing might well be permanent in my case. I don’t know how else to say it.
When logic does not intersect with law (and voluntary rules), the effect is that people needlessly are harmed.
If hospitals don’t intelligently and scientifically lift these burdensome and needless restrictions, the same policies may one day befall you and your loved ones.
Again, I didn’t expect a reversal of policy but I honestly hoped that sense, logic, and compassion would prevail.
I’m still waiting. I’m not the first. And it is a further tragedy that I will not be the last.
I haven’t received a reply, of course. Two days have elapsed. I wrote them a final email, after hearing nothing in response.
“Given that I wrote Saturday and did not receive a reply, I am assuming that my emails weren’t bumped up for further consideration? I didn’t know if there was an appeal process or if an edict had been announced that allows for no variance. I know that some patients were allowed visitors in the interim.
I can understand if you would have said, “The matter is closed.” I wouldn’t be happy, but it at least it would have been a final statement.
Since this issue came up for me personally, several people have reached out and provided me with details about other families and how they were dealt with. I have a lot to consider going forward.
Under the assumption that no one will reach out to me again, I’ll close by saying that it was wrong for _____________________ to prevent me from being with my mother-in-law in the ER and thereafter in her room. It’s a policy without logical footing and one which inhibits the public health you’re charged to protect.
As with thousands of others, the hospital has artificially and needlessly robbed me of my ability to be with my family member.
Looking at my case specifically, it is a fact that I present less of a risk to patients and staff than the staff members working in the facility do. I can prove I’m not covid positive. I can enter using PPE that eliminates the risk. Meanwhile, staff members caring for patients at the facility that denies me entry are working, shopping, and living in one of the hottest hot spots per capita in the United States. They haven’t been tested. They walk among a community that does not protect itself by wearing masks or social distance at a rational and reasonable level.
They are a bigger risk than I am.
I’m been tested. They have not.
Anyone who doesn’t question these policies hasn’t had the misfortune of watching their family member needlessly suffer.
My mother-in-law moved a few months ago from a remote location to Springdale in part to be closer to medical care when needed. We’ve visited more in the last few months than we have in years. Ironically, hospitals have worsened that wound of isolation by refusing to allow me to see her.
One hundred thousand people die from infections they receive while in healthcare facilities. This was true before covid.
The workers caring for my mother-in-law haven’t been tested, even though it is an obvious step to ensure the public health and employee safety.
Somehow, I’m the problem?
These policies must go. They must be replaced by sensible public policy and hospital rules that take into account the interests of the whole patient.
Test all healthcare workers, both now and on a scheduled timeline.
Allow designated visitors, even if a covid test is required.
Ask patients and visitors to sign a liability form, to address the primary and obvious reason that hospitals continue to abuse their discretion regarding visitors.
Require masks in public.
Continue to do the same.
P.S. The hospital responded to my appeal request on Friday, days after my mother-in-law was discharged. It’s hard to make this stuff up.
As I entered Harps, I saw two men milling around without masks or their faces covered. Like most guys at the store, they seemed as if they’d never ventured into a grocery store before.
They looked exactly like you imagine they would. My path intersected a couple of times with them. The younger of the two, a man wearing a black stocking cap, seemed to be aware that his lack of a mask was drawing attention from passersby.
I pulled a plastic sheath of 5 masks from my left back pocket and opened it.
“Would you guys like a mask? No charge.” I stepped closer. I was wearing a mask and social distance didn’t seem to be a factor in their lives. Truth be told, my workplace is much more dangerous than the grocery store, even with people milling around without masks.
The younger guy in the stocking cap stepped and said, “Yeah, thanks!” As he took one from the sheath, it must have dawned on him that his friend didn’t want one.
“Don’t want one, don’t need one,” his older friend said as the other guy took one.
“Mark, you’ve always been a dick, haven’t you?” The younger man said it exactly as a friend would.
“Okay, give me a mask. ” He took one. “Can I have another to shove down my brother’s throat? He never shuts up.”
“You two are brothers? If you don’t mind me saying so, I don’t see the resemblance.” I wasn’t thinking this might sound rude coming out of my mouth.
“Thanks!” the younger man said and we all laughed, even as the older brother punched the younger man’s shoulder.
I handed the younger man the sheath with the other three masks in it.
I didn’t put this story on social media. I don’t even like this story. It gave me no satisfaction in writing it.
This story has been idling in my folder of unsavory family lore for a long time. Recently, a person close to me was dealing with someone infected with the inability to see the damage their behavior had scattered across their family’s landscape. This story came to mind and wouldn’t relent. Some of us contain the seeds of our undoing. Barring a miracle from stopping growth, these seeds blossom and choke the beauty out of our lives.
This story, in some ways, is a biographical sequel to my Tontitown post a few weeks ago. The truth is that in the last few weeks, I’ve endured the ignorance, anger, and consequences of another life being snuffed out due to alcoholism. Anger, of course, is its sidekick all too often.
People sometimes point out that I seem to be uncluttered by my youth’s insanity. I often reply, “It comes and goes, depending on what I’m dealing with.” Writing about it is a catharsis for me. It helps me clarify and unmix things that most people think are better off unsaid.
“Don’t live in the past,” some say. “Talking about it won’t change it.” All of which is true in its way. It’s also true, though, that because some of my family members never processed the damage they carried, the demon of alcoholism found a comfortable home in them. They’ve damaged their families. Like dragons, they lie upon their accumulated secrets and scorch anyone who tries to venture close.
On a recent Sunday morning, I found myself finally confronting someone in my family with a plea for them to get help again. They responded in a way that is almost a trademark: with righteous anger, denial, misdirection, and lies. Reasonable people simply don’t lash out in uncontrolled anger, especially when their alleged accuser is being painted as nuts. It’s amazing that angry addicts don’t recognize this; they can’t help themselves.
I don’t know how much longer they might live. I know, however, that they have lost any chance of a meaningful legacy. No matter what else they’ve accomplished, their addiction will stain everything. I cannot reconcile the sheer stupidity of such a wasted life. Though my life might be outwardly devoid of accomplishments and honorific merit, I know that I’ve mostly succeeded in keeping the infection of my family legacy in check. The fact that I can even say this infuriates those in my family who can’t say the same.
And so, now that we are past the preamble…
My family fled the outer fringe of Tontitown after my mother discovered that Dad had been having an affair with his cousin’s widow. We lived with her at the time, following a fire that burned our trailer in Springdale. We moved from Tontitown to a half-length trailer on what is now Don Tyson Parkway. It was a backwater little forgotten and desolate place with several small trailers on it back in the early 80s. Before Don Tyson, it was a narrow dirt road. I drive by the remnants of the place almost daily. The trailer was tiny, much smaller than an average trailer. It was an ugly place but one which served its function of crowding poor people with no great alternatives together. At the time, no one could believe that my parents had decided to stay together. They fought constantly, and the little trailer served as a ring in which to contain their anger.
The evening had started with Mom bitterly screaming at Dad about sleeping around and not working enough. I can no longer recall the name Mom mentioned, but Dad had slept with a barfly since we’d moved. I do remember that it was at a place on 71 and Highland Avenue. Weirdly, Dad had briefly bartended there when we lived at City View before our trailer burned. Dad rarely remained faithful.
Dad was already drinking. Mom was committing the cardinal sin of pressing his buttons. I don’t remember who broke the first glass or dish, but soon a succession of objects was being hurled and shattered. I went into my tiny room but realized that I could be trapped there. I spent a great deal of my youth shoeless and tried to avoid shards in the soles of my feet.
I went back into the living room and saw that Dad had dragged Mom into the bedroom at the far end of the trailer. I watched as my Dad lifted a pistol and slammed it against my Mom’s face. Blood splattered across the edge of the bed, across my dad’s shirt, and my Mom. Mom had probably grabbed one of the many guns in the house. Dad often kept one under the mattress and the bed. She fell face-first onto the cheap floor.
Dad continued to use the gun to bludgeon her. I stood near the narrow hallway of the half-sized trailer. After the second bloody smashing sound, I ran through the front door, across the driveway, and toward Butterfield Coach Road. As had happened so many times previously, I assumed that this would be the night when someone would be murdered. While I can’t always be sure of my memory, my brother was with the Thibodeaux family not too far away and my sister was undoubtedly concocting some sinister plan in parts unknown. I stayed gone for hours. When I returned, the front door was open and neither vehicle was outside. I cautiously went inside and saw that nothing had been cleaned. Furniture was overturned and glass shards greeted me. Upon entering, the two tiny bedrooms for the kids were to the right, while the living room, kitchen, bathroom, and master bedroom followed to the end. I walked the length of the trailer, certain that I’d find someone dead there.
I can’t remember the next day. A few days later, I was at my Uncle Buck’s house with my cousin Jimmy. Uncle Buck and Dad were drinking, and my uncle told Dad he had to go back home and work it out. Dad just lit a Camel cigarette and said nothing. Later, my Mom and Aunt Ardith arrived. After Mom spent a few minutes screaming at dad, he said it wouldn’t happen again. Mom promised to kill dad if he laid a finger on her again. It was an oft-repeated threat. Dad insisted that he wasn’t going to drink for a while and certainly not to get drunk. Left unsaid was the idea that alcohol was to blame for the dark violence. My cousin Jimmy said what I was thinking: “One of them should kill the other one and get it over with.”
A few days later, Dad came home at a reasonable hour and ate his pan-prepared slab of meat. Mom often spent a great portion of her paycheck buying horrid pieces of meat for Dad to eat. She’d cook them in a cast-iron skillet or pan. I sat at the table, waiting for the coda of the other night’s savagery. Mom had bruises and cuts on her head, neck, shoulders, arms, and places unseen. I knew that her ribs were either broken or cracked. How Mom worked as a telephone operator all day without being able to take a full breath was a mystery. Given that she averaged six packs a day, maybe it wasn’t a surprise.
Dad kept looking at my mom, trying to make a connection. “I’m sorry,” he said, over and over. “You shouldn’t mouth off like that. My drinking isn’t hurting anyone.” Dad kept murmuring to mom. “You know I’m sorry, don’t you, son,” he asked me. “Yes sir,” I told him, unconcerned with the lie in the face of unknown consequences. I would have shot him in the face at that moment if I had a gun in my hand. I knew that he would respond with righteous anger soon enough. It was apparent he was not sorry and that he didn’t believe he had done anything wrong. His entire life stretched behind him; regret for his acts of violence and alcoholism seldom seemed genuine. He had killed someone and not altered his behavior. He’d beaten all of us with fists, bottles, and boots. Like most alcoholics, he also expected us to forgive him simply because he demanded it.
Friday, I came home and played my French Horn for an hour and read “The Lion, Witch, and The Wardrobe,” one of the C.S. Lewis books that kept me company. I don’t remember where my brother and sister were. Around 8, I heard screaming outside, followed by the familiar sound of car doors slamming. I jumped up and hit the on/off button of the small t.v. we had. As the front door opened, I heard another scream, this one no longer a test. Mom was screaming murder. Dad grabbed her by her hair and slammed her face into the metal door jamb. Blood squirted across the room. Dad kicked mom into the living room and then kept kicking her in the face, side, and legs.
“Don’t ever make me apologize again, you #$%$^ing @#$%! You’re the reason my life is shit!” Dad continued to scream similar obscenities as mom laid on the floor, covering her head and sobbing. “Help me,” mom yelled at me as if I could pull the gun from under the couch and shoot my Dad. The thought had crossed my mind several times. There were at least five loaded weapons under the sofa where I was.
He turned to me. “As for you, you fat fucking piece of shit, don’t you move.”
I sat on the couch. Dad opened the lower cabinet and pulled out a bottle of some lesser brand of whiskey. He opened it and drank at least 1/5 of the bottle without stopping.
Dad came back the short distance to the horrid living room and sat on mom’s back. He pulled her hair and lifted her head backward and continued punching her head. I was no more than three feet away. “I’m not sorry, you ^&*$%. I don’t have a drinking problem.”
He let her head hit the floor with a thud. Blood was on the floor, my Dad, and across the tops of my cheap K-Mart shoes. Dad got up and grabbed my French Horn in its case and walked over to the front door and threw it out into the night. He took my school library book and tore it in half and threw the pieces on me. As he threw the book on me, I peed myself. He went to take another drink of whiskey, and as he did so, I stood up and tried to gauge how to get outside. I knew that I was going to get a beating. Dad walked over, and instead of punching me, he kicked me with the bottom of his boot, knocking the air out of me and propelling me through the front door. I missed the steps entirely and hit the ground. Without hesitation, I ignored the pain and stumbled off into the dark. Dad stood in the doorway, holding his bottle of whiskey, calling out an obscenity toward me in the night.
Mom left him for a few days. She returned, of course.
A few weeks after that, Dad came home and found me playing my French Horn. It infuriated him that Mom wasn’t there. He wasn’t even drinking that night, not until after. Though I stopped playing as soon as I heard the rumble of the truck outside, Dad came inside the trailer and grabbed my instrument. Thankfully, he didn’t bend it. Instead, he held my hand on the top of the kitchen table and told me to keep it there. I thought he was going to get a knife and do the infamous fingertip jump trick with a knife. Surprising me, he swung a bottle of whiskey down on my middle and second finger. The only reason my fingers didn’t get broken was that his aim was off enough not to hit me directly. It was terrifying and painful. “I don’t want to hear you playing this faggot shit in my house! You hear me, boy?” The next time I was at Uncle Buck’s, I told him that Dad had tried to break my hand. He often asked me how band was going and if I was learning music. He was an accomplished musician himself and often tried to get me to switch to bass and guitar. Uncle Buck was livid. “Bobby Dean, if you ever do that again, I’ll see to it that the same gets done to you.” Dad just laughed. I wasn’t allowed to spend the night there that night. Even though Dad was drunk, he drove back home. He stopped near Tyson Elementary and grabbed me out of the bed of the truck and hit me until my head was ringing. “Don’t ever tell Buck anything again,” he shouted as he beat me. As I tried to climb into the back of the bed of the pickup truck, Dad punched me as hard as he could in the back. I felt that punch for weeks.
(The demand for secrecy is one of the surest and sickest signs of pathology when dealing with violent addicts.)
While Dad’s beatings were violent while he was drinking, I suffered worse during those times when he wasn’t drinking. I think those times more truly reflected the bottomlessness of his anger toward me and regarding his own life. Much of his adult life was preoccupied with his next drink. His drinking resulted in someone’s death, a death for which he was never held accountable.
Violence and anger are not the results of addiction; they are precursors that accompany its growth. They are symbiotic. They require that those around the person with the addiction be partners in the aggression.