Saturday, May 29, 2010

Stones to Chicks to Stones

It is a truism that the pain of passing a kidney stone is like the pain of childbirth. Women (And women are far less likely than men to have kidney stones.) who have experienced them tell me this is in fact true, and not just the usual male thing of trying to appropriate all the glamor and agony. From my experience watching CSB and his kidney stone, I would suggest that in certain ways passing a kidney stone is far worse than labor. In particular, at the end of the process you do not have a soft and beloved infant for whom you are the universe, but a unimpressive pebbly piece of calcium oxalate, unless you have calcium phosphate or struvite or even cystine, of a size so small that you would be embarrassed to put it on your Christmas card.

It seems a shame that CSB does not keep a diary. (To paraphrase OW: I never travel without mine; I like to have something sensational to read in the veterinarian’s waiting room.) Then he, like Samuel Pepys, could write about the pain of his kidney stone and all the attendant indignities and miseries, or like Pepys he could host a party every year to celebrate the anniversary of the removal of said kidney stone. We would serve lots of fluids.

And in news from the farm:
Yesterday morning I got a call at 7 AM from our post office, letting me know that our day-old chicks had arrived. Jan the friendly postmaster (and devotee of local honey) was worried that they would get cold in the air conditioned back room. So I rushed down there, though not in pajamas, and picked up the new chicks:
5 Araucanas to lay blue & green eggs, 5 Plymouth Rocks & 5 Speckled Wyandottes, and 1 extra thrown in for good measure. All pullets. They were all sexed upon birth, but not by me. They came in a 10x10x5” cardboard box with a few holes in it and it goes without saying that they are very cute in the way that many creatures are much cuter in their first weeks of existence then they will ever be again.

You may well ask why we need more chicks when we already have 15 chickens and the answer is that we were concerned lest too many of those chickens turn out to be roosters. (also, see above.) So far only one has identified himself incontrovertibly as a rooster (named Alonso)and I am doing my best not to get attached to his crowing and strutting.

This past week I spent a few profitable hours at BEA (Book Expo America) thanks to my dear friend, Meg. The purpose of this convention, the reason publishers from all over America and the world gather at Jacob Javits and set up booths and look weird under the fluorescent lights, is to give away books & bookmarks & ARCs (Advanced Review Copies) to people like me who think the getting free books is better than dark chocolate. This year I got especially lucky and snagged an ARC of the new Jane Gardam, God on the Rocks. (This came out in Britain in 1978 and is only now coming out here with Europa. I love their editions as they are so Euro-looking, unsurprisingly.) I started it last night and read this sentence, which pretty much made my day and evening and then some: “Some gulf obtained between Margaret and children with undecorated backs.”

The following, overheard as I emerged from the hardware store (a rare outing since I don’t like to leave the suffering CSB and his kidney stone) with a new heat lamp for the chicks, may prove to be today’s best quote:
A young couple to their two young children (ages 4? 5?),“We’re going to go in there and Mommy and Daddy are going to get adjusted & you can get adjusted too if you want.”
One small child to the other, eagerly: “Lena, do you want to get adjusted?”

I learned today that the incidence of kidney stones will only get worse with Global Warming. I read this in Wikipedia and was somewhat dubious, but then I spoke with the eminent Dr David Goldfarb, Nephrologist, Kidney Stonologist, ballroom dancer and chef, who assured me that this is true. As people sweat more they urinate less and the urine is then concentrated and this leads to kidney stones. A rise of even one degree in temperature could effectively move the current “kidney stone belt” of the south to our own backyard.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Stray pharmaceuticals

I am imagining the scene:
The walker returns to her home after a brisk morning constitutional on the Old Croton Aqueduct during which nothing unusual happened unless you consider four white–tailed bucks –sporting their velvety springtime antler nubs - grazing by the path as unusual, and sadly for the gardeners among us, the white-tailed deer are as common as a cold. The walker pours herself a cup of coffee, sits at her kitchen table and prepares to read the latest issue of Backyard Poultry. She has heard a lot about chickens lately and has decided to acquire a pair of Rhode Island Red hens. Then the pain strikes. She doubles over as the terrible constriction spreads across her chest. But she recognizes the pain as angina and knows she has a solution: in her pocket she always carries a small bottle of sub lingual Nitrostat 0.4, otherwise known as nitroglycerin. Those little pills placed under the tongue work remarkably quickly to ease the pain. The walker reaches into her pocket for the reassuring bottle, and instead, discovers that whatever small hole was there before is now a full-grown hole, through which her tiny bottle must have escaped. Because the nitroglycerin is not there, even as the pain worsens.

This is as far as I have imagined. Because his morning while I was out walking on the aqueduct, between Washington and Pinecrest and a few dozen yards north of the ventilation tower inscribed with MARRY ME JOEL, I found a small bottle of the above-mentioned nitroglycerin. And it disturbs me to imagine that I have in my possession the means to alleviate the pain and suffering of the angina-stricken walker who preceded me on the path.
I have already called our local constabulary to alert them to my find. No ideas.What to do? Is this the same nitroglycerin that blows things up?

*"Angina is a medical term derived from the classical Greek word ankhon (ἄγχω) meaning to strangle, throttle, or choke. It may refer to a constriction in the airway or, by extension, a restriction in blood flow."

More on the merits of actual books

In the parental basement a while back I found an old copy of Lytton Strachey’s Queen Victoria. The flyleaf told me it had belonged to my Uncle Claude while he was at Lawrenceville in the fifties, and reading through his annotated copy was heart-rending. First I should tell you that my beloved uncle’s first language was French; he was born in Alexandria, Egypt, went to school in Egypt, then in Saigon, then in California during the war & then again in Cairo (where as a scrappy young boy he got into fist fights with Edward Said – see p 89 of his acclaimed memoir, Out of Place). When his older sister (my mother) left the fragrant gardens of Maadi, with their nights sleeping on the roof to catch desert breezes and their afternoon pastries at Groppi, and went off to Smith, their Belgian parents thought it would be a great idea to send young Claude to Lawrenceville. It was not. He would have preferred building things with his American friends in Cairo, or scuba diving in the Red Sea, or camping in the desert. He would have preferred anything but sitting in hallowed classrooms filled with sophisticated New Yorkers.
Instead, he struggled through Lytton Strachey – every single page bears witness to those struggles as he deciphered the precious locutions, and looked up vocabulary. His penciled definitions adorn the margins of every page: annuity, odious, nonentity, asperity, imbroglio, gyrations, piquancies, exegesis and on and on to reticence and platitude of her phraseology. Not one page is absent evidence of the assiduous study required to read this short book.
Though he now reads the engineering tomes he loves, and journals of undersea exploration, my uncle’s handwriting is still small and precise, and he still uses a mechanical pencil.

Also in the parental basement, on a shelf otherwise filled with 25¢ luridly covered paperback mysteries, and the signature all-white covered French novels, I extracted my college copy of Freud’s Dora: An Analysis of a Case of Hysteria, with an introduction by Philip Rieff (best known to me as Susan Sontag’s one-time husband). I cannot even begin to imagine how that particular book came to rest that particular shelf in the parental basement. Inside this classic analysis of the real Ida Bauer’s aphonia (I insert that word esp. for Uncle Claude), her dreams and her sexual feelings for her father as well as Herr and Frau K, I found a scrap of lined paper with my handwriting. On it were written directions to the Planned Parenthood clinic in Carpentaria, California where I got my very first contraceptives.
Because this is Freud, for whom a cigar is never just a cigar, I cannot see the inclusion of this scrap in this book about a ‘hysterical’ young woman as random. What with the word ‘hysteria’ coming from the Greek “hustera” for womb or uterus, that very organ I was striving to keep from becoming impregnated. We won’t even go into the whole sordid history of the attributing female ‘hysteria’ to malfunctions of the womb. I prefer to recall this long-ago extraordinary college class on Freud and Reich (yes, orgone Reich), and the daunting excitement of taking responsibility for my own sexuality. Another good reason to read books, write in books, stick scraps of paper in books, and save the books.

In apicultural news, this morning I watched the queen in our observation hive laying eggs. She walks across the comb checking out likely cells and when she finds one she likes, she backs up and sticks her tail down. I counted and by my very unscientific timing (1-Mississippi, 2-Mississippi etc), she spends about 8 seconds laying an egg.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Arctic Dreams and a rooster revealed

Today I pulled Barry Lopez’ Arctic Dreams from the shelf, because in September I will travel to the Arctic with my sister and a brother and sister-in-law, and I was told this was a must-read. And why the Arctic when the south of France still beckons? I ask myself that question. Because we like cold, bleak places and enormous skies? Because we want to lament the melting of the arctic ice cap? Because we want to chew on walrus blubber and experience scurvy first hand? All of the above. It was my copy of Arctic Dreams from the eighties, and if the dog-ears are any indication, I never finished it. When I opened it this morning, several papers drifted out: a ski trail map from Alta; a flyer from the Alta Powder Kids ski school ($14 a day for ages 6 and up); and a daily report from Powder Kids describing the progress made by a certain Tristram H in 1987. He was six and small for his age back then. His teacher described him as: “A good enthusiastic little boy”. He was ”having difficulty turning on black.” But he had “finished with edgy-wedgy”. I can’t remember the last time I – or anyone in my hearing – referred to an edgy-wedgy, but it is something to hope for is some mythical future.
Talk about Proustian madeleines. Just handling that wrinkly ski map & peering into the shaded expanse of the Black Diamond Greeley Bowl, where I valiantly tried to keep up with my then-husband and his brothers, is enough to bring on vertigo and frostbitten toes. But to remember young Tristram as he fell in love with powder skiing, as he hurled himself fearlessly from the top of the mountain and raced down heedless of the dimly-heard maternal shouts to Be Careful and Slow Down, as he dipped behind a child-swallowing mogul and never emerged, as he imitated Eddie the Eagle, the English ski jumper who solidly came in last in every competition, as he dangled his legs off the edge of the chair lift and in the process so terrified his mother that I begged strangers to ride up with him, brings on only happiness.
I could make a case here for ‘real’ books (as opposed to Kindles, Nooks, Snooks or Swindles) because they afford this possibility for unleashing memories. But I will refrain, because it is so obvious.

In other news, the chickens are now outside in their yard, pecking the ground, dashing around, clucking, and in one significant case, crowing. This morning I heard my first real cock-a-doodle do, and I was strangely moved. My own rooster! Yes, it is he-who-shall-remain-unnamed, with the bluish black feathers and the many pointed comb and incipient wattle.
I think he is either a Black Orpington or a Black Austrolorp, but I am still not sure. I am however, very sure that he is a he.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The continuance of gender confusion

Gender confusion is still the abiding theme at Clucker Hall. I sent some pictures to our friend, Annie Farrell, the farming guru, and she wrote back cheerfully that it looks like we have lots of roosters. I’m not sure who should be cheerful about this, certainly not the roosters. (Any roosters that previously had names are now being referred to as Fricassee, Stew, and Coq au Vin). How could she tell? Apparently the comb on roosters will be prominent, as will the spurs on the back of their legs. And there are several chicks out there with combs looking very prominent. Including the He-who-was-formerly-Fez, I am sad to say. According to our handy Guide to Backyard Chickens, there are several types of combs, including: single, strawberry, walnut, cushion, buttercup, V-shaped and rose.

This morning as I sipped my tea in Clucker Hall with the chicks pecking at gravel, I thought I heard a tentative cock-a-doodle-doo. Annie told us the first tries would sound scratchy & even hoarse. In a flash, I was reminded of those halcyon days of my son’s puberty – back when the mere word puberty would make him blush and run for cover – when his voice started cracking. For months I thought he was plagued with a sore throat and incipient laryngitis; I plied him with throat lozenges. When his friends called on the phone they sounded like their fathers, i.e. men not boys. Then one morning my son opened his mouth and he was a baritone, wandering through the lower registers like a lost soul in the desert.

Here is Whiskers perched and alert. Doesn’t she look like a mother? And I still have hopes that Bump is a hen; because of her feathery hairdo I can’t see the prominence or lack of prominence of her comb. CSB, being rather conservative in the matter of hair fashion, would just as soon she was a rooster.

Monday, May 17, 2010

On the roof with the bees

Last week, CSB realized that one of our hives atop Doug’s brownstone was weak & unlikely to survive, and he determined that we should bring in a healthy hive from home and swap them out. So we did.
And in case you are thinking that having beehives on rooftops is the simplest thing in the world, here is what we did this morning:
• Last night CSB sealed up the healthy hive from home, so the bees would not start foraging this morning.
• We load the car with veils, smoker, new hives & a nuc.
• We drive into Manhattan. If you have never before driven with CSB as a co-pilot, you may not know that he has one abiding philosophy: “Try to make that light.” It does not matter if the light is green, yellow or red. It does not actually matter if there is a light.
• I double park outside Doug’s and we unload the hive. Someone is shooting film in the community garden next door.
• Then I drive around the corner & park in racks of quite nice striped dresses on the sidewalk, for sale at 3 for $10. How is this possible?
• We carry bees and gear up 3 flights of stairs (1 outside, 2 inside) past the ever-affable & cheerful Doug working away on thriller numero très.
• Then the tricky part: I climb up the ladder not affixed to the wall, or anything else, and kneel* over the edge of the trapdoor, while CSB – bearing the new hive (weighing about 80 pounds, full of bees eager to fly, & brood & honey) over his head, gingerly climbs the lower rungs of the ladder and passes the hive up to me, leaning as far as possible over the lip of the trapdoor. I can guide the hive through the opening but not yet lift it by its cover. Finally we have positioned it so that I can lift it from the bottom and bring it onto the roof.
• We repeat the process with the nuc containing empty frames, which is smaller and much lighter.
• Up on the roof, it is warm and the bees are flying hither and yon. CSB gently places the new hive on the stand of the weak one we are removing. We remove the cover and put on an additional deep. Then I gently peel away the blue tape and screen that were sealing the bees inside their hive. They fly out eagerly, as you would expect from anyone cooped inside on a sunny day, only more so.
• From the roof I can look down on the community garden next door with its tiled center fountain, and watch the filming in progress. There appear to be two cameramen and one woman holding a microphone; she is interviewing a man in a straw hat and a woman in overalls. No one ever looks up.
• We seal up the weak hive for transport back to the Hastings Apiary and Clinic. And wish the new hive all happiness in their new home.
• CSB goes down the ladder first. My job is to kneel by the edge of the trapdoor and hand him the weak hive, slightly less heavy than the one we brought up. As I go to lift it he reminds me that there is no bottom board, only a screen, and the cranky bees would be pleased to sting me through the screen if I give them the opportunity. This makes it harder to get purchase on the hive. But I do, and we get the old bees down the ladder, then down the 3 flights of stairs.
• We walk over to 3rd Avenue and get the car which I am happy to report was legally parked at a legal meter into which I had legally inserted 3 quarters.
• We return to Doug’s, double park, and reload the car with the old hive, the nuc and the veils and smoker.
• Because we are already uptown in Spanish Harlem and because I love molé but don’t know how to make it, I have the brilliant idea of stopping at a Mexican grocery and buying some molé in a jar. We do stop at a bodega at the top of the hill on Lexington. They have no molé but they do have several varieties of holy candles in glass: Santa Rita, El Niño Atocha, San José and Santa Eulalia. CSB is waiting in the car so I do not buy any holy candles.
• We miss the turn off for the Deegan, but that is no problem because there is a lovely park way at the upper tip of Manhattan I have never noticed before, and then we cross a moveable bridge with a two turreted houses at either end.

*Kneeling is the one thing you are absolutely not allowed to do with a faux knee.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

On poultry and pedagogy and parenting

The chickens, all fifteen of them, all still of undetermined gender, have moved to their new home, their spacious and elegant coop, Clucker Hall. I have brought in a folding lawn chair so that I can comfortably divide my time between the bees and the chickens. Now that the observation hive is back, I watch the blue-dotted queen make her way across the honeycomb and lay those 1500 eggs. Can any of us accomplish so much in a day?

And when that palls, which it does for me long before it does for the egg-laying queen, I go out to Clucker Hall and watch the chickens peck and squawk and dash about like chickens and flap their wings and roost. I am looking closely for gender specific behavior: Ophelia over there in the corner, with the sleek black fathers (an Austrolorp? A record setting egg-layer?) seems inclined to swoon and discuss her feelings. This gives me hope for a laying hen. Bump (A Crevecoeur? A rarity with plumage?), on the other hand, keeps demanding that we switch the channel to the World Series of Poker. I expect to hear him crowing sometime very soon.
Out in Clucker Hall, it is all mystery all the time. Because the eggs came from a friend’s farm, not only do we not know their gender, we also do not know their breed. Other than the obvious fact that there are no Silkies (they of the feathered legs, dandies in extremis), we don’t know what they are, and it is CK that I like to know the names of things.
There are many reasons why I am unable to identify chicken breeds, but today I am choosing the lay the blame squarely in the lap of St Paul’s School. No, I am not referring to the august institution famous for overpaying its headmaster and the nude carillon. No, the St Paul’s I refer to is a humble parochial school in my hometown, an undistinguished brick building run by the most elderly and decrepit nuns of the Sisters of St Joseph, who are elderly and decrepit to begin with. And to end with.

I have always regarded my six years of attendance (penance?) at St Paul’s Parochial School as ample proof of the good sense of allowing parents to have one Practice Child before they commit to the task of genuine parenthood. This would allow them to make any mistakes on the Practice Child, and learn from their mistakes.
A good system you say? The only problem is that most first children, rather than tactfully making themselves scarce, tend to stay around and exhibit bad behavior directly related to the aforementioned childrearing mistakes.
(I should point out, though it is probably obvious, that while as a first child I subscribe to this practice of the Practice Child, as a parent I consider it ludicrous. Such contradictions are the bread and butter of the therapeutic couch.)
For instance, my parents, with all good intentions, sent me, their first child, to St Paul’s School, with the foolish idea that I would receive an education there. That is not what transpired. Because my mother had already taught me to read, and the French nuns at École Zamalek in Cairo had already taught me to eat croissants and say the Lord’s Prayer in French, and my cousin taught me everything I needed to know of arithmetic, I was free to spend most school days reading Nancy Drew’s adventures from a book secreted on my lap under the desk. Because the teaching nuns, in addition to being ancient and derelict, were also blind and deaf, this went unnoticed. During recess in the paved schoolyard I looked up forbidden words in my pocket dictionary. This is did not make me a popular child, but it did keep the other children from bothering me. Or paying any attention at all. I had exactly one friend during my six years at St Paul’s. For some unknown reason we did not speak to each for most of the 4th grade. That was the year I started reading about gruesome martyrdoms in my green A Child’s Life of the Saints, as we were taught that along with the unbaptized babies, even Buddha would never make it to heaven.

That was the year after the year of the Lay Teacher. There was one teacher at St Paul’s who was not a nun. That was Miss McGlannahan in third grade. Apparently there was no available antique and decomposing Sister of Saint Joseph uniquely unqualified to teach third grade. So they had to seek outside the order. Miss McGlannahan wore normal clothes, if you call unpleasant tweed skirts and armorial jackets normal. Through that mysterious process of understanding available only to the very young, we all knew that Miss McGlannahan wore a wig and that beneath her wig (a lacquered grey pageboy) her head was bald. She also had neither eyebrows nor eyelashes, and the story was that as a child she had survived a tragic house fire that killed everyone else in her family. Poor Miss McGlannahan, in addition to being a bald spinster spending her days with heretical brats, she also suffered from our genuine pity. She alone was not a nun. She alone had no vocation. Even as she taught the same recalcitrant scholars as the doddering sorority of Saint Joseph, she had not managed to be one of them.

It is not fair to say I learned nothing at St Paul’s. I learned about venial and mortal sins. I figured out that it was possible to sin copiously throughout one’s long & dissolute life, and so long as you make a full deathbed confession, you can count on spending eternity listening to harps.

Things have not much changed at St Paul’s. A hapless student is still unlikely to receive an open-minded education. My younger sister (she who was not a practice child and hence never was privileged to waste her youth wondering what nuns wear under their wimples) informed me yesterday that St Paul’s made the local news by rescinding the acceptance of a child, on the grounds that his parents are lesbians. Perhaps the hapless child in question is his mothers’ first child; in which case they should consider themselves inadvertently saved from denying their offspring an actual education. Now there is the possibility that the child in question can go to a proper school and learn to distinguish among the many attractive breeds of chicken out there in Clucker Hall.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Why I am not a bird watcher

Because, with even with the most perfect view of the sweetest mother bird in her nest, I cannot identify said bird.

Her nest is situated conveniently atop the capital of the corner column of the balcony, off what is referred to as ‘the old bedroom’, to distinguish it from the new bedroom. The old bedroom having been my parents’ bedroom for about 40 years, and before that it was empty and before that it was the bedroom my father shared with his brother when they were growing up and coming to the Orchard on weekends. The Egyptian themed new bedroom was devised when my grandmother came to live with my parents in the hope that even as her memory disintegrated, the presence of her mouche arabie screen and her Coptic crosses and the incised brass urns and hanging mosque lamps, that all of that would reassure Bonne-Maman of the happiness of her life beside the Nile and perhaps stave off the insinuating tapeworm of memory loss.
Now it is my parents’ room, still Egyptian themed, not because my mother has forgotten but because she remembers so well. The camel collection is relatively new. I don’t know which bedroom my father remembers.

All I need to do to view the nest is stand on the balcony railing. Of course the mother flies off indignantly when I do this, but she always returns. Inside are her four white eggs and the other one, the one spotted with brown, the intruder, the one my sister identified as the cowbird’s egg. That was the easy part. Cowbird’s are opportunistic creatures, who lay their eggs in any handy nest not their own, because they have none of their own. I am told they developed this trait following the buffalo herds across the Great Plains, because the buffalo fur was loaded with tasty insects. Life on the move precluded nest-building, hence the opportunistic egg-laying. Don’t ask me why a bird best known for its affinity for buffalo bugs is laying eggs mere feet from my parents’ old bedroom.
And who is the mother bird, the nest-builder?
I checked out my Audubon’s guide for smallish birds of the northeast. That narrowed it down to a few hundred. Then I narrowed it further to birds that lay white eggs, not speckled or blue or green. More narrowing ensued. Then I looked again at the bird. I feel confident she is not an owl, a pigeon, a parrot or a woodpecker. Elimination is a good thing.
Are those feathers blue or grey? Would you describe that tail as flat? Or notched? Is it similar to the Pipit? How big is bigger than a swallow? Are those pale brown narrow streaks along her side, or are they black stripes in a field of brown? Could it be a nuthatch? Or aren’t they the ones that walk up the sides of trees? What about goldfinches? The females aren’t gold; maybe they are this mysterious brown or gray with mysterious stripes.
Is that stuff on top of her head a feathery crest, or is it just this morning’s bedhead?
The only thing that remains clears is my failure as a birdwatcher. On the other hand, when I sit & stare at Bonne Maman’s Middle Kingdom funerary ornaments (a gift from an admirer at the Cairo Museum, back when)I know exactly where I am and who I want to be with.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Travel is broadening

While CSB hived the bees and the chicks grew into polychromatic feathered chickens of still-undetermined-gender, I was flying down to South Carolina seated next to a man watching a B&W movie on his laptop. I wish I could tell you that my eyes did not stray from my sheaf of business papers, riddled as they were with mysterious acronyms. But my eyes did, again and again. There was Tallulah Bankhead, afloat in the ocean with a bunch of men, and her hair only looked better with every passing day of starvation, thirst, seasickness and death-defying waves. Trying to be subtle, I looked over again and again to see how Tallulah and the men were doing, thinking perhaps that I would learn something useful in the unlikely event of a landing over water.
Don’t let the sheaf of papers fool you, for most of the flight down I was trying to recall the exact words of the witches’ false assurance to Macbeth.
"Macbeth shall never vanquish'd be until
Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hill
Shall come against him."

And why was it so important to know the exact words? Because all along the Whitestone Parkway there were forklifts moving good-sized cedars and poplars, looking like nothing so much as the Great Birnam wood on the move, and making me pity poor misguided & manipulated Macbeth.

Every day in South Carolina we drove from our hotel (think multiple prom dresses, some sketchy trips in the elevator and a whole girls’ soccer team) to the Leigh Fibers factory. (Leigh was started by my grandfather; my father, uncle, a brother and a cousin have all worked there since forever; the rest of us go down periodically in order to be less ignorant in the arcana of shoddy, combers, linters and aramids. )

On account of not opting for full coverage, I am not the person of choice to drive a rental car. But still, I experienced the gauntlet of temptation between the hotel and the ramp for I-85. Midway between the LOVE TEMPLE (U.P.H), about which certain imaginations get fervid, and the Krispy Kreme, about which my favorite daughter waxes poetic, is the world famous penis-burger of Spartanburg, SC. We don’t actually know if it is officially called the penis-burger, or if it is world famous, but we know what we thought it looked like. What else we don’t know is why.

Then came the OYSTER ROAST.

While I was eyeing the boiled peanuts and wondering how long it would take me to develop a taste for boiled peanuts, or whether I was genetically predetermined (the Walloonish strain) to never like boiled peanuts no matter how great the temptation, my father was coughing his way through yet another evening. His cough has persisted now for longer than any of us can remember; it is body-wrenching, esophagus-splitting, barrier-breaking and soul searching. It is beyond his control. Sometimes if he is very quiet it will stop for a while, but he likes to talk.

While we were shucking oysters with some of the finest oyster shuckers in South Carolina and Florida (try Googling oyster shucking mitts any time you seek some x-rated diversion), and slurping up those tasty members of the phlegm family, my father was choking on his dinner and passing out on his plate.

While we were digging into Low Country Boil, a dish hitherto unknown to me and now a favorite (among its many merits, it has neither boiled peanuts nor okra) my parents were in an ambulance on their way to the hospital, where they know the names of the children of all the ER nurses.

And I was in deep contemplation of chocolate covered strawberries when my mother finally reached the cell phone of one of her offspring.

(All of which may be one way of relating that I have been in South Carolina with all my brothers and sister and cousins, and then Massachusetts with my distressed mother and coughing father. He is out of the hospital.)