the 10 commandments

Many years ago when Kent and I were dating, we, along with his roommate William, watched The Ten Commandments. To be truthful, I don't remember too much about it. I remember Moses' famous scene standing with his arms outstretched at the Red Sea as the Israelites crossed on dry ground, the walls of water on both sides. (That was an impressive scene). Aside from that, I only remember one other scene. It made an impact on me, although not a thoughtful contemplative impact, rather a let's-reveal-how-shallow-we-are impact.

It went something like this: The death angel had just come. People were gathered, mourning the death of the eldest child. Someone sang mournfully, and I do mean MOURNFULLY. The words sung were, "Death Cometh To Me." Quite possibly, since the beginning of time there has never been a song sung so slowly or so mournfully. It must have taken all of 15 minutes to complete the phrase "Death cometh to me". Ok, maybe 15 minutes is an exaggeration, but my point is the same, it was a horrifically slow dirge.

I can still feel my emotions as the song was sung. I'm guessing my face was mildly contorted in anguish. I was, up until that moment, totally and blissfully oblivious that a song that painfully slow was even possible. The three of us had our eyes glued to the television anticipating the next word, as if our anticipation might get the word off the songstress' tongue more quickly.

William pulled himself forward, resting his elbows on his knees. Songstress finally finished and William quipped, "Well that's a snappy little tune."

house for sale

Over the past two weeks, we've toyed with selling our house. We've decided against it.

Thinking about selling, I recalled when Kent and I lived on Hastey Street. You may remember the story of the carpenter - I think I called him Ralph in a previous story - we hired to re-do our master bathroom. It wasn't a good experience. Ralph was very, very poor at carpentry.

My friend Carolyn was an absolute hoot. Our friendship was usually localized to school and work, but one time she came over for a swim. 

We had just put the house on the market and the new For Sale sign stood beside the road. When Carolyn pulled up, she promptly asked why we were selling. As we started inside, I changed our course from front door to back door because something was wrong with the front door. (I can't recall what was wrong, but within minutes of arriving at my house, I pointed out two things that we had to avoid because they didn't work properly. I wish I could remember what they were as it would make this tale more interesting, but I cannot.)

That very morning incompetent Ralph had wrapped up his work in the bathroom. It was a horrible disappointment. I was still reeling and took her to see the reason for my disappointment. After I showed it to her, I suggested she just stay there to change into her swimsuit. Therefore, she was the first user of the new horribly-re-done-by-an-incompetent-carpenter bathroom.

She closed the door and then noticed there was no toilet paper. She tried to re-open the door, but couldn't. It was too tight. (More of Ralph's handiwork.) One needed to body-shove it open and she wasn't comfortable with that. She yelled at me and I returned with toilet paper. I forcefully jerked the door open to hand her the toilet paper. I left, shutting the tight door behind me.

Carolyn used the toilet, stripping off all her clothes to put on her swimsuit at the same time. Then she made the grave mistake of flushing the newly installed toilet. Need I remind you it was installed by an incompetent carpenter? Terrible noises erupted. Noises I couldn't identify, except Carolyn's yelling. "VALERIEEEE! VALERIEEE!"

I ran into the bedroom, forced the bathroom door open and there was Carolyn, naked, straddling the toilet trying to shut off the water supply to the toilet. The water pressure in the tank had dislodged the tank lid when she flushed and water was forcefully shooting straight up.

As anyone might have been, Carolyn was discombobulated by the whole ordeal. I squeezed into the tight fit with her and we managed to get the water supply turned off. As I was turning the valve, Carolyn, wet with toilet water, naked, and shaken, yelled, "NO WONDER YOU WANT TO SELL THIS HOUSE!! IT'S FALLING APART!!"


a re-made bathroom

(Our house on Hastey Street, Mena Arkansas 1985)
HasteyWhen Kent and I lived on Hastey Street, we got a man to redo our master bathroom. He was a "professional," yet out of work. He made a royal mess out of it and charged us 2 1/2 times his estimate. To complicate things, the man was a member of our church and a preacher on the side. All the signs were there, but we didn't see them. We thought we would all be winners in this arrangement.

Let's call the professional Ralph. He was about five feet tall, at best 5.2.

Ralph worked on our bathroom for days. We looked at it daily, looking forward to it coming together and being a bathroom we could be proud of. We got less and less optimistic as the days went by. I was ready to throw the man a bone and be done with him when I saw he had textured the walls by putting sand in the paint. It was shaping up hardly better than it had been before he started.

The day came when he was "finished." We paid him more than double his estimate, but were very unhappy with his work. Trying to be "Christian" about the whole thing, we didn't even mention our dissatisfaction. Kent and I were both striving to have a good attitude. We didn't talk about Ralph, but oh, how we wanted to!

The bathroom was an expensive mess. The shower was the most disappointing thing. The shower door was directly in front of the nozzle. We had two options when showering; we could 1) get in, shut the door, hold our breath and try to be absorbed by the wall till the ice cold water warmed up, or we could 2) open the shower door, turn on the water, slam the door quickly then, when the water warmed up, open the shower door, spraying the floor yet again, and jump in as quickly as possible to minimize the pool of water on the bathroom floor. They were poor options, but we chose to spray the bathroom floor with every shower.

Lest you think that was the only problem with the shower, let me assure you it was not. As I mentioned, Ralph was around five feet tall. And, the height of the shower nozzle was perfectly suited for someone five feet tall. Kent and I were forced to do back bends or knee squats to wash our hair. We were seriously unimpressed, but we tried very hard to be "Christian," resisting every urge to complain.

One day Kent came out of the bathroom wearing a disgusted look. "You know, every time I take a shower I wish I had Ralph, like this," he said bitterly as he clamped his hand as if squeezing a set of balls.

Our ban on talking about Ralph was suddenly lifted. I roared with laughter. It felt good to be set free, to complain, unrestrained.

a fish net memory

Years ago...

051_51 (Stephanie, me and Kent, 1987)
My husband and I were celebrating our 2nd or 3rd anniversary. It was in August, coinciding with the Polk County Rodeo. As with everyone in Mena, when celebrating or eating out, we went to Fish Net, practically the only restaurant in Mena at the time.

Fish Net waitresses had an annoying custom of singing to birthday and anniversary people. Since my sister-in-law Lawana worked there, it traveled through the waitressing ranks that it was our anniversary. What they didn't know was that we were eating quickly so we could attend the rodeo.

When Kent and I finished eating, much ahead of the waitresses estimated time of completion, we made our way toward the exit. During our exiting stroll, I saw Brother Vanderbilt, an 80-something-year-old gentleman from my childhood church. When I reached his table to say hello, I simultaneously noticed the waitresses scrambling to get to Kent and me before we left. Kent noticed this as well and raced to the front door.

Just as the waitresses surrounded me, Brother Vanderbilt got his arthritic body forced into an upright standing position. As we embraced, the waitresses burst out in festive congratulatory song: "The Roses had an anniversary, an anniversary, an anniversary..." Knowing very well an onlooker would conclude that Brother Vanderbilt and I were "the Roses," I looked around to see if Kent was nearby so I could instead sidle up beside him. I saw him at the register, laughing at my predicament with a few others.

About to combust on the spot, I glanced over to Brother Vanderbilt. He seemed to think we were being congratulated for having found each other after our long separation. When the waitresses finished singing, he was smiling and muttering, "Thank you, thank you."

The waitresses and a few diners gave their clapping finale and Brother Vanderbilt gave me a final tight tug around the waist and shakily stretched up to kiss me on the cheek.

sexual development

This morning Hannah came into the living room carrying Frodo. With her nose wrinkled and her lips turned down, she grimaced. "During the night, Frodo's penis got really hard and something pink came out. There were two balls on it too. It was gross!"

I smiled and said, "I guess our little Frodo is growing up."

Although we had lots of dogs growing up, I never paid any attention to the male dog parts. When Kent and I married, we went to Eureka Springs for our honeymoon. As we walked the streets enjoying the quaint shops, we passed an older gentleman walking his Bassett Hound. This Bassett was the Bassett that made me fall in love with Bassets. Although barely off the ground, he was massive. Kent and I laughed that his "thing" nearly dragged the ground.
(This is our Bassett Hound Granny. She was already named when we got her. 1999) 
Granny dogShortly afterward, Kent found some Bassets for sale and we took off to Little Rock to get one. We came home with Buford. Buford and I quickly developed a dysfunctional relationship. He was so sweet, but clearly he was the master and I his subordinate. I dressed him in his red bandanna and away he and I would go. He went berserk when we passed Sonic, so like the obedient servant I was, I'd whip in and buy two Pepsis; a medium for me and a large for Buford. He loved their cheese conies and would occasionally get one of those too. I loved Buford but didn't have a clue about training him. He was in control.

As he matured, I discovered two growths on his belly. I was terribly alarmed afraid they were tumors. They were sensitive to the touch. Kent came home to me crying one night; I was convinced Buford was dying. I sat on the sofa and Buford laid in my arms on his back. I told Kent about it and how sometimes they would get super big and how he would groan when I touched them.

Soon enough, the tumors got visible while Kent was home. I showed them to Kent and said, "Look, it hurts him when I touch them." I rubbed them and Buford groaned. "Do you think he'll die?" I touched them again, and again Buford groaned in pain.

Kent slapped my shoulder with the back of his hand and said firmly, "Would you stop that! You're turning him on."

I yelled defensively, "That's gross. I'm not either. Something's wrong with him. Look, can't you see the tumors?"

Disgusted, he replied impatiently, "Those aren't tumors, those are his lock-up knots. Dang Valerie, stop rubbing him. You've got him turned on."

I wasn't convinced Kent knew what he was talking about, but I stopped touching his "tumors." I made an appointment with the vet. Buford and I sat in Dr. Cress's office and I wondered how I would handle this. If he said Buford had cancer, would I have him put down that day, or would I take him home for "a little bit longer."

Finally it was our turn to go in. "Fine looking dog you got. What can I do for you?," Dr Cress asked. I said, "He's got two growths," I said as I put Buford on the table. At that moment, the growths weren't visible, so I said, "If you rub right here, they'll show." I demonstrated.

Dr. Cress punched around on Buford's stomach, looked in his ears, and for the finale put his finger in Buford's butt. "Your dog is fine. There nothing wrong with him," he said as Buford let out a pained yelp.

"But the growths? What are they?," I asked feeling like he'd heard nothing I'd told him.

"They're normal," he said as he handed Buford to me. "He ain't nuttin' but a pantywaist."

I learned later that a pantywaste is a sissy. I never took Buford back to Dr Cress. I thought Buford needed a more nurturing doctor, not one that called him names.

Months passed and Stephanie was born. That day, Buford became a dog. He was a dog I was fond of, but he was just a dog.
Years later when Gordon and I were in Victoria on our honeymoon, we saw a billboard with a huge Bassett on it. I told my new husband about Buford, my love for Bassett Hounds, and that it all started on my honeymoon with Kent when we saw the Bassett whose "thing" nearly dragged the ground. Gordon spoke slowly and sympathetically, "Poor thing, I know how he feels."

house-boat issues

Funny are the twists and turns, ups and downs, bumps and bruises life deals us and funny how we move on, get over, heal. Best of all is when you can smile and laugh at what once was.

Nervously, I will share one of my funny stories from my life with Kent. I have hesitated to write it down because it is definitely a "you had to be there" story. I want so desperately to share the full impact but I know I will fall far short.

When Stephanie was about 18-months-old, Kent, Stephanie and I took a vacation to California. We were going to stay on a boat belonging to one of Kent's customers.

When we arrived at the boat, I was disappointed to find only single beds. Even the "master bedroom" had single beds on opposite walls. I am uncomfortable sleeping with a small child in a queen bed for fear I'll somehow roll on it and suffocate it. I sure don't take chances with single beds.

From the first moment we settled on the sleeping arrangement I was uncomfortable. I didn't like that Stephanie was closer to the door than us. If a bad guy got on the boat he would get to Stephanie's room first. I was a bona-fide, irrational worry-wart.

(Kent and Stephanie 2005)
Kent and stephanie dancing Before we settled too comfortably Kent spoke with the owner of the boat to tell him we'd arrived safely. In that telephone conversation we learned several of the owner's friends had keys to the boat and might "drop in." Knowing several people could potentially enter the boat did nothing but escalate my discomfort and worry.

At bedtime, we left a small light on in the front of the boat to cast a dim light down the hall should we have to get up with Stephanie during the night. I tossed and turned and listened for intruders. I complained mercilessly about all the people that might enter. I imagined every key-holder was either a child-abductor or a pedophile. Meanwhile Stephanie slept comfortably in the room next door.

After what seemed like hours, I drifted into a light sleep. I awoke with a start, sure I heard someone walking. I woke Kent on the other side of the room and we lay listening. We heard nothing.

I rolled over and slipped back to sleep. Moments later I woke with another start, this time absolutely positive I heard someone walking. "Kent, Kent," I whispered into the dark. He didn't respond. Just a tad louder, "Kent, Kent, do you hear that?"

At that moment a figure entered the doorway. I let out a shrill scream, "KENT, SOMEONE'S ON THE BOAT."

The figure in the door turned to defend himself. He flailed, he swung, he kicked, he lunged. As I watched him swinging wildly in the dark, it was clear I was watching Kent. When I screamed there was someone on the boat, he thought I meant there was someone behind him and he was hitting the air with all his might to defend us.

I burst into a laughing fit and through gasps said, "I didn't know it was you."

He quickly pulled himself together and yelled, "Damn Valerie. You scared me to death. Damn!"

I laughed for hours. When I would get close to falling asleep, I'd remember him flailing in the dark and I'd start another laughing fit.

He grunted, "I don't know what you think is so funny."

Nearly 20 years later it still makes me a laugh and I never tire of telling it to Stephanie and Christopher.

island girl

 (1986, Stephanie and me. This picture was made about a month before my Island Bar experience.)  
026_26Many years ago when I was a young woman deeply concerned with keeping up my image, my husband and I took a little vacation to Florida. I was new to travel, a farm girl from a small country community

Kent checked us into an extravagant hotel. Toward one direction was the Gulf of Mexico. In the direction we faced was a massive pool. It seemed big enough to be the Gulf of Mexico to this country girl. It was gigantic. The water was as blue as I’d ever seen. In the middle was a bar. Its palm trees and a thatched roof made it look like a perfect little island in the middle of a clear blue sea. I was mesmerized. I stood giddy-like at the window watching the people play. Lovers frolicked in the water and then pulled themselves up onto the edge of the “island bar.” It was romantic beyond anything I’d ever imagined.

After we had settled into our room Kent said he was going to the bar and for me to meet him there. When I got to the pool, I realized that island bar was waaaayyyy out there. I’ve always had a bit of a phobia of water being over my head. (When we were kids my older brother got great delight in working up my panic as we swam in Rock Creek. He would get a devilish grin on his face and swim toward me. As I screamed, “No, no, please no,” he’d push my head under water and hold it there. After a few moments, he’d let me up - my fear and panic now full-blown. He would laugh mercilessly, let me gasp in a gulp of air and push me under again.)

I could barely swim; the swimming I did was actually more like a dog paddling. Back home, I felt like I’d done a good job if I got across the little pools I was accustomed to. This was a whole new paradigm. I stood on the side of the pool hoping Kent would eventually see me. He never did. As I waded in, the water quickly got deeper and deeper, leaving me with no choice but to dog paddle. As I kicked and struggled, my stamina and strength were quickly exhausted. I put my feet down to find that I was in way over my head.

There was a middle-aged gentleman about two body lengths away. He was casually floating, basking in this Floridian experience. My panic was growing as the seconds passed. I knew I would drown without this man’s help. Not one to appear needy, (it was imprinted in my being by my well-intentioned mother that a person should never lose his or her dignity), I swung and kicked, keeping my eyes on my target. Finally I reached it. I grabbed his tan and orange swim trunks and pulled myself out of the water with all my panicking power, pulling his trunks down as I rose to the surface. Terror flashed across his face as I wrapped my legs around his waist. “Hell, hell, what are you doing?” he yelled.

I was so embarrassed, but resorted to the vice I knew well. “Oh hi” I said with mock confidence. He swore at me.

Safe above the surface of the water, I realizing how undignified I looked (but gave little thought to how alarmed my new acquaintance was). I put my hands on his head and shoved him under the water (a trick I learned from my brother). Alas, my final touch was kicking him as hard as I could in hopes of propelling myself to the bar. The last I heard was some expletives that made me acutely aware that he wasn’t pleased to meet me.

This kick off did indeed get me much closer to the bar, but not close enough. A young couple was between the bar and me. Again I drew my near-drowning face out of the water as I dog-paddled furiously, and so as not to appear foolish, asked politely, “Can you help me?” They didn’t respond. I said, “Really, can you help me?” The man came closer and I grabbed him in panicked relief. (He didn’t know how lucky he was that I grabbed his shoulders instead of his swim trunks). I kicked off his chest, and that thrust got me to the bar.

I wanted to hang onto the bar, catch my breath and regain composure, instead, I quickly hoisted my shaking body out of the water imagining my new enemies right behind ready to verbally attack me.

I felt like an exhausted wet rat as I walked into the “island bar” which now resembled a torture hut. I stood there producing a puddle of water as I looked at each patron. There were eight people inside the dim little hut and each one was staring at me. I wanted nothing more than to fall into a stool beside my husband but my husband was not there. The tears were about to burst out of my eyes, so I walked through the bar to the other side, planning to collapse out of view of these gawking eyes. As soon as I got out of the hut I saw the sidewalk that connected the island to the hotel. Though chagrined to see a sidewalk, I wasted no time using it. Still shaking and now unable to contain my tears, I hurried back to our room.

When Kent entered our room I tore in, “Where have you been?” I tiraded for two or three minutes before he interrupted and replied with a smirk, “I meant the bar in the hotel.”