It seems to me at least, that down here in the South, people really like to talk about their ailments. It’s a one-up-man-ship of sorts.
All you have to do is visit any Waffle House, Huddle House or meat and three and you’ll inevitably hear a comeback like this one:
“Gum disease,” someone will scoff, gnawing at their breakfast steak. “Yeah, well that’s nothing. My bunions are acting up, my cholesterol is through the roof, and on top of that I haven’t slept in four years on account of having to get up every two hours to pee.”
This type of banter is not just reserved for roadside diners either, let me tell you. Here’s a typical morning at my dad’s beach house here on Harbor Island. Now, imagine that Folgers’s commercial – the one where the family wakes up at Christmas to the smell of coffee, the lights twinkling on the tree as the family gathers round.
Well, we wake up to the clink of spoons in a glass. See, I’ll go into the kitchen looking for a cup of coffee, only to find myself in a forty-five minute discussion about intestinal health over the morning Metamucil that goes something like this:
“You know, Gary.” My Aunt Pam, bless her heart, is standing at the breakfast bar in her big, fluffy bathrobe, and I do not know why it bothers me so badly, but she won’t get out of it till after noon. “I found this powder that’ll clean you out for two months straight.”
“No way.” My dad is clearly skeptical, being a physician and all. I can’t help but roll my eyes at him, but in the end I cut him some slack because at least he’s dressed. “Where did you hear about it?”
“QVC,” she says, as if this latest tidbit of info came straight out of the New England Journal of Medicine.
Dad’s still not biting, but he remains on course, taking a hefty slug of the chalky, orange stuff. After all, this is a man whose motto is “it’s all about the bulk, baby.”
“You know, Gary,” she counters, seeing as her argument’s having the longevity of her bathrobe. “It’s like your car. You gotta change the oil every so often so it runs right.”
I love my Aunt Pam, bathrobe and all. I know I have written about her before. She’s the one who is sweet as molasses but as tough as a two dollar steak in the scratch and dent bin at the Winn Dixie. Not to mention, she has zero self-filters. Seriously, I don’t think I have ever met anyone that can clear out a dining room in five minutes flat. This is after a hearty, and heavily animated, discourse on the length and solidity a single hangnail on the top of her big toe. Trust me, her presentations always use visuals. It’s kind of hard to eat the candied hazelnuts after seeing her planter’s wart under a microscope illuminated by a back-up flashlight the size and color my Uncle Mitchell’s 1980’s Dodge van.
As a child, I used to cringe at these dinners, counting down the minutes till I could be excused even if it meant I had to scrub the pots and pans, oven and floors, then take the dog out before I’d weed and mow the lawn. I mean, how long can a bunch of grown-ups talk about cysts, co-pays, corns, and colons. It’s like one of them goes to bed one day full of hope and health and endurance for a long, productive life . . . then the next day they wake up only to find the pills in their Medicine cabinet have quadrupled and can’t help but start pulling out their X-rays over a simple supper of skillet cornbread and fried chicken.
I was trying to explain this fascinating phenomenon over lunch with my best friend, Alicia, but we got a little distracted. It went down something like this:
“You just ordered soup,” I state the obvious like I am prone to do.
“I know,” Alicia tells me pulling out a brown bottle from her purse. “My stomach’s been messed up for weeks.”
“Mine, too,” I say, grabbing the brown bottle smack out of her hand. “Probiotics, uh? Lactobacillus gasserit? Bifidobacterium bifidum? Does it work?”
“Who knows,” she answers before tossing back a pill with a small sip of iced tea. “My mail man’s daughter’s first grade teacher’s niece recommended it.”
“Well, let me know how it goes.” I hand her back the bottle. “How’s your hubby been doing these days?”
“He’s got that stomach flu that been going around,” She tells me, pushing her untouched bowl out of the way. “How come when a guy throws up, he has to do it really loudly? So he knows, I know, he’s actually sick?”
“Tell me about,” I say. “If Charlie comes down with something, he’s laid out like a MD80 on a Chicago O’Hare tarmac in the middle of a blizzard. Me, I still have to pack the lunches and get the kids to the curb for car pool.”
“Speaking of which,” she says. “How’s Charlie doing lately?”
“Oh, his back is killing him and he can’t feel the entire right side of his left foot. He’s still mad at me for leaving my suitcase out in the middle of the room.”
“Really,” she suddenly perks up. “After my last sinus infection, I can’t feel the top half of my face.”
“Oh, that happened to my mom’s best friend’s sister’s mother-in-law,” I tell her, signaling for the check.
“What did she do?”
“I think she just had to learn to live with it.”
Oh, well. It’s official. I am now a member of the southern family Fiber Club though I’d sworn I’d never seek entry. It was inevitable, I guess, since I’m a Southerner to the core, not to mention, with my family, I came by it honestly. But as my Aunt Pam would say, I shouldn’t go off half-cocked with my feathers in a ruffle just because I finally figured out every dog has a few fleas.
What in the world is she talking about, you might wonder? Beats me. You’ll have to ask her yourself. Just be prepared to stay on the phone for a coon’s age and pray she hasn’t had her annual check-up anytime soon.
I guess, at least now, I’ll have something to talk with them about this holiday season over the morning Metamucil.
Laura Packard recently moved to Beaufort from Saint Simons Island, GA where she still pens a humor column for Coastal Illustrated/Brunswick News. She has brought along her 2 daughters, 3 dogs, 4 cats and one husband. They sometimes let her write. You can learn more about Laura and her writing at www.lauraleighpackard.com. And don’t forget, if you can’t make fun of yourself, someone else will surely do it for you. For Laura, someone else is usually her kids… and her dog, Atlas who she swears is John Candy reincarnate, but that’s a whole ‘nother story.