family, healthcare, memories, obits

I’ve finally joined the COVID Club… and saying goodbye to my Uncle Ed…

I swear, on Friday, I thought I was feeling better. I was feeling well enough that I thought maybe we could go to a wine fest this weekend. But yesterday, I realized that I felt tired, and didn’t really want to walk around in the hot sun. We stayed home and hung out. This morning, I woke up early, then fell asleep until 9:00 am, which is unusual for me these days. Remembering that COVID tests can end up being positive a couple of days after a negative test, I took a test this morning. Sure enough, it came up positive. See the featured photo for proof.

Bill has no symptoms of COVID. He has a doctor’s appointment tomorrow, so he’s going to test. I’ll be surprised if he’s negative, but he hasn’t been sick. I can think of a few places where I might have picked up this germ, even though we haven’t done much in the past couple of weeks. I probably got it at the wine stand, since we ran into a fellow American who said that COVID had visited their house and her partner was still sick with it.

I’m not very sick. I’m just kind of tired and a little crankier than usual. I have a productive cough, some nasal congestion, and a low grade fever. It honestly feels like the back end of a cold. I think last month’s sickness was a cold, because I had a really runny nose that was so bad that my skin got raw. This time, I didn’t get a runny nose, but I do have a slight fever, which I didn’t get last month. Anyway, I am no longer a “COVID virgin”. I figured this was bound to happen sooner or later, though. I’m glad I got vaccinated, because this isn’t much fun, but it’s nothing deadly. At least not at this point.

Speaking of deadly… I got confirmation this morning that my Uncle Ed, has, in fact, crossed over to the other side. I don’t know the details, other than it happened in the morning. I chatted with my sister yesterday, and she said that Ed had a mass on his lung that he decided not to treat. She said he also had a skin condition, along with pneumonia. The man was 85 years old, so it was probably time for him to go. I don’t feel sad that he died, but I do wish our last conversation hadn’t been the way it was.

I have a lot of good memories of my uncle. When I was about ten years old, he took a bunch of us cousins to the James River and we went fishing with homemade fishing poles and worms. Another time, he took us to Tank Hollow, a swimming hole near my Granny’s house. We all rode in the back of my uncle’s pickup truck… ahh, the things we could get away with in the late 70s and early 80s! I remember jumping off the waterfall into the frigid mountain water, having the time of my life.

In later years, Ed was a lot of fun at our family reunions every Thanksgiving. I remember dancing with him once and cutting a really nasty fart. He laughed at me and said, “YOU FARTED!” And I remember sharing moonshine with him, as he told funny stories about my dad, his older brother. As they got older, my dad and Ed looked like twins. Dad was four years older, though, and died four years younger than Ed has. Both of them died in July… Dad on the 9th, and Ed on the 23rd. Two weeks apart, and Ed’s death is a day after the fifteenth anniversary of Granny’s death.

Unfortunately, Dad and Ed also had alcoholism in common, and they were both abusive when they drank too much. Actually, my dad was usually kind of melancholy when he drank, but sometimes he’d go into violent rages. I don’t know how Ed was on a normal “bender”, but I was once on the receiving end of one of his tirades… in fact, that was the last time we communicated. I can’t abide verbal abuse anymore. I’ve been too saturated with it, and now when someone goes “off” on me, that’s pretty much the death knell for the relationship. I make exceptions for a few people, but I’ve found that people who feel emboldened enough to be verbally abusive don’t tend to learn from their mistakes.

Ed was mostly a lot of fun, though. He was, overall, a great uncle to me. I like to think of him going to his late wife, Nance, who died in 2010 after having had Alzheimer’s Disease and a heart attack. Together, they were boisterous and opinionated, and they had a lot of spirited debates fueled by Wild Turkey and Busch beer. They were both very politically conservative, but I think Nance was more liberal about some things than Ed was.

I remember Nance having a very spirited debate with my late cousin, Karen. Karen was a devout Christian and very pro life. She was wearing a pro-life t-shirt. Nance took her to task over it, because she had been a nurse for Planned Parenthood, and she had seen scared girls who sought abortions. It changed her opinion about abortion. And Nance was the kind of “in your face” person who would get into arguments at the drop of a hat. She confronted Karen about her shirt, and the two of them had a discussion about abortion in my grandmother’s kitchen. Karen was going on about how abortion was an affront to God, and it was wrong to destroy God’s creations. And Nance was all about the practical, having been a nurse, and knowing that sometimes having an abortion is the most responsible and compassionate action a person can take. It was an interesting conversation. I didn’t enjoy getting into arguments with either of them myself, but it was kind of fun being a spectator when they debated.

It’s strange to think that Nance, Karen, and Ed are all gone now, but if there is a Heaven, they’re probably all rejoicing at the reunion. I like to think of them as all healthy, vital, and having spirited debates with all the Wild Turkey they want… although I don’t think Karen was a fan of boozing.

Anyway… I hope Ed is at peace and has reunited with the ones who went before him. And I hope I get over this sickness soon. It’s been cramping my style for six days now. I’m so glad I didn’t go anywhere this week, except for a walk. I guess I’ll keep taking it easy, and hopefully will be on the mend very soon. I’m tired of my style being cramped. I want to make some music again. Guess I’ll have to stick to guitar until all this snot goes away.

family, politics, rants, sexism, slut shamers

“Sweater hams” and a new kid in town…

This morning, I was reading an article about a very busty, but tiny, nurse who has gotten a lot of complaints about the way she wears her scrubs. She made a video for Tik Tok, and it went viral. I’m nowhere close to being as tiny as she is, but I’m about her height with huge boobs. I know the pain. I’ve had big “sweater hams” my whole life. I worry about them a lot, since I’m 50 and hate visiting doctors for things like mammograms. I have had back issues, though I’m sure my back pain isn’t anything like hers.

A crappy video about the woman’s Tik Tok.

I could relate to the nurse’s comments about people sexualizing her, telling her that her body shape was a problem for them. They told her she looked “inappropriate”. The top of her scrubs made her look too sexy. Honestly, if you’re really sick, are you going to care what your nurse’s scrubs look like? Short of getting surgery, which this nurse may one day decide to do just to alleviate the back pain, I don’t know what she’s supposed to do. Sizing up might not be a good solution, since the scrubs might not fit the rest of her properly. Maybe she could have them tailored, but that would be expensive and time consuming. Her body is covered. I figure that’s what should matter.

I did have a laugh in the comments on God’s page about this story. One commenter wrote:

I’ve been told by teachers I was “dressed inappropriately” while wearing a sweater… Look it’s not my fault I have big sweater hams. It is however the ADULT TEACHER’S fault that they are looking at a minor with inappropriate thoughts.

Everybody went nuts at the term “sweater hams”. I think I’ve heard that before, but it’s not a very common euphemism for big tits. In any case, I can relate. I have big boobs, too. This time of year, they aren’t much fun to deal with, because it’s hot outside. Naturally, there was a mansplainer, who wrote this:

I want to roast some serious ham. Just because I think the phrase “big sweater hams” is the weirdest thing I’ve ever heard. You don’t have meat. You are not meat. You are a person. Ham is delicious. Women are not meat.

Um… she was just being funny, guy. Read the room. Most everyone thinks the concept of “sweater hams” is hilarious. This is not the time for you to be giving someone a hard time for saying something unconventional. Why do people have to confront others for expressing themselves?

Amy Klobuchar is a very vocal liberal. Conservatives like to hang out on her social media and harass people.

Yesterday, I was reading Amy Klobuchar’s Facebook page, and she posted about Steve Bannon’s guilty verdict in court. It was the end of a long day, and I wrote that I wouldn’t be happy until he was behind bars. And two obvious conservatives, a man and a woman, decided to leave me crappy comments, which I ignored. Why do people do that? Why harass strangers over sharing their opinions? These folks don’t even like Amy Klobuchar’s politics. Do they just want to spread misery and rudeness to strangers? I don’t see the appeal. It would be one thing if it was a news story. This is a liberal politician. They aren’t gonna vote for her. They just want to be assholes to people who support her work. I don’t understand the motivation. That behavior doesn’t change hearts and minds. I won’t be voting for a conservative politician because two random Trumpies confronted me on Facebook.

And finally, I got some news this morning from one of my cousins. My Uncle Ed, a man with whom my last conversation occurred in 2017, and ended on a very bad note, is apparently on his deathbed. He’s 85 years old; and last month, he suffered a bout of pneumonia. Apparently, he’s been struggling the whole time, and is now probably on the verge of death, if he hasn’t already crossed the bar. My cousin, who is a gay man, sent me a DM last night, while I was asleep. He lamented that his brother, who is a colossal Trump supporter, chose that time to argue about politics. It got ugly.

People can get really weird when someone close to them is about to die. I mean, my cousin– the infamous “Timmy”, whom I’ve written about before in this blog (and whose name isn’t actually Timmy)– is not acting strange when he argues about politics. He does that all the time. It’s just that he’s choosing to do it now, when his father is at death’s door. Instead of coming together with his brothers, including the one who wrote to me, Timmy is acting like an asshole. I suspect it’s because it’s his way of coping.

In July 2014, when my dad was dying, one of my sisters similarly acted like a huge asshole. I never confronted her about it. I wanted to at the time, because what she did was extremely inappropriate. My dad was in the hospital and had to be put on a ventilator. My sister, who has a habit of minimizing and discounting other people’s opinions and painful experiences, had (and maybe still has) a chip on her shoulder about the fact that I don’t hang out with my family much anymore. I specifically didn’t hang out with my dad much, because my dad was a source of a lot of pain. He regularly humiliated me, insulted me, and when I was younger, physically struck me. I finally got to a point at which I didn’t want to endure that treatment anymore, so I withdrew. And having sisters diminish that, and basically tell me that it was up to me to swallow more shit, made me want to withdraw from them, too. I’m happier and healthier for it.

Well, as my dad was dying, my sister somehow got the idea that I wouldn’t be coming to see him in the hospital. She kept sending me emotional blackmailing emails. In one email, she sent a picture of my dad in his hospital bed, wearing a huge CPAP mask. I knew this was not a photo my dad would have consented to. I doubted our mom would have approved, either. She had sent it to be manipulative, and to shame me into doing what she felt was “right”.

What really pissed me off, though, was that she absolutely didn’t need to do that. I was going to go see him, even though we were in the middle of trying to move from Texas to Germany. It wasn’t necessary for her to make the situation more painful than it already was. And even if I had decided NOT to go, that would have been my privilege. I am an adult, and I make decisions for myself. I was really tempted to lash out at her, but I decided that would make things worse than they needed to be. So I “thanked” her for the information, and Bill and I went to see my dad for the last time. He died two days later. I remained pretty upset about the photo my sister sent. It was inappropriate, unnecessary, and totally disrespectful. She wonders why I don’t want to go home and spend time with the family? It’s because of shit like THAT! I just want to live my life in peace.

So, when I read my cousin’s comments about his brother’s behavior, it made me think of my sister’s behavior. It’s not uncommon for “Timmy” to behave like a political blowhard. He traded booze for religion and politics, and has turned into an insufferable turd. But I know, deep down, he’s not really like that. I know that he’s a good person, underneath that MAGA facade. I assume most of the jerks I run into online are also, deep down, not terrible people. They say these things because they’re afraid. They think their lives are going to change, and they can’t control it. So they lash out with hate. It’s bad enough when that negativity is directed at a stranger, but it’s heartbreaking when it’s toward a supposed loved one.

Right now, my cousins need each other. They are sharing the experience of losing a parent. They are understandably under stress. I’m sure that arguing politics is one way to stop thinking about the huge loss they are about to endure. I love my uncle very much, even though the last time we communicated, he called me a “liberal nutjob”, and reminded me so much of my dad when he was on one of his worst benders. I know that overall, like my dad, his brother, my uncle is a decent person. But, like so many of us, he’s lost the plot and fallen into the abyss of political and religious bullshit. And it’s taken a huge toll on family relations, which is a real shame.

Which brings me to the “new kid in town” part of this post…

It occurs to me that my Uncle Ed may, if he hasn’t already, be crossing into the great beyond. I imagine my dad, his brothers, Carl and Brownlee, and his sisters, Jeanne, and Susan, his wife, Nancy, and his parents, Pappy and Granny, will all be waiting there to usher him into Heaven. That’s if Heaven exists, of course… and if they all went there. All of them were devout Christians. Ed will be the next “new kid” in town. And as I ponder that, I ponder this awesome album I downloaded by J.D. Souther, who helped write the song made famous by The Eagles. Below is a link for your consideration…

This whole album is gorgeous. I love J.D. Souther’s music. He’s underrated. This particular version of “New Kid in Town” is just sublime.

Well… I don’t know if Uncle Ed is gone yet. I do know that his mother, my Granny, died fifteen years ago yesterday. So if he has passed, it’s kind of an interesting time to go. My love goes out to my family who will miss him. I have many great memories of him, and the fun we had at family events. Before Trump changed him, he was one of my favorite people. I hope he finds much joy and peace as he becomes the newest family member to join the party in Heaven.


Heaven’s new organ player…

I just got the news that my beloved Uncle Brownlee passed the bar yesterday. I don’t have the details yet, as I got the news on Facebook. This time, it was a family member who shared the news with me.

I’m not shocked or surprised that Brownlee passed away. I knew this was going to happen. I’m grateful that he made it to Father’s Day, even if he is going to miss his birthday on Friday. I didn’t see him in his last days, but I can imagine what they might have been like. I’m grateful that he was able to go home and be with his family, in the house he grew up in, and that he was very much loved by so many people. I am one of the many people who loved him dearly.

For a lot of reasons, I always kind of felt a special kinship with Brownlee. When I was a little kid, he was the fun uncle. I remember a bunch of us grandchildren would pile into the back of his pickup truck and he’d take us to one of the many swimming holes near the house, driving us through the old train tunnel near the Tolley homestead that you had to honk your horn in because it’s single lane. I remember he had a deep, booming voice and a thick Virginia accent. Now that I’ve been to Scotland a few times, I can hear where that accent comes from. I didn’t inherit it myself, but both of my parents were endowed with it, as were most of my aunts and uncles. I miss hearing it.

Brownlee was a self-taught musician who never could read music very well, but could play the organ by ear. His pride and joy was his Hammond organ, which, for years, he would transport to gigs all over the place, with his band, The Flames. I remember in 1987, my late Aunt Nancy filmed our annual Tolley Thanksgiving reunion for her sons, Bruce and Andy, who couldn’t be there. We had several days of footage from that epic gathering, which happened when most of my aunts and uncles and my beloved Granny were all alive and well.

Brownlee loved playing this on his organ… I’m sure it was played that night in 1987.

Our family Thanksgivings are basically big parties. Every Friday after Thanksgiving, there’s a “hop”– a dance party, often with live music played by real musicians, some of which are relatives. In recent years, it’s been held in the old barn at the Tolley homestead in Natural Bridge, Virginia. Brownlee lovingly restored the barn and turned it into quite the party pad. In previous years, our party would be held at various locations, to include the Natural Bridge fire station or at the Natural Bridge Hotel and Conference Center. Wherever they’re held, they’re always a lot of fun.

In 1987, I was 15 years old and at the height of my teen angst. That year, the Flames played in the ballroom at the Natural Bridge Hotel and Conference Center, which, at the time, my Uncle Brownlee was managing. I remember watching the footage of that party, with Brownlee playing organ and trombone. I seem to remember my Uncle Steve also jamming with the band… for all I know, even my mom played organ that night. It was one hell of a party. There was an open bar and… I may have gotten a bit wasted for the first of too many times in my life.

I’m so glad I got to be there for that party, since it was one of the last times I got to see Brownlee play with the whole band, to include his dear friend Donnie Cash, who played saxophone and sang. A few years later, when I discovered my own musical abilities, I would join Brownlee and Donnie for a couple of numbers at the hotel when they would provide music in the hotel restaurant. I remember how much fun it was to sing with them. They were pros, and as much fun as karaoke can be, there is nothing like singing with live musicians. I’m grateful they gave me the opportunity, which was always a huge thrill for me and very flattering, to boot.

I wish I could watch that video of our 1987 party now, especially since it has hours of video of long departed relatives. I’m thinking of that now. In one part of the video, Brownlee is dressed in a business suit. It’s the day after our epic Friday night shindig. He had to go to work. On his way to the car, he stepped in a pile of dog shit. My late Aunt Nancy filmed him as he cleaned the crap off of his shoe in disgust. Nancy asked him how his lip was feeling, since he’d played the trombone at the party. Brownlee memorably said, “It feels like a piece of baloney.” I guess you’d have to play trombone to understand that.

And this, too… but on the organ, not the piano.

In the years following that party, when I had the ability to drive myself anywhere I wanted to go, I started spending more time with my aunt and uncle at the Tolley homestead. I spent a lot of weekends at the Tolley house during my senior year at Longwood College. I especially got to know Brownlee better, and he became more than just my uncle. He was a true friend. I have so many memories of watching him learn new songs by ear on his organ. He’d play a recording of the song and play his organ along with it until he had it down cold. Later, he’d go drink a Miller Lite. That was the only kind of beer I ever saw Brownlee drink. Naturally, I usually joined him.

Brownlee completing one of his many projects at the homestead. This is the old barn he fixed up into a party place.

Besides playing music, Brownlee loved building things. I shared in a previous post all of the work he did on his home to make it a really special place. He had a real gift for turning odds and ends into things of value. I loved to watch him work and I loved to see the end results of his efforts, which were always magnificently crafted and impressively constructed.

Brownlee and I also shared humor. He was a very funny guy and tolerant of my penchant for crude jokes. I loved hearing his stories about my dad, or about his dad, my Pappy, who died when I was two. I never knew Pappy, but Brownlee helped keep him alive through the stories he and his siblings told. My father did not have a good relationship with Pappy, and he rarely talked about him. Although Granny told me that Pappy was a very nice man, he was also an alcoholic and my dad, being the oldest son, got the brunt of a lot of abuse from Pappy. My dad generally only talked about his father when he was drinking, and he usually didn’t paint the man in a flattering light. So in order to know anything about my grandfather, for whom the road running in front of the “homestead” is named, I usually had to talk to my uncles. Brownlee told me many funny stories about Pappy, reminding me how important it is to separate people from their actions and showing me that I come by my quirky personality honestly. My family is full of funny storytellers, artists, and musicians.

The last time I saw Brownlee– in fact, the last time I would see my late Uncles Carl and Kenneth, and my Aunt Betty– was Thanksgiving 2014. I had gone home to Virginia to honor my father, who died in July 2014. My mom had asked me to sing at my dad’s memorial service. She chose the song “Softly and Tenderly”, but despite having so many musicians in the family, no one volunteered to accompany me. So Brownlee and Bill and I went to the church to set up the recording and give me a chance to practice it. Brownlee and Bill chatted while I rehearsed in the family church. I remembered how welcoming Brownlee was when I brought Bill into our family.

Brownlee and his wife, Gayle, were the first of my family members Bill met. The year was 2001. It was Labor Day weekend. I had driven up to Virginia from South Carolina, and Bill had come down to Natural Bridge from the Pentagon. We had only seen each other in person one other time, in May of that year. We weren’t sure where our relationship was going to go. I remember my aunt and I went to meet Bill at a gas station and lead him to our home. When we walked into the house, Brownlee was frying eggs in his underwear and a wife beater shirt. I introduced Bill to Brownlee and he said hello… and then he said in his deep southern twang, “You wanna egg? I mean it. I’ll knock a hole in one for you.”

Goshen Pass… this was taken in November 2014, when we last visited Virginia.

Bill and I proceeded to have the most wonderful weekend together. We went to Goshen Pass, which is a beautiful gorge near Lexington, Virginia. I remembered having my sixth birthday there in 1978. It was a family celebration, because there are many June birthdays in our family. My birthday is tomorrow… and Brownlee’s would have been on Friday. Maybe that’s another reason we got along so well– similar birthdays… but then, Brownlee never met a stranger. Most everyone loved him when they met him. He was just fabulous.

After that visit with Bill, Granny– who was then 95 years old– told me I should marry Bill. But then 9/11 happened… Bill was in the Pentagon that day. Fortunately, he survived, and that was when we decided we needed to go public. It didn’t take long before we were engaged, and Brownlee and Gayle were so helpful to me during that time. Brownlee told me to make sure I took good care of Bill. Like me, he was a pretty good judge of character and he knew Bill was a keeper. Then Brownlee and his friend, Donnie, played at my wedding reception, which I really, really, appreciated. Actually, my extended family really helped make my wedding special… I’m not sure I ever expressed to them just how much that meant to me. It meant a whole lot.

My dad and Granny in 1987. I’m sure they both met Brownlee with open and loving arms at the Pearly Gates of Heaven…

The world has lost a wonderful man, but Heaven has gained a great new organ player. I’m sure Brownlee was welcomed by many people who preceded him and loved him as much as I do. I’ll bet Donnie was there, and Granny… and Brownlee’s brothers and sisters. I’m sure it’s a big party now… just like the old days of Thanksgiving 1987.

I recorded this in 2014, just before I lost my dad. I’ve always liked this song, although my mom didn’t want me to do it at my dad’s memorial because she didn’t like the lyrics that went “I know I’ll never see you again.” As Christians, my family believes in the afterlife. I’m not sure I’m as Christian as they are, but I like to think there is something beyond life. Anyway… I hope this doesn’t offend. Maybe I’ll redo it later today.