Where Meaning Dwells

“One in six men will get prostate cancer in their lifetime. Most of them will die of something else before the prostate cancer would have killed them.” The urologist sat on a swivel stool and looked at my husband, who was perched on the edge of the examination table.  “But here is where it gets tricky,” Dr. G. continued. “How long are you going to live?” He glanced over at me, flashed his steel-blue eyes. I felt like he was gauging my reaction to see how open he could be, whether I would get up and run out of the room. He looked back at Buck. “Because that’s a big factor in determining how, or whether, we treat it.”

Buck doesn’t have prostate cancer, or at least if he does we don’t know about it. Yet. But his Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) numbers have turned erratic. A chart he and I made last night from 2008 to December of 2013 looks like a nascent Bull stock market beginning to make a run. And the doctor’s question goes to Buck’s age. “You’re an unusually healthy guy for 76,” he said. “Extremely fit. No meds. Most likely good for what? Ten to twelve years? Maybe more?”

My ears began to buzz, and I had to concentrate on breathing to keep my hands from clenching the chair arms, to keep my face impassive when I wanted to scream. I felt like an atomic clock was in the room with us, counting down seconds.

Buck laughed easily. “Oh, more, I think. Maybe a lot more.”

We talk about death sometimes, and he makes me swear to stay healthy and safe. I swear. I make him swear to live forever. He promises to try.

The urologist explains to us that Buck’s PSA numbers aren’t alarming in isolation, but have begun to show a certain velocity that can be a danger sign. He wants to be sure if there are any cancer cells present, he knows which type they are. Apparently some are quite aggressive and some are not. The doc recommends an ultrasound examination and biopsy. Buck agrees and a time is set for next Wednesday.

We’re back home now. It’s raining and dark, with deep, nearly continuous rumbles of thunder. Buck is downstairs in a room we call “The Lodge,” writing away on the revision of a book he has just completed. I’m upstairs in an open area we dubbed “The Treehouse,” drinking spiced Chai and writing too many words in a bright circle of light. The curtain of rain outside the windows when it hits the concrete patio below makes a sound like tin foil crinkling.

A woman acquaintance warned me once that I was unwise to be so close to my husband; that in time it would bring me grief. Can you believe that? Foolish woman.

Besides, grief has been my close companion since I was 13, and I am unafraid of it. It is like that inner part of a ripe tomato skin, the part I call the velvet, the part where meaning dwells. You can only get to it by dropping the ripe tomato into boiling water for thirty seconds and then lifting it out with a slotted spoon. The peel slips off, revealing the gem-like velvet. Grief is always in the room with us. Grief, I think, is also the kernel of love.

A happy postscript: Dr. G’s nurse, Patty, called Friday morning, to advise us there were no aggressive cancer cells, no passive cancer cells, not even any passive-aggressive cancer cells, none at all. When I looked at Buck, he suddenly seemed years younger. When I caught my own eye in a mirror later in the day, so did I.

ReSound Alera: The Little Black Dress of Hearing Aids

Buck has been driving us toward North Carolina for the last three hours. We just made the big turn north on I-85 at Montgomery, Alabama toward Atlanta. Pensacola had a near-record 13.11 inch rainfall last night with more falling today. A persistent, heavy rain has been with us since we picked up our soggy Sunday newspaper at the gate and linked up with I-65 to Montgomery.

It’s not so bad for me, since I am in the passenger seat. Our laptop is a great knee warmer, and I’ve got it tethered to my Droid phone for high-speed internet.

Buck is road-testing a brand new pair of hearing aids on this trip. His old pair of Phonak BTE’s (behind the ear) are still working reasonably well, but hearing aids reputedly have a “life” of five to six years. Buck’s Phonaks are six now, and so when his audiologist let him know about a special 60-day trial promotion on new hearing aids, he decided to take advantage of it.

Dr. Jennifer Reeves LaBorde, Audiologist at The Hearing Center, Pensacola, Florida

Buck has seen Jennifer for about 12 years. She is Dr. LaBorde, a Ph. D. Audiologist, but to us, she’s also our trusted good friend, Jennifer. Buck promised her that he would check out all the bells and whistles on his new ReSound Alera BTE hearing aids on our trip to Maggie Valley. We’ll be in a variety of situations involving road noise, restaurants, and visits with friends that should provide all the elements for a good test.

Buck left Jennifer’s office with a chic black shopping bag full of gee-whiz gizmos. The hearing aids themselves are sleek matte black and silver units. The accessories are where things have the potential to get fun. These hearing aids are blue-tooth equipped, which opens up a world of potential enhancements. One is a phone clip, a unit that wirelessly pairs with Buck’s cell phone and then allows him to hear cell phone calls directly into both ears via the hearing aids. We haven’t tried that one yet. The other accessory is called a mini-mic. It’s a chic little black and silver number that I can wear clipped on to my t-shirt or blouse. When wirelessly paired with Buck’s hearing aids, my voice goes directly into his ears. What spouse wouldn’t love that?

We tried the mini-mic at home first, and then at a noisy restaurant. The mini-mic is fantastic. Buck could hear background sound all around our table at the restaurant, but when I spoke in a very soft voice, that is the sound he heard intimately and clear. It dampened and took precedence over all the other sounds. Buck had to remind me a time or two not to speak so loudly. Amazing. We were able to enjoy a relaxed meal and conversation in that noisy space without resorting to lip and/or mind reading.

And so, we have the black “Hearing Center” bag full of goodies and battery chargers to play with in Maggie Valley.

Buck says that so far he doesn’t feel like he is hearing any better with these new aids, however he notes that the TV volume on his small office set has come all the way down to 20, from a setting of 32, so something is clearly going on. Jennifer explained that brains need a period of adjustment to get used to a new assistive device.

Another cool thing is that the hearing aids make a record when Buck adjusts the volume up or down so that when he goes back for a follow-up with Jennifer, her computer can communicate with them and see how and when the units have been adjusted. This will give valuable feedback as she  fine-tunes the units.

Far out, don’t you think?

Man of Mine (a travel trailer saga)

It’s been one of those days where it’s only Friday but feels like Saturday because it’s Good Friday: no stock market to watch, just writing, wandering by the stream in the soft breeze, watching the young hawks watch me back, and now the time out of time evening with ear buds delivering a mix of vintage Van Morrison, Patti Griffin, Jackson Browne, U-2, Santana, and my old buddy Bob Dylan. There’s a small circle of light in the dark study. It’s illuminating my hands. I love the click of keyboard as words appear. Sometimes the love of words is so overpowering I lose control of conscious thought. That’s when the magic happens. You know it. If you’re reading this, you’ve most likely been there.

I haven’t told you about our travel trailer saga. That Santana song stops me cold, but I’ll try anyway. It’s kind of a mundane tale with an interesting ending. Buck is two rooms away working on his book. I can almost see the black ink filling yellow legal pad pages, and it’s a sensual trail vastly more enticing than bread crumbs.

I think this waiting game with the county and the road and feeling like we’ve always been in control and now we’re not quite, led us to a certain impulsiveness, a feeling  of damn, let’s just haul off and do something, even if it’s off-kilter and outside the circle.  Who knows why? We took a big flying vicarious leap into the recreational vehicle sub-culture. We learned about the gargantuan Class A motorcoach, the Class B dolled-up camper van, Class C campers/mini-motorhomes, daunting 5th wheelers with cherry wood cabinets fitted with washers and dryers, and travel trailers of all sizes, descriptions and personalities.

We made the rounds of local dealers and even ventured to a Camping World across the state line in Robertsdale, Alabama. Ran into a super finance and sales guy there named Jim Richards who gave us a tour of their units. He rode us around in a golf cart. Jim’s a good guy, knows his product, and is smart as a tree full of owls. We both agreed. If we were to ever buy one, it would be from him.

We came close, we sure did. Buck did his research, even drew out a floorplan for his idea of the perfect travel trailer. I lurked on a couple of owner forums, joined the Good Sam RV club, and bought a Woodall’s Campground Directory. We had this idea of trailing our own Residence Inn room all over the country. What made it tempting is that we have a 2004 conversion van, 4-wheel drive with a V-8 engine and a towing package. We bought it back when we thought we needed such a contraption to go back and forth from Pensacola to our place in Western North Carolina. That was a few months before the coyotes attacked and killed our pup and we put the mountain house up for sale and high-tailed it back to the flatlands where there are plenty of coyotes but the ground is level and we can see them coming.

Anyway. We have this great silver gas hog with navy blue leather captain’s chairs that seemed to have been born to drag a portable Residence Inn room around.

We researched ourselves blind. We narrowed the field to three models. We learned all the lingo. We got pretty heated up over the whole deal.

And then, Sunday morning two weeks ago, Buck and I walked down to the gate to get the morning paper. We started talking about campgrounds, how it would probably be really nice, to pull in, unhook, plug in, engage the automatic awning, put out a couple of folding chairs, pour a drink, sit down, relax, and “Hi, folks! I’m Stan! Nice to meet you. Where are you from? I’ll go get Barb. The potluck’s tonight. Newcomers don’t have to bring anything. Come on over. Barb? I’m over here!  Yeah, bring my drink over. You come, too.”

I stopped my running imaginary monologue. Buck stopped in the middle of the path and stared at me. I stared back.

“Huh,” he said.

Then we broke into grins, shook our heads, and moved off toward the gate in a slow jog.

So, we don’t know yet what our next act will be. Whatever it is, we’ll have a good time, I can tell you that. When Buck Westmark gets up to something, a girl can have some fun.

Tender Bites for my Love on his Birthday

Sauteed these babies in Irish butter, with garlic and shallots, deglazed with white wine, sprinkled with chopped Italian parsley and basil, and tossed with Alma’s organic angel hair pasta. Pretty good supper for the birthday boy a few days ago. If I had known  74 year olds could be such  sexy hunks, I would have been propositioning them 40 years ago when I was footloose and hanging out with roués and cads in their mere twenties.


When my Droid cell phone woke me up at 4:40 this morning with flashing lights and go-go music, I didn't know where I was, at first. The days of business meetings with their attendant dreaded hotel wake-up calls are long gone, but I had a brief post-traumatic stress moment.

Buck was already up. Already up. That man, to whom early rising is a strange and unnatural custom, was at the bathroom sink, toothbrush stuck in his mouth, buttoning up a light flannel shirt.

Thanksgiving is the opening day of the regular gun deer season.

Harold arrives at 5:10, talking quietly at the front door as if he thinks that big buck he hopes to see this morning is out in the front yard and might hear him. "You cookin' up somethin' good fer us, Miss Beth?" Harold peers into the dimly lit kitchen where he can see steam rising from a pot of boiling water.

"Of course I am, Harold. I'm cooking the yellow squash for the Hopkins Boarding House casserole right now. And I've got pecan pie and pumpkin ice cream."

"Punkin ice cream! You're kiddin' me."

"No I'm not. Want some?"

Harold chuckles. "No, I don't believe I want no punkin ice cream, but I might have some of that pecan pie when I come in from the woods."

They head out, two boys on an adventure. They'll be back to the house between 8:30 and 9, full of stories of what they saw, how many does, how many yearlings or spikes were on the plot and whether a big buck, a "shooter," showed himself. "I knowed he was there, cause I saw them big tracks on the way to the hut." I don't have fingers and toes enough to count the number of times I have heard Harold say that over the years.

Earlier this year, Harold didn't think he would get another hunting season. When the doctors found that malignant kidney tumor, he figured that was it.

Buck knows that the county and the state have about come to an agreement on the master plan that will bisect these woods and bring a new urban town this way. He knows a way of life for these two Southern boys is drawing to a close.

I wave them off into the dark morning, guns on their shoulders and an Indian River navel orange in one pocket and a few pecans in another. I turn to the kitchen to snap beans, puree squash, saute onions, and get the turkey ready for the oven.

But first, I savor my own ritual: hot coffee and a slice of pecan pie so sweet it will make my teeth hurt.


Plowing New Ground

When a truck transport carrying a big John Deere crawler dozer with a shiny disk harrow attached arrives, you know that trees will fall, earth will move. Even snakes will flee the vibration to their burrow's safe harbor, and wait to see what happens next.


Victor Cisneros had been working out in the woods for about an hour when I heard the big crawler dozer's low rumble. Buck and I were working at our desks.  "Where is Victor working?" I asked idly.

Buck could see my head cocked to one side, and knew I was listening. "Do you hear something?" he said, already on his feet. I nodded.

 Buck can see like an eagle, but wears behind-the-ear digital hearing aids. He is my eyes. I am his ears.

"Come to the door." Buck motioned for me to follow him to the back sliding glass door. He opened the door. "Where's Victor?"

I listened to the rumble. "There." Like a cold-nosed dog, I pointed.

"How far?"

"Close. I'm surprised I don't see the dozer."

Buck took off running.

Victor had gotten turned around out in the woods and was plowing new ground. The lines had not been worked on since before Hurricane Ivan in 2004, and that storm remodeled the woods in such a way that Victor's maps weren't much use to him anymore.

Later, he noted wryly that the next time would be a lot easier, especially if we have the lines touched up more often.Truth to tell, Victor did a great job under difficult circumstances, and we appreciate his efforts.


Buck and Victor Cisneros, Senior Forest Ranger, Florida Division of Forestry, Blackwater Forestry Center


Fire lines are also known as "fuel breaks." They are critical tools in fire suppression when wild fires erupt and can save lives, homes, wildlife and property. They also make a great internal trail system for people and critters.



Heavenly Days Spa

Still groggy from my dream of the Heavenly Days Spa. Everyone there wore petal pink choir robes, even the wise-eyed, wrinkled-face proprietress, who spoke to me in a voice that suggested some previous life full of cigarettes and whiskey. That voice sounded like driftwood, aged and impossibly smooth.

I listened as she looked at and through me and agreed that a full day at the Spa sounded like just the medicine for the rejuvenation of this soul.

Suddenly, I remembered I was supposed to be at home to go with Buck to a physical therapy appointment this morning for a partially torn supraspinatus muscle in his right rotator cuff. I checked my phone. Sure enough. He had left a message for me. I pushed the speed dial for home, and woke up.

Good thing, too. He really does have that physical therapy appointment this morning, and it's almost time to hit the shower.

Non Sequitur

There are all kinds of big deals on the table from the minute we are born. Two of the trickiest are the urge to merge and the desire for immortal life. Our separate bodies preclude actual merger, but oh, we try, how we try. As for immortality, we learn,usually as children, that we won't live forever. But that doesn't stop us from trying, inventing subterfuges or taking great huge leaps-before-we-look of faith.

The bongo drum of the beat poet begins to play in earnest when we hit our mid-fifties and watch as our older friends and relatives begin to drop like marionettes whose strings have been unexpectedly cut. The merry-go-round plays herky-jerky music, and we try our best to waltz gracefully despite the stutter-step accompaniment that distracts and dismays.

It's been a hell of a week with a heaven of an outcome.

I'm too tired and wrung out from a week of travel and fret to go on with an explanation, plus there are privacy issues involved. Suffice it to say the person I love most in the world and I had a scare. Turned out to be a non-issue. He is well and oh-so-fine. And when I get one more full night's sleep, I'll be fine, too.

Even a Blind Pig

One of the many delicious aspects of my multidimensional husband that entranced and charmed me from the get-go in our relationship is his ability to make me laugh. Buck is a 5th generation Pensacolian, and a Southern gentleman, booted and horsed. Even better, he is a storyteller's storyteller. He was a working journalist and ran a couple of small-town newspapers in Perry and Live Oak, Florida way back in another century and another life, with a pretty blond wife and three tiny babies to feed.

In 1966, he returned to his roots in Pensacola, where he took a job in public affairs for a local company, rising to become its regional public affairs director and corporate lobbyist for thirty years. Buck rounded out his working-for-other-people career by serving as chairman of the board of a local bank that was in deep trouble when he got involved. A lot of small shareholders were hurting bad. Turns out, whereas that young actor "sees dead people," Buck "see numbers." He and the board went through some tough years, but at last sold the little bank. No one got really rich, but the shareholders made out okay and the ones who could hold out didn't lose their shirts.

Well, this isn't the story I started out to tell this evening, but it's a little piece of one I intend to tell another time.

Here's what I wanted to say tonight: I learned a lot of old country stories and sayings from Buck. He has the ability to switch from drawing room "King's English" to the language of the country folk he loves. He would tell you "Of course I love them. I are one." Sometimes I use one of the sayings I heard from him in conversation. I don't always get them just exactly right.

Take this one:  "Even a blind hog finds an acorn every now and then." Maybe you have heard it somewhere before.  We were in a group one evening, years ago, when somebody told us about some serendipitous event in their lives.  Thinking myself quite clever, I spouted, "Well, I've heard that even a blind pig finds an acre of corn every now and then."

Buck jerked a little and I thought for a minute he was laughing. But no, he was far to gentle to poke fun at me publicly. Later on, in the car, though, he chuckled and explained to me that a blind hog would be very lucky indeed to find one acorn, but for a blind pig to find an "acre of corn" was truly beyond belief.

We both had a good laugh at that. But I stick to my version of the story, because if it were not possible for a blind pig to find a whole acre of corn, I would not have had a dog's chance at finding the love of my life, and yet — here we are — still crazy (about each other) after all these years.

The very best Appalachian story, music, folkways, heritage and tradition-preserving blog is created, written, photographed and maintained by Tipper Pressley in Brasstown, North Carolina. It is called Blind Pig and the Acorn.

Go there now and see for yourself how vibrant it is. It is a blog of place, and you will feel instantly at home. IMG_3498 

I won a drawing from among Tipper's many visitors, and this wonderful Defender Brand garden journal arrived in today's mail. See? Didn't I tell you I get great stuff in the mail? Which reminds me of another remarkable gift from a fellow blogger friend in Wales that I haven't written about yet. I have made a photo, but haven't written the words.

Tomorrow. I swear. So much life. So many generous spirits. Here in the seemingly cold vastness of interstellar space and time, I am embraced by hearts no less warm because you occupy distant chairs, are hunched over desks, sprawled on a couch, or lying on your backs staring at the breathless stars in speechless joy in some other part of the world.

We share a cozy neighborhood. We are sharing this incredible trip, our very lives. And I embrace you back.