Let’s back up a bit—beep, beep, beep—to the day my cast came off, just three days before my flight home. See, the airline had some silly discriminatory rule about casts in the cabin. It would have to come off if I was going to surprise my parents for Christmas.
So off it came.
The same pretty nurse who wrapped my cast welcomed me into the examination area, a gurney-sized space separated from the next gurney-sized space by a curtain. I jumped up on the examination table all by myself and offered my becasted ankle for her inspection.
Do you know those handheld mixers you use to purée sauces and whip up smoothies? That’s what the saw looks like they use to cut the cast off. Imagine the Bavarian Circular Saw Massacre with a pretty blonde as the main shredder.
The nurse held the mixer-cum-saw up to my cast at an awkward angle—imagine a lefthander at a right-handed desk trying to draw a picture of squirrel—and mumbled something to the effect of “I know this is how they said to do it. Or is it?”
OK, I know this is going to make me sound like the biggest weenie in the world, but, well, I like laughing at me as much as you do. As the blade whirred toward my skin, I screamed and fell off the table. Yes, I shrieked like a little girl. At which point, the pretty blonde nurse threw her hands up in the air and handed the job over to a more experienced nurse. Thank you, God.
Twenty minutes later, I left the clinic . . . castfree but with an enormous red mark on my ankle that didn't go away for a whole hour (I know if I had let that demon nurse continue, she would have cut my foot off and eaten it for lunch).
So, back to Nashville (or forward, if you will). A friend picked me up from the airport, and I spent the night at his house. The next morning, I called my parents.
“Hello,” my mother answered the telephone. I could hear her rubbing the sleep out of her eyes.
“Hi, it’s me,” I said, trying to sound seven hours more awake. I held the receiver a little farther away from my mouth to simulate distance.
“What time is it there?” she asked.
“It’s around two. How are you?”
“Busy,” she said. “Everybody’s coming tomorrow . . . except you. I’m making sweet potatoes and fried okra, corn on the cob and my green beans. The turkey’s in the oven and my momma’s baking a chess pie. Everybody’s bringing something . . . except you.”
“Maybe I’ll be able to come in March,” I said, “when the cast comes off and the risk of thrombosis is lower.”
My friend, who was making coffee in his kitchen, howled at my performance.
“Who’s there?” she asked as if to ask, “Is thrombosis funny in Germany?”
“A friend came over to make coffee for me. The doctor told me to stay put in front of the TV watching Alf reruns in German.”
“We sure are gonna miss you,” she said, leaping right over my cute Alf allusion and heaping loads of guilt on me at the same time. Ah, but little did she know she was wasting all that guilt.
“Tough luck with the ankle,” I said, “but I hear Christmas comes around next year again.”
“Just won’t be Christmas without you. We sent your presents to you in Germany. The man at the post office said you’d get the box today or tomorrow. You got it yet?”
“Uh, noooooo. Not yet. But the day’s still young.” (I finally got that package in late February.)
“Well, sugar, I’d better get back in the kitchen. Wish you were here.” My mother hung up the phone in tears.
I hung up and said, “She’s totally clueless. It’s time to surprise her.”
I took my friend’s car and drove to my parents’ home about 30 minutes outside Nashville. Getting to their front door from the street was going to be a feat. Their gravel driveway is about 200 yards long. If you want to surprise my mother, whatever you do, don't drop a pin in the car when you're inching toward the house. She'll hear it. I pulled onto the property, turned off the motor and coasted down the driveway, hoping she wouldn’t leave the kitchen to look if she didn’t hear a car.
Then, to get to the front door, I had to walk by their bedroom windows, the dining room windows, and the living room windows. If my father had been sitting at his desk in his office on the other side of the house, he would have seen me hitching up the path to the front door.
Miraculously I made it to the door undetected. I rang the bell and leaned on my crutches. My shoulder-length hair hung in my face. I was pooped. When the door opened, I looked up into my mother’s eyes.
“Yes?” she said, focusing on the hobo in front of her. Did I want a little work to buy Wal-Mart gifts for my brood?
Before I had a chance to say, “Momma! Merry Christmas!” with a big smile, she started screaming (later my father said he thought an ax-murderer must have been at the door). She screamed and she screamed. Then, still screaming, she lost her balance; and I, on crutches, had to hold her up until my father finally decided it was safe to check out the situation.
“Man alive. Get a grip for Pete’s sake. It’s me, Momma. I’m on crutches. I can’t hold you up.”
We hobbled into the living room and sat down. Usually my mother would ask me if I wanted tea, but this time she sat very still and kept eying me suspiciously. Finally she said, “I thought it was your ghost.”
“My ghost? Why would my ghost be on crutches?”
“It was that stringy hair and that second-hand coat. You just looked like your ghost,” she said and laughed.
“Yeah, OK, but why would my ghost have stringy hair and—”
“Son,” said my father as my my mother got up to go back into the kitchen. “Next time you want to surprise your mother, tell me so I can tell her first. She’ll act surprised, but she won’t have a stroke.”