Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Missouri: COVID-19 Unfolding, Part 8888: A Haircut


The Honey Comb Barber Shop, Opelousas, Louisiana. October 2015.
The Honey Comb Barber Shop, Opelousas, Louisiana. October 2015.


I got my hair cut the day before my mother's funeral last week.

It was my first haircut since March 2020. Back then, the possibility of a COVID clamp-down in Tucson loomed and I thought I'd better get scissored before that happened. If that happened.

To get my hair cut this month wasn't my Plan A.

My Plan A was to wait until the beginning of May when I would visit my mom for a week. My Plan A was to walk in to my mom's house with my hair at a length it hadn't been in decades. My Plan A was to take pleasure in these three moments with my mom:

  1. Anticipation of the verdict she would render when she saw my hair
  2. The actual verdict
  3. My first flush of response to her verdict

Her judgment could go either way, and I knew it would give her a moment's pleasure, as well, to see something unexpected and to express an opinion about it. 

And then I'd get my hair cut. 

I looked forward to that May haircut - more than a year after the last - because my hair doesn't do well long. I inherited my mom's hair texture. It's fine and on the thin side, so the adjective to describe my hair when it's long is lank and not lush

But Plan A fell by the wayside.

Instead, the day before my mom's funeral I went to a hair salon in my old neighborhood. 

I arrived before the salon opened to avoid any hair cutting rushes later in the morning. There was one man already there with the same idea. 

The three stylists on duty wore masks, as did I. 

It felt safe to be there; I relaxed into the cutting experience. 

It felt good to have a fresh cut the day before I saw my mom, to say good-bye. 

My mom's shining white hair, when I saw it the next day, looked freshly cut, too. Pretty. Except there were two strands slightly askew on her forehead. I tried to guide the strands - lightly, gently - into place, but there was some sort of product on her hair that resisted movement, so I let them be. 


Monday, March 29, 2021

Rootless: The Last Monday Letter


Carol Cottage, Missouri. January 2011.
Carol Cottage, Missouri. January 2011.

Dear Mom, 

I've written you a letter almost every Monday since mid-December 2018. 

In that first weekly letter, I was at the end of an interregnum Missouri visit, about to depart for a Christmas-New Year layover in South Louisiana before heading westward to my next tourist-in-residency --> Tucson.  

When I wrote you that letter, I still had my 1995 Toyota Camry. When I wrote you that letter, I didn't know that, two weeks later, I would say good-bye forever to that sturdy stalwart of my rootless life.

It looks like this will be my last Monday letter to you, and I'm putting it here, seeing as how you don't live at Carol Cottage anymore, seeing as how you've died, of course. You, too, were a sturdy stalwart in my life. I think you'd chuckle at being compared to a car. Or you'd be annoyed. 

Carol Cottage, Missouri. January 2011.
Carol Cottage, Missouri. January 2011.

So let me tell you about your funeral and burial.  It was everything you'd asked for.

You lay in your casket in a long-sleeved, white cotton nightgown. White-thread embroidery just below the neckline, a band of hand-stitched eyelets below the neckline, a pleated bodice. Pretty details, yet still in the range one can call simple. Exactly your style.

The James Lee Burke book, Pegasus Descending, featuring our mutual hero, Dave Robicheaux, rested on your belly, propped against the open half-lid of the casket. You had a perverse fondness for Dave's violent, psychopathic side-kick, Clete Purvis. 

As you'd asked, we ordered your casket from an online supplier and had it shipped to the funeral home to side-step the markup costs assessed by funeral homes for their caskets. We selected a poplar casket in a cherry finish that, like your nightgown, had pleasing details of interest, but overall, evoked the comfortable warmth and intimacy of your living room. And, gosh, did you know you can buy a casket at Costco? We chose yours from a different company, but knowing Costco's got caskets is something to tuck away for future reference.

As for how you looked in the casket, you didn't just "look good" like in the cliche about such things. You were beautiful. Astonishingly so. I'm serious, Mom. Even your nails were manicured and polished (with the barest of pink blush), just as you would like. And you wore the exact right shade of lipstick for your complexion. I'm not saying you looked beautiful "for your age," a woman of 91. No, you were beautiful in that casket irrespective of age. 

You wanted Ave Maria sung at your funeral. The soloist, a young woman, sang it to you, to us, in a clear, warm, mezzo-soprano voice, from the balcony behind us. The notes of that transcendent song washed over me.

Your Ave Maria was gorgeous. But when the young singer began to serenade you with Amazing Grace while your descendants escorted you from the altar to the waiting funeral car, well, that took my breath away.   



The car procession that followed you to the cemetery ... an unremarkable journey. 

No Fellini-esque plot twists on the way, as happened after your brother, Clement's, funeral. Remember? When dozens of us, including you and Dad, idled outside the church, seemingly forever, waiting for the priest to lead the vehicular cavalry? And when you asked the funeral director what was taking so long for us to get started, he conjectured that maybe the priest was eating a sandwich. 

We eventually did get going, one car following another, as they do in a funeral procession. We seemed to drive a long time, first on a congested arterial road, then on the highway, then off the highway onto another arterial road and then, oddly, the funeral car took a right turn onto a small side street. A dead-end, in fact. We followed, of course, only to understand that the funeral car driver had taken a wrong turn somewhere and he'd only entered this street so he could turn around (turn all of us around) and get onto the right path. Remember how we all poked our vehicles' noses into residents' driveways so we could then back up and restore our places in line behind the retreating funeral car?

There had been so much idling in front of the church before getting underway that your youngest child had to pull out of the funeral procession so he could gas up his truck before he ran out of fuel.

Oh, what a dramatic third act that was!

But getting back to your memorial day. It had rained earlier, but the rain abated for the final stop of our long good-bye to you. Chilly, though. If you'd been among us en vivo, at the cemetery, under the final-words canopy, you'd have been rolling your eyes and sighing while the priest used his bully pulpit to convince us of how fun it is to be in heaven. Me, I just shivered in the cold and waited impatiently for him to cut the commercial and get back to the program: you

Daughter Kit had a mission to visit Dad's grave (where you were about to join him) and her paternal grandfather's grave. She'd already obtained their grave 'addresses' and their locations on the cemetery map, and following your closing ceremony under the canopy, she and her family and I drove to Dad's cemetery neighborhood. 

So it was that we came upon the newly dug grave, into which you would be interred. We watched while the cemetery crew brought you to the grave in, let's call it a carriage, albeit a humble, utilitarian one. We watched how the crew pulled your casket from the carriage, centered you into a harness of sorts, and carefully lowered you into your grave with straps and winches, guiding your slow descent by hand. 

You would have been quite interested in watching this process. 

It felt good to be with you in your most final of final moments.

OK, then. This is my last Monday letter, Mom.




Related posts


Post office and cows, Topawa, Tohono O'odham Nation, Arizona. July 2019.
Post office and cows, Topawa, Tohono O'odham Nation, Arizona. July 2019.



Saturday, March 13, 2021

Rootless Relocation: Where Next for 2021-2022?



Paths in Castlewood State Park, Missouri. April 2018.
Paths crossing in Castlewood State Park, Missouri. April 2018.


Where will I land for 2021-2022?

As Bones said long ago: "...in ignorance, I await my own surprise."

At the top of my short list - today - is New Orleans. It's where I might be right now, if it weren't for COVID's rude trespass onto our planet. 

This winter's cold has me longing for balmy places next year. Consequently, warm whispers from surprising places are in my ear.

  1. Miami
  2. Pascagoula, Mississippi

The borderlands continue to call me. Specifically, the US side of Tijuana. 

Or maybe this will be the year I go international. 

Also a mystery is what I'll do during my annual relocation intermission. 

 In past times: 

Under consideration for this year's intermission, all dependent on COVID, are: 

  • A trip to a Big City with one of my descendants. New York City is our Plan A. Toronto is our Plan B.
  • A month's stay in an international location. China, Vietnam, and South Korea are on my mind, influenced by my English-learner students. From today's perspective, however, none of these destinations appear realistic for at least six months. 
  • New Mexico and El Paso.
  • Wild card - some place or activity that hasn't yet hit my imagination.

A time in Missouri with family and friends is a given, with bases at Chez Katherine and Carol Cottage

Other times when I awaited my own surprise


Monday, March 8, 2021

Alabama: De Soto State Park: Trail Markers for People Like Me


De Soto State Park, Alabama. March 2021.
De Soto State Park, Alabama. March 2021.

COVID and a cold winter has made me sluggish in Alabama. 

Although my departure from Birmingham looms in June, I have visited only two state parks. 

To have any hope of achieving my goal of visiting all of Alabama's state parks, I better get crack-a-lackin'. 


De Soto State Park

I chose De Soto State Park as my third state park destination (after Tannehill Iron Works Historic State Park and Oak Mountain State Park).

I packed my lunch - a spinach/orange/mushroom salad + roast potato + roast chicken breast - and ate it in the parking lot outside the park's country store, before walking the 2.78-mile loop hike to Laurel and Lost Falls, which traversed along sections of the blue and orange trails.


De Soto State Park, Alabama. March 2021.
De Soto State Park, Alabama. March 2021.

It was a battery-charging sort of day to spend in the woods: sunny and brisk.  

Trail markers for people like me

Oh, the glory of the oranges! The blues! The reds!

Not spring colors, but trail markers! 

No befuddlement for this hiker! No getting lost! 

'twas a magnificent thing. 

De Soto State Park, Alabama. March 2021.
De Soto State Park, Alabama. March 2021.

In the photo above, you can see three (three!) orange trail markers! These trail builders and maintainers; they are my people. 

Before the park: my Alabama blue mask mission

Less than two hours away from my Birmingham base, De Soto State Park was so close to the Tennessee and Georgia borders, it meant that ..... yes, there could well be, also nearby, an Alabama Welcome Center with the soft, robin's egg blue masks

Screenshot, De Soto State Park, Alabama. March 2021.
Screenshot, De Soto State Park, Alabama. March 2021.

I decided to shoot up to Georgia before hitting the park, then U back into Alabama to recon the southbound I-59 Welcome Center for blue masks. 

Quarry found! I bagged a blue mask for me and a blue mask for my imaginary, strong-but-silent-type husband, who lovingly awaited me in the car. 

(I'd had a thought that maybe Georgia offered its own state mask, but after driving about 10 miles or so into Georgia, and seeing no evidence of a welcome center, I abandoned that adventure.)

Blue Alabama masks captured and contained, I headed next to the park for my picnic lunch and afternoon hike. 


De Soto State Park, Alabama. March 2021.
De Soto State Park, Alabama. March 2021.

Nearabouts De Soto State Park

Cool nature-y spots abound in Alabama's northeast sector, and Fort Payne is a touristic center of same. De Kalb County, Fort Payne's home, is "Seven Hundred and Eighty-Four Square Miles of Scenic Beauty." 

Hearkening back to my awakening to land acknowledgements, De Kalb County (and Fort Payne) specifically, had/have importance to the Cherokee peoples - their lives there, their internment, and their forced removal. (University of North Alabama in Florence, Alabama, has a land acknowledgement page here.)

But just as we recognize the indigenous people of what is now called De Kalb County, let's recognize other people who were interned as property here. Here are "Ex Slaves Tales" of De Kalb County, collected by members of the WPA Alabama Writers' Project during the Great Depression in the 1930s. At the 1860 census, enslaved women, men, and children comprised 8% of the De Kalb County population according to this map source. 

Related posts



Sunday, March 7, 2021

Alabama: COVID-19 Unfolding: Part 8888: The Alabama Welcome Mask


Alabama mask. March 2021.
Alabama mask. March 2021.



On my way back to Birmingham from a COVID-chaste weekend in New Orleans, I stopped at the Alabama Welcome Center on Interstate 59 northeast of Meridian, Mississippi. 

My mission was to find a map of Birmingham. This was a fail.

But I spied a cozy bed of blue masks enveloped in clear plastic. "Are these free?" I asked the Welcome Center attendant? "Yes!" She replied.

I so wanted to take two because of the masks' cheery blue hue and because the friendly weave of their cotton fabric promised to be as soft as a well-loved t-shirt. 

I only took one of the pretties, which I now regret. Would taking two have been too greedy? I think not. My imaginary passenger, who waited in the car while I sought a map, surely needed one, too.

I wore the Alabama mask for the first time on Friday, my laundry day. 

It was as soft and soothingly snug as it promised it would be.

I want another one. That is my new mission.





Saturday, March 6, 2021

Birmingham, AL: COVID-19 Unfolding, Part 8888: Vaccination


Immunization. Photo credit: Heather Hazzan, SELF Magazine. Source: American Academy of Pediatrics Immunization Image Gallery.
Immunization. Photo credit: Heather Hazzan, SELF Magazine. Source: American Academy of Pediatrics Immunization Image Gallery.


A number of people in my circle have received their COVID vaccines. They live in Texas, New Mexico, and Missouri. Another, in Louisiana, has an appointment for next weekend.  

In Alabama, specifically Jefferson County (which includes Birmingham), I've found it difficult to get timely, clear, and reliable information on:

  1. How to find a vaccination source, then 
  2. How to find the route into their scheduling tool, then
  3. Discover if they've got any appointments available, which by the way, has been a no.

WBRC News: Walmart Answers to Why Birmingham Was Skipped for Vaccine Distribution 

February 21, 2021. "When the list of which Walmart vaccination locations was revealed, just one major Alabama city wasn’t on it -- Birmingham. Walmart officials said locations were picked based on federal and state input, but the state says that’s not true."

In the article below, a nearby neighborhood pharmacy evidently has or had a vaccine supply, but .... who knew? In looking at the pharmacy's website today, I see zero reference to the COVID vaccine availability. Does this mean it is out of vaccines? Does it mean only certain people get told about it, perhaps through a doctor's referral or an employer's referral or only if they are on the pharmacy's mailing list? 

Bloomberg News: A Black Neighborhood in Alabama Has Yet to Get a Single Vaccine: In a nearby wealthy White suburb, the doses flow

February 25, 2021. "More than two months into America’s vaccine rollout, a community clinic that serves the poorest of the poor on Birmingham’s majority-Black north side has yet to receive its first dose. The Alabama Regional Medical Services clinic has watched the vaccine flow elsewhere, including a pharmacy in nearby Mountain Brook, the state’s wealthiest town."

But the Alabama Regional Medical Services' (ARMS) dearth of information is no different from the Mountain Brook pharmacy's lack of actionable information re: the COVID vaccine. Which is what is so frustrating about trying to find vaccine information in Birmingham. 

Below is the ARMS so-called COVID-19 Update as of March 6, 2021: 

Screenshot, ARMS COVID Update. March 6, 2021.
Screenshot, ARMS COVID Update. March 6, 2021.

It would make sense to find timely, actionable information about vaccine access on the Jefferson County Department of Health website. As of March 6, 2021, here is the mushy message one sees: 

Screenshot, Jefferson County Department of Health. March 6, 2021.
Screenshot, Jefferson County Department of Health. March 6, 2021.

When I click on the Information Packet, there are more than 20 paragraphs of Messages From So-and-So...  that use such words as "challenge," "advocating," "personal responsibility," "good news," .... frankly, smarmy nothingness, until finally I arrive at the FAQ, and scroll through EIGHT pages until I reach the question: "I want to get a COVID-19 vaccine. What do I do?

Great! Actionable information! Oh, wait, no .........

Screenshot, Jefferson County Department of Health's Registration Form Portal. March 6, 2021.
Screenshot, Jefferson County Department of Health's Registration Form Portal. March 6, 2021.

Note that the submission form is "... not intended as a scheduler for vaccination. Scheduling information will come at a later date ...

I entered my data into the above form some weeks ago. **Crickets**

The University of Alabama-Birmingham has been a vaccine distributor. When I first visited it a few weeks ago, the site asked a bunch of intrusive questions up front, without explaining up front how the vaccine scheduling would work after one jumped through its hoops. So I skipped it, instead completing that Jefferson County Health Department form. 

But a few days ago, although loath to blindly give over so much personal info to UAB, I did finally creep into its manhole. This morning I received an email from UAB: 

"... Due to a limited amount of vaccine doses, scheduling your appointment is taking longer than we had hoped and could take up to several weeks to schedule. ... "

The surprising good-ish news is that the phone number at the Jefferson County Department of Health is active on Saturdays, and today I tried it out. Someone actually picked up within a couple of minutes! It didn't seem that my previous entry on that site from a while back had stuck, but the representative collected my info over the phone, and I received an almost-immediate confirmation email that included: 

"Your submission has been recorded and you are on the list to be contacted once you become eligible and sufficient vaccine becomes available. There is nothing else you need to do but patiently wait for further instructions from the Jefferson County Healthcare Coalition. You will be contacted once you become eligible and additional vaccine arrives in the county."
The representative told me it could be a couple of weeks. 

I'm displeased about the difficulty in finding current, clear, actionable information on how and where to schedule a vaccine. This is (or should be) a straightforward process, which has nothing to do with the shortage of the vaccines. That is an entirely different issue. I'm OK with the responses that tell me: We received your scheduling query. You are in line. We don't have enough vaccines. We estimate x weeks before we'll get a sufficient supply to reach you.We'll contact you when we're ready to schedule you.

I'll get a vaccination eventually. I'm glad to know I'm in a line today.

But I sure can't stop thinking about all the folks who don't have internet access or who aren't getting any information through any mechanism or who are without easy access to transportation. 

Fortunately, there are stories like this one: The Sororities and Fraternities Helping Black Americans get Vaccinated, particularly in rural areas.


Tuesday, March 2, 2021

10 Years Ago: On Luggage: Wheeled or Not?

Although I published the original post in 2011, the conversation about wheeled versus carry is timeless.  

I still rely on both of the bags cited in this article. I expect they will serve me 10 years from now, too.  

The only negative change re: aging that I've noticed about my wheeled bag - besides the accretion of faraway soils ground onto its skin - is that it just barely passes muster as a carry-on bag because the airlines have reduced their carry-on perimeter limits since 2011. Consequently, a shimmer of anxiety settles on me before every flight - will this be the flight that rejects my bag?

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Ethiopia Round-up: Wheeled versus Not?

Here's what I wrote on luggage before I left for Ethiopia.  

I took this eBags Mother Lode TLS Mini 21" with me to Ethiopia:

eBags Mother Lode TLS Mini 21"
eBags Mother Lode TLS Mini 21"

Am I glad I took the wheeled bag instead of my soft-side, convertible tech Weekender [2021 note: no longer seems available], also from E-bags? 

ebags Weekender bag
ebags Weekender bag

At the end of the day, yes, I'm glad I took the wheeled bag, even though I don't love it the way I love the Weekender.

The wheels were very sturdy, the bag rarely tipped over, and with a lifetime warranty, I did not hesitate to roll it over any terrain. As a matter of fact, I had to get downright insistent about rolling it when bus or hotel staff felt the need to carry the bag rather than set it down and roll it, for fear of hurting the bag. And, I will say, it was more awkward to carry than a soft-sided, unwheeled bag. And yes, stairs necessitated carrying rather than rolling. But I didn't encounter stairs all that often. And, finally, I didn't feel the need to prove anything by hefting my own bag up the steps if there was someone at hand practically pulling it out of my hand to do it for me. That was an opportunity for me to help the local economy.

Having said all of the above, the Weekender would have done OK also.

When it came to air travel (and the lengthy treks to distant gates), it wasn't an issue, as I checked the bag. (Free because it was international travel.) If I hadn't checked the bag, the advantage of my wheeled bag over the soft-side carry would have been even clearer because of the ease in rolling it down those long gate ways.

Monday, March 1, 2021

Word of the Year 2021: Joy 3: Surprise Vista

When I think of times I've felt joy, invariably I think of the first time I saw this, and of each time afterward that I saw it: 


Highway 380 between San Antonio and Carrizozo, New Mexico. November 2012.
Highway 380 between San Antonio and Carrizozo, New Mexico. November 2012.

I gasped at the surprise of the drop, the opening up, the vastness, the mountain-range frame of this massive painting.

My joy - maybe that of a bird when she catches an air current that lifts her up, effortlessly, and she soars.


Photo: John Comisky/Audubon Photography Awards, found here.
Photo: John Comisky/Audubon Photography Awards, found here.

On joy so far