What Happens When You Get a Bug in Your Ear

One of my very favorite southern sayings is “like a duck on a June bug.” You know, he was all over her like a duck on a June bug or like white on rice. I have friends who had a great time as kids tying strings to the legs of June bugs and watching them fly in circles.

These things make June bugs seems charming, even cute.

They are not.

This summer I came face-to-face, well, ear to body, with a June bug. We went to the woodshed and I survived, but it wasn’t pretty.

JPEG image-7BC76CC603FD-1I was enjoying an evening at the Romp Bluegrass Festival in Owensboro, Kentucky. It was a lovely evening, despite the tiny little chairs we brought to sit on for hours. In an effort to relieve our rear-ends we laid on a blanket in the grass. It was just like a country song – laying under the stars with your boyfriend listening to music and enjoying a warm summer night. It was until, without warning, a bug flew into my right ear.

This wasn’t just a bug crawling on my head. This bug dive-bombed my ear and was in my ear canal before I could raise my hand to swat it away.

What happened next was mostly a blur of me crying, screaming, and dancing around trying to get the moving, wing flapping, biting, and scratching bug out of my ear. I can only imagine what the other concertgoers thought as they watched me. In a moment of desperation I opened our Nalgene bottles and poured water in my ear. By the time we reached the security tent the June bug stopped moving. I was relieved that the pain had stopped and horrified that I was bleeding from my ear and had a dead bug in my head.

The kind security guard called for a cart to take me to the EMT (the first aid tent closed at 8:00 p.m.) and talked to me until it arrived. Very encouraging. But that feeling quickly faded when the cart arrived. The driver, a man I can only describe as Bubba, told me to get in. He was accompanied by what appeared to be his girlfriend and her little sister, who was holding a dog. I explained the problem and the little girl, sitting next to me, said “you can get a bug in your ear?” I braced myself.

We started down the narrow road, carving a path through the concertgoers who were surely camping (all night – long after first aid closed). I noticed the cart slowing and heard Bubba call out to a man at our right as he stopped the cart to say, “hey man how’s it going?” I was near the end of my rope, as nicely as I could I said “dude, seriously?” He promptly starting moving and announcing that there was a “woman in the cart who is bleeding.” This did not do much to move the crowd.

We arrived at the ambulance. The EMT was not there. But in the distance we saw a small form running toward us. He arrived and while nice he seemed about 19. He looked in my ear and promptly declared that he could not see anything, “could not do anything” for me and that I would have to go to the hospital.

We explained that we are from out of town and aren’t familiar with Owensboro or the hospital. He attempted the give us directions, which culminated in, “Do you have GPS? Use that.”

We walked silently back to the car. In the dark. In the middle of a field in Owensboro, Kentucky.

I started to cry – the I-am-at-the-end-of-myself slow weeping – as I opened my Google Maps app and found the directions to the hospital. It was nearby.

I walked into the emergency room and spoke to the nice lady at the registration desk. I gave her my information and story with big tears rolling down my cheeks. She sweetly asked if I was alone, I said no and that I am from out of town. She tilted her head and looked at me as only an elderly southern woman can and said slowly and sweetly, “bless your heart.”

Then we sat in the waiting room for an hour, my head in the only position that wasn’t painful and bleeding on my boyfriend’s shirt.

After an hour they called my name. I went back and met with a cheery physician’s assistant who wanted to know “what’s going on tonight?” Through my now dry swollen eyes I explained that there is a bug in my ear.

He took a look in my ear and proclaimed that he “could see something brown and it could be a bug, but it could be earwax.” He does not know how close he came to getting smacked in the face. I calmly but condescendingly explained that I could feel the bug moving in my ear (back when it was alive) and I am certain that is not earwax. Suddenly, he was a bit more motivated to take a closer look.

We went into a procedure room where I promptly refused to lay on the bed because there was a distinctive looking black hair on it. We moved rooms. He was annoyed. I was indignant.

I laid down on my side in the clean room. The PA took forceps with a long nose and immediately dove into my ear. I immediately screamed and insisted on sitting up. As I did I watched as he examined a tiny piece of something he pulled out of my ear, which he described as “not part of your ear.” Duh.

Meanwhile, I was reeling from the pain. He did not warn me that taking whatever was in there out would be far more painful than when it went in (and that was very painful). I asked, nearly begged, if there was another way? He offered irrigation but said it might cause the bug to break apart and that did not seem desirable.

So, I braced myself, squeezed my sweet boyfriend’s hand, and employed my yoga breathing as he made 3 more pulls from my ear. The last drew out the bulk of the bug’s body to which he exclaimed “oh my God.” Turns out, it was a bug. I exclaimed, “thank you, Jesus.”

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I thought we were finished, but he explained that he thought that there was a leg left behind in my ear (we counted only five on the bugs body). He could not go searching for it because of the blood and swelling and danger for my eardrum, but “it isn’t a big deal, it will come out in wax.” Easy for him to say, he didn’t have a bug leg in his ear.

JPEG image-3E68EC8E76E1-1I was release from the hospital a short time later. The next day we returned to the festival (I wore ear plugs), listened to some great music, and celebrated me not having a bug in my ear.

I am still okay with bugs and my ear no longer hurts, but I’ll never hear the old saying “put a bug in someone’s ear” quite the same way ever again.

Appalachia Natives: The Mountains Do Not Limit Us, We Do

I recently met with a former coal and gas executive from the Midwest. He used to travel to Central Appalachia – Eastern Kentucky – to supervise mining operations. This is same section of Central Appalachia where I was raised; in fact the mines he visited were within an hour or so from my childhood home.

He shared a couple of great Central Appalachia tales with me – gun-wielding grannies and copper thieves. But the most interesting description he gave was about how he felt in the mountains. He had never been in mountains so steep or been in a place where the sun comes up before you can see it and it disappears behind a mountain before it gets dark.

He said, “I felt claustrophobic.”

This made me think about how those mountains make me feel. To me those mountains are like a warm blanket surrounding, nurturing, and protecting all who walk under them. Keeping the good in and the bad out.

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Then I thought about how the landscape of the Midwest, where I live now, made me feel when I first arrived. The word that immediately came to mind was exposed. I felt exposed by the size of the sky, the distance of vision, and the constant wind. I have never been exposed to this much sky for this length of time (thus my fixation with sunrises and sunsets). In the mountains of Central Appalachia the sky is always framed with the jagged edges of tree limbs and mountaintops like a giant living, real-time painting.

This discussion reminded me of a quote from a book I read in college – Salvation on Sand Mountain by Dennis Covington. Mr. Covington writes about his drive from Alabama to and through these very mountains and my hometown of Grundy, Virginia.

All along the highways through Tennessee and southwest Virginia, the signs were everywhere: Crazy Joe’s Fireworks, Jack Daniel’s whiskey, drag racing, turkey shoots, and barbecue. The South they suggested was straight out of the movies – idiosyncratic, lazy, restless, and self-absorbed. And that was what Jim and Melissa and I talked about on the drive, the discrepancy between the South of the popular imagination and the one we lived and worked in every day. But once the road narrowed and entered the mountains, the signs disappeared, replaced by mine tipples, mantrips, and long lines of train cars filled with coal that steamed in the rain. The last motels and hospital were at Grundy, Virginia, a mining town on the lip of a winding river between mountains so steep and irrational, they must have blocked most of the sun most of the day. It is difficult to imagine how children can grow up in such a place without carrying narrowed horizons into the rest of their lives.

But Grundy was an oasis compared with the country between it and Jolo.

He, like my friend, saw the mountains as hard – hard to adjust to, hard to live in, and hard to understand. They immediately saw the limitations of the mountains.

As a child of those mountains it never occurred to me that the mountains were limiting, restrictive, or negative. It never occurred to me that the mountains were preventing me from seeing something more. When I lived in the mountains I never missed the orange and pink glow of the sun as it came up and went down along the horizon. Rather, I enjoyed the light as it slowly lowered down the hillside in the morning and as it retreated up the hillside in the evening. Neither one is limiting, only different.

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The mountains were a vast playground of trees, moss, creeks, and rocks – where the only rule was to be back before dark. All of those hills, rocks, crevices, streams, and hollers were a big classroom for learning life skills. These are a few of my favorite lessons :

  • In order to walk down the side of a hill without falling adjust your stance, turn your feet horizontally and descend slowly.
  • If you want to create an extra source of water for yard work then you dam up a section of the creek, gravity feed the water down the holler, then pump it up the hillside.
  • Always make sure your walking stick is sturdy.
  • Never kill a black snake, because it eats the rodents.
  • Be careful what you do at the head of the holler because it will show up at the mouth – it all runs downhill.
  • Respect everyone and things that are bigger, stronger, and/or more powerful than you – the mountain, weather, a loaded coal truck, bears, and water.
  • Never kill a mama bear or a deer that isn’t big enough and throw the fish back. If you kill it, then you eat it. No waste.
  • Don’t be a wimp. Play when you are hurt, work when you are tired.
  • Never forget where you came from or deny your family.

All those lessons live on and color the life we make in and out of the mountains. Just like the mountains, those lessons are timeless. And what we learned from and in the mountains can carry us far beyond and right back to where we started, if we choose to wander.

The mountains don’t narrow our horizons, only we do that.

A Christmas Wish: To Love Our Differences

I promised myself that I would not spend my holiday on my phone. But, I allowed myself one round of Facebook on Christmas Eve morning. I scrolled through the standard holiday wishes, complaints and celebrations about the unseasonably warm weather, political rhetoric of all sorts, and pictures of parties and food. But there was one post that caught my attention. I stopped and thought about the post. It made me feel both happy and sad.

A friend and colleague of mine posted a holiday wish that was different than the others. It was a sincere Christmas wish and blessing, for sure, but there was no decorated tree, nativity scene, Biblical quote about the birth of Jesus, or reminder about the “reason for the season.” All that was missing because my friend is a devout Muslim.

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This message is something very different from what I see in my social media feed, on the news, and in the world. It was lovely to see my friend support and respect his many Christian friends who don’t share his beliefs. He didn’t have to; he could have ignored Christmas like many Christians ignore or are unaware of the holidays he celebrates with his family. He clearly values his community and his friends, but even more I believe that he honors his own beliefs by honoring others. Even those who are not like him.

Ahmed’s thoughtful and loving message is a reminder that we don’t have to hate people who are different. Someone else’s beliefs are not by their mere existence an attack on my beliefs because they are different. We can love, serve, befriend, and care about those who are different from us without compromising our own values and beliefs.

My Christmas and New Year’s wish is that I and many others will make the choice to learn about and from our differences. Or at the very minimum learn to respect the different lives and beliefs of others – whether that difference is religious, political, socio-economic, a preference for Star Wars over Star Trek, or just a different accent.

That is love. And isn’t Christmas all about love? I believe it is.

 

My Appalachian Accent: You Aren’t From Here Are You?

This week I met a woman who seemed surprised that I still have an accent after living in Northeast Indiana for nearly five years.

Her surprise made me think about the regular conversations I have about my accent and dialect. The following is an example of a typical exchange that occurs multiple times a week, still, with new colleagues, business people, clerks, tellers, and others I talk to as I go about my life (I talk a lot).

Me: Hi, how’re you?

Midwesterner: Fine. You aren’t from here are you? You sound Southern. (It really comes this quickly.)

Me: No

Midwesterner: Where are you from? (Sometimes they guess and when they do it is most often Texas, Georgia, Tennessee, or Kentucky in that order. The people who guess the last two know accents. The first two are way off).

Me: I am from Virginia.

Midwesterner: Really? What part? (As it turns out, many people do not consider Virginia Southern or Appalachian and are shocked that my accent could come from Virginia.)

Me: Southwestern Virginia in the mountains near Kentucky.

Midwesterner: Oh, yeah, West Virginia.

Me: No, but West Virginia is only about 15 minutes from my Mommy’s house.

Midwesterner (usually looking confused): When did you move?

Me: Four and a half years ago.

Midwesterner: Oh. Really? You’ve been here a while. (Looking shocked).

People assume that after five years I would talk differently, less like me and more like them. Sometimes they say it directly and others just offer a surprised “oh.”

This is the problem when you have a pronounced accent and dialect and you don’t do a lot of code switching. Code switching is defined by dictionary.com as the alternate use of two or more languages or varieties of language, especially within the same discourse. Code switching as it relates to Appalachian dialects and accents is discussed in a delightful post on The Revivalist.

My accent and dialect are pretty standard Central Appalachian. I do not have the thickest accent compared some other people from the mountains of Southwest Virginia, Southern West Virginia, Eastern Kentucky, East Tennessee, and Western North Carolina. My accent and dialect have not changed much since leaving home in 1997. Although I have noticed that occasionally instead of saying r-eye-ght I will say right in a more neutral accent and ain’t slips out far less than it used to. My brother-in-law recently called me out for saying “soda” instead of “coke” or “pop.” Otherwise, my accent is pretty static.

When I moved to the Midwest I assumed that people would take note of my accent as it happens quite often in other places, even in some parts of Central and Northern Virginia. I dealt with this in college at the University of Virginia, as I have traveled through the United States and the world, and most recently and intensely in my time in the Midwest.

Most people are nice about it, even though they sometimes point out my accent as though they are pointing out a pimple or a gray hair. They say that they think it is cute or charming. Sometimes this goes too far when I am asked to “talk some more” as though I am a performer. While others, not realizing how personally I take the way I talk, might crack a joke about my family tree or being a hillbilly or redneck, but they are not the worst. There is a small group that I encounter from time to time who judge me immediately as ignorant, racist, or wrong.

My accent immediately gives people information about me and it is always filtered through the listener’s opinions of Southerners, and more specifically Appalachians. Recently, I’ve heard “maybe if you stay here long enough you’ll learn how to talk.” This Midwesterner was teasing when she said it, but I believe, as it has often been said, that there is an ounce of truth in all teasing. Then there was “it’s because you sound so different,” offered as a reason for the people not being welcoming. Right or wrong, it is clear that people have a hard time ignoring or accepting a different accent without question or comment.

When I moved to the Midwest I realized that I could hear my own accent. Everyone else sounds different and it makes my accent audible to me, which was a first. At home I don’t notice, because everyone sounds similar. So, I know what my accent sounds like and I am okay with it. In fact, I love it. I love it because I hear the mountains in my voice. I hear words and sayings that my parents use and things my grandmother said. There is history, heritage, and culture in my accent and dialect. I think it is interesting and special. As the writer in The Revivalist post noted “Appalachian accents are like no other.”

But I have noticed that I am a bit weary of explaining the way I talk. There is a kind of lonely in living in a place where no one talks the way I do. It certainly draws people in and creates conversation, but not always in a comfortable way. And there is a fear that those that ask about it and some who don’t are assuming the worst about me.

Over the years I have heard friends from home say that they hate our accent. Many of those friends moved away and made a conscious effort to change the way they talk. While I will never consciously change my accent or dialect, I understand better now why others do. I will work hard to keep my accent, but my experience in the last five years makes me empathetic for my Appalachian friends and family who made those changes. I get why they did it.

It can be tough living in a place where no one sounds like you.

The Gift of Unexpected Kindness

Her name is Maryanne. She was so sweet on the phone. I was having trouble coordinating schedules to ensure that I would have a driver to take me to and from my regularly screening colonoscopy. She patiently took my third call attempting to schedule the procedure.

We confirmed the new date. I told her, frustrated, that “I would figure out how to get to and from the procedure.” She responded by kindly suggesting that I take advantage of a service that drives people to and from the doctor in just these circumstances. She had not gotten the suggestion out of her mouth before I burst into tears.

The kind of crying that makes it almost impossible to talk. I was embarrassed to be so upset with a stranger over something so minor, on the surface. I was sad that I was in the position to have someone suggest that I pay someone to take me to the doctor.* She sat silently while I pulled myself together, which was only a few seconds, but to me felt like forever.

She was gentle with me as we ended the call and I moved on with my day. I figured, I will never meet Maryanne and surely she has heard or seen worse.

Two days later I received my instructions from the doctor on the prep and instructions for the procedure. I sat down on the porch with a cup of tea, it had been a long day, and opened the envelope. I read the doctor’s order, the prep instructions, and the forms I need to complete – all standard stuff. I noticed the last sheet of paper had handwriting on it, which seemed strange. I pulled out that sheet and found a note from Maryanne.

In a neat cursive, she had taken the time to share her story with me. She moved to town when she was in her twenties and had felt very alone. In a teary moment, probably similar to mine, she had called her mother for comfort. Her mother sent her a poem. To the right of Maryanne’s handwriting was a copy of the poem, First Lesson by Philip Booth. Now, years later, she was passing along the poem her mother had given her, to me – a lovely gift.

I read the poem as I sat in the quiet of the porch, the Indiana wind blowing through the screens, and sipped my tea. It was helpful. But more than the poem, knowing that there are people, like Maryanne, in the world who are willing to respond to my flood of unintentionally expressed (and uncomfortable) feelings and raw vulnerability with something so kind and comforting. She did not have to. I am grateful she did, grateful that a stranger took the time to say – me too – I’ve been there too.

This reminds me that empathy and kindness are never wrong.

So, I give the text of Maryanne’s poem and hope that someone reads this and finds something helpful and kind here too.

First Lesson

Lie back daughter, let your head

be tipped back in the cup of my hand.

Gently, and I will hold you. Spread

your arms wide, lie out on the stream

and look high at the gulls. A dead-

man’s float is face down. You will dive

and swim soon enough where this tidewater

ebbs to the sea. Daughter, believe

me, when you tire on the long thrash

to your island, lie up, and survive.

As you float now, where I held you

and let go, remember when fear

cramps your heart what I told you:

lie gently and wide to the light-year

stars, lie back, and the sea will hold you.

Philip Booth

*I have a non-hired driver for my appointment and at least one back-up in place, just in case.

Why Asking for Help is So Hard

I just never know when the next ah-ha moment will happen.

Weed Eater

The man from the landscaping company came by to talk to me about some rocks.

We surveyed the backyard together. As we did, I apologized profusely for the condition of the grass along my fence line; as if the condition of the yard was some reflection on my character. I was embarrassed and explained that I had run out of weed eater string and was working on how to replace it. I assumed this would be the end of that conversation.

I do not know how to replace weed eater string. In fact, I did not even know that the string was designed to destroy itself. Yard work is not one of my gifts.

He smiled sweetly and said “I’ll do it for you.” I, of course, said something like “oh no, no I don’t want to bother you with that.” He insisted.

I stood and watched, uncomfortably, as he laced the string into the weed eater. I apologized for using his time to do this for me. I apologized for not knowing how to do it myself. Really, though, I was apologizing for needing help; I was worried that he would judge me because I could not do this myself. I explained, apologetically, that this is the first house I have lived in where I was responsible for the yard. In the past I hired someone to do it and growing up my Daddy always took care of the yard. As I gushed, needlessly, I wondered why I needed him to know why I did not know anything about weed eaters. Why would I?

He repeated sweetly and genuinely that he did not mind. He said that he was happy to do it and that “it makes us feel needed.”

It makes us feel needed – I thought about that comment for a couple of days. He did not care that I did not know anything about weed eaters; he did not expect me to and did not judge me for it. He enjoyed helping.

He liked being needed as much as I did not want to be needy. It’s clear to me now that when I refuse to ask for help when I need it I am depriving someone else of the opportunity to feel the joy of being needed.

Turns out, needing help is not a character flaw either. It is an opportunity to give someone else the gift of being needed.

The Definition of Home

My Daddy says that home is wherever I am. Is it? Is home just about me?

Since I moved to the Midwest I find that trips home are bittersweet. Each visit usually ends in tears. I cry until I reach the Virginia/Kentucky state line, about twenty minutes. The difficulty leaving is directly proportional with the length of the stay. My last visit was especially rough. I cried all the way to Ferrell’s (pronounced Fur-ells) Creek, Kentucky, that is at least forty minutes. At a red light during this part of the drive I posted the following on Facebook: “I hate to leave.” And I do.

The Facebook post prompted some unexpected responses. I received a phone call from an old and beloved friend from my hometown. She thought I might be sad and she called to cheer me up, so sweet. She felt the same way when she had to leave her family in our little town. As she put it “it sucks to like your family.” Yes, it would be so much easier if I did not like my family. If I only tolerated them, as many do. Next I received a message from another dear friend who grew up two towns away from my hometown. He told a similar story – he struggled with leaving home after visits too. He described the difficulty in explaining to his parents that “it is harder on the person leaving than it is on those who stay behind.” It is. I agree. My family gets to stay there in the known, while I have to go back to a place and a thing that I haven’t completely figured out or found comfortable.

Mommy & Daddy's HouseI, like these two friends, have an intense connection to home, the place and its mountains. I feel that where I am from is very much a part of my identity. You can hear the mountains when I talk. The culture of the mountains is apparent in the music I love, the food I eat, my behavior and the choices that I make. It is more than just a place.

Sunset on the HollerI also have a remarkable relationship with my family (Mommy, Daddy, Sister, Brother-in-law, The Princess and the Benevolent Dictator). We aren’t perfect. But we do like each other, genuinely. I call it remarkable because I have had friends who are surprised that I talk with my family almost daily, we vacation together and, as one ex-boyfriend put it, “you all know a lot about each other.” And we do. We enjoy one another’s company whether it is at home watching 12 hours of nonstop college football coverage, walking around a Disney park like it’s a job or driving through California in a minivan. We have fun. We are also a fiercely loyal bunch. No matter what there are at least 6 people who will always be on my side. Where else do you find that?

Of course, I am sad to leave them. I am sad to leave a place that I know so well. A place where nearly every mile contains another story, another memory. So, when I leave I cry.

Sunrise near the state lineI never cry when I leave Fort Wayne. It is a nice place. I love my job and my little house here, but that isn’t enough to induce tears. It is not home. Home, for me, isn’t about where I am. Home is the people and place that you cannot wait to get to and cannot bear to leave.

Home isn’t something that follows me. It is something that I return to, again and again.