The Veterinarian's Wife, a Memoir. Due out in 2021
October 21, 2016
We returned this week from a short, fun, weekend road trip to Nashville to see Adele in all her concerty delightfulness. She did not disappoint. Before leaving for our trip, we had discussed maybe trying to look up some long-ago friends with whom we had completely lost touch from all the way back in veterinary school about a million years ago. Clearly Adele is still in my head. A million years ago? Adele fans will get it.
It was, actually, 40-something years ago, when landlines, long twirly phone cords, and The Southern Bell Co. were the only communications option down south; pay phone booths sat on every corner. We did not “compute,” we typed - on IBM Selectrics with little state of the art rotating metal balls striking the ribbon and the page. We still wrote in cursive. We read paper books. I-85 stopped at the Newnan, GA exit and took back up somewhere in Alabama. Now it’s an 8 lane autobahn to eternity. We met our friends, Louie and Suzanne at vet school then. We were all young and callow and brimming with energy and drive and promise and hope and willingness to sacrifice. We shared a heavy load and a common goal.
Newlyweds in 1971, Rick and I happily, bravely emigrated to a strange and foreign land known as Tuskegee, Alabama. It had a scruffy town square, a bank, a courthouse, a few shops and offices, and G’s diner, the local greasy spoon and gathering place for students and townsfolk to eat and yak.
The university, Tuskegee Institute, was and still is a historically black college. Rick had just gotten his undergrad degree at The University of Georgia and was on the vet school waiting list when the Tuskegee vet school accepted him. He went for the sure thing. So we packed our bags and set off for Alabama.
We eagerly settled into our new home about a mile off Tuskegee’s square. It was a modest 12x40 corrugated sardine can perched upon cement blocks on a corner patchy grass lot just down the street from the tiny brick rental house Louie and Suzanne would occupy once they arrived at school. We had cheap linoleum floors and shag carpet of the 70s brown and gold variety; no dishwasher; 3 dogs; a tiny bedroom crammed with one sole furnishing: a king-sized bed fitting snugly up against all four of our fake-paneled walls like a custom cut jigsaw puzzle piece. We installed two window air conditioning units. Those rattling, white-noise machines bothered and constantly blessed us with life-giving cold air, for which I was grateful to my toes every second of those horridly hot, humid Alabama days and nights. If there had been a speed above high, say “wind tunnel,” I would have gladly opted for that one. We found that if we turned off the A/C during the day when we were gone, there would be no “recovering” in the evenings from the heat buildup in that tin can. I proved it when I first tried that off and on thing, and it did not go well. Arriving home after my first day of work, I opened the door, and fell backward from the intense blast of hot air. It felt like I had opened a veritable oven door, perhaps even a portal into the sweltering seventh circle of hell! Stumbling forward and stepping inside, breathing instantly labored, eyes burning, sweat already streaming, I discovered my new tapered candles bent over double on the table. Had there been a pan of rock-solid, frozen lasagna set out on that table in the morning I felt sure it would’ve been thoroughly baked and bubbling. After that incident we agreed the obnoxious rattling A/C units would also be our constant lifeline by remaining on at all times, and the resulting electric bill would just have to be a major budgetary expense, worth every damn dime. Cheaper, I joked, than replacing candles every day. And we could reserve any baking for our actual oven. Priorities.
We were also situated smack in the middle of a larger geographical area, a long, diagonal swath of land affectionately known in the south as Tornado Alley. On one frightening occasion, when the sky turned black, and the winds picked up, and it started raining sideways in sheets against our windows, the rain suddenly turned into icy marbles ping-ping-pinging on the windows and metal roof. Then, when our little perchy sardine can began to groan, vibrate, and rock, it was our cue to evacuate. All three dogs and two adults clambered outside and into our little red VW Beetle, “clown-carring it” as we shoehorned ourselves in and spilled back out down the street at the front door of Louie and Suzanne’s tiny brick house. Sopping wet and smelling of wet fur, we all took shelter, huddled close together in their hallway. The tornado missed us, as they say, by a mile. I mean literally, one mile. Later, Rick said he and Louie were out walking the area where the tornado had touched down and saw a piece of broken farm equipment at the base of a tree. They looked up and scanned the tree’s scraped bark on one side of its limbless trunk, from the top where the tornado had blown the tractor into it from God knows where, all the way down the barkless trunk to the gouged earth where it finally lay in a twisted ruin. That was what had missed us by a mile. One, blessed mile. Whoever said “close only counts in horse shoes” has never lived in Tornado Alley.
Every day, Rick and Louie went to their respective classes, labs, and clinical rounds, and after each long, hard day they studied late into the night. Through our bedroom door I had a perfect view down the long, straight hall of our sardine can into the kitchen: Rick sitting at the kitchen table by the front window every night, surrounded by books and papers, a reading light glowing harsh and bright over his shoulder. Through the window I could see the kitchen light shining at Louie and Suzanne’s, too, just down the street. On the weekends we socialized, taking turns hosting at our sardine can or going over to their tiny house. We were compatible. We laughed a lot. Rick and Louie went deer hunting together in the Alabama woods. We ate a lot of venison. It was cheap, and it was plentiful, and it helped poor vet students survive on a budget. There was venison for breakfast, lunch, and dinner: steaks, roasts, ground burgers, sausage, chops, casseroles, stews… and every covered dish party featured some version of venison. There was So. Much. Venison. All these years later I have to think long and hard before venison passes my lips. There was, however, always one annual departure from venison at the traditional spring Jr/Sr cookout. This affair was an all-out Rocky Mountain oyster fest. If you don’t know what a Rocky Mountain oyster is, you can either get out more or just Google it. ... "End of Excerpt."