Sunday, January 4, 2015

For Pepper

She was a fluffy gray ball about the size of my fist, with enough hiss and spit to run off all the other kittens in the shelter.

"She loves people, but won't tolerate other cats," they explained.

After watching her sixteen-ounces-of-fire-breathing-dragon display, I was amazed to have her climb up my sleeve and lick my face. She purred gently, steadily, convincingly: the message was clearly Take me home, you are mine. And I will kill any cats that annoy you, too.

A 2001 Christmas surprise for Jason and Savannah, she spent a couple of days at the shelter's veterinarian's office before coming home. While there she contracted an upper respiratory bug that made her spend most of her early days with us huddled in her litter box, where she seemed to feel safe. Our vet checked her out and said she'd be fine, but possibly had a dry-eye condition that would require a million dollars or so in ophthalmic ointment over the course of her life. I decided to wait and see if maybe she'd outgrow it.

Her coat looked like it had been sprinkled with pepper; the naming was easy. Pepper became our beloved pet, with gloriously normal, no-cost eyes and an enormous affection for her family and chasing the little lizards Florida presents to amuse its cat population.

We found lots of disconnected lizard tails, frantically switching back and forth.

Pepper was devoted to us, the four humans in the Duke family, but ran under the nearest bed when anyone else approached the house. She seemed to want to limit her social sphere to us and the kingdom of tiny reptiles she ruled. Many visitors questioned whether we actually owned a cat; she was a gray phantom without menace. Our dear neighbor Beth Monette occasionally fed and watched over her when we left town, and Pepper chose her for Favorite Alternate Human. They bonded, but no one else was allowed into her feline heart of hearts.

She tolerated Beau the Maltepoo when he joined the family in 2004, and offered him occasional affection. 

After years of indoor life, Pepper moved to the Alabama countryside and found herself among giant chickens and a Labrador Retriever. It brought about an amazing transformation. While she still loved to be carried around the yard like a baby, surveying it all from a lofty perch, she also became the huntress she was born to be. She'd disappear into the neighbor's pasture and return with a mouse or vole clenched in her jaws. The chickens gave her a wary wide berth, and so did the Lab. Exploring outdoors made her confident and she was less prone to hiding from people.

She blossomed here.

After Jason graduated college and moved to Georgia, Pepper went to live with him. I loved seeing her when I visited there, and he brought her home often. She was hell on the cardboard box transport he had in the early days, chewing right through to express her displeasure.

I think she liked coming here and loving on us, despite the hated car trips. I did my best to spoil her.

Several months ago Pepper began to show signs of declining health. Jason was told it could be an infection, or it might be bone cancer. We gave her antibiotics and hoped for the best.

She began to waste away before our eyes. Nothing helped.

Over Thanksgiving I found myself stroking her fur and telling her the story of how she adopted us, tears splashing onto the bed where she lay purring and listening intently.

She loved that story.

Yesterday, with the help and support of his wonderful sister Savannah, Jason took Pepper to the vet for a final goodbye.

I'm still crying.

You were a sweet, fun, loyal, affectionate cat, Pepper. Thank you for choosing us. Thank you for loving us.

Love from Delta.

Friday, October 3, 2014


One lousy Liberian liar has delivered the deadly and dreaded Ebola virus to the United States.
That's all it took.

The CDC says it's been preparing for this scenario since March, which is awesome...except they appear to have been caught with their hazmat pants down.

Crews dispatched to decontaminate the least popular apartment complex in America couldn't do their job, as they had no authorization to transport material removed from the scene.

Gee, you'd think someone would've seen that coming, maybe even back in March.

The CDC waited until recently to distribute instructions on handling Ebola victims to U. S. funeral homes. They insist it's simply routine, kinda like instructing funeral homes how to deal with zombies or space aliens.

Anonymous Texas Nurse and hospital staff should be hiding out and hanging their heads in shame about now, after sending a patient from Ebola's West African hotbed home with antibiotics for what was dismissed as a relatively minor viral infection. That's right—antibiotics for a viral infection. Colossal oversight and wrong medication, too. 
Perhaps the CDC should've prepared for gross incompetence in the very healthcare system they keep reassuring us will contain any threat of widespread contagion.

I admit to a fascination with these events as well as a medium-ish level of Ebolaphobia. Richard Preston's The Hot Zone introduced me to hemorrhagic horror back in 1994—something I hoped to keep a vague concept quarantined in a corner of my mind. (It's a great book. I do not recommend reading it right now unless you have industrial-strength anxiety medication.)

I cannot understand why airlines are still traveling to and from Liberia and its neighbors, risking transport of a deadly virus. The CDC has no satisfactory answer. Questioning passengers is ineffective, as Mr. Duncan demonstrated. People lie. Screening for Ebola symptoms is ludicrous, as the disease has an incubation period of up to three weeks. How many more human bio-bombs are planes going to deliver?

The longer the virus spreads through the human population, the better chance it has of mutating into something far more easily contracted.
We have to lock this thing down.
Nigeria did just that, very effectively, and I sure hope the U. S. is capable of following suit. Our leadership is not inspiring much confidence.

Love from Delta.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Goodbye, Robin Williams.

I loved Robin Williams. You did, too. But unless you breathe in more rarefied celebrity air than I, you did not know him. He entertained us, inspired us, influenced us . . . but did not attend our weddings, birthday parties, or stop by at suppertime. I am in no position to comment on his mental health.

You aren't, either.

When a celebrity dies of suicide, particularly after years of publicized drug and/or alcohol addiction, there's a predictable clarion call for better mental health care and substance abuse treatment. It lasts about three or four days. Then we resume our lives and make occasional, wistful mention of the lost soul and his or her immense talent. We muddle through the world with a little less light to guide our paths.

I cannot imagine what better mental health services and addiction treatment could have been available to a person of Robin Williams' means. I don't think "we" could have "saved" him with our love. I'm going to say it out loud: he did a cruel and selfish thing. I pray for his family and close friends. I pray for those struggling as he did on a daily basis, who manage to persevere despite pain and darkness. And I pray his death might inspire someone to seek help before destroying the lives of those around him or her.

Because suicide did not "free" Robin Williams.

He eliminated himself and left his loved ones to struggle with guilt, grief, and anguish. That's the reality.

G. K. Chesterton said, “The man who kills a man, kills a man. The man who kills himself, kills all men; as far as he is concerned he wipes out the world.”

Our world will never be the same.

Love from Delta.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Loudly Clanging Belles Take a Toll

Just hangin' out by the fence

southern belle noun \ˈsə-thərn bel\ : a woman from the Southern United States who personifies beauty, gracious hospitality and refined manners

I've seen dyed-in-the-cotton Southern belles at the tender age of five and the squishy age of ninety-five. The prissiness swims in our collective gene pool; the dedication to make-up, hair, fingernails, clothes, shoes and monograms is bound in polished strands of DNA.

After biting a Southern belle, a mosquito will immediately check itself in a mirror.

I know some. I'm related to some. Most days, my own Southern belle tendencies lead to excessive primping. It can be tedious, fixing up to walk to the mailbox.

I encountered a different type of belle today: The Walmart Belle. 

The Walmart belle I spotted was slathered in foundation that may or may not have had Alabama red clay in the ingredient list. Her eyeshadow could have inspired Crayola to send a scouting team. The mascara? Black, heavy, and clinging to an impressive pair of false lashes.

Southern belles chime softly and charm well. They are polite to a fault.

Walmart belles clang loudly and run over your foot without a backward glance. 

She is not to be confused with your typical Walmartian. Most of them, I'm convinced, are oblivious to their appearance or in some state of psychosis.They're on innocuous errands, maybe there to communicate with the mother ship.

The Walmart belle knows what she looks likeshe spent three hours getting readyand is apparently there to be seen and appreciated. In the absence of an employee to scream at, she chooses to communicate with her family by bellowing long-distance.

If you spot one, protect your elegant shoe. Those carts are heavy and can leave tread marks.

Love from Delta.


Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Thoughts for 2014...

I do not make New Year's resolutions. Like everyone else, I think deep thoughts about the things I'll try to change in accordance with the calendar. It's less stressful than taking ironclad vows.

I am going to try to come to terms with the fact my eyebrows are never going to look like Anastasia of Beverly Hills does them unless Anastasia happens to pass through Delta, Alabama and stop for directions. If that happens, you can expect her to be locked in my basement and forced into working her magic on me.

This means spending much less time with a super-magnifying mirror and tweezers in direct sunlight, which is a Stupid Beth Trick to start with. I'm pretty sure I mess up and create new, traumatic flaws rather than accomplish good with this habit.

I'm going to try to disregard the echoing Litany of Southern Womanhood: Don't you leave the house without doing your makeup. This year I attended a luncheon in the home of a beautiful woman who greeted me by saying, "Oh, lordI was so busy getting things ready, I forgot to do my eyes." This is so silly . . . as silly as hearing myself tell my daughter, "Yes, I'm putting on lip gloss. It's what I do when I don't know what to do." (I was lost on the way to a state park.)

Also on the list: embrace the fact I love pizza, but it must be the carrot at the end of my exercise stick.

Meditation, Pilates, yoga, long walks. More of that stuff.

Fewer selfies, more selfless attitude. That one's very important.

Remain as grateful at all times as possibleespecially in prayer.

Write, write, write . . . even if it's coming out wrong, wrong, wrong.

My rose-colored glasses will remain firmly in place, and I'll continue to see the best in everyone and every situation. I will laugh at myself even if I'd prefer to kick myself. I will find a way to make someone smile whenever I get the chance. I will attempt to keep my foot far from my mouth, especially when firing off a heated response.

I wish you joy, health and peace in 2014.

Love from Delta.


Friday, November 15, 2013

The Very Beautiful Parker Memorial Baptist Church

The church of my childhood was spartan, with punishing Puritanical wood pews and no musical instruments. Maybe that's why I've had a lifelong fascination with elaborate churches and cathedrals. I've seen majestic stained glass and soaring flying buttresses in Europe; I've been humbled by the beauty of All Saints Chapel at Sewanee, The University of the South.

As long as I can remember, I've longed to see inside the historic Parker Memorial Baptist Church in my hometown of Anniston, Alabama. I've been gazing wistfully at its imposing architecture, wondering at the splendor to be found within.

Today, I finally had my chance. My wonderful friend Kathy Weiser, a lifelong member, offered me a personal tour. It was everything I'd imagined and moreincluding a breathtaking Louis Comfort Tiffany window!

A brief history: On July 3, 1887, forty-five believers, most of them members from First Baptist Church in West Anniston, organized the Second Baptist Church in the Opera House on Noble.

 Dr. G. A. Nunnally of Eufaula was called as pastor and property was purchased on the corner of Quintard and Twelfth Street. The name of the church was changed to Twelfth Street Baptist. Duncan C. Parker, 13 year old son of Duncan T. Parker, died March 26, 1889. Cornelia Parker, organist of Twelfth Street Baptist Church and wife of Mr. Parker, died three weeks later. As a memorial to his wife and son, Mr. Parker offered to pay for a new sanctuary. The church soon changed its name to Parker Memorial Baptist Church.

The Parker Memorial of today recently underwent a four million dollar renovation. Take a look:

Duncan T. Parker

Many thanks to Kathy, and
Love from Delta.