“They Also Serve Who Only Stand And Wait”


Tuesday, January 6

My eyes were itchy because it was 4:20 a.m. and I already had on mascara.  Dark.  Cold.  Two cups of coffee and Interstate 65 southbound.

My dear relative’s surgery prep was scheduled to begin at 5:30, but the original builders of a certain hospital and the architects of the progressive add-ons through the years had the astonishingly similar goal of creating a labyrinth into which the limping tribute entered and was never seen again.

So while we got to the correct address at 5:30, finding the tiny cubby hole of a surgery center amid the vast rabbit warren of auxiliary services took another 18 minutes.  The receptionist was kind and didn’t turn our tardiness into a character issue.  But how could she have?  Her office is located in the Bermuda Triangle; patients stumble upon it accidentally and an hour late.   Which made us 42 minutes early.  Just saying.

Then it was time to wait.

And the lesson of this day was that waiting is not a bad thing. Like most lessons, that only became clear upon retrospect.

Waiting does interesting things to the human brain.  Waiting seems to remove the productive, creative individual from all forward-moving streams of life and into a sterile, stimulation-free sidewater in which the only accomplishment is that the clock is ticking.  Me, a chair, and a clock.  This particular waiting room had the huge blessing of many floor to ceiling windows.  That, and that alone, saved my brain from turning irreversibly to oatmeal.

Out of the waiting room and behind the swinging doors, other elements unique to hospital waiting kick in.  For instance, the waiter, the healthy one, the designated driver, soon begins to feel sick, too.  Sitting beside the patient, I watched the IV go in, and at 6:00 am on queasy coffee stomach, I began vicariously to feel the effect of every anesthetic dripping through that tube. The doctor was talking, giving me vital information about my dear relative, information I needed to be able to repeat with vigor and comprehension, and maybe even make critical decisions with.  His mouth was moving and I was nodding.  But all I could hear was “Wahheaawaworblewablornumglob.”

“Alright then,” he said and scuffed away in his cap and booties.

Blessedly, I turned at that moment and miracle of miracles, there stood two smiling Littlevillians who work in the big city, scrubbed-up and busy, but pausing to pray with us.  And they say there is no God!

I have to hand it to doctors and nurses.  Here they are at quarter to zero dark thirty about to take on the responsibility of someone’s spinal cord and with a waiting room full of spinal cords.  They need snappy and accurate answers to their questions.  They won’t get them from IV’d people lying on gurneys.  There is something about lying on a gurney when everyone else in the room is standing up, having had their coffee, planning a Panini for lunch, intellectually on their A game, that renders patients unable to form the evaluations being asked of them.

A possible scenario:

Doc:  “When was the last time you had anesthesia?”  (pretty straight forward)

Spinal Cord:  “You mean totally under or including the twilight kind?”

Doc:  “Only totally under, the twilight kind doesn’t matter?”

Cord:  “Well I had the twilight kind in 2006 . . .”

Doc:  “OK, and the other?”

Cord:  “Yes, it was 2006 because that was the year the garage flooded.”  Turning to wife, “Right? 2006?”

Another symptom of advanced waiting is self-doubt.  The receptionist called to our family that the surgeon was finished and would talk with us. “Go around the corner and wait on the bench.  He’ll be right out,” she instructed. I am a college graduate and I found myself walking down the hall carrying coats, bags, Starbucks ventis, and tossing my head like a spooked horse, “This corner?  This bench?  What if there’s another corner and another bench and I miss the doctor?  Why don’t they have a sign, ‘Corner’ and ‘Bench’ or even ‘This way to THE corner and THE bench.’?”

The surgeon was friendly and informative and positive and pleased.  And I, the college grad, still had to work hard to itemize what he was saying.  This is because the waiter doesn’t speak the doctor’s language.  The waiter speaks Basic Oatmeal.  The doctor on the other hand has to condense 8 years of medical school and residency and 20 years of nitty-gritty field work into 4 or 5 sentences that sum up this procedure, my dear relative’s particulars, and the general way forward in most circumstances barring anything surprising.  He, who obviously excelled in the maths and sciences, is required to be a poet.  It would be like trying to tweet the plot of The Lord of the Rings to a Basset Hound.

After the corner and the bench came more hallway hikes with fresh ventis, whole new wings and their portraited benefactors discovered, turns, elevators, retraces, lefts, rights, inquiries, and finally my relative’s assigned nook for the night.  Loopy on meds and tucked in tight, she rested in the care of the kind nurses, and we, the waiters, emerged through the sliding glass doors gulping lungfuls of cold air and reveling in the spanse of sky above our heads.  Only then did I realize that I had felt the weight of the ceiling on my head and all the floors above it the whole time I was waiting.  I also realized that I smelled like a band-aid.

John Milton, the poet going blind, said “They also serve who only stand and wait.”  Milton was right.  Waiting is good for us.  It forcibly teaches humility and patience.  It shows me a true picture of myself – all my productive days are no more productive or valuable than this one in the sidewater.

This day was a labor of love, as all waiting must be.


A Littleville Dictionary -Addendum


Thanks to contributions from both native and temporary Littlevillians, we have a brief addendum to the Littleville Dictionary.

Several of these words are not limited to Littleville, but are broader regional expressions.  We don’t claim them as ours exclusively.

One other disclaimer:  I’ve been informed that there is an actual Littleville on the map.  Our apologies to the real Littlevillians.  We are a very real place with the mythical name Littleville. All clear?

reckon – verb; figure, speculate, calculate.  “Reckon what time Dennis’ll get here?  I need those handrails put in.”

tump – verb; tip over, spill, upend.  “Get in the car, Max.  And don’t tump my Diet Mountain Dew!  That’s breakfast.”

Momma and them – noun, pronounced “Momma ‘nem”; Mother and any family residing at or regular visitors to the homeplace.  “Momma and them had some corn for us so we ran by to get it. Uncle Earl and Aunt Helen were there and we ended up staying for dinner.”

dinner – noun; any hot meal eaten from noon to 9:00 p.m.  “After dinner they all had a nap and Carla and I went by The Pig.”

The Pig – noun; a franchised but family-feeling grocery store named Piggly Wiggly whose logo is a helpful, enthusiastic pig in a grocer’s hat.  “Swing by The Pig and pick me up some Jiffy mix.  I’ve got to do something with all this corn.”
*The Pig is aware of its own appeal and sells T-shirts with slogans like ‘I dig The Pig’ and ‘What happens at The Pig stays at The Pig.’  And that’s why a grocery store called Piggly Wiggly still works in the 21st century.
*The receipt used to have a pig for all seasons at the top:  a patriotic pig holding a sparkler, a pilgrim pig holding a blunderbuss, and so on.  Alas.

coke – noun; ALL carbonated beverages*.  Period.  “I’ll get you a coke for your headache.  What kind do you want?”
*For some reason, other words for coke – pop, soda, cola – fill us with anxiety and outright hostility.  I apologize for this.
*Important:  This does not include Pepsi.  Some restaurants here have contracted with Pepsi.  We’re not sure why.  Bless their hearts.

Bless Your Heart – Now let me just pause a moment.  Many people have hazarded definitions of this versatile but precise phrase.  It takes a native to use it correctly, though it can be employed in a wide variety of life’s circumstances.  I am treading on holy ground here.  Among other things, it can mean:

You poor thing

I hope it resolves itself

It won’t and you are doomed

Thank goodness it’s you not me

I could have told you this would happen

Well, you tried

Sweet little baby



Glad to meet you


You are of a younger generation and I don’t know what to say to you


Well, what do you know?

I feel you

Come here

Intonation changes with each circumstance.  Usages might include:

“Bless your heart, come in!”

“Oh, an iPod, you say?  Well, bless your heart.”

“Bless her heart, and acid reflux on top of it all.”

“Bless your heart!  When’s the happy day?”

“Bless it.  Look at all that hair!”

“Bless your heart.  You just come live with Nana.”

“Well, bless your heart, we all said he was a mess on wheels.”

“Bless his heart.  His mother will never survive this.”

fixin’ – verb; preparing to, getting ready to, just about to.  “I’m fixin’ to get up and get going here in a minute.”
*This one is a common target for mockery, but shouldn’t be.  Try it.

here in a minute – adverb; soon.  See above.

covered up – adjective; busy, overwhelmed.  “Sorry I didn’t get back to you. We’ve been covered up.”

wet/dry – adjective; the county status in terms of alcohol sales. “Don’t tell Momma and them Carla’s daddy voted wet.”
*This one is so charged with emotional freight, that we forget how much it sounds like a diaper report.
*We’re wet now.  Though some would say ‘damp’ and others ‘sodden.’  But during the dry years, many a Littlevillian (me, anyway) witnessed to our amusement the poor interstate traveller stopping off for a hotel room and much anticipated beer.  He would look confused and ask where the beer aisle was, and the BP clerk would say, “We’re dry.”  Maybe it was the clerk’s accent, “Were drah.”   But the thirsty traveller, uncomprehending, would try again, “Where’s the beer?” Whereupon the clerk would repeat, “We’re dry.”  The traveller would begin to work through the implications of this. Incredulity would dawn on his slack face,  “Are you telling me . . .” And he would get back in his car and hit the interstate ramp, apoplectic and shouting at his indefatigable wife, “Can. You. Believe. A. Dry. Town?????”

 A warm Happy New Year to you and yours!