Thursday, July 17, 2014

2- Transition to College for Students on the Autism Spectrum: OCD

My college students with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) thought of me their Professor Dumbledore.  I thought of them as my young wizards. And Dark Magic became my metaphor for the Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) that some of them battled. William was one such young wizard.

Early in the semester, each Honors Intro student was required to submit a paragraph describing his proposed research topic for the course.  The paragraph was worth 10% of the course grade.

A week after the deadline, our smart and talented William had still not submitted his paragraph.  His professor, Dr. Romero, emailed William and cc’ed our “Head of House,” graduate student Jessica Dunn; Dr. Romero said he would give William another day to submit the assignment. 

Jessica, who was completing a Master’s degree in Special Education with an emphasis in Counseling, talked with William.  She asked to see his paragraph.  He produced 15 versions of the same paragraph.  She asked him how she could support him in turning in his assignment.  William said that he wasn’t satisfied with any of the versions, and he was not going to submit his work until he was satisfied with it. 

Jessica reviewed the course syllabus with William and pointed out that the assignment earned 10% of the grade simply by being submitted; any of the paragraphs would earn full points.  All William had to do was select any paragraph he had written and send it to Dr. Romero.  Jessica offered to help him pick one.


A week later, Dr. Romero contacted me.  He told me how insightful William’s comments and questions in class were.  And he told me that William had still not submitted his paragraph. 

I tried to leave all interventions to Jessica and the peers who provided wraparound services for my young wizards.  Part of what was revolutionary about our program was that it was completely student-driven.  However, that night I played Professor Dumbledore and paid my young wizard a visit.

I told William about my call from his professor.  I asked to see his paragraph.  William wrung his hands and paced.  In a high, constricted voice, he told me that he had realized that he had selected the “wrong” topic.  He had finally figured out the “right” topic, and he would have to start over on his paragraph.  I told him that no topic was right or wrong for the course project; he needed to proceed with the topic he had previously selected. 

Nope.  That was the WRONG topic.  He had to write about the RIGHT one.  He raked his hands through his hair, chewed frantically on his bleeding fingertips, and clenched and unclenched his fists.  His OCD rampaged.

Because of the intensity of his response, I told William that if he had to use the new topic for his project, he should contact Dr. Romero, explain the problem, and submit a new paragraph the next day. He agreed.

A week later, Dr. Romero called me again.  Still no paragraph from William.  I went to see William again and asked why he had not sent his paragraph.  “It’s not ready.” 

I asked to see his work. He opened a document with 27 versions of the new paragraph; only a word or two differed in each.  None was acceptable to him. 

“Just pick one and send it,” I said.

“No!  I can’t! I don’t know which one is the right one!”

I leaned back on the couch.  “Take a deep breath,” I said, “Then send the entire document, all 27 versions.”

“No! I have to figure out which is the right one!”

I sensed that pushing William further could be catastrophic.  “You’re an adult, and I can’t force you,” I said. “You’ll have to decide what to do and then deal with the consequences of your decision.”

William never submitted the paragraph.  He dropped the course instead.

We knew that we would have challenges assisting our wonderful young wizards with ASDs in their transition to college.  Unfortunately, we never anticipated having students who had the severity of OCD that William had.  OCD turned out to a metaphorical Dark Magic that controlled William.  We did not have a metaphorical counter-curse that would protect him.  Perhaps Exposure and Response Prevention Therapy could have helped him, but only a skilled, experienced psychiatric professional in a controlled environment could have provided that for him.  We could not brew that potion.
Parents of children with ASD and co-morbid OCD need to work with their psychiatrists and therapists to ensure that the OCD is under control before their youngsters leave for college; alternatively, their children may need to live at home and commute to college, at least for the first year. Heads of House, old professors, and the young wizards themselves can only do so much.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Why I Patronize Barkansas

Two weeks ago I went to Barkansas, the tiny boutique pet store near my home.  I buy Blue Buffalo dog food there: buy nine sacks, get the tenth one free.   The owner’s little old Jack Russell comes up to sniff a greeting.  Sometimes I take my dog, Callie, with me, and she shows off by shaking hands with the owner.  I would like to teach her to shake hands with the dog, but I haven’t figured out how to do that yet.

I told the owner, “I need a better seatbelt for my dog.  She keeps escaping from her harness.”

The owner took a couple of different dog seatbelts to my car and showed me how to use them.  I selected one.  “Bring it back if you decide it doesn’t work like you want it to, or if you don’t like it,” she said.  It works.  I like it. 

Last week, I went to the store.  “I have a brand new Subaru, and I’m going on a trip next week,” I said.   “I don’t want my dog’s toenails poking holes in the seat leather, and I don’t want this car covered in her hair like my old one was.  I also need a way to keep her dog bed from falling off the seat into the floor when I come to a stop.  Can you help me?”

She said, “I have an idea.  I haven’t tried these seat covers yet, but I’ve seen them in a catalog.”  She found the catalog and the seat covers and explained the differences between the two models to me.

“Order this one for me,” I said, pointing.

Three days later, the seat cover arrived.  I drove to the pet store in my older car to pick it up.  The owner said, “Don’t you want to come back in your new car so I can help you install it?  Then you can see whether or not you want it.  Of course, if you try it on your trip and you don’t like it, you can always bring it back.”

I said, “Service like you give me is one reason I avoid Big Box Store.” 

She thanked me and then said, “We started this boutique pet store to carry high quality pet supplies and to offer outstanding service.  A customer came in yesterday and told me that Big Box Store now carries high quality dog food that costs less than ours.  The customer said that Big Box Store’s new brand didn’t have soy, wheat, or BHA. I asked her, ‘Would you even know what BHA was if I hadn’t taught you?’”

The customer admitted that she would not.  The owner then told the customer, “I can’t stay in business when you come in and count on me to educate you about products and use my expertise to solve problems, then go to Big Box Store to purchase the items I taught you about.”

Indeed, she cannot.  I think she’s the victim of intellectual theft.  The ersatz customer stole knowledge from the small business owner, but did not buy from her.  If the customer wanted to save a little money by buying from the Big Box Store, she should have asked their employees to take the time to educate her about dog food.  She should have asked them to explain what the ingredients were, and how each affected her dog.  Wheat? Soy? BHA?   Right.  Like that would have happened.

Locally-owned, Mom-n-Pop businesses are the backbone of American life.  Thanks Big Box Store, but I’ll keep parking my Subaru in front of Barkansas Pet Supply.

Friday, July 11, 2014

And of All Things! Visible and Invisible!

When I was a little girl, grand old Episcopal ladies wore hats and gloves to church.  They sported red lipstick and powdered their soft, wrinkly cheeks. They smelled like gardenias.  They drank brandy before dinner.  Or Mogen David.  Or mint juleps.

They called you “Dearie” if you were good, or “Young Lady” if you were bad. They often called me “Young Lady.”  When surprised, they waved their lace hankies and exclaimed, “Of all things!”  They were easily surprised.

I grew up hearing these old dames exclaiming “Of all things!” whenever I did a variety of things that made a great deal of sense to me.  “Of all things!” they exclaimed when I insisted that Daddy let me wear my pink, ruffled dress to church with my blue jeans, boots, cowboy hat, and toy guns and holster.  (My mother was sick in bed.  Daddy had to dress me all by himself.) “Of all things!” they exclaimed when I knocked out Tommy G. with the butt of my gun in the nursery that day.  Coldcocked him clean.  Was immensely proud of myself because I’d seen The Lone Ranger do it on TV.  “Of all things!” they exclaimed when I tipped my cowboy hat to the priest at the Communion rail.

I heard old ladies say “Of all things!” so often that I was not surprised when I realized that our Nicene Creed used the same exclamation.   God’s ability to be both visible and invisible was at least as astonishing as my ability to knock out Tommy G.  So of course, the creed said of God: “And of all things!  Visible and invisible!”

I knew the creed by memory by the time I was three-and-a-half.  I would stand on the pew between my mother and father and quietly say the creed with them.  They never paid me any attention until one Sunday when I felt compelled to speak out and use the correct inflection when I spoke those words.  Like the grand old dames often said about me, I loudly declared in perfect astonished imitation, “And of all things!  Visible and invisible!” 

My mother started to snicker. She bit her lip, threw her hand over her mouth, and started to rock.  My father snorted.  Then he started shaking.  Then he bellowed with laughter, and she erupted in hysterics.  The next thing I knew, tears were running down their cheeks, and they had completely lost control of themselves.  They grabbed me up and flew out of church.  They didn’t even stay for Communion.  Instead, they hauled me into the car and drove to the Busy Bee Café for an early lunch, howling every bit of the way.  “Drive faster!” my mother cried to my father. “I’m going to wet myself!” 

All through our dinner, my parents would try to gain control of themselves and then start snorting and howling again.  I was embarrassed by this surprising behavior.  In order to try to get them under control, I put my hands on my hips and said, “Well!  Of all things!” That was not helpful.

They wouldn’t tell me what they thought was so funny.  For years, they looked at each other over my head when I reiterated that part of the creed.  Not until I was old enough for confirmation did my father tell me that I’d misunderstood the creed all those years.  “Of all things, visible and invisible” was saying that God was the creator of everything: both things that were visible, like dogs, and teacups, and little girls; and things that were invisible, like powers and principalities, such as guardian angels, and saints, and Heaven.  And like forgiveness and love.

Sixty years later, I have realized that although Daddy was right, so was I.  My three-year-old interpretation was accurate.  Yes, God is Lord of all the visible universe.  And He is Lord of all the invisible powers and principalities.  But he is both visible and invisible.  He is invisible in His Love and Forgiveness.  And he is visible in the life force of little girls who wear cowboy outfits with their ruffled dresses, coldcock little boys with gunstocks, and tip their hats to priests at the Communion rail.  Well, of all things!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

On the Blog Name "Considerable Opinions"

Decades ago when I was a young professor, a friend told me that her fifth-grade granddaughter needed an unofficial mentor.  My friend asked me to serve her granddaughter in that capacity, and I agreed.  The girl was soon spending time with me every afternoon.

Youngsters like spending time with me because when I talk to them on an informal basis, I treat them like adults.  I share my views on current events, politics, and ethics, and I ask them their ideas on those topics.  Then I listen thoughtfully, asking them to clarify, elaborate, and defend their views.

My young protégé listened intently to my opinions about the news of the day and responded eagerly with her own.  I taught her to ask important questions to herself and other people. I taught her to base her opinions on evidence and to hold herself and other people to high intellectual standards.  And I taught her that adults are not always right, explaining that as I examine issues more deeply, I often reverse my original opinions.  I patted myself on the back as I watched my young friend learn to challenge her own assumptions and those of other people.

Then one day she walked into my office, put her hands on her hips, and announced, "My mother says that you are a woman of considerable opinions."

"Why, thank you!" I said.  I beamed.

Then she added, "My mother doesn't like them."

Point taken.

So out of the mouth of that babe came the name of this blog: Considerable Opinions. 

Read my considerable opinions or don't.  Respond to them or don't.  Tell other people about them or don't.  But for Pete's sake, whether you are a youngster or an old moss-back like me, put your mind to work thinking about important ideas.  Hold yourself to high intellectual standards.  Question everything, starting with your own assumptions.  Then share your own considerable opinions with anyone who will dialogue with you. 

Because talking to and listening to each other is the only way we're going to solve important problems, our own or the world's.

And in the immortal words of Forrest Gump, "And that's all I got to say about that."

Reflections On O Ye Jigs and Juleps!

If you were an Episcopalian in 1962, you read O Ye Jigs & Juleps, loaned your copy to a fellow Episcopalian, and never saw it again.  This week I bought a slightly moldy copy at a used bookstore to celebrate Easter.

Jigs was a collection of essays written by ten-year-old Virginia Cary Hudson in 1904.  Her children found them in the attic after she died, published them, and made a lot of money.

Virginia was fond of her Bishop, and she made him Corinthian juleps.  The Bishop was fond of Virginia and her juleps.  When he was trying to pull weeds out of the beans and roses at the unorthodox garden party she threw, Virginia made him a julep in hopes that he would dance a jig.  The julep so invigorated him that while he didn’t dance a jig, he did play Skip-to-My-Lou. 

I am going outside now to sit on my deck and sip a Corinthian julep.  I might toast Virginia and her bishop.  But I am old, so I will not dance a jig.

Virginia not only told us about her garden party, she also explained how to become an Episcopalian. She wrote, “When you are little and ugly, somebody carries you in church on a pillow, and you come out a child of God and inheritor of the Kingdom of Heaven.  They pour water on your head and that’s a sacrament.  When you are twelve you walk back in yourself with your best dress and shoes on, and your new prayer book your mother buys you, and you walk up to the Bishop, and he stands up, and you kneel down, and he mashes on your head, and  you are an Episcopal.”

In this Easter season, I am especially grateful to be an Episcopal.  I thank God for all the Virginias who had water poured on their heads Sunday, and for those whose bishops mashed on their heads and made them Episcopals.  I thank God for bishops who drink Corinthian juleps and play Skip-to-My-Lou.  But most of all, I thank God that The Lord has risen once again.

So I think I will raise my Corinthian julep and borrow Virginia’s garden party benediction to offer a toast to the Risen Lord: “O ye Sun and Moon, oh ye beans and roses, oh ye jigs and juleps, Bless ye the Lord, Praise and Magnify Him Forever.  Amen.”

Transition to College for Students on the Autism Spectrum: My Most Important Lesson

Last night, the local weather station said that a responsible adult in every household should stay awake until 5 a.m. to monitor a tornado threat.  Good advice.  'Twas the night of the second-deadliest tornado in Arkansas history. 

In order to stay awake, I skipped my bedtime medicine.  In the morning, I was sick, not only from staying awake all night, but from forgoing the medicine that would have put me to sleep.  As I sat on the side of my bed in my flannel pajamas, my head swimming, a thought popped into my mind: the most important thing I know about preparing students with ASDs to attend college away from home.

Several years ago, our university started a comprehensive first-of-its-kind autism support program for fully-academically qualified college students on the autism spectrum.  Unfortunately, the university closed our program after three years.  I was the university professor who served as the program faculty advisor, so I was stunned and heartbroken.

In the three years we had the program, we learned an enormous amount about how to support our wonderful students with ASDs in their college transition, so although the program is gone, the knowledge we gained from working with them remains.  The most important lesson we learned was: High school students with ASDs must learn to manage their medication and medical needs long before they leave home for college.

Most of our students needed prescription medications.  Thinking about prescriptions wasn't even on our radar. We assumed that each student would know how to manage his own medications.  We were wrong.  We didn't even know what a college student needed to know in order to manage his medications.

A note before I continue: Since the majority of students who are identified as being on the spectrum are male, I will use the masculine pronoun throughout this post, although I may be referring to a female at any given time.  This will help protect our former students' anonymity and avoid the ponderous "he or she" or annoying "s/he."  A moment ago, I picked up a new, unread book on the floor by my chair and committed to opening it and using in this post the first male name I read.  Ergo, "Reza" will be the name of my student who is an amalgamation of several of our students who were on the spectrum.

At 10:00 p.m. one week into the semester, Reza announced to his peer Head of House that he  was out of one of his medications, and he could not sleep without it.  Reza had never before refilled his own medications; his mom had always assumed that responsibility.  She was an outstanding mother, but she had not thought about teaching Reza to manage his medication before he left home for college. 

We were unable to accommodate Reza that night, but in the morning, we made certain that he was on the phone to his mother to find out what he needed to do to refill his prescription, which we will call Rx A.  What pharmacy to use?  How to pay for it?  Insurance card? Debit card?  He had no idea, nor, of course, did we.  Mom made some quick decisions.

The immediate crisis was over.  We had a plan. 

After classes that evening, a peer mentor drove Reza to the pharmacy his mother had chosen.  Waiting until evening did not set well with Reza because his anxiety escalated since he wanted to go to the pharmacy right after he talked to his mother.  We explained that he would have to wait until someone was available to drive him.  Reza learned nothing in his classes that day, but he held himself together until someone was available to drive him.

His mother had called and transferred his Rx A to a large chain pharmacy from the small independent pharmacy in Reza's home town.  We did not anticipate that the context would provide a problem for Reza.  It did.

The woman at the counter was not the pharmacist Reza was used to seeing when he accompanied his mother to the pharmacy.  The large store was chaotic to this young man whose concept of pharmacy was a quiet, intimate setting where he was known by his first name.  Reza was almost positive that THIS was NOT a pharmacy.  But the peer mentor assured him that it was and accompanied him to the counter.  Reza did not know what to say to the pharmacy tech at the counter.  The peer mentor assisted him in asking for his medicine.  The tech rifled through the bags of prescriptions and provided the medication Reza's mother had ordered.  So far so good.  Then we discovered something new.

Reza had never used a credit or debit card, nor had he ever written a check.  Mom had always paid for everything.  Because his diet was restricted, Reza had never even paid for lunch at school.  His mother had given him a $500 pre-paid debit card for college, but he didn't know how to use it, and she had not realized that she needed to teach him how to use it.  Thanks to the peer mentor, whom he trusted, and the pharmacy tech, whom he did not, Rx A eventually got paid for, and Reza had his medicine that night.  The crisis was resolved.

The next crisis came the following week.  Rx B was due for a refill.  That morning, Reza's mother called the pharmacy with all of Reza's prescriptions, but she did not realize that Rx B had no refills remaining, and she was not at home when the pharmacy called back to say that Reza's physician would have to authorize the refill. 

Reza didn't realize that he had to have his physician's approval for his medication when he had used up all his refills, and he didn't realize that this could take several hours at best, or at worst, several days.  When the pharmacy tech tried to explain to him that Rx B was not ready, and that he could not pick up Rx's C or D for several days until his insurance company would approve them, Reza was confused and angry.  He began to pace and stim frantically.  The pharmacy assistant turned pale, backed away from the window and called her boss to intervene.  Customers stopped pushing their carts and stared.  The peer mentor saved the day by getting Reza out of the environment and safely back to the house before the pharmacist called security.

But that was only the calm before the storm. 

Rx B was ready the next day, but Reza escalated at bedtime when he got ready to take it.  His home pharmacy was a small, independent compounding pharmacy, and his compounding pharmacist made Rx B into a chewable because the tablet-form was hard for Reza to swallow.  The new pharmacy dispensed Rx B only as a tablet.  Reza was convinced that he had received the wrong prescription and refused to take it.  He fretted, paced, stimmed and cried, until he was so exhausted that he fell into a fitful sleep.  His mom had to have the doctor send a new prescription to a local compounding pharmacy the next day.  The pharmacist at the small compounding pharmacy was able to meet Raza's needs far better than was the large chain.

We encountered our next problem when Reza caught the flu.  The university's clinic could not see Reza for two weeks, so he was sent to a local urgent-care clinic. 

Reza's needs were so complex that he needed to establish a relationship with a local physician who understood young people who had ASD; meeting a new doctor at the urgent care clinic every time he was ill was too stressful.  Local doctors didn't like treating students who lived out of town.  They contended that students needed to continue being treated by their family doctors instead of having two primary care physicians. If Reza's mom had known to search for a physician six months before Reza became a student at the university, she might have been able to find one who would work with his family doctor back home, but she hadn't, so when he became sick, she had to take off work to drive 300 miles to come pick him up and take him home.  Unlike his peers, Reza was not used to taking care of himself when he was ill.  Every mother wants to take care of her sick child, but before he came to college, Reza needed to be transitioned into taking care of himself when he caught the run-of-the-mill bug.

Other problems? Some of our students took their medicine only sporadically.  Some simply forgot to take their pills.  Others didn't like depending on medicine when their nondisabled peers didn't have to take it.  The depression, anxiety disorders, and OCD with which they wrestled became much worse at the times they were noncompliant with their medical plans, so much so that their academic work suffered. 

The take-away from our experiences with these wonderful students on the autism spectrum is this: The most important transitional issue for students who are going away from home to attend college is to prepare them to manage their medical needs. 

After all, who cares about American History to 1865 when you can't get your antidepressant prescription filled, your OCD is out of control because you forgot to take your meds, or you have the stomach flu and are terrified of going to an urgent-care clinic? 

Not I.

Why I Shop at My Little Local Hardware Store

Last week, the darling young man who does odd jobs for me needed $50 worth of lumber to repair the fascia that the squirrels were busily gnawing through on my house.  He said, “I’ll get the lumber from Big Box Chain Store.   That’ll save you 15-20% over the little local hardware store.”

I smiled and sensed a teachable moment.  I said, “I want the little local hardware store to stay in business.  If everyone goes to the big box chain store, my little hardware store will go broke.  Having it here enriches my life and my community.  Spending 15 or 20% more to buy from a locally-owned store and make my community strong is worth the investment to me.”

He tilted his head.  “I never thought about it that way,” he said.

He went to my little hardware store and bought the lumber.  I supported my community.

A few days later, he returned to my little hardware store with the lid from an old can of paint we needed to match my soffit and fascia.  He asked the paint manager to match it.  The paint manager said, “This paint didn’t come from us.  We could try to match it, but you can see on the can that it was purchased from the paint store down the road.  They will have the exact formula you need in their records. You really ought to go there.” 

That’s social responsibility on the part of my little hardware store paint manager.  He knew that another store could meet my needs better than he could, so he acted with selfless honesty to serve his customer.  I think my young handyman learned a lesson about supporting local small businesses from that experience.

But my story doesn’t end there.

Last week, my husband tried to fix a table lamp in our library.  The lamp had stopped working.  He tried a new bulb.  Nope.  He decided he would disassemble the lamp.  He couldn’t get it apart, which is just as well because he wouldn’t have been able to put it back together. 

I knew the lamp needed a new lamp kit.  I knew I could install a lamp kit; I’d seen my dad do it, and because I am a woman, I will read directions when needed.  But I couldn’t take the lamp apart because I didn’t have the strength in my hands to unscrew the nut from the lamp nipple.  My husband brought me all the wrenches he had, but we couldn’t make any of them work.

I said, “I can’t do this now, but we can go to the hardware store tomorrow, and I can get someone there to help me unscrew it and sell me a lamp kit to fix it.”

No dice.  Because my husband is not well, he was nervous and obsessing on the lamp.  He needed the lamp fixed immediately.  Part of my responsibility in taking care of him is eliminating as much stress from his life as possible, so I grabbed the lamp and said, “Come on, Kiddo.  We’ll go to the little hardware store now.”

Since it was a Sunday afternoon, we were the only customers.  The ONLY customers.  Everyone else was at the big box store saving their 15 or 20%.

The two cashiers at my little hardware store were standing at their assigned posts.  I handed the first cashier my lamp.  “Here,” I said.  “I don’t have the strength in my hands to unscrew this.  Can you help me?  And then sell me a lamp kit so I can go home and figure out how to fix it?”

The cashier unscrewed the nut from the nipple.  Then, since not one other customer had come in, he went and got a lamp kit off the shelf, took it out of the package, and fixed my lamp.  I grabbed a new light bulb and we tested the lamp. On.  Off.  On.  Off.  Yep.  Good as new. 

I paid for the lamp kit and the light bulb.  Then I slipped my new friend a few dollars.  “To take your sweetie out for a hamburger,” I said.

He smiled. “Thanks,” he said.  “I will.”

Perhaps my local businesses cost a little more than the big box stores do, but they make my life much richer.  The people.  You know?  They will send me to the local paint store if that would be better for me.  They will help me fix my lamps.  I will help them take their sweeties out for a burger.  I will always support my small local businesses.  I wish everybody would.

Why I Shop Locally

When I was in junior high school, I lived in a town of twenty thousand people.  Our town was a hundred miles from two large cities.  All my friends’ families went to those cities for back-to-school shopping and Christmas shopping.  Ours was the only family I knew who did not go to the cities to shop.  The only family.

I had been aware for several years that we were the outliers who didn’t make this twice-yearly pilgrimage for gold, frankincense and myrrh (or pleated skirts, knee sox, and penny loafers), but little kids don’t question the status quo.  However, when I hit junior high, I wanted to be able to talk about our back-to-school shopping trip, our Christmas shopping trip.  (Not that I cared about clothes or fashion; I didn’t.  I simply wanted to be able to join in the conversation.)

When I asked my parents at dinner one night in early December why we couldn’t go to Lubbock or Amarillo to Christmas shop, my dad put down his fork and looked at me, his eyes gentle.  “Honey,” he said, “I’m a lawyer.  My clients are the people in this town.  They put the food on this table.  The cabbage on your fork, the corned beef on your plate, and the pie on the counter are going in your belly tonight because of the people who live in this town.  They help me feed my family because they hire me as their lawyer instead of hiring a lawyer from out of town.  I will help them feed their families by buying our goods and services from them.”

He resumed eating, as did I, but I knew he had more to say.  After a few bites, he started talking again.  “You see,” he said, “Expecting our neighbors and friends to support our family by hiring me would be unfair if we took the money they paid us and spent it out of town to help strangers feed their families instead of reciprocating.  It’s a matter of fairness, of being just.”

Then he approached the matter from a different angle.  “Also,” he said, “I want to pay the city sales tax to support this town, not another town.  I want to support our police and fire protection I want to help keep our streetlights lit and our stoplights working.  I want to help pay the bonds that build our schools. The money for those services for our city comes in part from sales tax.  If we don’t buy locally, we’re not supporting our town. We’re not paying for the services we use.”

He reached for his coffee, sipped a little, and sat down the cup.  “Do you understand?” he asked.

I nodded.

Then my mother added her perspective.  She said, “When we get sick or someone in our family dies, who do you think will sit at our bedside?  Who will pray for us?  Who will bring us a casserole to eat?  The people in this town, or the people in the city?”

“The people here,” I said, folding my napkin and leaning back in my chair.

“That’s right,” said my mom, “And those are the people we want to support, not the strangers in the city.”

That, then, is why I shop locally.

The Baptism of a Loud, Opinionated Child of God

When I was two-and-a-half, I was baptized.   I didn’t like it.

The facts of the offending event: June 5, 1955.  St. John’s, Alamogordo, New Mexico.  Episcopal, of course.  My uncle, The Reverend Al Babbitt, Rector.

Although he was a towering man, my uncle was gentle with me. I liked him.  He looked like the wise bird in my picture book, so I thought this kind giant’s name was… Owl.

Episcopalians are rarities west of the Mississippi, and Uncle Owl, a middle-aged lawyer, was new to the priesthood, so he had scant experience baptizing little girls.  Especially little girls in VERY special dresses.

My dress was a VERY special dress with a history.  My mother had paid an extravagant sum for the dress.  It was made of the stiffest crinoline overlying petticoats that made it stick out from my body at a ninety degree angle. Had you stood me on my head, I would have looked like a frilly, white mushroom with two match sticks poking out of the top.

My mother was indecently proud of the dress.

My father’s older sister did not know that my mother had purchased a dress- THE dress- for my baptism.  Aunt Doris was a seamstress, and she created a lovely baptismal dress for me.  When she presented the dress to my mother, my mother was stunned.  She didn’t want me to wear Aunt Doris’s dress.  She had already purchased THE dress I was to wear.  After Aunt Doris left, my mother had a conniption.

For days, my mother and father pleaded and argued with each other.  I was two-and-a-half.  They didn’t realize that I was listening to every word.  I didn’t understand everything, but I understood enough: that the critical element of my upcoming baptism was my attire.  My daddy wanted me to wear the dress that his sister had made for me.  My mother wanted me to wear the dress that she had purchased.  My mother won.  If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.

The morning of my baptism, my mother dressed me in THE dress, ruffled panties, lacy anklets, and Mary Janes.  She braided my hair into two tiny pigtails.  But before we left the hotel for my uncle’s church, a gentle rain began to fall.  My mother was aghast.  “We mustn’t let your dress get wet!” she cried; in only moments, the rain would wilt the starched, stiff crinoline.  We watched the sky anxiously. Finally, the rain stopped, and we hurried to the church.

When we got to my uncle’s church, I saw the bowl of punch for the post-baptismal reception.  I asked my mother for a sip.  She said I couldn’t have any because “We mustn’t let your dress get wet!” 

I asked to go pee-pee.  She hustled me off to the bathroom, held up my dress to keep it dry while I settled myself on the toilet, and then when she helped me wash my hands, warned, “We mustn’t let your dress get wet!”

Finally, with my dress pristine, we entered the nave of the church.  We settled ourselves on the first row.  The music started, and Uncle Owl processed down the aisle while the choir sang.  He did lots of things that my priest back home did, but then he did something different.  He told my parents to bring me to him where he stood by a big, tall bowl of water.  He said some words I didn’t understand, and my daddy handed me to him.  He wrapped his long left arm around me. 

Surprised, I looked back at my daddy.  I turned and looked at Uncle Owl.  I followed his gaze down to the big bowl of water.  And then I realized the worst: Uncle Owl intended to put me in that big bowl of water.  So I looked him square in the eye and shouted, “Don’t get my dress wet!”

I left the church that day, a Child of God with a dry dress.  A beautiful, stiff crinoline dry baptismal dress.  A loud, opinionated Child of God.

I am still a loud, opinionated Child of God.  But now that I am old, I don’t worry about getting my dress wet.  In fact, I make a point to dip my fingers into the Holy Water when I enter church.  I dip them in all the way to my palm.  Then I liberally wet my forehead, my bellybutton, and my left and right shoulders.  Those little wet spots are a tribute to God; to loud, opinionated little girls in crinoline dresses; and by no means least, to Uncle Owl, smiling down at me from Heaven. And still laughing.





The Day the Lady at KFC Broke Six Hearts

“I do love fried chicken!”

“My, oh my!”

“I want a leg and a thigh! And some mash potatoes and gravy!”

“I shore would like me four barbeque wings!”

The eyes of the African American men from the homeless shelter sparkled when I told them that in addition to a generous salary for loading my moving van, I would buy them lunch at the Kentucky Fried Chicken by my house. 

I’d hired the men to load the van because I was moving out of state.  The shelter secretary had personally selected them.  “They’re good workers,” she said.  “Three are big guys who can carry anything: one young and two middle-aged.  One is an old fellow.  He’s a frail-looking, small man, but he’ll work hard all day for you.”

Good workers they were.  My dad, who had grown up in the transfer and storage business, called them “a great crew,” and he was delighted that with their take-no-prisoners approach to the job, he was able to load my house into the moving van in only four hours.  He beamed, and so did they, as we piled in the vehicles to go to KFC before Daddy and I returned them to the shelter and headed off for our 400-mile trip.

When we pulled up to KFC, the three men riding with me stopped talking and sat stock still.   “Hop out, guys,” I said as I turned off the car.  “Time for dinner.”  Wordlessly, they crawled out of my PT Cruiser, then stood by the restaurant door.  While I waited for Daddy and the fourth worker in the moving van to arrive, I answered a text, checked the map to my new home one last time, and locked my car. 

When Daddy pulled up in the moving van, the fourth worker climbed out of the cab and joined his fellows by the door.  I followed Daddy as he walked around the van to make sure everything was secure, checking first one thing and then another before he was satisfied that we were ready to hit the road.

When he finished the final check, we started toward the restaurant door.  The workers were still standing in the heat instead of going inside the air-conditioned restaurant.  Puzzled, I walked by them and opened the door.  The cool air poured out as I entered the KFC.

Dad walked in after me.  Still the homeless men waited outside.  I opened the door back up and said, “Come on in, guys.  Dinner’s on me.  Order whatever you want.  The sky’s the limit.”  Tentatively, they entered, but no one advanced to the counter. 

Okay, I thought.  Not one of these guys has ever been to a KFC.  In all likelihood, not one has ever entered any kind of restaurant more than a half dozen times in his life.  Except maybe through the kitchen door. They don’t know what to do.

I stepped up to the counter and said to the cashier, “Give these gentlemen whatever they want. The treat’s on me.  These guys have worked hard for me all morning, and they deserve a good lunch.”  I turned and motioned to the men to come forward.

Hesitantly, the first man, the boldest of the bunch, stepped to the counter.  He ordered a three-piece dinner with mashed potatoes, gravy and a soda.  The second man stepped up and ordered his meal, then the third.  But the old fellow held back.  He didn’t have any front teeth, so I thought, Wow.  I hadn’t thought that he might not be able to eat fried chicken.  He stood and looked at the menu overhead.  “Go ahead,” I quietly urged him.  “Order whatever you want.” 

He moved close to the counter, leaned forward, and whispered to the young KFC employee, also African American, “Could I have four barbeque chicken wings, please?”

She scowled at him, and in a loud voice said, “We don’t make barbequed wings!”

“What do you have?” he whispered to her, furtively looking around to see who could hear. 

“Well, read the menu for yourself and see what we have!” she scolded.

Then I realized.  The old fellow couldn’t read.  He’d never been in a KFC.  He didn’t know what his choices were.  He’d tried to interpret the pictures on the menu, but he had no idea from those pictures what was included on a meal, or exactly what choices he had.

“Please,” he pleaded.  “Please tell me what you have.”

“Read. The. Menu,” she retorted.

He dropped his eyes. 

I stepped up to the woman.

“He wants barbequed chicken wings.  You don’t have barbequed chicken wings.  Then tell him what kinds of wings you do have.” She glowered at me, but told him what his wing-options were.  He selected hot wings. Then I put my hand on his arm.  “Mashed potatoes and gravy?  French fries?  Would you like green beans? Maybe macaroni and cheese?”

He only wanted four wings.  And a biscuit.  And of course, on this hot day, a cold drink.

He ate three of his wings and his biscuit.  He carefully wrapped the last wing up in his napkin.  The napkin disappeared in his pocket.  For himself for later? For a friend who didn’t get selected for a job today? Or maybe a homeless child at the shelter?

We were all subdued as we ate our meal.   I think the men enjoyed the food, but that was secondary to how we all felt about seeing this dear old man humiliated by the waitress.  He had looked to her to help him figure out this maze having dinner at Kentucky Fried Chicken, and she failed him.  Intentionally.

I don’t know why the lady at KFC treated the dear old toothless, illiterate man so cruelly, but I do know this: she broke the hearts of six people that day: me, my daddy, and four homeless, hard-working, gentle men who had been so excited that they were going to get to go out and have some chicken for dinner at KFC.