Stella (and the Clan Johnston)

(A note before: If you read this note with a Southern accent in your head, the casual swearing actually makes a little more sense!)


All things concerned, she’s doing pretty well.


Yesterday, my Aunt Stella (Great-Aunt, really…Maternal Grandma’s sister) had a pretty bad stroke. She was shopping at Wal-Mart and got a massive headache, which brought a stranger to her aid, who helped her dial for a family member to come and get her. Thank God there are still a few humans out there. In St. Louis, they might’ve walked on by…but she was in Jonesburo, Arkansas. They took her to her doctor and she was pretty quickly “choppered” to Memphis for emergency neurological surgery to remove a blood clot. It took four hours to stop the bleeding in her brain alone…but so far, so good. She’s alive. I don’t know HOW alive, yet…but ALIVE.


Best case scenario, she has four days in ICU, then a 6-8 week recovery time. Worst case scenerio…actually no one’s really said much about that…so maybe it’s not worth thinking about. My family’s full of straight-shooters, and if there were any reason to think things were going to be terrible, we’d admit it. I get that from BOTH sides of the family,  apparently, ha ha. (Hi Dad.) Anyway…all of the details aren’t in, but all things considered, we couldn’t have hoped for better news, and in fact most of us were expecting to go to ANOTHER funeral. That’s the thing about big families…as awesome as it is to know that there are dozens of people who’ll do anything for you, even if you don’t call them as often as you should…it’s just as crappy to know that, presuming you live your average life-expectancy, you’re going to go to dozens of funerals for people YOU’D have done anything for. But it looks like that’s not happening just now.


As worried as I’ve been for Stella, it was even harder to think of what Marge and Clara would do without her. The three of them live together in a house in Goobertown, Arkansas (make fun of the town’s name and I’ll kick your ass ’til  Tuesday). They’re all sisters (Clara, in fact, is Stella’s twin). There used to be four in the house, but Naomi died a number of years back after a long illness. Marge and Clara are both in declining health. Marge has Parkinson’s (and I think some other such syndrome, but who can remember anymore?). Clara is losing bone density and most of her hearing—and can’t drive anymore. (Though, as my brother said of Clara, “She’s going to kick death’s ass three times before he takes her…but she has no bones left.”) Stella is the strong one. The healthy one. I don’t know what they’re going to do without her these next few weeks. I’m just glad that it looks like it won’t be longer.


I was also worried about Grandma. She’s seen a lot of her siblings die. Hell, she’s seen her DAUGHTER die (my mom). She’s held up. She’s persevered. She doesn’t use euphemisms—people don’t “pass,” they DIE. She’s a Southerner—she survives; she gets knocked down, she rises again… But when I talked to her today on my way to work, she sounded like she’d been hit by a bus. Every word she said was tempered with, “Not again…not THIS again.” I’ve never heard her like that before. I never want to again.


I’ve always told people that I come from a Southern family (and even when I speak it, I like to think you can hear the capital-S). I’m removed. I grew up in St. Louis. I’m a city-boy. But, according to some scholars of the era, Missouri’s still below the Mason-Dixon line. Depending on who you talk to, we’re either the Northern-most Southern state, or the Southern-most Northern state. Having been in the South, I can tell you for sure that THEY think it’s the latter. Nevertheless, I’m just close enough to GET what the Drive-By Truckers lovingly refer to as “The Southern Thing.” And I’m glad that in times of struggle and worry, I have that to sustain me.


Thank God I’m from this Family. And thank God it didn’t get any smaller today.



Current Reading: “I Love You, Beth Cooper” by Larry Doyle.  Just found out they made it into a movie, too!  🙂