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Death from peculiar cause … or ‘They did what with what?’

In one of her letters, Grandma had included a newspaper clipping about her grandfather’s “peculiar” death. Naturally, it’s bowel-related. I don’t know that the cause of his death is nearly as peculiar as the failed treatment. Two things to consider from this story: 1) It took three doctors to devise the “novel” treatment approach (is that somewhat impressive or freakishly scary?) and 2), on the list of 101 things to do with a bicycle tire air pump, this should place no better than No. 118:

Pulaski County Democrat, Thursday, Sept. 19, 1907

Death From Peculiar Cause

The death of George Guild, the Medaryville liveryman, occurred Tuesday morning from a somewhat unusual cause. Last Thursday, just after sliding to the ground from a load of hay, he complained a little of straining something in his bowels. The pain grew more severe through that night, and his family summoned Dr. Linton Friday morning. A day later, he called Dr. Clayton of Monon in consultation, and Sunday evening, he called Dr. George Thompson of Winamac. At that time, the man was very low. He had been suffering intense pain, no action of the bowels had been obtained since the injury and he was nearly pulseless. The physicians agreed a telescoping of the bowel was the trouble, but the man was so low, an operation would mean sure death from the anesthetic. They adopted a somewhat novel treatment – a tube 2 feet long and air pressure from a bicycle tire pump – as the only resort that could give relief. It proved successful – they secured proper action of the bowels and, with it, ease for the patient. But he had sunk so low that exhaustion coupled with a heart weakness that had affected him for years resulted in his death. A post-mortem examination disclosed the exact accuracy of the diagnosis: The treatment referred to had straightened the tangled bowel, but its discoloration and other marks showed where it had been locked. Mr. Guild was 62.

I suppose there are more-undignified ways to go other than with a bicycle tire air pump up your derriere. Nothing leaps to mind, but I suppose …

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Happy Thanksgiving from Grandma and ‘Brownie’

1980, edited

It’s often hard to believe, but my mom’s side of the family has a small measure of commoner royalty in its blood: We’ve officially traced our family lineage to pilgrim John Howland, which means we’re all card-carrying members of the Descendants of the Mayflower Society. I have a certificate that says so. Fittingly, Howland was the only pilgrim to fall overboard during the journey to the New World. The ship’s crew did take the time to fish Great (x10) Grandpa John out of the Atlantic Ocean, which was fortunate not only for the continuation of my family tree, but also countless others: After he arrived in Plymouth, Massachusetts, Howland settled down (so to speak) and fathered 10 children and had 86 grandchildren! Maybe we’re all a little related to John Howland.

Grandma certainly wasn’t a professional writer, but she did manage to be inadvertently creative in her letters. One of her most impressive creative devices was stitching together seemingly unrelated sentences, phrases and thoughts into one magnificent mess. In this excerpt from a 1978 letter, Grandma begins by telling about a family member’s effort to begin putting together the family tree. Where she ends is entirely different. Professional genealogists worldwide are still trying to decipher this:

“Harry Lowry is running down the Lowry generations, and he was trying to get information on how the Prevos were related. I was glad I could remember things Mother told me. I’m sending a couple pictures I had and got some copies made for Harry’s book. The one with Grandma and Grandpa Prevo is from their 50th wedding anniversary. The other one is Mom’s oldest sister named Elizabeth Prevo Brown, and her husband was related to the Lowrys. It was her daughter that Grandma Prevo raised and she was the age of Uncle Arthur so that’s why Mother felt so close to her and she was the one we called Brownie that’s buried in Austin, Minnesota and married Lyman Mott at the same time I was but she was in her 40s and couldn’t have children, so I told her I would give her my next baby, which was Charlotte, but your dad wouldn’t give her up. That’s enough history for now, but if I don’t use what little mind I got left, it’ll soon be too late.”

We’re pretty sure Grandma and Brownie were cousins of some sort … less sure on which side of the family Brownie was from. Who knows? Maybe both sides (insert your own hillbilly joke here).

Grandpa, Charley and the vagaries of health insurance

Charley wasn’t a deputy, but he was Grandpa’s right-hand man. I never met him but from what I’ve heard, he was a combination of Barney Fife and Gomer Pyle with a healthy dose of Goober thrown in. Here’s Grandma’s description (words and spelling) of life on the job for Grandpa and Charley:

“Your dad’s out reading the meters. He ought to wind that up today. He has such a time with Charley. He can’t remember where the meters are from one time to the next. Charley’s not back on the job fulltime yet. He went to lift a barrel of cans up on the truck and in some manner he got his peenis caught between the can and the truck and mashed the end of it. Then when it healed up, he couldn’t make water, so they had to operate and correct it. Anyway, he was showing everyone his operation and by the way they talk, he must be built like a stud horse. They said they could cut half off then he’d still have more than the ordinary man. Anyway, the doctor won’t release him to go to work until he stops passing blood on account of the insurance.”

I’m not sure how his insurance was controlling his blood passing … and “a barrel of cans”? Maybe she meant “a can of barrels”? Is there even a difference? Regardless, it was always best not to overthink a crazy letter from Grandma.

‘Who garped in the pot?’

My family spends an inordinate amount of time talking about their “bowels.” Always have and always will. Whenever a group of the Indiana kinsfolk gathers, the discussion invariably heads in that direction … usually sooner than later. All it takes is for someone to blurt, “Oh, what a time I’ve had with my bowels!” and suddenly it’s an Activia commercial on steroids. These days, the bowel-fixated standard-bearers are my parents and my Uncle Bernie and Aunt Mae. These are all well-educated people … sitting around talking about their bowels for hours at a time. It’s grotesquely fascinating. But what’s truly scary is that as I get older, I’m beginning to feel I could add something meaningful to the discussion.

If an outsider or two happens into one of these conversations either by choice (their fault) or not (still their fault), it helps to have a working knowledge of the lingo before wading into the conversational cesspool. For example, “pot” is not something you smoke: It’s a universal term for any sort of toilet bowl fixture or a bathroom itself, and you can use it as a noun, verb, adjective, adverb … you name it: “He went to the pot.” “I hav’ta go pot.” “All they had were them porta-potty pots.” A “winder” is an unproductive fart (usually, but not always, a good thing). A “crack” is a loud fart with more treble than bass. “The shoots” is projectile diarrhea. And although “bowels” technically refers to the plumbing south of the stomach, my family uses the word loosely to refer to any (dys)function of the digestive system. So “garp” – a favored word for “puke” or “vomit” – is a bowel issue. Once, at a family gathering, I actually heard the phrase, “All right, who garped in the pot?!!” announced loudly. Thank you, Aunt Mae.

As I mentioned, the family’s current generations are doing a fine job of keeping the bowel-discussion “movement” going. Although they’ve had moments of pure genius – “garped in the pot” was a real pole-raiser – the undisputed potty-mouth champion was Grandma. Here are a few of her many bowel updates. In a previous post, I noted that Grandma’s letters often contained material unsuitable for the dinner table. Well, the following falls firmly into that category – consider yourselves warned. I guess I also should remind you that Grandma was a large woman … she didn’t move very fast. That might help explain a couple of these … maybe.

“Hello Iowa! Mammy want to write so much and take up all your extra time reading, but you know me – I’m loose on both ends.”

______________________

 “I had that pork from Jean’s last night, and I think that’s the darn stuff that gives me the shoots. I woke up this morning with such a headache and after I got up, I started with loose bowels and what a mess. I didn’t make it to the bathroom once in time, and now I’ve got such a backache from cleaning it up.”

______________________

 

“I got my stomach in a heck of a mess. My mouth is so sore from garping, I can’t wear my lowers.”

______________________

 

“Yesterday was my weigh-in day and I lost 6 pounds this time. I told the doctor that wouldn’t of happened if I hadn’t been like a goose for over a week. The doctor said it was a virus, but where in the heck did I pick up a bug like that and why don’t anyone catch it from me? It’s been 10 days and I still can’t trust a winder.”

______________________

 

“I had to get medicine yesterday for my bowels. I’ve had a shitting good time. What a mess. Ran clear down in my shoes.”

Like I said … maybe.

Odd stories and odder observations

My maternal grandmother died Aug. 25, 1984. She was 83. She lived most of her life in a small town in northwest Indiana that was, and probably still is, much like Mayberry from “The Andy Griffith Show.” The Mayberry comparison extended to my grandpa, the town marshal. He was also the fire chief, garbage man, meter reader, mailman and anything else that needed done. Like Sheriff Taylor, he was an affable and polite guy. Grandma was a different story: nothing like any Mayberry character. More like Mama from “The Carol Burnett Show” and “Mama’s Family,” only larger and sassier.

After my parents married in 1954, they settled in northwest Iowa. From then until Grandma died, my mom and my grandma wrote to each other at least monthly. That’s a lot of letters, and Grandma always had an interesting way of putting things.

The day a letter from Grandma arrived was an event in our household. Mom or Dad would often read the letter to us over dinner, which was occasionally a bad idea: In Grandma’s world, no topic was off limits and she delighted in including every stomach-churning detail with certain subjects (usually something to do with her “bowels”).

Fortunately, my dad had the foresight to keep some of her more entertaining letters. “Crazy Letters From Grandma” is a collection of her odd stories and even odder insights over those 30 years.