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The Idle American
"When Readers Feel Tatooed..."
Wednesday, February 5, 2014 • Posted February 5, 2014

When this column first saw day’s light almost 11 years ago, the handful of editors running it decided “commentary” would be an apt description of the weekly ramblings. I could have held out for “satirist,” I guess, but in either case, when readers go “comment-hunting”--or seeking satire--they’re apt to find one or the other.

Frequently, writings include the goings-on of relatives--some blood kin, others imagined, the latter living in mythical places.

This piece centers on my 101-year-old Uncle Mort’s recent participation at Poverty Squat School’s “Semi-Decade” Homecoming Reunion. A 1928 graduate, he and Myrtle Bell Southern are the only two alumni left from a senior class of 16 members….

    *****

In recent years, their classmates have been “falling faster’n flies,” Mort says. He and Myrtle Belle decided to proceed with the “reunion,” despite their being the only two alumni remaining “on the top side of the grass.”

It commenced at the smallest table--a “two-seater”--in a tiny eating joint located so far back in the thicket nobody passes it going to town.

Retired in Granbury, Myrtle Belle—two months younger than Mort—rode the bus to East Texas. She hopped up on his golf cart, and off they went to “The Squeeze-In.” He ordered a cheeseburger “all the way,” and she took one dry, well done, no onions. Relieved at her insistence that she “get the check,” he decided to let her do most of the talking. Five years earlier, with six alumni gathered ‘round the largest table, he’d “led the gab.” Is anyone surprised?....

    *****

She was in a “tell-all” kind of mood, admitting to “extreme insecurity” as she “bumbled” through school. She blamed much of it on her parents. “My mother, with the maiden name of ‘Bell,’ wanted to have a hyphenated married name,” she said. “You know, Hattie May Bell-Southern. Daddy wouldn’t hear to it, but agreed that if they had a daughter, Mom could have ‘Bell’ in the name, but with an ‘e’ at the end, of course.”

In first grade, her face reddened when the teacher called out alphabetized students’ last names. Just imagine: “Southern, Belle.” Snickers always erupted. “There’ve been lots of reasons for others to laugh,” she said.

“Later, they called me ‘Ma Bell.’ I was ready just to try my MSB initials, but that sound too much like a broadcasting network. So there we were, one wall telephone on a party line and one battery-powered radio.”….

    *****

She asked Uncle Mort if he remembered her excellence in playground volleyball. “It’s the only thing I ever did at school that I was any good at.”

Though quite small, she was “lightning quick,” soon earning a nickname—“The Hummer”—for her dipping, setting, bumping, blocking, spiking and such. Mort asked if anyone still calls her “Hummer.”

“Heavens, no,” she countered. “Way too much has changed in 85 years. ‘Humdrum’ would fit now.”…

    *****

That prompted her next question. “Do you recall that I was the first East Texas girl to sport a tattoo?” Yep, Mort remembered; could anyone forget?

Since volleyball had brought her out of her shell, she made a “sophomoric” decision to get a tattoo atop her left shoulder. Inscribed were two tiny figures—a humming bird and a volleyball. She was forever pushing back her sleeve when classmates wanted to take a “look-see.”

Mort asked if he could “get a gander” now. His request got a quick, “not-in-a-million-years” response….

    *****

“I was happy to show it off in high school,” Myrtle Belle said. “But that was then—four score and five years ago, for those keeping score.”

She said for the full effect now, she’d have to be “flattened out, since the art work has, uh, expanded. Now, it looks like Big Bird and a beach ball.”

How time flies! Their high noon meeting was about to crowd supper time. The diner operator cleared his throat several times, asking them if “there’d be anything else.” They paid no attention, too busy laughing about what classmates might have called her had her initials been “AT&T.” Finally, they hurriedly left, headed for the bus station on his golf cart, it leaning to Myrtle Belle’s side. They “good-byed,” vowing to meet up there again in 2019….

    *****

Dr. Newbury is a speaker in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. Speaking inquiries/comments to: newbury@speakerdoc.com. Phone: 817-447-3872. Website: www.speakerdoc.com. Twitter: @donnewbury.

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