Turning around to face the showerhead, I stood before the knobs and laughed. It felt so good to be back in my own home after all of those weeks away. Certainly, I knew that the Tame hadn’t caused the chain that began a health crisis for me, but the entire lengthy episode had begun with that one memorable Saturday-morning reach for the bottle.* I interrupted my reminiscing with a reminder that I’d better get with the program; I didn’t want to be late my first day back at work.
“Welcome back!” and “How ya feeling’,” greeted me as I crossed the threshold into the hospital. Though not even a dozen steps, the climb had left me a bit winded.
“I’m fine, thanks. I’m puffing like an old steam engine after the climb up those steps, though. Guess I should’ve used the staircase instead of the elevator in the big city hospital, huh?”
“Being younger doesn’t mean more fit; that’s for sure,” laughed an elderly patient from the visitor’s area near the front door.
We all laughed with her, but I secretly vowed to make a point of hitting the stairs up to my office and down to the dining room frequently in these first days to get back in shape. I’d laughed because she had hit the nail squarely on the head. How would it look if the youngest member of the staff had trouble scaling the stairs when even the elderly patients didn’t?
It felt great to be seated at my desk again. Even the stack of “Call” slips Lillian had set right in the middle of the recently-polished wooden desk didn’t diminish my joy.
One-by-one I worked my way through the bookkeeper’s notices that now required a telephone call reminder to pay the over-due hospital bill. The last one for the day dialed, I waited for the Deputy Sheriff to pick up.
“Walker**, over at the County Sheriff’s office,” said the gruff voice at the end of the line.
“Yes, hello Deputy. This is Hawley over at the County Hospital Administrator’s office.” I thought perhaps a bit of levity might serve to lighten my message to him.
His growl suggested that he may have been expecting the call. “Yeah. What can I do ya for Hawley?”
“Well, deputy, they’ve got me phoning folks whose hospital bill may have slipped their minds. I’ve heard your baby is really keeping you up with that teething, so you might be considering bringing her back instead of paying your bill, but the OB Department here has a no-return policy, so you’ll need to make those over-due payments,” I said, still shooting for a bit of lighthearted humor to soften the tension.
“Oh yeah? I heard you been callin’ around and I figured you get to me sooner or later. Yeah, I know I’m behind in the payments. Kid doesn’t just fuss about teeth, you know. She’s costing’ me what I’d pay to feed a heifer in winter, she is.”
I laughed and said, “Girls are like that Deputy and I’m afraid it’s only going to get worse the older she gets.” His gruff guffaw gave me courage. “So, would you please come on over and give Lillian the back payments—at least, one , two, or as many as you can—so she doesn’t ask me to call you again on this?”
“Yeah, okay, I’ll be over sometime tomorrow. Anything else on your mind, or do ya have someone else to harass before quittin’time?”
“Nope, I saved the best ‘til last, Deputy. I’m done for the day. Have a good evening.”
“Same to ya then. Bye.” He said and I heard the loud drop of the receiver hitting the cradle on the old desk phone.
“Well, that went better than I’d been warned,” I said, easing into the padded chair back. “Now, if he’ll just pay the darn thing.”
By afternoon the following day, I’d finished all of my calls. Folks had already been stopping by to make payments, so the bookkeeper was one happy camper. I hadn’t yet experienced any kind of negative backlash, but one was in the works.
I’d been invited to lunch at a friend’s house. The gravel road approached the area of the schools, but I knew that her street turned before actually reaching the 15-mph area. Even-so, realizing the Deputy might just be extra-careful about speeders along that road, I slowed from the last posted 25-mph to a slightly slower 22-mph—just to be sure there’d be no problem.
Close to ninety seconds later, I heard the siren and saw the flashing lights in my rearview mirror. Naturally, I pulled over to let the Deputy have a clear access to the road which would take him to whatever emergency he had up ahead.
Instead of passing my stationary vehicle, however, the Deputy stopped his cruiser right behind my Chrysler. In my rearview mirror, I caught sight of him leaving his car, heading for mine and froze.
Alongside my window, the Deputy signaled for me to roll down my window. I complied, smiling. “What’s the trouble, Deputy?”
“License and registration, please.”
“Why? What did I do? I wasn’t going even the 25-mph posted; I had 22-mph right here on my panel. Did you have me going faster than that?”
“Noe. That’s ex-a-a-actly right. I clocked you doing twenty-two in a 20-mph area. So, you admit it then. Good.”
“Twenty? There’s no sign that says the speed drops to 20-mph before this road intersects with that street,” I said pointing to the gravel street about fifteen feet ahead of where we’d pulled off the road.
“Yes, there is a sign back there. You didn’t heed that change-of-speed sign. I’ll have to give you a speeding ticket.” His smile turned up the heat I’d be feeling.
I opened the car door and said, “Show me. Just show me the sign, Deputy. I’ve never ever seen a 20-mph sign on this road and I drive it all the time.” He held the door, smiling as he let me leave the driver’s seat.
“Come with me; I’ll show you. Never seen it, huh? So, you probably broke the law more than once then; but I’ll let you off with just this one ticket since I never caught you before today.”
My cowboy boots kicked up gravel as I kept up with the long strides of the Deputy. We stopped in front of a hedge I’d noticed next to the road. The man reached up and pulled back a few long branches of the tall hedge. His hand thumped the dirty sign. “Right here—the sign. Read the number, please.”
“You’ve got to be kidding? No one can see that sign!”
“No one needs to see the sign. Everyone knows it’s there, so why bother to disturb the hedge. Folks around here all know it’s a 20-mph zone. Least-wise everyone but you.” His grin and the underlying “outsider” message were so obvious that it made me laugh.
I turned and walked back to my car at a healthy clip. The Deputy followed, resting his ticket book on top of the car as he closed the driver’s door behind me.
Taking the pad up, he began to copy the details of my license onto the ticket. He tore it off and handed the ticket to me through the still-open window.
“You just go on over to the courthouse tomorrow and pay that speeding ticket, so they don’t ask me to call you on this, okay?” He slapped the ticket booklet in the palm of his hand, grinning all the while.
I shook my head, recognizing the echo of my words to him earlier in the week. I laughed right out loud and said I would be more careful next time. In fact, I never exceeded the hedge-covered limit again. (The Deputy had already begun to make his hospital payments, so “All’s well that ends well,” right?)
Rural America—you just gotta love it! The people are among the friendliest you’ll find anywhere on this earth. Sometimes I think that the challenges outsiders experience are just the locals’ way of adding a bit of color to the routine of rural living. I loved my time there, and never got another speeding ticket.
*Read start of the crisis thread here: Saturday Crisis