The Surgeon, the Strip Club, and the Month of January

Ellie, my own sweet girl — We got to see you at Thanksgiving and Christmas both this year. Even in those three weeks in between, we could see so many changes in you — more focus, better head control, a fascination with your own hands.

It’s hard not to see you now or to know when we’ll see you next. When I think of you, it feels like a soft ache in my heart. We’ll probably be racking up the frequent-flier miles again this year, assuming your parents don’t change the locks on your house and my credit card doesn’t get canceled.


But it’s January now, and that means life goes back to everyday business. For you, approaching five months, that means you’ll be sitting up soon. For me, at 66 years (don’t think I’ll be calculating the months), that means minor medical procedures. Namely, lounging in a dermatologist’s chair for hours and getting a couple of facial moles taken off.

Again, it’s minor — but also a bit unpleasant and time-consuming. Worse, after two procedures, I’ll have three black eyes in the month of January. There’s never a good time to schedule three black eyes, but January is as good a time as any. I plan to wear my new sunglasses a lot, which will make me look either glamorous or hung-over (I think I know which).

How do you handle this kind of minor unpleasantness in life? I mean, handle it well so people don’t start crossing the street when they see you coming? I think about that a lot as I age and the minor aggravations mount up. (If you’re lucky, they’re minor — but let’s stick to that now.)

Five years ago, the last time I had a facial mole whacked off and sported one black eye, Opa said I looked like I’d had a fencing accident. I liked that. It sounded so much better than the paltry truth, which was that I’d probably spent too much unprotected time in the sun and now it was payback time.

We do this a lot, Opa and I, concocting funny stories whenever possible. If we can come up with an amusing narrative, we go for it every time for as long as we can. It diverts us and makes us laugh and makes us feel like we’re in control. The worse the situation, the harder we try.

Once, 20 years ago, we were in a hospital room in Dallas. We were waiting for the surgeon to tell us about my pathology report. The surgeon hadn’t wanted to talk to me while I was by myself; he wanted to time it for when Opa was there — and that seemed ominous. Waiting can be awful at a time like that. I was so scared, I was sick to my stomach.

So Opa and I sat around and talked and talked and talked. We decided that the surgeon, Dr. K, had been so depressed about my pathology report that he had gone out to get drunk. He was now at a bar, where he’d made a pass at a stripper. The stripper’s boyfriend had taken great offense and had punched Dr. K in the face. Dr. K was now crawling on the floor of the strip joint, bleeding and trying to find his glasses. A drunk cowboy stepped on his glasses and broke them.


Opa and I went on and on, talking and laughing and trying to top each other. Thinking back, I can see the raucous, outrageous scene in the bar that we made up. I can also see Dr. K’s face, with his intact glasses and no blood anywhere, when he finally got to the hospital room. He looked somber and sober, because he had bad news to tell us — they’d found three positive lymph nodes.

A few days later, I told Dr. K about how we’d imagined that whole wild scene in the bar while we were waiting for him. He looked at me strangely and said, “That’s not right. I was in surgery the whole time.”

He never quite got it, but that was OK. It was Opa’s and my story, not his, and we’d needed it at the time. Funny stories can’t change pathology reports, but they can briefly ease your mind and and make you laugh and feel like you’re in control when you desperately need it. Sometimes, you just need to fly and leave the earth behind you.

You’ll find your own way through difficult experiences, I know. But this is what’s helped me, and I wanted to tell you about it. I love you, CocoXO

P.S. Just calculated, and I’m 792 months old.

P.S.S. Wear your sunscreen, darlin’.



  1. Brette · January 4, 2016

    Best of luck with the surgeries Ruth. My husband and I do this kind of silliness too. Because the alternative is screwing yourself into the ground with worry so it’s just much better to laugh at something, anything!

  2. Sheryl · January 4, 2016

    What a treat, to “sit in” on your conversations with your precious granddaughter. Wishing you luck with your Mohs surgery (no fun!) and fun with your attempts at making light of it 🙂

  3. Jane Boursaw · January 4, 2016

    Honestly, I don’t know what Tim and I would do if we didn’t both have a pretty good sense of humor. I’m sure we’d both be curled up in a fetal position somewhere dark and quiet. Humor gets us through this weird, wild world.

  4. Melanie · January 4, 2016

    I hope they are fully huge Audrey Hepburn-style glamour sunglasses. Go big or go home.

  5. Chris · January 4, 2016

    I first want to mention that I have really been enjoying your new posts, even though I do not have children or grandchildren. Your writing is so entertaining and meaningful for all ages. I especially enjoyed your most recent story, which was a wonderful reminder of a good coping mechanism. Ironically, I read your story on the day I had been to the dermatology and was awaiting results. I hope your dermatology visits are soon over.

  6. merr · January 4, 2016

    Yes…wear your sunscreen or rather sunblock! Great post.

  7. Roxanne · January 4, 2016

    Such a great strategy to make up stories like this to entertain yourself at such times. We do something similar. Like asking our geriatric dog who died Tuesday to get us the winning PowerBall numbers. It’s the same request we’ve made 3 times now, to 3 dying dogs. So far, none of them have come through for us … but it makes us giggle at a time when giggling is the last thing we feel like doing.

  8. OMG, you had ME almost in tears with that story. What a way to pass the time while waiting for that doctor and his reaction was just as funny as the story! I love your posts to your granddaughter, Ruth. How lucky she is.