The California Clerk with the Texas Twang

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“Your husband called while you were away from your desk. He asked that you not go home with the carpool. He’s waiting downstairs to pick you up.”

 

Now, I would like to boast that I was working at some high level writing job in downtown San Francisco. But since one of my early job interviews ended in my being dismissed by a pat on the head (you think I’m joking), I was working instead as a ward clerk at St. Mary’s Hospital, across from Golden Gate Park.

 

In order to clear up any misunderstanding as to the nature of this job, let me clarify by quoting from my job description.

 

“Ward clerk”: a critical, yet demeaning position on a hospital floor by which a low-life is selected to achieve various assignments including cataloging charts, directing telecommunication calls, and deciphering the hieroglyphics with which physicians make notes. Because everyone that walks the halls of this hospital will be ranked higher in importance than said ward clerk, this capacity will also include but is not limited to bearing all fault surrounding lapses in the Hippocratic Oath.

 

I must have been quite good at this job, not only because I was often the brunt of someone’s bad day, but also because my phone rang more than most unit secretaries in that particular hospital.

 

For the benefit of those you that still wear shower caps, let me explain. I’d been raised in Texas on a dry land cotton farm where everyone I knew pronounced “I” as flat as the plains around them. I grew up fixin’ to do thangs on my calindr and fixin’ sweet tay for supper. When someone got upset we told them to not get their pannies in a wad, and when someone got outta line we called them “ring-tailed tooters” (properly pronounced “rang-tayld tooders”). Everyone knew someone in their life that was “weirder than a football bat” and it had never occurred to me that I didn’t “tawk liahk” everybody else.

 

Until California that is. You see, I didn’t speak San Franciscan.

 

Once word spread within the hospital that a “foreigner” was answering the Transitory Care Unit extension, I kept quite busy fielding calls.

 

“Tee-Cee-You,” I’d answer. “Thiyus is Kanyundee.” It seems that other areas of the building didn’t have as much work as I did as these calls often ended in hysterical laughter and a dial tone. You’d think an important place like this could keep busy doing facial peels and hemorrhoid surgeries.

 

And then there was the translation of the doctors notes. I swear their handwriting looked more like great swarms of insects in the house of Pharaoh than anything actually containing the alphabet. I learned very quickly that “code blue” and “cold or flu” were not easily distinguished in manuscript, yet greatly differed in ministration.

 

It had been one of those days. I’d been as busy as a funeral home fan in July and I felt like I’d been rode hard and put up wet. It was at this time that I discovered Mark was waiting for me in the lobby.

 

Within minutes, I’d joined him downstairs and I could tell by his smirk that something was up. Even though we’d only been married a year, I could deduce that he was there for something more than just the thrill of driving ninety minutes in 5:00 rush traffic.

 

“You’ve been working so hard lately, I thought it might be good to get out of town,” he smiled. And with that, he pointed to three large suitcases in the back of our van, all of which he had packed himself with me in mind (meaning of course, that he could have no idea what a woman would actually need on a weekend get-away and therefore had emptied my entire toiletry drawer into one suitcase and my complete summer collection into the other two —it worked quite well, I must say).

 

Taking the coastal route, I felt my blood pressure ease as we followed California Highway One past Half Moon Bay and Pigeon Point Lighthouse. I sat in silence taking in the driftwood, sandy beaches, and sheer cliffs that plunged headlong into the Pacific ocean. Upon arrival in Santa Cruz, we pulled into a little motel complete with geraniums hanging in giant baskets outside every window.

 

The place wasn’t spectacular. It didn’t have to be. The view made up for it. We walked the beach and took in the salty air. I spoke Texan all weekend and don’t remember anyone laughing at me. I do remember doing plenty of it myself. We both realized how easy it is to carry the stress of work-life into the home. That weekend we resolved to getaway regularly and made it a budgeted item throughout our married life.

 

Yes, I still remember those three days and two nights. Something about those winds coming off the ocean lifted my spirits. Come to think of it, those geraniums are probably the reason I now keep so many in my front yard every summer.

 

Yup. I’m pretty sure I came home as happy as a tornado in a trailer park.

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Mark and I somewhere along the way – California 1982.

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