A redbird christmas, p.1
Table of Contents
The Windy City
Dinner at Eight
The Christmas Dinner
A Small Visitor
Two Men in a Boat
The Big City
At the Hospital
About the Author
Also by Fannie Flagg
FOR JONI, KATE, AND RITA
The Windy City
IT WAS ONLY November sixth but Chicago had just been hit with its second big blizzard of the season, and Mr. Oswald T. Campbell guessed he had stepped in every ice-cold ankle-deep puddle of dirty white slush it was possible to step in, trying to get to his appointment. When he finally arrived, he had used up every cussword in his rather large vocabulary of cusswords, owed in part to his short stint in the army. He was greeted by the receptionist and handed a clipboard.
“We received all your medical records and insurance forms, Mr. Campbell, but Dr. Obecheck likes to have a short personal history of his new patients, so could you please fill this out for us?”
Oh, God, he thought, why do they always make you fill something out? But he nodded cordially and sat down and started.
Name: Oswald T. Campbell
Address: Hotel De Soto, 1428 Lennon Avenue, Chicago, IL
Hair: Some . . . Red
Height: Five feet eight
Weight: 161 pounds
Marital status: Divorced
Children: No, thank God.
Closest living relative: Ex-wife, Mrs. Helen Gwinn, 1457 Hope Street, Lake Forest, IL
Please list your complaints below:
The Cubs need a new second baseman.
There were many more questions to fill out, but he just left them blank, signed his name, and handed it back to the girl.
Later, after his examination was over, as he sat shivering in a freezing room wearing nothing but a backless thin gray cotton gown, a nurse told him to get dressed; the doctor would meet him back in his office. Not only was he chilled to the bone and sore from just having been probed and prodded in many rude places, but now, to make matters worse, when he tried to put his shoes and socks back on they were still ice cold and sopping wet. He tried to wring the excess water out of his socks and managed to drip dye all over the floor. It was then he noticed that the dye from his socks had stained his feet a nice dark blue. “Oh, great!” he muttered to himself. He threw the socks in the trash basket and squished down the hall in cold wet leather shoes.
As he sat in the office waiting, he was bored and uncomfortable. There was nothing to read and he couldn’t smoke because he had lied to the doctor and told him he had given it up. He wiggled his toes, trying to get them warm, and glanced around the room. Everywhere he looked was gray. It was gray outside the office window and gray inside the office. Would it kill them to paint the walls a different color? The last time he had been at the VA hospital, a woman had come in and given a talk on how colors affect the mood. What idiot would pick gray? He hated going to doctors anyway, but his insurance company required him to have a physical once a year so some new bozo could tell him what he already knew. The doctor he had just seen was at least friendly and had laughed at a few of his jokes, but now he just wished the guy would hurry up. Most of the doctors they sent him to were old and ready to retire or just starting out and in need of guinea pigs to practice on. This one was old. Seventy or more, he guessed. Maybe that’s why he was taking so long. Gray walls, gray rug, gray gown, gray doctor.
Finally, the door opened and the doctor came in with his test results. Oswald said, “So, Doc, will I be able to run in the Boston Marathon again this year?”
This time the doctor ignored Oswald’s attempt to be humorous and sat down at his desk, looking rather somber.
“Mr. Campbell,” he said, “I’m not too happy about what I have to tell you. I usually like to have a family member present at a time like this. I see you have listed your ex-wife as immediate family. Would you like to call and see if she can come in?”
Oswald suddenly stopped wiggling his toes and paid attention. “No, that’s all right. Is there a problem?”
“I’m afraid so,” he said, as he opened his folder. “I’ve checked and rechecked your charts and records. I even called in another associate from down the hall, a pulmonary specialist, to consult, but unfortunately he agreed with my diagnosis. Mr. Campbell, I’m going to tell it to you straight. In your present condition you won’t live through another Chicago winter. You need to get out of here to a milder climate as soon as possible, because if you don’t—well, frankly, I’m not sure I would give you till Christmas.”
“Huh?” Oswald said, as if he were thinking it over. “Is that right?”
“Yes, it is. I’m sorry to report that since your last checkup the emphysema has progressed to the critical stage. Your lungs were already badly damaged and scarred from the childhood tuberculosis. Add all the years of heavy smoking and chronic bronchitis, and I’m afraid all it would take is one bad cold going into another bout of pneumonia.”
“Is that right? Huh,” Oswald said again. “That doesn’t sound too good.”
The doctor closed his folder and leaned forward on his desk, looked him right in the eye, and said, “No, it doesn’t. In all honesty, Mr. Campbell, considering the alarming rapidity with which this condition has advanced, even with you going to a better climate, the most optimistic prognosis I can give you is a year . . . maybe two.”
“You’re kidding,” said Oswald.
He shook his head. “No, I’m afraid not. At this stage, the emphysema is a strain on your heart and all your other organs. It’s not just the lungs that are affected. Now, I’m not telling you this to scare you, Mr. Campbell; I only tell you so you have time to make the appropriate plans. Get your estate in order.”
As stunned as he was at the news, Oswald almost laughed out loud at the word estate. He had never had more than two hundred and fifty dollars in the bank in his entire life.
The doctor continued. “Believe me, I wish the diagnosis had been better.” And the doctor meant it. He hated having to hand out bad news. He had just met Mr. Campbell, but he had liked the personable little guy at once. “Are you sure you don’t need me to call anyone for you?”
“No, that’s all right.”
“How will this news affect your future plans, Mr. Campbell?”
Oswald looked up at him. “Pretty damn adversely, I would say, wouldn’t you?”
The doctor was sympathetic. “Well, yes, of course. I just wondered what your future plans may have been.”
“I didn’t have anything in particular in mind . . . but I sure as hell hadn’t planned on this.”
“No, of course not.”
“I knew I wasn’t the picture of health, but I didn’t think I was headed for the last roundup.”
“Well, as I said, you need to get out of Chicago as soon as you can, somewhere with as little pollution as possible.”
Oswald looked puzzled. “But Chicago is my home. I wouldn’t know where else to go.”
“Do you have any friends living somewhere else—Florida? Arizona?”
“No, everybody I know is h
“Ah . . . and I assume you are on a limited budget.”
“Yeah, that’s right. I just have my disability pension.”
“Uh-huh. I suppose Florida might be too expensive this time of year.”
Never having been there, Oswald said, “I would imagine.”
The doctor sighed and leaned back in his chair, trying to think of some way to be of help. “Well, let’s see. . . . Wait a minute, there was a place my father used to send all his lung patients, and as I remember the rates were pretty reasonable.” He looked at Oswald as if he knew. “What was the name of that place? It was close to Florida. . . .” The doctor suddenly remembered something and stood up. “You know what? I’ve still got all his old files in the other room. Let me go and see if by any chance I can find that information for you.”
Oswald stared at the gray wall. Leave Chicago? He might as well leave the planet.
It was already dark and still freezing cold when Oswald left the office. As he rounded the corner at the Wrigley Building, the wind from the river hit him right in the face and blew his hat off. He turned and watched it flip over and over until it landed upside down in the gutter and began to float like a boat on down the block. Oh, the hell with it, he thought, until the frigid air blew through what little hair he did have left and his ears started to ache, so he decided to run after it. When he finally caught the hat and put it back on his head he realized he was now wearing wet shoes with no socks, a wet hat, and he had just missed his bus. By the time another bus finally came, he was completely numb from the cold plus the shock of the news he had just received. As he sat down, his eye caught the advertisement above his seat for Marshall Field’s department store: MAKE THIS THE BEST CHRISTMAS EVER. START YOUR CHRISTMAS SHOPPING EARLY THIS YEAR. It suddenly dawned on him that, in his case, he had better start early and it might already be too late. According to the doctor, if he did live to see it, this Christmas could be his last.
Not that Christmas had ever meant much to him, but still it was a strange thought. As he sat there trying to comprehend the world without him, the bus jerked and lurched in short spurts all the way down State Street, now packed with bumper-to-bumper rush-hour traffic and loud with the angry sounds of the blaring horns of frustrated people. As more passengers began to crowd onto the bus, they weren’t in such a good mood either. One woman glared at Oswald and said to her friend, “Gentlemen used to get up and give a lady a seat.” He thought to himself, Lady, if I could get up, I would, but he still couldn’t feel his legs.
After about five minutes, when he could begin to move his fingers, he reached in his pocket and pulled out the brochure the doctor had given him. On the front page was a photograph of what looked to be a large hotel, but it was hard to make out. The brochure was faded and looked as if it had water damage, but the print underneath was still legible:
THE WOODBOUND HOTEL
THE SUNNY SOUTH
UNDER NEW MANAGEMENT
Horace P. Dunlap
Formerly of Gibson House, Cincinnati, Ohio
Deep in the southernmost part of Alabama, along the banks of a lazy winding river, lies the sleepy little community known as Lost River, a place that time itself seems to have forgotten.
This pleasant health resort sits nestled between Perdido and Mobile bays, in the subtropical district, especially adapting it for a winter home. To the south lies the Gulf of Mexico, the soft breezes from which seem at all times to temper the climate. The near presence of a large body of salt water furnishes an atmosphere charged with ozone, chlorine, and other life-giving constituents. Instead of the barren bleakness of the northern winter, there is the luxurious warmth and color of the Southern Clime, where a gloomy day is the exception and where the azure sky and a wealth of sunshine rule. This section of the country, when in the possession of the Spaniards, was called “The Charmed Belt.”
Many a consumptive, rheumatic, nervous, worn-out, and overworked person has found health and a new lease on life by spending a few months in this region; the influence of the saline breezes from the Gulf will bring you a good sharp appetite even if you have not enjoyed a meal for years. It is the ideal spot for complete recreation and rest from the hustle-bustle whirl of society and the noise of the city. It will quiet your nervous system no matter how badly it may be wrecked. As a winter resort, the climate is all that could be desired and the crystal springwater found everywhere cannot be beat. “I would call the entire region one of the garden spots of America,” says Dr. Mark Obecheck of Chicago.
Oswald guessed that must have been his doctor’s father. He turned the page and as the bus jerked along he read further.
COMMENTS FROM WINTER VISITORS
Dear Mr. Dunlap,
We so enjoyed the fishing and boating and the pleasant walks in the dense pine woods. The sweet songs of the mockingbird at early morn, the fragrance and balmy air as it drifted into our rooms.
Mr. S. Simms, Chicago, Illinois
Another faded photo captioned: RIVER VIEW FROM THE LARGE VERANDA. He turned the page.
“I fled from the North, from blizzard, frost and snow
To see the Sunny South where sweet and balmy breezes blow.”
(A poem by Mrs. Deanne Barkley of Chicago, inspired by a recent winter visit)
Another faded photo: MR. L. J. GRODZIKI AND HIS CATCH OF FINE FISH.
A FISHERMAN’S PARADISE!
Game fish are plentiful here in our southern waters. The following is a partial list of the varieties: redfish, silver and speckled trout, pike, flounder, croakers, mullet, brim, perch, catfish, gar, and tarpon (sometimes called the silver king). Oysters, shrimp, and clams abound.
Another faded photo was captioned A GROUP OF CHICAGO GENTLEMEN ENJOYING A GOOD SMOKE AFTER AN OYSTER BAKE.
Oswald turned the page and there was a photo he could not make out: A ROSEBUSH UNDER WHICH THIRTY PEOPLE CAN STAND COMFORTABLY!
As he approached his bus stop he put the booklet back in his pocket and wondered who in the hell would want to stand under a rosebush with thirty other people, comfortably or not?
When he reached the De Soto Apartment Hotel for Men, where he had lived for the past eight years, a few of the guys were down in the lobby looking at the TV. They waved at him. “How did it go?”
“Terrible,” he said, blowing his nose. “I may be dead before Christmas.”
They all laughed, thinking he was joking, and went back to watching the news.
“No, I’m serious,” he said. “The doctor said I’m in terrible shape.”
He stood there waiting for some reaction, but they weren’t paying any attention and he was too tired to argue the point. He went upstairs to his room, took a bath, put on his pajamas, and sat down in his chair. He lit a cigarette and looked out at the blue neon Pabst Blue Ribbon beer sign in the window of his favorite neighborhood bar across the street. Damn, he thought. At a time like this, a man ought to be able to have a drink. But a year ago another doctor had informed him that his liver was shot and if he took one more drink it would kill him. But so what? Now that he was going to die anyway, drinking himself to death might not be such a bad idea after all. It would be fast anyway, and at least he could have a few laughs before he checked out.
He toyed with the idea of getting dressed and heading across the street, but he didn’t. He had promised his ex-wife, Helen, he’d stay sober and he would hate to disappoint her again, so he just sat there and tried his best to feel sorry for himself. He had had bad luck from the get-go. He had contracted his first bout of tuberculosis when he was eight, along with 75 percent of the other boys at St. Joseph’s Home for Boys, and had been in and out of hospitals fighting chronic bronchitis and pneumonia all his life. Being an orphan, he had never known who he was or where he had come from. Whoever left him on the church steps that night left no clues, nothing except the basket he came in and a can of Campbell’s soup. He had no idea what h
But it had not been just the drinking. Nothing had come easy to him. School, sports, or girls. He had never been able to keep a job for long, and even the army had released him early with a medical discharge. It seemed to Oswald that everyone else had come into this world with a set of instructions but him. From the beginning he had always felt like a pair of white socks and brown shoes in a roomful of tuxedos. He had never really gotten a break in life, and now it was all over.
After about an hour of trying to work up as much sympathy for himself as he possibly could, he suddenly realized that despite all of his efforts, he wasn’t all that upset! At least not as upset as a man should be who had just been handed his walking papers. The real truth was, the only two things he would really miss when he checked out were the Cub games and Helen, unfortunately in that order, one of the reasons for their divorce in the first place.
In all honesty, Helen was probably the only one who would really miss him. Although she was remarried with two kids, she was still the person closest to him. He used to go over to her house for dinner quite a bit, but not so much anymore. The new husband was somewhat of a jerk and her two kids had grown from obnoxious young boys into whiny and obnoxious teenagers, who did nothing but give her grief. He couldn’t go there anymore without wanting to strangle one or both, so he just didn’t go. You can’t tell other people how to raise their kids, especially since the other reason for the divorce was because she wanted kids and he didn’t. Having spent the first seventeen years of his life in a room with five hundred other screaming and yelling kids, he had had enough of children to last him a lifetime. Still, despite the apparent apathy he felt about his own imminent demise and not knowing the correct protocol for this sort of thing, he supposed he should tell someone about his prognosis. He guessed he should tell Helen at least. But after thinking about it a little longer, he wondered why tell her? Given the kind of woman she was, an ex-nurse and a nice person, if she knew how sick he was she would probably insist on his coming to live with them so she could take care of him. Why put her through that? Why worry her? She didn’t deserve it. He had caused her enough trouble already. She had enough problems of her own, and besides there were those teenagers.
A Redbird Christmas by Fannie Flagg / Humor have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes