November 13, 2014
I’ve been on a binge.
Nooo ... Not that kind of binge, a cleaning binge, and it’s way overdue. My spare room (formerly my office) has turned into a quagmire of unused stuff. I was sorting through a large manila envelope of records and correspondence the other day and was about to throw away its contents without looking when something tugged at me to at least make sure there was nothing of importance about to be discarded.
Inside the envelope I found a legal size envelope addressed to me in the late John Tucker, Jr.’s handwriting with the return address of Focus Newspaper. Seeing my name written in his hand brought back so many fond memories of my time of employment under his wing. I held it for a moment just looking at his penmanship. I certainly was fond of that guy. And, I still am! He taught me more in five years than I could have learned in a lifetime of hours in a newsroom.
Tucker & Sara Mawyer, hard at work in the 1980s
Slowly I began to remember how this envelope and its contents came to be in my possession. One day way, way back in 1997, Tucker called to say he had received an envelope with a note attached, asking that he pass it on to me. “Do you want me to send it to you?” he asked. “Geesh,” I thought, “there is no telling what might be sealed inside.” Believe me, I encountered many interesting situations and people while on staff at the paper. I said, “Yeah, sure, send it my way.”
The next day the letter arrived, sealed and untouched, within Tucker’s envelope. I had not been a full time member of the Focus staff for 7 years when I got this piece of correspondence and now, years later, I’ve rediscovered it.
Allow me, dear readers, to share this item with you. It bears witness to what is now a long history of the paper and my employment there. The person who sent this letter had mailed it to Focus with a note dated March 13, 1997. “Dear Sirs,” it said, “This envelope contains a note of thanks for Ms. Sara Mawyer, former editor of Focus, following her excellent 20th anniversary column in last week’s issue. Would you please forward this on to Ms. Mawyer, it would be most appreciated. (For the record, Father Tucker, as he was sometimes known, was the only “sir” to ever grace the place.)
I opened the letter and began to read:
Relax, this isn’t one of ‘those’ type letters, the kind most ladies dread the thought of. True, I haven’t signed my name because you wouldn’t know who I am anyway. Instead Sara, I am complimenting you for your recent column which appeared in Focus. Your writing about events and policies of the paper during the past 20 years brought back a lot of memories for me. Granted the typical male Focus reader probably isn’t the most likely person to put his thoughts on paper, therefore, I probably speak for quite a few others also.
Focus has been sort of “required” reading” for me almost from the first issue. Along with the Wall Street Journal, Barrons, The Charlotte Business Journal and even a couple of high brow locally grown newspapers, I pick up a copy of what a Hickory Daily Record columnist once called ‘that little sucker’ every week.
Early editions of the paper remain a favorite with me. Certainly you remember the sniping and quarreling publisher John Tucker carried on with Charles Deal, owner of the Hickory News shortly after starting Focus. For a while they were more fun than any comic strip. If you recall Focus during the early days published what were supposedly long letters from readers. Those things were a riot also. One letter I remember very well was from some woman who was all over the case of a man with whom she had ended a long term relationship. She began running down his pickup truck. Plus, his scraping every morsel of food from the plate while dining out was raked over. Eating then sex, more sex, followed by eating, she went on. Finally, she railed about his dressing habits. A plastic-coated white belt, inside pants so tight everyone could make out the outline of his (insert word here), she added!
During the past 15 years or so I have noticed few changes within the paper itself, aside from the addition of more advertising. I subscribe to a couple of “alternative” publications similar to Focus from other areas of North Carolina. The Independent based in the Durham - Chapel Hill section is one. Quite frankly, after reading that paper with its heavy editorial style I wonder how Tucker has survived, thrived even, with such a limited writing staff. As the saying goes “it’s hard to argue with success” obviously he must be doing something correctly.
You mentioned now keeping your legs covered with worn blue jeans. Sara, what a shame! That story brought a smile to my face when I remembered something from the past. No doubt you have erased this from your memory, however, back during the early 1980’s you wrote of the difficulty you were having while walking along the then newly paved with brick sidewalks of Union Plaza. Seems your high heels were sinking into the cracks making every step a new adventure. You asked if perhaps something could be done about the situation. As so happened a few days later I was walking past the Carolina Theater where a tall, most attractive blonde stepped onto the sidewalk a few feet in front of me. We continued on until she entered Focus “Towers,” I, all the while admiring what had to be the most attractive set of “wheels” I had seen in ages. That must be Sara Mawyer I remember thinking to myself. Without knowing it you made my day. Terry Presnell, the ex Focus staffer who later turned up at the Hickory News, ran a survey before he left town. He asked for nominations from his infamous “lettuce awards” days for great men around Hickory. Those lettuce awards were some silliness I never understood, nevertheless, I nominated John Tucker, then listed his qualifications. For some reason that wasn’t mentioned again.
In closing, I’ll say I can’t help wondering where the past 20 years have gone so quickly. You probably at times feel somewhat the same. With the passage of another 20 people our age we’ll be looking at, well, the end of the road I suppose. So far it’s been a hell of a ride. Sara, again, I appreciate your bringing a little freshness and a lot of joy into what can sometimes be a pretty dull town.
Best of luck to both yourself and your family during the coming years.
Well, Mr. Anonymous, whoever you are, I certainly did appreciate your letter. It was a nice little recap of the newspaper’s history. It’s 17 years later since I received it and, GADS, I certainly hope I’m not looking at the end of the road. I distinctly remember the column I wrote about getting my high heels stuck in the cracks between the brick in the sidewalks, as I spent a good portion of my time with bloodied knees from having tripped and fallen because of it. And, well, if you are still reading Focus, I really hate to break this to you but I have never been tall, nor blonde. That woman you saw walking into Focus wasn’t me. There were, however, a couple of very lovely young ladies who worked there who were blondes. I stand at 5 feet, 2 inches and my hair is auburn (most of the time).
Seven years after receiving this letter Tucker passed away. One of his greatest qualities was allowing his staff to be creative without tight editorial control. Sometimes we were a raucous bunch and he would reign us in by walking through the building loudly telling us to break up the Tupperware party. He was a smart-witted individual with a vision that was far ahead of his time. As years go by, I still dip my pen in ink and contribute a literary piece here and there.
On the way out of the building on my last official day in 1990 I dedicated a piece of my soul to Tucker’s magical mystery tour. I am sure Tucker would have enjoyed reading your letter. I never shared it with him while he was alive but I am certain he’s going to know about it. He still hovers about. His presence at Focus is palpable and the scent of his cigar lingers in the air.
Thank you very much for your kind compliments on my literary accomplishments. I owe it all to the influence of Focus and the freedom to let my freak flag fly.
So, Mr. Anonymous, if you don’t mind, I’ll be dedicating this one to the memory of the man who made it all happen, Mr. John E. Tucker, Jr., and in honor of his beloved wife and current publisher, Tammy Panther who continues to carry the torch in a sublime manner.
Wishing all my readers peace, love, and happiness always!
Final Relief From Decrepitude
September 4, 2014
I can’t name the day or time but I remember the year when the first twinge in my lower back made itself known. I was just starting to hike the trail around Price Lake on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Within the first few steps I began to feel as if some imp was marching along behind me, jabbing me with a sharp stick just to the left of my lumbar spine. (That would be L-4 and L-5, as they say in the biz).
“What’s up?” asked my hiking buddy. “I think I must have slept wrong, got a catch in my back is all. I think I can walk it out,” I replied. That was in 2002. I ate Advil like candy and alternated with ice and heat until eventually the pesky pain went away. The minute the next cold snap came along, my spine started talking to me. It said, “Hey, look, you go on ahead and if you get there before I do let them know I’m coming.”
It is disconcerting to say the least when you reach the age that parts of your body begin speaking out loud to you. Every time the barometric pressure dropped, so did I. My ears popped, the knees throbbed and the old back screamed, “Stop the bus I want to get off!” Of course, I couldn’t figure out who the heck was driving this old bus as random searing nerve pain shot down my legs into my feet and left me nearly incoherent at times. This would happen uncontrollably, causing me to jump and say aloud, “Ooooooh!” It could really be embarrassing in the middle of a monthly staff meeting or while dining out in public, as I would have to hop up from my seat and pivot back and forth of my toes to get the nasty shooting pain to ease off. And, I awoke frequently in the night with a numbing paralysis in my left leg.
Over the course of the next 12 years, this back problem grew aggravatingly worse. It was gnawing and during the cold winters it felt as if it was literally chewing away at my very essence. I became someone I didn’t recognize anymore, I was irritable, exhausted all the time from pain, depressed, and antisocial. I didn’t want to be by myself, alone with myself. I went from one doctor to another trying to get an answer to what was wrong. I also spent tons of money on this quest.
I had seen a chiropractor every month for years, but it seemed to do little for my pain. I went to a Chinese acupuncturist and, over time, it helped somewhat but insurance didn’t pay for it and the fee was a whopping $60 per hour. Needless to say, my wallet put the kabash on that! I have been to neurologists, had nerve conduction studies, seen internists and rheumatologists.
I had physicians throw Percocets and muscle relaxers at me like candy and beads raining down from a Mardi Gras float. I was given Lidocaine patches and, the granddaddy of them all, Fentanyl pain patches. Of course, none of these truly alleviated the pain, they only masked it and dulled both my senses and cognition.
To make matters worse, I also have a diagnosis of Fibromyalgia so I became one big walking unit of pain. I couldn’t walk very well, let alone run. I couldn’t bend, twist or lift either. I truly began to wonder if I had been cursed by someone along the way or if karma was giving me my just due. I was all but to the point of seeking out a witch doctor to help me with this problem.
Finally, after years of trial and error, I was referred to a rheumatoligst in Statesville who didn’t mess around. He’s a nice guy and straightforward about clinical diagnosis. His waiting room is always swamped with people. He’s a busy person because he is very good at what he does. Yet, although his examining room visits are short, I felt I had been seen, listened to, and proper actions taken toward my ailment put in place. He referred me to a pain clinic.
Like lots of other folks, I look up all the medical terminology on Google. So, I was well aware of what the real problem was. A lumbar vertebrae had slipped to the maximum was impinging on my sciatic nerve. I knew it could only be a matter of time before that nerve became damaged enough that there would be no help for it. The side effects of this condition would be pretty bad if something wasn’t done.
So, I first got the recommended epidural injections of steroids into my spine. My relief was instant but after about three weeks, that niggling pain came creeping back. I had four of these shots and during the time I was getting them I discovered that after insurance paid on these procedures, my cost out of pocket was a whopping $1,200.00 per shot. That’s dadgum expensive for a medical band aid! Finally I said, ENOUGH! I want to be recommended to an orthopedist who can fix this problem once and for all, I can’t stand it anymore! I was referred to a great physician who practices with Carolina Orthopedics in Lenoir. I had already had an MRI and had a neurologist look at it. He said I needed a second opinion. So I got one by the referred orthopedist whom I liked so much I decided to let do the job. I had seen the MRI and it looked pretty grim I could see the major slippage squeezing and twisting my sciatic nerve. I also showed it to my rheumatologist and he agreed surgery was the only answer to this problem.
The problem was I had what is called spondylolisthesis. (Yeah I know, right? Trying saying that word real fast five times in a row!) I underwent surgery for it this past April. Recovery time was 12 weeks. I didn’t have that kind of time accrued where I work. I had been out of work so many days with my back it was hard to build up sick time. Thank goodness where I work we have what is called voluntary shared leave where you can donate sick time to those who don’t have enough. I was so fortunate and will be forever grateful that my comrades at work donated 6 weeks of time toward recovery I would not have had otherwise.
Patching me up involved placing rods, screws, cages and a bone graft in the lower spine. (I don’t plan on going through any metal detectors any time soon!)
The minute I was no longer under the influence of anesthesia and was able to get out of my bed and walk to the bathroom I knew with the very first step my pain was gone! Of course there was some surgical pain but it was nothing compared to the pain I had been going through for years.
I returned home to my bed and the company of my beloved bed buddy, my dog Gus, and began to improve and get stronger with each day. During that time I received calls, Facebook messages, and home cooked meals from family, friends and neighbors. Immediately I began dropping weight and went back to work some 25 pounds lighter.
There are many lessons to be learned in life. This experience was a major one for me. I had no idea how much I was cared for until this point in time. I felt the love and prayers coming through to me along the way. I got out of the hospital on Easter day. Spring had come into its own during the five days I was admitted. As I sat in the wheelchair waiting to board the car I truly felt an all encompassing love coming to me from everywhere.
I’d be lying if I didn’t say I gave thanks to God many times during the day. I was thankful I finally found a doctor who could do right by me, thankful he had an excellent operating room staff and, thankful for the gentle love and care my husband provided as he kept watch over me while in the hospital and beyond. And, most of all, I was thankful to be among the living once again.
I can only say gentle readers to be relieved of serious pain and depression is allowing me to laugh more, move more, endure more and walk briskly again! It’s like walking through a dark night into the light of day. And, the difference between dark and light is a most profound gratitude.
I’m still in full progression of the healing process and have a nice eight inch scar down the center of my spine nearly to the top of the buttock region, but that’s really okay as my bikini days are um, uh, “behind” me now.
I’d like to send out a big mucho gracias to everyone who sent good vibes my way. I felt them through every minute and hour of the ordeal. Much love, thanks, and peace to all.
Reflection On 2013
January 2, 2014
I made a promise to myself to try to do more writing in the new year so, uh, well this is a start on my brand new 10.1 Samsung Tablet! THANK YOU SANTA! Honestly, I did try to be good last year and, for the most part, by golly I think I might actually have achieved that pleasant state of being. I didn’t openly curse anyone. (Actually I haven’t done that in a while, as it causes ugly facial lines and I need to put a stop that. Also, it could cause a fracas!) I was kind to animals and old folks, and young folks, too. But hey, I am not perfect by a long shot! (Yes, honey I did find the chocolate ice cream you hid in the freezer and ate it all....sooorrry.)
Overall it was a good year, full of simple things that brought me joy. I got a new (used) car which was an upgrade from the 1997 Honda CRV I had been driving for years. It’s a larger, safer SUV, a Nissan Murano. As I travel 50 miles a day round trip to work it does make me feel a little more secure to be sitting a bit higher off the ground.
And, on that note, God sent me a guardian angel one clear, sunny day this past November. I was en route to a medical appointment when, on a long, straight stretch of road with nothing coming in either direction (except me), some dude in a Ford F150 pick up truck pulled right out in front of me. I had nowhere to go as he was in my lane and about to be T-boned by me. I slammed on the brakes, did a quick calculation in my head, and swerved into the oncoming lane, off the shoulder of the road, narrowly missing a row of mailboxes. I held my breath, knowing that one way or another this accident might not be avoided by my last minute maneuver. Had someone been driving in the opposite direction it would not have been a good thing. I was shocked when I managed to squeeze by and saw the truck, still sitting in the middle of the road, in my rearview mirror. Whew! That was a very close call, the closest one I’ve had in years! I have to admit I laid on the horn and didn’t let up until I was a mile on down the road.
I work for a government agency and, during the federal budget debacle in November when hundreds of people were furloughed (leave without pay) my coworkers and I were only furloughed for one day and were reimbursed for the time. I and my work associates were most grateful indeed. Initially we were told we would be off every Friday for a month. Hey, who wouldn’t want every Friday off, right? However, without pay it’s a different story. I narrowly missed a direct hit to the wallet and once again thanked my guardian angel.
Throughout the year I have suffered with Fibromyalgia, Chronic Pain Syndrome, poly arthritis, migraines, and sciatica which has many times literally brought me to my knees. I can’t say I haven’t wondered from time to time as to who put this physical curse on me but this year I have come to grips with the fact that it is what it is. I could either curl up in a ball in the bed and feel sorry for myself or deal with it and go forward. So, I have chosen the latter of the two. I am so grateful for the understanding of my friends, coworkers, family and my husband most of all because he’s the one who sees the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes right down to it.
I also am blessed to have my little dog, Gus, who is right by my side when I have to resign myself to bed for a day or two. He’s my watchdog, my faithful companion, my solace, and certainly great entertainment as he’s the funniest critter I have ever had the pleasure to be owned by!
In September, I was so delighted to be reunited with my childhood friend whom I had not seen or heard from for a long span of years. We have known each other since the fourth grade. She’s a kindred spirit whom I have and always will love like the sister I never had. I went to visit with her and her family in Winston-Salem in early December and we picked right up where we left off. We sat up until late in the night catching up and remembering the days of our youth. I thank God we are back in each other’s lives. She’s such a blessing and I was honored when she named one of her daughters after me.
The Season would not be complete without attending the annual FOCUS Christmas party hosted by dear friend and publisher, Tammy Panther. A good time was had by all and many of us remembered our dear friend the late, great John E. Tucker, Jr., founder of FOCUS. He would certainly have approved of the soiree his loving wife threw for friends and employees.
This year Christmas kind of hit me from behind and I was guilty of doing last minute shopping but I didn’t forget those Salvation Army bell ringers standing out in the cold. I popped a couple of bills into every bucket I came across. And, each of those ringers replied, “God bless you. Have a merry Christmas.” I replied politely, “Thank you.” But what I really should have said was, “No. God bless you kind ladies and gentlemen for standing out in this chilly, windy weather to ring the Salvation Army bell on your own time. May your buckets runneth over.”
As the year drew to a close, I spent the holidays with my in-laws and family and, for the first time in several years, it was a blessed Christmas. By that I mean everyone seemed content and happy. It was a time of good food and great company. There weren’t tons of gifts, as we all like to keep it simple, but there was tons of love. I was in the kitchen at my mother’s house on Christmas Eve after all the gifts were opened when I overheard my sweet 5-year-old nephew exclaim, “This is the best Christmas ever!” It warmed the cockles of my heart to hear a small child agree with what I already knew, it truly was perhaps the best Christmas ever.
As this new year begins, I believe that good faith, a positive attitude, and kindness will prevail over any obstacles 2014 might throw my way. And, well ... Santa, I’ll try to be good. I’m definitely gonna need all the help I can get so all of you who know me well please help me keep myself in check, will ya? It’s a hard job but somebody has to it.
Okay...well, I have officially completed my first column with the new technology I have been given. Yea!
My wish to you good readers is that you have a very happy, prosperous new year and may God bless you every one.