I have an unsavory fact for you. It's not the kind of thing I trot out in polite company, but it's essential to understanding what follows. Here it is: I have four younger brothers because my mother wanted a girl.
There, I've said it.
My brothers weren't mistakes. (Goodness knows, I'm not suggesting that.) But they were disappointments. (I'm pretty sure of it.)
Joey arrived on this planet eighteen months after me. My mother -- we call her Coco -- lay on the delivery table at Vanderbilt Hospital, bare feet in cold metal stirrups, exhausted after 17 hours of labor, but still her normally cheerful self.
"Nine months plus seventeen hours of hell and I've got another darn boy. Lucky me," she said.
Then Ricky came along.
"Boys, I'm wandering around under a dark cloud -- a very dark cloud."
"Dear God!" she said, looking up at the dining-room chandelier. "I know You're punishing me for something. Maybe You're still mad about that late-night walk with Jimmy Lee after the high school prom. I don't know. But I've racked my brain and can't come up with anything else. I already said I'm sorry and I meant it."
Along came Mikey.
"It's another boy," Dr. Kettle said.
"Darn," Coco said.
"He's a healthy one."
"Tell me about it," Coco said. "Darn! Darn! Darn! Quadruple darn! Doc, that's it for me. I'm throwing in the towel."
And she did.
Coco raised all five of us boys, almost single-handedly. My dad was a doctor. He went to his office and the hospital every day -- seven days a week -- and brought back money. That was a good thing, but he wasn't much help around the house.
"I'm a saint," Coco said as we toasted her 86th birthday with whiskey sours. "That's all there is to it. I'm tootin' my own horn, I know. But if I don't blow it, nobody else will."
Coco's right, of course. If there's any justice left in this universe, she'll be canonized as a saint when she dies.
"All you have to do is die," I told her. "You've led a virtuous life, except for the late-night walk with Jimmy Lee."
"You leave Jimmy Lee out of this, young man. That's none of your business. One measly little slip ... "
"You've performed numerous miracles with Mercurochrome," I said, trying to get us past Jimmy Lee.
"And Syrup of Ipecac. Don't forget the Ipecac. I saved a lot of lives with vomiting," Coco added.
"Yes ma'am, you did, and if you can perform miracles here on earth, you can undoubtedly orchestrate a few from heaven. After that, you'll qualify for sainthood."
"Maybe I better join the Catholic Church," she said. "I'm not sure being Methodist is good enough. You think those stuck-up, holier-than-thou Catholics have a lock on sainthood like they say? Doesn't seem right, does it?"
"No, but there's no reason to take chances. Somebody told me it's easy to get into the Catholic Church these days. And I read somewhere you get your own feast day if you become a saint. The Feast of Saint Coco, they'll call it."
"Really? My very own feast day? Didn't know about that. Has a nice ring to it though."
Coco thought for a second, tapping her cheek with an arthritic finger.
"Meatloaf!" she spouted. "If I'm going to be Saint Coco and have my own feast day, folks should serve my meatloaf, don't you think? And my barbecued chicken! Everybody loves my barbecued chicken. And my turnip greens, of course. And ... will they be serving alcohol?"
"Well, if they're serving alcohol, tell 'em about my whiskey sours."
"Will do," I said.
If you'd like to read more of Sam's musings on life or buy a copy of his new book, BIG APPETITE, visit his website at HYPERLINK "http://www.sammcleod.net".