From Chicken Soup for the Soul in Menopause

Half a Mile from Hades

At a young age, I learned that menopause is like living a half mile from hell. Please let me explain.

Whoever chose the color black for funeral attire was obviously not from the South, nor was the misguided fool who deemed it necessary for a Southern gentleman never to remove his jacket at any social function. Unfortunately, a funeral is a social function; I think those with twisted senses of humor die on purpose in July and August.

That’s how I felt from where I stood as a young lad of thirteen on that brutal August day at the “Rest of Your Life” cemetery in Inferno, Mississippi. Standing alongside the sweating throng about to enter ninety-three-year-old widow Mrs. Ellie May Dolittle’s soul to everlasting peaceful sleep, there seemed to be nothing funny at all, except for the fact that she had been left a widow as a result of an unfortunate fishing accident involving a John Deere and Jack Daniels.

I wish that in her last will and testament Miss Ellie, as she was called, would have been kind enough to leave us either some shade or a breeze or both, but neither was in existence that day. Heat waves rose from her stately gray casket that was adorned with a lovely spray of magnolia, pinecones, and roses and the most unusual swag of the Confederate flag.

But these finishing touches were barely visible to many of us due to the waterfall of perspiration pouring from heads and drenching our Sunday go-to-meetin’ clothes. Old men wheezed and gasped for what I was sure would be their last breaths. How convenient; all we’ll need is the medical examiner’s signature and a sharpened shovel to get the two-for-one special from the local funeral home, I thought. Old ladies fanned themselves with anything within reach as their makeup fell, along with their bobby-pin curls. The preacher was on the brink of heat exhaustion, barely able to raise the Bible over his head.

White Igloo ice chests filled with Piggly Wiggly RCs and homemade sweet tea circled the tiny tent that provided the only shade in the cemetery. That shade, I assumed, was meant for Miss Ellie, who certainly didn’t need it anymore, and for members of her family who sat almost comatose in creaking wooden folding chairs as the sun continued beating down us like Katrina would decades later beat the coast. And all this was way before Al Gore and global warming.

Fortunately, due to local gun laws or lack thereof, preachers didn’t give long-winded sermons at funerals when the temperature was above 120 degrees, so my family soon headed back to our Chevrolet that had, like us, been soaking up solar rays for far too long. I heard screams and yells from other cars as unsuspecting mourners grabbed chrome door handles, only to find their flesh sizzling like fatback in a cast-iron skillet.

When we were at a safe distance from the tent, I ripped off my jacket like it was on fire—and it probably was— then reluctantly entered that four-door furnace made by General Motors. The back of my thighs landed on the molten plastic seat and rendered what I’m sure was going to be third-degree burns. My sister cried in agony as her elbow touched the red-hot chrome of the ashtray on the door. My father said one of the two cuss words I’ve ever heard him utter as his hands gripped the hard blue plastic steering wheel, which left him scampering for his sweat-soaked white handkerchief that he used much in the same way Louis Armstrong does in concert. All the while, my mother sat surprisingly still.

We left the cemetery with the windows rolled down and the old air conditioner blowing in its vain attempt to cool things down a bit. What could be worse? I thought. Everyone was miserable, scorched to the bone, flesh sloughing off like wax from a Christmas candle. Then I saw my father’s eyes in the rearview mirror. He looked absolutely terrified, and he was hardly ever terrified about anything, being the only doctor in a small Southern town. I turned to my sister and mouthed the words “better buckle up.”

About the time our seat belts clicked, I heard a moan that began deep in my mother’s chest. I also heard her new black shoes, closed toe with sensible heels that were purchased for the funeral, hit the metal underpinnings of the dashboard. When the shoes came off we, like Pavlov’s dogs, knew what was about to happen.

The gold bracelets on my mother’s wrists started clanging and jangling as she pulled her hair high on the top of her head in a futile attempt to keep it from touching her hormone-reddened neck. From my vantage point in the backseat I could not see her face, but I knew it was as red as the tomatoes in my grandfather’s garden. When her flashes began to come in waves, starting at her head and shooting through the floorboards of the Chevy, I knew no one was safe inside the vehicle.

You would have thought we were in a hellfire and brimstone backwoods church due to incessant use of the “Mary, Mother of God” and “Jesus, have mercy” that were flying around that sweltering Chevrolet like very unhappy hornets. My father frantically directed every air conditioner vent toward her, yelling to us kids to bow our heads and pray for relief.

Just about this time, gold buttons started flying from the front seat, as did the funeral high heels, lipstick, and makeup. Next came the stockings that were peeled from her like a surgeon removing rubber gloves, followed by the ever-present girdle. All the while moans escalated to screams, talking in tongues and seizures of some sort. She was coming out of those clothes, and she didn’t care who saw her!

Hell was visiting upon my mother yet another menopausal hot flash. I felt so sorry for her; she was already soaking wet after Miss Ellie’s blistering send-off, but now a second wave of a Niagara Falls was cascading from the top of her head. There really should be a law against this sort of thing. It’s cruel and very unusual punishment for an otherwise cheerful and happy belle of the South, loving mother, and garden club member.

Menopause is scary, even from the backseat.

Tommy Polk

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