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 October 4, 2000


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Column
By Rochelle Beckstine
The Jackson Herald
October 4, 2000

Stolen moments
The baby hiccuped on the small movable screen amid shades of blurry black and white. As I breathed slowly and evenly, afraid to move for fear that the image would vanish out of my sight and out of my life, the little life inside me reverberated with hiccups, the whole body rocking with each one. Arms lifted, legs kicked, head stretched back. The whole body leaped up, suspended for seconds before floating back down to rest for a moment and then the whole process would start again. I laughed at that first sight, unbelieving to that point that there was life going on inside of me that I couldn't feel. And as I watched my heart was stolen swiftly from my chest.
For months, ever since I had an operation on my diaphragm, I had gotten hiccups every time I swallowed and sometimes even when I hadn't. I didn't mind: for a side effect, they weren't bad. But I can remember thinking before I saw Junior on the screen that the first thing my child would say to me would be: "Mom, could you cut out the hiccups?" And there was my baby reproducing a response I had had only hours before after breakfast. I wondered if the hiccups hurt the baby as my hiccups sometimes hurt me or if they were just bothersome. I wondered if they woke her/him up at night and if the baby felt warm and comforted or if he/she longed for someone to rub his tummy and tell him they would go away soon.
As I watched just a few minutes of my baby's life on the screen, I was amazed. Junior hiccuped for a minute, then, probably worn out from all the exertion, she/he curled up and slept in a position I'm sure I'll see duplicated in six months or so when my infant sleeps in the cradle its daddy is fashioning for her/him in our basement. Wanting the baby to move again, the nurse pushed on my stomach. The little baby hand held aloft above the head moved rhythmically with each gentle push. When the nurse stopped, the hand rubbed the head and then Junior curled back up again, content to sleep a little while longer. Before long, it was time to change positions. Feet kicked, arms fluttered and I caught a glimpse of a little butt and a long pearly white column leading to the neck and head. Junior laid, back end to us, for only a second before deciding to face us. I saw a tiny chin and nose in profile before I was faced with my child looking right at me, arms curled in front. Again, the position proved to be no good. She/he kicked and fluttered back to the same position we had first caught her/him in: right arm held above the head, left arm lying beside the body, legs stretched out with the knees slightly bent, head tucked into the chest. This time, there were no hiccups for me to smile over, but my heart was stolen nonetheless.
The image vanished from the screen, yet those six minutes will be forever imprinted upon my memory.
They will always be the first minutes I have of my daughter or son though they were taken at a time when his/her life is deemed meaningless. When the federal government would allow me to take a pill to rid myself of my child. He/she feels pain, has a heart that beats 167 times a minute, has fingers and toes and hiccups. Does it seem right that life can be valued so cheaply that a single pill or a trip to the doctor can make it all vanish?
Rochelle Beckstine is a reporter for MainStreet Newspapers.

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Column
By Virgil Adams
The Jackson Herald
October 4, 2000


Putting the demons to flight
Did you see Frank Gilbert's picture on page 12A a couple of weeks ago? The caption called him "Mountain Man." He said he was "keeping the panthers away from the ladies and the campsite." Had a bear shown up, he would have kept it away, too ­ with a switch. What a difference a little patience, prayer and faith make.
"Mountain Man" also made my column on September 20. He was one of the two upbeat, happy fellows who had to take a leave of absence from the independent, disorganized fraternity that meets every morning at Bruce's. The other one was John Kinney of the duct-taped billfold.
Unlike John, who was gone for weeks, Frank was gone for months. When he left in February, he had hair. When he returned in July, he was bald.
And so the 24 characters ­ give or take a few ­ who meet at 605 Athens Street, Jefferson, every morning for coffee and fellowship once again had new ammunition for some good-natured kidding.
Just as they had ribbed John about his pig valve, they had no mercy on Frank when he came back looking like Yul Brynner. Made no difference that he had been going through the debilitating throes of chemotherapy.
But Frank had the last laugh. He looked around at George Edmondson, Rance Cantrell and some of his other hairless brothers and said, "I can grow mine back."
And grow it back he did.
Hair was the only thing Frank lost during his months-long battle with cancer (lymphoma). His good nature, friendliness, positive outlook, upbeat attitude and sense of humor were challenged but never defeated.
And then there was his faith in God. That never left him, either. And when the demons attacked, it was faith ­ and prayer ­ that put them to flight.
And now he is back with the club, taking ­ and dishing out ­ some good-natured kidding.
"Kidding? This is not kidding," Frank explained to the newest member of the fraternity. "This is hard-core criticism."
Trying to be serious, he said, "I didn't get any sympathy ­ not at the coffee club, not on the golf course, not at home."
A big smile gave him away, and he admitted that somebody came to see him just about every day. "I got over 400 cards, plus email from all over the country. And every day, for six months, I got a phone call from Henry Asbury."
Frank said John Kinney came to see him often, "bringing me a casserole or pie some widow woman had brought him." John's wife, Jane, died 15 years ago, but Frank says the casseroles and pies are still coming.
"Mountain Man" tried again to take on his tough-guy image.
"Controversy is what I like. Controversy creates creativity. It is good that nobody ever agrees."
George Edmondson chimed in with the reason why, in the midst of hard-core criticism and creative controversy, these fine upstanding citizens get along so well. "You can't afford to get mad, because there is the slightest possibility you could be wrong."
Somebody brought up the politics and health care issue.
"I don't like politicians and I don't like doctors," said Frank, again trying to be serious. "But I've got to have both. One fights for my freedom, the other for my life. And both are after my money."
The hand on the clock pushed 9 and the crowd began to dwindle. Finally there were just the two of us, and Frank became thoughtful, reflective and serious.
"Playing golf doesn't make you sick," he began. "I didn't have any pain or anything. Never had any health problems."
But it was on the golf course that he had his first symptom. "A lymph node just popped."
Frank soon discovered that he had something in common with Andres Galarraga. He had the same type cancer as the Braves' first baseman and went through the same treatment.
But "Mountain Man" is better than Galarraga in one respect. "I swing at a little white ball and never miss. Galarraga swings at a much bigger ball and strikes out a lot."
Frank said he and his wife, Joyce, joked about his bout with cancer "to keep from crying."
"We're all sick. It's just life."
Depression nearly always goes along with chemotherapy. Doctors gave Frank anti-depression pills. "I took three of them and threw the rest away."
"The demons came after me. I chased them with prayer. I prayed them away."
Knowing someone who had similar experiences and survived also helped. "Aaron McKinney saved my life," Frank said. "He understood the psychological stuff."
For "Mountain Man" the answer was patience and prayer. The chemotherapy was tough, but it never got him down so low that he couldn't come back up. He even wrote a book while going through the ordeal.
Frank said he wrote the book "to stay creative."
"Chasing the Wind" is a historical novel about the Civil War. A history buff, Frank has read approximately 300 books about the War, and decided to add one of his own to the collection.
The book is written but not typed. But it will be. And knowing Frank like they do, his friends in the club have no doubt that it will be published someday.
Be patient. Live one day at a time. Be thankful for every day. That seems to be Frank's philosophy.
At first there were weeks with no good days ­ physically. Then it was one or two a week. Then three.
Now he is back on the golf course in Commerce every Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday ... after checking with the boys at Club Byrd in Jefferson.
Frank really does believe that part in the Book about all things working together for the good. Thus it is that he sees his illness as a blessing. He says it gives him an opportunity to witness to others, as Aaron McKinney witnessed to him.
Virgil Adams is a former owner and editor of The Jackson Herald.

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