Stella Ridley: Too Much Electricity (Another Chapter with No Number)

Too Much Electricity

The day came when Papaw had a series of strokes that left him not quite himself, though we still thought of him as being there primarily to love us and entertain us. He could still communicate a bit with words and gestures, though that was a long way from the brio he had brought to every interaction with us—even the smallest interactions—in the past. And he was stuck with an utterance: “Too much electricity.” That’s what Papaw said about everything, in every situation, in the long decline that would take him to his grave several years later. I’ve heard of stroke victims left with only a word or phrase who manage somehow to deliver it with various pronunciations and emphases as if trying it out to see if it could somehow be made to mean various things.

But whatever had got at Papaw’s mind didn’t leave him with a repertoire of intonation and emphasis that might have allowed him to communicate more than he could, even if that would have been merely to communicate that he was trying to communicate, which we already knew, of course. No, he always said “too much electricity” in the same way—with a small, rueful, knowing smile and in a tone that said “there’s nothing to be done about it: there’s just too much electricity.” I suppose being left with “too much electricity” was better than being left with “cigarette, goddamn” like Maisie Darling’s old mother or “shit, shit” like the auntie of our sometime friend Connie Donner.

Molly and I found all utterances involving curse words thrilling as if they had the power to do something like bring the moon down and roll it around in the river. They were forbidden words, so for us hearing them or even thinking them had a kind of magic to it. Continue reading