Popeye The Sailor Man

By February of 2013 Libby’s tumor markers had dropped below 200 following a high water mark of over 2000, needless to say we were very excited with the results and life was good.

I like to go swimin’ with bald headed women;

I’m Popeye the sailor man,          Toot, Toot.

My niece, Samantha Gilley, battled cancer from the beginning of her life until it ended 21 years later.  As a child Sam loved to sing that modified Popeye song which was adorable for a 5 year old who had lost all of her hair (or at least it was adorable the first 50 times she sang it).

One day as Libby and I were driving back to Chattanooga following a business trip to Sevierville, Libby began singing that same Popeye song recalling some of the things that she and Sam had talked about while going through chemotherapy treatments; such things as, how cold it can get without hair, the strange metallic taste from chemo and how only very strong tastes are present after chemo, such as really salty, real spicy or real sweet things.

I had a date night planned for this particular evening which included tickets to ride the Tennessee Valley Railroad’s Valentine Dinner excursion.  Libby had gotten dressed for the evening before we left Sevierville, but now she was having trouble making a decision about which of the five wigs she would wear for our date.

As we traveled south on I-75, we were making good time until the traffic thickened just north of Cleveland and we began to wonder if we were going to make our train.  As we sat in the stop-and-go traffic I noticed that the guy in the lane beside us was driving a similar truck,  I nodded my head in his direction as is customary according to the guy-code handbook, signifying that he had good taste in trucks.  The driver acknowledged my greeting with a much deeper exaggerated nod of his head which, in guy-code, meant, ” You have a nice truck AND a pretty wife”.

Libby was in a silly mood after singing the Popeye song and oblivious to our head nodding; besides she was still preoccupied trying to decide on a wig color as she tried on each different wig and hat combination.  In the course of 15 minutes Libby alternated several times between red headed, bald, white haired, bald, a hat, brown hair, bald, etc. finally she settled on the white haired wig you can see in the photograph below.



The only problem was that our new friend in the truck one lane over was next to us nearly every time traffic stopped and from his perspective I was with a different woman every time he looked over!

Still oblivious to our neighbor’s stares, Libby’s humiliation was not complete because when the synthetic wigs are packed in a box they needed to be “fluffed up” before wearing, so following the lady’s instructions from the wig store Libby would place each wig over her fist and violently shake the hairpiece back and forth until all of hair fell perfectly into place.  It only occurred to us later, in another fit of laughter, that to someone unschooled in the fine art of wig shaking Libby’s actions could have seemed less than sane.

As Libby casually glanced to her right she FINALLY noticed the guy in the truck who was, by now, openly staring with his mouth agape and making no attempt to hide his shock.   Libby doubled over laughing (and hiding her now bald head) but the damage was done as she turned toward me and said “Pull up,  Pull up, the guy in the truck beside us thinks I’m a crazy woman”.

We tried to avoid stopping next to him again and we laughed harder when we began to speculate on the kind of conversation the guy would have with his family that evening around the dinner table as he told about the psychotic, quick-change, bald  woman in the traffic jam.

I wrote stories like the one above in my Caring Bridge journal during Libby’s illness for three primary reasons; one, because they really happened, two, because they were funny, and three because Libby liked to remind me,  “Barry you have to write about the funny stuff because some people think we sit around moping and fretting about our circumstances and they need to know that we are not going to let this define our attitude.”

4 thoughts on “Popeye The Sailor Man

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