Gomer Gunch should have bought his wife a watch.

It would have saved all of us a lot of trouble.

Mr. Gunch was my mother-in-law Ms. Larda’s second husband. Sometime or other he promised to buy her a watch but he passed on before he got around to it. He did leave her a house, a Studebaker and two Mexican hairless Chihuahuas – but no watch.

So she has been wearing his watch ever since – took it right off his arm in the casket and put it on her wrist – for sentimental reasons and also because it has big numbers and she can tell the time easy. As years passed, she got new watchbands but she kept the same watch.

I had to run by her house the other day to borrow a tangerine-colored purse she has, which happens to go with a tangerine dress I got, but first I had to pass by the Wal-Mart, so I called and asked if she wanted me to pick her up anything. She said it was time for a new watchband. I asked what color and she said “Just not pink.”

Well, I didn’t know this, but she’s been very upset with the color pink since The Vagina Monologues (which she calls The Hoo-ha Monologues because she don’t want to talk dirty) set up shop in the Superdome and draped it in pink.

But like I said, I didn’t know. I thought she said “Just hot pink.”

 She is getting a little flashy in her old age, I thought to myself, but I managed to find a hot pink watchband, with little rhinestone flamingos.

But when I bring it over and say “Here’s your new hot pink watchband!” she acts like I am handing her a screech owl. At first I think she suddenly came down with dementia and forgot what she asked, but after she rants awhile, I get the message.

So, I got to exchange it. I find another one, which is black with a Velcro fastener, and she loves it because she can put it on with one hand and don’t need no buckle.

So two trips for one watchband but at least she’s happy.

Or she was, up until the heart attack.

The way she tells it, she was sitting at her kitchen table, peeling shrimp for gumbo, when the shooting pains start, right down her left arm. She got the TV on, and here comes that commercial where they show a graveyard, with a coffin being lowered and the announcer says “He thought the pains would just go away. Now he’s gone away. Forever. Is your insurance up to date?”

She calls up her sons Leech and Lurch, who live on the other side of her double house, and tells them they’re going to have to bring her to the hospital as soon as she finds her insurance card, which should be in her wallet, but it ain’t.

Leech says, “Maybe it dropped out and landed in the bottom of your purse.” So she looks in the bottom of her purse, and no card – then she remembers the tangerine-colored purse. Maybe it dropped out in that purse.

By this time, the pains are worse and everybody’s getting hysterical.

She gets me on the phone, and I try to calm her down with the phone between my ear and shoulder while I am rummaging though my closet to find where in the world I put that purse – Why didn’t I return it right away? – and I tell her to go to the hospital anyway because they can’t turn away a emergency. (Which I hope is true being as I don’t have insurance no more.)

“I don’t want to be an indigenous patient,” she says to me. “I pay my way.”

If she don’t hurry up I am going to be paying the funeral director, I think, but she’s already ahead of me.

“Lay me out in my royal blue dress that I wore to Gumdrop’s wedding,” she says.
“Then, Gumdrop will think of your funeral every time she looks at her wedding pictures,” I tell her. “You can wear the pink one,” and she says “Not Pink!” and I realize I’m going to make this heart attack worse. Just then my hand lands on the tangerine-colored purse, I snap it open and there’s her Medicare card, next to a St. Jude holy card, with a picture of him on the front and a prayer on the back. 

I beat her to University Hospital and I hand her the Medicare card and the St. Jude card at the same time. She clutches St. Jude to her bosom and I hand the Medicare card to the receptionist. Then we go in the back and sit down and while we wait for the doctor, she takes off her watch and says, after she’s gone, to pass it on to … and then she stops.

I say “Pass it on to who?” and she says, “The pain’s gone.”  And she looks at her wrist, which is all red where the watchband was. “It’s a miracle.” And she looks at the St. Jude card.

But when the doctor looks at her wrist, he says. “Watchband-itis.  It happens all the time.”

I say, “What?” And he says, “Watchband-itis, bra-itis, shoe-itis – whatever’s too tight.” And then he smiles. “When you’re young, and you get a symptom, you look at the symptom. ‘My arm hurts, guess my watch is too tight.’ But when we get older, and we figure we are one step from the grave anyway, when we get a symptom …”

“We think we’re coming down with death,” says Ms. Larda.

“Yep,” says the doctor, real cheerful. “Sooner or later you will be, but not this time.”

Ms. Larda says she’s going to light a candle to St. Jude anyway.