PART I – WHAT I HAVE LIVED FOR
Love And Marriage, Friends And Family
Henry David Thoreau was turned down by a woman whom he loved until his death. He said that the only cure for love was to love more.
Can anything compare to a companionable spouse and family? How fortunate I’ve been – not only in having my own family, but Bill’s! The older I become, the more that I have realized that I have many acquaintances, but very few friends. Below are some of Thoreau’s words about friendship:
Friends cherish one another. They are kind to one another’s dreams. Friendship is a miracle It is an exercise of the purest imagination and of the rarest faith. The most I can do for my friend is simply to be his friend. Be true to your work, your word and your friend.Thoreau
MEMOIRS OF A BEAST OF BURDEN
As a Realtor, I took great pleasure from visiting homes. It warmed my heart to see the looks of pride and affection on the faces of couples when they showed off their various do-it-yourself projects. They’d say, “We papered this room ourselves!” or “Bob is such a good plumber!” or “Betty made the curtains!” As I watched their smug pride, I smiled when I visualize what really went on during their efforts.
My speculations were confirmed by my sister Christine. Orville had once worked as a carpenter and did all of their remodeling with Christine as his helper. she especially hated to help hang wall paper. It was, “Christine! Too much paste! Too much paste!” or “Not enough paste, not enough paste! Must you slop paste on the good side of the paper?… Christine! You’ve cut it too short again! Too long, too long!”
My initiation took place soon after our marriage when we bought a new refrigerator and decided to move the old one to the basement. I said, “We’ll get a couple of friends to help.” We don’t need help; we can do it ourselves.” I have heard this phrase all during the years of our marriage. Self-reliance is the trait of a do-it-yourselfer. “Don’t worry! I have a plan.” Another phrase I’ve often heard during our marriage. “You just help me push the refrigerator to the basement door.”
There was much grunting, moaning and panting interspersed with “Left, Rose Mary. You’re pushing it to the right. Left, left, left!” “Whose left,” I yelled. “Yours or mine?”
We manhandled the fridge to the basement door where we discovered that it was half an inch too wide. Sighing, Bill said, “Help me back it up-I’ll have to take the door off.”
He announced the plan: “I’ll tie this nice thick rope that I’ve been keeping in the trunk of the car around the fridge. Then we’ll lay it on its back and lower it down the stairs.” He paid no attention to my query about the age of the rope. While we were laying it down, he yelled, “My toe! That was my toe! You always turn loose of things too soon!” True, this has been one of my many shortcomings.
Bill sat on the floor with his legs extended on either side of the fridge. “Now, I’ll brace my feet against the sides of the doorway, and then we’ll let it down. Now, we’ll push it gently and slowly… Easy… easy, dear…That’s it!” Thus encouraged, I gave it a really hard shove. The rope broke with a large snap, followed by and awful grinding noise and a loud bang. As I left to go to the bedroom, the last thing I saw was Bill, mouth agape, and holding a frayed piece of rope. I went to the bedroom because even the stupidest wife of a do-it-yourselfer know better than to laugh in front of him. The fridge still worked perfectly. Why is it that his stuff always turns out fine, but my botches – such as the time I cut the curtains two inches short – can’t be fixed?
MEMOIRS OF A BEAST OF BURDEN
-THAT OLD HOUSE-
We decided to buy “our very own home.” Since I had left teaching, we couldn’t afford much. We found a turn-of-the-century, four-bedroom house on N. Ritter that was in an estate. It was a “charmer” with big rooms, two fireplaces, two window seats, hardwoods natural woodwork.
You understand, Rose Mary, we won’t be able to hire help. We’ll have to do everything ourselves.”
We learned about Caveat emptor – let the buyer beware – two hours before closing when the Realtor told us that someone had broken off a water faucet upstairs so that the water had run all over the house. He said, “It’ll be a better house than it was before.” We used a steamer and a razor blade to remove the paint-soaked wallpaper. Termites swarmed; We hadn’t known enough to ask for a clear termite report. The down-stairs woodwork had to be stripped and refinished because of boiling water from the steamer. Since I had no fix – it talents, my lot became such things as the dull chore of filling cracks in the plaster.
We got through that first year with a minimum of bickering. Now it was time to tackle major remodeling. First, as a sort of hors d’oeuvre that might have left Bill hors de combat, he decided to paint the topmost trim of the three-story house. The ladder wouldn’t reach that height, so he positioned it on the porch roof. I was certain that I’d be a widow by evening. Bill looked down and saw me crying. “Are you crying? Well how do you think that makes me feel. Stop it right now!” That wasn’t the last time that I shed tears.
The kitchen ceiling was ready to tumble down. No one should be admitted to the brotherhood of do-it-yourselfers until they’ve knocked down and replaced a plaster ceiling. Heavy chunks of plaster danger-ously come crashing down, and soot like dirt and grit fill the air and penetrate your eyes, your hair and clothing. It took one evening to knock down the plaster and several days to clean everything in the house.
Next sheets of plasterboard had to be carried in. Plasterboard is limber, heavy and fragile. “Now we must be very careful not to knock off the corners, Dear,” Bill said in the most patient, husbandly voice.
I asked how we were going to get the sheets of plasterboard up to the nine-foot-tall ceiling. Ignoring my suggestion that we needed help, Bill announced his plan: He brought in a big “T” that he’d nailed together out of two-by-fours. He said, “I’ll climb the ladder with a sheet of plasterboard and hold it against the ceiling. You hoist the other end up, using the “T” to brace it, and I’ll nail it in place.
He went up the ladder: “Now!” he yelled. “Get your end under the “T”! Hurry!” It was impossible to hurry with a heavy nine-foot two-by-four in a small kitchen. “Hurry!” he moaned.
“I’m hurrying, I’m hurrying.”
He shrieked, “Get it straight!” Husband, plasterboard and “T” made a rapid descent. Leaning against the wall, he said quietly, “It was my intent that you would lift your end and brace it rather than knocking me off the ladder with my cross.” Resignedly, “Lets start over.”
Finally I said, “I simply cannot manage a nine-foot-long two-by-four. Let me be the beast of burden and go up the ladder while you manage the board.”
Weak-kneed, I got half way up the ladder.
“Are you ok, hon?”
“Don’t talk to me – just hurry!” I screeched. At last the first board was in place. Bill came up the ladder and nailed it. The second sheet was easier. I stumbled up the ladder with the third sheet that had one inch cut off it to fit as it butted against the wall. Bill braced his end while I balanced mine against the ceiling with my head since my arms were as limp as spaghetti. It overlapped the preceeding board.
I said, “It doesn’t fit,”
“Push it over.”
I pushed. “No good.”
“It has to fit!” he roared.
I yelled, “It doesn’t.”
He joined me on the ladder.
“Sigh… You’re right; it’s a quarter of an inch too wide at this end. The ceiling is crooked.” There’s no such thing as a straight line in an old house. From that point on, every sheet had to be taken up, marked and taken back down and cut before being installed.
I was grateful when our neighbor brought in a pitcher of lemon-aid. However, I suspected that she came to gloat just as I had done when her husband, a professional carpet installer, yelled “Damn it Linda! You tracked adhesive all over the new tiles.”
Our worst argument cam when Bill decided to move a big cedar wardrobe our predecessors had left in the attic and turn it into a backyard playhouse for Vicki. “We’ll never get this thing down these narrow stairs. It’s too heavy.”
“Don’t let it slip! Don’t let it fall on me!”
“I can’t hold it much longer.”
“Don’t you dare let go!”
At last, after grunting, pushing and pulling, we were at the bottom of the narrow stairs. The wardrobe was wedged like a cork in a bottle.
I said from my position up in the stairway, “I thought you said you measured it.”
“I did measure it,” Bill yelled. “It’s half and inch too wide.”
“Now what are you going to do?” I snarled. “I don’t have time to be stuck in the attic all day.”
He said, “I don’t know what I’m going to do.” Later: “You have to do something soon because I have to use the bathroom.” (This has been the norm during the most difficult times.)
Eventually he had to cut it in two with a saw in order to move it. By this time, he was so angry with me that he wouldn’t even let me help him carry it out. “Obviously, you did not wish to help me. I’ll do it myself.” When he heard that I was writing about our fix-up experiences, he said, “You’re going to include the wardrobe story, aren’t you?” After all these years, he isn’t angry anymore, but I’m not so sure about me!
BATS IN OUR BELFRY AND SPIDERS
IN OUR BATH
During the first summer we were married, en route to California we arrived in Las Vegas at 2:00 AM and stopped at the first available motel. I noticed that the door didn’t fit tightly. Las Vegas is in the desert, and in the desert live tarantulas. “Don’t worry!” said Bill.
While I was brushing my teeth I saw out of the corner of my eye large black shapes hopping around. “Spiders!” I shrieked. “Spiders in the bathroom!” I lunged out of the bathroom, tripped and fell onto our heavy suitcase.
“For heaven’s sake! Rose Mary, those are not spiders; they’re crickets!”
“I don’t care. If crickets can get in so can tarantulas.”
“Rose Mary, there are no tarantulas here. Crickets wouldn’t stay anywhere near tarantulas. Anyway, Hon, tarantulas are shy creatures and much more frightened of you than you are of them,” he informed me in his most patient, most husbandly voice.
Go tell it to the marines!
“… Look what you’ve done!” I had broken the latch on our Samsonite suitcase that was advertised as being indestructible.
I discovered that the Clarke family is not invincible. One night I met Bill hustling along as he returned from a campground restroom. He had his jacket pulled up over his head. “What’s going on?”
“Bats!” Bats flying around the light! No Clarke can stand ‘em. They get in your hair, lay eggs and drive you crazy!”
“Pooh! That’s just an old wives’ tale. Bats have sonar, A bat won’t run into you unless it’s ill.”
“Yeah that means it’s rabid.”
In my most soothing voice I said, “Dear that’s highly unlikely. Bats are very beneficial. They eat tons of mosquitoes, Actually, a bat is just a mouse with wings.” Ever the linguist, I instructed, “In fact the Berman word is Fledermaus – flying mouse.”
“I don’t want to hear about it.”
Bill has an ashtray that says, “Don’t confuse me with the facts!” We know that our phobias are illogical. We developed a mutual defense pact. Fortunately, we are phobic about the same things!
I dreaded it when there was a bat in our Irvington house because I knew whose job it was to get rid of it. Bill’s brother–in–law, playing chivalrous knight to Bill’s sister’s damsel in distress, whopped bats with a tennis racket which their sonar doesn’t detect. After reading this essay, one of Bill’s nephews said, “Why do you think we keep a tennis racket on each side of our bed?” Bill’s teenage nephew and he carefully calculated the ricochet and shot a bat in the basement with a .22!
Knowing that bats can be rabid, I carried an open umbrella for protection while going through my bat drill. I proceeded from room to room, turning off lights behind the intruder until, continually attracted to light, it’d fly out the the porch light. I was probably considered a neigh-borhood eccentric by those who saw me wantering around under an imbrella in our house at night while Bill watched through the window.
One summer night the sheet under which we were sleeping went SWOOSH! “What’s going on?” I yelled.
Next to me lay a mummy-like figure. “Bat!Bat!”
“Dear you’re just dreaming,” I said in my honeyed tone, hoping he’d go back to sleep so I wouldn’t have to get up at 3:00 AM. I lay there, staring at the white ceiling. Sure enough, a black shape cam fluttering through.
“There too is a bat!”
“All right, all right, I’m getting up,” I grumbled.
One night after we came home from a movie I was making coffee. I heard a faint voice from upstairs:
Mumble, Mumble: “Rose Mary…”
“Where are you?”
I leisurely started the bat drill. “Rose Mary…hurry!”
“You’ll have to be patient”
Faintly: “I have to use the bathrooom!”
We camped in Colorado at a campground that had pit toilets. One evening at dusk, there were long, long legs on the wall. I sidled out and ran to Bill. Not wanting to pass my fear onto Vicki, I whispered breathlessly, “You know those things I don’t like? There’s a really mammoth one in the women’s toilet.”
“Well, what do you expect me to do? I cannot go in there.”
“You have to. If you don’t I’ll never be able to go in there again! PLEASE!” Urgent whisper: “I swear to God it’s a trantula.”
“Oh for heaven’s sake. All right, I’m coming.” When he came out he was laughing so hard that he could barely speak. “Come here and look.”
He yanked me into the toilet and shined the flashlight on the wall. “Your tarantual is nothing but a knothoke with a bunch of cracks around it.”
Red-faced, I said “Well , it sure looks real, doesn’t it? could have fooled anyone!”
One night Jean, Sherry and Hal were sleeping in the main cabin of the houseboat. Jean sensed something flying back and forth above her face. She turned on the light. Bat! Like a pair of ghosts, she and Sherry stood with sheets over their heads while a sleepy Hal tried unsuccessfully to find the bat. The next day they lied to Bill and told him that it had flown out.
We don’t have bats in our current home, but Bill still has to defend me against spiders. Last summer I stood on a bench while Bill whopped a huge one with the fly swatter! Mother swooped spiders up in towels and flung towel and all into the yard. Sometimes there were two or three towels out there until she figured the spiders had decamped. Vicki didn’t inherit our phobias. Instead she’s afraid of snakes. Go figure!
I CAN STILL HEAR THEIR VOICES
The night grows late. If we’re at Bill’s sister Pat’s house, she plays the piano. Glasses are lifted, and voices are raised in one song: Bill’s brother Rick says, “Here’s a good one.” He warbles “I’ve got a girl just like the girl who married dear old Dad.” Next the Do-wah’s perform, using whisks and kitchen spoons as microphones. Composed of Bill and his nephews and nieces, the group originated during a Qualifications weekend house party at our house. “Gonna’ take a sentimental journey…” Rick’s wife Esther, starts “Grandma’s Lye Soap,” followed by a Michigander song about a little Dutchman, Johnny Brubeck who ground up all the neighbor’s cats and dogs in his sausage machine. On through the repertoire that includes English songs taught by Bill’s father and later songs such as “The Mashed Potato” and “Blowin’ In The Wind.” Vicki who’s up way past her bedtime keeps asking, “When are they going to do it?” Children attend what Vicki called “Clarke Parties” because there are no dirty jokes or swearing. At last Bill’s brother, Jack begins, “Oh I’ve got a lovely bunch of coconuts….” and leads a conga line around through the house.
Parties at Joyce’s home included political debates that Bill, Joyce and their brother, Lex, loved. Lex’s wife, Sally, and several others detested them. One memorable night, to get his turn, Bill stood on a chair and yelled, “I have the floor!” Bill and I went to bed at 3:00 AM on cots in the back room that adjoined the kitchen. He awakened me at 6:00, wailing plaintively, “Rose Mary, can you cope?” One whole side of his head was white. Vicki had emptied Joyce’s sugar and flour canisters on him.
My family played cards. Dad and Mom played bridge with Earl and Toots, and Dad and my brother Earl, played cribbage. The family gathered for Sunday afternoon poker parties. I remember still lying in bed and hearing my Uncle Ivan or Aunt Nola shout, “Pedro!” or Mary Beck yell, “Shoot the moon!: My mother, sisters, nieces and I played Canasta. The dialogue was always, “Pass me some of those chips,” interspersed with “I’ve seen better hands on a horse!” or “Please don’t go out!” I invented The Whiners and the Diners Society with Christine as President (POW), Beverly as Secretary (SOW) and Virginia as Chaplain (CHOW).
I hear out people still, singing, arguing and shouting…
THE GREAT SHOE HUNT
“I say, beware of all enterprises that require new clothes!”
Henry David Thoreau – Walden
Since Vicki is a mature woman, I had none of the usual mother-of- the bride duties or dithers when she and Tom had a big church wedding. Ah! There was none of the snipping and sniping that sometimes happens between the stressed bride and mother.
Bill said in April, “Shouldn’t you start looking for something to wear?”
“There’s plenty of time,” Translation: I was hoping to lose weight since I’d added a gress size – let’s be honest and make that two – since we were married.
Shopper Vicki offered to help. We hit Von Maur first and found a glitzy top to be worn with white jeans at the rehersal. Then we found a chanpagne-colored suit at Penny’s. By this time, exhaustion had set in; and our toungs were hanging out. I treated us to margaritas followed by a pedicure. Ah, the life of a sybarite shared with a companionable daughter is delightful!
Next came shoes. Jean offered to go shoe shopping with me at Nordstom. Jean can find five or six pairs of adorable shoes for under $20 a pair. She had no idea of what was to come.
Not for me Mosstsies Tootsies and other cute, inexpensive shoes in a variety of colors. I never ask for a certain style or color. Instead, I say, “Please bring out whatever you have.” And then I take what I get or leave the store once abain with no shoes! Understanding that my shoes are rediculously expensive, Bill gave me $150 for my birthday.
Nordstrom prides itself on its huge selection of shoes. The nice clerk asked by size. “Eleven five-A.” The length is bad enough, but five-A with a seven-A heel is impossible. He flinched, but finally produced a few boxes. Ooh! There was this darling pair of gold, mid-heel sandals for only $65. Oh how I wanted those shoes! I took a few steps. They were just a teensy bit too wide so that my toes slid out over the edge of the sole. Sigh….
Cathy the cartoon character, is packing for vacation. Clutching a pair of shoes to her bosom, she exclaims, “Leave these behind? NEVER!… I love these!… The minute I saw them, I dreamed of the places we’d go together… Every desitnation requires these. I couldn’t leave them! I’ll never leave them!” He husband things, “Just once, I’d like to have the same grip on her heart as her metallic gladiator shoes.”
Shoes satisfy something in the feminine psyche. Not so with males. If the average man has a pair each of brown and black dress shoes, athletic shoes and perhaps sandals, he is content. Bill says “I don’t see what the big deal is. No shoe is an object of beauty.” Tell that to Jean or Oprah!
Everyone longs to be “in.” Shoes were just another way in which I was out. All that my long suffering mother could find were Buster Brown Girl Scout shoes that I despised. Oh how I wept when I couldn’t have patent leather Mary Janes to wear for Easter. “I won’t go to church!”
“Oh yes you will! And I’ve had just about enough of this, Miss!” Picture little Rose Mary in a pink, lace-trimmed dress, had, white gloves and ugly, brown lace-up shoes! I just knew that everyone in church was looking at my feet. The low point was when I had to wear boys’ black basketball shoes for gym long before it was fashionable for females to wear them. Sobbing, I wailed, “Why can’t you cut my toes off?”
THE GREAT SHOE HUNT – CONTINUED –
“Lets try here, “ Jean suggested at a small shop.
“Ok but it won’t work,” Nada!
Carson Pirie Scott had nothing.
When I was twelve Mother discovered Stout’s Shoe Store in Indi-anapolis – oh blessed day! I remember perfectly my first pair of pretty shoes – black suede, sling-back flats with a flower design cut out of the tip. “We’ll try Stout’s, and if they don’t have something, I’ll paint a pair of my old shoes.”
“I’m not kidding. I painted a pair of shoes silver and wore them for ten years!”
Most of the six pairs of shoes at Stout’s were business or old ladies’ shoes. However, there was a stylish pair with straps of a varigated pattern. “Ooh what gorgeous shoes!” exclaimed Jean. The straps were secured with Velcro that could be pulled tight so that my long toes wouldn’t slip out the end.
Only a woman will understand that I was stricken with shoe lust. I bought those shoes, and only my closest friends and relatives know how much I paid for them. Put it this way, Bill’s gift wasn’t enough.
We went for a celebratory glass of wine. Jean call friend Jana: “This woman is shurely one of the most hard-to-fit woen in America.” By the time we got home, I was guilt-stricken at having spent more than I’ve ever paid for clothing, including my best business suits and coats. Bill said, “Rose Mary, don’t foret that you had to pay $50 for shoes many years ago.”
After the wedding, Jeans husband, Bill, said, “Love your shoes! I saw them when you walked down the aisle.”
Friend Jim said, “You should tell Bill that you want to be buried in those shoes.” Now, of course, I’m afraid to wear the darn things!
Next came the pantyhose debacle: I bought two pairs of ultra sheer hose. Wisely I tried them on in advance. I couldn’t get the ones with a control top past my thighs. The others were too short. During dinner a third pair slid down to the middle ofmy belly, and its waistband was rollled up and cut into my flab so that I was in agony. What women do for style!
I should have listened to Thoreau.
A Year Later
Jean called with some important statistics. She decided that she had too many shoes and was calling with the results.
Jean is a spiritual sister of Oprah, a major shoe maven. Oprah called in a professional organizer to help her purge her huge closet. The organizer asked about a fancy pair of high-heeled boots. Oprah admitted that she never wore them, and the organizer suggested that they be put with the clothes that were going to be auctioned off for charity. “I can’t get rid of these, “ Oprah replied. “They’re closet art!”
Jean told me what a delightful experience it was going through her boxes and boxes and boxes of shoes: “I had such fun. I’d open a box and say to myself, ‘Oh! These are so cute!’ I had even forgotten some of my shoes.”
Here are the statistics:
Thrown away 2 pairs
Donated to charity 4 pairs
Athletic shoes 4 pairs
Winter 27 pairs
Summer 44 pairs
I mentioned that one of our mutual friends has only eight pairs of shoes. Jean replied, “There is something wrong with any woman who wears a normal size and has only eight pairs of shoes!” Friend Leslie Bady has Jean beat! After reading this, she got rid of 65 pairs of shoes!
HE SAID, SHE SAID
During a debate, a member of the French National Assembly shouted, “But there is a difference between men and women!” Another member shouted in return, “Vive la differénce!” Amen to that!
I enjoy NPR’s “Car Talk.” Mind you, I barely know the difference between a dipstick and a differential, but those guys are a hoot! Here are some of their quips about the war between the sexes:
His wife looks grumpy. He says, “What have I done now?” Translation: “Which thing have you caught me doing now?”
“You cook just like my Mother!” Translation: “My mom used a smoke alarm for a timer too.”
At a dress shop: “That dress looks terrific on you!” Translation: “I hope this is the last dress she tries on; I’m starving.”
One of Bill’s brothers avoided saysing that he disliked a dress by saying, “On you it looks good!”
Our annual houseboat trip produced a good conversation. Bill Vrabel says that he said, “I wonder what time it is.”
His wife Jean says that he said, “What time did we get up?”
She went inside, looked at the clock, returned and said. “We got up at about 6:20, twenty minutes ago.”
“I didn’t want to know what time we got up; I asked what time it is now.”
“That’s not what you said.” “Yes, it is.” “No, it’s not.” “Is too.” “Isn’t.”
She brought this minor marital skirmish to an end by saying “Whatever.”
I laughed merrily. Bill Clarke and I have often terminated a disagreement when one of us says, “Whatever…” Mind you this is in no way a concession of defeat. We each still believe that we’re right, but realize that no purpose will be served by further wrangling.
I laughed even harder when Jean said, “He doesn’t remember what we’ve said so often that I’ve threatened to get a tape recorder and record our conversations.
“Ditto my dear, ditto!” I responded.
Men and women appear to be from different planets. Women expect men to deduce the meaning of what they say.
Men what a flat “yes” or “no” answer: “Are these dishes clean or dirty.”
I assure you that I would not run the dishwasher for two forks, a cup and a bowl.”
“That’s not what I asked.”
Neil told Bill, “I wear a suit, answer people’s questions and solve problems all day. When I get home, I don’t know anything.”
Hal and Sherry help out with a large family of their grandchildren.
She: “How could you possibly send one of our grandchildren to school, wearing clothes that don’t match.”
He: “All of the necessary parts were covered, weren’t they?”
Sometimes men have selective hearing. When Sherry or Rian yells something out the door at their husbands one of the fellows says, “Huh?”; and the other says, “What?”
All women understand the all-purpose, “Oh well…” that has a multiplicity of meanings to fit various circumstances: “Oh well, there’s nothing to be done about it… Oh well, that’s just the way things are… Oh well, what can you expect?… Oh well, same-old, same-old!”
As both my parents used to say about the opposite sex, “You can’t live with ‘em and you can’t live without ‘em.”
ONLY THE PATIENT SURVIVE!
Can a stacker and a stuffer achieve marital harmony? Bill is a stacker, and I’m a stuffer. He piles things up on horizontal surfaces. I stuff them out of sight. He looked over my shoulder when I was writing this and said, “I’m not a stacker – I’m just organized!”
Can a marriage with a shared toothpaste tube be totally contented? A couple who share toothpaste will not long be at peace. Bill squeezes “correctly.” My tube’s a crinkled mess. I was delighted when we bought a house with separate bathrooms. If I want to let my hose hang on the towel rack for a week, that’s my business!
What about sharing a closet? Double trouble! Please consult my monograph on ways to hex a marriage! The imcomparable Erma Bombeck wrote about opening her closet door and discovering that a bund of hot-blooded hangers had mated and produced chains of tangles of hangers that to an hour to unravel. Two people’s hangers would create even more vexation. Pme s[pise a;waus sighs, “I just have a few inches of closet space. She has the rest!”
Who controls the TV tuner? Who surfs the channels? “And the forecast is…” CLICK “John! Marsha…” CLICK “And he’s out at third…” CLICK “And I say to you sinners…” CLICK “Back to the beginning…. falling barometer.” Bill saw a newspaper quip: “Men don’t watch what’s on television; they watch what else is on!”
Who refuses to ask for directions when lost? The “Sally Forth” cartoon showed the couple driving around while lost. When they were stopped at a light, their daughter stuck her head out the window and helled at a passerby, “Help! Help! We’re lost and my Dad won’t stop and ask for directions!”
Who waits until the tank is empty before buying gas? Not I. On the other hand, I’m bad about checking the oil.
Who puts ice cube trays with one cube left in them back in the freezer? I don’t!
Can a night owl and an early bird coexist? I greet the dawn with pleasure. Bill sees it only when forced to. On the other hand, I snooze in my chair while he watches TV. Perhaps out differing sleep schedule is the secret of our marriage’s longevity.
Does having a joint checking account enhance a marriage? This is a no-brainer since neither of us is good at accounting. If we’d had a joint account, we’d have ended up in divorce court years ago!
Who snatches light bulbs? “Rose Mary! There is no light bulb in the living room lamp.” “I know, dear. I needed it in the kitchen.” “You are going to drive me crazy!”
Who screws the lids on so tightly that one spouse can’t get them off while the other tightens them haphazardly? “Bill will you please unscrew this lid you got too tight.”
“Rose Mary! Look at this mess because the lid fell off. You are going to drive me crazy!
Can Mr. Perfectionist and Mrs. Slapdash reach accord? He carefully reolds the paper in its original order. He winds the vacuum cleaner cord in a figure eight. I jam it oneot the holder any old way. “Why should I waste prescious seconds of my life, winding the vacuum cleaner cord into a figure eight?” “Because it’s the right way.” He was in the Army; I wasn’t.
Yep, only the patient survive.
Friends and we went to a suburb of Columbus, Ohio, to attend a surprise birthday party for a couple who turned sixty. We made hotel reservations and arrived at the appointed time along with a merry throng.
This party fit the anatomy of surprise parties. First cam the pretext. One daughter is a dancer: “I have free ticket to the ballet. Will you go with me and my boyfriend?” The first IU basketball game was that height. Further, her father would rather have cleaned public restrooms than attend the ballet at any time, but he agreed to go to please his daughter.
Their daughters, whom Bill and I hadn’t seen for many years, were in a state of excitement. One daughter had flown in from California. The eldest daughter explained how most of her children weren’t told about the party until late, lest they spill the beans to their best buddy, their grandpa. Watching the daughters all grown up and beautiful, what fun it was to see the dramatic gestures and speech patterns pass on by their mother. Finally, the great moment approached: The lights were turned off, People shushed each other: “Blah, blah, blah…. Shh! Shh! Shh!”
And indeed, Hal and Sherry were astonished when they entered to shrieks of “Surprise!” After the guests left, the family was all up until 2:00 AM, re-hashing the evening. That family will carry with them a vivid, living memory of that party all the days of their lives.
That evening brought back memories of the surprise party that I threw for Bill’s fiftieth. I didn’t work outside the home at that time, so I started stealing money from his pockets a year in advance and dinging it in a shoe box.
My pretext was a lunch for our houseboat crew. Bill was not at all pleased. “I have to turn in grades,” he grumbled. I persisted. I stored food in our neighbors’ freezer and lied about goodies stored in ours, saying that they were for one of Vicki’s friends. The sewer backed up in the basement two days before the party. I had exhausted my checking account and spent the shoebox full of cash on food and alcohol but talked the plumber into coming anyway.
My dear little mother who was staying with us during an illness and Vicki were there. After lunch, Bill wondered why one of our friends was vacuuming the dining room rug while others were washing dishes and clearing away. He suspected nothing until he saw Ruth Hester, an elderly colleague who had retired, coming up the front walk.
I had invited nearly a hundred people, and out house was filled with good food and drink and laughter and hugs and exclamations of pleasure from people who hadn’t seen each other recently. No one who was there will forget a former colleague’s gift. Lucy’s husband carried in a big platter covered by a towel. She said, “Now Bill, I don’t want you to feel that you’ve reached fifty without ever getting ahead.”
She whisked off the towel: Picture the dressed-up guests’ exclamations of horror at the sight of a dead boar’s head: “Eek!” “How awful!” “Gag!” “Lucy, I’m going to kill you!”
People eat fast food in their cars as they rush hither and thither to sporting event, practices and meetings. Our “must-do,” jam-packed, frenetic activity is stress making and no more productive than more leisurely eras. We are so busy doing that we pay little heed to truly living.
Vicki loved to have luch at Ayres Tea Room because they made it a really special experience with coloring books, crayons, a present from a treasure chest, sandwiches served in a hobo bandana, and pretty ice crea confections – ballerinas, clowns and such. These days many people probably don’t have time for long lunches with little kids.
Another of her favorite meals was Sunday evening candlelit high tea, a custom that Bill inherited from his parents. The food was mainly leftovers, supplemented by little thin sandwiches and snacks. What made it special was that it was served on the best china with the silver tea service and sterling silver.
Reading the Mitford books by Jan Karon is like taking a refreshing little mental journey to a more tranquil place. the protagonist, a sixty-something Episcopal priest, is always up to his clerical collar in endless to-do lists. His wife, a famous author and illustrator of childrens books, stuggles with deadlines.
They start taking domestic retreats – little breaks away from the demands of their individual lives. These are simple things such as taking a walk and having a picnic of champagne and peaches served with crys-tal glasses and linen napkins, One evening they were so exhausted and stressed out that they ordered Chinese, locked their bedroom door and ate while reclining on their bed.
Two of the characters are Miss Sadie, Mitfords richest resident, and Louella, her life-long companion. Miss Sadie has grown old and is no longer able to cook, but won’t admit it. Louella complains to Father Tim, “Miss Sadie don’t cook no more. She just sets out. She sets out white bread and bologna.”
Quite by accident Bill and I started a Friday evening custom that we call “Setting out.” Friends came to spend the weekend. We were too busy to cook and too tired to fight the Friday night crowds at restaurants. I bought snacks, frozen hors d’oeuvre, cheeses, and chopped up tomatoes and toasted Italian bread for bruschetta. Bill and Jean arrived bearing a gift of chilled champagne.
“We’re setting out.” I told them the sotry about Miss Sadie and Louella. We put on our pajamas, pulled comfortable chairs close together and at from TV trays. We drank many toasts and ate bruschetta while a frozen hors d’oeuvre baked. When the timer would go off one of us would take out an appetizer and put a new one in the oven. What a relaxing time that was: good friends, savory morsels, champagne and conversation!
From that Friday evening was born a satisfying custom. The assortment upon which we graze varies: my favorite miniature quiches, mozzarella sticks, quesadillas, miniature pizzas, egg rolls, crusty French bread and cheese… I can hear our physician clucking! Obviously, this is not a health food diet!
We guard this jealously and fend off the telephone calls and items from our lengthy must-do list which try to over-run it. The Friday eve-ning setting out has become a sacrosanct part of our busy calendar. It is something that we plan for and count on
Ordinary customs as well as the splendid ones such as Christmas celebrations enhance our lives. We need to take a close look at what we are doing in our lives and make more room for quiet times of intimacy with our spouses and out friends.
MY OTHER MOTHER
Bill and I agreed that there would be none of that “mother-in-law stuff.” I was blessed in having Bill’s darling mother for eight years. She was a petite woman with flashing eyes and batty eyelashes. She was very meticulous, and my mother who loved her dearly called her “fixy.” She was always busy doing something so that when she came to visit for a week or two at a time, I told her, “Do whatever you want as if you were at home while we’re at school.” That’s the only time in our married lives when my bras, underpants and Bill’s shorts were ironed! An expert seamstress, she altered my clothing.
She certainly was nothing like her demanding, bossy Tartar of a mother-in-law who came from England to visit for a whole year. “What? You’re putting sage in the stuffing? One does not put sage in the stuffing. One uses parsley!”
Our mothers never competed or sulked.
Bill’s mother delighted in teaching me how to prepare his favor-ites such as standing rib roast and Yorkshire pudding. She told me the secret ingredint in her turkey stuffing: “add a little liquor left in the bottom of the roaster that you baked the ham in.” The stuffing was delicious, but I overdid. It gave both of our mothers indigestion!
I heard a young newlywed sneer about how her mother-in-law had asked if she’d like to learn how to cook her husband’s favorite dishes. “I told her in no uncertain terms that as a liberated woman I had better uses for my time.” I feel a warm glow when I remember the times that Bill’s mother and I cooked together.
She was very frugal. Her parents took in parentless children, but were very poor. Their kitchen was wallpapered with newspapers. Bill’s father came here from England because he was a younger son, and ther ewas no opportunity there for him. When he was in the money they lived in a grand house, and Bill’s mother had a maid and lovely evening gowns.
When disaster struck they lost the house and spent their last even-ing there, sitting on packing crates and drinking their last bottle of Champagne. That Christmas she cut up her silk and satin gowns and made fancy lingerie for Bill’s sister Joyce, who was in high school.
Our mothers lived by the adage, “Make do, use it up, wear it out.” Watching her open Christmas presents was a maddening experience because she carefully peeled off the take and removed the paper that she ironed and recycled. (We found over 50 margarine tubs after my mother’s death.)
Bill’s sister-in-law, Esther said, “Mom Clarke was never flustered when unexpected people showed up at mealtime. She’d go out in the garden, pick some things, get into the pantry and turn out a feast.”
Traveling brings out the best or worst in people. She went with us when we drove to California to attend a wedding. She took travelling with six-month old Vicki in a car with no air conditioning in her stride. The car broke down near the top of a mountain in the wilds of Utah. Bill decided that the only thing to do was to release the brake and roll back down to a villiage. He noticed that his mother was intently watching out the back window and asked if she was scared. “No, I’m not scared, but if I’m going over a precipice, I want to see where I’m going!”
Before Bill and I left on a trip to revisit some of the places that we had loved and travel down through the strata of our time to our early days together, I got out an old album of pictures of that trip. There she is in a yellowing snapshot, standing on the edge of Cedar Breaks National Monument in sourther Utah.
Bill and I went back to Cedar Breaks. As I stood there where we had stood so close together forty-five years ago, I was two people: the twenty something Rose Mary standing with her beloved second mother who lives on in memory and the Rose Mary of today who – must I admit it? – is growing old in her turn.
People used to warble a song about how happy “Mollie and me – and baby makes three” – were in their “blue Heaven, a little nest that’s nestled where the roses bloom.” It was taken for granted that most girls would marry soon after high school.
Marriage was a real vocation for which a girl began planning even before she started dating. She had no idea of whom she would marry. She just assumed that one day she would marry and raise a family in a little nest for which she and her prince charming and patiently saved and worked.
Many girls started hope chests. (some jokingly called it their “hopeless chest.”) Those chests symbolized dreams and longings. Girls were proud of the various items that they collected for when they set up housekeeping. Do people even talk about setting up housekeeping these days?
Figuring that I was hopeless, I never started a hope chest. I consulted Clara Keesling Donaldson a high school girlfriend. “Oh my, yes! I most certainly do still have my hoe chest. It holds my treasures.” She received her Lane cedar chest as a Christmas gift when she was fourteen.
It represented the effort of three generations of the women of her family, and even her father who gave her a Sunbeam toaster that she used for nearly fifty years. Her hope chest contains the story of the lives of many women of those days.
She treasures a set of tea towels that her grandmother Darling embroidered. My mother and manty other housewives lived according to schedules of chores similar to that listed on these towels: Monday – washing; Tuesday – ironing; Wednesday – cleaning; Thursday – sewing; Friday – grocery day; Saturday – baking; Sunday – church and family dinner. My mother did the washing in a wringer washer, hung it to dry out on a line, and always cooked bean soup that she didn’t have to watch. Before I was born she used a washboard.
Clara periodically looks through the precious gifts so lovingly crafted such as items that her grandmother Keesling crocheted. During the years just after World War II, my mother and sisters crocheted doilies that looked like veritable confections of spun sugar – stiffly starched, layer upon layer that were six or eight inches high. Flat doilies covered the arms and backs of chairs to protect them from wear and men’s hair tonic. These days, we’d just buy new furniture!
Isabel, Clara’s mother, contributed potholders, cookbooks and aprons. Clara still uses a quilt made by one of her grandmothers. She accumulated aluminum measuring cups in different colors, mixing bowls, a roaster, cast iron skillets and copper-bottomed Revere Ware pans that she bought through a club and still uses. I prize my grandmother’s cast iron skillets that stainless steel and Teflon cannot equal. Some of my other acquaintances belonged to a silverware club.
Some brides assembled trousseaux of clothing to last them through the first year of marriage. Finally after all the years of saving, hoping, dreaming and the engagement that often lasted a year, the great day arrived. “Destination” weddings were unheard of. Weddings featured solos such as “Because” (God made thee mine) and “The Lord’s Prayer.” Receptions held in the church basements were simple affairs of line sherbet and 7-Up.
The bride and groom opened presents in front of the guests – an exhausting process, bit gratifying to the givers. After the bride changed into her “going-away” outfit that included a hat, gloves and corsage, their car was followed through town by a cavalcade of honking cars. Moral codes have changed since that era, and it isn’t unusual for the housekeeping and “baby-makes-three” to come before the wedding.
Not all of those girls’ hopes came to pass. Here’s the poignant sotry of a ceceased, unmarried relative: Her heirs found her hope chest full of the stuff of her girlish dreams that she had optimistally saved up so long ago for the great day that never came…