Friday, February 26, 2010

Chapter Five-- page 3

I soon found out that Joyce was a year and a half older than me. Unfortunately, she was cursed with extraordinary youthful looks. A youthful appearance is great after the age of thirty-five, but looking eternally fifteen when she was in her late twenties was sometimes a little embarrassing. Joyce was a wife, mother, and business owner, but she had trouble getting waited on in the grocery store. The clerks often thought she was the daughter of the customer in front of her, and would pass her over for the next adult in line.

The two of us became closer than sisters over the next few years, and our kids regarded one another as cousins. We did almost everything together, and helped one another through those early years with young children and small bank accounts.

I remember once when my second daughter, Beverley, was about eighteen months old, and I was about eight and a half months pregnant with my son, I was exhausted, so I put Beverley to bed and locked myself in my room for a good cry and possibly a nap. By the time she was old enough to stand up; there wasn’t a crib on earth that could hold her. She could scale over the side of her bed faster than a Marine at boot camp. Beverley hoisted herself over the crib rails, toddled to my bedroom door, threw herself on the floor, stuck her cherub little face under the crack and screamed bloody murder. I was so overwrought; I did not want to open the door and possibly hurt my precious little one out of frustration. I covered my head with a pillow and just let both of us cry. Joyce heard the baby howling all the way over at her house and came over to see what was wrong. She knocked at my door, but when I did not answer, she came in, analyzed the situation, picked up Beverley, and took her back to her house. She did not judge me, or scold me, or call the nice men in the little white coats. She just loved me, and I don’t know who I would have been without her living next door.

Both of us struggled financially. I can’t count the number of times that the two of us combined our resources just to get through dinner. She would have noodles and canned tomatoes in the cupboard, and I would have a little hamburger and a couple of cans of green beans. Between the two of us we had enough to feed both of our families.

We not only shared our food, but we also sometimes split the housework. I hated to fold clothes. To this day, the very thought of fifteen thousand different little piles of baby socks, training pants, tiny milk-stained t-shirts, lacy ruffled tights, and sleepers with a dozen little snaps that only the most skilled engineer can figure out makes my stomach hurt. Seriously, the same washer that fits only five pair of adult jeans can hold seventy five thousand teeny tiny baby socks, of which it eats at least fifteen per load. Joyce liked folding clothes, but she hated to clean the bathroom. I enjoyed cleaning bathrooms, so sometimes we swapped toilets for laundry. We also got into reading to one another. She came over and read aloud to me while I did my housework, and I read to her while she did hers.

We had so many things in common: She had four kids. I eventually had four kids. Both of us were stay-home mommies. Both of us had a hard time making ends meet. We were genuinely happy, but at the same time, secretly discontent. Both of us had big imaginations and we dreamed of life beyond a doublewide trailer.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Chapter Five-- page 2

The mobile home park into which we moved could have had Mr. Bubble potential. The place was teeming with kids. They were everywhere: playing with Matchbox cars in the middle of the street, stealing one another’s bikes, beating up weaklings, and darting mindlessly across the busy state highway that bordered the park. Soon after we moved in, strange kids (and I mean in all senses of the word) started knocking on my door and asking if they could come in to play.

“No, sweetheart,” I would tell them, “you can’t come in unless I talk to your mommy. I don’t know where you live. You don’t know me. Your parents will worry.”

Time and again they tried to assure me that their mom wouldn’t care. She wasn’t home. They were being watched by a big sister, mom’s boyfriend or nobody at all. I was probably the only stay-home mother within a quarter mile radius. For the first six months in our new home I was pretty lonely.

The mobile home lot next door to us had been empty when we moved in, but one day, two big trucks pulled up and delivered a brand new doublewide. The following day a passenger van was parked beside it. On the back of it were two bumper stickers. One said, “Get back to basics: Read the Bible.” The other proudly proclaimed, “I love my kids: We all buckle up.” A Christian family with kids! I was so excited.

Right away I baked a loaf of banana bread and trotted it over to their front door as fast as my pregnant little body with two toddlers in tow could take me. I knocked on the door, and when it opened, my heart sunk. There stood a teenage girl surrounded by four children, two elementary school aged girls and a pair of twin two-year-old boys. Bummer. Just another big sister babysitter.

“I live next door, and I baked some banana bread,” I said weakly. I was just about to ask if her mother was at home, but I sensed from the way the boys were clinging to her and rubbing their graham cracker snot on her legs that she was the mother. The girl looked like she could be no more than fifteen or sixteen years old. Biologically, it seemed unlikely, but clearly, these were her children.

“Come on in,” she smiled. “I’m Joyce. I’m so glad you didn’t ask me if my mother was home. Everybody asks me if my mother is home, and I always say, ‘Why don’t you call her and find out.’”

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Chapter Five-- page 1

I was right, of course. A 1976 model double-wide mobile home on a rented lot could never match a shining, freshly waxed dream home. While I was honestly happy with our home, I was not content. Part of my discontentment came from the same longing that had filled my soul since I was a little girl. Other people lived differently than me. They had professional husbands who wore ties to work, and they lived in real neighborhoods with pretty flowers lining their picket fences, and they had swing sets in the back yard. Other ladies, I thought, had lovely neighbors with whom they could gossip over the back fence while their children held a Mr. Bubble Backyard Pool Party.

During my stint as a Saturday morning couch potato, I used to watch a commercial for Mr. Bubble in which a beautiful, slender, Dippity-Doo-coiffed mother relaxed on her chaise while a screeching group of small children jumped around in a wading pool filled with Mr. Bubble. The suburban yard was neatly manicured. The children even had a little cabana boy who dispensed towels from what looked like a lemonade stand on which was scrawled “Mr. Bubble Pool Party” in TV-kid lettering. The children were all obviously happy neighbors from a happy neighborhood. That was the life I wanted!

Growing up on the ranch, I did not have a neighborhood. My nearest neighbors were my cousins who lived across the alfalfa field and down the length of a drainage ditch on the other side of the highway. They were the kind of kids who pushed one another off the top bunk just for fun and never blew their noses: not really Mr. Bubble Pool Party material.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Chapter Four-- page 6

When it came to dealing with our possessions, the two of us were operating under opposite paradigms: I wanted my new home to look like a Pledge commercial, and he could have lived happily in the back room of the local Salvation Army Thrift Store. As long as everything was put away and out of sight, I was happy. As long as everything was out in the open where he left it, he was happy. We got into a lot of fights about it.

During one argument Dan said, “Who cares? It’s my dresser, and if I want my stuff left out, who does it bother?”

“Everyone in the whole world!” I responded, “Everyone except you thinks your dresser is a disaster, an eyesore and a health hazard.”

“Okay,” he sneered, “if you can get just ten people to sign written affidavits that my dresser bothers them, I will clean it up myself.”

I had yet to meet a spousal challenge that I could not handle.

“You’re on!”

I called all my friends and requested written statements regarding their feelings about Dan’s bedroom blight. Here are some of the excerpts from the responses:

“Dear Dan,
I am afraid your wife is reaching a critical stage of a disease commonly known as ‘heapaphobia.’ It is the extreme inordinate fear of growing piles of paper and pocket trinkets. Sufferers have been known to charge these growing heaps of garbage with flaming blow torches. This could be very hazardous for you, Dan, as you would lose not only your trivial belongings, but also your dresser and, perhaps your half of the bed…”

“Dearest Dan,
I think that your pile of stuff next to your bed is not only unsightly and disgusting, but might well be considered a fire hazard. If this is to go on much longer, Marianne may have to leave you to come live with me and stay up late into the night, drinking sparkling cider and eating bon bons…”

He even received a solicitation from a dubious nonprofit organization:

“Dear Mr. Liggett,
You have been recommended to us as some one who might have an interest in our growing organization. We believe that we, with your help, can eradicate a very serious problem that is sweeping our great and beloved nation.

“Our Get-Objects-Off-Bureaus-in Every-Room Society (commonly known as G.O.O.B.E.R.S) is made up of American citizens who, like you, believe in making our nation a better place to live. Please do not confuse us with B.O.O.G.E.R.S (Bureaus-Of-Overflowing-Garbage-Excessively-Rank Society), our arch rivals. Our goal is simply the preservation and promotion of neat and organized Bureaus and Dressers. We believe if we can get just 30% of the population to maintain organizationally correct bureaus, we could vastly improve the quality of life in America…” The letter went on to ask for a sizable monetary contribution.

Unfortunately, Dan also received a few letters of support:

“Dear Dan,
With respect to your wife’s disdain for your arrangement of highly important documents and items, I feel that it is not only a man’s right, but indeed his duty, to hold fast to those principles that he holds most dear. In short, bully for you!”

One legal eagle wrote:
“Dear Dan,
After much research and investigation within the hallowed halls of our constitutional interpretive rights, I see no other course of action but that you stand firm and withstand the pressure to give up your rights. We gave up tyranny with the Constitution and the establishment of the People’s Bill of Rights.

“The First Amendment states: ‘No law may be passed abridging the freedom of speech.’ This has recently been expanded by the Supreme Court to include personal actions and expressions of one’s personality quirks. This also includes the right of people to peaceably assemble. I would take this, in your case, to mean to assemble your personal belongings in the place of your choosing…” The writer went on to explain that “the right to bare arms” meant that he was free to take off his watch wherever he wanted to.

I failed to get all ten affidavits, so the battle of the dresser continued. Even though nothing changed, at least we got a bit of comic relief for our situation. I thought about Mrs. Chism, Mrs. Parks and Jill’s mom with her white shag carpet. Surely, they didn’t fight with their husbands about piles of junk, did they? No matter how I kept house, I believed that mine could never measure up.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Chapter Four-- page 5

I think Dan lacked Object Permanence. That is the developmental stage during which babies learn that, if Mommy steps out of the room, she is not gone forever. Most children gain object permanence when they are six or seven months old. Usually, by the time a baby is crawling, he knows that the red polka-dotted ball that he threw behind the couch five minutes ago is still there. Not my husband. If his stuff was not out in plain sight right where he can see it, it was thrown away, lost, or stolen! Why would I want to steal his 2 mm drill bit? Or his spark plug gapping tool? Or his half-eaten Mars bar? Okay, maybe that one was a bad example.

Unlike my husband, I liked stuff to be just that: stuffed. Nowhere was the struggle more evident than in our bedroom. Every day I would send Dan off to work with clean clothes and empty pockets. Every evening he would come home with his pockets full of junk to dump onto the dresser. Small tools, receipts, gum wrappers, phone numbers, phone numbers written on receipts and gum wrappers, trinkets, whatnots, and goo-gaws were unloaded routinely every night. This would not have been a problem, if he would put everything back in his pocket the next day. Every morning he went away with his pockets empty. Every night he added to the pile.

I started sliding his pocket junk into a little box which I placed in the top drawer of the dresser. That way, I was moving his stuff only about six inches, but it would be out of sight. He didn’t like it, but he put up with it temporarily. When the little box was full, I emptied it into a shoe box, which I stored neatly underneath the dresser. When the shoe box filled up, I moved it over and started another. The space under the dresser could hold three shoe boxes. When those were filled, I taped them closed, labeled each one with the date and stored them out in the shed with the old box of Reader’s Digests and, no kidding, that original box of ironing.

Dan could see that my system worked well, but he was never really happy about it. Cognitively he could grasp that, if he ever needed any of his pocket trinkets, he could find them. If he tried to argue with me about it, he always ended up agreeing with me rationally. Emotionally, though, he felt violated. It was his stuff. He liked his stuff. He wanted his stuff, and most of all, he wanted his stuff left out where he could see it.

Whether from conscious rebellion or from unconscious passive aggression, Dan began leaving bigger and sometimes more disgusting things on his dresser for me to deal with. He piled everything from masonry tools and magazines to Halloween costumes and already chewed gum. While he was at work, I would daily squirrel his stuff out of sight.