Tuesday, November 17, 2009

SATURDAY VISITS



Southern Living


Aunt Odie and Cousin Glee came to visit my first Mother-In-Law every Saturday. Every. Single. Saturday. And except for seeing each other at church, I would think that they each thought the other spent her whole life with her hair on rollers and a gauzy scarf all tied around---Aunt Odie and Glee with a tucked-in top knot like Rosie the Riveter, and Maw with hers drawn down to a knot at the back of her neck---she seemed to be still wearing the soft blue cap of her hair dryer. Maw and Aunt Odie favored the small pink rollers in their short perms, whilst Glee was partial to the larger size, and once she emerged from the car looking like fallout from an atomic lab---she’d found the big turquoise poufy ones for a dollar at Fred’s, and she bought four packages---enough to last her ten years. And she always slept in a scarf as well, with her page-boy rolled around a Kotex to “make it last the week.”

The two short little pigeon-women, one middle-sixties, the other in her forties and more like a sisterish clone of her mother, drove that long blue Lincoln slowly up the long gravel drive to our farm, windows up, creeping along to keep the red graveldust from flying. Tiny Aunt Odie drove with her arms out straight and her eye level just above the dashboard; her doctor had told her that women should drive with the seat all the way back, to keep from getting blood clots in their legs, and though her own short frame would have got the same benefit from a half-way notch, she took the directions to heart, stretching out her toes to gas and brake.

She loved my Mother-In-Law like a daughter, and gave her motherly advice right and left, prying into topics of a too-personal nature, her own modesty evinced in the long list of euphemisms she tossed into the conversations regarding love and marriage. The three ladies, like my own mother, whispered the word “pregnant,” and on occasion, slipped and gave the same demure delivery to “expecting.” And, despite Glee's forty-odd years, I noticed several times that the other two leaned away from her, cocking their heads conspiratorially toward each other, when they uttered either word---the initiate's deference to  maidenhood, I guess.

Glee was a roundish woman, in double-knit pants with the fake cording-crease up the front, sweater sets in Winter, and sleeveless button-front blouses the rest of the year, all topped by her add-a-gold-bead necklace which grew with every gift-giving holiday. She wore pumps, always, her tied-in-the-middle form slanted forward by the incline, and the muscles of her little round calves knotting with the effort of each step. She spoke softly, mostly echoing her mother’s opinions and phrases in a gentle chant; she accepted a glass of 40-weight tea and a slice of the just-cooled poundcake, sliced still on the rack, with tiny crumbs sanding the counter beneath.

She squeezed the lemon into her tea, stirred it with the long spoon, and left the spoon in the glass, holding it in place with the crook of an index finger as she drank. She fluttered her hands a bit when she talked, her Sally Hansen Natural Pink polish making little swoops in the air, and when she chewed, her jaw clicked in little smicking sounds, like a cat licking its fur.

How she must have longed for more from life, in those joined-at-the-hip jaunts with her Mother. I tried to imagine her solitary room, with the Hollywood bed and "antiqued" white dresser with its smears of gold paint and the mingly scent from all the Avon bottle-shapes on the top. She was almost androgynous despite the lipstick, from all the vast sameness of her days with her quiet, dull parents---she existed in a kind of estrogenic void that I would have found stifling. She eked a life in the house she was born in; her conversation consisted of TV plots and articles from Farm Journal and Woman’s Day, and she’d tell you a new-clipped recipe for Sloppy Joes, step by step, starting with a half-pound of ground beef, “plenty to serve me and Mama and Daddy.”

I think the decades just missed Glee---she just seemed to accept that she was to stay "at home" with her parents until she was aged herself; she'd had a job or two, and nothing seemed quite right for her. Today, she might have been an independent woman, with a career, or at least a fulfilling occupation, a degree, a life.

Glee still had a stack of True Romance in her closet, from back in her teens, along with a frequently-replenished stash of Nutty Buddy bars. If I'd ever wanted to take up watching Another World, I coulda jumped right in anywhere, thanks to her---I knew as much about Bay City and the Matthews clan as most any real fan, just as my Mammaw’s updates in that old porch swing kept me in sync with the Hortons of DOOL.

And I know that my DEAR MIL would have relished ONE weekend to do something else besides sit with those two ladies for those interminable Saturday afternoons; even a houseful of visiting family or other company didn't deter them---Maw's sister and her family would drive over from Durant, and Aunt would come over. Or Aunt's other children would be down for the weekend and they'd ALL arrive for the Saturday sit-down, and eat the whole cake---to Aunt, it just meant more people to visit with.

The sameness must have had the gentle grind of water-on-rock, and the small inconsequentials, discussed week after week---the church bulletin, the shower for the Martin girl, the new house going up out on the Bennett place---must surely have grown stale, or perhaps Maw's own stay-at-homeness gave them such common ground as could be.

I can say that I don’t believe that a word of mean gossip ever passed amongst those lovely, plain-living women; they dealt in verbal popcorn, and their kindness and sweet dispositions and genuine regard for each other are one of my lovely memories.

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