Monthly Archives: July 2013

Vic, Continued

As it happened, both daughters-in-laws had birthdays within two weeks, and they often chose to celebrate together. This year, Vic offered to host so each girl could have a night off.

As she stepped into the guest bathroom to do a quick swish and swipe, the new towels caught her eye. They were almost hidden in a basket near the tub, and Vic wondered if Janie would be hurt not to find them hanging from the towel rods. The thing was, when she put those fancy towels out, the rest of the bathroom began to look…drab. The buttercream walls she’d always loved, the simple green glass soap pump near the sink–suddenly the bathroom almost seemed in need of a makeover. And if it had reflected who she was, but now needed a makeover, what did that say about her?

It was bad enough, having that frilly apron stare her in the face every time she opened the kitchen drawer she’d stuffed it in. She had tried hanging it from a hook in the pantry, but it seemed to mock her, pointing out to everyone who passed by that it didn’t fit…or that she didn’t.

Vic gave herself a mental shake; she didn’t have time to spend pondering frilly towels and lacy aprons.  Everyone would arrive in an hour, and she still had to wrap gifts.  She’d chosen each gift carefully, trying to pick something that would be meaningful and useful.

For Janie, she had found the first gift at the store Janie worked at.  She knew Janie often admired the items for sale, but couldn’t afford the couture prices.  With a little help from a sales girl willing to point out a few of Janie’s favorites, and a well-timed sale, Vic had managed to purchase a frothy confection of creamy crochet and lace that the sales girl called a wrap.

The second gift, for Emmie, had been a little harder.  She had scoured garden shops, contemplated at nurseries, even wandered into a few home and ranch stores, hoping for something to jump out at her.  Finally, she’d found directions online to create a tinkling wind chime and spent hours assembling the thing.  She was sure Emmie would love it.

The smell of her famous southwest chilli mac seeped into the craft room where Vic was finishing her wrapping job.  She checked the progress of the dish cooking in the dutch oven and started to get the rest of the food on to the table.

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Vic, So Far

Vic stared at the package on her lap, almost horrified at the contents, aware that all eyes were watching for her reaction.  Finally, she peeled the rest of the paper and tissue away and held the item up for everyone in the circle to view.  What had Ellie been thinking?  Was she really expected to wear this bit of pink and lace around the house…in front of Charles, even?  She was almost embarrassed just to have it in her hands.

“Thanks, Ellie.  I really appreciate you thinking of my on my birthday.”  Even to Vic’s ears, the words fell a little flat.  She laid the apron back into the gift box and reached for the next package.  This one contained a full set of bathroom towels in a delicate shade of lavendar…with lace and flowers along the edge.  A soft loofah and a bottle of bubble bath were tucked in with the towels.

Again, Vic was at a loss.  Was she expected to use these bits of fluff or just let them sit around and collect dust?  “Wow, Janie.  You really put a lot of thought into this.”

The next item was from Charles.  Surely his gift would be usable, practical.  She had circled a large dutch oven in the Cabela’s catalog, and the vacuum had been squealing for months now.  He handed her a card, and she hoped for a gift card or note explaining that her new dutchie and Hoover were hiding in the garage.  Instead, the card held a gift certificate.  For two days spent at the local spa.  She almost laughed, thinking it a joke, and then saw the ernest, hopeful look on Charles’ face.  Thirty-two years of marriage, and somehow he didn’t know her at all!  “Charles…I don’t even know what to say.  Thank you.”

She gathered up the wrappings and gifts, stowed them on the counter, and moved to the birthday cake.  She’d baked it herself: two layers of white cake frosted with caramel frosting.  She had considered it pretty fancy–until she compared it to this stack of frilly gifts.  What had they all been thinking?


Later, Vic stood in front of the sink, brushing her teeth and scrubbing her face.  She stared into the mirror, evaluating the curves and planes that made up her face.  Clear green eyes gazed back, framed by dark brows and darker hair.  There were laugh lines at the corners of her eyes and the suggestion of more to come near her mouth.  And there was nothing fancy about her at all.  Even the plain t-shirt and pants she wore to bed spoke more to comfort than style.  It ran through her mind again:  What had they all been thinking?

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Vic was christened Victoriana Elaine, just about the most feminine name a new mother could come up with for her first daughter.  Unfortunately, Vic’s twin brother came stillborn and Vic’s mother followed him to the quiet plot on the hill behind the church just a few days later.  To Vic’s way of thinking, all her mother ever gave her was an ill-fitting name and a fear of childbirth.

When she was four, Victoriana and her father moved in with her grandfather, and then an uncle found himself crashing on the sofa.  Vic’s name was shortened to Toria, then Torie.  By high school she had forgone the second half of her name and started to go by Vic.  She led her basketball team to championship and gave serious consideration to trying out for the football team.  She hung with the guys and often considered herself to be one of them.

Vic met Charles in college, and the thing she loved most about him was that he never expected her to be something she didn’t want to be.  They went to sporting events together, watched action movies and slugged down beers.  He was the first one to kiss her, and she was surprised at the very womanly response of her body.

She wore a pantsuit to their wedding:  elegant white lines and just a bit of sheen.  She carried a single calla lily and he wore one in his boutinaire.  A handful of  people mistook her young stepmother in white lace for the bride.


Despite her fear of childbirth, Vic gave birth to two sons.  She raised them to be manly men but also taught them the gentleness that a woman seeks.  She was comfortable in her home with her men, and she rarely wondered about the raising of girls, much less wished for it.

And then her men got married.

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Vic had three men:  her husband Charles, and two strapping sons:  Steven and Michael.  Both married lovely (if girlish) girls and seemed deeply blissful.  Then Steven was called up for deployment in the current Conflict and he left Janie in the care of his parents.  Vic loved Janie, but while Vic had grown up playing “Davy Crockett” in the woods, Janie must have spent the greater portion of her childhood wearing tiaras and plastic heels.

The guest room quickly went from something Marilla might have decorated in Green Gables to seeming to have the contents of two or three Victorian mansions fitted into it.  Little bits of ribbon and lace appeared on coffee tables (and in the laundry, but that was another story altogether); the fridge was suddenly bedecked with flower and butterfly magnets holding photo after photo of Steven.

But Vic managed.  Occasionally she sighed and returned a particularly feminine item to Janie’s quarters, but she never complained.  She simply went to her own simple suite and closed the door for a while, basking in the creams and sea-blues that refreshed her soul.

Then Michael and Ellie bought the house next door.

Vic was thrilled.  Of course, Ellie soon had the flower gardens blooming with all manner of flora, and Michael happily dug up and raised new beds on the weekends.  There were wrought iron shepherd’s hooks and bird houses and feeders and baths all over the yard, and Vic’s gazing ball on pedestal began to look forlorn in the small bed by the steps.

Yes, Vic loved her girls.  She often watched them when they were unaware, trying to understand them, to see what she was missing–if anything.  She was happy as she was, and they were happy as they were.

So when her birthday celebration rolled around, she couldn’t understand what had happened.  Did they want her to change?  Did even Charles wish she was the sort of person who needed to be pampered and polished?

A Garden Is A Generous Thing

A garden is such a generous thing.
You turn the soil and place all those little seeds just so,
or not,
depending on your temperament and the amount of time available,
and then you wait.

First, there are the tiny little sprouts,
poking their tips up through the tender soil,
and then leaves and stems, and
suddenly there’s a whole plant just there where there wasn’t anything before.

And one little seed gives you quarts of pickles or bowls of salad,
heaping tablespoons of herb-y deliciousness to add to ordinary fare.
And because you weren’t sure if one row of spinach or three tomato plants
would be enough for all of the canning and freezing and general preserving
that you wanted to do,
you planted twice that much,
just in case
of hail or disease,
and then you realize that even if you preserved until you ran the store out of jars you’d never get it all saved, so you give it away.

Bags of spinach and swiss chard go home with your children’s friends,
zucchini and summer squash accompany you to church,
and there’s always fresh rhubarb cobler on the table.
You trade (“If you take my extra zucchini I’ll find a use for that bucket of peppers”)
and you wheedle (“Surely you wanted to try turnips?”)
and you proudly display seven or eight garden vegetables at every meal.
You make jellies and pickles and chop and parboil until you’re sick of the entire mess,
but you keep on…

…because you know that, come winter,
when you crack open a jar of cinnamon cucumber pickles
or defrost bright red bells for your fajitas,
then all of the memories of summer
(your daughter dashing across the yard to catch her first firefly,
the conversation with your growing son over the weeds in the carrots)
will come drifting back and you will remember.

A garden is a generous thing.
It provides for the table,
builds relationships, and
brings back to the dead of winter that thing we long for most: summer.

Looking In

My best friend lives in Nebraska. I live in Oregon. It takes some work to keep up a friendship across half a country, but we manage. Maybe it’s that while I’m flitting from state to state, she’s constant–always there. I have called her to share joys, to wail “Why?”, to ask for prayer, to ask for advice. She has prayed with me over the phone while tears streamed down my face, told me about her own screw-ups worse than mine, and challenged me to be a better person. I love her for it.

I still often wonder why we’re friends, but I am so glad we are.

And sometimes, when the stars align and we’re both in the same state at the same time, I get to visit her.

When I go to her house, I belong. I usually knock–more so she knows I’m there than for permission to enter. I might grab a glass of water (or whatever crazy concoction she’s drinking lately)…if she’s busy with children or her studio I’ll peruse her library for a while, making a stack to take home with me. I know where the other light switch is in the bathroom and about the pile of laundry downstairs by the washer. We fold our legs up on the couch and chatter, interrupted by children and the phone, and we share our lives.

And because I feel like I belong, I act like I do.

Earlier this week I went to worship team practice. I’ve been acting as the backup keyboardist for about 4 months now. I don’t feel like I belong. I love it, don’t get me wrong, but I’m not really a part of the team. I’m just a hole-filler…someone to make sure there’s not a gap when the regular keyboardist is gone. And that’s okay.

But I realized this: because I don’t feel like I belong there, I don’t act like I belong.

Because I am an outsider, I act as an outsider. And because I act as an outsider, I am an outsider.

I know I hold myself apart in an unfamiliar group setting.  And I know that doing this keeps me outside of that ring that I want to join.  Get me one-on-one, and you’ll discover a whole other me–one that cracks jokes and has something to contribute.  So why is it that I act like I don’t belong…and then wonder why I don’t?

I don’t know what the answer is.  Perhaps it’s simply time.  Time to get to know these people, time to trust them, time to step towards them one foot at a time.

And I know you’re out there, too.  You who holds yourself apart, you who recognizes the distance but doesn’t know how to close it.  What will you do today to act like you belong?

What Might Be…

Another flailinghypocrit post.  I’m not bothering to archive there, so whatever I bring over is all that will remain.  I don’t feel like I’m flailing so often, but the hypocrite still shows herself from time to time.

She sets the stick on the vanity and stares at it.
Two windows.
Three minutes.
Prays, “Please, God, please, God, please…”

She remembers the first test she took–the excitement and anticipation as they waited together, hoping, praying the same desperate prayer, but for a different outcome.

The second one she took alone.  She wanted it to be a surprise.  It was.

They were together again for the third one.  He was excited as the pink lines etched their way across the windows.  She was almost resigned, her main thought being, “One more time…I can do this one more time.”

Today, she doesn’t even look while she waits.  It’s been so many years since she had to change a diaper or get up in the night, so many years since a wee one depended on her for life.  So many years…

“Please, God, please God, please…”

Nausea swells from the pit of her stomach.  Nerves, or something more?  She picks up the stick, holds it over the trash can.  Puts it back on the counter.  Ignores it for another minute or so.  Reads the directions again, not wanting a misunderstanding–a false hope.  One line:  no; two lines:  yes.

Musters up her courage and looks at the two windows.

One line.
Relief.
And just a little disappointment.

She hides the stick in the trash and heads to the kitchen for a cup of coffee.

It’s Not About You

Have you seen that movie?  The one with Channing Tatum and the girl that looks like Jennifer Garner but isn’t?  They’re in a car wreck and she loses her memory, and the movie tells the story of him trying to win her, and her trying to find herself again.  Did you see it?  You should.

Because you need to pay attention to the guy.  Watch how hard he tries to rediscover this love he had with his wife, and how he handles it.  Do you see him pushing, always pushing her past where she’s comfortable, taking more than what she offered?

He asks her to go to her studio, and she tries.  She tries to understand what she used to do there, but he keeps pushing her.  She agrees to go on a first date with him, and they have a great time, but at the end he says “I love you” and so obviously wants her to say it back.  And she can’t.  She was ready to give a first date, a first kiss, maybe even a second date…but when he pushed for more, he lost her.

So why am I delving into this, especially when Siskel and Ebert would probably do a better job?

Because I see this all of the time.  Smiddy is a pusher.  He takes what is given and then some.  It makes him successful in his job because he doesn’t stop where others might.  And he doesn’t bulldoze…he just nudges you down the path.  Mayhem is a pusher.  I just watched her push Frenzy into a decision that favored Mayhem.

I’m not a pusher.  I would have done exactly what the un-Jennifer-Garner did in the movie.  I would have run away.  I would have put as much distance as I could between me and the pusher.

Did you notice how it wasn’t until he finally gave up, quit pushing, that she came back to him?  Do you think he learned anything from it?

And how does a non-pusher learn to set boundaries, to push back enough?  Smiddy and I have been together for close to 20 years (married for 16 of them), and we’re still working on this.  I’ve learned to verbalize, “You’re pressuring me.”  I’ve also learned to stretch a little farther than I might have normally.  Smiddy has learned that sometimes, the way to get me to do what he wants me to do is to quit asking.  

We went to a water park last week.  One with water slides.  I hate water slides, roller coasters, all of that.  Put me on a tilt-o-whirl and I’ll outlast you, but don’t ask me to do vertical drops or go upside down.  I rode Splash Mountain with Chaos under duress, and hated every minute of it.  So, when we hit the water park, I decided that there was NO WAY I was riding any of the slides.  I had a whole argument about not doing something I hated, something that makes me feel sick and queasy and teary.  I was ready to stand my ground and push right back.

And then, no one made any mention of it.  I played in the shallow pool with Frenzy.  We discovered the medium slides and she had a blast.  I could see Smiddy and Chaos and Mayhem riding the huge slides and having a ball, so I got to share in their experience.  And I had a really good time.  Because no one asked me, no one pushed me into something I had decided I wouldn’t give.

Interesting, isn’t it?