I Am: Food, Places, People, Words

I went on a little Scribes retreat today. Scribes is a) My writing group and b) My pals.

At first I thought it might be writing boot camp, because we had to leave at 6:30am and they told me to bring hiking shoes. But then we stopped at Panera for giant coffees and then we drove 2 hours to Denise and Jackie’s adorable micro-homes in Freedom Forest, where a little breakfast was waiting for us, and then we had a nice walk around a lake, and then we ate loads of chocolate cake. Oh yes, also we did some writing and reading with a good amount of laughing and a tear or two. So, you know. Not boot camp at all.

We did a writing exercise called I Am.  These are 4 categories in which we complete the sentence I am… to describe ourselves. The categories are food, places, people, and words spoken into our lives. I plan to complete this exercise every Sunday as a kind of check-in, because things are always changing, yes? If you like it, please respond with your own answers.  (Wouldn’t that be fun?) (Yes, Brooke, that would be SO fun.)

I am butter cream frosted, molten chocolate, squishy and undercooked, a smidge larger than a normal slice, a brownie-toothed smile with sprinkles on top. And then I am seconds.

I am a bright raincoat, fleece-lined snow boots, dry-touch bug spray, mosquito net, 5-way-wearing-multi-scarf. I am roll-up and adaptable, about 10-pounds too heavy, with a preference for hot, a reverence for the mountain, and at ease with the uneasy. I am, in my heart, lying on a beach somewhere holding a pina colada.

I am my mom’s hair and my dad’s freckles. I am always chasing the brother train because no one thinks about inviting the sister. I am the glue, the caretaker, the organizer, and the bridge from one family member to the next. I am a selfish wife on Tuesdays and a fantastic wife on Fridays to a husband who’s yet to have an off day. I am the beholder of generous friends.

I am blessed abundantly, addicted to bags, creative, freakishly prolific. I am wear your sunscreen and 10% in savings, 10% to the church and no natural talent, but worked real hard. I am be safe and be smart and you’re gonna bring home an orphan.

Please tell me: Who are you?
*Don’t forget the categories: Food, Places, People, Words spoken into your life.

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Three Bottles & a Fat Bastard

This was my first attempt at writing a fiction piece for Scribes, and the assignment was to write a story about wine. You will be temped to think these stories are about J and I, because you’re not used to a fictional voice in this space, but don’t do it. Although I weave parts of our own stories throughout, much was absorbed from the experiences of those around me, including friends, family, and the good ole ER.

~~~

Among the mess of gift bags, wrapping paper and brunch, under the last tent standing to shade them from the morning sun, with sleepy eyes and brand new rings, they came across the last wedding gift: a bag containing four bottles of wine with notes attached.

He lifted the first bottle from the bag—a 2009 Barefoot chardonnay. The note, tied to the neck with ribbon, on a tiny piece of green construction paper, read: Open this on your first anniversary. May you dance Barefoot and enjoy the great memories of your beach wedding.

She smiled, and selected the second bottle—Big House Red. She flipped over the little blue note, tied with a yellow ribbon. Enjoy this as you celebrate closing and moving into your first house together. What a wonderful adventure is ahead of you.

The third was a bottle of Little Penguin Pinot Grigio. He read the yellow note out loud: Celebrate and rejoice after the birth of your first child. What an awe-inspiring miracle. Many blessings to your new family.

The fourth was a bottle of Fat Bastard with a red note attached: Your first fight… don’t call her fat, don’t call him a bastard, or trouble is sure to follow. Enjoy this when you make up.

They passed the bottles back and forth in wonder, imagining how these events would unfold.

She pictured their anniversary on a beach in the Caribbean with 360-degree views of the island, a front porch hammock, and one—maybe two—weeks of R&R reflecting back over the last year and how much love had filled the space of it. It would be so romantic. They would open the bottle and dance on the beach, barefoot. She could hardly imagine what the year would hold—family Christmases and Thanksgivings, living in the same house, city, state, and country together. She looked at him and wondered how they’d appear to each other after a year had passed.

He, too, imagined their beachy first anniversary. They would kayak and sip wine. Dance under a full moon, in that top floor condo with the porch hammock and the rooftop hot tub. They would open those French doors to the beach each morning and have at least one amazing dinner at the expensive restaurant down the street. He would wake up early to snap pictures of the sunrise, and catch a glimpse of her sleeping softly in the morning haze. Or maybe they’d go back to the mountains like they did on their honeymoon. They’d returned home just a few days ago, in time for their stateside reception last night. Either option would be great. As long as they could get away and do something special.

Passing the Big House Red, she imagined the closing of their first house together—what the house would look like and how cozy they’d feel, how home they’d be.

Right now, they lived in a little one-bedroom apartment on a canal. It was adequate for the two of them, bright and spacious, but too small to host anyone else or invite friends over for dinner. They didn’t even have a kitchen table. In the table space sat a desk, which they’d clear off on those rare occasions they didn’t eat on the couch ottoman. Once, they’d had a dinner guest and he sat on an exercise ball because they only had two chairs. The entire place was new—the city, their jobs, the apartment. They weren’t sure how long they’d stay; they’d each only come here for jobs. But she thought they might end up in a big house near her family up north, or a trendy loft in Chicago, maybe. That would be the exact middle between their two families in Michigan and Wisconsin. They’d want to be in a good school system, not too far from the city, but not too close, either. They’d probably close on their first house when they had their first kid, or settled on long-term jobs, or were ready to be committed to a place. She didn’t care where it was, but she figured it wouldn’t be here.

He imagined by the time they were ready to close on their first house together, they’d already be back in Wisconsin on 10 acres of rolling hills in the country.  They’d have a kid or two, so they’d need to fix up and sell his old two-bedroom bachelor pad currently being rented by graduate students, and buy a bigger family house just outside city limits. Or maybe on the east side—it’s getting more trendy there. He thought she’d probably like the east side.

As he put the Big House Red back in the bag, she picked up the Little Penguin. She secretly couldn’t wait to uncork this bottle, signifying the birth of their first child. They would wait two years, probably. They’d spend time traveling and enjoying one another, get their lives and finances in order first, and then take the plunge. What would their first little baby look like, she wondered? It would be a girl—his eyes, her hair. A snapshot moment played in her mind, the two of them holding hands in the hospital as everyone passed around their new little baby, cooing and rocking and arguing over who she looked like most. The kid would be an athlete. And so perfect.

He imagined a boy, decked out in Brewers or Packers gear. They’d play baseball together, or, you know, whatever the kid wanted to do, he’d support it. He knew before he’d even met her he wanted to have kids. It would be tricky timing, though. He wanted stability, friends and travel first. On the flip side, he didn’t want to be an old dad, either. He was pushing 40, and friends had told him he would never feel entirely ready. He imagined about two years from now they’d be opening that bottle, excited and nervous and thrilled while the baby slept soundly next to them.

Smiling at the last bottle, she wondered what would do them in. What would cause the uncorking of the Fat Bastard? In her wildest imagination, she couldn’t even conjure up an image of the two of them fighting. The closest they’d come was after the earthquake in Haiti. He had an opportunity to respond with a medical team for six weeks right before their wedding, and she created a position or herself on the French-speaking team they both thought was brilliant. The team didn’t buy it. He had to decide whether to stay or go, and she supported either option. But here is how they dealt with stress: She needed to talk it out eight different ways, and he needed space to process internally. They stewed separately for four hours and met for dinner. Over soup, he verbalized intent not to go. She agreed. Done.

He thought it would be money, for sure. Spending habits would open the Fat Bastard. Either that, or the need for alone time. She was extroverted; He was introverted. Having never lived together, he wasn’t sure how it would all play out, but they took extra care in fleshing out these differences before the engagement. He was confident whatever the issue, they’d communicate their way through it straight to the make-up bottle of Fat Bastard.

 ~~~

A year later, they sat with 18 friends and family members around the kitchen table/desk in the one-bedroom apartment by the canal. Their one-year anniversary happened to fall on the day of a biking event in the city, and each of their family members from all sides and states came to participate. Everyone stayed with the two in their 900 square foot apartment. There was no barefoot beach dancing or wine-sipping; there were no French doors or 360-degree island views. There were no rooftop hot tubs or mountains of any kind.

Instead, there were bowls and bowls of veggie pasta, friends and family gathered on chairs and stools and milk crates on the deck. There were air mattresses piled floor to ceiling. There were breakfast spreads and popcorn parties, lots of grilling, laughter and story telling. They toasted their waters and beers and Gatorades high in the sky on the deck of the little apartment, under stars and twinkle lights, marveling over the rare gathering of almost the exact same group of people who had lined up on a beach for a wedding a year ago, wishing the two another great year, and reminiscing over stories the couple had never heard—stories about skinny dipping and champagne surfing after the ceremony.

Although not what they imagined, they uncorked the bottle of Barefoot chardonnay on a Monday night, after all the families had left and enjoyed a slice of freezer packed chocolate wedding cake. Their anniversary had been meaningful, if not tropical. A month later, they went to the mountains. Four months later, they went to the beach. The celebrated their anniversary 4 times that year, which was a different kind of better than they had imagined.

The following November, six months after their anniversary, they sat with friends, wrapped in blankets and flannel, in a lake house on the northern border. They had accidentally purchased a house. They weren’t looking, but a friend was selling who offered a good price in a neighborhood they loved, and the mortgage for a three-bedroom home would be less than the monthly rent of their one-bedroom apartment downtown. It was a no-brainer. No realtor, and the signing happened over a beer. The owner had given them access to the house before the closing to re-paint, tile the bathrooms, and replace the carpet with wood floors. On the day of closing, while He was at work, after they had signed and taken ownership, She flooded the house. That really happened. She was trying to figure out why the master bath only reached lukewarm temps, and somehow wrenched the entire fixture off the bathroom wall. The bathroom, bedroom and hallway were ankle-deep in lukewarm bath water in about six seconds. Her brother and the plumber directed her to the water shut-off, and each came over to pry up wood planks in an effort to save the floors.  But the floors were ruined—the floors her brother had installed two days earlier. She didn’t know what to do. She called Him at work, and He reassured her. They would call the insurance. Everything would be okay. This is why She loved Him. Everything was okay.

The next morning, they set up industrial sized fans in three places, grabbed the bottle of Big House Red and drove three hours north to meet a another couple for a weekend at the lake house. There, in the cozy glow of a fire and s’mores, they opened the bottle of Big House Red and toasted the closing of their first house together. This was not how they imagined it, but in the span of life and death and disaster and fulfillment—life was good. They were home. Just not right this very second. Right this very second, they were in a different home three hours away with the best of friends, wrapped in cozy blankets toasting the moment while their real home was drying out.

The flooded house would hold a thousand firsts: gardens and furniture, friends and kids, small groups and family Thanksgivings, job changes, bike routes, budget changes, lost rings, vacations, sick days, bonfires, grill outs, Christmas trees—it would hold the entire first chunk of their marriage, after the little apartment on the canal. They would outgrow it quickly, but hang on to it as long as possible: their little bungalow on Main.

~~~

Years later—three, to be exact—she could just cry thinking about the Little Penguin bottle, gulped down in some throw-her-arms-up battle through 18 months of infertility and a desperate need for a bottle of white because company was coming. She would immediately purchase another bottle of Little Penguin in the morning. The next day they would begin fertility treatment.

The treatment worked quickly, and they became pregnant within the first three months of injections and monitoring. They were ecstatic and began decorating a nursery in the little house on Main—forcing His office into the living room area. He didn’t mind. They would find out the gender next month and teased about which sport the child would play, and what the name would be. Every sign or menu item He saw, He would say: Hey! Let’s name the baby that. For example, Stromboli—Strom for short.  They each began making arrangements to shift work schedules to 30 hours per week in order to care for the baby equally without a sitter. He would work Mondays and Wednesdays, She would work Tuesdays and Thursdays, and they would alternate Fridays.

At 16 weeks, though, the worst of the worst happened.  She sobbed in the ER holding her 5-inch, 4 oz. baby with 10 fingers and 10 toes in a little pink kidney-shaped emesis basin. Everything had happened so fast—He was on his way to the ER from work. They had only told family they were pregnant three weeks earlier.  He sat next to her in the hospital bed, as they looked at their first child, genderless and nameless. They asked for a picture, but the nurse had no camera. They looked to the Social Worker and the Chaplain who had come into the room for support and resources, but nobody could do anything. The Social Worker called the Forensic Nurse, knowing she had access to a camera for evidence collection. But the Forensic Nurse would not permit the camera to be used in this way. She only wanted to document this, the birth of their first child. They were devastated.

When everyone else left the room, the Social Worker offered up her cell phone. “I could take a picture for you, right here, and send it to your phone or your email. I don’t know what the rules are for this, so we’d have to delete it right after it’s sent.”  They agreed, through tears, took the picture, and sent it to themselves at home. They deleted it from the Social Worker’s phone and said goodbye to the little baby.

They spent several days holding hands, but not talking or eating. They spent several more days watching TV and going on long, solitary bike rides. Sometime during the second week, they started eating snacks and taking walks. They went back to work. They took deep breaths and were very careful with each other. During the third week, He brought home a bottle of Little Penguin. They poured a glass and celebrated the brief life of their first child. He kissed every place the tears fell, and she again knew everything would be okay. Everything was okay.

The following spring, they gave birth to a healthy baby boy. Waiting for them at the house was a chilled bottle of Little Penguin and two glasses. They gave each other the longest hug ever in the world and toasted to their healthy little penguin.

Two years later, they gave birth to twins and immediately purchased an entire a bottle of gin.

~~~

On the 96th floor of the Hancock building in Chicago, several decades later, they sat at a corner table, surrounded by their kids and grandkids to celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary. After rounds of appetizers and meals and desserts, She pulled the bottle of Fat Bastard out of her giant purse. In 45 years, they could not bring themselves to open the Fat Bastard, which would have meant they’d had THE fight. The first one, the worst one, the one you had to make up over.

They’d had moments: stressful moves, budget veers on both sides, parenting struggles, a constant battle over who would let the dishes pile up the longest until someone broke and unloaded the dishwasher, and there was that one time he threw away her entire bag of dry cleaning because she’d put them in a black trash bag and he assumed it was trash. Whoops.

But they never opened the Fat Bastard until this very moment, in celebration of their 45 years together, having made it so far and so long. They opened the bottle, poured a glass for everyone, and drank until it was gone. They looked at each other, smiled and swallowed the last gulp hard. They’d consumed the worst, and they were okay.

What neither disclosed was that each had replaced the bottle an average of 3-4 times per year, having emptied it without the other knowing.

A Letter to My Younger Self

Preface: This was our Scribes assignment last month (writing a letter to our younger self) and it was hard. Like, really hard. You should try it. I took the assignment literally. Others were more creative.

Dear Younger B,

It’s me, Older B. I’ve been commissioned to write you a letter.  You will never believe how hard it is to be in charge of all the secrets in our lives, and to determine which things to tell you and for what purpose.

We live in Carmel now. You are somewhere nearby (back in time) and whenever I run into a person who knew you, I feel compelled to run a way or jump behind a bush.  What I really want to say is: stop hi-jacking my experience here! But if Oldest B were writing me a letter, I would want her to be proud of me, and very kind. So, while reaching for my top-shelf patience, I would like to offer you a little compassion and a hug. Is seems necessary to pick you up and put you in my pocket before anyone else makes a judgment, because, well, you’re me. And we’re both doing the best we can, yes?

With that in mind, I would like to tell you right off the bat: you are already good enough, cool enough, nice enough, honest enough, funny enough, pretty enough, smart enough and competent enough. If you do nothing else, you are already these things.  Also, I have looked at a ton of pictures of you throughout the years. You are always skinner today than you will be tomorrow, so be happy with your body right now.

(You might also find this helpful sooner than later: there is a good face behind those eyebrows.)

I have decided not to share too many secrets, because life will give you lots of stories to tell, and without those, you might become a bore at parties. Also, each thing prompts you toward the next, and life gets exponentially better further up and further in. I don’t want to short-circuit this process. I will, however, give you some tips to ease the journey, throw some metaphorical pillows on the ground to soften your falls, and try to sand down a few sharp edges, okay? That’s what Older Bs do for Younger Bs.

I don’t know if you’re at the phase in life where 5’8″ you is jumping over shin-high bushes in the background of a video of your 3 and 5 year old brothers doing the same in the foreground; I don’t know if you’re at the stage where you can be seen doing karate chops by yourself, again, in the background of a video of your brothers doing real karate in the foreground. I’m not sure if you are a foot taller than your 4th grade class yet in a one-piece jumper made out of firework fabric sewn by your mom, or if you’re being kicked out of gymnastics because you’re too tall and heavy to spot, or if you’ve already soaked your jet-black hair with sun-in, baked it with a blow-dryer and performed an at-home perm kit backward by brushing it straight. Wherever you are in this process, you should know that you grow up to be funnier because of how weird you are right now.

Here are the punch lines to those stories: your hair turns bright orange, and the perm kit doesn’t work. You will be gray when you’re 19. You’ll quit gymnastics and play basketball through college. Although you’ll go to a college so tiny the volleyball team doubles as the basketball team, you will get a scholarship and you’ll break the scoring record during a tournament your freshman year—the only win that season. Today your grown-up self doesn’t even care about gymnastics.

**Side note, you’ll be tempted to order a little bacon and pepperoni pizza at midnight after basketball practices several times per week in college. Don’t do it. This is a dangerous habit. One day your metabolism will stop, and you’ll be frantically canning salads on Sunday nights to eat throughout the week because you can’t drop 15 pounds and your pants don’t fit. You are not currently playing basketball as an adult. You’ve spent a decade trying to break the pizza-cookie habit.

Maybe you’re in 7th grade, wearing a black turtleneck and multi-colored cow boxers, same as your BFF, with a notebook that you carry around every second containing the lifelong secrets between the two of you, and also some lyrics to Lion King. Everyone thinks you are a lesbian right now. You probably don’t even know what this means yet. No matter. Don’t change one single thing. This BFF will get you through High School in one piece, and you’ll both marry fantastic men.  The kids who make fun of you feel left out. The adults who think you’re a lesbian are out of touch with what BFF looks like at 13.

Younger B, if a safe-looking place opens its doors and a group of people attempt to love you unconditionally—assuming it’s not a gang—hang out there. You will have access to a pretty amazing youth group. Don’t take this for granted, because it’s the only reason you have turned out semi-normal at an earlier age, as compared to those other dudes in the foreground of all those cute videos. They will never really engage in this youth group. Their support network will expose them to several different drugs and county lock-ups. Yours will expose you to cross-cultural missions trips to Central America and, like, Chicago. That said, you act kind of weird, and if “youth group” were writing the story, it would not begin with a sentence like: “I have a pretty amazing Brooke.”  This dynamic is what makes the place so great. They know you and they still let you in. There you will find enough hugs and friends and snacks. Attend as often as you can. Go on every winter overnight and fall-break trip and summer mission. This experience is widening your lens and building a strong social and moral network, although it won’t present as such for several more years. Grown-up me wants to tell all the adults in your life thanks for keeping you safe and loved, and for not rolling their eyes to your face.  **Note to future self: stop rolling eyes at crazy teenagers.

Younger B, here is an important thing to note: life will seem completely out of control sometimes. That’s because it is.

Life is hard, but there is always a pressure valve somewhere. Kids will make fun of you.  They’ll call you Boring Brooke at cross-country camp and throw candy wrappers in your hair during choir.  Adults will manipulate you. Coworkers will bully you.  Family will disappoint you. Friends will hurt your feelings. People will say mean things behind your back, and sometimes even to your face. You’ll be misunderstood and misrepresented a thousand million times. You’ll be judged and dismissed and ignored. Lots of things will be unfair.  You will not be the best or the brightest. You will not be the funniest or the prettiest.  Good things will happen to bad people in your life. Bad things will happen to good people in your life.  Plans will not unfold according to your expectations. Even your own body will let you down.

But somewhere nearby will be a crawfish-type guy. Make it your mission to find the crawfish in your misery, give a quick thanks, force yourself to smile and keep moving forward. I tell you this one truth: someone nearby has it worse than you. Get tough, lady!

(Also, quick! Join volleyball. This will keep you from having to go to Cross Country camp in the first place. If you get stuck going anyway, just don’t tell the coach your family can’t afford it to get out of it- your coach will call your confused parents and offer them a scholarship. Ugh.)

Okay. Tone shift.

Little B, this is most important: Before high school is finished you will get confused about your value.  You will do all kinds of silly (desperate) things to figure it out, and in the end you will feel worse. These are the types of things that make adult you want to jump behind bushes when I see someone we know here in Carmel. I don’t care what people tell you—high school years are not the best years of your life. Whoever said this must have died at 19.  In whatever way you’re able to push through it (and I promise to set aside all judgment, because I believe you are doing the best you can with the resources you have), push through it. On the other side of high school is a spectacular green meadow with birds and rainbows and soft-serve machines in your college cafeteria and unlimited access to pop-tarts and friends and total freedom. You will think this is the best best and you’ll try to live forever at 19, but after college is an even bigger, greener meadow with meaningful relationships, sound judgment and insight, spectacular job opportunities, financial independence, other cities and countries, passions, competencies, etc. Just trust me on this. Your adult life is currently amazing.

Also, I debated whether or not to disclose this, but you do so much better when you’re prepared for these types of things.  Asking for a little help from the right people would have saved us a ton of heartache, so if I could offer you a redo on anything, it would be this—and I disclose it with my tightest hug and my warmest blanket: Aunt C is going to die. It will happen in a car accident 2 weeks before you go to college, right at the beginning of your parent’s decade-feeling-long divorce, and it will screw up the first half of your college experience.  You will understand that life is unpredictable—that any awful thing could happen at any safe-feeling time; that a person could be here this morning and gone by dinner, with no warning. You will feel so sad and alone in your grief, and so chaotic in your brain.  You will not know how to express this to anyone. You will smoke and drink and lie and steal and get straight Fs and get kicked out and move off campus, and you won’t understand why. You will make friends with people 10 years older and try to fit them into gaping holes inside. You will begin to absorb a piece of everyone around you and lose your entire identity. This will be so hard,

To save you from this, I am dying to give you a bright neon list with lights and arrows identifying people to stay away from, because they are bad for you. They’re not bad people; but they’re not whole people either, and their needs will feed on your vulnerabilities.  But these people and experiences will bring you to the very edge of yourself, and finding that edge will provide you with insight and a never-again determination toward assertiveness, balance and truth-finding.  This is what 18-22 year-olds do: solidify self and develop insight.  Don’t beat yourself up over it.

Also, you’ll find that because God cares about you and intervenes in when you are flailing, there will be a professor—a psychology guy—who provides a list detailing the non-negotiable truth about who you are. This is what God says about you. It’s right here in the Bible, totally independent of what’s going on in your life right now. Just choose to believe it.  (You will want to believe this so hard.)

Once you choose to believe this, you will never be able to separate yourself from these truths from that moment on. If you could somehow know this at 8, and 17 and 19; at 5’8″ jumping bushes with curly black hair; at the gymnastics studio when you’re a foot taller and too heavy; right before you do all those silly (desperate) things to find value and absorb an identity. If you could internalize this immediately, your life would be better faster. If you just can’t get it right yet, don’t worry. This will be waiting for you at 24.  Life gets infinitely better after 24, trust me.

Now for the good stuff.

You could never imagine this, but somewhere in Wisconsin or Evansville or Belize or Sierra Leone or Nepal or Ecuador or Bloomington or South Carolina or Maine (depending how old you are right now and where he is right now) a dude is living and growing and stepping into tiny footsteps laid out for him to someday cross your path. Unless you’ve met this guy yet, you think you don’t want to get married. I will not try to convince you otherwise, but as your older, wiser self, I can’t wait for you to meet him! He’ll marry you. Love will spill over, and you will be the kind of happy there aren’t words for. He will hold you in esteem as though you are the exact kind of person God says you are. And he’s so funny.

There are a bunch of other things I would like to save you from: a car accident, piles of rejection letters, natural disasters, acts of terrorism, family dissolution, aimless relationships, etc. But many of those things will prompt you toward other, better things your lil’ heart can’t even imagine.

The thing to know is this: Adult you is safe and happy and warm and successful and loved. You are married to a handsome, funny, compassionate man. Your job is meaningful and important. You have three beautiful nieces, and your brothers are amazing dads. You are so proud of them in that way. Your parents remarry via the internets to people you love, and everyone sort of ends up happy.  God has always been present in your life, and your life is proof of his grace.  Translation: you do some crazy things, but are undeservedly cared for.  I want you to remember that God does not cause bad things to happen, Younger B. He sits right next to you in your grief, even the kind caused by your own self.  He’ll redeem anything and everything if you trust him, and he’ll make something bright out of darkness.

You will be tempted to think you know exactly what you want out of life at any given moment. But he writes a much better story than we do, so don’t try to hijack the plot and deposit yourself somewhere else. You are exactly where you’re supposed to be.

Love & Hugs-
Older B

PostScript: It turns out I talk to myself more frequently than I realized. These may also help- here and here.

Dorothy Lee Dismukes McInnis Mecca the Third

She’s not really a Third, but the title doesn’t accurately reflect Queen Grandma’s importance without it. This is my grandmother: deeply southern, big-sunglass wearing, Pritchard Alabama born and politician father raised, eye-batting, order barking, Give me some suga’ saying, Grams. I used to be her favorite, but then my younger brothers got married. Marriage is valued over firstborn granddaughters in the south, so if you are an oldest child and approaching 24, move over. Your younger married siblings will take your birthright.

I was married at 29- a quick 10 months from spinster, per the southern family. These days, all conversations start like this: Brookie? Is Jeff taking care of you? No, wait. I got that mixed up. Brookie? Are you taking care of Jeff? Are you being sweet? I hope you’re treating him real good. You better keep that man. Let me talk to Jeff. Hey Dahlin’! Is my granddaughter taking good care of you? Is she cooking for you? Tell me what you’re eating…

Last month, the family gathered, covered in dots, to celebrate Grandma Dot’s 75th birthday. My job was to pick up the cake, and because it wasn’t ready on time, I spent an unexpected hour in the lobby of Classic Cakes. Browsing the clearance selection, I had this present-time flashback (because it still occurs) to all the clearance cakes my grandma had purchased from Classic Cakes through the years, stockpiled in her freezer, and forced upon us at birthdays or overdue birthdays, or hostess gifts, or a friend-of-a-friend’s birthday, or just because it was on sale. She can throw a grad party in under an hour because she’s owns 3 floor-to-ceiling cabinets full of party favors, tablecloths, hats, napkins, forks, candles, plates and noise-makers for every occasion. All that, and this was her conversation to my mom several years ago for my brothers’ high school graduation:

“Trisha? Honey, I’m here at this paper place… oohh, yes, is this one on sale too? and…hello? You there? I’m at this paper place and for $26 we can have the napkins…let me describe them…they have a confetti-like in the corner…well, a triangle shape in one direction, its real festive looking, and they have a special where you can get 100 napkins with their names imprinted. Well, the one I’m looking at has four girls names, because they all had their party together, but, I mean, we could print Ben-uh-Bry-uh Benjamin and Brandon’s names on—this one? No, no, I mean this one— Trisha? And they can put their school and the date…now did you say their school colors are burgundy and white?”

She bought the napkins.

She could decorate every house in China with Christmas Villages from her own attic.

In that little cake shop, I thought to myself: I love this cake lady. I love how every fall from the time I can remember though college, she took me school clothes shopping to “freshen up” my wardrobe. We only bought things that looked “smart”. I love how she bought me the Clinique three-step system from 8th grade on, and still asks me today if I’m using my Clinique when she looks closely at my face. I love how one of my earliest memories is going to Clowes Hall or Beef & Boards or the LS Ayers Tearoom in matching black velvet jackets. I love remembering those long summer days at her big house on the tiny lake, which, at the time, seemed like the ocean. I love that she once offered to pay me $100 to grow out my nails and/or memorize the Gospel of John. I love how she blames the way I eat a salad on the fact that I climbed trees with all those boys instead of enrolling in ballet. I love that she won’t let me out of the house if my nail polish is chipping until she’s removed it. I love that she offered us a 50-inch TV for my birthday, a mattress for our wedding, and a sliding glass door last summer and the only thing I’ve actually walked away with is a juicer from 1991. I love that at work, when someone asks: where did you get that unique hot pink and brown animal printed tunic with sequins around the neckline? Or that sharp black and white swirly ribboned tunic thing with the white linen capris, I can say: my Grams. She gave me a Wedding Trousseau. I had never heard of a trousseau until I got engaged. It’s a collection of clothing and linens that a bride assembles for her marriage so she’s all prepared for the first year, or as my Grams put it: so Jeff won’t have to buy me anything.

Here is a quote that accurately reflects a) how trousseaus were a symbol of wealth and social standing and b) what I’m sure my Grams thought we were doing at Steinmart:

“The society woman must have one or two velvet dresses which cannot cost less than $500 each. She must possess thousands of dollars worth of laces, in the shape of flounces, to loop up over the skirts of dresses… Walking dresses cost from $50 to $300; ball dresses are frequently imported from Paris at a cost of from $500 to $1,000… There must be traveling dresses in black silk, in pongee, in pique, that range in price from $75 to $175… Evening robes in Swiss muslin, robes in linen for the garden and croquet, dresses for horse races and yacht races, dresses for breakfast and for dinner, dresses for receptions and parties…” from “Lights and Shadows of New York” by James McCabe, 1872.

In 2010, you’ll need a work outfit, a dress outfit, a lounge outfit, pajamas, unders, and bras, per Grams and the state of Alabama.

I love how when I was spending my first Thanksgiving holiday with Jeff and meeting his family, she insisted we go to the outlets to buy a pinstripe pajamas set and coordinated sweat suits for lounging. T-shirt and Nike shorts were not appropriate PJs in Dallas when meeting J’s parents.

On the PJ buying trip, Jeff met Grandma (and all the southern Aunties) for the first time. As a side note, they made us sleep on two separate queen-sized air mattresses next to each other on the porch, with the curtains open and the lights on. We were 29 and 36. We were just getting ready to leave the GAP outlet that day after trying on way too many matching pajamas and sweat suit coordinates. Just before the credit card was swiped, Grams turned sharply to her left, zeroed in on a blue-and-white-striped sweater and yelled with conviction: STOP! She threw her arm out to the left, blocking anyone from passing her or moving ahead. Somebody in my family has to have that shirt. Somebody has to have it. Brookie, go get that shirt. It looks so smart. So fresh. We have to have that. We just have to have it.

Jeff now thinks it’s appropriate at Home Depot to halt in the middle of the aisle and yell: STOP! Somebody in my family has to have that mulch. Somebody has to have it.

I love how even now with limited mobility, medication reactions, and 75 years of accumulated opinions, I can drive the mile to her house at 10pm, and she’ll be up. She’ll rub my back or play with my hair or take off my nail polish and send me home with the bottle. She’ll scroll through 8 programs she’s saved on the DVR for over a year having to do with Belize or New Orleans in case I come over. I love that she offers us a Bloody Mary before my brothers come over.

Despite the silly scars I thought the previously mentioned things would leave—for example, that one Christmas when she called me a puppy, or the moment she looked at my engagement ring and said, Is it plastic? or how sometimes she glances my way and asks if I’m going to put on lipstick because I look dead—somehow in the cake shop that day, all these memories swirled into a uniquely hilarious and lovable Grandma. Soft skin and a soft lap to lay on. Stories we’ll pass around the table with the Classic Cake Grandma plans to will us in the future. The only remaining scar is a tiny little gash above my left eye acquired while running buck-wild around her coffee table on that big house on the tiny lake, back when I was the favorite.

**Submitted for Scribes as a Scar Story