Writing in the Margins, Bursting at the Seams

Writing in the Margins, Bursting at the Seams: February 2011

Monday, February 28, 2011

White Lies

Well, Froggie died today.  Or maybe it was yesterday.  Or was it the day before that?  I don’t actually know for certain.  My son, who was supposed to be getting dressed, but was more likely futzing around, suddenly shouted to me from the top of the stairs.  It wasn’t one of those bored Mom, I’m out of socks calls, but a more urgent, a more panicked call.  A call that says, Mommy, get up here right now! There’s a dead animal in my room!
Yep. I’ve been round this block before: In the course of seventeen years, my family’s probably lost an entire school of fish—the first when my eldest, then six, decided to take the goldfish she’d  just won at the carnival on a personalized tour of her bedroom in the palm of her hand.  I picture that poor fish flopping on my daughter’s palm, gaping for water, my daughter stroking its dried scales with an index finger and scolding, “Now calm down, Goldie.  We’re almost there.” 
We also lost a hermit crab we believed to be molting until husband picked up his shell to check his progress and, instead of the skin he’d shed falling away, the entire body spilled from the shell.  And after several years with my family, our beloved dog developed severe arthritis and had to be put to sleep.  As did a cat we adopted, a cat who inexplicably despised my family.  After one year of living on the periphery of our lives, coming out to eat and drink and to inspect her cat box, she developed liver failure.  And just a month ago, Hammy the Hamster died, the pet store never having informed us that hamsters are prone to developing cancerous goiters in their necks.  But that’s another story.
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Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Lunch Lady

We swarmed into the cafeteria, the lunch ladies at attention behind a stainless steel counter.  They wore the uniform of the seventies: Tight polyester pants that zipped up the back and oversized button up shirts.  The first woman reached for a molded plastic tray and spooned a watery portion of wrinkled peas into one compartment before sliding the tray to her left where another woman with a hair net scooped questionable-looking meat onto white hamburger buns.  A third dished up Tater Tots, while a fourth ladled chicken noodle soup into green melamine bowls.  The final woman in the line set out squares of Jell-o on white paper plates, little chunks of fruit trapped within, on top a flower of hardened whipped cream that invariably fell off.  The Jell-o wriggled dangerously on the paper plate as I lifted it to my tray before reaching into the plastic cylinders housing the knives, forks, and spoons that never seemed to be clean.  I pulled a napkin from the holder and carried my tray to the table, hoping that I would make it to my seat without sloshing the soup onto my Tater Tots.  At the table, my friends and I laughed chocolate milk through our noses and smashed the peas into a thick paste.
A lunch lady approached our table, frowning as she mopped up the milk with the standard issue gray dishrag she wore slung over her shoulder.  She jabbed an angry finger at the peas.  “That’s a sin.  People are starving.”
We surreptitiously rolled our eyes and bit our lips to contain our laughter.  As she walked away, we giggled at her outfit, the pouch of her belly, her graying hair and the tired lines beneath her eyes.
The bell rang. I stood and carried my tray to the garbage, pouring the soup into a plastic tub reserved for that purpose before banging the tray against the inside of the trash bin to remove the smashed peas.  “I’ll never be a lunch lady,” I vowed as we filed out of the cafeteria, leaving behind our spilled soup, our paper straws, our dirty spoons and trays.  “Ever.”

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Friday, February 18, 2011

Growing Pains

“Great hair,” Linda exclaimed profusely, elongating her words the way I wished I could lengthen my hair.  “Greeeeat hair.”
“You know?”  I caught the stylist’s eye in the mirror.  “I just wanted a trim?”
“Such body.”  Snip.  Snip.  Snip.  She continued the assault on my head.  Scissors whisked efficiently around me in a whirl; a flurry of hair thickened the air.  “Must be nice.”
I watched with dismay as heavy locks of hair thudded to the floor.  “I’m kind of trying to grow it out a little?” 
“Just. Terrific. Hair.”
For over thirty years, I’ve been trying to grow out my hair, this latest attempt all gone in a poof.  Or rather a series of snips.

* * * 

One bright afternoon in May—I was no more than ten—I took a chair to the patio and handed my mother the scissors.  She lifted one of the long braids, plaited tightly in the style of my heroine, Laura Ingalls.  “Are you sure?”
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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Omelets or Hashbrowns: The Choice is Yours

Homeschooling is an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet at an upscale hotel: As you rise from the table and pick up a plate, still warm from the dishwasher, you promise yourself you’re going to be good, to eat sensibly, to eat just enough.  You order a three-egg omelet made up with green peppers and mushrooms and…
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Monday, February 14, 2011


February and I’m busy planning my garden, leafing through the seed catalogues, circling more vegetables than my yard can hope to accommodate: Tomatoes and carrots; onions and lettuce.  But not asparagus.  Never asparagus. 

Asparagus is a commitment to place: After planting, you have to wait three or four years before first harvest.  And I am not committed to this land.  Oh, my husband and I have cared for it well enough, maintaining the house, mowing, trimming, putting in flowerbeds.  But I do not love this land: My heart, my soul belongs to the country. 
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