Dia-RRhetoric of The Mouth
Why is it that as a 45 year old woman I can still transform into middle school insecurities? The other day I was in the post office when a local well-known interior designer walked in. I could just tell you her name and what happened, but that would not paint this story for you. This lady is perhaps 60 years old, but she is the reason that 60 is the new 40. She is beautiful-always well dressed and has a charismatic
personality to complement the package. When she walks in the room it is like the cool girl has just appeared. Now, I see myself as a fairly confident 45 year old woman. At this point in my life there is not too much that really intimidates me, but on Wednesday I was off my game.
The day began as “just one of those days.” You know the day. We woke up late. I had a sick child that I had to take to the doctor. I had to get taxes and bills in the mail and I did not get my hot tea or breakfast that morning. In other words-I started the day off on the proverbial wrong foot. When she glided into the post office in her coral colored coat covering her sleek pants and blouse which had the hint of coral—–her hair was perfectly coiffed and she had the glow of a well-rested 2 weeks in her Honduran condo on her lovely face. I, on the other hand, got up-threw on a pair of running pants, grabbed a spandex top, hoodie and threw my hair in a pony tail. I don’t think I matched, but I did have on lip gloss. I always wear lip gloss. I suppose I think the sheen on my lips will deflect from the bags under my eyes. The only memory on my face was a late night at the office figuring how much Uncle Sam and everyone else was getting from our latest personal injury settlement and consoling a child with a sore throat at 3 a.m.
Now when she got in line behind me we exchanged pleasantries. She was trying to get back in her groove. She and her husband had just returned from a two week vacation. I know how it is getting acclimated after being out of town. I suppose looking back it was the combination of running late, no caffeine, doctor’s appointment at 10:30, another appointment at 1:00 and not eating breakfast, but I just couldn’t just say, “hello” and be done with it. I had to say exactly what I was thinking. After she told me about her day I proceeded to comment on the stack of brown envelopes in my hand. “Well,” I said, “money comes in and it goes out in the mail to freakin’ taxes.” She just smiled probably mentally checking off her list of things she had to do. That is what I normally do in the post office line. But, you see, I couldn’t stop there and let it go. I realized that “freakin'” may have sounded sort of offensive and I wouldn’t want this poised lady 15 years my senior to think I said such a thing. So I announced, “I said freakin’ and not F***KING.” As soon as I saw her wince and look around I realized that the quality that makes me well-heard as a public speaker or on the stage was at the top of my game in the main Decatur Post Office. F**********ING echoed off the post office walls. The man standing at the counter behind us stopped and stood at attention.
I just stopped. I didn’t say another word. Thank God it was my time at the window to mail my “freakin'”mail. Before I left the line I turned to her and apologized for my lack of discretion. She graciously smiled and scoffed as she told me it would take a lot more than that to offend her. Of course I felt like an idiot for the rest of the day. I had to share this story with my sister and my friend, Kate. They both laughed and told me it probably wasn’t as bad as it seemed. I knew better. It was bad, but I could laugh at myself.
The next night the lady in the coral coat with the perfect hair and I attended a get together at a mutual friend’s. We all laughed and had a great time. I left earlier than most of the girls. As I was walking out she told me she hoped I had a “freakin'” good night. Just like middle school it wasn’t as bad as I remembered.
What Happens In Carrabelle Stays in Carrabelle
When our daughter was four my husband and I decided we would like to explore a different part of the Florida coast and find a “mom and pop” motel like we visited when we were children in the 60’s. I did my research and found the perfect motel in Carrabelle, Florida called the Beachside Motel. This is about 70 miles east of Panama City, Florida. There is a reason it is called the “Forgotten Coast.” At one time the town was known in the Guiness Book of World Records as having the smallest police station in the world – a single pay phone booth.
When I called the owner, Linda, she told me Max, the motel handyman, would be there to check us in when we arrived in the evening. Linda was from up north and she had owned the motel for several years and had some of the same families return each year to spend their vacation at the Beachside Motel. We were so excited about our “Old Florida” adventure. When we arrived Max had left the key on the counter in the unlocked motel office with a note that we could just “settle up” the next morning. The motel was an L shaped-one story building with parking directly outside of our door with a chair or two on which to sit in the cooler hours of the day before the “bite’en flies” came out. The floor was terrazzo tile and the shower barely trickled with water that smelled of sulfer. The television was an old color set with only three stations. Who needs TV when you are about to live your own version of the movie “Deliverance?”
The next morning we got ready to go down to the beach- Allen in his Polo swimsuit, me in my cute designer suit that amply covered my body, and our daughter in her Kelly Kids or Fast Friends label swimsuit. The first people we met that day were from a small town outside of Tallahassee. The wife, a fleshy and well-endowed woman, had on a swim suit 3 sizes to small. She and her husband were there with their three children-one of whom was a baby that ran around in a diaper the entire time we were there. They were from the pork rinds and Pabst beer set. They invited us to their room for drinks later that evening.
Allen, our daughter and I went down to the beach and soon our little one announced she had to potty. I did tell her she could go tee tee in the water if she really had to go. We had been to the beach many times before, but I guess this had never come up. She looked at me like I was crazy and we trekked up to our room. I suppose thinking back-as long as it took to potty train her- she was not about to undo everything she had learned. When I took her up to the room, our new friend was sitting on a chair outside of their room with her legs wide apart chewing on boiled peanuts-her boobs flopping around while she watched her diaper-clad child roam the gravel parking lot. I smiled and told her we had to come up for a potty break. She then asked, “What-she gotta go poo?” I just stopped and casually said, “No, she just has to tee tee and she doesn’t like to go in the water-but thanks for wanting to be specific.” She then cackled and said, “Well ya’ll are just too high-class to go piss in the ocean.” I realized at that moment I was out of my league. There was nothing in my experience that could have prepared me for that response.
We had a nice, but benign evening with this couple and then we went back to our room. The next day we were invited to a motel bonfire for all of the guests. Most of these people knew each other; they were nice ,but seemed to be somewhat suspicious of us. Allen did not wear cut-offs or drink Milwaulkee’s Best, our daughter didn’t tinkle in the water and I was helping plan the bonfire that evening like a Cocktail Party. I was trying to get a list together of our cookout needs when one of the women told me just to bring some “Marshmallers, the big kind.” O.K. -when in Rome. So marshmallows we brought.
When we all gathered for the cookout there was a little boy of six from Hosford with his grandmother and his very young father. One must pause first to consider this part of Florida – it is south of I-10, north of the beach, west of Tallahassee and the Appalachicola River- on the edge of a national forest primarily composed of swamp, palmetto plants, cypress trees and wild boars. The little boy ate a few of the marshmallows and I heard him get a little irritable and cry. I told them in my most pleasant hostess voice,”Oh, let him have another marshmallow-we’ve got plenty.” She let me know quickly, “He don’t want no marshmaller-he wants a dip.” Not getting it -I asked, “A dip of what?” Only to be informed that their little one wanted some more snuff. They only let him do it on the weekends. I’m thinking- “Oh, but of course, it makes perfect since to me-everyone I know dips and all of the children in our daughter’s preschool do it. I should have been more sensitive and understanding of his needs. Who needs another marshmallow when you can have a dip.”
I decided on that note it was time to mingle with some of the other motel guests. I met an older man who had surely had a few drug induced trips in his day. He had wild eyes and he smoked rolled cigarettes. He asked me if we smoked and naively I said, “Oh, only once in a while when we drink.” -No- he wanted to know if we-“You know smoke?” ” Oh My Stars-I’m thinking-Of course we don’t. That would be against the law. Are you nuts? Married people with children don’t really do that do they? And, certainly old men like you don’t do that?” I then tried to exchange pleasantries through his smoke-filled haze. I asked him how old their son was. He stopped and thought a moment and looked at his young wife and he looked at me and announced, “Now let me think back-he was conceived in Panama City in September of ’92-Uh, let’s see-Yea, he’s two. They looked at each other apparently remembering their fun in Panama City and agreed their child must be two. I could picture them having a big party for their baby on the anniversary of the day he was conceived and them giving everyone marijuana cigarettes as party favors.
We had to leave the next day, and we actually exchanged numbers with the people who were not too high class to potty in the ocean. We’ve never called each other. And, even though we did not really have anything in common with most of these people-the common bond was an Old-Florida Bonfire on a beautiful summer evening with people who looked past all their differences.
The evolution of furniture in a marriage must signify status. Like most young married couples, my husband and I combined “attic furniture” (collected from the attic’s of our parents) with furniture from our single days. Which probably was brought out of the attic after we each left college and set out on our own.
During the first few years of our marriage we liked to go “antiquing, ” so we collected a few antiques here and there. After five years of marriage we decided we wanted to buy a new sofa to replace the one that had graced our living room since the beginning of our marriage. It had begun furniture life as a bachelor brown sofa my husband got from someone in college. I, not really wanting to think about what had taken place on the sofa, had it recovered to a beautiful pink and white with a touch of seafoam green fabric. This was during my victorian phase when everything in my home was pink, white wicker and lace. My mother-in-law said I would out-grow that phase. I couldn’t understand. I do now.
When we set out to buy this sofa, Allen looked at things like sturdy frames; we also learned it was important to have eight-way tied construction in the sofa. I just wanted pretty fabric, though I did look at durable fabric that would hide stains. We did have a 2 1/2 year old.
We found the perfect sofa at a relatively nice furniture store. It was not a discount store, but I suppose now thinking back it was not upscale either. At the time I really didn’t know the difference. I just wanted grown up furniture.
A few years later when we were doing more “grown up” decorating -My decorator (I had a decorator now-I was really grown up ) and I were looking for another new sofa-this time for our living room. She told me to go into one of the more “upscale” furniture stores to see if they had anything I liked and if so, we would go back in there to see if it worked in our home and if not we could order something.
As I walked into this store I was met with the stern hello-mixed with sweet smile of someone who wants to pounce you to make you buy and at the same time wondering if you are worth the time to close the deal. When I told them about my quest they referred me to the back room with another decorator who could help me. A decorator to help my decorator!
She was older than I was and looked all “put together.” I, on the other hand, was in my maternity uniform -six months pregnant with little time to spare. My daughter was in Mother’s Morning Out and I needed to make some choices. The furniture store decorator was sort of intimidating and told me to look at some fabrics and sofa types. I used to look at types- like tall dark and handsome and now I was looking at sofa types-chippendale or queen anne. The room was quiet and cramped with fabrics all hung on hangers that I was supposed to look at and determine if any one of them caught my eye. It was like a padded room full of fabric swatches. I really did think I was going crazy.
One particular fabric did catch my eye. I was so excited they had the same fabric as our family room sofa-the one we had bought a couple of years before. The decorator was sure to be impressed. I carefully took it off the rack and held it up and exclaimed to the decorator -who had gone back to her important work at her desk-“I have this fabric on the Broyhill sofa in my den.” Not knowing that many different furniture companies used the same fabrics I just assumed they would have my sofa and fabric at her store. The decorator slowly sneered at me and said-through clenched teeth-“We don’t do Broyhill.” If there was a place in that room marked “Cookie’s Place” she definitely put me in it. I was stunned and speechless. I was thinking to myself-“You don’t do Broyhill-How could you not do Broyhill? All of the gameshows I watched growing up like Let’s Make a Deal and The Newlywed Game always did Broyhill. What was wrong with her and this store?” I looked at a few more swatches and thanked her and left.
My decorator and I ordered a beautiful sofa from North Carolina; it is still in my living room. The Broyhill sofa is still in my den; I have had it recovered three times so the Broyhill label is no longer visible. To my knowlege- my status did not suffer from the Broyhill debacle. I did not lose any friends. I still got into The Junior League, my husband still made partner in his firm before going solo and I learned a valuable lesson-never be impressed by the furniture prizes on game shows.
I love words. I love to study word origins. One of my favorite Christmas presents was given to me by my sister; it is a book simply titled “Word Origins.” This book is filled with words like Jingoism. I like the way it sounds-Jingoism. Then, when I hear it I play little games repeating it like a little kid saying, “jingoism and jingoisn’t.” I just think it sounds funny. It makes me laugh. Jingoist is actually a name given to British Patriots in the late 1800’s who repeated a little song with the words “by jingo” in it. Someone else liked the way it sounded; they made a word out of it.
It is also not lost on me that the word hysterical “comes from the Greek term ‘hysterikos’ which means suffering in the womb.” The Greek word for uterus is hystera. The decider of words said- ok hystera means uterus-women have wombs-women get crazy-we will now call this word-“hysterical.” Sometimes having a uterus can make you hysterical.
Then, my children sometimes ask me questions like- who decided that damn is a bad word? Or we all know that the word “ass ” is in the Bible, but we know that it is bad to call someone “an ass.”
Then, there are cruder terms. Terms that refer to sexual things. Things a lady should not talk about. I really don’t go around talking about these things, but they are there-in my mind and sometimes they come out of my mouth at the oddest times. Words are funny that way. It’s not like I am suffering from a neurological condition that prohibits me from having control over this-it just happens sometimes.
This was most evident recently when our car wouldn’t start. We had it towed to our mechanic and told him to let us know what the problem was. When I saw our mechanic the next day he informed me that it was not the battery ; it was something else. I told him that Allen figured it probably wasn’t the battery because when he had “jerked it off” it wouldn’t do anything.
Not many things embarrass me, but as I stood eye to eye with this man-one whose wife had home-schooled their five sons-I couldn’t believe what was escaping from my mouth. But, I couldn’t stop there. I knew I had said the wrong thing so I corrected myself, rather calmly I might add, and then told him I meant that Allen realized it wasn’t the battery when he had “jacked it off.” Still, he did not crack a smile. He just very casually helped me complete what I had wanted to say all along that Allen had tried to “jump off the car.”
By this time, I am trying to keep my composure- a very hard task for me, and my mind is racing -overcome with thoughts like-“there is no way I just said that.” When I did acknowledge my blunder he acted as if he didn’t even hear me and continued talking about the car.
Now this made me giggle. For God’s sake I had just told him that my husband had not only tried to “jerk off our car -he had also tried to jack it off.” How can you not laugh at that. When I began to giggle with embarrassment he still did not join me; he just said, “oh no it’s ok-hon.”
Well now I really got embarrassed because now it seemed like our dirty little secret. I just wanted to laugh about it and- get it out and over-apparently he did not. So, I bit my tongue, listened to him about my car and then got as far away from him as I could so I could literally roll around on the floor laughing at myself. I then called everyone I knew to share with them my eloquent way with words.
This man is still our mechanic and services both of our cars. But I swear I will never ask him for a lube job.
The Conditioning of Cookie
When I was three years old a housekeeper locked me in the bathroom so she could go into the neighborhood to sell tickets to a church bazaar. This story is not about my mental decline from this incident. It is about Maw Maw Bartlett and classical conditioning.
As a young child I had the privilege of living within close proximity to both of my grandmothers. There were lots of cousins, aunts, uncles and friends always around. My grandmother also had a dear lady, Lois Mae, who was phonetically called Loey Mae- kind of like Louis and Louie- who helped raise my mother , her siblings and all of the grandchildren.
My grandmother wasn’t at the country club having tea while Loey did this; she was either pickin’ peas or working. My nana was a working mother before Gloria Steinem told us it was ok to do so.
My mother, like my Nana, was also an independent soul who did not expect her sisters or her family to provide childcare. So mother very carefully or so she thought selected a lady to stay with me and keep our home in order while she and daddy were at work. Family lore has it that my mother received a call at work from a neighbor who said he could here me crying from the bathroom window. Of course my mother rushed home swooped me out of the locked room and then proceeded to find the housekeeper on the other side of the neighborhood cheerfully doing her volunteer work.
This is how my family met Maw Maw Bartlett. She looked out her window only to see a young mother of twenty-one chasing a lady down the street with a broom. As the neighbors gathered outside it was apparent my young mother and daddy needed a sitter for me and Maw Maw was just the person. She kept children in her home from time to time and she was known as a loving, but firm sitter. After Mother and Daddy got to know Maw Maw, her husband Papa Dave and their children, I had a new family to care for me and spoil me.
What I remember the most about Maw Maw’s house are fond memories like kool-aid and buttered toast (a childhood favorite) and the fact that she had coffee every morning in her home with her neighbor. My only unpleasant memory is seeing the image on the TV screen with the ocean crashing the rocks, the title in scary letters and the man announcing-“The Secret Storm!”
Mother and Daddy remember the loving and safe environment Maw Maw provided and- the word shit.
I never remember Maw Maw being mean to anyone or saying anything negative, but I do remember when the phone would ring she would say shit. Now she didn’t just say-shit. She would take the word on the first ring and begin to draw it out during each ring with-sheeeeeeeiiit! Then, she would answer in a nice voice -not like she was bothered-it was just the interruption of having to stop and go to the hall to answer the phone. There was no malice in “sheeeeeeeiiiit,” it was just what she said when the phone rang. As an impressionable three year old I thought that’s what one did when the phone rang. So it began. The “classical conditioning” of Cookie. At home the phone would ring, the stimuli in place, and out of the mouth of this three year old babe came-“sheeeiiiit.”
As a parent I can understand my parents’ dismay at this situation. Somehow they broke me of this bad little habit and I continued to stay with Maw Maw until I went to Kindergarten. I don’t think my parents ever even confronted Maw Maw with my Pavlovian conditioning. There was no need. I never had to see the inside of a locked bathroom again.
“Well-you need to get down now, because you may fall and get hurt! Get down-NOW! I want to go back inside and continue writing!”
“I can’t.” he says. “I’m afraid!” “Ben, you had better get down now! I want to go back inside!” “Mom, I can’t! Remember, I’M AFRAID OF HEIGHTS!” “AFRAID OF HEIGHTS?” I yelled. “THEN WHY THE HELL DID YOU CLIMB UP THERE?”
“Because I wanted a good hiding place,” he answered sheepishly.
So, the children and I proceeded to coach him on sliding down on his bottom off the shed. He still thought it was too high. He then thought he would jump off the side-onto the berm topped with pine straw. I didn’t think this was a good idea because the berm looked to be too far from the side of the shed. I then decided to go up the ladder-hold it steady-and extend my arm for him to come down. “No, mom, we might both fall!”
By this time I was really frustrated. I went into what I affectionately call-Redneck Mother Mode. I yelled unabashedly-“Ben-dammit-you come down now or I am sending everyone home!” “Mom, please don’t yell! You are making me nervous!” So, I calmed down and told him with my sweetest voice that I was only trying to help him-that I wanted him to get down without getting hurt-and that I could not leave him out there because I was afraid if the children encouraged him he may just fall and literally break his neck. “So, Sweetie, come on down. Just take my hand. Mommy wants to help you.” He wasn’t coming down.
That was it. I had all I could take. He had to get off of the roof. If he could get up there he had to grow up and figure out how to get down. I told him that I was sending Leslie home and that I was leaving to take Luke home. I thought desire to play with friends would trump fear;I thought that he would come to his senses and jump or slide. He just sat there and cried. I still thought he’d come down. It really wasn’t that high. It was only about eight feet high. And, he had always climbed trees and he had never been afraid of heights when it came to tree-climbing so surely he’d come down.
I dramatically got in the car with Luke and slowly backed out of the driveway. I carefully cut my eyes to see if he would come down. He just sat there-defeated looking as if he might celebrate the coming holidays up on that roof top.
When I realized he wasn’t coming down-I was then committed to take his friend home. I couldn’t go back on my word. I then called my next door neighbor to look outside to check on him. I didn’t want him to get hurt while I was gone. She told me, “He’s just sitting up there.” He did seem to be yelling for someone to come get him down. But, he seemed to realize-he was stuck up there for the time being.
I had so many thoughts run through my head like-I tried to help him get down-what do I do now? Do I make my husband come home from the office, do I call my neighbor to come help, do I call the fire department? On the one hand he needed to learn a lesson, but on the other hand I didn’t want him to get hurt. I just decided he would need to sit up there and think about it for a while. When I got home he was still there. Just sitting calmly-not upset-just sitting relaxing up on the roof. My neighbor even came over to take photos so we could have a laugh when he grows up. He asked me if he could get him down, but I said-no-he needed to think about it. Ben posed for the photos; my neighbor encouraged him, but he still wasn’t coming down.
An hour and fifteen minutes had passed since I first looked out to see him up on the rooftop. The next thing I knew I heard him running in the door. “Mom! I’m down!” When I asked him how he got down, he said, “Tony said he would call 911 and they would get me down-I thought that would be pretty embarrassing; plus I was really hungry!” I then realized that the old saying-“You’ve never seen a skeleton of a cat up a tree-” also holds true with little boys. I realized that embarrassment and appetite always trump fear.