For the very beginning of my novel Ginny Bates, read the post at The Beginning here. The thumbnail version is: In the spring of 1985, Myra Josong wins the Washington State lottery, 7.2 million after taxes. She doesn't know how to handle this kind of money, but is naturally cautious and thrifty -- grew up poor from an endless line of poor people. She has insisted her best friend, Allie, stop work and begin pursuing a career as an artist while Myra likewise pursues her writing and her lesbian-feminist activism.
The next section in the novel begins after the fold.
A month later, Myra called Chris Kash, an old friend of hers who lived nearby. Chris had been born and raised in a Nez Perce community near Colville, Washington. The family name had originally been Kash-Kash. Not able to come out to her parents as a teenager, she began drinking instead, then turned to heroin and moved to Seattle for a trio of reasons: To have access to drugs, to pay for them with prostitution, and to keep it hidden from her family.
Chris had gotten busted and locked up in a mental ward when it was easier (somewhat) to commit people against their will for being lesbian or Indian. A small group of radical mental health system activist dykes, most of them former mental patients, had stumbled across her in a locked ward where they trolled for lesbians who had been incarcerated against their will. They finagled her release by claiming kinship and assuming her care, and spent the next six months helping her recover from ECT, get sober, find a job and a place to live, and convincing her she was okay as she was. Once Chris was on her feet, they went back to the nuthouse to find another woman to rescue. She kept in touch with all of them and from time to time helped out their endeavors.
She was about five years older than Myra and Allie, tall, wide, dark brown with long black hair, and a mostly serious face that erupted into a dazzling grin when something struck her as funny. Which was often. Chris, Allie and Myra were a tight trio of friends.
Myra asked Chris "I hear there's a meeting Thursday night about pulling together some kind of speakout on racism in the women's community. Do you know who's doing this?"
"It's a mix of folks -- some from Wages Due Lesbians, some who're various tribal, a couple of folks from Prairie Fire -- "
"Uh-oh" said Myra. "Dogmatic white lefties?"
"Yeah. But I don't think they'll be able to hijack this one. At least one woman coming up from Eugene who's in ASPC. Anyhow, I'm going, wanna go together? Sima has something that night." Sima, a working-class Jew, was Chris's lover for the past five years.
Myra said "I'd love to go with. You have the address?"
"Listen, would you be willing to give me a ride? It's in Ballard, and our Toyota is on the blink."
"Sure thing. What's up with the car?" asked Myra.
"My guess is the fuel pump. But we can't afford to even start work on it until after we both get paid in a couple of weeks. So we're back to public transpo for a while."
"Do you want me to have a look at it, see if it's something easy?" Myra knew a fair amount about car engines.
"Let me ask." Myra heard Chris confer with Sima, then said "Can you come by before work and get the key?"
"You bet. See you then."
The next morning, Myra grabbed a bottle of Coke and the paper on her way out the door. She gave Sima and Chris a ride to their jobs -- they both worked downtown clerical jobs, a few blocks from each other. Sima Feinbruck was zaftig in the traditional sense, which Myra thought meant the same as Rubenesque -- fat but curvy and soft. She had a cap of kinky black curls and greeny-grey eyes, big lips, and a dark mole on her cheek near her right ear. Her skin was so pale it was almost blue. She was loud, like Myra, and could ask you questions just as fast as you could answer them. She took pride in being a Red Diaper Baby.
"That Toyota's really hung in there for you, hasn't it?" said Myra.
"Yeah, Emma's a trooper. I know you like Hondas --" said Sima.
"I like Toyotas almost as much" said Myra.
"Me, I been leaning toward Subarus" said Chris.
"How come?" asked Myra.
Chris talked about turbo engine specs, the company policies, and the longevity issues. She added "They've got a green that is just exactly the shade of moss on the rocks near where I roamed around as a kid. And the four-door has all-wheel drive."
"I know who to talk to when my Honda gives out" laughed Myra.
After dropping them, she went out to a diner for breakfast, marking up the classifieds of the paper with a Bic highlighter. Then she went back home and made several calls. By 9 a.m. she was standing in the driveway of a house in Greenlake, talking to a U-Dub science professor with a nearly-new Subaru for sale.
"Why are you getting rid of a new car this fast?" asked Myra.
"I'm moving to New York City. I got a job at Columbia. We already have one car, my wife's, to deal with there, and she won't give hers up."
"Would you mind letting my mechanic check it out? She's down in Interbay; we could drive over there right now, she knows I'm car shopping today."
The guy blinked, then said "Okay; let me get on some real shoes."
"Bring all your papers with you" said Myra.
He followed her to Sadie's shop and gave the keys to Sadie. After half an hour, Sadie came back, wiping her hands and shaking her head, which Myra knew was a good sign. Sadie had a chipped front tooth that made her adorable to Myra.
"She's cherry" said Sadie. "I'd change out her brake pads, somebody doesn't want to stop until he's right at the light -- "
The guy smiled weakly.
"But otherwise, a sweet ride."
"Can you do the brake pads today?"
"Shore" said Sadie.
Myra turned to the guy. "Let's haggle. What kinda discount you give if I pay cash?"
They went to a nearby branch of Myra's bank and walked out with the title in Myra's pocket. She gave the guy a ride home and borrowed his phone to call Sadie, setting her loose on the Subaru. Then she called a towing company. She met the tow truck at Sima and Chris's flat and gave it directions to Sadie's. After that she went to the DMV, which took way longer than it should have.
She stopped for a late lunch, reading the rest of the paper while she ate. She returned to Sadie's at 3:00 and got a verdict on the Toyota. Giving Sadie a second okay and leaving her credit card number, she went home and wrote for a while. By 5:00, she was back at Chris and Sima's, sitting on the long steep stoop up to their front door.
They came home at the same time, having rode the bus together. Their faces lit up when they saw Myra. "We were gonna heat up some potato-leek soup, wanna join us?" Sima asked.
Myra stood and faced them, one step above them. "Maybe. But first I wanna talk car with you."
Sima turned around to look for the Toyota on the street. When she couldn't find it, she looked back at Myra, concerned.
"Your Emma needs not just a new fuel pump, but also a water pump, the radiator is bleeding rust, the carberutor should be rebuilt, and, worst of all, several of the main gaskets are leaking oil. What Emma really requires is a new engine, to keep on being a rabble-rouser. The body is in decent shape, but if you don't get a new paint job soon, especially the undercarriage -- it must at some point have belonged to folks in the mountains, where they still salt roads -- the rust is going to compromise the body. So -- it's at Sadie Harvey's, she's the best mechanic in Seattle, if you ask me. The new engine will be done by this time next week, she thinks. Her body shop is going to prime it and paint it whatever color you want. Here's their brochure with all your choices, you can call 'em in the morning and tell 'em what color you've picked out. It's all paid for, every penny."
Sima had edged closer to Chris and was now hanging on her arm. She was too stunned to protest, yet. Myra looked at Chris.
"That Subaru color you mentioned, it's called herb green. Just like that one across the street, right?"
Chris was reluctant to look away from Myra's face, but did turn her head stiffly and have a peek. "Yeah, that's it."
"That sedan there is not brand new, it's about four months old with only 2500 miles on it. But Sadie pronounced it cherry, except for brake pads which she replaced today. I put it in your name, Chris, since I noticed the Toyota was in Sima's. The title transfer and tags will come to you in the mail whenever the fucking DMV gets around to it. Here's two sets of keys." Myra took Chris's hand in hers and put the keys in them. Chris tried to shove them back at her.
Myra said "The thing is -- when you two were first getting together, in that 'I can't think about anything except being alone with you' phase -- well, it was right when my mama died. When I went crazy. And you, Chris, you called me every coupla days just to chat, always managing to find me needy and leave me much less so. And both of you had me over to dinner every single Sunday, making home-style food and then playing Scrabble with me, your wacky version of Scrabble which is now the only way I ever want to play it. You did that for months and months, and you never once made me feel like a charity case."
"You weren't a charity case" said Chris. "You were a motherless child, and we loved you."
"Well, I'll never forget it. And with all you two do in the world, to not have a goddamned car -- it ain't right. On the one hand, it's just a couple of used cars. On the other hand -- well, I know what it means to need something basic like transportation and safety and a decent, working tool. So -- just remember, sisterhood feels good. I love you both." She zipped up her jacket a little and began walking down the steps. They were still in shock.
At the bottom, Myra stopped and said "Fuck." Turning to face them with a grin, she said "My car is at Sadie's."
Chris wiped her wet cheek with her palm and said, grinning, "You need a ride home in my new Subaru?"
"You bet." Suddenly whooping, Chris and Sima leaped down the steps, sandwiched Myra in a hug and kept pounding on her as they walked over to the new car. Myra got in the back, and Sima said "Let's go out to dinner." Then she leaned back and looked at Myra saying "Our treat."
A month after that, Myra went to a potluck fundraiser in support of Big Mountain. She took fried chicken like her mother used to make. She kept an eye out for anybody who had the nerve to take a piece and put it on their plate. One woman with glossy brown hair in a short bob bypassed the enchanted broccoli forest and went straight for the chicken platter. She took a breast, bit into it, then added a thigh to her plate as well. After she settled on the couch, Myra went over and sat down on the floor at her feet.
The brown-haired woman, mouth full, said "Hi." Myra said "Hi" back.
"Try the chicken" the woman said. Myra got scared and had no idea why. She took a drink of Calistoga, then said "I made that chicken."
The brown-haired woman looked up, looked right at her. Her eyes were a smudgy blue. She grinned; there was a fleck of spinach on her right incisor. "I'm Jenny."
Myra balanced her plate on her lap and shook the woman's hand.
"How'd you learn to make chicken like this?" she asked Myra.
"It's my Mama's recipe. Family secret."
"Well, then, I guess I'll have to call your Mama direct and ask her." Jenny's dark eyebrows didn't match. They both had a peak, but the peak was in different spots over each eye.
Myra didn't think before she said "She's dead." To try to head off the inevitable chilling effect of this statement, she joked "A very long distance call."
Jenny put her hand on Myra's briefly and said "I am so sorry. How old were you?"
"25. Five years ago now."
"I don't have to ask if you were close, not if she taught you how to make chicken like this."
Myra got scared again. What the fuck is up with me? she thought.
"I made the crispy tofu." Jenny peered at Myra's plate. "You don't have any -- here, try a bite."
Myra had passed it by because she wasn't sure what it was. She took a bite, then raised her eyebrows.
"Better than it looks, right?" laughed Jenny. "I'll share my recipe, 'cause it's definitely not from my mother. Use the firmest tofu you can buy, cut it into slices, dip each slice into beaten egg, then brewer's yeast, then sesame seeds, then fry it in a mixture of butter and canola oil."
"I really like it" said Myra.
"It's good for when I've got a protein jones on, like right now because I'm about to start my period. But when I saw that chicken, well, that hit the spot even more." Jenny had dimples in her full, reddish cheeks. Both of them showed when she grinned widely enough; she was grinning as she ate, but only the left dimple was visible because of chewing.
She took another big bite, then said "I've seen you around. Aren't you a friend of Allie's?"
Myra's grin was huge. "Yep. How do you know her?"
"We've both been in the print project. And other places."
Myra recognized that smooth slide around identification, from how Allie did the same thing when talking about someone she met at AA. Allie took the Anonymous part very seriously.
"I go to Al Anon" said Myra.
Jenny looked her right in the eyes again, a level steady fixing of smudgy blue, and again Myra got scared. Thank god for that fleck of spinach, making Jenny look funny; it was a distraction that unfroze Myra's brain every time. "I go to Al Anon, too. What meeting do you attend?"
They compared meetings. So Jenny wasn't a recovering alcoholic, she was close to somebody who was. Myra felt a little guilty that this was a relief.
"What do you do, Jenny?"
Jenny grinned, flashing green. "For money or passion?" The way she said passion was in itself passionate. "I teach art and poetry appreciation at an elementary school. At least until Reagan succeeds in destroying the funding for such things."
"Are you a poet?" Myra was excited.
"No, just a poetry lover. But I know you write poetry. I'm a painter."
"What kind of painting?"
"Oils. Mostly landscapes and portraits, so far. I don't get to paint nearly enough."
Jenny got up and refilled her plate, this time getting the broccoli dish and a range of other veggies. When she came back, she sat down on the floor next to Myra. Up close, Myra could see all the red and gold in her mahogany-colored hair.
"Do you like teaching art to children?" asked Myra.
"Love it. Love art and love kids. How about you, got any kids?"
Myra hesitated, always unable to answer this question. Jenny noticed, and waited.
"I was involved with a woman who had a baby when I became lovers with her. We raised Libby as our daughter. But when Libby was five, Astrid left me and I haven't seen her since."
"Well, shit, Myra, that's awful." Ginny bumped her companionably with her shoulder.
"Astrid was my high school history teacher; I was 17, and it was her first teaching gig."
"Holy shit. Who seduced who?"
Myra grinned, embarrassed. "I seduced her. She was married and I got her to leave her husband for me."
"Precocious, were you."
"That's one word for it."
"What would you call it, then?"
Myra looked her in the eyes again. "Driven." She paused, then said "I'm an incest survivor. I haven't always had the best...judgment...about sex and intimacy. Hell, I haven't always even been able to put the two in the same sentence."
Jenny set her plate aside, pulled her knees up to her chest. Her thighs were very thick. She said quietly "Would it be all right if I asked who? And when?"
Myra felt an odd urge to lay her head for a moment on Jenny's shoulder. Instead, she wiped her mouth and said "My older brother. When -- is trickier. He was always out to get me, since I was born. He was the only kid for ten years, then I came along. And I wasn't just an intrusion on his domain, I was my mother's favorite, because I was the daughter she really wanted. I feel like I was slowly...stalked...with constant new ways of assaulting me coming into his mind. Definitely the sexual side began when I was ten, that's a clear memory. And by that time I knew I was a lesbian. I had one girlfriend once ask me if I thought he went after me sexually because, on some energetic level, he could tell I was a lesbian. It's not out of the question -- like all predators, he watched me incessantly for ways of getting at me. I couldn't keep hidden, not really. But he would have used anything at all to hurt me; it wasn't about sex, it was about power."
Jenny had her head turned sideways, resting on her knees, watching Myra. "I just realized another place I might know you from. Are you one of the members of Kore's Rage? There's a Myra in that group."
Myra felt another flash of fear. "Yep, that's me." Kore's Rage was the first incest survivor self-help group on the West Coast. Myra and six other working-class lesbians had formed it the year before her mother died.
"Bonnie -- my ex -- said you all changed her life. She had your position statement pinned up above our bed. It was an amazing piece of theory. And writing."
The waves kept coming in. "I wrote that -- me and Shelley."
"No shit." Jenny's voice was very soft. Despite the loudness of the other conversations going on in the house, their proximity and low voices set them apart as if they were in a separate room.
"If Astrid left when you were, what, 22? Then your daughter must be around 14 now? Couldn't you track her down and at least write each other?"
This woman really kept track of details. Myra said "Astrid left me for a woman in my CR group who'd been secretly telling her everything I shared with the group. But within a year, she left that asshole and went back to men. She became a born-again. She denies ever having been in a relationship with me. And she's raised Libby to hate me."
Myra shook out her shoulders. "Look, it's true I've dealt with a lot of hard stuff. But I don't want you to get the idea that I'm just a sad story, you know? I've got amazing friends, I've got the sisterhood, I'm writing every day, I've got enough money to pay for therapy -- things are moving in a great direction for me. I mean -- 'I'm not a pearl / I'm the Atlantic Ocean.'"
Jenny said, in recognition, "Judy Grahn."
Myra got jerked by another bolt of fear.
A woman who had been sitting on the couch right behind them, trying to find a way to get Myra's attention, leaned forward and said "I've heard her read, she's incredible." Myra didn't register the comment at all. She was staring at Jenny. Finally she said "Would you like to go out sometime, Jenny?"
"I don't mean to correct you, but it's Ginny. You keep saying Jenny with an E, but it's Ginny with an I. Short for Virginia. Virginia Leah Bates."
Myra said, "Okay, Ginny Bates."
"Well, now that's interesting. The way you just said Ginny is exactly the same as how you said Jenny. Can you hear the difference in your head?"
Myra pushed back shame with anger. "What does it matter?"
"I think maybe you are from Texas."
"Yee-haw" said Ginny in a perfect accent. "My daddy is from Texas."
"A farm outside Dickinson. You know where that is?"
Myra thought for a second. "On the coast?"
"My god, you do know." Ginny looked thrilled. "And the answer is yes, I will go out with you sometime."
At that point, the host of the potluck came through announcing there was going to be a presentation about the current struggle at Big Mountain in the main living room, could everybody gather in there. Myra didn't stand up immediately. Ginny leaned in toward her and whispered "I've already heard this and given them a check."
"Me too" whispered Myra.
"There's a garden out back with a bench. You wanna go down there and keep talking?"
"Absolutely." They bussed their dishes and slipped the back door, weaving through smokers on the back steps. The bench was behind an arbor. Ginny must have been here before, it wasn't visible from the stairs.
Despite it being June, the night was chilly and definitely damp. They sat close together for a little warmth. Ginny said "Aren't you the lottery winner?"
Well, shit. Myra had gone out of her way to not tell anyone about her money, because she didn't want to give up being working class. But the lesbian rumor mill made the news travel in front of her like severe halitosis.
Myra nodded in resignation. Ginny said, "My gramma died when I was 22 and left me $60,000. I didn't have any idea what to do with it. I was just out of college, which my parents had paid for, and I had a job I liked making okay money. I had already gotten a loan to buy my house. So I went to a friend who had once been in the Gorgons. She rounded up a small group of working class dykes but, at my request, did not tell me their names. I gave them the money and asked them to do something good with it. They could only tell me where it went after it was all gone."
Myra stared. "No strings?"
"Not a one."
Finally Myra asked, "Are you sorry?"
"Well, I was kinda pissed when I found out one woman bought a moped for herself, but otherwise, no. I did what I could handle, and I learned from it. That's as much as I can hope for, right?"
Myra looked away. She was going to cry, and like the scared feeling, she had no idea why. After her throat swelling subsided, she undid the side snaps on her overalls and took a deep breath.
"I'm having a hell of a time figuring out how to deal with the money."
"Are you working class?"
"In a good year." She grinned. "Allie's no help, she's from the same background as me. I've got professional advisors whose services I pay for, but I don't want to learn how to do the middle class thing with regard to money."
"Then do it your way" said Ginny. "What is it you want most?"
Myra didn't think before answering "Keep my mother alive."
Ginny put her arm around Myra briefly and squeezed her. "Too late, dammit. What else?" She put her arm back down.
"Save the world" Myra said with a defiant grin.
"Now that's doable" said Ginny. She was not making fun.
"How about you?" asked Myra.
"I'd say the same. Save the world and paint. Tikkun olam in oils."
Myra looked at her. "Jewish?"
Ginny giggled. "Reminds me of that line in Annie Hall, you know---?"
Myra jumped in "JEW Jewish?"
Ginny kept giggling, then said, "Yeah. You too?"
"Nope. Deprogrammed Southern Baptist. Actually, I'm a bit of a Jew hag. I guess I didn't pick up on you because you said your name was Bates."
Ginny nodded. "Yes, you know, it originally was Borscht but it got changed at Ellis Island."
Myra almost fell off the bench laughing she was so hard. When she calmed back down, Ginny said "No goyisha has ever gotten that joke before."
Myra asked "What's a Jew doing farming in Dickinson, Texas?"
"Now that's a story." Myra nodded encouragement. "My great-grandparents came from a shtetl somewhere near Brody, in the Ukraine. Their way to American was paid for by this German Jew named Baron de Hirsch who had this idea -- "
"The Jewish Agricultural Society. I know about that."
Ginny gaped at her. "You are full of surprises."
"I believe strongly that one of the ways imperialism and colonialism destroy people's cultures is by forcing them into urban settings for economic survival. Cut their tie to the land and you've got them under your thumb. I'm fascinated with groups who've managed to avoid that. Paula Gunn Allen said 'The root of oppression is the loss of memory'. For so many peoples -- for my people, for sure -- complete memory is linked to geography. So -- go on."
"Have you heard, then, of the settlement in Nebraska?"
"No, just the ones in New Jersey and near Petaluma. There was a Jewish farming settlement in Nebraska?"
Ginny grinned. "Boggles the mind, doesn't it? My great-grandparents landed there first. Then, after not too long, they moved with their daughters, including my Bubbe Rosa, to the the Galveston Jewish settlement funded by Jacob Schiff --"
"Galveston had a Jewish settlement?"
"Yes, a huge one -- 10,000 Jews from rural Russia. That's where our family farm was. My grandmother married Rosa married Ze'ev Baetz, a traveling saleman. He eventually started his own chain of dimestores. That's when the family name got changed from Baetz to the more English-sounding Bates."
Myra looked at her in shock. "Oh my fucking god. You're from the Bates dimestore folks? I went to those my whole childhood!"
Ginny was stopped in her tracks, too. They stared at each other for a long minute. Finally Ginny said "Who'da thunkit?"
"Whatever happened to those? I haven't seen one in years."
"They are extinct, started dying during the fifties. The official line is that places like Gibson's and Target's did them in. But the family secret is that Ze'ev, for all his drive, refused to knuckle under to the Southern more which said water fountains had to be separated into whites only and 'colored'. He refused to segregate the water fountains in his stores. It finally became public in a town in Northern Louisiana that had one of his stores, and the rumor spread to every store in both states. He eventually had to sell out."
"Yeah, it casts a new light on Ze'ev. Rosa didn't have much good to say about him. They basically lived apart. Daddy was born and raised on the farm, while his father stayed in Fort Worth. When World War II started, Daddy and his brother Sam both signed up -- Daddy lied about his age to get in. Sam died in the war, and when Daddy got out, instead of going to law school in Texas -- he was supposed to become a lawyer for the family business -- he went to school in Denver. He met my mother there and they got married, and Ze'ev snapped. Disowned him. So Daddy and his mama had to visit on the sly. But she held onto the farm, and after Ze'ev died, the year after I was born, she moved back to the farm. Too late to get Daddy to be a farmer, though. He stayed a lawyer in Denver, which is where I was born and raised."
"So you're a Coloradan?" ask Myra.
"No, I'm a Seattleite" grinned Ginny. "But I feel part Texan because every summer Daddy took us back down to spend a month with Rosa. Well, us meaning my older sister and I -- mother refused to go. She's the drunk, by the way." Ginny just tossed that in, and stopped.
"I go to Al Anon -- well, in part because I consider myself in a kind of recovery, though not from alcohol, and because of Allie." Myra stopped and waited, as Ginny had. Which piece would she go after first?
"Did -- were you in a relationship with Allie before she got sober?" asked Ginny. "You of course don't have to answer that."
"Yes, I was. We've been friends like sisters since right after I moved to Seattle in '78. I've also had exes who were not clean and sober, but not relationships significant enough to motivate meetings."
Ginny let the pause drag out for a while. Then she went for it: "What kind of recovery? And, again, of course -- "
"I don't have to answer it" said Myra with humor in her voice. "It's tricky to describe. I'm using the 12-step model as part of my process to undo my shit around trust. Especially with regard to sex. The day before I won the lottery, I decided to stop all -- well, girlfriend-seeking, I guess you'd call it, until I knew I could handle it."
"You can't handle it?"
"I sleep with women as a substitute for closeness. I don't go looking for it, I never make the first move, but it's like I have a big flashing sign on my forehead -- I always get flirted with or hit on or whatever. And I generally haven't been able to even think about saying no. I'm to the point where I'm just saying no, to myself, in advance, to see what that does for me."
"Cold turkey" said Ginny.
"Yes. And the tricky part is that human contact and connection, well, I can't live without that. I can live without sex or romance, but I can't live without opening up my heart. It's not about sex for me. Sex was a route to connection, however pitiful a connection it was. I'm not walking around thinking about sex. The more I don't have it, the more I can see it's something else I have to work on."
"I think I follow that" said Ginny tenatively.
"Well, if its confusing, that's partly because it's still confusing to me. I just know the next step, and if I take that one step, then I'll be in shape for the one after that. Something I heard at Quaker Meeting once sums it up: Proceed as the way opens."
"I just remembered where else I know you from!" said Ginny. "I have a calendar with your picture on it, that Fat Avengers calendar from last year?"
"The year before. And yes, that's a photo of me. But, Ginny, it's just my naked torso -- how could you recognize me from that?"
Ginny turned a deep, enduring red. After a moment, she said "I'm an artist, I notice bodies?" she offered.
Myra felt disappointed. So maybe Ginny was coming on to her, after all. It had simply taken longer than other women -- once she'd heard the tantalizing news that Myra was Not Available.
As if she had read her mind, Ginny said "I'm not coming on to you, Myra. I'm not. I'd be really bad at it if I tried. I'm just embarrassed -- I didn't realize I had recognized your...body...until that moment."
Now Myra felt disappointed that it wasn't a come-on. Sheesh, what a mess she was. "Okay, Ginny. It's okay." She wanted to restore the connection they had started, she wanted not to lose this. "So -- your family still have the farm in Texas?"
"I wish, but no. Rosa was eventually forced out of farming by big chemical plants being built all around her, so she gave up, sold the land for an unbelievable amount of money, and moved into a retirement center in Galveston. After that, we rented a beach cottage each summer and took her to live with us there." Ginny was meeting her halfway again, without any residual weirdness.
"Is this the grandmother who died and left you the money?"
"Yes. Definitely not my other grandmother -- mother's side of the family are very proper Richmond Jews who believe she married down."
"Would you say you're mixed class?"
"Yeah, but Jewish mixed class, which isn't like other white groups. What about your parents?"
"Both raised poor, on farms. My dad escaped the farm to work at jobs that kept him away from home and never gave us enough to live on, left all the parenting to my mother."
"Sounds like you're a mama's girl in the same way I'm a daddy's girl" said Ginny.
Myra nodded, then asked the inevitable "When did you come out?"
"To myself? When I was 15 and read something by the Gay Liberation Front that rang a bell. But I just laid low in high school, got straight A's, painted every chance I got -- my dad is a painter, too, that's what he really wanted to be -- and then finally got a woman lover in college. That's when I came out to my parents. Which did not go over well."
At that point, a voice yelled from the top of the stairs "Is somebody down there?"
Myra stood up and yelled back "We're on the bench back here."
After a silence, the voice said, not very patiently "Everybody's gone home. The event is over."
"Oops" said Ginny, standing up and looking at her watch. "Oh, shit, look at the time. I've got to teach tomorrow."
Myra walked with her back upstairs, where they retrieved their dishes and apologized to the host, now in her pajamas. Out front, Ginny stopped at her car -- also a Honda -- and said "Are you by any chance going to that banner and sign-making thing at the Olive Street House tomorrow? I know Allie's planning to be there."
Myra's face lit up. "Yeah, I'm working on chants and slogans. You'll be there?"
"Yeah. So, I'll see ya tomorrow." There was an awkward pause, then Ginny said "It was great finally getting to meet you, with clothes on and a head on your shoulders" with her spinach-flecked grin. Myra wasn't sure what to do next, but Ginny stepped in and gave her a no-hips-touching hug, settling the matter. She got in her car and Myra walked on down the street. When Ginny turned around and drove back by Myra, still walking, she gave a little toot of the horn and waved. Myra waved back, grinning from ear to ear.
But when Myra talked it over with Allie the next day on their way to the Olive Street Collective, Allie said "If she told you she wasn't coming on to you, she definitely wasn't and she would know, Myra. She's kinda infamous for her bluntness and her lack of interest in romance. If she's pursuing you, it's not a date. I thought you had decided to stop dating, anyhow, what's all this about? Still trying to say you can handle your liquor?"
"I don't fucking know. I'm not attracted to her, not in the way I get attracted, where there's this edge that is mostly fear -- but then all I know about desire is mixed with fear. I get some kinda scared around her, every ten minutes it seems like, but that doesn't convert into thinking about kissing her or all the other usual crapola for me. So, I guess I just don't know how to -- what is it, become someone's friend? -- if there's no attraction."
Allie was exasperated. "So the reason you and I managed to become friends way back when is because you always had the hots for me, from the get-go?"
Myra looked away miserably. "I've already told you that."
"I know -- I don't mean to hammer on you about it, but it's funky, Myra, to think all those times I was opening up to you, you was thinking about how to get into my pants."
"It wasn't all the time, Allie. It came and went. And we did get close without it, so I'm not a total sleaze."
"Well, I got no ground to sit judgment on you, that's for sure. Not with all the shit I pulled." She punched Myra lightly on the shoulder. "So, maybe you got a chance at a new friend. A great friend, Myra. She's really something."
Myra had a little chill inside her. "Are you -- have you thought about - "
"Hell, no. She's not my type."
"Why not, if she's so great?"
"Well for one thing, she's white. I told you last year, no more white girls. Seattle may be one of the least black cities on the West Coast and I still don't know why I'm here, but I am determined there's a sistah out there for me somewhere within commuting distance. Also -- " Allie stopped abruptly, and Myra guessed she'd hit the AA anonymity thing again.
"She told me her mother was a drunk."
"She did, huh. Okay, that's another reason. We really bond around politics and art, but I'm leery of getting too close to someone who's in an active relationship with someone who's still drinking. She got some issues, I'm thinking. And her issues and my issues, could be a nasty fit."
"Do you know if she's a separatist?"
"Depends on how you define it, as always. She's not the kind of separatist you all was on that land collective of yours, making that woman throw out her Moody Blues albums and her crying her eyes out over it. But you're not that kind of separatist any more, either. I think she's mostly like us -- if you decide to prioritize wimmins, the boys will pretty much have to look after themselves. Which they are so, so piss-poor at, but too bad too sad. She definitely calls herself a dyke, not a gay woman. And she's okay on race and class."
Which from Allie was one hell of a recommendation.
Olive Street House was a huge and ramshackle Victorian, with a variable number of dykes and children living there at any give time. They had big common rooms which were ideal for community events. Today one room upstairs was given over to a committee working on chants, wording for banners, and press releases concerning a few radical dyke contingents in the upcoming lesbian/gay pride parade. Another room was for the actual painting of banners and signs, and a third room was childcare. A small cluster of three in the kitchen was talking over security.
Myra split off to join the "words" group, as she called it. She was sorry to not be in the room with Allie and Ginny. Sima and Chris were in there as well, and another friend of theirs, Jen, a tiny lesbian with frizzy hair and what Myra thought of as John Lennon glasses.
After an hour with the words group, Myra appeared in the painting room trailing a cloth banner behind her. "I got a painting question for ya'll" she said.
Her friends were all on their knees on the floor, with jars of paint and big markers, creating on posterboard and foamboard. Ginny sat up immediately and said "What's the story, morning glory?"
"Well, we got this long banner with two lines penciled on it we want to carry above the heads of the crowd as a kind of cue card, with a chant on it -- " she showed it to them.
Cut the crap Stop the lie
Sexism means women die
"Oh, that's really good" said Ginny.
"Myra knows how to make things scan, so they stick in folks' head" said Allie.
"But the thing is, I want them to chant it right, so some of these words need to be emphasized. Can you paint it so crap, lie, and then women die, gets highlighted?"
Ginny grabbed a sheet of newsprint and said "Here's one way it could work." She began working with two different colors of paint. After watching for a minute, Allie said "Or, you could try this" and she put a competing version on the bottom of the sheet.
"They both look good" said Myra diplomatically. "Would it be too much if we did the top line like yours, Ginny, and the bottom line like Allie's?"
Chris said "No, that would work okay."
Myra handed them the banner and then got down on the floor next to Ginny to watch.
"How do you know which side of the letter the color goes on?" she asked.
"Imagine it's a 3-D letter, like carved from wood. And you're shining a light on it from this angle, up here. Then where would the shadows fall? That's where the accent goes. You just have to be consistent through the whole thing. Here -- show me on this B where the shadow would fall, comparing it to the other letters."
Myra thought for a moment, then said "on the curve here?"
"Very good. You want to be the one to color it in?"
Myra took the brush and said "I can tell you're a great teacher. I feel like you just stuck a gold star on my forehead." She turned and looked at Ginny, their shoulders touching, and grinned.
Ginny grinned back and got another brush. "You finish that word, Myra."
After a few minutes, someone called from the doorway "Hey, Myra, are you coming back to complete that last chant?"
"I'm thinking about it, Poe. I got writer's block. You all do the rest and bring it in here to the painters, and maybe by then I'll have an idea" replied Myra. She kept painting in letters, loving how the rich colors stood out on the white sheeting.
After Poe left, Chris said "What's the chant you're stuck on?"
Myra whispered "I don't remember. We've got enough, we don't really need it." They all giggled.
Ginny was ready to move on to the word beyond Myra, who was going much slower than everyone else, so she crawled over Myra where she lay flat on the floor, saying "Hold you brush up for a sec, I'm gonna jostle you".
"Why are there gaps in these two places?" said Allie.
"I'm going to sew in pockets for poles, so the banner is upright over a long distance" replied Myra.
"You know how to sew?" said Ginny.
Allie laughed. "Myra took four years of home economics in her high school" she said.
Chris thought this was hilarious. "I can just imagine what your home ec teacher thought of you!" she said.
"She hated me. But hey -- I can cook, I can sew, and I knew enough to not get knocked up by some teenaged boy, which is more than I say for too many of the girls in my high school. Five out of the 12 got pregnant."
"Twelve what? Twelve in your home ec class?" asked Ginny.
"No, twelve girls in the senior class" said Myra, her tongue tip out as she negotiated a G.
"In the whole class?" said Sima in disbelief.
"Total in the class, 23; 12 girls, 11 boys. Three of us out queers."
"I went to high school in the Bronx, my classes were in the thousands" said Sima.
"Three lesbians?" said Ginny.
"Nah, two gay boys and me. But we were buddies. I mostly hung out with them and two other straight boys. All they ever talked about was sex" said Myra.
"Were they having sex with each other?" asked Chris.
"The gay boys were, sporadically. And one of the straight boys would let my friend Billy suck him off. But mostly they just jacked off every day or fucked the farm animals at the FFA lots."
Ginny said "I thought that was just a stereotype about rural people."
"Could be. But it was true with those guys."
"My dad went to that kind of rural high school in Texas" said Ginny. "I don't think I can ask him about it, though."
They laughed. Ginny was now at the next to last word on her line. Myra had finished her word and said "Hey, how come you're so much faster than me?"
Allie snorted. "Cause she's sure of herself, that's why." Myra scooted toward the end, intending to claim the final word.
"Uh-uh" said Ginny, raising up on her elbows so Myra couldn't climb over her. Then she relented and said "Okay, I'll take the last four letters and you take the first two. We'll share it" she said, sounding just like an elementary school teacher.
"Four to two isn't sharing" objected Myra, settling in next to Ginny.
"Each according to their need, each according to their ability" said Ginny. Which cracked Chris up again.
As they finished the banner, Poe came in with another one ready to be painted. Myra stood to take it from her. Sima stood up as well, saying "I need to stretch or something." She raised her arms up over her head and swayed for a minute, then did a couple of steps on the wooden floor, crossing her legs backward and forward.
Myra looked at her feet. "Hey, I know that, that's a grapevine, isn't it? From the Israeli folk dance class we took."
Sima reached out one arm and Myra, handing the banner to Ginny, scooted in under Sima's arm. They backed up to a big clear spot and began moving in unison. Jen got up
and joined them on Myra's other side. Sima began singing:
Mah na'vu al he-har-im rag-lei ham'vaser
The dance was lovely, the melody haunting, and Myra's face was completely absorbed. Ginny couldn't stop looking at Myra's expression. At a shift in the music, they reversed direction, Sima unsure what to do at first but following Myra's lead with a laugh, and they came to the end in unison.
Allie and Chris applauded loudly. Ginny found she was still holding the banner.
"You learned that from Karin Barbaras, didn't you?" asked Chris.
"Yeah. Except Myra's so much better because she got private lessons from the teacher, didn't you, My?" teased Sima.
The quiet joy on Myra's face faded a little. She nodded.
Chris said "You know, I saw Karin a couple of weeks ago, downtown."
After a silence, Allie said "How is she?"
"We didn't get to talk long. She's still in a wheelchair, and said she's given up on ever walking again."
Myra said "I need a bathroom break" and strode off toward the hall.
"Well, shit" said Chris after a minute.
"Not your fault" said Allie. "Karin won't talk to her at all, so the only way Myra ever hears anything is from other folks.
"They were so in love" said Chris. "I really thought that was the one for Myra."
"Me too" said Allie.
"Was it her mother dying right then that was too much strain on Myra?" asked Sima.
Allie thought for a moment. "I'm sure it was part of it. But Karin, you know -- she was the first woman I think Myra was ever with who had gotten in all the way."
Sima said, "But Myra left her, isn't that right? Not the way it usually went."
"Too close for comfort?" said Chris.
"Something like that."
"Should one of us go after her?" asked Jen.
"Nah. Myra's good about asking for somebody to cry with if she needs it" said Allie. "Okay, what's next?"
After half an hour on the new banner, Ginny set down her brush and stood, dusting off her knees and walking toward the hallway. Chris watched her leave. Ginny looked in the "words" room but Myra wasn't there. She finally found her in the kitchen, with a freshly scrubbed face, having a heated argument with a tall Boston Irish woman named Reggie about whether security monitors should ever have a police liasion.
Ginny touched Myra's arm and said with a smile "Are you coming back to work on your painting skills?"
"Yeah" said Myra abruptly. "I gotta go, Reggie. Just make sure to bring it to the whole group." As she walked with Ginny in the hall, she muttered under her breath "Fucking sellout."
When Ginny and Myra came back into the banner room together, Chris grinned to herself. Myra bellied up to the floor, looking keenly at what Allie was doing for a while. Finally she said "Reggie wants there to be someone on security who's in direct communication with the police department."
Allie stared at her and said "What the fuck? That's just because her fucking father is a cop and she can't believe they aren't all Officer Friendly."
"I know. We're gonna have to hash this one out."
Chris laughed and said "Speaking of Officer Friendly -- remember that night you and I chased that fag around the Hill, Myra?"
Myra began laughing, big laughs. "Oh, god, that was great."
"I haven't heard this one, I don't think" said Sima.
"This was way back when" said Chris. "Maybe 1980?"
"Yeah, I'd just gotten a big promotion at the loading bay" said Allie "And to celebrate, I offered to take Myra out for a steak at that fancy gay boy restaurant -- the Castle? What was it called?"
"Something pseudo-royal. Which should've tipped us off" said Myra. "But I'd heard they had great steaks. So we spiff up, our version of it, anyway, and go there on Saturday night. And we are the only women in the place, except for a couple of hags who don't count, and it took forever to get waited on."
"And the steaks were not any better than what you can get in lots of diners" said Allie. "So we eat and are leaving but when we hit the front entrance, Myra says she's gotta take a whiz, so she veers off to the restroom and I stand there by the door, waiting on her. And this group of three la-di-da white gay men, dressed in designer and eau'd'popper, come out from the restaurant. And one of them, the oldest one, pulls a dollar bill out of his pocket that's folded lengthwise, like that somehow makes it more special, and he flicks it at me without even looking at me and says 'Boy, get us a cab, will you?'"
Ginny sucked in her breath.
Myra picked up the story. "I got out of the bathroom just in time to see that part, to see the dollar flutter to the ground and Allie standing there looking at him like he was a bug -- which he was."
"And Myra charges him like a tank saying -- what did you say?" interjected Allie.
"I think it was 'You fucking klansucker, how dare you speak to her like that!'"
"Klansucker? Were you confused or what?" asked Sima.
"No, I was just trying to put something together" laughed Myra.
"Myra is screaming and clearly about to punch this guy's lights out, and his friends are just backing away, when the security they have at that place got hold of her and the next thing we know, we're out on the sidewalk and the door is shut in our face. The fags are huddling inside, and Myra still can't shut up" said Allie.
"I can't remember ever being that mad in my life" said Myra. "I mean, this was back before gay men had to pretend to like us or any woman, before AIDS came along and we turned out to be the only ones who'd volunteer to help 'em out. Lot of good that's done us. Back then, it was normal for them -- well, the white ones, let's be clear -- to treat us like shit, to make their comments about fish right to our faces, to have their nasty mammy cards on all the racks in their stores, to have their sex ads segretated by race, to save all their money for white-boy-related causes -- well, come to think of it, a lot like now. Anyhow -- "
"I didn't know how to cope with it" said Allie. "I had gotten a buzz on over dinner with a few scotches -- this was before I quit drinking -- and I just wanted to go home and continue down that path. So I said 'You do whatever you need to do, Myra. Let me know if you need bail' and walked on home. I lived close by."
Myra continued "I paced up and down a few minutes, then walked to the corner to the pay phone and called Chris, told her what'd happened, asked if she wanted to get in on the action."
Chris jumped in. "I was home alone -- I had stopped drinkin' and druggin' by that time -- so I came right over."
"Chris pulls up on her big old motorbike -- " began Myra.
"That Kawasaki KH 250 -- " said Chris to Allie in a reverent tone, who replied "You shoulda never sold that baby."
"She had on a helmet with a reflector visor, and streams of hair down to her ass coming out the back of it, and her leather jacket, and -- at least this is how I remember it -- silver studs around the heels of your big black boots -- " said Myra.
"Yep, that's right about the boots -- " said Chris. "Myra was sitting on a newspaper box, looking like steam was coming out of her ears, scaring everybody who walked down the sidewalk. She came over to me and said they hadn't poked their heads out of the restaurant yet."
"So Chris takes off her helmet and tucks it under her arm, stands there leaning against her bike with one leg crossed over the other, and I'm still pacing up and down, and finally they emerge bunched together like rabbits. And after a couple of seconds, they see us. They recognize me, of course, and Chris is a new variable but even worse, and they don't know what to do. Chris put on her helmet and slid one leg nonchalantly over her bike, and I crawl on behind her, and she revs that baby up, and then we turn in unison and look at them."
Sima was howling at this image, pounding the palm of her non-brush-holding hand on the floor. Ginny said "What were you going to do, Myra? Beat them up?"
"Nah, once I got out on the sidewalk, I'd gotten over that impulse" said Myra.
"But when you first charged over, that first half minute -- good thing you didn't have your gun on you" said Allie.
"Your gun?" said Ginny.
"Yeah, the one I carried around. .32 snubnose. I didn't like a shoulder holster -- not fat girl breast friendly, those things -- and the jacket I carried it around in most of the time wasn't dressy enough for that night, only reason I didn't have it on me" said Myra casually, not watching Ginny's reaction to this. "To answer your question, I wanted to scare them so badly they'd be afraid to ever be shitty to a black person again. It's a starting point."
"So these guys" said Chris, "They turn in a jelly-legged pack and head up the block to where there's a taxi. And they get in a taxi and it zooms off up the street. But I've already made a U-ey on my bike and it's easy to follow them. If you're going to trail someone in a car, a motorcycle is ideal. They stopped finally at a gay porn bookstore and piled out, scurrying into the store, and we pulled up out front, in plain view, and idled."
Myra said "I'm trying to figure out from the signs if this place has glory holes, 'cause if it did, there's like an easily accessible rear entrance -- "
Allie cracked up. Myra got it in a moment and laughed, too.
"Didn't mean it that way. I got off the bike and looked in the front window, and I can see them near the back, using the store phone. So I walked back to Chris and told her, and we figure it's probably going to be the police -- it didn't seem likely they'd have friends they could call on for this particular problem" said Myra.
"Sure enough, in my rear view mirror I see a cruiser heading our way. I told Myra, and we're standing there in lighthearted conversation, leaning against each other like girlfriends, when the cop gets out and walks stiffbacked over to us. He's a white boy, of course, just our luck, and he asks us for ID" said Chris.
"And I say, 'What's the problem? I don't have to show you ID without probable cause', which immediately pisses him off, citizens knowing their civil rights being such a violation of the pig ethic. He says there's been a complaint about us harassing some patrons of a business establishment. I asked which establishment, and he declines to say. I say 'We are just having a night on the town, we have not said a word to anybody since I left -- whatever that restaurant was named -- after having had dinner there', and if there are witnesses or complainants, he should produce them. He wants to bust us on the spot, and I can see him looking over the bike, looking for violations, but he can't find any."
"I kept it pristine" said Chris. "No use giving 'em excuses."
"So then he tells us to wait, and he starts into the porn store. Which is about to kill him, to set foot in that place. And I can see through the window that the rabbits have gone into a hallway toward the back, and I think okay, now they're going to bolt out the back, thinking the cop will save them. So once he's in the store, I tell Chris to scoot on home before he busts her anyhow, I'll call her later, and I hotfot it down the side alley. She drives off, and the cop hears her but not in time to give chase -- " said Myra.
"I zig and zag and get home in five minutes. He hadn't thought to take down my plate number" said Chris.
"And once I get ten feet down the alley I go into silent boots mode -- " said Myra.
Allie snorted. "You just now made that up. Silent boots mode -- with asthmatic wheezing counterpoint, maybe."
Myra glared at her. "Anyhow, they did not hear me. At the next street, two of them, the ones who hadn't dissed Allie, they split off, ditch the asswipe who'd gotten them all in trouble. So he's on his own, and he walks a few blocks, not really very good at checking out his surroundings, it's not that hard to follow him. And the idiot goes home. He lives in a condo conversion. I wrote down the address, got his name off the mailbox, and caught a bus home. Called Allie and Chris both to tell them I was okay."
"That's it?" said Ginny.
Myra grinned at Allie, who said "Are you still tormenting that man?"
"When I think of it. At first I'd do things like go to the library and collect the subscription cards from magazines, fill 'em out in his name and ask them to bill me. I ordered pizzas and take-out for him at odd hours of the night. But then I got specific: I've put his name on the mailing list of every hate group I could get from the Southern Poverty Law Center. When that Klan rally wanted to come here, I wrote a letter to the editor at the paper arguing for their right to free speech and signed his name and address. I called the local Mormon church and said I was thinking about converting because I wanted a religion where black people knew their place, could they send over someone to discuss their faith with me. And so on."
There was a long, appreciative silence. Then Sima said "I wish you still had that bike, too." Chris kissed her shoulder companionably.
Myra was lying flat on her belly, her legs bent up at the knees, her feet waving in the air. The legs of her overalls fell down to her knees and bunched there, showing a thick muscle in each wide calf. After a while, she got tired of her overall buttons in front digging into her chest where she lay on them, so she sat up, unbuckled the shoulder straps, and allowed the front and back flaps of her overalls to fall down past her waist. She was wearing a powder blue Michigan Womyn's Music Festival undershirt, showing a little bit of her belly. Before she lay back down, Sima looked up at her and said "Lookit how cute you are, Myra, like a butch little toddler."
Myra laughed. "Allie says they should make Garanimals for grown-ups cause I'd be the perfect customer."
Allie said, "Have you all been reading about how yet another bunch of academics are writing about us out here on the front lines, this time talking about how we are secret butches and femmes?"
"Joann Loulan, right?" said Chris.
"Lillian Faderman redux" said Myra, dismissively.
"You know, all they have to fucking do is ask one of us, how come you wear men's clothes? Just ask. It ain't because I secretly want to be a man, it ain't because my daddy didn't love me enough -- " said Allie.
"Or loved you too much -- " interrupted Myra meaningfully.
"And it ain't because I want to be a butch and find me a good woman. It's because the clothes fit better, no fucking darts or cinched in waists. I can run in these shoes, my crotch isn't pushed back into my cervix, and men's clothes last way longer, but cost less to begin with. It's not rocket science" said Allie, getting madder as she went along.
"And if two women together don't look exactly alike -- if one is taller or fatter or wears shabbier clothes, she must be the butch" said Myra. "No fucking lookism awareness at all."
"Or if she's a woman of color, then she's the butch. Assumed to be less articulate, more physical, and less modern" said Chris.
"Well, academics don't live in the working world" said Sima. "They're always going to be a few steps behind us, trying to take snapshots of our backs and interpret our lives for us."
"And make their careers off made-up trends and definitions" said Ginny. "When I left Evergreen, at first I was hanging out with my med-school girlfriend and her upwardly-mobile friends. I was working as a teacher which has a lot of dykes, god knows, but there's a mandatory middle class aspiration for teachers -- everything seemed to fit what I had been told at the university. But once I got into the print project, with dykes who worked with their hands for a living, and then started going to meetings that weren't all white -- well, I believe the term for it is 'cultural dissonance'." Everybody laughed.
"It's like how all the Christian churches love to use that term 'Judeo-Christian', as if that has any meaning all" said Sima.
"So they can pretend like they're part of a much longer tradition" said Jen.
"And pretend like they don't secretly hate us" said Ginny. "Where were all those Judeo-Christians when Hitler was rising to power?"
There was a silence. Sima looked up at Ginny and said "I once read something that had some pictures of that sickening propaganda the Nazis put out about Jews, and there was a drawing of Jewish man, labeled 'Zionist rat' or something like that -- and when I looked at him, despite it being a horrible charicature, my first thought was 'oh my god, that looks like Uncle Morris!'"
Ginny reached out and ruffled Sima's hair, a pained smile on her face.
"Yeah" said Myra "I tried watching 'Hee-Haw' once, and there was a character on it, I think named Junior, a fat white guy in overalls, every time he opened his mouth he said things that made everybody else just crack up, but they were laughing at him, the ultimate hick. And he was so much like my sweet cousin Tommy, I couldn't bear it."
"I had hopes, at one point" said Chris, "of lesbian-feminism leading the way for everybody figuring out that anything you thought you knew about somebody based on what they looked like or dressed like or talked like, well, that was all horseshit. I thought maybe we'd finally get past it and then we could deal with race right up front" said Chris quietly.
"Content of character" said Allie, almost in a whisper.
They heard children's shouts and running feet coming from the doorway on the other side of the room. Quick as a flash, Myra was on her knees and managed to intercept two preschool-age children before they ran over a banner or into the cluster of paint jars. She stood and swung them onto her hips, with them shouting "Myra! Myra!"
"Did you break out of Alcatraz, Jackie and Cesar?" she asked joyfully. She carried them a few steps back toward the childcare room, then said "Would you like a ride on the horse that Belle Star, bandit queen, kept for her getaways?" They yelled yes, and she set them down, then rebuckled her overalls and dropped to all fours so they could scramble onto her back. Jackie, in front, held tight to her overall straps. Myra took a step toward the door, then said "Uh-oh. I forgot -- Belle Star's horse was a wild bronc who threw off anybody who tried to ride her except Belle!"
Jackie shrieked with delight, and Cesar put his arms tight around Jackie's middle.
"I can hear her blowing steam out her nostrils -- " Myra snorted a couple of times -- "and she's pawing the ground, gettin' ready to throw her heels toward the heavens -- " Myra wiggled one thigh, then the other. Both children had their legs clamped around Myra's middle. She began crawling slowly toward the door, stopping every step to wiggle and make unpredictable movements, not really enough to make them fall off her but bringing forth a scream from them every time.
Ginny had leaned to one side so she could watch this fun. Myra finally disappeared into the childcare room, and they heard her begin leading all the kids in singing "Tapdance on the Moon". Ginny resumed her painting with a wide grin on her face.
Sima said to Ginny "I know one of your parents is from a Russian Jewish background and the other is German Jewish, just like mine -- "
"Mixed Askenazic sistahs!" said Ginny, giving Sima five.
" -- but I'm having trouble sorting out when they came and where. Mine's like, Poland or Berlin direct to Ellis Island and Lower East Side, boom."
"Here" said Ginny, grabbed another blank sheet of newsprint and a Sharpie. She swiftly drew a family tree, with wonderful little sketches of maps, ships, farms, and even her grandmother Rosa's face. She was still doing this, Sima bent over it next to her, when Myra returned.
"Hey, a pedigree!" said Myra. She squatted in interest, then sat down half-leaning on Ginny. She began asking specific questions, and Ginny answered them with both stories and graphic additions to the chart.
Allie commented "You're making Myra's day. She's got that white Southern female gene that never lets her pass a headstone without taking a rubbing -- she can name cousins out to the nth degree."
Myra laughed and came back to the banner. "Nailed me. But I gotta say, I am fascinated by this class line, looks to me, that Jews draw between immigrants from Germany and those from Eastern Europe. It feels familiar, like the Southern distinction between the mountain people and those from the delta."
"Hillbilly versus cracker?" said Allie.
"Yeah, but more complicated."
"Everything's more complicated to you" said Allie. "I know, I know -- you're gonna quote Adrienne Rich, about how the truth worth having is complicated."
"Don't need to now" said Myra. "Besides which, you're the one who's always pointing out the difference between the part of your family that got jobs with the railroad and left for cities, compared to those who stayed sharecropping. That shit matters."
"Shit matters" echoed Allie.
Ginny had come back with her brush and was stretched out next to Myra again, touching up Myra's work with a line here and there. Myra was allowing her without comment.
Poe and a couple of others arrived from the "words" room, carrying the last of the banners. Poe said "You giving up on that chant, Myra?"
"I guess I am" said Myra. She sat up. "Go ahead and gimme what we got, I'll type it up and get it printed to hand out at the march." Poe handed her a sheaf of papers that Myra folded and stuck in her back pocket. Then Poe sat on the floor next to Myra and said "Can I paint?"
Myra turned her back on Poe and grabbed her brush again. "I'm getting individual lessons from Ginny, you'll have to ask one of the painting crew."
After a silence, Jen said "Here, come with me and we'll start on one of the new banners." She organized the "words" folks around a banner on the floor a few feet behind them. Once the lesson was underway, Allie breathed to Myra "She just wants to get to know you better."
Myra muttered back "I know what she just wants." Chris cracked up again.
Sima ignored Chris. "Back to something we were discussing earlier -- I often think about how my kind of nose is written about as 'Hebrew' but Chris, whose nose is almost identical, well, hers is 'aquiline' -- "
"Or 'noble savage', how I love that one" said Chris.
" -- and my hair is classified as frizzy, not kinky" said Sima.
"No, kinky is saved for me" said Allie. "And my nose is African."
"What's my nose?" said Ginny, looking up.
"BIG, yours is just big, girl" laughed Sima. Ginny grinned.
"Like it's so important for white people to make all these tiny distinctions about noses, when they got almost none. Look at Myra, she don't hardly have room for buggars in there" said Allie.
"Now you're pulling size rank on my nose?" said Myra.
"We're done with this one" said Chris. "Shall I grab one more?"
Ginny helped her carry off the completed banner to a drying spot and spread out a fresh one. "Oh, this is the best yet" said Sima, reading the script. "Yours, My?"
"That's funny -- yours my. Yeah, me and Poe."
Ginny scooted up next to Myra again on the floor. "Here, let me show you something about how you're holding that brush -- are your hands starting to cramp? It may feel weird at first, but if you can do this -- " she put her very muscular hand over Myra's and persuaded it into a different position -- "you'll have more control and you'll last longer." Myra kept her gaze trained on the brush and how it fit her hand. Her face was a little pink.
"So, Ginny -- where did you get that Breck girl head of hair?" asked Sima.
"Breck girl after having had brain surgery, you mean" said Ginny. "As far as I can tell, it's straight out of a shtetl somewhere in the Pale."
"That's nice to think of" said Sima.
"I think this hair, on my dad's side, is part of what fooled my mother into marrying him. He had this hair, a law degree, and that Bates name -- maybe she thought he was German, like her people from Richmond."
"Richmond, Virginia?" said Chris.
"Jews back to the 1600s, uh-huh" said Ginny. "They make fried chicken for shabbos dinner -- I'm not kidding, Sima."
"Nothing wrong with fried chicken" said Allie.
"What about you, Myra? You got no nose but you sure bronze over every summer, almost like Chris here" said Sima.
"Get it straight, white girl -- we're supposed to be called coppery, not bronze" said Chris, grinning into Sima's eyes next to her and giving her a little kiss. She went on: "Myra's got Native lurking in her bushes, doncha, My?"
"What I know of is Kiowa and Choctaw. But it's back a ways" said Myra. "Not enough to change my basic ID of white trash."
"White trailer trash" corrected Allie.
"Spam-suckin' white trailer trash, to be specific" said Myra.
"Is there anything on earth more treyf than Spam?" asked Sima.
"Yeah, chicken fried steak with cream gravy" said Ginny. Myra looked at her in shock.
"Now you done insulted the national dish of Tayhas" chortled Allie.
"Oh, shit, look at the time" said Ginny suddenly. "I got a meeting to go to." She sat up and began looking around for the paints she'd brought.
"I'll get your stuff back to you" said Allie, "We're not done with it anyhow."
Ginny pulled on her shoes and stood up. "I guess I'll see you all at the march, if not before."
Myra got to her feet also. "I'll walk you out. Are you going to take that pedigree?"
Ginny looked at it, then her. "Would you like to have it?"
Ginny blew everyone kisses and followed Myra out the door.
Myra walked Ginny to her car and said "How's about I get your phone number?" When Ginny nodded, Myra fished a pen out of her back pocket and was reaching for her notebook, but Ginny grabbed Myra's hand and flattened out the palm with her own. "Wow, sweaty" said Ginny, and she rubbed Myra's palm on her big, curved hip to dry it off. Then she wrote her number on Myra's hand and gave her back the pen.