Monday, September 8, 2008


Apple tree in Maple Leaf area of Seattle, photo by Ceremona
Here's another installment of my Great American Lesbian Novel (in progress), Ginny Bates. If you are new to reading GB, go to the section in the right-hand column labeled Ginny Bates to read background and find out how to catch up.

October 2013

Allie arrived at 8:00 the next morning. Ginny was sitting at the table, eating toast and sliced apple. Allie kissed her on the head as she went to the coffee maker.

"If you're hungry, there's leftover homefries and turkey ham in the stove staying warm" said Ginny.

"Myra eaten yet?" asked Allie, opening the oven.

"No. I don't know when she'll get up. There's plenty for both of you, though. And these apples are wonderful."

Allie made a plate and brought it to the table with her coffee.

"Margie and Frances still in bed, too?" she asked as Ginny handed her slices of apple.

"Yes. Carly, Eric and Gillam all went off to work. Jane got up with Gillam and decided to go home after he left. None of us went to bed until 2, so it will be a tiring day for them" said Ginny. She had gotten up at 7:00 to help make breakfast.

"Edwina sends her love and extreme sorrow. She'll come over after work. I've got my portfolio, I'm planning to work here today when I'm not being with Margie, if that's good with you" said Allie.

"You can set up at my worktable if you want. I'll be making applesauce and drying herbs today" said Ginny.

Allie ate half the homefries quickly, then lead back with a sausage patty in her hand and said "Okay. Tell me."

"Oh, Allie, it was pretty much awful. They had her wrapped in her soft old blue blanket, and Gillam went out to carry her in. She'd...stiffened up on the drive, so it was horrible seeing her legs sticking out from under the cover. The minute Margie opened the door, she began wailing. The other kids had gone to bed for a couple of hours, but they all got up. Frances looked spent. I steamed milk for her with that Torino syrup she likes so much, and she kept one hand in Margie's while she drank it. I think she loved Narnia almost as much as Margie did." Ginny went into the kitchen to refill her tea.

"And it was a stroke, they said?"

"Best guess without an autopsy, which Margie didn't want. Brought on by all the physical stress of the past week, and being elderly. Thank god Margie was home when it happened, if she'd come back to find her dead..." Ginny didn't need to finish the sentence. She held up another apple and Allie nodded.

Ginny continued. "So, Gillam carried her to the backyard. He -- it was so sweet, Allie. He asked Margie if it would be okay if he looked at Narnia before putting her in the ground. Margie said he might not want to, he might want to remember her as she had been. He answered that if it was a hard memory that Margie was going to carry, he wanted to share the burden. So he pulled back the blanket -- Myra turned away, which I think was good. She looked...bad. He unbuckled the collar from her neck, and I noticed his hands were shaking hard. He gave the collar to Margie, kissed his fingers and then Narnia's head. Carly was just bawling, leaned back in Eric's arms. Gillam covered her back up, put her in the ground, and then we all said a prayer. He and Jane covered her up, and Margie lost it again." Ginny paused reflectively. "I have to say, I've become attached to the idea of cremation, now that I've been through both kinds of burial. Putting a beloved body into cold ground is...brutal."

"Are you going to make a marker?"

"Yes. I have to think about it some more" said Ginny. "Anyhow, before we came in, Margie asked if we could all sing 'Ole Blue' one last time. That destroyed every one of us. You remember how Narnia would always howl on that repeating line, with its mournful stretched out sound?"

"Oh, god" said Allie. "I remember singing that at Juju's funeral, too."

"Myra talks periodically about getting another kitten, but I still miss Juju, I'd like a puppy" said Ginny.

"You could have both" said Allie. "Well, maybe not a puppy right away -- "

"Yeah, after we came back in and were sitting around the table, I told Frances not to make my mistake and try to get Margie another pet right away. She looked at me as if I was nuts, saying it wouldn't occur to her. Then Margie said she wasn't home enough to be a good human, she'd already killed the dog of her life with neglect."

"Ow" said Allie. "So she's blaming herself."

"Completely. They're not going back until tomorrow, but even then -- which reminds me, I need to call Nancy." Ginny went to the phone and got through to Nancy, who made an appointment for Margie at 4:00.

At 10:00, Ginny left pots simmering on the stove and went into the bedroom to wake up Myra. Myra rolled into her arms and said "I smell basil."

"I made pesto to freeze. But I also discovered enough late season tomatoes to make a couple of quarts of marinara" said Ginny, kissing her gently.

"I feel weird, Gin, like...Oh god. I just remembered" said Myra, her body flooding with grief. "How's Margie doing this morning?"

"She and Frances haven't emerged yet. Which I'm taking as a good sign, either eight hours of sleep or them talking things over. I've got her an appointment with Nancy, and Allie is here for the day. You ready to get up?"

"I wish we could spend the day talking, just me and you" said Myra.

"Yeah. I was thinking about maybe you and me going away for a few days. I mean, after Margie and Frances leave" said Ginny.

"Oh, I don't know, I don't want to be out of easy reach for her right now" said Myra.

"I agree. But what about Anacortes? It's only an hour. And here's my idea: I won't take my painting gear. My sketchbook, yes, that's as automatic as your notebook. Otherwise, I'll plan to walk beaches, watch whales and birds, eat in great little cafes, and of course shop for marine hardware" said Ginny. "You can do whatever you want. It's just that we always work when we go away, and I'm ready for an actual bona fide vacation."

"What a concept" said Myra. "Let's do it -- maybe early next week?"

"You make reservations" said Ginny. "By the way, I have us down for a Nancy session on Thursday morning."

They cuddled a few more minutes. Myra said "I have some boneless chicken thighs, I could pound 'em out and make parmigiana with your marina."

"Maybe get Frances to share her secret with you? Sounds great. Margie loves that dish" said Ginny as they got up. They found Margie and Frances on the couch with Allie between them, all of them weepy. Myra kissed them hello and went to eat a very late breakfast.

Frances went with Margie to her Nancy session, experiencing the mystery for the first time. When they came back, they looked better than they had all day. After dinner, Frances took some of Ginny's fresh pesto and taught them how to make pasta infused with it. Margie played poker with her aunts and siblings/plus. She and Frances returned to Portland the following day. That Friday, Ginny and Myra caught the train to Portland with challah and wine to bring in shabbos. They returned on Monday morning and spent the day preparing to leave for Anacortes, Ginny harvesting and canning, Myra working her way entirely through her mail.

Their friends joined them for dinner, Nika coming along with Chris. Ginny made a cake with applesauce instead of sugar and eggs, and it didn't rise much but was very well-received, especially by Allie. As they were clearing the table and stacking dishes, the doorbell rang.

"Not one of ours" remarked Myra as she went to answer it. A 40-something woman stood there, her sandy hair streaked with blond highlights, her round face serious. She said "Uh...I'm looking for the residence of Myra Atkins. Or -- Myra Josong, I guess."

"That's me" said Myra, an unaccountable shiver traveling up her spine, maybe from the mention of her childhood name. She couldn't stop looking at the woman's face. "How can I help you?"

"I...Your phone number is unlisted. Yours, I mean, not...I'm in town for the national Costco convention, I'm a manager...My name is Libby Harris, my married name...I think you knew me when I was a little girl."

Myra grabbed the door facing and held on. She really might pass out. She kept her eyes open despite the vertigo, fixed on Libby's face. Suddenly Ginny was behind her, solid and warm, saying "What's wrong, Myra?"

Myra turned away from Libby to meet Ginny's eyes. "This is Libby. My first -- Libby. Astrid's daughter."

"Holy sh -- Excuse us, Libby, we don't mean to keep you standing out there. Come in, I'm Ginny, Myra's partner. Come sit down on the couch. Myra, sit here. Can I get you some coffee or tea? And we have some fresh applesauce cake." Ginny was extremely polite. Myra's friends stood uncertainly in the kitchen. Libby looked terrified.

"You're 43 now, as of your birthday in July" said Myra. Libby looked even more jolted.

"Yes" she said in a near whisper.

"I haven't seen you since you were six. But you still look like you" said Myra.

"You look familiar, too, now that I see you. I -- we never had any photos of you, and my memory was, well, what does anyone remember that far back?" said Libby.

All of it thought Myra. But that's just me.

"You said you're in town for a convention? Where do you live now?"

"Santa Monica" said Libby. "My husband and I, and -- I've got three kids. Mom is still in Dallas, she's remarried after her divorce. She still does quilting, though, and teaches classes at Hobby Lobby. I -- I meant to call first, but I couldn't get a number and I leave in the morning. I hope I'm not intruding?" Libby was looking warily at Allie in the kitchen doorway. Divorce? Quilting? thought Myra.

"Not at all, we're done eating. Come on in, ya'll. These are my oldest and dearest friends." Myra introduced them, and they shook Libby's hand solemnly. "This is Libby. I helped raise her from when she was six months old until she was five. During the last two years, while I was in college, I was with her most of the day."

Libby looked surprised. "I thought I went to some kind of preschool?"

"You did in the mornings. I had all my classes crammed into four hours. Then I'd pick you up at noon and we'd hang out until 5:00, when we'd make dinner for when Astrid got home at 6:00. After dinner, she was often busy, so it was me and you again until bedtime. Do you still have your Bionic Woman doll?" asked Myra. She felt a little out of her mind with the oddity of it all.

"I'd forgotten about that doll! When you turned her head, there was this clicking that was what, her bionic hearing?" Libby smiled for the first time, and a wave of memory capsized Myra.

"I gave you that doll. And your skates, and the Bert and Ernie pajamas you insisted on wearing every single night" said Myra. Ginny had returned with a tray, which she set on the coffee table. Edwina took over the job of serving as Ginny sat on the arm of Myra's chair.

"I've heard so much about you" said Ginny, putting her arm around Myra's shoulder. "Endless stories, all of them wonderful. As have our children -- Myra and I have two, a son and a daughter. They're both in their 20s now, married. Gillam, our son, lives nearby. Margie, our daughter, is in Portland."

Your half-siblings thought Myra. Except of course Libby would never have been allowed to think of them that way. She leaned the back of her head against Ginny's arm.

Allie stood to retrieve photos from the mantle, showing them to Libby and giving names. Myra thought Libby was a little afraid of Allie, which made her both angry and stricken. This child had had none of the opportunity she'd given Margie and Gillam. It was a miracle she'd come here at all.

After a visible hesitation, Libby lifted her massive purse and pulled out a billfold with photos of her own family. Myra lingered over them. The oldest girl reminded her so much of Astrid at 20, it was disconcerting. She wanted to ask for a copy of them, but thought that would be pushing Libby too far.

"How did you find me, then?" she asked, handing back the plastic fold of photos.

"On the internet. There was a write-up about one of your books, giving your real name -- I didn't know about Josong."

Myra corrected her pronunciation. "It's for my mother, Jo" she explained.

"Oh, now her I remember!" said Libby, her face lighting up. "She was a world of fun. We played cards, and she always let me win, even when I made up the rules. And -- Mom didn't tell she had died until I was a teenager. I'm sorry."

There was someone in the room who had actually known and loved her mother. Myra didn't know how to bear it.

Ginny stepped in. "So have you read any of Myra's work?"

"Uh...Just the one book, Skene. I -- I'm not really the kind of person who reads poetry" said Libby. "I saw a few of your paintings online, too, they've very...colorful."

"Did you ever read any of the Podinqo books?" asked Ginny expectantly. But Libby had not. "My school was strict, our reading was off a list" said Libby.

The third Podinqo book won a Caldecott thought Myra. Not a thing in it that would offend born-agains. Except, of course, it was about black people, can't have that.

Myra's silence was becoming noticeable. Libby set down her cup and said "Well, I should be getting back to my hotel -- "

"Oh, no" said Myra, leaning forward. "I mean...Could we keep in touch? Let me give you my phone number." She pulled her notebook from her back pocket and began writing.

"I'm not much of a letter-writer" said Libby, very nervous.

"How about e-mail? Here's my address, what's yours?" asked Myra.

"It's at my job, I can't really get personal e-mail there" said Libby, clearly lying.

"Oh. Okay. Well, could I get a photo of us both before you go? To show my kids" pleaded Myra. "I'll send you a copy if -- when you give me an address" said Myra.

Ginny had gone to the sideboard and returned with the digital camera. They took two shots of Myra standing next to Libby, not touching her because it was clear Libby didn't welcome contact. Myra said "If you ever want to find out details about your first five years, just ask me, I remember everything." She was trying not to babble.

Libby said "Well, thank you for seeing me. I'll...You all have a nice night. The cake was delicious." She was out the door, and Myra refused to let herself stand in the doorway watching until she drove off.

As soon as she closed the door, Ginny's arms were around her. "Oh, my angel, that was heartbreaking" she whispered.

Myra walked unsteadily back to her chair and collapsed into it. "I don't have a clue why she came here. She obviously doesn't fucking want me in her life. I'm the evil dyke who had to be exorcised from all memory."

"Except she did remember you, and she's at an age where people often look up their past" said Sima.

"I bet one of her kids is rejecting her" said Chris. "That youngest daughter. Hell, maybe she's come out."

"She won't call or write" said Myra, swallowing hard.

"Not right away" said Ginny. "But...she walked into a nest of lesbians -- "

"Big ones, and not all white" said Nika, her first comment since Libby had arrived. It made even Myra laugh.

"Was I a total goober?" asked Myra.

"Oh, sweetheart, you were astonishing" said Ginny. "If I'd lost Margie when she was six and not seen her again until she was 43, I'd be unable to talk at all."

Myra looked at her. She couldn't find the tears inside her. "She's not Margie. Not even close."

"No, because she was raised by Astrid, not you and Ginny" said Allie.

"She seemed nice, though" added Edwina.

Myra picked up the camera and played back the last two photos. "Should I show these to the kids? Especially Margie right now, she used to get kinda jealous as a little one when I talked about Libby."

"Margie will be fascinated" said Sima. "It'll be a distraction. She's completely sure of you now."

"I bet she never mentions to Astrid that she came to see me" said Myra.

"No, but now you have a married name and a location" said Ginny. "We can get back in touch with that detective and find out all we want to about Libby."

Myra shook her head. "I just wanted to know she was alive and okay. I have that information. Anything else, she needs to give me herself. And Astrid I could care less about. She did a terrible, terrible thing. I hope she knows it."

"Write it up and put it on your blog" said Nika. "I'm willing to bet she's reading your blog. Tell the whole story, all the details except anything that would out her. Let her have enough information to rethink her mother's stance."

"Huh" said Myra. Ginny said "I agree, that's a great idea. As Liza says, honor your legacy and shape it the way you want it to be remembered."

Myra was thinking. "There are so many 'other mothers' from our generation of dykes out there, many of whom got dumped and trashed because we had no rights. I bet this could turn out to be an important piece of work."

"You could work on it while you away in Anacortes" said Allie. "When you not writing a foreword for my book, that is."

Myra grinned at her. "I'm almost finished with the foreword, I just have to look up a few more synonyms for hot and brilliant. But, no, this trip is about Not Working. Right?" She nudged Ginny.

"This is about climbing out of the jeep and going for a hike" agreed Ginny.

© 2008 Maggie Jochild.

[NOTE: Below are the lyrics to Ole Blue as I heard them growing up, sung slowly and mournfully, with a hound-dog howl on the Oooo-oo part:

Had an old dog and his name was Blue
Betting your life he's a good one too
Blue-oo-oo, good dog Blue

Old Blue's feet was big and round
Never 'llowed a possum to touch the ground
He treed a possum in a hollow log
You can tell from that he's a good ole dog
Blue-oo-oo, good dog Blue

I'll take my ax and take my horn
And get a possum in the new-ground corn
Well old Blue barked and I went to see
And he had a possum up in a tree
Blue-oo-oo, good dog Blue

Well the possum crawled way out on a limb
Ole Blue barked, the possum growled at him
Well Blue what makes your eyes so red?
You run that possum till you're near most dead
Blue-oo-oo, good dog Blue

Ole Blue took sick, sick and mighty sick
I called for the doctor, better come right quick
The doctor come, he come on a run
He said Ole Blue, yore huntin's done
Blue-oo-oo, good dog Blue

Ole Blue died, and he died mighty hard
He shook the ground in my back yard
I took Ole Blue, laid him in the shade
I dug his grave with a silver spade
Blue-oo-oo, good dog Blue

I lowered him down with a golden chain
And with every link, I'd cry his name
Now every time I hear Blue bark
He's treed a possum on Noah's Ark
Blue-oo-oo, good dog Blue

Now I will tell you just so you'll know
Ole Blue's gone where the good dogs go
When I get to heaven, I know what'll do
I'll grab my horn and blow for Blue
Blue-oo-oo, good dog Blue

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