Sunday, November 30, 2008


Toddler dancing the Macarena
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.

Spring 2016

A few days later, Gillam told his mothers he and Jane had decided to take their children camping one weekend a month. “We want them to experience nature on a regular basis” he said.

“We go out in the yard every time they visit” protested Ginny. “Their little fingers have planted half the starts in the garden.”

“Not that kind of nature, Mama. Wilderness, the real deal” he replied.

Myra looked at Ginny's face, seeing the little urban Jewish girl whose only access to outdoors was an occasional stint at Hebrew summer camp and those precious visits to the Gulf each summer. Myra knew what Gillam was talking about: Her access to fields and woods had likely saved her sanity as a child. But Ginny had made the most of what she had. She felt protective of Ginny.

“Anyhow, we bought a camping trailer and I was wondering if we could store it in one side of your double carport. At our place, it'll have to sit on the street” he asked.

Myra and Ginny walked over to look at the new purchase, a “Camping Buddy” which was basically the size of a queen bed on wheels.

“I found it on Craig's List” said Gillam. “It's the right size for our car to pull, and we'll be staying in national forests where there's picnic tables and fire pits anyhow, so all we needed was a warm place to sleep.”

“What's wrong with tents? I mean, with a good sleeping bag” said Ginny. Myra thought she heard a note of challenge in Ginny's voice.

“Two babies and a pregnant woman on the cold hard ground?” countered Gillam. “Not to mention next weekend, when we're going, is a time of year when bears are waking up from hibernation, ravenous and aggressive.”

“Gillam watched one of those animals gone ballistic shows on TV last week” said Jane with a giggle. “When he was supposed to be grading papers. He's got a bear fixation now.”

“Next weekend?” said Myra.

“Yeah, we're leaving right after school, Jane will pick me up. We'll be back by Sunday evening, though, for the singing potluck” said Gillam.

“Well, this is adorable and snug, and of course you can stash it in our driveway” said Ginny. “Take lots of pictures.”

There was only room enough for their little nuke fam in that trailer thought Myra. Not even Carly was being invited.

That evening, Ginny came to Myra's desk and said “Can you find an audio file of 'The Macarena' online that we could download to a disk?”

“I guess so” said Myra, minimizing her manuscript. “But what on earth for?”

“I'm going to start a weekly dance class with the grandkids” said Ginny, pulling up a second chair. “As long as they're prisoners of the city, might as well learn how to dance.” They laughed together and began searching.

Eventually Myra located a copy of “Mah na'vu” and the Hokey Pokey. Ginny called Margie for advice on suitable hip-hop dance tunes, and they loaded a disk with music, including cotton-eyed joe, the Blue Danube waltz, the twist, the funky chicken, and the Bristol Stomp.

“You know, children love structure. I think we should have each day of the week designated for a particular activity, like Dance Class day” said Ginny.

“You mean, like gardening day or cooking day?” asked Myra.

“Well, we're going to do those every time they're over here. Likewise art and reading. But what about special activities we don't do more than once a week?” said Ginny. She eventually painted a lovely schedule which hung in the entry to their living room. Monday was Dance Class, Tuesday was Goodwill Day, Wednesday was Puppet Day, Thursday was Science Day, and Friday was Mystery Box Day.

Ginny, on one of her thrift store scavenger hunts, had found an old wooden box that she said was used to hold glass plates for old-fashioned photography. It had sleeved holes in either side for sliding in and out the plates. She refinished it, repaired the lid, and replaced the ragged rubber sleeves with velvet. Once a week, Myra would put in two objects whose function might not be known to the children, like a cooking utensil, a specialized tool, or an item from the natural world. Each child would insert their hand into the Mystery Box, shivering a little with anxiety about possible hidden monsters, and pull out whatever they could grab. They'd then speculate about its origin and use. The other child would take their turn, and only after an hour of experimentation and fantasy would Myra reveal the often disappointing reality.

On Fridays, when the children arrived, the Mystery Box would be sitting ready on the dining room table. Usually Jane stuck around to watch part of the fun. After Mystery Box time, Ginny helped the kids make challah, and they moved on to help set up for shabbos, then making dinner with Myra.

Myra had a break on Dance Class day, because Ginny was happy to do that on her own. Puppet Day landed more heavily on Myra. Ginny of course helped make puppets, but once it was time to write the story and act it out, Ginny preferred to be the audience while Myra was dramaturg and creative writer. She complained they sucked her juices dry. Ginny was very good about commenting loudly on the story arc, which inevitably resulted in a small head popping up from behind the proscenium to grin at her before resuming the action.

Science Day often involved field trips, nature hikes, or home experiments. The new flooring beside the dining table got permanently stained on Science Day from Myra's volcano involving red food coloring and a little too much baking soda for the vinegar poured into the caldera.

Goodwill day was a long rampage through the giant second-hand store with the best toy selection. There was a set order to their journey through the aisles, with visits to housewares, glassware, kids' clothes, tools, and furniture interspersed with toys and books. David was allowed to walk on his own in every department except the glassware section, which he relished. The kids were encouraged to look for gifts for other family members, and these were brought home to be possibly touched up, then stashed in a “present cupboard” for birthday and holiday use. They were also allowed to buy any clothing item under $2 they wanted to add to their dress-up trunk.

The weekend Gillam's family was off camping, Myra discovered she didn't really miss them. Saturday afternoon, Carly and Eric came over with the bunnies for a visit. Carly said he was interested in learning more about making English-style puddings, a carbohydrate alternative to potatoes or rice.

“Let's see what the Two Fat Ladies have to suggest” said Myra, turning to her cookbook shelf.

“Oh god, Myra, every one of their recipes begins with 'fry up a pound of streaky bacon'" said Ginny. “Even the desserts.”

Carly winked at her and they continued their quest in soft voices. Eric said he was going outside to check on Dink, who was overfond of the raspberry canes. Ginny followed him and they wound up tearing out a bed of bedraggled hosta to start scarlet runner beans instead.

After the boys were gone, as Myra and Ginny were eating dinner, Ginny said “I want to go to Pilchuck"

Myra had the feeling she ought to know what Pilchuck was. Finally she confessed "Pilchuck is where, exactly?"

"I've talked about it. Chihuly's glass school. I want to attend a few days, watch the techniques, maybe talk with someone who also does painting" said Ginny with a trace of irritation.

"Oh, right. Okay, sounds good. You want me along or -- "

"No, I'd rather go on my own. It might be as long as a week" said Ginny.

"Before the next baby is born, I'm assuming" said Myra.

Ginny sighed. "Yeah, I guess it has to be. I'll check into their schedule and come back to you with dates."

"Are you thinking about taking up glass blowing?" asked Myra, half-joking.

Ginny paused for a long minute. "I'm drawn to it. Or sculpture. But starting over in a new media...I'd love the challenge, and my gut says I could find a way to retool my vision, I guess you'd call it. But any aspect of it, being a gaffer, even the stuff Flora McDonald does, involves intense physical labor that, well, I might be too old to handle. I mean, some of the best are elderly, not just middle-aged, but they started young and they have muscle memory keeping them safe." Ginny paused, looking sad. "Plus it would probably mean no income at all for years."

"Ah, Ginny" said Myra, folding her hands behind her neck. "I understand. I often feel my own narrowed routes. Because of choices I made gladly and don't want to fundamentally change, let me add."

"Well, you go to Breadloaf and I'll go to Pilchuck, and we'll reassess together" said Ginny. Myra thought But Breadloaf wasn't my idea, really.

On Sunday evening, they walked over with polenta and turkey burgers to see the newly-returned campers.

"We was in de snow, Gramma!" enthused Mimi.

"Oh, lovely" said Myra. "Did you make a snow-poly?" She had begun using the noun "snow-roly-poly" when Gillam and Margie were little, in an effort to avoid an unnecessarily gendered term, and it had gotten shortened to snow-poly over time.

"Uh-huh, and we frew snowballs at each uvver. Daddy put snow down Mama's coat. Den she sat on TOP of him and he couldint get away. She rubbed snow on his belly and he screamded, and he said his nickles were were direct" narrated Mimi.

"Oh my god" exclaimed Gillam in horror. Jane fell over on the couch, howling with laughter. Myra told Mimi "Don't be surprised if you wind up with enough siblings to form your own Supreme Court".

"Wat you mean?"

"Nothing. What else did you do?"

"We fed birds. And had hot choklit. Daddy, my hands are still cold, could I have hot choklit now?"

Gillam was not feeling generous toward Mimi at the moment. "No. Let's go wash your hands in warm water, they need cleaning anyhow."

As they headed for the bathroom, Mimi resisting, Margie said to Jane “You might want to have a vocabulary lesson with her before she's asked to make change for a dollar.” Which set Jane off again.

© 2008 Maggie Jochild.

No comments: