Wednesday, November 19, 2008


Heirloom potatoes
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.

Autumn 2015

On Friday when Myra got up, Ginny said "I need to push out a few silkscreens today. I could get it all done by dinner if you'll cover for me today."

"Go for it" said Myra. "I want to dig potatoes, and make pies for tonight."

"Those blackberries?"

"Yes, and cherry. Oh, but what about challah? You want me to do it for you?"

Ginny paused. "Everything except the prayer, let me do that with you, come get me."

Myra was glad for the chance to stay busy in solitude, thinking, because she needed to find a way through the current thicket in her writing. Jane had said she and the babies were going out for the afternoon to the house of her friend who also had little ones.

She put unsalted butter in a bowl on the stove to soften as she made herself some eggs and rice cereal. After eating, she rolled out pie crusts, baked the bottoms lightly as she threw together fillings, and put the completed pies in with anticipation at what Mimi would think of cherry pie: Another first for her new palate.

She began an array of sponges. Once they were settled in oiled bowls to rise beside the oven, she poured chilled buttermilk into a bowl so it would be room temperature later when she went to make the salt cod casserole for dinner.

She put on wellies and gloves, grabbed the basket and headed for the muddy potato bed, stopping to open the gate and let Beebo join her. He kept her company only for a minute, however. He went to patrol the pond, then indoors to clean his fur. And, eventually, to help himself to buttermilk on the counter.

Before she finished, she heard footsteps behind her and looked around to see Margie.

“I'd offer to help, but I'm dressed for work” said Margie.

“S'allright, I'm enjoying getting filthy” said Myra. “Look at these purple ones, will ya?”

“Are you making something with them for dinner tonight?” asked Margie, hefting a dark round beauty in her palm.

“I'm thinking about it now” said Myra. “Spuds always go over big.”

Margie kept passing the potato from palm to palm as she sat down carefully on a dry spot of the bed barrier. “Listen...We, me and Frances...We're thinking about asking Imani to singing potluck this Sunday. She loves to sing, apparently.”

“Oh” said Myra. “Do you need me to make meaningful eye contact with you or can I go on looking at what I'm doing?”

Margie giggled. “I'd be glad to avoid your inquisitive gaze at the moment.”

“So...Am I being given the news so I pass it on to all the others, saving you the inquisition?”

Margie giggled again. “Pretty much. Plus, I wanted to say – thank you, Mama.”

Now Myra did sit back on her haunches and meet Margie's eyes. “I'm so glad to hear that. Proof I'm not always an idiot with you.”

“Here's the skinny: I've gotten a therapist, and Frances has agreed to be monogamous. I mean, so have I, but I was already there.”

“I'd do a version of the potty dance if I could spring to my feet lithely at the moment” said Myra. “Mazel tov! Was it a big ordeal to reach this point?”

“Not at much as I'd dreaded” said Margie. “I think Frances loves her mostly in other ways. And – she said even Imani didn't seem to be crushed. Which maybe she just chose to not show Frances, I don't know.”

That would definitely be something to talk over with Ginny. And Allie. Myra said “Did the therapist help you reach resolution?”

“Uh...Mostly I worked with him on other stuff” said Margie with an almost imperceptible evasion.

“Well, sounds like Sunday is going to be interesting but not in a creepy way” said Myra.

“You have my permission to still not be gaga over Imani” said Margie, with a grin.

“Duly noted” said Myra, grinning back before resuming her digging. After a minute, she decided Margie had more to impart and kept silent, waiting.

Margie circled around to it. “You know how Gillam is with Mimi? He doesn't have favorites, not overtly, but she's the one who gets more of his attention. Whereas Jane seems more gooey about David.”

“Yes, I've noticed it. Don't you ever say something like that in front of those kids, however, no matter how old they are at the moment” said Myra.

“Of course. Anyhow...Mimi doesn't seem to care. She's not worried about keeping Gillam's attention on her. Or about losing Jane's. I can't tell for sure about David yet, but he seems fine, too.”

Myra began to have a hint of where Margie might be heading. She reminded herself Listen. With grown-up children, your biggest challenge is to listen.

“So, like with your mom, you were her favorite, right? You always knew that?”

Myra let herself look at Margie's face again to answer. “She told me I was her reason for existence, yes. But I wasn't sure of it, even so. Because she chose to stay married to my father and allow him to wreck our family security. Plus...she didn't protect me and Gil. Not enough.”

“And Mom, she was always competing with Helen to have Zayde to herself, is that accurate?”

“I'd say so. She also had to compete with David for David's attention, if that makes sense to you. He was snared by his own internal demons. As is true of most adults, honestly.”

“So, you turned out to need a partner whom you'd never doubt, and that's Mom. And she needed that back from you. That's your agreement?”

Myra felt she was undergoing surgery. “There's more to it than that, but you're not wrong. When do I get to ask 'why these questions'?”

“Just trying to sort out what messages I was given about the nature of marital commitment” said Margie, with another grin.

“Therapy assignment?”

Margie laughed. “You want to help me fill in my workbook page?”

“Actually, I don't.” Myra suddenly stopped worrying and allowed herself to enjoy this moment.

“Okay, well, I need to boogie. Do let me know if there's going to be any mishigas coming our way with regard to Imani's attendance” said Margie, standing and brushing off her bottom.

“Deal. Have you told Jane and Gillam she's coming?”

“Yeah. He said I had to alert the sentinels first.” Myra joined Margie in her laughter.

“Have a good day at work.”

“I will. Oh, that's the other thing – Frances and I have decided to start looking for a house, one roomy enough to have my business in part of it. Close enough to walk to the store. See you later.” Margie didn't see Myra gaping after her.

When Myra went in with her basket of potatoes, Ginny had klezmer music blasting in her studio and a line strung to hang shirts with finished prints to dry. She punched down the dough, looked for Beebo to yell at him but couldn't find him, and sat down at a fold-down table near the aquarium to look over the wooden toys Ginny had bought from someone locally who made them. The trucks, trains, planes, farm animals, and small chairs were all unfinished. Ginny had also bought a stock of bright enamel to paint the wood, before lacquering and giving them to the kids at the holidays.

Myra decided she could do a train on her own. She spread newspaper, read the instructions on a can of red enamel, and began laying a thick coat on a caboose. It was extremely satisfying, and she finished three cars by the time she called Ginny down for the challah prayer.

“What are you doing?” said Ginny when she saw Myra's work.

“Having fun” replied Myra with a challenge in her voice. Ginny was silent for a minute, then said “Will you please save the chairs for me? I have plans.”

“I'll do only one each of the toys” agreed Myra. Ginny did the prayer, and was caught by the pile of potatoes on the counter. “Oh, they're coming out much better than last year” she said. “Soil testing paid off.”

Myra handed her a cup of tea and said “I got news. Margie stopped by.” She passed on everything Margie had said. It was the house-hunting which affected Ginny the most, as Myra thought it would.

“That complex next door has a realtor's office, I could stop by -- “ began Ginny.

“No, you can not. At most, you can remind Margie about it” said Myra.

Ginny carried her tea upstairs to finish it. Myra followed, rooting through the box of small miniatures she kept to salt her desk with treasures. Mimi was now searching her secret drawers each day as Gillam had done when he was a toddler. Sure enough, Myra found two tiny flowerpots with bright plastic tulips. She took them back to her toy painting: She was going to glue them on the back platform of the caboose, a homey touch.

Later that evening, as the extended family played poker, David gumming one of Gillam's chips while Mimi shouted “Raise, Aunt Marchi!” out of turn, Allie said to Frances “So, you gonna be okay with me trying to fix up Imani with Nika? I think they might make a good pair.”

Margie let out a whoop which Mimi tried to imitate so vigorously she bit her tongue. Carly carried Mimi into the living room to wail it out – Margie didn't want to leave the table. Frances grinned in a brittle way and said “What Imani does is up to her.”

Edwina said “In seriousness, what's her long-term plan? Career-wise, I mean, not – that other.”

“You should ask her” said Frances. “But if in the future she wants to move again and I have another restaurant elsewhere, as I hope, I'd certainly trust her to run it as head chef.”

“Well I don't goddamned believe this, you sneaky sack of shit!” burst out Myra. Everyone's face turned her to in horror. Even Mimi stopped crying to peer around Carly's shoulder at the table.

Myra began turning red and said “It's Chris, she somehow put together a fucking straight flush, look at it.” The relieved laughter was so loud, Mimi demanded to come back to the game.

That autumn was unusually wet and cold. David began signing all of a sudden one day, indicating he had been comprehending them for a while. Jane was allowing him and Mimi to watch half an hour of public television each morning, including an ASL show for children, and now he and Mimi passed new signs back and forth faster than the adults could keep up.

David went as the Little Potato for Halloween, and Mimi dressed as a princess, which Myra and Ginny bitched about for a week while at home but never in front of Gillam and Jane. Ginny got an offer for a gallery show in Hollywood just after the New Year and began preparing canvases in earnest for it.

Allie's sketches for the Cottonseed children's book showed Cotton to have silver skin, copper eyes, and pale hair with pink highlights. Ginny's portrait for the cover became three-dimension, with polished penny eyes, silver leaf on his skin, and cotton candy hair which stuck out in all directions like David's areole of flaxen hair. Mimi was at their house when Ginny brought home the cotton candy, and Myra gave her a bite of it. They had to guard the canvas after that until Ginny replaced the hair with insulation from the hardware store. The cover photograph turned out very well, and the book hit the ground with impressive advance sales.

Myra hit a point in her memoir where revelation and analysis began tormenting her sleep. She started seeing Nancy once a week on her own, taking sheafs of manuscript which Nancy never read but cleared for Myra in her sideways fashion.

Carminati's was open for Thanksgiving Day. After cooking and serving, the tired family came to fill the large leather booth in the back corner, eating Frances's Puglia Apple Torte with mascarpone and hot drinks. Frances came out to join them, leaving the last of dinner service to Imani. She sat on Margie's lap. She had chosen jackets and pants of mocha linen for her cook staff, and this color on Frances made her look like a dessert herself, Myra thought. Imani joined them when the last table was served. She had become a relaxed addition to their gatherings, due in particular to the efforts of Allie and Myra.

Jane and Gillam began taking Monday nights as a “date night” for themselves alone as a couple. Mimi and David were rotated between aunts, uncles, and grandmothers on those evenings. David began eating solid food, and his colic promptly returned for two solid weeks of diarrhea and crying spells. They rotated out items in his diet again, but never found a culprit. Eventually Ginny took him, with Jane, to see Nancy, who declared it not an allergy per se, just an emotional resistance to certain amino acids. She chanted over him, gave Jane some oil to run on his forehead, and suggested Jane stop eating onions while she was nursing him. Whether this worked or he simply moved through it on his own, Myra wasn't sure, but the belly issue passed.

The second day of Hanukkah, Carly and Eric woke up to find that Welsh had died during the night. They arrived at Myra and Ginny's front door with the rabbit wrapped in a towel, Eric bursting into tears as soon as Ginny answered the knock. She held him and gave him tea while Myra got up and dug a hole under their cherry tree, a place Welsh had loved to explore, looking for fallen fruit. After he was buried, Carly went on to work but Eric took the day off, working in the yard with Ginny, mostly silent but occasionally sitting on the meditation bench, hunched over, his face on his knees as he wept stiffly.

The next week, Eric and Carly gave each other a pair of baby lop-ears whom they named Usagi and Dink. Mimi and David were utterly enchanted but could not be trusted to hold the tiny balls of fluff without squeezing. Ginny continued her open door policy of bunny visitation, confiding to Myra that if they didn't have Beebo thinking their place was part of his territory, she'd seriously consider getting a pet rabbit of her own.

On December 19, after coming back from shopping at Pike, Gillam was putting away groceries while Jane played blocks with the children on the living room floor. She left them to their own devices for a few minutes, sitting at the breakfast bar and saying “Guillermo, mi amor...”

“Si, Juanita mi alma, quieres una empanada?”

“Not just yet. I need to tell you something.”

Gillam stopped filling the cereal canister and looked at her.

“My period is late. Very late.”

“How many days?”

“At least 11.” Jane folded her hands together on the counter.

Gillam's brown eyes were deep and somber. “You threw up yesterday. We thought it was how rich that gravy was...”

“I know, I did.”

“But it's not possible, Janie, we've used vile latex every damned time -- “

“Except that once, when it slipped off as you were pulling out” said Jane quietly.

“Oh, fuck me, that was like two seconds of exposure!” said Gillam, his voice rising.

“You got Olympic swimmers” said Jane.

“Yeah, well, your girls stand with flashlights and megaphones, cheering 'em on” said Gillam. “How do you feel about this?”

“Tired. But -- “ Jane began grinning from ear to ear. Gillam's shoulders relaxed and he rushed around the counter, pulling her from the stool into a paired version of the potty dance. Mimi pushed to her feet and came to join them, crying “What happen?”

“Mommy's going to have another baby!” Gillam shouted, swinging Mimi into his arms.

“Baby?” Mimi looked at David, who was crawling their way. Jane turned and picked him up as well.

“A new baby!” Jane said. “Really, the only downside is weaning you, my darling David. I think he's not going to take it as well as Mimi did.”

Gillam walked to the calendar on the refrigerator, saying “Any guess as to dates?”

“That weekend was my mother's birthday, I remember because these two went down for a nap unexpectedly and we decided to – well, we were late calling Mom” said Jane, giggling.

“Oh, yeah, I remember now.” Gillam tried to count weeks but ran out of calender quickly. “I'll have to do this on the computer.”

“It's some time in June, I think” said Jane.

Gillam came back to her side, wrapping all four of them in his arms. “I guess we'll sleep when they go off to college.” Jane kissed him slowly, and Mimi tried to horn in on it. Gillam pulled back and said “Why did you wait so long to tell me?”

“I kept meaning to buy a stick to pee on, but it's been hectic this week. So, I could be wrong.”

“As if” said Gillam. Mimi wriggled to get down, and he set her on the floor.

“I'm hungry” she said and signed simultaneously. He handed her a plum from the fruit bowl and turned back to Jane. “When do we tell others?”

“Tomorrow night at the potluck, I think. Except I'm calling Lucy tonight” said Jane.

“Will you get a full blood work-up next week? I'm a little worried about your body” said Gillam.

“When I get the urine test. But I'm okay, boyfriend.” David tugged at her blouse and she sighed, looking down at him. “One last time, sweetpea” she murmured.

Gillam handed her a banana as she headed for an armchair to nurse their youngest.

© 2008 Maggie Jochild.


Cowboy Diva said...

1) 3-year-old daughter did halloween as a fairy princess (her adamant choice). Her answer when asked at the door of candy-givers if she was an angel was always highly entertaining.

2) another baby?! here's hoping the nick won't be Sesame...

Maggie Jochild said...

When our daughter was growing up, fluctuating between being Bucky the Cowboy and the Sugar Plum Fairy, her mother and I joked "as long as she doesn't become a beautician, we'll be okay". Sure enough, at fifteen she came to me and announced she wanted to quit high school, go to cosmetology college and cut hair for a living.

Absolutely not. (Not that there's anything WRONG with that.)

But rigid limits are just begging to be tested...

kat said...

Yeah, and when I was a kid and being a pest, my mom would look wistfully into the distance and say something about "When you go AWAY to college."

Guess where I lived most of the way through college? Yup. At home.

Jesse Wendel said...

Yeah, I had daughter #1 get through her first year of community college (including being named to the State of Washington Junior-College Defensive Team for Women's Soccer as a starter while a freshman.

Opposing players trembled when she came onto the field.

Boys trembled (and came) when she went on dates. But for different reasons. Heh.

Regardless, she left college after one year, put herself through beauty school, advanced training, and is now an increasingly well-regarded cutter in West Seattle in her second year out of school.

Daughter's 2 & 3 are sophmore and freshman down at Evergreen, a first rate Liberal Arts college, and doing well. They LOVE college.

Yes, it's the same Evergreen. *smiles*

Kids are different. What I have picked being a cutter for daughter #1? Nope. But I don't control her life. I'm sure my parents didn't have in mind my going into the military when I was very young. Yet, there I went. Kids are their own people, especially the oldest.

And so it goes.