Sunday, January 20, 2008

All You Would Have

Years ago, I had a babysitter named Betsy who answered the phone in the cheeriest voice, saying "How do you do?" instead of Hello or Trevathan residence or (my personal favorite), What fresh hell is this? (Dorothy Parker's standard greeting). Her kids were utter fucking hellions, her grandchildren a fright show who had reproduced with each other in what appeared to be a very shallow gene pool and yet Betsy remained sweet, kind, and unfailingly loving until her dying day. Betsy's husband had died years before she did and although she never said a bad word about him, he was reputed to be a vile cruel drunk who beat everyone around senseless. Her house, a shack into today's parlance, shook when the wind blew and plastic flowers suspended in water housed in pickle jars served as the main decorations. The kids who stayed there would sometimes play a game late into the night -- if we were dying of thirst in the desert, would we drink the water from the pickle jars? I'd die, one of us would say, while the others conceded that maybe we would crack under the pressure. That was all you would have, I'd say, donning my most ominous voice. Death seemed close in those days as people were always dying in motorcycle accidents, of strange bites and stings, drownings in the Brazos River.

When Betsy's husband was alive, people asked why she didn't leave him. People didn't get divorces in those days as much and some of her thinking might have hinged upon that fact. But she said something that seems very true to me even now. "Michelle, people are the way they are. You can change the outside of things, but you're still in it." Having seen people deal with endless cycles of abuse, particularly my own grandmother, I became the kind of person with a lot of latent violence in my heart. I would never hit anyone or be hit (at least not for any sustained amount of time), but I became rather hopeless about the nature of change. Whenever I am at the gym, I read the women's magazines to kill time and make me forget what I'm doing, but they end up depressing me with their tales of how to fix, sort, and reenergize your romantic relationship, usually suggesting bubble baths, candles, and a little more "together" time. I think about how we try to change our lives and about how sometimes we do, but if you look closely, you can always see the remnants of the pickle jar labels that had been soaked off to house those not-so-beautiful flowers, sad efforts at beauty, fading a little more with each year in whatever desert we happen to live.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"I'd love to retouch my whole life." Dusty Springfield

Cocktail Hour
Drinking music suggestion: Dusty in Memphis Dusty Springfield

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Sunday! Stay warm!


RRN said...


Charles Gramlich said...

One hopes desperately that there is a heaven for folks like Betsy.

RRN said...

"What fresh hell is this?"

Beyond fantastic.

Lana Gramlich said...

Women's magazines are little more than insecurity propaganda. Unfortunately they're tremendously popular. What does that say about us? <:(
I used to answer the phone; "My house, me speaking."

Snidely Whiplash said...

You old coot LOSER, Favre. You sick bum. Your intercepted pass cost the Packers the game! LOSER!!!

Cheri said...

My boyfriend likes to read the ones that I occasionally swipe from my mothers gigantic stack, immediately turning to the "sex tips" sections. I tell him I don't bother reading them, I instinctively know what to do. Oy.

Paul said...


Scott said...

How melancholy. But don't forget, even the flowers in the pickle jars were once beautiful.

*Reminder about 'The Lovers'*