Thursday, January 28, 2010

Meet Imogene

I'm going to do something very different on the Porch today.

Porch sitters, I'd like you to meet Imogene, the heroine of a fictional story I began to write nearly three years ago but then rudely shoved aside. That was about the same time someone introduced me to a "new" social networking thingy called Facebook, but I'm sure that's just a coincidence.

Poor Imogene has been neglected for years. Oh, I pull her out of her folder occasionally and take a glimpse at her, maybe tweak a word or three, but I inevitably shove her back inside to be ignored for months at a time. Imogene flips me the bird as I close the folder again, no doubt calling me ugly names, like "procrastinator" and "slacker". Ah, she knows me well.

I love to tinker with fiction, and I adore Imogene, but I don't know what to do with her. I know her story; her life is written in that spastic, heavily caffeinated head of mine, but I can't seem to translate it to paper in a way that pleases me or her. I'm not doing her justice.

Since the Porch is my writing playground, I thought she should at least see the light of day here, should she never make it anywhere else. There's more to her tale than I've shared, but you'll get the gist of it. Maybe you can tell me if she's worth resurrecting and completing, or if I should chalk her up to nothing more than a writing exercise.

Readers, you come here for different things. I know that because some of you have so graciously shared feedback with me. Some of you visit the Porch for a laugh; others prefer more insightful pieces. A few of you (well, okay, one of you) digs the occasional poem. Whatever the case, thanks for returning no matter what I share or how poorly it might be crafted. The Porch isn't perfect and it isn't defined yet, much like Imogene.

But maybe that's why I like her and can't completely abandon her. I have to find her imperfect story. We all have one, don't we?

This is how Imogene's story begins:


(c) 2010 by Jennifer Jenkins McAnulty All rights reserved

As Imogene watched her husband of 21 years die in the front yard beneath the weight of massive tree limbs, her first thought was, God, Johnnie, you were so wrong.

Johnnie had been certain he’d die of a heart attack. How many nights had he sat at the oak table in their farmhouse kitchen, loaded his plate whatever battered country delight Imogene had served, and joked about Crisco-filled arteries? Imogene had worried, too, and had made a few half-hearted efforts to cook healthier, but who were they kidding? Rice cakes and tofu weren’t part of the Southern vernacular. They were born country, had stayed country, and that meant one thing: butter and lots of it. As he crunched into a drumstick or helped himself to another slice of pie, Johnnie often chided that his ticker would give out, all right, but he'd go with grease on his fingers and a smile on his face.

Johnnie Emmett Jackson Jr., you son of a gun, you were wrong 'bout that, too.

Johnnie wasn't smiling. Instead, his face was frozen in surprise, his mouth slightly open, his blue eyes puzzled, the way he might have looked if Publisher's Clearinghouse showed up on his doorstep and handed him one of those giant cardboard checks for $1 million. To Imogene, his expression said, "Are you shittin' me?!"

The rest of his body wasn't visible because Johnnie was pinned beneath the top half of a hackberry tree that had fallen the wrong way when he had attempted to cut it down by himself. Imogene had protested his chore, told Johnnie it was too dangerous, that she feared he'd kill himself as he laughed and mocked her for worrying. She took no comfort in knowing that she, in fact, was the one who'd been right.

Crouched on the ground beside him, Imogene stroked his short brown hair and told him to hold on, her heart refusing to believe her eyes that took in Johnnie's six-foot-plus frame, now crushed beneath the behemoth trunk of the tree.

"Hold on, baby. The ambulance just passed Ruth Ann and Dave's place," she said, cursing the vehicle that was taking too long to make it down their winding, gravel road. "Weren't they sweet to bring us all those green beans?"

She continued to talk to her husband about supper plans, though he lay lifeless beneath the foliage. She traced her fingers across his lightly stubbled cheeks. How she had always loved the feel of him, the roughness of his beard beneath her hands. As she brushed her thumb across the corner of his mouth, she half expected his face to break out in a sly grin. He would say something funny to ease her fears, like "Damn, 'Mo! Can you believe I done knocked this big-ass tree over on myself?"

She would reply, "Well, how we gonna' get you out of this one, Johnnie?" and then they'd have a big laugh, thinking about what a good story they'd have to tell Ruth Ann and Dave.

Though she willed it with every fiber of her being, Johnnie didn't grin. So Imogene continued to prattle on about beans as the sun beat down on her neck and the ambulance drew closer. Easy banter had been the trademark of their relationship.

Johnnie Jackson was a sweet and uncomplicated man, and Imogene had loved him since she was seventeen. She could still see the young man in him: the handsome, 22-year-old high school custodian took pleasure in flirting with the pudgy, shy senior and found excuses to linger near her locker. Though she knew better, knew it wouldn't last and felt he surely was using her, she'd fallen hard just the same. And as impossible as it seemed to Imogene, Johnnie loved her back. Even after 20-plus years together, she sometimes still felt like that silly school girl with the forbidden crush.

Imogene once heard that love was friendship on fire, and that's how it had always been with Johnnie.

She didn't know how she would make it without him, and talking to him kept her from answering that question. Even as his cheeks cooled beneath her touch, she rattled on and on, as if he'd just pulled up a chair in the kitchen while she cooked dinner. Johnnie was always too tired to talk much after work, but he seemed to enjoy listening to Imogene, as she'd scurry about chopping and stirring and sharing news of her day at the deli.

"I nearly finished snapping the beans," Imogene said to him now, as the ambulance screeched into their driveway. She barely looked its way as she cradled Johnnie's head between both hands. "You know, they brought us nearly a bushel full. We'll have to take some down to the Smithhearts after while."

Alder County EMTs Tim Knight and Royce Edwardson rushed from the ambulance to the tree. Tim, who went to church with Imogene and Johnnie, felt Johnnie's throat for a pulse as Royce tried in vain to lift the tree.

Imogene continued to talk about the beans, even as Tim and Royce cussed and sweat, pressed on her husband's chest, breathed into his mouth, pulled helplessly at the tree and called on their radio for assistance from the Meadeville Volunteer Fire Department. The EMTs, barely older than boys, tried to convince Imogene to go inside the house, told her they'd take care of Johnnie now, but she refused to budge. Despite the warm afternoon, Royce draped a blanket around her shoulders and told her to scoot back and give them a little space to work, so Imogene sat on the ground, her back against the splintered tree, and told the scrambling crew how she had planned fresh green beans for supper.

On some deep level, she knew it was stupid and senseless to discuss supper plans while men she'd known all her life swarmed around her dead husband with chain saws and tore at tree limbs, but she couldn't seem to stop. This mind-numbing talk of food--a topic she knew so well--was preferable to what she'd feel next.

She was still extolling the virtues of fresh summer vegetables when Dave and Ruth Ann ran up her driveway, alarmed and out of breath from chasing the emergency crews on foot. Dave, a short, beefy man, was red-raced from the jog and looked like he could use an ambulance himself. Ruth Ann clutched a dish towel to her chest; she had been washing dishes when they heard the sirens. When Ruth Ann saw Johnnie's hand sticking out from beneath a limb, she put the towel over her face and held it there, as if it had the power to erase the image. Dave paced around the volunteer firefighters muttering, "Holy Jesus" until it ran together in some bizarre religious mantra: holyJesusholyJesusholyJesus.

As the rescue workers pulled Johnnie from the tree--or the tree from Johnnie, depending on how you looked at it--Imogene looked up at Dave and Ruth Ann, her dear friends who'd played cards with them just last night, and said, "Thanks again for the beans."

At that moment, Ruth Ann emerged from the dish towel and plopped down on the ground beside Imogene. She took her friend's hand and said, "Oh, Imogene. Oh, honey." And then, before she could take it back, she said, "What business did Johnnie have being up in that tree by himself?"

For just a moment, Imogene didn't know what Ruth Ann was talking about. Everyone knew Johnnie Jackson could fix anything. Didn't he just help Dave get that old tractor running? And Imogene couldn't count the number of times Ruth Ann had called with a crisis: her gutters were sagging, her car was making a funny sound, her dishwasher was leaking again. Could Johnnie help Dave fix it? Johnnie often chided that Dave's "help" consisted of opening beers while Johnnie labored.

"The tree was growing too close to the house," Imogene replied casually, as if her husband had simply sliced a finger and was not flattened a few feet away. "We were starting to get a little moss on the roof from the shade, and the tree was weak from that ice storm last year. Johnnie's been afraid it will fall on the house if we get another good storm. You know how that man is when he sees something that needs to be done. He has to fix it."

And then, as if it made perfect sense, Imogene said, "Oh, crap, Ruth Ann! Look at the beans!"

Shrugging off the blanket, Imogene stood up and motioned to her porch, where green bean tips were scattered everywhere from an overturned pan. Something about those fragmented beans triggered a strange, new sensation in Imogene. She had always enjoyed tinkering with puzzles, and now she felt like she had a slew of pieces but had lost the box top: she couldn't picture exactly what she was attempting to piece together.

Imogene saw the beans, saw the crew now pulling Johnnie away from the tree and once again attempting CPR, saw her husband's limp legs dragging through the dust as if he were no more than a stuffed scarecrow. But everything was cloudy and dull, and Imogene felt as if she were watching the chaos from Ruth Ann's place instead of here, under half a tree, just a few feet away. Feeling dizzy, Imogene stepped onto the porch, and Ruth Ann followed uncertainly.

When she reached the porch swing, Imogene stopped and looked at Ruth Ann, motioning to the swing and then the beans as if they explained everything. Suddenly, the puzzle formed, revealed its ugly shape in Imogene's mind. God, she didn't want to see it, but tragedies have a way of replaying in the mind like CNN Headline News footage. She envisioned the anchorwoman now, with her perfect lipstick and over-highlighted hair, saying, "You won't believe this shocking video, so tragic and horrific. But take a look now at what happens to this man when he goes out to prune a tree…."

Imogene had been sitting on the front porch swing snapping beans in two and dropping them in the aluminum pan at her side. Johnnie was in the side yard on the extension ladder propped up against the hackberry, his chain saw grinding and stalling, grinding and stalling, as if the machine were complaining about its task. Their fat marmalade cat, LuLu, was grooming herself on the front porch step, enjoying the shade, when Johnnie yelled something that Imogene couldn't quite make out over the buzz of the chain saw.

Before Imogene could rise to check on him, that behemoth of a tree cracked and splintered, a hideous racket that sent LuLu skittering across the porch. Imogene knew the tree wasn't supposed to fall yet because Johnnie hadn't come down to pull on the rope he'd wrapped around the trunk.

Johnnie had planned to cut the trunk partially through, then come down to yank the rope, directing the top of the tree away from the house. Instead, the ladder was falling, the tree was groaning, and Johnnie was toppling backwards, his blue-jeaned legs kicking and splaying in the air before he hit the ground with a sickening thud that made Imogene stand up and knock over the pan of beans. As it hit the porch with a clang, scattering its contents, the entire top half of the hackberry crashed down on Johnnie.

The broadcast replayed hideously in Imogene's mind, and she suddenly turned and grabbed Ruth Ann's arms so tight they'd be bruised for a week.

"Oh God, Ruth Ann! The tree! It killed Johnnie!" Imogene said, running off the porch, seeking her husband.

Their efforts at CPR futile, Tim and Royce placed Johnnie on a gurney and pulled a sheet over his face, his beautiful face that Imogene wanted to see, to feel again between her palms. Just as Imogene took a step toward the stretcher, the boys hoisted Johnnie into the back of the ambulance and slammed the doors. Tim leaned against those double doors for a minute, his head against his sweaty forearms, before Royce patted him on the back and motioned to Imogene, standing with her arms outstretched a few feet away. Wiping his hands on his jeans, Tim walked over to her. He flicked bits of tree from his shirt and looked at his black sneakers, covered in the dust of a Kentucky summer. "I'm so sorry, Imogene. We tried. We really tried."

Imogene nodded, barely noticing the circus in her yard now: the volunteer firefighters clearing tree debris; Dave talking to Carter Fisher, the county coroner, whose arrival Imogene had missed in all the commotion; Ruth Ann squatting on her front porch, crying as she picked up green beans and put them back in the pan.

All Imogene heard were the screams, terrible, awful cries that sounded so primal they were barely human. With some surprise, she realized they were coming from her.


That night, Imogene tossed restlessly, winding herself in the sheets, mashing her face into the pillow. Repeatedly, she ran her hand down Johnnie's side of the bed, pressing on the furrow he'd worn into the old mattress. Just last spring, when Imogene mentioned they maybe should spend some of their tax refund on a new bed, Johnnie had laughed and asked her why she'd want to do a fool thing like that.

"Hell, Imogene. I've spent 10 year wearing my ass into the mattress so it'd be just right," he'd said, patting the bed like it was a faithful Labrador. "Besides, we've had some awfully good times in here, wouldn't you agree?"

True, with Johnnie by her side, the lumpy, full-size bed had felt right, comfortable, decadent on occasion. But all Imogene felt now were bulges and bad springs and an emptiness she couldn't comprehend. The bed, that barely held her, Johnnie, and the cat just last night, seemed cavernous tonight. Imogene curled into the fetal position and willed sleep and numbness to come, but both eluded her, leaving Imogene to wonder if she should have accepted the pills Ruth Ann had offered her earlier.

"You'll need rest, Imogene. Just take them," Ruth Ann insisted, as they had sat in Imogene's kitchen, weary from calling Johnnie's lone sibling, a brother in Colorado who promised to arrive for the funeral; a smattering of cousins who never left Alder County; and his work friends from the county school system. One thing you could count on if you lived in a small town like Meadeville was that it didn't take long for news to spread.

After fielding nearly a dozen calls, Ruth Ann had taken the phone off the hook, and she and Imogene had sat holding hands and crying softly as the late afternoon faded into dusk, and then to night. When the clock on the microwave indicated it was past midnight, Ruth Ann reached into her purse and pushed a vial of small, yellow and white pills to Imogene across the oak table.

"They're completely safe," she said. "I take them all the time. Dave's snoring drives me freakin' bonkers, otherwise!"

Although the adrenaline had worn off and Imogene was bone tired, she knew she wouldn't sleep. Still, she'd shaken her head at Ruth Ann, inexplicably angry. "No," she said, wiping at her now-chapped nose with a paper towel. "No."

Ruth Ann had said, "O.K. Whatever you need, you know that. But I'm going on to bed, if that's alright?"

Of course, Imogene told her to go, to head back down the road to Dave, but Ruth Ann insisted on sleeping in Imogene's guest room.

Imogene heard her friend across the hall now, snoring like a truck driver.

Unable to tolerate the bed any longer, Imogene climbed out, disrupting LuLu, who glared at Imogene before she settled back down on Johnnie's side of the bed. Imogene crept past Ruth Ann's room to the bathroom. She looked in on her friend, who had one arm slung over the side of the bed and one up over her head, her mouth agape. Maybe I will try some of those pills, Imogene thought, before she quietly shut the bathroom door and turned on the light.

She peered at herself in the mirror over the sink, and thought, Darlin', you look like hell on crack. Her chin-length dark curls were frizzy and wild, and her eyelids were puffy, her dark eyes were barely slits in her face. The pillow had worn creases into her right cheek, and her skin, usually her best feature and porcelain smooth, was ruddy and streaked.

Turning on the sink, she splashed cold water on her face and reached for a towel, momentarily comforted by the lingering scent of fabric softener. She folded the towel in thirds and placed it neatly back on the rack. Then she took a good look around the small room. Johnnie was everywhere here: his blue and white toothbrush, the disposable razor, the Old Spice deodorant, his worn gray robe hanging on the door. Why is it that a man makes his presence more known in the bathroom than anywhere else in the house, she wondered? It used to drive Imogene nuts, washing those small, coarse hairs out of the sink, putting the toilet lid back down, picking up his wet towels off the floor. But at 4 a.m. on the dawn of what she knew would be a terrible day, she found the tiny bathroom a haven.

She opened the medicine cabinet and took out the narrow can of shaving cream, blue gunk hardening on the nozzle. Holding it to her nose, she sniffed it before putting it back in the cabinet and shutting the door. She picked up his toothbrush from its holder mounted above the sink, pressed it against her cheek, then placed it gently back beside her own. As she stared at the toothbrushes, dangling side by side on the bathroom wall, the weight of her loss renewed itself, fresh and cruel like a cut reopened.

Uncertain of her motives, Imogene opened the shower curtain, stepped inside and lowered herself into the dry tub. Johnnie had been the last to shower today, and she smelled him here, the delectable scent of soap, shaving cream and man she found more intoxicating than any cologne. She inhaled deeply, and leaned back, the cool, porcelain more comfortable than her own bed tonight.

She reached behind her and pulled Johnnie's robe from the hook on the bathroom door. She had given him this robe as a Christmas present nearly 10 years ago, and the fleece, once plush, had softened and thinned. As she wrapped it around her, Imogene could see Johnnie standing at her kitchen counter, the robe falling open as he reached for a coffee mug. She saw herself going to him there, slipping her arms through the gaping robe and wrapping them around him, the feel of his warm chest rising against her own, his heart thumping against her breast.

"Johnnie," Imogene whispered, seeing her reflection distort like a funhouse mirror in the chrome bath hardware mounted on the opposite side of the tub.

Slipping into the chasm of her loss again, Imogene bunched the robe up and laid her head back against its folds. For a blessed little while, Imogene slept dreamlessly in her bathtub.


"Imogene, you OK in there? You alright?" Ruth Ann's voice carried from the hall as she tapped softly on the bathroom door. Imogene lifted her head with some difficulty, rubbed her stiff neck, and cursed herself for falling asleep in the tub. I'm losing my freaking mind, she thought.

"I'll be out in a second," Imogene said, noticing the light filtering through the small bathroom window. From its slant, Imogene guessed it was around 6 a.m. She climbed out of the tub and carefully re-hung Johnnie's robe. Then she lifted her night shirt, plopped down on the toilet, and peed, relieved for one small, normal activity in a day that promised to be anything but. Peeing in the morning was what everyone did: movie stars did it; the president did it; and widows who'd lost their husbands in freak tree accidents did it.

Widow. The word was cold and unfamiliar. She had finished peeing, but she paused on the toilet a minute longer, letting the new title slowly settle upon her. Widow. It was an uncomfortable fit, a cumbersome coat she'd like to return to the store: "This won't do at all, dear. It's much too heavy and bulky," she imagined herself saying to the salesclerk, as if she were Audrey Hepburn in a 1960s film.

Hmmmm, she thought, taking in her large, pale thighs, streaked with veins, and wondering why she always saw herself in fantasies as Holly Golightly. More like Holly Goheavily, she mused. Yep. I'm losin' it alright. She wiped, flushed, washed and dried her hands, and opened the door to see Ruth Ann leaning against the wall, her brow furrowed, her lips tight with concern.

"Imogene? Good Lord! Did you sleep in the bathroom?"

"You say it like it's a bad thing, Ruth," Imogene said, turning down the hall toward the kitchen where she already smelled coffee in the pot. God Bless, Ruth Ann.


After two mugs of stout black coffee, and half the slice of toast Ruth Ann burned but insisted she eat, Imogene called her boss, Jim Sikes, to deliver the news and let him know she'd be out a while. Jim owned Meadeville's biggest grocery store, Sikes Hometown Foods, and Imogene had been running his deli for nearly two decades.

As she anticipated, Jim had already heard the news, and judging by the hoarseness of his voice, he'd taken it especially hard. Jim had been the one to stand beside her and Johnnie at their small, city hall wedding so many years ago, and Imogene knew he loved them both like his own.

"I was just getting ready to come out there, Imogene," he said. "I just had to open the store and make some plans, but…"

"It's OK," Imogene said. "Ruth Ann's here. She stayed the night. I just wanted to--"

"Imogene, don't worry about the deli," Jim interrupted. "Becca' can fill in for a while so you can take your time. Take all the time you need." She heard him draw a sharp breath, and she pressed the phone tightly to her forehead.

"Good God, girl," he said at last. "This is just awful."

"Jim," Imogene said, "Tell Becca' not to put so much mayo in the cole slaw. The customers complained last time. And tell her I mixed up some of my season salt and put in pickle jar on the shelf behind the slicer. Make sure she doesn't go light with it on the chicken. You can't put too much seasoning on fried chicken, I've told her that a hundred times. A country deli ain't the place to go healthy, but she keeps talking about low-fat this and low-sodium that."

Imogene pictured Becca Sims, Jim's bony-butt, 20-something great niece who took a couple of cooking classes through the University of Kentucky extension office and dreamed of turning the deli into a gourmet bistro. But it wouldn't work in Meadeville, Imogene knew. No one in Meadeville trusted a skinny cook.

"Imogene, Imogene," Jim said, sighing heavily on the other end. "We'll be okay here, you know. I've been running this grocery for 50 some-odd years. I think we can make it a while. I'm a lot more concerned about you. Can we bring you anything? Can me and Sherry come with you today to help with the, uh, arrangements? Can we do that for you?"

"I'll be alright," Imogene lied. "Ruth Ann and Dave already offered, but that's kind of you and Sherry"

"If you need something, don't be afraid to ask," Jim said. "And hey, don't you dare worry about the darn deli, you hear me? You take all the time you need."

"Thanks," Imogene said, cradling the phone and silently thanking God for Jim, who at 72 was more like a father to her than a boss.

Imogene's real dad had run out on her when Imogene was in second grade, and she had rarely heard from him, other than a few sporadic letters that ceased altogether when she was 12. Imogene didn't know where she would be if Jim hadn't taken a chance on a teen-age cook, and she was forever indebted to him. Imogene's own mother had meant well, but Imogene had spent more time taking care of her than the natural order of things dictated.

Devastated by her husband's rapid departure with a 17-year-old high school cheerleader and the local scandal that ensued, Cynthia Clay would come home from her work as a secretary at the lumber yard and seek solace in Miller Lights and any local redneck who'd glance her way.

For years, Imogene's mom would drag lovers home to the double-wide, and young Imogene would lie awake listening to the sounds of the bed springs squeaking on the other side of the thin paneling, her Mama's drunken cries laden with more anger than arousal. After sleeping with him, Cynthia most likely would call her befuddled young lover a sorry, cheating, no-good son of a bitch and kick him out, only to burst into hysterical sobs when the screen door slammed behind him and whatever pickup truck he'd been in kicked up rocks down the dirt drive that lead to the trailer.

Sometimes Cynthia would stumble down the hall to Imogene's room and squeeze into the twin bed with her. She'd wrap her arms around Imogene, and with beer-bated breath, tell Imogene how handsome her daddy was with his wavy hair the color of coal, and how he'd once driven all the way to Nashville to find gardenias for his wife because she'd remarked that she loved their rich fragrance on summer nights. She'd tell Imogene how he loved his daughter, how he used to give Imogene kisses on her belly and call her his little Mo-Mo. As she lie in Imogene's bed crying for the only man she ever loved, Cynthia would stroke Imogene's hair, running her fingers through the thick, black curls until beer and tears lulled her to sleep.

Imogene never knew what to say to her mom those nights, didn't know the words to make things all right, so she tried to do other things to make life better in that trailer in the Southern Kentucky hills.

She didn't give her mom any trouble, did her best in school, and once even wrote a letter to her Daddy, telling him in her crooked, penciled letters how unhappy Mama was without him and asking him to come back home. When she didn't get a response, she tried other things to cheer her mother. She kept her room clean and tidy, swept the floors, and washed their laundry and hung it out to dry on the line, the way she recalled her mom doing it before Daddy left.

Imogene remembered dashing in and out of the sheets on the line one spring morning, while her Mom sang along with the small black radio perched on the back step. That beautiful day, Cynthia dropped the clothes pins and swooped Imogene into her arms for an impromptu dance. They swayed between the towels, shirts, and her daddy's dark Wrangler jeans, her Mom singing off-key, but neither of them caring, as they dipped and spun and giggled, the empty clothes their only audience.

As Imogene grew older, her mom drank more and more, unable (Imogene refused to believe she was unwilling) to care for herself, much less her daughter. So, the summer before fifth grade, Imogene taught herself to cook.

Imogene was quiet and didn’t have many school friends. Even when someone was kind to her in school, she knew she couldn't bring them home to a drunken Mama, so cooking passed the time and filled the lonely nights when Mama was out.

The menus started out simple enough: Campbell's tomato soup; a grilled cheese or fried bologna sandwich; maybe a few slices of bacon and scrambled eggs. Before the next summer rolled around, however, Imogene had progressed to more elaborate meals, like tacos, spaghetti, and Hamburger Helper. At first, Imogene cooked out of need because Mama's idea of cooking was opening some Cheerios and eating out of the box. But before long, Imogene could find her way around a kitchen and her Mama had noticed, smiling at Imogene when she saw two places sat at the kitchen table and a pan steaming on the stove.

Over time, Imogene grew to love the process and became more creative in the kitchen, whipping up casseroles from whatever leftovers she could piece together; making homemade pies with simple crusts created from vegetable oil and flour; frying chicken legs she'd dipped twice in buttermilk and baking mix.

Somehow, Cynthia Clay had managed to keep her job at the lumber yard (Imogene suspected it had something to do with Mama's married boss, who visited the trailer a few nights every month). She paid the rent on the trailer regularly, picked up clothes at garage sales for Imogene, and remembered to buy groceries at least a couple of times a month. Mainly, she bought basic things like cheese, ground beef, eggs, canned vegetables, and white bread, and most of it was off-brand. Still, it was enough for Imogene to work with, and she actually began to enjoy her days in the cramped kitchen, turning on the portable radio and singing Duran Duran songs as she chopped onions or whipped eggs.

Imogene's life wasn't great, but it wasn't out of the ordinary for a rural town, either. Lots of folks had it tough, Imogene knew, so why should she feel sorry for herself? She busied herself with school work and taking care of her Mama, and that was enough. She tried to find joy in the simple things, like the blackberry bushes that grew wild amid the brush behind their trailer.

When Imogene was 15, she spent one blazing summer afternoon battling the heat and the flies to gather fresh, ripe blackberries in a plastic bucket. She took them inside, washed them off, sprinkled them with sugar, and boiled them down in a big pot just long enough to bring out their natural juices. Then, she took some slices of stale white bread and cubed them, soaked the cubes in berry juice, eggs and milk, and alternated the bread and blackberries in a Pyrex casserole dish. She topped the concoction with a simple brown sugar and cinnamon syrup she'd learned to make from reading an old copy of Southern Living they'd gotten in the mail by mistake. Imogene piled on more fresh berries, popping one into her mouth, before putting the pudding in the oven.

The next morning, Imogene served a microwave-heated portion of her blackberry bread pudding to her mom, plopping a spoonful of it alongside cheese eggs and fried hamburger steaks. Bleary, hung-over Cynthia Clay sat at the formica table, robotically eating the eggs and hamburger. Absentmindedly, she scooped up a spoonful of the berries and shoveled it between her lips. Her dark eyes grew wide, and she took another bite and another.

"Oh, Mo," her mom said, wiping berry juice from her chin. "My sweet 'Mo. You are so good to me." Then she burst into tears, reached across the table, and squeezed Imogene's plump fingers, holding her hands for a long, delicious, dizzying moment. Standing in that hot trailer kitchen, staring at her mom's blackberry-stained teeth, Imogene realized she had a gift.

That afternoon, Cynthia stayed away from the Miller Light long enough to drive Imogene to the town square, marching her into Sikes Hometown Foods with a plastic Cool Whip bowl of blackberry pudding in one hand and a "Part-Time Deli Help Wanted" sign in the other. She spoke to the owner about a job for her Imogene. Jim Sikes protested, looking at the plump girl dressed in ratty cutoffs and a faded yellow Dukes of Hazzard shirt. He said Imogene was too young and inexperienced to cook for his deli, but he'd keep her in mind if he needed a cashier down the road.

But Cynthia refused to be dismissed, insisting Imogene was right for the job.

"Look here," Jim said. "I'm sure she's very talented, but this deli is my bread and butter. Lunch plates and pies are nearly half my business, and I'm looking for someone with a little more experience to help Maureen out back there. I appreciate you gals comin' down, but I don't think you know what all the job entails."

"I may not know much, sir, and I may not be worth a piece of crap to anyone these days," Cynthia had said too loudly, pulling the plastic lid off the container as she spoke and drawing the attention of shoppers, as Imogene cringed. "But dammit, young or not, my girl can cook. She's been cookin' my meals for years, and everyone knows I'd be dead if it weren't for her, so don't insult my baby by not even trying her food first."

Before Mr. Sikes could utter another word, Cynthia dug out a spoon from her purse and shoved a large glob of Imogene's pudding right into his mouth. Although she was accustomed to her mother embarrassing her, Imogene felt she'd gone much too far this time. Fighting back tears, Imogene pulled her mother's arm and began shuffling backwards toward the automatic doors that lead to the parking lot. She looked up only long enough to notice Maureen Cravens, the five-foot tall, 80-some-odd relic who'd run the deli as long as anyone could remember, standing on her tiptoes to peer out over the top of the lunchmeat counter.

"Come on, Mama," Imogene said between clenched teeth, "Please, come on! It's okay, Mama. Let's just go!"

But Cynthia Clay stood her ground, standing in front of the checkout lanes holding out the Cool Whip tub like she was offering manna to the gods.

Imogene was sure Jim would call for the police, but to her amazement, he reached out, took the bowl and ate another bite. Then he carried a spoonful over to Maureen, who tasted it. Imogene waited anxiously for Maureen's reaction, but her mouth was hidden behind the counter. Jim leaned over, and Maureen whispered something to him, and he whispered something back before walking toward Imogene.

Jim laughed--a rich, hearty, belly laugh you wouldn't expect from such a thin man.

"You cook this darlin'?" Jim asked her, as Imogene's face flushed hot.

"Yes, sir," Imogene said quietly.

"What else you make?" he asked.

"Lots of stuff," Imogene whispered, blushing as two of the carry-out boys elbowed each other and pointed at her.

"Such as?" Jim said.

Imogene cleared her throat.

"Umm, I can make chess pie, fried chicken, lots of casseroles," Imogene said. "I cook a lot at home."

"And her chicken salad is to die for," Cynthia burst in victoriously. "I swear, it's the best thing you ever tasted. She uses grapes in it, which you think would be nasty, but it works!"

Jim Sikes threw both hands up in the air in mock surrender, and flashing purple teeth, offered Imogene a job in his deli.

Behind the counter, legendary Maureen Cravens grinned.


(To be continued?)

Saturday, January 23, 2010

I Got Your Retro Mojo Right Here

In case you missed it, last week was declared Retro Week on Facebook (is it just me, or is Facebook evolving into one giant chain letter? I haven't seen anything in the Bible that commands me to repost a goofy status update, but perhaps I didn't get God's tweet).

Unlike most of the inane edicts that circulate on Facebook, Retro Week was highly entertaining. In fact, I suspect more than 93 percent of users actually participated, which is more than I can say for my own drive to persuade everyone on Facebook to change their profile pic to one of Gary Coleman (but four people did, so I felt powerful, kind of like a Facebook She-Ra).

Unfortunately, I missed out on the retro fun. I was out of town last week and unable to access my totally super bitchin' awesome retro photo, so I am posting it here instead. Lucky, lucky you.

Where do I begin?

There is so much to love about this particular photo, snapped in a 1983 dance class (lest you assume I dressed like that outside of dance class. For the record, I only wore the red leotard to school every other Tuesday).

You know what complements a red, sequin-trimmed dance costume?

A mullet.

I rocked that mullet, almost as much as I worked my swooped bangs, parted in a nice, straight line to resemble a butt crack. Forget the Farrah. Forget the Rachel. The Butt Crack Mullet is iconic hair at its best.

I also love how one knee is actually bent backward, much like a Barbie doll's rubbery plastic leg. You can only imagine how graceful and skilled I was on the dance floor with my super bendy flexible Barbie knees.

Apparently, when I popped my right knee back, my one and only boob popped out. Judging by the photo, I was a Mighty Righty at 13 (as opposed to a Hefty Lefty). Granted, I use the term "mighty" loosely and generously. Sadly, the complete lack of boobs is the one look I've carried over from my teen years. Maybe I'll hit puberty at 40. (The good news, though, is that I eventually grew into those eyebrows.)

I also look Middle Eastern, which is only weird because I'm not Middle Eastern. Perhaps I should have a talk with Mom and Dad.

But my favorite part of the photo has to be The Jazz Hand. Ah, yes. You know you can't take your eyes off of it.

I should clarify. That was my version of a jazz hand (you're sorry you begged out of my dance recital now, aren't you?). Is it a jazz hand, or am I about to palm a basketball? Hard to say.

Every time I look at this, I have the urge to sing the Subway jingle: Five. Five dollar. Five-dollar footlonnnnng...

The funny thing is, I honest to God remember practicing this pose in the mirror at home before heading to dance class. I wanted my photo to be, like, totally awesome.

I think I nailed it.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Back Seat Syndrome

Sorry I have been AWOL from the Porch lately.

The clan and I piled into the minivan last week (yes, a minivan. Shut up. I make it look cool) and traveled to Washington, D.C., for my brother-in-law's wedding. With all the planned nuptial activities, I didn't have any free time to post while there. Honestly, I'm still recuperating from the drive and five nights sharing a tiny hotel room with my entire crew. (Oh, I love them dearly, even in a tiny hotel room, but I love them slightly more in our rambling old Craftsman with its 16 hiding places, err, rooms.)

I don't know what happens to your family when traveling, but my crew tends to come down with a serious case of BSS: Back Seat Syndrome. Unfortunately, BSS is rarely confined to the back seat, so doctors really should come up with a better name for it.

The longer we travel, the worse our BSS becomes. Last year, we went to the Smokey Mountains for a few days. On the third day of the trip, the kids and I had formed our own traveling Bluegrass band, Root, Froot & Toot. Despite what my husband/manager told the tabloids, we were talented. There was a future for us in them thar hills. Sadly, however, Toot let success go to his head and decided to break out on his own. Froot became addicted to Sour Skittles and needed rehab. And Root, well, I haven't felt the music since losing Froot and Toot. I have new empathy for the struggles of Crosby Stills and Nash.

On our trip to DC, we didn't reform the band, though there was a moment when we took turns jamming to classic Journey with our makeshift lotion bottle microphone. (What? You don't do that? I'm sad for you.)

Fortunately, I kept the kids, 13 and 7, entertained on the 12-hour drive with the snack box. Let me clarify: snack CRATE. Most people are content with a few road goodies in a bag. Uh-uh. Nope. This was a long drive, and I didn't want to hear, "How much lonnnnggger?" or "She/He's smacking his gum in my ear" 500 times. My solution? Give them so many snacks that their mouths were too full to complain about an-y-thing. I filled the crate with Twizzlers, Cheetos, Pringles, peanut butter crackers, goldfish crackers, miniature candy bars, M&Ms, PopTarts, cereal bars and a partridge in a pear tree. The kids hit the junk food lottery!

For most of the trip, the magical crate worked like a charm. Sugar-filled children are happy children. But tragically, on the rainy, foggy, slow, tense return journey, the leftover snacks became weapons.This is an actual, honest-to-goodness quote from a stay in a hotel room on the return leg: "So help me, if you throw that Cheeto at my face, I will straight up wallop you upside the head with this bag of Twizzlers. You think I'm playing? Try me, Cheeto boy. Try. Me."

And then my children pleaded with my husband and me to stop abusing perfectly delicious junk food.

Once we had endangered snack foods, we knew we needed to break out of the hotel room. But where to go? We were in a small town in the Virginia mountains on a Sunday night. Friends, that left only one option: Wal-Mart. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

It wasn't hard to find it. We just followed all the pick-up trucks down the mountain. Turns out, if you've seen one Wal-Mart, you've seen them all. We quickly tired of flipping through magazines and trying to find someone NOT in camoflauge, so I created a new game: We could each pick out one item that someone else in the family had to carry throughout the store. I picked out my husband's item first:

Oh, yes, excellent sport that he is, he carried his super hero underwear proudly throughout the store. I still relish the looks he got from the locals. But when he headed to the back aisle of the pharmaceutical section to choose my embarrassing item, I decided it was a dumb and immature game, and we should stop playing it immediately.

The next day brought more travel fiascos. My son, who has never had a food allergy before, had a sudden and severe allergic reaction to a hotel breakfast. (Thank goodness I am a neurotic mother who packs a medicine cabinet when traveling. Never, never, never leave home without Benadryl). And while refueling later that day, a gas pump failed to cut off once the tank was full and doused the (way cool) minivan and my husband in gasoline. That smelled really yummy for the next five hours, especially when the husband decided the best way to cover up the gasoline smell was to bathe in cologne....

We couldn't reach our Old Kentucky Home a moment too soon.

Seriously, we had a good time and met some great people. You owe it to yourself to meet Greg the WooHoo Guy at the Hilton Garden Inn at Courthouse in Arlington. He's the happiest man I've ever met in my life, and your day will be immensely better once he WooHoos you. Trust me. I've been WooHooed a time or two. I know these things. And his WooHoos are fantastic.

We also saw some of our nation's most endearing sites; danced (literally) on top of that fabulous city at the wonderful, Top of the Town wedding reception; and took the kids on their first subway ride.

I even took precious, non-super-hero-underwear-toting pics, like this, that make my heart full (or maybe that's due to the trans fatty contents of the snack crate):

While it's fun to travel, after each trip, I feel a bit like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz: "There's no place like home, so get these crazy, Back-Seat-Syndrome,Cheeto-tossing people out of this van."

Or something like that.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Holy Cow! Someone Rearranged the Porch!

Notice anything different?

I'm playing around with a new look for the Porch, so please bear with me temporarily. I'm hoping for a custom redesign by Spring, but in the meantime, I wanted to see how I liked the cleaner, crisper blog templates that are readily available. You might see the Porch take on new looks as I experiment with different designs. For those of you opposed to change (insert your own Obama joke here), don't freak out! It's okay! It's okay!

But I need a makeover. As it turns out, I tend to ramble when I write (read: lonnnnng posts), and I think something that offers more white space is better suited to me. While I liked the earthiness of the last template, it was getting a bit busy.

I also require something that will lend itself to my different writing personalities: shove-me-into-shallow-water JJR; I-really-want-a-Chocodile JJR; melodramatic-poetry JJR; so on and so forth. It's not an easy endeavor.

I'm researching other designs and hoping to unveil something much more suited to me later this year. The rambling will probably stay the same. Apologies.

One other note: I realize I'm a little behind on posts, but we've been traveling for the past week. I have things to say (always!) and some photos to post, but for some inexplicable reason, blogger isn't cooperating with me today (my editing tool bar is screwy, if you must know). If blogger fixes my tool bar, I'll post again in a bit.

In the meantime, if you have any thoughts about how you envision the Porch or what you'd like to see more of here, please share them. (Ultimately, writing is a selfish endeavor, so no promises).

Thanks, as always, for visiting. I hope to be up and rambling again soon.

I love my Porch sitters. I really, really do!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Unfurl the Sail

Life is short.

We hear it all the time, but does it resonate? Or is it another one of those three-word phrases that is said so often, so nonchalantly, that it becomes trite and loses its depth: I love you. I miss you. Grande white mocha (okay, so maybe I'm the only one who uses that one daily)?

As my friends and I stand at the brink of 40, our lives play out like records in a small-town newspaper. Our names have slipped from the honor rolls, the college graduations, the wedding announcements, the birth announcements and the real estate transactions to, for many now, the divorce listings.

One day, our names will be recorded in the obits, our existence summed up in three tidy paragraphs: our birth and death dates; our work, church and civic memberships; our survivors.

When I began my career in journalism, I had to write obituaries. The funeral home directors and I would prattle about the weather or joke about something in the news as the details of Mr. Morgan's or Mrs. Buchanan's lives were jotted down in my spiral notebook in nice, neat lists.

I would type them into the VDT (um, yes, VDT; they ran on hamsters back then) and shout over to the copy desk: "Obits are in!" Then I'd take a swig of Dr. Pepper and down some barbecue Fritos as the newsroom police scanner reported yet another car fire.

That was all there was to it. I learned to write obits in Journalism 101. The process is fairly standard, unless the dearly departed is famous or a local big-wig. The protocol is the same because most of our lives are fairly standard. We're born, we live, we work, we love (if we're lucky), we procreate and we die.

The question is, do we appreciate what will one day appear in our obits? Do we celebrate our lives while we're living them? Do we embrace the moments that blow past us, like wisps of a dandelion? Or do we live by the standard, doing only what is expected and reaching for nothing more?

To be fair, it is difficult to reach for more. We often feel trapped by our circumstances. We don’t have enough money. Our children are young. The job pays the bills. We're too old. People will talk. It's good enough.

My grandparents, whom I loved dearly, were survivors of the Great Depression. As a result, they lived their lives frugally. They stored canned goods beneath their beds and socked cash away in pillow cases. They toiled and saved. They never traveled, for that seemed a frivolous use of their hard-earned money. They sat in lawn chairs in the front yard of their gray brick house and watched other people go places.

When I was in high school, my mother decided that my grandparents should see the ocean. They protested, but my mother persisted until she convinced them to make the trip with us one summer. We all scrunched into their Buick and drove 10 hours to Destin, Fla., where we rented a cottage by the beach.

My grandparents complained: they grumbled about the temperature in the cottage being too cool and they wore sweaters. They frowned at platters of seafood and talked of missing "home cooking". They were old and stubborn; it was almost too late.

When they stepped on the white sand beach, when they saw that big, wide ocean stretched out before them, crashing and churning, they were afraid of it.

But my grandmother walked to its edge, anyway. She allowed the wind to whip her perfectly curled silver hair. She stooped to pick up tiny white seashells and slipped them into her pockets.

When she died, we found those seashells tucked away with some of her most treasured belongings. I slipped one into my own pocket.

Her shell reminds me of "George Gray", a poem by Edgar Lee Masters that I first heard in a high school honors English class. It's from Masters' Spoon River Anthology (1915), a collection of epitaphs written for the fictional residents of the small town of Spoon River. I loved the poem so much that I cut it out of the poetry packet in high school and pasted it in a scrapbook. I give full credit to Mr. Masters and hope that it is acceptable to share it with you here, because it is so meaningful to me:

George Gray

I have studied many times
The marble which was chiseled for me -
A boat with furled sail at rest in a harbor.
In truth it pictures not my destination
But my life.
For love was offered me and I shrank from its disillusionment;
Sorrow knocked at my door, but I was afraid;
Ambition called to me, but I dreaded the chances.
Yet all the while I hungered for meaning in my life.
And now I know we must lift the sail
And catch the winds of destiny
Wherever they drive the boat.
To put meaning in one's life may end in madness,
But life without meaning is the torture
Of restlessness and vague desire -
It is a boat longing for the sea and yet afraid.

For many years, the sad story of Mr. Gray was ignored in my high school scrapbook, tucked between pages of cheerleading camp and school dance photos. It wasn't until a health scare a few years ago that I reached for it again.

I'm fine, thank you. But a few years ago I began to have muscle twitches I couldn't control. I ignored them at first. Most people get involuntary muscle twitches on occasion, usually beneath their eye or maybe in a calf muscle. They're harmless and go away as quickly as they came. But mine didn't go away.

I was having muscle twitches off and on for days, and they occurred all over my body (yes, all over. Some are more fun than others). Muscles twitched in my arms, my thighs, my abdomen, even my tongue. I would wake up at night twitching. After three weeks, I was a little concerned, so I mentioned them to my sister, who is a nurse. I thought for sure she would blow them off, but she discussed them with her doctor, who told her the medical term for muscle twitches is "fasciculations" and recommended simple blood tests, as they most likely were the result of a thyroid condition, Lyme Disease or a lack of calcium or magnesium.

I had the blood work. My thyroid was normal, as were my calcium and magnesium levels. I tested negative for Lyme Disease. The twitching continued daily, so the doctor referred me to a neurologist for additional testing. That terrified me. A neurologist? No one wants to be referred to a neurologist.

That's when I made the mistake of googling the word "fasciculation." The links that immediately popped up on my computer screen were for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), often referred to as "Lou Gehrig's Disease." It turns out, muscle fasciculations are a primary symptom of ALS. And I knew one thing about ALS: Lou Gehrig died from it. No one survives ALS.

I was 37-years-old, and suddenly, doctors wanted to test me for an incurable, cruel disease. I couldn't even look at my children without bursting into tears. I found myself praying for neurological conditions that while horrible, but might not prove fatal, like multiple sclerosis. I could live with multiple sclerosis.

A few weeks later, I saw the neurologist. A neurologist's waiting room is an incredibly depressing place, where old people waste away in wheelchairs or stumble to their seats with canes. I was too young, felt too alive to be there. I tried to read old copies of Time magazine but I couldn’t focus on the words.

Eventually I was called back to the exam room and told to put on a gown. I sat nervously, waiting for the doctor. My heart pounded and I fought back tears as he came in and asked about my symptoms and my twitches. In a heavy Indian accent, he told me to calm down, that my fasciculations most likely were the result of a benign condition. Then he put me through a series of tests in his office. I walked on my tiptoes and my heels. I pushed his hands away with mine. The bottoms of my feet were poked with safety pins. I listened to chimes vibrating near my ears. And then he tested my reflexes. He tested them again. And again.

"Your reflexes are a little fast," he said, his brow slightly furrowed. "It's probably nothing. You've probably always had hyper reflexes, but I think I want to do an EMG on you."

I had scared myself on Google enough to know what Electromyography meant. "You're testing me for ALS," I said, and then I promptly broke out in hives.

"You do not need to worry so much," he said, patting my hand. "But I think we need to rule it out, yes. It's just a precaution."

So two sleepless, restless, unnerving days full of crying jags later, I was back in the waiting room, awaiting a test that involves a needle jabbed into virtually every muscle in my body to measure the electric activity of the muscles. Electrical currents are sent through the needle to stimulate the muscles, registering the strength or weakness of them. If my muscles showed significant weakness, I most likely had ALS.

In the gown again, I stretched out on a table, as my doctor said, "I'm not going to lie to you. This is going to hurt. I'm going to start with your toes and work my way up your legs to your back."

Ahhh. How comforting. Turns out, you can't have any medications before an EMG because it can impact the test results.

I practiced Lamaze breathing as he jabbed and electrocuted the muscles throughout my body. But all I could think was, "When this is over, I'm going to find out if my life is over. This could be it for me."

I tried to tell myself there would be some comfort in knowing, that in some ways, it might be a gift. I would have time to prepare my children and say my goodbyes. I also thought of things I never thought an optimistic person like me could think of; I found some sympathy for Dr. Jack Kevorkian.

An hour or so later, my time as a human pin cushion was over. My doctor pulled me up, took my hands and said, "Good news! I did not detect muscle weakness, so I do not think you have ALS. I think this is a neurological disorder called Benign Fasciculation Syndrome. But I still want to see you annually because you are so young. Like I told a doctor friend of mine who suffers from BFS but is still convinced he is dying, if you're not dead in three years, then we know you're okay!"

I didn't know whether to laugh or jab him with one of those electrified needles.

I am thrilled to say that I will reach the three-year mark this March with no muscle weakness noted. I still suffer from random muscle twitches daily (a great party trick!), but they no longer scare me or send me running to play Dr. Google. I remain under the care of my neurologist because I am symptomatic, but all of my checkups have been reassuring.

So, as horrible as that time on the EMG table was, it indeed was a gift. It was a fresh start. My life was handed back to me.

Not long after that, I dug out that yellowed copy of "George Gray" from my scrapbook. I read it again, and it spoke to me like never before. Like my annual neuro visits, poor George Gray's epitaph is a reminder to use it or lose it.

I appreciate all that I have and all whom I love; yet, I also must remember that life is for learning. Whether we play it safe or take chances, we're all going to end up in the obits eventually. Why not try to glean something along the way?

So I ask myself: am I milking life for everything it has, or am I just going through the motions? Am I that boat at rest in the harbor?

Someone close to me, a 31-year-old mother, was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. The day I learned of her diagnosis, I sat outside on the front porch swing so my children wouldn't see me cry. I prayed for her and her family and cursed the unfairness of it. She is a fighter, and thankfully, her prognosis is good. Even so, I grieve that her life has been marked by disease, discomfort and fear.

As I prayed on the porch that day, I heard a terrible cry coming from the tree in my front yard. I jumped from the swing in time to see a hawk snatch a dove from its perch on the dogwood. The dove was screaming; its mate was shrieking. I watched in horror as the hawk clasped the dove in its claws and swooped in circles above my yard. The dove was crying as it frantically fought to free itself from the predator's talons.

I couldn't believe my eyes. I live in the heart of town. I had never seen a hawk in town before.

The hawk flew back and forth across the street, trying to hold onto its prey, which continued to shriek and struggle. While it seemed to go on forever, it was only a minute or two before the hawk dropped the dove from a great height. The dying bird fell at my feet in my front yard.

The timing, horror and symbolism of it were not lost on me. I stood in my yard, shaking and crying. I tried to comfort the dove, which was mortally wounded. I screamed at the hawk and frightened it away.

It was as if God himself had driven home the point: Life is fragile. It's the dove in the dogwood. We can be fine one minute, only to be caught in talons the next.

Really, I'm not a downer and I have an annoyingly optimistic view of the world. I live, laugh, love, dream and hope. I dance all the time to songs only I hear. I tell goofy jokes and I play. I often slide down my hall in sock feet instead of walking. I might even turn cartwheels in my backyard on occasion.

Why? Because I can.

I have reached out and renewed friendships I had let wane, and I have embraced new relationships.

I began writing again because it's not too late. It's never too late.

I'm not trying to be preachy or syrupy. I'm not your personal Jesus, Dalai Lama or Oprah.

I share these stories with you only because they mattered to me. They were important lessons to move through life, to not be paralyzed or rooted in place by circumstance. Embrace the journey, even if it scares you. Even if it might end in bitter disappointment, there are lessons in the trip.

Open the doors you thought were closed.

Unfurl the sail.

Go ahead.

I dare you.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

My *Real* Resolutions for 2010 (in no particular order)

1. I resolve to hurl a brick through the television if I hear the SportsCenter theme song one. more. time. (Husband is a high school football coach who, at the time of this posting, has been away from the field house for two excruciatingly long weeks of Christmas vacation).

2. On that note, I also resolve to rework the college football bowl series. My God, do you know how many televised bowl games there are? Can anyone keep up? There's the Cotton Bowl, the Fiesta Bowl, the Sugar Bowl, the Rose Bowl, the Music City Bowl, the Liberty Bowl, the Toilet Bowl, the Chili Bowl Haircut Bowl, the Cereal Bowl, the Cannabis Bowl, the We Just Made This Bowl Game Up to Drive Your Wife Insane Bowl…. Please, bowl organizers, there are only so many Lifetime movies I can watch in retaliation.

3. That brings me to the fruit bowl: Mine is full of boring, blasé apples, oranges and bananas; therefore, I resolve to buy - and, get this - eat an exotic fruit this year. Starfruit, I'm coming for you! (Ooooo. Don't try to keep up people. I'm too wild for you.)

4. Once I am fueled by exotic passion fruits, I resolve to make out with Paolo Nutini, Hugh Jackman and/or Christian Bale this year - should they lift the restraining orders. Don't worry. They're on my "list". To be fair, I told the husband he could make out with Halle Berry, should she ditch her model lover and take an interest. I know. I'm too good to him.

5. I resolve to spend my last night in my thirties with Bon Jovi. I have the ticket to prove it! If someone could get in touch with Jon and arrange for him to sing "Happy Birthday" to me during his Nashville gig on April 21st, I'd be most appreciative.

6. I resolve to write Hostess and urge them to once again sell Chocodiles east of the Mississippi. Don't we all deserve chocolate-coated, cream-filled, spongy goodness? Californians enjoy 70-degree days in January. They shouldn't get that kind of weather and Chocodiles. There's no justice in this world.

7. When driving with my children in the car, I resolve to try not to yell things like, "They made turn signals for a reason, ASSHOLE!" This might be my most unrealistic resolution (Number 4 could happen, people. You just have to believe…and persuade the judge).

8. I resolve to try to "hip" up my blog - like all the cool, 20-something hipster bloggers - by writing more about masturbation and tossing out the f-word like candy at a small-town Christmas parade. Turns out, I already wrote about masturbation (see earlier post about Facebook groups), which means I am so much freakin' cooler than I thought I was. ("Freakin'" is the f-word, right?)

9. I resolve to break into a random dance every time I wash dishes. I already do this 70 percent of the time, so I feel pretty confident about this one. I can do it!

10. I resolve to turn off the radio every time I hear a Miley Cyrus or Taylor Swift song, or one in which a male singer refers to a woman as "shawty."

11. I resolve to get a manicure this year. I've never had my nails professionally done. Ever. I also don’t have pierced ears, a closet full of shoes and bags or a chest full of jewelry. I think I'm missing the "high-maintenance" chromosome.

12. I resolve to relentlessly cyber stalk Joel Stein, who is witty, humorous, handsome and brilliant. As if that weren't enough, he has fantastic hair. I'm not just saying that because I want him to read my blog. But I want him to read my blog.

13. While I was a child of the '80s and find the '80s-influenced fashions so very appealing, I resolve to remember the golden rule of fashion: If you wore it the first time, you can't wear it the second time. Old women with words printed across the ass of your sweat pants: I'm talking to you.

14. I resolve to do something daring and out-of-character. Oh, crap. I already wrote about eating a new fruit, didn't I?

15. I resolve to not make my fat Siamese cat dance to Beyonce (But she likes it! Really! All the single ladies...all the single put your paws up...)

16. I resolve to learn to text on my iPhone with both thumbs, instead of the one-fingered Sleestack technique I've been fumbling with for months.

17. I resolve to read more good stuff. I also resolve to write more good stuff (this particular post notwithstanding).

18. Most importantly, I resolve to ignore all New Year's resolutions if and when I feel like it -- except for number four. I'm keeping that one.