Not That it Matters

 

Over my first cup of coffee this morning, I said “I’m going to write a blog post today.” And so I am. I’ve had any number of fantastic ideas to build on lately, but of course they’ve evaporated.

It’s been a month (exactly) since I posted photos from that mavellous Mexican garden. Two weeks since we packed up our Mexican home. I’m still in the process of settling back into this one, and having to come to terms with the fact that my compressed nerves/disc problem is not going to be resolved quickly. I am simply going to have to try to enjoy a life of limited mobility for awhile yet. It’s getting old—as the young would say.

Which means, of course, there’s no reason not to get a lot of writing done.

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In fact, I have another writing project on the go, and I’ve been sharing bits of it now and then with fellow writers. I don’t know exactly what form it will take. “A collection of short memoir and essays triggered by childhood memories.” I thought of that last night before I fell asleep. It works for now.

Here’s a segment from a one of those essays, “Not That It Matters”.

“Look at Rose. Can you imagine wearing a plaid blouse with that striped skirt? Not that it matters.”

That was my mom, and it mattered.

Mom studied to be a secretary and married her high school English teacher at eighteen. He was an “older man” of thirty-one. She was a mother at twenty. He was a college professor at thirty-three. She was Eliza Doolittle to his Henry Higgins.

The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain.

It matters.

The embryonic cells that were to be my mother were already madly multiplying by the time my sixteen-year-old grandma married my not-much-older grandpa at the point of the proverbial shotgun. It was 1924 in the small, eastern Pennsylvania town of Bangor. The teen parents settled in with her mother, who ruled the roost with an iron, Methodist hand and cared for one, then two baby girls. The second was born less than a year after the first, prematurely; “small enough to fit in a mason jar” my grandma said, forever etching the image of a home-canned infant in the family’s collective consciousness.

Her dad worked in the rail yards and on a wrecking crew. Her mom moved from one textile mill to another, sewing the sleeves on blouses or the ears on toy bunnies. Neither ever went to high school. Her mom stumbled over the words in Disney Golden Books. The only reading material in their home was a Bible—and much later, the TV Guide.

Not that it matters.

Until…your husband is a university professor and you’re thrust into the world of PhDs and their 1950s wives—who are the grown daughters of foreign diplomats, or bankers, or school principals. Graduates of Home Economics programs or liberal arts majors from Radcliffe. Who don’t know what a wrecking crew is and never stop to wonder how the sleeves became attached to their blouses.

Until…the conversation begins over cocktails, and you’re not sure what you’re supposed to do with the olive on a toothpick, and the liquid between you and the olive is caustic. Then, the woman on your left says, “Where did you go to school?”

And you know it shouldn’t matter. Really. It shouldn’t.

So you blush, and look down. At least your clothes are so glad that your clothes are just right. And you say “Well, actually, I was just a secretary.”

Everybody nods and takes a sip of caustic liquid from their funnel-shaped glass. You try to see what they’re doing with the olive so you can do the same thing. And hopefully, get to eat it.

“No ordinary secretary,” says Dad with a twinkle, whenever the subject arises. “Smart as a whip.” Which he is, of course, too kind to say in the presence of an ordinary secretary. “She could have done anything, but she married me.”

You smile at him sweetly in those moments, but you know you couldn’t have. You’d have been a secretary. An ordinary one. You stir your drink with the olive.

The woman in the red dress has a teenaged daughter who made the cheerleading team, and the one with the navy-blue high heels thinks her two-year-old son is coming down with chicken pox. You wonder if they’re really all smarter than you, because you can talk about your kids, too.

Then the older woman—the one with the henna-red hair—carefully extracts the toothpick from the glass and plops the olive into her mouth, chewing slowly as though the morsel were a fine chocolate.

The library board is looking for volunteers, she says.

Is she looking at you? You look at your olive. Is it ready to be harvested? Is your toothpick far enough above the liquid to allow for a drip-free capture? You take another sip to be sure, careful not to wince.

You glance up and see a latecomer enter the room: a stout woman with cropped grey hair, wearing an orange blouse that is coming un-tucked from her too-tight lavender skirt. She speaks in a voice that is too loud.

You look down again at your smart grey suit with the black blouse and the pearls. Real pearls that were your grandmother’s.

Not that it matters, you say to yourself, carefully extracting the olive from the glass, sliding it off the toothpick with your front teeth, and chewing it like a fine chocolate.

Of course, it might not have been like that. You were a smart cookie, as Dad used to say before such language was considered demeaning. You probably figured out the olive on your own. And you never pretended to like gin. So I am taking liberties with your younger self in my attempt to understand you, long past the time when I could ask.

 

 

 

 

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6 Responses to Not That it Matters

  1. This phrase will stay with me–“home-canned infant in the family’s collective consciousness.” Just got home from talking about “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” with my book group. It got them reminiscing about their poor circumstances growing up. I might have been 2 generations away from the same, but nobody ever talked about those memories in my house.

    • Lisa Graf says:

      this is wonderful Paula…….reminds me a little bit about my grandmother, one of the two I had, and my mother as a secretary. Good luck with your new project.

  2. Annie C. Smith says:

    love this Paula and love where it’s all going to go. You are an inspiration to me and I’m grateful. I am, however subdued by the twitters and haven’t put much of a toe there yet. It feels so like not my thing but……

  3. Lee Gould says:

    This is wonderful … not sure how I have already fallen for the grandmother with an iron hand who winds up caring for two babies…, the “you” messing around with that olive in a toothpick but most of all the intelligent , graceful language they come gift wrapped in… great idea … terrific start… I too am inspired…being stuck at home doesn’t mean I will write or even work though I hope I do! Good luck with your new project.

  4. Marilyn Cooper says:

    This is really lovely, especially to read on Mother’s Day. A friend asked me what I was going to write next. Although I’m not sure I want to write much of anything next, your project is really enticing.

    • pdunning says:

      What a nice comment. Thanks. I hadn’t thought about mother’s day when I posted it on Saturday, but you’re right, it was good timing. I should have dredged out a photo of her

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