The Purchase

Photo Credit: Rachel
Photo Credit: Rachel

Evie had been squirreling ones, fives, and the occasional twenty since 2014.

She tucked the shopping bag into the back of the closet, where it would hibernate behind her ratty wool coat for as long as seemed necessary. That way when—if–Hank noticed her wearing them, she could look bemused and say, “Of course not, dear. I got these ages ago.”

But from time to time, when he was otherwise occupied, she might wander off and worm a hand into the bag, the box, the crackling tissue, stroking the soft gray skin, imagining her foot cradled in such heaven.

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Fifty-Nine Years and Thirty-Four Days Ago

©2010 Beret Olsen
©2010 Beret Olsen

A bookish fellow
Studied God on weekdays,
Then made his way to Chaska,
To woo the schoolmarm there.

Mercifully patient,
He waited six months of Sundays
For an answer
To his question.

Instead, they wandered the cold town,
Discussing only anything else,
Turning back before it was too dark
Or too late.

They parted ways then,
She to pore over lesson plans,
He to wend his way to the boarding house
Beside the tracks.

He wondered,
Hardly daring to sleep,
While freight trains thundered
Through the wee hours,
Through his thoughts,
Shaking the tiny, strange bed.

At long last:
Yes.

**********************************************************

A note from Beret:  I wrote the preceding piece in response to a photo prompt posted on 100 word story. They post a new prompt each month…plus it’s chock full of amazing 100-word stories, as you might imagine.

Atonement

It may have been a little unclear, but I was actually happily married until I posted Man Shopping a while back. Obviously, I did not paint a complete picture—I’m pretty sure everyone figured that out. Still, in the interest of domestic harmony, it probably wouldn’t hurt to throw a few compliments in my spouse’s direction right about now.

I would also like to mention my Undying Gratitude that he does not yet have his own blog. I hope he’s not in any hurry to get one, either. Over the years, I have unwittingly provided a great deal of fodder for retaliation.

What follows are just a few of the ways that he generously compensates for buying fröot juice on occasion.

Now that his parole papers are in order, he is the perfect travel companion.

That sounds WAY WORSE than it was. There must be two sorts of parole papers, because this was an INS thing; not a prison thing, as far as I know. Apparently, even if you are married to a US citizen, there is still a boatload of paperwork and a lot of wait time to endure before they let you come and go as you please–which is why I took my friend instead of my groom on our honeymoon.

Now that he has his paperwork in order, though, traveling with this guy is delightful. We are interested in many of the same sorts of places and adventures. More importantly, his attention span for lying around, traipsing about, or absorbing culture is almost exactly the same as mine. We can look and look and know precisely when to leave and get a tasty snack or go for a swim. Having traveled with a variety of other people, I know that this tidy alignment is not guaranteed. Not everyone knows when an intense experience on the streets of Phnom Penh might best be topped off with, say, a Richard Pryor movie and a little air conditioning.

I worried that children might mess with our travel groove, but now that they can tie their shoes and attend to their bowel movements independently, it is actually a joy to have them join us. Now, if only Mary Poppins could come along so we could have a date once in a while…

In truth, we might not be as well suited in terms of musical taste. But, over the years, we have learned that certain music should only be played in the others’ absence. Topping the audio blacklist: Bruce Springsteen, Cold Chisel, Joni Mitchell, and the soundtrack from Hair. I’ll let you sort out who likes which. Still, the fact remains that:

He appreciates good music, played well and played loudly.

Long before kids, my spouse worked in the audio industry, and consequently purchased a set of very, very nice speakers. He set up the living room so that the red velvet love seat was exactly centered between the speakers, facing them, with two more speakers behind. We put red light bulbs in the chandelier, turned the music up to 11, and voilà, the Red Room was born. The Red Room was awesome. It had a great run, too, though I suppose it caused its own demise by inadvertently producing our first kid. That was a particularly great night.

What followed were painful years spent listening to Sesame Street songs as quietly as possible, and struggling to find an inner zen-like happy place when Raffi songs were required. I’m surprised we survived that era.

Now that our oldest child is ten, however, with a blue streak in her hair and a pair of drumsticks to match, we have begun a practice of family karaoke night. I cannot begin to explain how charming it is to see our dainty seven-year-old belting out Hell’s Bells, while the spouse works the mixer and magically gets the lyrics to appear on the TV. He also wins for most enthusiastic musical performance. I might need to up my game a little, frankly.

Who knows, the full-fledged Red Room might even make a re-appearance, though I suspect we would have to cede some of the musical selection to the kids. There is probably a lot more Dev and Taylor Swift in our future than one might hope.

He has the ability to fix almost anything.

He has fixed the dryer, the dishwasher, the car, the shower…He is truly amazing. He can hook up any appliance, rewire the house, and frame a room.

There really isn’t anything amusing to say about this. It’s just awesome.

This has made me aim higher. I have been moved to unclog drains, mess around with the disposal, and even monkey with the color printer. Not always successfully, but still.

Now we get to the most important part.

On one particularly trying day, after many meltdowns, a lot of sass, and a series of eruptions of all sorts, one of my kids stuck a stuffed alligator in her pants at the dinner table. Since I was in a foul mood, I found the harmless incident much more annoying than necessary. My husband, on the other hand, took one thoughtful look and pronounced, “That’s a croc of shit.” It was impossible to stay grumpy.

This man has a knack for sanity-saving comments and for maintaining a sense of humor in the midst of parental hell.

Here is someone who suffered with me through one of the longest hours ever spent. We were watching a production of the Wizard of Oz for the second or third time–a production full of confused small people singing enthusiastically off-key, and mumbling endless and incomprehensible dialogue. To enhance our enjoyment, several lightly supervised boys in the row in front of us made fart noises and punched each other in the arm. Eyes politely fixed on the stage, my spouse leaned over and whispered: “Now we know the TRUE PRICE of unprotected sex.”

As I struggled to keep my composure, he mimed a samurai maneuver, slicing open his torso and extracting an organ or two. That gesture has become a very reassuring symbol of solidarity, and is especially helpful in situations where passing a flask might be frowned upon.

Thanks, pal. You can bring home a fifty pound bag of rice whenever you want.

Déjà View

@2007 Beret Olsen
@2007 Beret Olsen

This is the story of abandoning my family for two and a half weeks one summer to do something ridiculously selfish and wonderful. It is also about gelato, meltdowns, memory, and déjà vu. Have I mentioned that already?

Here’s how it started. A photography professor of mine leaned across the aisle during a lecture. She told me that she was taking a group of students to Italy during the summer. “You should come,” she said.

I laughed a little hysterically, to the point where the exchange became awkward, and we tuned back to the lecture.

Up until then, I’d only slept away from my four-year-old two nights of her entire little life, and those were spent on the floor of a friend’s house a couple blocks away–clutching my phone all night, just in case. And I’d never been away from my two-year-old. I had to lay down with her for an hour or two every night to get her to settle and go to sleep. Though I had weaned her at 18 months, she had taken to digging in my belly button as a replacement soothing mechanism. She picked at me with her tiny talons until I bled. Scar tissue, it turns out, is surprisingly sensitive, but I wasn’t sure how to wean a child from belly-digging.

There are probably a few people reading this that will roll their eyes and mutter in that superior way about sleep training. In my defense, I did try it with the first child. After several unsuccessful attempts on my own, after reading a pile of helpful books, I finally hired a sleep consultant, and tried again. My child cried and cried and cried and cried. She did not let up for naps; she did not let up for nights. She would doze off occasionally, only to wake up ten minutes later and start again. I let her cry and cry until there was a hole in my heart the size of Saskatchewan. So after THIRTY DAYS, I gave up. I didn’t even bother to try with kid #2. Now, how was I going to leave my spouse alone with such a mess?

With all of this in mind, I mentioned the Italy trip to my husband, so he could have a good laugh as well.

“Maybe you should go,” he said.

Best not to ask twice.

Strangely, despite the enormity of the impending separation, I didn’t freak out right away. I had childcare issues to resolve, packing crises, film and equipment to procure, and a research paper due upon departure. I worried about all of that instead.

Then I got on the plane…and cried for a couple of hours straight. Not demure little teardrops, either, but swollen, hiccoughing, snotty, sobbing. My apologies to the bewildered man seated beside me. Eventually regaining composure, I spent the rest of the flight listening to language lessons and, undoubtedly, murmuring along with the patient Italian lady in my headphones. Again, apologies.

The first couple of days on the ground were a blur of disoriented jet lag, a breathless march from church after church to museum after museum. Honestly, all I really remember about Florence is the gelato. Limone. Pesca. Caffè. Cioccolato. Shop after shop, fresh fruit piled high atop the frozen tubs, a little melty on the sides from the summer heat. In between scoops, I was having an out of body experience with some really fabulous twenty-year-olds. I was completely untethered.

@2007 Beret Olsen
@2007 Beret Olsen

On day four, we headed off to a monastery in Tuscany, where the landscape did something wholly unexpected: it became familiar.

I had already seen this place, on coffee tables, in ads, in my dreams. It looked exactly like it was supposed to look, and I was unable to see it as a foreign place. Even as I was wandering this countryside for the first time, it was already a memory, part of the landscape of my psyche.

@2007 Beret Olsen
@2007 Beret Olsen

For days, I couldn’t make a picture because all of the photographs had already been made; making another would be superfluous.  I focused on the long, lazy dinners–completely unknown to the parents of small children–the carafes of house wine, the late night walks filled with fireflies, frogs, and stars. I focused on the warm camaraderie of young strangers, who asked questions such as, “What is childbirth like?” “What are your irrational fears?” “Who do you secretly, shamefully lust after?” Or, “If you had to eat someone here, who would it be?” Those questions don’t often come up at pre-school potlucks. It felt so good to contemplate anything besides bowel movements, discipline, and sleep deprivation.

Since I would never forgive myself if I went home empty camera’d, I figured it was time to shoot something. And because I couldn’t make a new picture of the landscape, I tried instead to make pictures that looked like what I could see in my head. I attempted to capture on film my memories that were not really memories, that were not really mine.

@2007 Beret Olsen
@2007 Beret Olsen

After I returned to the States, I stumbled upon a passage that put this sensation into words:

“The very colors of the place had seeped into my blood: just as Hampden, in subsequent years, would always present itself immediately to my imagination in a confused whirl of white and green and red, so the country house first appeared as a glorious blur of watercolors, of ivory and lapis blue, chestnut and burnt orange and gold, separating only gradually into the boundaries of remembered objects:  the house, the sky, the maple trees. Even that day, there on the porch…it had the quality of a memory…” excerpted from The Secret History, by Donna Tartt

@2007 Beret Olsen
@2007 Beret Olsen

A very belated thank you to those of you who made that trip possible. I had a strange and wonderful time.

Man Shopping

I’m not talking about shopping for a man.

I’m talking about man-style shopping.

It’s not like I love shopping. I don’t squander vacation days noodling around in tchotchke shops. Bleah. Still, shopping is a frequent necessity, so I try to delegate it now and then. Sometimes that’s more of a nuisance than just going to the store myself.

I’m sure there are plenty of strategies I could learn from my spouse’s shopping methods–like how to get in and out of Target in 17 minutes flat, for example–but a few of his habits are completely mystifying to me.

1. Labels? Shmabels!

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked my spouse to pick up something at the store, only to discover that I have to go back to buy the item I actually wanted. Maybe I could do a quick and dirty shopping trip, too, if I just threw random crap into the cart. Scallions are not shallots. Butternut squash is not pumpkin. And is it too much to ask to look for the word salted or unsalted on the butter? He’ll buy the orange juice with extra pulp, though he hates pulp, and it just goes bad in the fridge. If I mention “pulp free” the next time, he’ll wind up buying the kind with added calcium, which he won’t drink, either.

Sometimes the man reads half the label, which may be worse: “Less sugar,” it says right before “than Sunny D.” I try to explain the difference between fruit juice and fruit drink, but I can see his eyes glazing over like they do when I ask him not to put my favorite wool sweater in the dryer. Whatever.

Here's a clue: when fruit is spelled with two o's and an umlaut...it's probably not the real deal.
Here’s a clue: when fruit is spelled with two o’s and an umlaut…it’s probably not the real deal.

As a methodology, though, complete disregard for precision inevitably frees up a lot of his time. Not only is his shopping trip nice and quick, I’m probably not going to ask him to go next time.

2. Let’s buy enough for the Armageddon.

You might be wondering why I have a 50-pound bag of rice in the middle of my kitchen. Well, it’s because it doesn’t f*!&ing fit anywhere else. I completely understand buying in bulk, but wouldn’t twenty pounds of rice suffice? That seems like plenty. And is it really necessary to buy 48 rolls of toilet paper at once? Or 12 rolls of paper towels and a gallon jug of Windex? Really?

Last time we needed more bedding for the mouse cage, the man brought home a bag that was four feet wide and three feet tall. Why? Because it was ‘cheaper’ to buy a two-year supply. Little Stripey promptly kicked the bucket a couple of weeks later. Now what? Now the girls’ closet is impassable because a truck load of cedar shavings is sequestered there. Every time I trip over it, or try and squeeze around it to find some lost shoe, I give it a little punch. It feels pretty good.

What makes rule #2 especially confusing is that he hates having so much stuff. “Why are all of the cupboards and closets full of stuff?” he hollers. I bite my tongue, because the basement full of boxes is completely my fault. It’s not like I can cast the first stone.

3. Why go to the store if you could buy it online?

Left to his own devices, the spouse would buy absolutely everything online. It started a while back when it was cheaper to subscribe for a year of two-day shipping than to pay the delivery charge on the gigantic power tool he needed. After that, he began ordering everything from diapers to a shop vac to wine to batteries. That’s convenient and all, but paired with the first two rules, it means we get a lot of packages. Recently he gave me a packet with ten pairs of extra thick white sweat socks. What’s this for? I asked. “Oh,” he shrugged. “I thought they were men’s. It costs too much to ship them back, so I’m giving them to you.” Yeah, thanks.

I will admit that the wrong pot that he ‘amazoned’–the one we had to store in a dusty pile on top of the kitchen cabinets for five years–has recently become useful. That’s nice.

In the meantime, we need grape-flavored Children’s Tylenol, so I guess I’ll head to the store. Any ideas on how to use up a mountain of cedar shavings?