We were at the grocery store last night after our workout (I still can't believe I actually have a workout) picking up some ground turkey for 4th of July burgers.
I was crabby. Everybody is crabby. We are in the midst of a heat wave. A string of days with over 100 degree weather. High humidity. Our house is like a cave with our plantation shutters clattered tightly shut. The air conditioning drones on and on, hardly ever stopping to rest.
I'm not sleeping well. When we had window units instead of central air, we had a big unit in our bedroom and it was like a meat locker. I slept like a rock. Now, with central air, our bedroom is what our a/c guy calls "the last stop" meaning that our room gets cooled last since it is the farthest away from the air handler, besides having floor to ceiling windows facing the south, so we get the hottest sun of the day. Our thermostat is set on 78 degrees, but our room is hotter. So, I sleep fitfully and am having trouble adjusting to sleeping without the loud window unit that I had become accustomed to hearing all night long.
I usually love Summer, love working in my garden, sitting outside at night watching fireflies and having a drippy iced green tea sweating all down my bare leg.
This Summer has been brutal. So incredibly hot and humid. I can't garden in the evenings, it is still so muggy that my glasses continually fog up and slip down my nose and the bugs are ferocious. I try to garden in the early hours before work, but find that I am tired and cranky, resentful to be up at 5 in the morning. We haven't sat outside in over a week. Just too hot. Last night, a country club near us threw their annual 4th of July celebration and had incredible fireworks. We sat outside for the first five minutes and then slumped back indoors, sweating like pigs and bitten raw by mosquitoes.
So, when we were at the grocery, I was crabby to begin with, but made even crabbier when some woman chatted me up over the oranges, saying that we had better get used to this Summer weather.
"I believe that they call this global warming!" she said in a way too chipper voice.
I smiled fakily at her and moved to look at the cherries. I grabbed a big box to put in the cart and then headed to the cucumbers since ours aren't big enough to pick yet at home. I picked up an overly waxed one and looked carefully at it to make sure that there weren't many imperfections. I heard someone softly say my name with a question behind it.
"Maria? Maria Lastname?"
I looked up into the face of a pretty woman with blonde hair straying into gray. She had round blue eyes and a guileless look. Something seemed familiar, but? Hmmm. Couldn't really place her...
I said, "Yes, I'm Maria Lastname."
She smiled. "Well, god bless me. I'm Gina. Gina Ramsey! From Small town, Iowa? We went to school together at Our Lady of Perpetual Piety."
Oh! Wow. Yes, now I could see. Gina.
I smiled and we hugged. I asked her what she was doing in the city and she laughed a little sheepishly.
"Well, as you might have heard, I married a farmer from Clute and well....both of our girls are going to their in laws for the 4th, so Clem and I just decided that we'd treat ourselves to a holiday in the city. We are staying in a hotel. Only our 3rd time in a hotel and we're going to the park tomorrow to watch the fireworks. And then I'll shop the next day and on the way home, we'll stop at a John Deere so Clem can look at their new tractors. How ARE you? I haven't seen you since high school! But, you know...you still look remarkably the same!"
It was quickly decided that Gina would follow Bing and me home so that we could visit.
Gina called her husband back at the hotel and told him that she'd be back to the hotel a little later, had run into a friend. We found Bing and introductions were made. I was just a little nervous. I recalled that Gina had always wanted to be a nun and I'd been surprised when my Mother wrote to me that she had married only a year out of high school. But, Gina didn't bat an eye. We bought our groceries and Gina bought the strawberries she had purchased ("Clem and I like to eat strawberries while we watch television at night.")
I followed Gina to her car and guided her to my home. She was appropriately impressed.
"What a beautiful old home! And it looks so happy! You've done well for yourself it seems!"
I introduced Gina to Liv and she shook her hand gently. Told her that she must look like her Daddy since she looked nothing like her Mama. Liv smiled, said everyone said that she looked like her Father but had my personality.
Gina's eyes were warm.
"Well, lucky you!" she said. "Your Mother was always such a good person, kind to everyone. And smart as a whip. Do you get good grades? I imagine you do!"
Liv nodded yes and went to bring us iced tea while I gave Gina a quick house tour (with the emphasis on quick since in my crabby state, I had been a poor housekeeper) and led her out to the sun porch. We both found seats and Gina sat down. Socks, who is generally shy around newcomers, promptly went to her and sat on her foot, his way of saying he liked her. Gina leaned down and petted around his ears, which he adores. They were instant friends.
We caught up. Gina had met Clem the summer after we graduated from high school and they had married less than a year later. She only went to one semester of college and then quit forever to become a farm wife. They lived with his parents and still lived in the same home, although his parents were both dead now. They inherited the family farm and he grew soybeans and corn while she raised prize winning chickens and had a pretty healthy egg business. They had two daughters, Joy and Charity, who were now married and living on adjoining farms with their farmer husbands.
"It's a quiet life," Gina said. "But, it suits me, you know?"
I said yes. Gina had always been a little quiet. But a warm quiet.
Gina told me that she did know all about my life.
"We come from a small town," she said softly. "You were big news when your Mother disinherited you."
I nodded, not really knowing what to say.
She went on.
"There are a lot of us who disagreed with what she did, how she treated you, Maria. We're small town people, but not ignorant. I knew you in high school. I knew your true colors. I'd always thought you were so funny and so smart. You hung around with the brains, remember how we had names for all our groups? And yet, that one time when we had to do that silly project for religion about picking a saint and we were partners? Well, I had such a good time with you. What saint did we pick? Who was it. The one who had her breasts torn off? Remember how we just shuddered over that.....and well, okay...we laughed too...."
I chuckled. "Oh, good lord! It was St. Agatha!"
"The patron saint of people with breast cancer!" we both exclaimed at the same time.
"Remember how we had to have a picture of our saint to show the class?" I remembered. "And we were so embarrassed because in every single one that we found of her, she was holding a tray with her naked perfect perky breasts on it!"
We laughed together.
I went on. "And yes, those groups in high school. Let's see...yes, I hung around with those girls who were dubbed the brains,then there was Eileen Monaghan's group...what were they called? The dopers. The ones who were always either talking about getting high or already high...."
Gina spoke up. "And don't forget the holy rollers. That would be MY group. Let's see...and the popular girls, they were the blondies, remember they all had that awful Farrah Fawcett hair and those brassy blonde streaks? And wore SO much makeup. You would see a line between their jawline and neckline where they used foundation. Oh my goodness! And the girls who were good at sports. The jocks.And god...how awful. Remember what we called the ones who weren't smart? The 'tards. God, how awful. And we were a CATHOLIC school. Shame on us."
We both looked at each other and sighed. Went on to another topic. High school had high points and lows. Calling any group of people 'tards was just....so bad.
She asked me to tell her about my life and so I did. I told her of my schooling, of surviving, but just barely without my mother's college tuition money and a family to come home to. Of working in the cafeteria and wearing the dreaded hair net and stealing apples and bananas to take home for my lunch. I told her of all my jobs. The first one: working in an ER. The next: working in a hospice for Aids patients. And then, working in the cushy world of a private practice with a clientele of mostly wealthy women who wanted to be counseled every week for problems having to do with boredom, empty nest syndrome and resentment that their husbands didn't make enough to keep up with the Joneses. I told her of how my life derailed in a beautiful way after Liv was born. How I could never knock my job in private practice since it earned me enough money to stay home with Liv for the first five years of her life. How I supplemented my savings by working part time as a jury consultant. And then my years working after Liv was in school, teaching at a university, then working at a hospital in administration as a medical fact checker on all the charts and finally my job now working with children at risk.
After telling her all of this, I sat back, a little stunned at my long and frankly, pretty impressive career path.
And then I told her about Bing and our winding road to commitment. Our happy life together raising Liv. I told her about Liv's Father, his career.
When I sat back again, Gina was beaming at me.
She leaned forward and took my hand.
"You did good, Maria," she said. "You've done well for yourself. Your mother really missed out on something incredible: watching you shine."
I don't know if Gina will ever know how much it meant to me to hear her say that.
We talked for another hour, catching up on anything and everything. Gina is still very much a part of her church, is head of the altar society, cleans the church once a week and is on a volunteer crew of women who help out at all the funeral masses and luncheons. She talked about her daughters, how she loved being a mother, even when they were teenagers and a bit rebellious. How she sewed both of her daughter's wedding gowns by hand and even made her famous German potato salad for their wedding luncheons ("There I was in my mother-of-the-bride outfit, wearing an apron and carrying out these big containers of potato salad! I was just so insistent on doing it all myself!")
We talked until our tongues were tired. And then she looked at the clock and started. 3 hours had gone by! I invited her to call her husband to come to supper with us and she declined. No, they had a reservation at a fancy restaurant ("I am wearing high heels, Maria! I can't remember the last time I did that!") and then were going to spend the fourth watching the parade in Ralston even though, yes, it sure was hot as Hades out there.
I walked her to her car and made sure that she knew how to get back to her hotel. I had Liv run back into the house to get the strawberries that we had stored for her in our fridge. As Liv sprinted back to the house, Gina leaned in and whispered to me.
"Actually, I sort of lied when I told you that Clem and I liked to eat strawberries while we watch television. We like to eat strawberries after we make love. It's kind of a signal for us when one of us brings home strawberries! Well, for mercies sake we are in our mid 50's and been married for over 30 years! You have to prime the pump sometimes just to get the water started, you know?"
We both laughed then and when Liv handed me the strawberries, I put them in her hands and told her to have a good time that night. Gina blushed and smiled. And for just a moment, we were both high school girls. She had her white blonde hair back in a pert ponytail and her pale pink lipstick on her lips and there I was with my long mousy brown hair back in the constant braid down my back, with my high top sneakers, wearing some tee shirt with a radical saying on it, hoping that my Mother would be scandalized.
When we hugged goodbye, Gina kissed my cheek and said, "You are a child of God, Maria. Even if you don't believe, I believe for you and I can tell you right now that there is a place for you in heaven. You are a good soul. Your daughter is so much like you. It's like watching you back in high school. And Bing adores you. Her love for you is written all over her face. You are a person of GREAT VALUE. Frankly, I always thought that what your Mother did to you was disgraceful. I always liked you from the first time we met, way back in Kindergarten. You are one of the good ones and you....you didn't deserve the pain that she put you through. I always hoped that you landed on your feet and now I see that you have. Thanks for the lovely afternoon. Did I remember to give you my facebook address?"
I said that yes, she had. But, I knew I wouldn't go there. I don't belong to Facebook, never have, never will. I also had her address now and I thought to myself that I would write to Gina. Because she always had been and always would be a good friend. And those don't grow on trees. I would keep in touch with her, writing to her and she promised to send me photos of her chickens. Especially, Rodney the rooster who woke her and Clem up every morning at 4:28 sharp.
When we hugged again, we held each other for a long, long time. And when we pulled apart we were both in tears. Two middle aged women who had been missing each other for a long time and had finally found one another again.
Gina, I told you about my blog. So...this one is for you. Thanks for your kind words, but mostly thank you for putting balm on a sore that has long gone unhealed for me.
Oh...and I also ordered you a prayer card for St. Agatha. And yes, those breasts are still on that platter.