Been a while since I’ve told a story, and this one popped into my head today. It’s a story about misunderstanding another person’s words or intentions. The confusion can happen quickly with …. let’s say…. lasting consequences. With everything going on in DC, I thought it might be time to bring it all back to a personal level and laugh a little bit. Cozy up with me. Here we go.
It was a regular day when Britt walked through the back door, sobbing, body shaking, full blown tears. It was a meltdown like no other. I was in the front of the house, heard someone come in the back door, came to look, and found her wailing away, sitting in the middle of my kitchen floor. She had collapsed in body and spirit. I sat down on the kitchen floor in front of her, “What is it?”
Between the sobs and catching her breath, she told me the story of her “once again, being-mean-and-wicked-for-no-good-reason” mother-in-law. Britt’s husband was out of town on business. The kids went to see “Grandma”, and now, the mother-in-law would not let them come home until Britt’s husband came home. Britt, was wounded to the core, “She thinks I’m a horrible mother and doesn’t trust me with my own children.” I growled… What a mean thing to do.
No, Britt was not a bad mother at all. Britt lived across the street, and I knew her schedule almost minute by minute. She was often up at 4:00am, doing laundry and getting kids ready for school. Our kids played together, daily. The idea Britt was a “bad mom” was as outlandish as me being a murderer. On the other hand, I knew Kate well, the mother-in-law. Kate and my grandmother tangled often, and Kate was a wealthy, smug, artist, control freak…. a temperamental B$tch.
I grabbed Britt by the hand and jerked her up off the kitchen floor. We rounded the corner to the small bathroom and I said, “Take off your clothes and get in the shower.” She wrinkled her nose as if to question, but I interrupted her thoughts, “You can’t do battle with the devil when you have puffy eyes.” and then, “Get yourself together….., we’re going to war.” Britt perked up immediately. I sat on the toilet and waited…. thinking.
Britt had this problem with her mother-in-law fairly often, but this was the worst episode yet. I loved Britt’s kids like they were my own and hated to see them torn and used as pawns. It was time to put an end to the drama, once and for all. I was ratcheting up my anger.
We hopped into the “bluebomb” minivan and took off for “Grandma’s” house. Britt was okay but chain smoking from three different packs of cigarettes, different brands, menthols and regulars. We have a kitchen drawer under the microwave where 13 different women kept their cigarettes because “their husbands didn’t know they smoked”. Thus, they would come to my house and smoke. Of course, they didn’t want to stink up my house, so they would lean way over, under the stove, and blow smoke up the exhaust fan….. while talking non-stop. It was fun, and I don’t judge. Britt had grabbed a handful of those packs and was practically eating cigarettes along the way.
We arrived at Kate’s house, unannounced. Miracle of miracles, everything was fine. Kate would never cross me. Status in our little town was unspoken but well known, and back then, I was a few rungs higher on the ladder than Kate. She was busted and knew it….. therefore, she decided to pretend nothing was wrong. Typical. Kate skillfully diverted the conversation to her garden. We obliged, awaiting the inevitable confrontation.
Britt went to help her daughter gather new clothes, new toys (showered with gifts in an attempt to buy affection), and Kate and I were alone in the music room. I fiddled with the keys on her gleaming baby grand Steinway. Kate remarked admirably about the times she heard me play (I was horrible, a false compliment). It made me mad and I shot her the “Medusa look”. I didn’t say anything but plunked out the first four notes of Beethoven’s 5th, as if circling for the kill. It made Kate skittish. I wanted to hurt her for hurting my friend, but in a flash, she wasn’t worth it anymore. The confrontation was over before it began. She was just…….. bitter.
Having backed out of the original planned speech, I took a softer tone. I said something like, “Don’t ever do it again…..shame on you for hurting people you’re supposed to love.” Words to that effect, I can’t remember. That part is a blur. Kate didn’t say a word, but her eyes spit at me. She spun around and left for the opposite wing of the house to hide. She didn’t even say goodbye to her granddaughter or the boys.
Britt was pleased the turnover of children went so well but still jumpy until we pulled out of the long driveway and were off the property. Tense. On the way home, we had a long talk with Katherine, the daughter, about family, loyalty, worldly goods, etc. Good conversation. Britt’s boys were too young, oblivious, and mostly ignored by Kate. It was the granddaughter over whom Kate obsessed.
When we got home, there were at least a dozen kids and various adults at our house. The kids jumped out and ran to play. Amazing how resilient kids can be. It was a little awkward for Britt to be thrust back into a social setting, like nothing was wrong, after all the drama. So, Britt and I decided we needed to make a run to the liquor store……… cuz, supplies.
Another 10-15 minutes in the opposite direction, we drove through farmland, big blue sky, and wide open fields to the liquor store. We turned the radio up and started singing. We rode with the windows open. She was calming down. Good. She was frustrated and beaten and hated that Kate could get to her so effectively. She felt foolish, and hey, we can all remember similar times in our own lives.
And then, it hit me. I turned and said to her, “You know, you will get to pick out her nursing home when she gets old.” Britt cocked her jaw and gave me the side-eye. I continued, “Better yet, when she dies, you get to pick out what she will wear in the casket……” And there it was, the corners of Britt’s mouth couldn’t hide the grin.
I was driving, but Britt shifted in her seat to turn toward me, 100% embracing the idea of Kate’s death, letting it roll through her mind. Britt said, “She has that God-awful Christmas green suit she wears……. it would be perfect.” Britt was nodding, wide-eyed, enjoying the moment.
Shaking my head, “No, no, no, that’s too good, we would need a lavender polyester from the 70’s, you know, a kiana blouse with a big bow at her neck” Britt howled with laughter and said, “Yeah, and her pearls…” Kate always wore opera length pearls, a beautiful strand. I shook my head again, “No, no, I have some Mardi Gras beads that are FAKE pearls.” Britt slapped her knee and laughed, “Dahuumm”, she said, “fake pearls would make Kate rise from HELL.” It was a delicious moment for Britt.
By the time we pulled into the liquor store parking lot, we were talking about the funeral itself, specifically the flowers, and the pall for Kate’s fictious casket. We decided on the cheapest possible greenery, with the florist foam still showing, and only 7 carnations, cheapest possible flowers, with long stems, hanging in the air…… like naked flowers….. maybe we could dye them lavender to make them match Kate’s polyester suit. We were laughing to where we couldn’t catch our breath, making the funeral worse and worse with every comment.
Inside the liquor store a few other people were in front of us, but Britt and I kept talking, chirping away. By then, we were onto Kate’s hair and makeup. Kate always prided herself in her looks but was cursed with a stocky German hausfrau body-type, whereas Britt was long and lean, a naturally beautiful blue-eyed blond, who looked like a ballerina from the Amazon tribe (…… probably why Kate was jealous….. ya’ think?) We decided “whore red” lipstick and nails, with her hands folded around a golden plastic cross, with big red paste gems, would be perfectly appropriate with lavender, bulletproof, double knit, polyester. On and on, we went. Finally, we placed our liquor order with Mark behind the counter. I was restocking so it took a few minutes as Mark gathered cases and bottles. We’ve both known Mark since we were kids.
With the bill paid, Mark helped us carry boxes and cases to the car. I opened the back of the minivan and helped. Britt was still talking. Mark stood up to hug us goodbye and said………
“If you really want to kill her, I know a guy,………. $500”
Britt stopped talking and her lips disappeared. Her eyes popped out of her head. I gasped so hard I must have sucked in a cubic yard of air. And on the exhale I said, “Noooooooooooo, we don’t really want to kill her.” Britt was flapping her forearms like she was trying to put out a forest fire, “Nooooo”. Mark said, “Oh, oh well.” He was confused. Whoops! We explained the mother-in-law problem and cued him in. He laughed along with us, but he didn’t really understand us. Crisis averted.
The whole way home, we snorted and giggled about the time we came close to ordering a hit on Britt’s mother-in-law. “He really thought I wanted to kill her?????!!!!”, Britt said. “I don’t know, Britt, but I think he did!”, I said. We rode in silence for a while, but would break into laughter. We imagined ourselves as the enforcers of the soccer league, the PTA at school, the grocery store lines, or riverboat gamblers. We didn’t want people to think we have a hit squad going on with a bunch of housewives, but I guess mild crimes were okay. We couldn’t get over it. Surreal.
It was hilarious.
All was calm for a few months between Kate and Britt, but as the holidays approached, Kate began to revert back to her old ways. Britt was telling me about it in the kitchen one day, but she wasn’t upset. I asked her what she did about it. Britt said, “It’s funny, every time Kate starts in, I just imagine her wearing lavender polyester.” Britt shrugged her shoulders, “It’s over with. She doesn’t get to me anymore.” She added, “And it’s the damnedest thing, Daughn, when she starts, I start smiling…. and she has no idea what I’m thinking.”
Problem solved, right?
Almost 10 years later, Kate died. We were good and gave her a terrific sendoff. I was standing by the casket talking to extended relatives, when I noticed……. beautiful and extravagant white rose pall, with a mound of air fern, smilax, and heather…. with one lavender tipped carnation. I narrowed my eyes and smirked. Britt and I were the only ones who knew about that day, besides Mark at the liquor store. I hadn’t thought about it in years.
It was Britt’s send off, and payback. A wink and a nod to the demon Kate who tormented her for years. Strangely, only a few people at the funeral noticed the oddly placed flower. Some thought it might have come from one of the grandchildren. Nope.
It was us.
Girlfriends are good to have. We get each other through the rough times.