MayBelle on Marriage: Take Two {Who Says MayBelle Isn’t Romantic?}

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Lest MayBelle be labeled “inexcusably unromantic” or “a marriage buzzkill” (not her critics’ exact words), in light of last week’s post on marriage, let her set the record straight by providing intimate and heartwarming examples of the things she and Precious do for one another to show their affection. Don’t panic: This does not involve sexual innuendo.

Every year on their anniversary, Precious works to get gifts from both the “modern” and the “traditional” anniversary gift categories. To wit:

For their third anniversary, leather and crystal, Precious got MayBelle a baseball glove and a crystal baseball paperweight. He started trying to teach MayBelle about baseball when they first got together (Go Cards!), and they would “watch” games together over the phone. Those lessons continue today, as you might imagine if you’re privy to MayBelle’s deep and abiding disinterest in sports.

For their eighth anniversary, when the gifts were linen and bronze, MayBelle actually found a bronze (ish) lamp with a linen shade. It was a flying pig lamp, but Precious appreciated the effort nonetheless.

Precious cooks for MayBelle almost every night, because if they had to rely on MayBelle for food they’d be either really thin or really fat. Plus, he seems to enjoy the hunting down of recipes and the prepping and the chopping and the simmering, deliberate activities that require patience and a decent attention span, both of which MayBelle lacks.

Precious’ parents died before MayBelle came along, so she knows them only through Precious. One Christmas, MayBelle found an old drawing of his mother and had it framed beautifully (thank you Beveled Edge in Nashville) and it made Precious tear up a bit when she gave it to him, so surprised was he.

On another Christmas, when MayBelle had to be out of town for work, doing two things she really doesn’t like to do, fly and be on television, she thought there wouldn’t be time to get a tree due to the timing of her gig. They had agreed they’d “skip the tree this year.” But Precious went ahead and bought one and had it waiting for MayBelle when she got home. There it was, in all its Scotch Pine glory, in the middle of the den. Boy oh boy did that make MayBelle cry.

MayBelle hopes these examples reassure you that romance is alive and well in the MayBelle-Precious household. There are others, but MayBelle believes in leaving some things to the imagination. Plus, Precious is a private kind of guy.

“I think Precious might be more romantic than you,” said a friend, after, apparently, reading last week’s blog post. (This friend happened to be the one Precious called to ask for suggestions about the best spas in town so he could get MayBelle a gift certificate for her birthday.) She might be right. Having long prided herself on “bring practical,” MayBelle could probably stand to amp up her romance game. But she doesn’t let a day go by without telling Precious she loves him, and he seems to think there’s romance enough in that.

MayBelle on Marriage {Don’t Worry, This Won’t Take Long}

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Back in 2002, at age forty-one, MayBelle, who theretofore had been considered an “old maid,” transitioned to someone who “married late.” She resents both those descriptors, as you might imagine MayBelle would, because there were no guarantees—or requirements—she would ever marry. MayBelle is delighted that cultural norms have shifted at least somewhat although not enough to suit her–especially in the Deep South where she lives–toward realizing marriage is not the only route to happiness.

One element of such partnering is a numbers game, along with a dash or two of serendipity and a handful of what might only be described as “secret ingredients.” MayBelle’s parents did not promise her a prince, riding a horse or otherwise. They were too busy telling her she had to go to graduate school so she would be positioned to support herself. MayBelle is driven to distraction by people who fill little girls’ heads with seemingly surefire notions of weddings and white-picket-fence happily ever afters (is this really a thing?) as if it’s a done deal. Some folks get it, and some don’t. (MayBelle knows she’s talked about this before, but that’s how much it bugs her. She appreciates your indulgence.)

Several of MayBelle’s mentors have been women who never married. Her Aunt Vannie, for example, who lit out from Water Valley, Mississippi, for Greenwich Village and made a life for herself by herself. What a fabulous broad she was. MayBelle still wears a shawl (black and white, from England) and a big ol’ topaz ring she got from Vannie, that enticing woman now long laid low. And her Aunt Theora, who took up painting later in life and developed into an acclaimed, self-taught artist.

Here’s another thing MayBelle loathes: “Why did you wait so long to marry?” Because, she wants to snap back, it took that long for Precious to get here. Plus, if you must know, the only guy who asked her before that was drunk at the time, and the only one she thought she might have wanted ended up marrying a friend of hers. Two friends, actually, after the first one divorced him.

MayBelle may have been a little slow to matters of the heart, not having dated much in her life, but she did know enough not to say “I do” simply to avoid living alone. So when MayBelle and Precious, who is six years older than she, announced they were getting married she thinks they were as surprised as anyone. And really, really, grateful.

MayBelle heard the whispers, though, people saying they wondered if she knew everything about him, and did he know how much MayBelle adored (the word “worshipped” might have been employed, for emphasis) her father?

“No wonder she didn’t marry until after her father died,” was an especially insightful barb tossed her way. (Did MayBelle’s sarcastic tone come through there? If not, let her know and she’ll try again.) Baggage all around. Of course there’s baggage, MayBelle wanted to shout; we’re alive, aren’t we? And in our forties, for goodness sake. No baggage, no fully lived life, thinks MayBelle.

Those comments reminded MayBelle, in an intensely personal way, about the need for minding one’s own business: Don’t think you know best about other people’s lives. Tend your own instead.

And here they are, celebrating fifteen years of marriage. It’s not a lifetime, they realize, or an assurance of fifteen more, but it’s what they’ve got, and they’ll take it. They celebrated, in part, by hiking to a beautiful spot in western North Carolina, even though Precious’ idea of outdoorsy is being on the golf course and MayBelle has only recently taken to exercising. This is what marriage looks like to them: Walking side by side, even when the husband wears shoes meant for strolling, not trail trekking, and the wife keeps asking if they should turn back. Four feet, two hearts, one team.

MayBelle and Precious are not the kind of people who think love is enough. They don’t post on social media (Can you imagine Precious on Facebook?) about having “the most perfect spouse in the world,” and they don’t take much for granted. They think you need love, sure, but you also need luck, and a bit of work. Commitment helps, and trust, and all sorts of other intangible components that contribute to tangible sustainability.

So MayBelle and Precious can both tell you when they “ just knew” they were meant to be together, although they can’t necessarily tell you one another’s favorite flavor of ice cream. And no, they don’t have an “our song,” but if they did, it would be John Hiatt’s “Have a Little Faith in Me.”

 

 

 

 

Dog Love {On Losing a Pet}

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Sloopy: The Beginning of MayBelle’s Dog Love

Sloopy was the dog of MayBelle’s young childhood, a sweet, block-headed lab who was her constant companion. When MayBelle looks at old pictures now she wonders if she had any friends at all, so often does she appear with the dog.

Then there was Savoy, and Rasta, and F. Scott. And, in her thirties and forties, Quay, who was the dog of MayBelle’s adulthood, by her side as they made their way in Nashville, just two. When Precious came along he was warned that he had to pass muster with Quay Girl or the dating deal was off. At their first meeting, Precious got down on his knees and rubbed Quay under her chin, resulting in two smitten gals instead of one.

Quay Girl was MayBelle’s heart. She was scared of thunderstorms, wary of screaming children, and shed her mixed-breed hair like tumbleweeds. She was also fiercely protective, a great traveler who never threw up in the car, and prone to trying to curl up on MayBelle’s chest long after she had grown too big for such. Her fatty tumors came, as they do sometimes in older dogs, and then it became clear she also had cancer throughout her system. MayBelle and Precious knew it was the humane thing to do to let her go at age fourteen. MayBelle cried for days.

Then came Hiram, a West Highland Terrier chosen for his low shedding properties, as Precious is allergic. Hiram was the smartest dog they’ve ever had the pleasure of tending to. Stubborn, funny, endearing, and dead at only seven and a half. MayBelle and Precious are bereft.

If you are a pet person, what is it about these creatures that crawl on our laps and steal into our hearts? Chew our furniture, demand our attention, and calm us like nothing else can?

Recently a piece about people who refer to their dogs as their children made the rounds on social media. The writer was outraged that anyone would presume to compare a pet to a child. MayBelle gets it, really she does, that dogs are not people. And as cute as she thought Hiram was, he didn’t hold a candle to her great- nephews and nieces. But seriously, people, dog love is its own thing, and if it brings someone joy to spoil his or her pooch, what’s the harm? Sure, it sort of creeps MayBelle out when she sees dogs dressed up in human clothes, but she doesn’t feel moved to criticize their owners for it (not out loud, anyway).

As for MayBelle, she’ll spend her time on articles such as this one that proclaims the health benefits of pet ownership. That said, she understands that not everyone loves dogs like she does; even some of her own family members back away at the mere mention of slobber. (MayBelle is sometimes tempted to bring up “expressing anal glands” when around these relatives but so far she has resisted the impulse.) MayBelle, on the other hand, relishes the time with her canine companions and knows she will need one with her until the end of her days. There have been times in her life, after all, when a dog was the only living, breathing creature she’d see for days. It’s hard to let go of a bond like that.

So dress up your dogs, saddle them with family names (MayBelle’s personal proclivity), spoil them with treats and toys, post their pictures on Instagram. MayBelle, for one, doesn’t mind.

Call Me When You Get There

Before I married, at age forty-one (yes for the first time), I had just about had it up to here with friends patting me on the shoulder and saying, “You’ll just know.” They were trying to make me feel better by telling me I would know when the right person came along. They were assuming that the right person would show up, even though my father taught me early on that there are no guarantees in life. I never dreamed of a knight on a horse, or even a banker in a Buick. So my friends thought they were making me feel better when I didn’t even feel bad to start with. I did, however, often feel worse after they fussed over my singlehood all the while regaling me with stories of their idyllic couplings and pictures of their perfect children.

It didn’t seem like the end of the world to me that I might live my whole life without marriage. I suspected it would be more fun with a partner, and there were Friday nights when I felt desperately sorry for myself, but I did not consider pairing up a prerequisite for a fulfilling and happy life.

“Why haven’t you married?” people would ask me. This seemed to me a preposterous question, one that answered itself. I hadn’t married because the right opportunity had not presented itself. The crush from high school didn’t ask, and I didn’t trust—or love—the one who proposed in my twenties. Plus, I think he was drunk at the time.

“Maybe you’re expecting too much,” friends would say, when all I really expected of myself was not to marry for the wrong reasons.

“What are you looking for?” they would surely inquire, and this one I had an answer for: Someone who cares whether I get home safe and sound. Someone besides my parents. I had often joked that the man who said these words to me, preferably while holding me close or leaning in to kiss me, would be the one: “Call me when you get home so I know you’re okay.”

So when, a few days after our first date, as I was preparing to leave my hometown where I was visiting and return to Nashville, where I live, Precious tapped on the driver’s side window as he stood in the parking lot of the coffee shop where he’d bought me a “sweet roll” for breakfast and said, “Please call me the minute you get to Nashville so I won’t worry about you,” I just knew.

 

 

Mother Knows Best

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A favorite photo from several years ago, before Mother’s dementia diagnosis.

Back in January 1922 my parents were born four days apart. My father in Bell, California, and my mother in Tula, Mississippi. They would meet several years later at elementary school when my father’s family returned to its southern roots, and they married in 1948.

Although there were balloons and decorations and cake for my mother on her birthday earlier this month, she would not have known it was her day unless someone had made a fuss. Her dementia robs her of a lot, such as keeping up with dates and important life events. She sometimes thinks her parents have just died and that she wasn’t able to get to their funerals. I hate this for her, that her mind is not only failing her but is also tricking her, goading her into thinking she failed her parents. When, in reality, she was a devoted and faithful daughter until the very end, when she saw her mother and father across the bar and into the ground at St. Peter’s Cemetery in Oxford, Mississippi.

So she loses memories and facts, but she retains her grace, and her humor, and her kindness.

At Christmas I held her hand while we watched part of “Miracle on 34th Street,” which I had never seen and for some reason insist on referring to as “Miracle on 51st Street.” I left after Santa was put in the hoosegow, so it is my fervent hope that the poor man got sprung before the movie was over.

When I arrived that day at the residential facility where she lives, she was resting in her chair with her eyes closed. I sat on the edge of her bed and waited for her to wake up. When she did, she took a few seconds to stare at me with love.

“I recognize you,” she said, smiling.

Her eyes were clear and lively, not dulled as they can sometimes seem when she is having a harder time focusing and engaging. It was the same smile I have seen on her precious face countless times before, an upturn of her lips that let me know she is still my mother.

Love Affair, Interrupted: The Ones Left Behind

He looks like Grandmother Wilson,” I said, remembering my paternal grandmother, who died in the early 1980s.

Yes,” said my mother. “He does.” She took a shallow breath and then, “Why did this happen?” Mother stared at Daddy and I patted him on the shoulder, which seemed to make me feel like I was doing something helpful.

“Would you like to go ahead and take his jewelry with you?” asked the nurse.

His wedding ring and class ring (University of Mississippi, Sigma Nu, 1948) came off fairly easily, but the watch was harder. His hands had always been big—something I inherited from him, along with his sensitive skin and his tendency toward impatience—and it seemed his hands and wrists had doubled in size since he’d been in the hospital. Watching the nurse struggle became too painful. “Greedy daughters take jewelry off dead father. Film at eleven.” In reality, we were simply clawing for any piece of Daddy that we might keep, anything that might outlast death.

“I’ll get that off for you later,” said the nurse.

Mother cradled his wedding band in her palm, and I slipped the class ring on the thumb of my right hand. It was too big, even for my pudgy fingers, but I wasn’t about to let go.

“Sometimes I like to pray with the family,” said the nurse. “Is that all right with you?”

Who knows how each of us prayed silently as the nurse spoke, her voice soft and clear and sure as she asked for the emotional healing of my family. Her short hair and wire-rimmed glasses gave off a certain air of efficiency, but it was not just about the job for this woman. It was about us, too, the ones left behind. The ones she could still help.

As for me, I thanked God for giving me such a fabulous father. And then I bawled like a baby.

 

A Dozen Roses: In Which a Middle-Aged Goober Defends Valentine’s Day

Yesterday I saw the Twitter and Facebook posts about how Valentine’s Day is silly, unnecessary, an invention of Hallmark. One man said he was proud he and his wife didn’t celebrate the occasion. A woman allowed as how she wouldn’t succumb to such meaningless societal pressure. As for me and my house, we say bring it on.

I was a young woman who made it to one prom in high school and maybe two fraternity formals in college; a twentysomething who was in more weddings than she can remember; a thirtysomething who spent many nights listening to girlfriends complain about their boyfriends as I sat home alone; and a middle-aged goober who married (yes, for the first time) at age 41.

When those roses arrive at the doorstep every February 14, I’m thrilled. Taking them out of the box and arranging them in the crystal vase my husband and I received for a wedding gift makes me happy. Going to a “fancy” restaurant for dinner and savoring every bite brings me great satisfaction. Coming home to sit on the couch, stare at my flowers, and know I am loved by Precious resembles nothing less than joy to me.

I was single for a long time, and I knew how to do it well. I had long gotten over any stigma about not having a husband. I could repair my own toilet, eat alone in restaurants, and attend parties solo without so much as a second thought. I worked hard to be okay by myself, really okay, not just lip-service “I don’t need a man” okay. The kind of okay that allowed me to pursue my dreams all by my lonesome. The kind of okay that let me know I did not need a partner to be whole, and that I could leave my mark on the world without a mate.

I went on blind dates, as few and far between as they were; did online dating; attended relationship seminars for singles; whined to God. Invited people over for dinner, took up extracurricular activities, went to churches rumored to have lots of “young people.” Whatever the relationship advisors suggested, I tried. And then I accepted the reality that not every woman will marry, and that most will survive just fine. I promise.

So when I did fall in love and walk down the aisle, it was a gift. An unexpected pleasure.

Do Precious and I need Valentine’s Day to show our affection? No. We try to do that every day in how we care for one another. Preparing a favorite meal, going to Walgreen’s for cold medicine when one of us is sick, noticing a sadness. But nor do we apologize for buying cards, ordering flowers, and sharing a decadent dessert on a certain day in February. Call it consumerist nonsense if you must; we call it love.