A Thin Veneer of Maturity

It seems to be a truism amongst my friends that we never really feel like adults. I mean, most of us are 50 or older and still keep hoping someone more adult than we will turn up to handle stuff. Alas, we’re it. I keep wondering if our parents’ generation, the ones who managed to look like they had it together and were never taken unawares, whose yards were raked and trash was curbed and bills were paid and cars were gassed, whose kids studied and ate meals together at regular intervals and made Saturday morning task lists and crossed every entry off by Sunday night, felt the same way. As if they were just tall children pretending really hard to be grown-ups and secretly wishing that someone else would do it instead?

So, last Saturday, my husband, our housemate (the homeowner) and I are busy doing our tasks. We have cleaned and mopped and organized and shopped and generally gotten stuff done. Judy (the homeowner) and I are down in the basement adding water softening salts to the system. We are screwing things and unscrewing things and bleeding pipes and washing out filters and generally adulting the shit out of things when it all goes to hell in the wag of a Doberman’s tail.

The house Dobie is poking around the other end of the basement and starts pawing and whining at a pile of terra cotta pots taken in for the winter (as responsible adults do). We laugh at the silly dog who is probably chasing an errant cricket but we humor her and start moving pots so that she can investigate more closely. To our surprise, she turns up a mouse in an ancient sticky trap.

Judy bought the house well over a year ago and has never put down sticky traps (and never would). In fact, she never knew there might be a mouse possibility. So that is one ancient dead mouse in an old sticky trap and part of each of us wants to whine “Ewww!” and get someone else to deal with it. However, we are adults and we have been competently adulting all morning, so we hitch up our big girl jeans and Judy picks up the trap while I grab the Dobie’s collar to prevent her making herself sick on mummified mouse and nasty old sticky trap. We nod sadly over the dead mouse and decide to put it in the garbage can in the garage when it moves. I can’t exactly describe or explain what happens next.

Suddenly, two adult women, each over 50 and 5 foot 5 inches, are staring in horror at a 3 inch mouse stuck to a piece of cardboard and breathing its last and screeching like 12 year old girls. The Doberman breaks my hold and starts leaping at the trap, barking and growling, so Judy holds it over her head and tries to keep the dog away from it by holding it over her head and jumping up and down. I keep trying to grab the dog while simultaneously refusing to accept delivery of a not-dead-yet mouse and not pee my pants. This live action tableau goes on for a while complete with soundtrack from Der Valkyrie.

Eventually, we get a grip on ourselves and the dog and realize that the poor little thing is suffering and that, as caring and mature adults and animal lovers, we ought to put it out of its misery. But how? We look frantically around the basement and Judy comes up with a solution: a pair of branch loppers. I go back to screaming.

Fortunately, by this time, my husband has decided to come down and see what the hell is going on. He takes one look at the brandished mouse in its trap, the loppers being waved about, the barking dog, the gibbering wife and sighs, “Again?” Then he, apparently the only one adult enough, takes the trap, courteously refuses the loppers and disappears outside to the wood pile.

Apparently, no matter how old I get, the veneer of adulthood is only skin deep. No matter how early I have paid my taxes, the gray hairs, the competent plumbing skills, all it takes is one semi-expired mouse to undo it all.

No magnolia, just the steel

The phrase “steel magnolia” has been bandied about a lot, both in Hollywood and by those who wish to indicate that a Southern lady has a firm will and a definite opinion and can state it in a charming way.  She is depicted as equal to any situation and is always sweetly courteous, no matter what category of hurricane is blowing about her.  However, it has been used as a portmanteau description for all kinds of Southern women and this is a mistake, I feel.  There are plenty of Southern women, both living and not, who have had firm wills and definite opinions and have been perfectly clear about them without being the least bit charming or sweet.

There are some prime examples of the steely non-magnolia type  in my own family tree.  The lady about whom I have been musing this morning is Cousin Jo.  I can’t quite recall where she fits on the family tree, exactly.  But she was in residence in Safety Harbor when my father and uncles were boys racketing about the hammocks and creeks of Tampa Bay in the 30’s.  My grandparents were away and she was given the unenviable task of watching over the three boys, tweens and teens, who all had their own firearms on a dull summer afternoon.  The pop of small arms fire was not anything to take note of until my oldest uncle came racing into the house shouting, “Cousin Jo, Cousin Jo, Dickie shot Francis!”

Expected answers to a statement like this from your standard issue steel magnolia might be, “Gracious, is he all right?” or possibly, “Heavens, where is the poor child? Shall we call for the doctor?”  However, poor Cousin Jo was forced to make do with the demand, “Well, is he dead?”

I am persuaded that she asked this, not from a lack of proper human feeling, but because it was hot enough that there was no way that she was running anywhere in high button boots and a whalebone corset if there was no point to hurrying any more.  However, my father, Francis, was not dead, merely winged in the wrist and left buttock, so off she went to examine the victim.

I am told by both my uncles and my father that she then delivered herself of her opinion on their behavior and its subsequent results in clear, well-enunciated and chosen epithets that left all three of them with the sensation of having been slightly mauled and then dipped in carbolic acid.

There has never been consensus amongst the three of them as to how my father got shot, by the way.  The scar on his wrist is unimpeachable evidence and they all agree that there was a bullet involved but there any similarity between their stories ends.  I can only assume that, whatever the real story was, it is actually much worse and much stupider than the unconvincing narratives they each offered  during one family reunion in the late 80’s.

I share this little nugget of family history as a way of explaining my own occasional lapses into frank communication.  I am but the watered-down descendant of steely non-magnolias. magnolia