Wednesday, April 28, 2010


Back to freewriting, did one of my exercises today. I found myself back to the young girl's voice that I use frequently. Here's what I wrote based on the prompt from Anna Quindlen.

Anna Quindlen, “Black and Blue,” p. 260.

“I loved the shit out of you, and look what you did to me.”

It was Saturday morning and Mama was going down to Carlene’s to get her hair done because she was having people come over that night for Uncle Willie’s birthday. On Friday she had brought home a yellow sheet cake from the Food Lion all decorated with chocolate icing and a bunch of hearts and “Happy Birthday Willie” written in green icing in a fancy script. Uncle Willie was Mama’s little brother. Their mama and daddy had died in a car wreck almost 10 years before and I was only a baby so I didn’t even remember them. Uncle Willie was the night janitor at the bus station. He was a bit tetched and he didn’t go far in school or anything so Mama watched out for him as best she could and every year she had a nice birthday party for him and invited all the neighbors. I was watching cartoons when Mama got out of bed and rushed out of the house, saying, “Now you stay here and watch Jeralyn and the boys until I get back. And I don’t want to come back here to a pig sty or any dirty diapers, you hear me?” “Yes, Mama, I hear you. When will you be back?” The door slammed without an answer from her. Mama was in one of her bad moods. I thought maybe I could make her happy if she came home to a clean house. So I put Jeralyn in the playpen and started scrubbing. I did all the dishes, made the beds, ran the vacuum cleaner, and polished the furniture. I kept screaming at the boys not to make a mess and changed the baby’s diaper even when it wasn’t dirty. It was noon and Mama still wasn’t home. I fed the baby and put her down for a nap and started folding laundry. It was 3 o’clock and Mama still wasn’t home. I wiped down the kitchen floor again because the boys were spilling juice and throwing crackers at one another. I finally got them to sit still to watch a movie on the TV while I sat by the coffee table and worked on a school project. Mama came home just before dark, her hair bright red and sprayed, and wearing a new green dress with a slit up the side, carrying boxes of food from Mamie’s BBQ. “Is that what you’ve been doing all day,” she shrieked, “just sitting in front of the TV?” “No, Mama,” I said, “I’ve been . . . “She didn’t hear me. She was in the kitchen getting out plates and napkins to set out before the company arrived. She pushed open the kitchen door, saying, “You go do something with yourself, Margaret Ann. I don’t want you embarrassing me in front of company by looking like that. I don’t know why you don’t care about your appearance.” I went into my room and looked in my closet. I hated the fancy clothes Mama had bought for me. I felt like some other person when I had to dress in those things. I opened the door to my parakeet’s cage and said, “Well, Chiffon, she didn’t even notice. Guess it didn’t work again.” I got Chiffon out of her cage and climbed under the covers of my bed with her and cried as she sat on my finger. Mama threw open my bedroom door. “What the hell are you doing? Are you some sort of anti-social retard or something? I told you to get dressed. Then get out here and help me. All I do for you and this is the thanks I get? Look at you. What have I done to deserve having a child like you? You’ve been the biggest disappointment of my life. I loved the shit out of you, and look what you did to me.”

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


When life gets tough some people take drugs or drink alcohol; others run screaming to a therapist's couch. Life has been really tough for me lately. So today I found consolation in a pedicure. Why not? This is not a new phenomenon. I wrote a piece about feet that's in my book, still unpublished. I'm working on getting it published but in the meantime, here are some of my thoughts on feet and a great pasta recipe. The recipe relates to the essay. Trust me.

Such Beautiful Feet

I need to rest on the sofa to let my pedicure dry thoroughly. I got the pedicure on Saturday morning. It’s now Tuesday and I have another week and a half left. The woman who did the pedicure said that it takes two weeks to dry. I’m pretty sure that’s what she said although she said it in Vietnamese and she seemed to be speaking to her co-worker rather than to me. In two weeks I’ll get another pedicure and I’ll have to start the drying cycle all over again. This is a grueling maintenance program. I just hope someone sees how great my feet look. But no one sees my feet anymore. Actually, the other women in my yoga class see my feet but I don’t think they notice the pedicure.

I love pedicures. Maybe if I admit this guilty pleasure, perhaps I can let it go, live without it. I already know I can live without it because I did for the first 50 years of my life. I could blame it on my daughter—she’s the one who got me started. The first couple of times I got pedicures with her when I visited her in Austin. But now I have found local sources and I even do it without her. God help me, it didn’t make me feel better to admit it. It just makes me want to drive by the nail salon for a fix, maybe sniff some polish remover.

Can there be anything more decadent than having someone scrape the crud off of your feet? The women (and an occasional man) who give pedicures seem to take great pride in the dedication and artistry of turning a gnarly pair of feet into feet that are buffed, polished, and suitable for public exposure. If you have never had a pedicure, picture this. First, the technician (yes, the job title is nail technician) soaks your feet in a mini whirlpool tub. Then she cleans under your toenails and around your toes. My brother used to collect this same debris from between his toes and chase me through the house with it. “The big stink’s gonna get you,” he cackled.

I can’t believe that I can pay someone to do this for me. After the cleaning process, the technician scrapes all the dead skin off of the bottom of your feet with a razor—it sounds dreadful but it’s my favorite part of the pedicure. Using the razor is a dangerous procedure, so dangerous that it’s illegal is some states. Maybe that’s why I like it so much—living on the wild side.

The technician usually follows all the cleaning and scraping with a moisturizing massage, and finally polish. The nail salon supplies flimsy plastic flip-flops to wear while the polish is drying. I’ve been tempted to take the temporary shoes home and wear them but it would be a dead giveaway. Everyone would know I got a pedicure. I don’t want people to know I get pedicures. I want them to believe that I am humble enough to maintain my own feet.

Once a man told me I had beautiful feet and it gave me the willies. He was a tour guide at the FBI museum and, out of the blue, he commented on my lovely toes. I had a strange, sinking feeling he was one of those people with a foot fetish. But occasionally sane people will compliment my pedicure and I wonder if they are just trying to find something nice to say. They say, “Your toes are so beautiful,” but isn’t that like the old junior high joke, “You don’t sweat much for a fat girl”?


I once read that women in ancient Rome used to soak their feet in lemon juice and olive oil to keep them beautiful. If my feet were soaking in lemon juice and olive oil I’d start craving this pasta dish from the Amalfi coast—a favorite from my friend Debbie who frequently travels to Italy and brought back this recipe.

Tagliolini With Lemon

14 ounces tagliolini (or other pasta)
¼ cup butter
½ cup dry white wine
½ cup heavy cream
1 dried chili pepper (or ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper)
4 tablespoons Parmesan cheese
Zest from one lemon
1-2 tablespoons lemon juice

Cook the pasta.
Melt half the butter, add the wine, and stir until wine evaporates.
Add the cream and the chili pepper.
Drain the pasta and add to the sauce.
Stir in the remaining butter, the Parmesan cheese, the zest and the juice.
Toss gently.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Easter Sunday

I was wide awake before dawn this morning, anticipating the Easter sunrise. I’ve never before had an Easter like this. I am lost.

When I was but a month old I was baptized a Catholic and ever since have said that I am a Catholic. My attendance at church has lapsed occasionally and I briefly explored other Christian churches but repeatedly returned to my comfortable Catholic roots. Catholicism felt like home. For a long time I have said that if Catholicism ever got in the way of my Christianity, that I would abandon Catholicism. That time is now. I have reached my own personal tipping point.

I am no longer proud to call myself a Catholic. I am embarrassed by the leadership of my church in the wake of clergy sex abuse scandals and the obvious cover-ups. I've tried regarding the church leadership as a group of flawed human beings and felt that my allegiance is to God, not to the church's leadership. But in recent weeks, I see photos of the pope, all white and shiny and pompous, and it makes me nauseous to read and hear his lame statements, his lack of accountability, his hiding behind the impenetrable, fearful veil of the papacy like the Wizard of Oz. I no longer trust the church leadership or believe what they say.

The leaders of the Catholic Church are spending more time and energy protecting themselves and weaving webs of deceit than they are teaching the faithful how to life good, moral, Christ-like lives. I think about the adage "What would Jesus do?" I think Jesus would throw the Pharisees out of the temple and he'd sit with the lepers and the sinners, teaching them about God, teaching them about humility and repentance and goodness. The church—my former church—has strayed far from the teachings of Jesus.

Happy Easter to all who believe in the risen Christ. Pray for me, that I find a church that understands how to practice true adherence to his teachings.