You would think the oncoming season would make most folks around Cottonwood Corner think warm and happy thoughts. These holidays are of the merriest sort, after all. Yet I would not put too much confidence in that notion if I were you. For some people it’s just the opposite.
Margaret Parker sure wasn’t thinking happy thoughts last evening. She is usually such a warm and cheerful person that it would have surprised her friends if they could have known what she was thinking as she drove up the drive to the Parker residence just as it was getting dark. She was thinking how inconsiderate some people are who won’t chip in and help with jobs that she always ends up having to do at the last minute. She wasn’t supposed to be in charge of setting up for the annual Thanksgiving pot luck supper they have at the Community Church.
She had asked not to be put on the committee because her brother, Jerry, was to be in town, and she wanted to be able to spend as much time as possible with him before he had to speed off to his high paying, glamorous job in Denver. But the woman Reverend Walker had talked into heading the committee this year backed out at the last minute because of some conflict or other that Margaret was sure was just made up to get out of the job. As a result, the good pastor called on the only person who could be depended upon to put it all together. That was why she had spent the afternoon in the basement of the Community Church setting up tables and seeing to details. Now Margaret had only a half hour to get home, get her clothes changed, get herself, her husband, her children, her brother Jerry, and the hot dish she had prepared ahead of time back down to the church.
As she crossed the porch to the kitchen door, Margaret noticed something unusual. The house was dark and silent. The usual clatter and ruckus that attended the ample Parker family
was not to be seen or heard. Instead, there was a note on the refrigerator door-the family communication center-that her husband had written in some hurry-Meg, we have all gone with Jerry for a ride in his new van. Meet you at Church, Clint-that was all. Couldn’t they have waited for her? But no, she could never compete with something as fancy as Jerry’s van. As with everything Jerry had, it was the best, with everything extra. It even had a refrigerator and a phone.
For a while, Margaret forgot her usual cheerful way and indulged in something unusual for her, self-pity. She never felt equal to Jerry or her little sister, Julie. Both of them had exciting careers in Denver and Kansas City. Both of them wore designer clothes and drove the nicest cars–nothing so prosaic as a Chevy station wagon. She forgot, for a time, the look she had seen on Jerry’s face when he left last July 4 when he had said how much he envied Margaret her big family and having stayed rooted in the home town in the same house they had lived in as children. She forgot the sad look on Julie’s face whenever they were together. All she could see was that both of her siblings had everything she didn’t–nice things and glamour and good looks, everything-and they were slim! Clint had told her that if all the Parker family had to eat was the kind of stuff her brother and sister ate, they’d look like skeletons-Good grief, Margaret, all they eat is raw fish, something that looks like grass and Per-ee-ay water. Anybody who ate that kind of stuff would be skin and bones in a week. Besides, Meg, I like you just the way you are, with a little meat on your bones.
I know that Clint meant well, but any woman can tell you they don’t feel lovely when they are described as having a little meat on their bones. That comment had hurt, especially when Margaret had been trying, unsuccessfully, to take off some pounds this fall.
In this melancholy frame of mind, Margaret made her way through the house, up the stairs, and into the bedroom without turning on a light. Unconsciously, she was reenacting a
ritual she hadn’t done since she was in her teens. Back in those high school days she used to go up to her room at this time of the evening without turning on any lights. She did this so that when she went to her window she might see the first star visible in the night sky, the wishing star.
Then she would make a wish, a wish for fame, for riches, for romance. It was at this very window that she wished a certain young man would pay attention to her, a wish that must have come true because she was married to that man now. This time she half wanted to wish herself a more glamorous life and to look slender and sophisticated instead of plump and wholesome. Sadly, she turned from the window. These wishes were for girls, not women with families and responsibilities.
In the darkness she reached out for her best dress. It was the one Clint had bought for her last Christmas, one of the few times he had picked out any clothing for her. So, she made a point of wearing it whenever the occasion allowed. It was awfully dressy for her-blue velvet with a rich colored piping and brass buttons that made the whole look so. Opulent! She slipped it on over her head. Funny, she hadn’t remembered it being so tight. She stood in front of the mirror in the bedroom. There was not much light. But what light there was showed a plump figure sort of bulging here and there. It made her good dress look more like one of those stuffed pillows you see in the corners of sofa’s than the regal wrap it had once been. That was the last straw that broke the camel’s back.
With a snort of disgust, she struggled out of her once precious sack, hung it in the back of the closet with all the rest of her outgrown clothes, and slipped on one of her loose-fitting house dresses. They didn’t make her feel beautiful, but they didn’t make her feel fat either. Tears began to collect around the lower rims of her eyes and then spilled over so that they made that tickly hot feeling as they coursed down her cheeks. Margaret tried not to give in to that feeling of defeat, but even as she strained to hold in the flood, a kind of small child’s voice began to sob out her grief-sobs that once begun could not be held back so that she found herself sitting on the bed in the gathering darkness, alone, having a good cry.
Now she was glad no one was home.
Eventually, Margaret’s steady homesteader ancestry began to reassert itself. Well, Margaret, she said to herself, haven’t we been carrying on. You’d think someone was beating me. Well, I can’t just sit here all evening when there are things to be done.
She got up, turned on the light, put on a new face, and just as she was taking that last look in the mirror fixing hair and adjusting her dress, she smiled and thought to herself how silly it was to compete with her brother and sister. After all, she thought to herself, how many people have the pleasure of having all the family I have? Not very many.
So, Margaret went to the community Thanksgiving Dinner last night with all her beautiful family. As usual, she joined her friends in the kitchen in the basement of the Community Church. She joined in the ritual of putting on her apron as she entered the door. Once again, she discovered at the end of the evening that she had been so busy serving that she had not had the time to sit down and eat with her family. But for once, she didn’t feel resentment. She’d cried out her grief for what she wasn’t. Once she had done that, she was free to enjoy what she was and what she had. And that was considerable.
As for not getting to eat, well, she thought maybe that was for the best. She was thinking it was about time to cut down a little and take off those pounds she had gained since last Christmas.
Well, that’s all I can tell for the time being. Thanks for settin’ with me on the Liar’s Bench where the truth is stranger than fiction and fiction is strangely true.
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