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Jeb peered at me over the top of his paper. "What's wrong? Bad news?"
"Depends on how you look at it. This is a wedding invitation. Alice's daughter, Jane, is getting married. Remember that boy she was dating last Christmas? Well he proposed on New Years and the wedding is set for May."
"What's wrong with that? You should be happy. Jane is so particular. I never thought she'd find Mr. Right."
"He's perfect. It's weddings I hate. I much prefer funerals." I pushed the pile of mail aside and poured myself some more tea. "Weddings are so catty. You hear remarks like 'I'll give this marriage one year,' or 'The mother of the bride could lose a little weight,' or 'Can you believe she's wearing white?' Now, at a funeral no one says anything bad about the dead, no matter how churlish he or she was. If the dead was really hopeless they say, 'he meant well' or 'I remember in the 4th grade he helped an old man across the street!' It may be the only kind thing he ever did!"
Jeb laughed. "I'll try and appreciate funerals more."
"Just think about it. The music at funerals is soft and comforting. At weddings, especially the reception, the band blasts you out of your seat. You can't hear the person next to you. Of course, you don't know them and hopefully will never see them again, so it really doesn't matter if you hear them or not. Now funeral attendees are all relatives, people they worked with or people the dead owe money to, so you can hear lots of gossip. Wonderful tales and the dead are not there to refute them! Another thing, the food at weddings is for hundreds and is generally cold and uneatable while funeral food is donated from local homes and favorite recipes, generally delicious and so much of it!" I was really getting wound up.
"Honey, it's okay. You've convinced me. You don't have to go to Jane's wedding." Jeb was grinning.
I was aghast. "What! Don't be silly! Of course I'm going. You don't think I'd miss my sister's only daughter's wedding, do you? Do you want to come?"
"I'd really love to but I won't be able to make it. Have a conference then," Jeb ducked behind the paper.
"You don't even know when in May it is!"
"Well, I'm sure I'll be busy. May is a packed month work-wise." Jeb smiled again. "Why don't you ask one of the girls? I'll just wait and catch the next funeral."
"You have just made my point. You always go to family funerals. Admit it. You hate weddings, too!" Just then the phone rang. "Saved by the bell," I snorted.
"Did you get the invitation?" My sister Alice sounded excited and a little anxious.
"Yes, it came and I just opened it. Lovely card, I've never seen cupids like that before." I sipped some tea.
"You don't like it! I knew people wouldn't; they think women sentimental. Jane wanted the cupids because they were on the valentine that Pat gave her in the first grade. They went through school together and when they went away to college they lost track of each other. In fact they just got back together last year," Jane sniffed.
"Women in general are not sentimental. Maybe some women are a little sentimental. Jane should have any damn cupid she wants. Everyone will love it. I'm looking forward to coming. Jeb has organized a conference that will meet here so he can't come." Jeb mouthed a silent 'thank you' over his paper, "but I'll call Elaine. Emily might have exams then. What about Mother and our little sister, Alicia?"
"Mother's flying up. Alicia's coming later since her kids are in school. She'll probably drive. I think Jane wants Elaine to be a bridesmaid. They are the same age and were always so close." Alice's voice had become more practical and in control. Her moment of apprehension was over. At least her phone call had done her some good. "Oh, by the way, Pat is Catholic, so they'll have a priest do the service in a lovely old church here."
"Great, a nice, celibate priest! I am so relieved there will be no problem now with having Mother and her cooking attract another senior suitor! I take it she'll bake the cake?" I laughed.
"Honestly, Arden, you should be ashamed of yourself. Mother's cooking has nothing to do with her friendships. Oh, there's Clinton. I'll have to run. Love you." I shook my head.
"Everything okay? Jeb took a last sip of coffee and stood up.
"Yep! Jane is in control and Mother's going to bake the wedding cake. God help us." I poured more tea.
Jeb glanced at his watch. "Oops, Honey, got to go. If you call the girls, give 'em my love."
I cleared the dishes and glanced out the kitchen window. It was the end of March and we'd had a snow the day before. March for some reason is often the stormiest month. Maybe March does that so we appreciate spring more. The snow covered the stone dividing wall and the garden path and a few hardy daffodils that had poked their heads out early. I rinsed the dishes and made the bed trying to stay busy and not call the girls too early. I got out my seed catalogs and started making out wish lists. Whenever I look at garden catalogs, I lose track of time. The hall clock striking brought me back to the present. With regret I put away my spring dream seeds list and dialed Emily. "Hello, Honey, this is mother. I called to see if you got Jane's wedding invitation."
A small voice said, "Hi, yes I got it. It's very pretty, isn't it?"
I could sense she had been crying. Mothers can tell. "Honey what's wrong?"
"Nothing I was just studying and I guess I'm sleepy. Yes, I got the invitation."
"Are you going to be able to go? If you want to go you can drive down here and we can fly out together. I haven't called Elaine yet. I think Jane wants Elaine to be a bridesmaid." I decided to bide my time and give her a chance to tell me what was wrong when she was ready.
"No, I don't think I can go. My exams...." Then the flood gates broke and she started to cry. "I don't feel like a wedding right now," she sobbed. "George wants to get married this year. You all gave us that great engagement party when you got back from Japan and we decided to wait until I graduated. Well, that's this spring and I don't want to get married right away. I want to have some free time, travel, get a job, just kick up my heels before I settle down as an old married woman. We had a fight last night and George left in a huff. I think he wants to have a family and all that!" By now Emily's voice was louder and the sobs more pronounced.
"My poor dear, of course I understand and I think George will when he has time to think about it. First of all, you don't die when you get married. It's not the end of the world. But if you want to sew some wild oats, that's okay." I wished I could be near and she could put her head on my shoulder and I could hug her.
"But what if he leaves me and I never see him again and I regret it for the rest of my life?" At least she had stopped crying.
"George is not the kind of man who demands you do everything his way or else. If he were you wouldn't want to marry him anyway. It's just he probably assumed that's what you were going to do and he had made plans and now he was faced with something new. Give him time. Would you like to come home and take a little break?"
"No, I can't now. I have a paper to write and need to be near the school library, maybe later. I still don't want to go to the wedding. I don't want it to muddle my already mixed up feelings. I feel better now, though, just talking about it. I really love George." She sniffed again and I heard her blow her nose.
"Honey I'll always be here when you want to talk and Dad will, too. Now why don't you put the books away and take a nap and then go for a walk and clear your head. Remember, marriage is not the end of your life. Sometimes it's just the beginning. Lot's of women with families work now. Not like when I was married ..."
Emily cut me off, "I know, Mom, you've told me all about it before."
"Okay, no more advice. Call me later to let me know how it's going, Okay? I love you." She was going to survive. I could tell whenever the girls got that 'heard it all' tone it was time to move on.
"I love you too. Give Elaine a hug." She hung up.
I immediately went to the frig and got out a piece of pumpkin pie. I couldn't find ice cream but a large jar of mayonnaise was sitting on the shelf below the pie. Over the years I have found food really is a great mood booster, and consoler, and gives aid making decisions or just contemplating. Mayonnaise is my comfort food. I think chefs should automatically be given PhDs in psychology. When I could find no more leftovers to devour, I called Elaine.
"You sound out of breath. Did I get you from somewhere?" I rinsed off my snack dishes while I held the phone cradled in my shoulder.
"Nope, I was doing my daily exercises. It's raining here and I can't get outside for a run. What's up?" Elaine caught her breath.
"I was calling about Jane's wedding. Did you get the invitation, and did Jane call you about being a bridesmaid?" I put on some water for tea.
"Yep to both the above. Weren't those the creepiest cupids you ever saw? Don't worry, I didn't say that to her. Honestly, when I opened it I thought it was some kind of weird valentine. When she asked me to be a bridesmaid, I said 'yes.' What could I do? She's my first cousin for God's sake and we were close growing up. She always was sentimental with all her practical leanings. You should see the bridesmaids' dresses! Jesus, they look like a ballerina's tutu grown long. Honest to God if they take pictures, I'll be blackmailed for the rest of my life. Hey, maybe I could wear a mask, that should add to her sentimental trappings." Elaine was a woman of straight-from-the-shoulder words.
"Elaine, watch your language. When did you start talking like that?" I tried to sound shocked.
She ignored me. "I haven't met the groom, but with a name like Patrick Mcferson he has to be Irish. Will they be married in the Catholic Church? How do you think the Iowa Methodists will take that? So is Grandmother going to bake the cake? Who do you think it is this time?"
It's always hard to keep a straight face with Elaine. "I'm sure I don't know what you're talking about."
"Don't give me that. I've heard you and Dad laughing about the senior citizens who just happen to eat Grandmother's food and then come calling. Let's see, there was the big fat Italian, the good Scottish doctor, the suave Greek epicurean. And what about the Texas judge? I lost track of the guys in Europe." Elaine was laughing.
"Where did you hear all this?" I tried to sound shocked.
"Honestly, Mother, have you forgotten your admonition to Dad, 'little pitchers have big ears.' Although, I wasn't so little when Grandmother came that first time. Not to change the subject: are you flying out and when?"
"I thought about going one or two weeks before and I could see some cousins and maybe help with things. If you can get away, I'll treat you to a plane ticket, just because I'm so generous and need company in my old age." Elaine was good for the spirits.
"Come on now! Old age? You've got to be kidding. I'm surprised Dad will let you get away alone with all those frisky Irishmen out there. Of course I'd love to go with you, and what able, well-paid business executive would turn down a free trip? Why they'd take away my MBA! I have my reputation to think of! I have some vacation coming. I'll try and swing it."
"Great, we can catch up on the way out. Your Aunt Alicia is driving up later from Texas. Heaven only knows who's doing the driving. Remember I told you about her two suitors? Mother hopes to fly up the same day we do. What fun. Can't wait to see you! I'll get the tickets and email you when and where as soon as you let me know your dates. By the way, how's business?" I settled my tea bag in the cup and added water and fake sugar.
"You will be happy to know I am up for number one salesperson ... get this ... international! Yep, my persuasive skills are finally being recognized. My decision to go with computers used in companies rather than government was not a safe and sure road, but boy was it more lucrative!" I could hear the pride in her voice.
"Wow! I am so proud of you. Wait until I tell Dad! He'll be proud, too. Have you talked with Emily?" I could tell from her cautious pause that she had but didn't want to let on.
"Yeah, she seems to be doing okay. Well, I'd better get back to work or this promising young tycoon will get fired. Love you." Very diplomatically she was closing the conversation. She would let Emily tell me herself.
I admired her loyalty but was annoyed to be left out. She didn't realize Emily had already told me. "Love you, too," I whispered.
The light was flashing on the phone when I hung up. I listened for the message. Jeb's voice came loud and clear: "Honey, have to bring two guys from work home for dinner and then go over some work we need to present at a meeting tomorrow. Could we eat about seven? Let me know if we can't. Otherwise I'll see you then."
Luckily I had gotten used to last-minute dinner requests. Granted I didn't have Mother's gift for magic results, but I was working on it and the last rush meal resulted in an invitation for Jeb and me to join an exclusive dinner club! I got out a pork loin from the freezer and a steel platter. I had found if you put a frozen meat on metal, the heat exchange is such that within an hour or two the meat is beautifully defrosted and there is no need to take a chance with a microwave defrost burn. Next I took down a jar of brandied mincemeat. A box of yellow cake mix was next to the mincemeat. While Mother doesn't use box mixes, I find they are handy and I use them not as they are intended but as premeasured ingredients! I breathed a sigh of relief; dinner would be ready by seven!
Then I went back to the kitchen table to find my seed catalog list. Under the pile of mail I had tossed aside, I found another letter that I had overlooked; this one was from Mother. It read:
Dearest Arden, Just a note. We are all so excited about the wedding. This is the first of my grand children to be married and I plan to make the wedding cake from the recipe of my grandmother, a white fruit cake, it was a family tradition, but we haven't made it in the family since my Aunt Birdie's wedding. Such an uproar and scandal! Grandmother swore she'd never make it again, but I think if I don't use quite as much sugar as Grandmother did that we won't have the same trouble they had then. Such a good cake! Alice has invited Dr. MacDonald and Judge Anderson. So thoughtful of her to have some of my friends. I can't wait to see you. Love Always, Mother
I sat down hard, my hands and feet were like ice. I looked at the letter again. I tried to remember, what happened at her Aunt Birdie's wedding? Had I ever heard of great trouble? What trouble? I got up and groped my way to the 'frig. This was going to take a lot of binge eating. I sensed a catastrophe, big catastrophe! I reached for my favorite combination, bread, peanut butter and mayonnaise! I needed fortification before I started dinner.
Last Minute Pork Roast to Impress Guests
Put a pork roast on an oven proof platter. Pour a jar of brandied mincemeat over the roast. Cover with aluminum foil and bake about 20 minutes per pound. Remove the foil for the last half hour. Viola!
Spur of the Moment Whiskey Cake
1 box butter cake mix 4 eggs
1 cup milk ½ cup oil
1 package (3oz.) of instant vanilla pudding ½ cup whiskey
Mix the above and bake in an oiled and floured Bundt pan at 350° for 55 minutes. While it's still warm, mix up 1 stick melted butter, 1 cup sugar and ½ cup whiskey. Pour over the cake. Let cool a bit more before removing from the pan. Be sure and wipe your brow in a fatigued way and don a martyr's smile when they go into raptures over how good it is.
Elaine laughed, "Don't worry! Probably somebody had a bad case of intestinal upset. That was a long time ago and sanitation was not good. Nobody died, did they?"
"Not that I know of, but sometimes death might be a blessing. Anyhow, you do make me feel better. I don't think Mother would make anything that was really dangerous. At least I hope not!" I felt so relieved that I actually went to sleep, to make up for the sleepless nights I'd had. Elaine, like Jeb, always makes me feel secure. The little planes that used to fly between Des Moines and small Iowa towns no longer fly, so as soon as we landed, Elaine and I rented a car and started out.
Excerpted from Matrimonial Magic and Mayonnaise by C. B. Murray Copyright © 2012 by C.B. Murray. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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