Day 33: Thinking

Last August I wrote about one of my muses in My Cousin Ruth’s Statuesque Leg.

Yesterday afternoon, Ruth slipped into a coma. While we’re waiting for her to wake up, I think about bunk beds and horses and camping; and sledding down an icy hill one Christmas in Independence, Missouri, and running into a parked car; and discovering burritos at Taco Bell in Huntington Beach, California; and sitting outside on her deck one night in Bollingbrook, Illinois, and singing so loudly a neighbor came to see what was wrong; and laughing hysterically at Garrison Keillor’s rendition of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” while her adult children looked on in dismay; and singing the first two lines of “Whatever Happened to Randolph Scott” so she would be stuck on it the rest of the day; and handing her a note that said, “Fourscore…,” just before we marched down the aisle at my wedding because I knew she would remember Paul Ford in “The Music Man” and therefore would laugh through the ceremony; and watching a video of “Chicken Run” together and knowing exactly which lines would make her laugh.

…considering what you have to work with

Crystal and Bill Waller. October, 1942

My mother told a story about the first time she hosted Thanksgiving dinner in her own home. She’d laid out the china and the crystal and the sterling and the silver gravy boat my grandmother insisted every married woman must have (even when the married woman was going to live near an oil field where the silver would immediately turn black.)

Finished with the table, she indulged in whimsy. She went outside and picked some purple wildflowers she thought particularly unattractive. (“Ugly” was her exact word.) She arranged them and placed them on the table.

When my grandmother arrived, Mother said, “What do you think of my centerpiece?”

My grandmother, missing the humor, replied, “Well, dear, I think you did as well as can be expected, considering what you had to work with.”

That line entered the Waller Book of Familiar Quotations. We used it for every achievement: making pies, mowing the lawn, climbing on top of the house to turn the TV antenna, explaining first semester grades from college: I did as well as can be expected, considering what I have to work with.

I wish my parents could read that story. I wish they could see other things I’ve written. They would laugh at Miss Pinksie Craigo whacking her cane against a chair, and Mr. Archie Parsons using his favorite (marginally) un-blasphemous expletive, and Aunt Lydia…Oh my, I can just imagine them reading about Aunt Lydia.

Some old ladies are worth more than an ode. Some, however, are marked 75% off–too good to resist.

My parents were generous. They gave me language and laughter. I think they would approve of the way I’m using them. They would be pleased to know I’m trying.

If I could ask, I believe they would also grant permission: We gave you words. Use them as you will. No secrets. No holding back.

With such a blessing, a writer doesn’t have to be ruthless or to rob anyone.

She just has to do as well as can be expected, considering what she has to work with.