This morning was the monthly meeting of the Book Club I recently joined. I genuinely look forward to Book Club Saturdays, for a couple of reasons:
1. I get some sort of junk food for breakfast. We meet at either a local pastry shop or McDonald’s. Unhealthy yumminess!
2. I love having people to talk to about books. At one point in my life, I was surrounded by book readers, but that has faded away, and to be reintroduced to book readers makes me a happy camper.
Back to today’s Book Club. We’d read “A Wolf At the Table” by Augusten Burroughs. I love Augusten Burroughs, and have since about the second page of “Running With Scissors”. He finds humor in darkness, he’s damaged, he’s realistic. He’s a survivor. Mostly, though, I love him because I can relate to so many of the emotions and quirks that he so openly exposes, because I, too, was raised in an abundance of weirdness. My mother was pretty much a nut case.
Now, let me clarify: I never spent a night curled in a closet, afraid for my life. I never went to school covered with bruises. My mother never (seriously) threatened to kill me. She was only 5 ft. tall, and probably only topped 100 lbs. when she was 9 months pregnant, so she wasn’t very intimidating physically. She was more like a psychological / emotional destruct-o-saur. Decades later, my siblings and I still tell “Mary Juanita” stories at family get togethers, and our own children look at us incredulously. I’m sure they wonder if we’re making this stuff up….and wonder why we’re laughing our butts off. We laugh because we can.
In honor of the millions of adults who were, as children, surrounded by weirdness (I truly believe there must be millions), I’d like to give you a tiny glimpse of life in Mary Juanita Land.
When my mother was young, she was an exceptionally beautiful woman. The years were not kind to her, thanks to lots of cigarettes and even more bourbon, but she had been graced with a lovely face. I think that she spent much of her life torturing herself with “what ifs”, meaning, she fantasized that if she hadn’t gotten married and had a covey of children, she might have gone on to a glamorous existence. Or maybe not. Who knows. Anyway, the point is, she LOVED watching the Miss America pageant. She’d pick her favorites, and predict who would make the cut to the next round. She was quite good at anticipating what the judges would appreciate, because she was normally right on the money with her selections.
And she would cry. Cry? Yes, she would cry. Why would Miss America make a grown woman cry, you ask? Because Mary Juanita couldn’t understand why God gave her ugly daughters. She had prayed for pretty daughters, but apparently God didn’t find her worthy. She talked about how proud the mothers of the contestants must be, a pride she apparently would never know.
Do you want to know what the WEIRDEST part of this story is? Her daughters continued to watch this pageant with her . Every year. Then listen to her cry about her disappointment over our lack of acceptable beauty. Why did we do this to ourselves? We have no idea. Do we laugh about this now? Of course we do.
There are many, many Mary Juanita stories. Some are darker than others. Some are just plainly hysterical. Someday I may write all of them down……the night she drunkenly mistook a sidewalk for the street and nearly killed a group of teenagers that were walking home…..the time I knocked her down a flight of stairs and thought I’d killed her……her decision to “go on strike” until her family appreciated her, and demonstrating her resolve by spray painting her demands on the living room wall…..the year she gave me, her 13 year old daughter, a black & red lace negligee for Christmas, complete with matching g-string…..
I learned volumes from my Mother. How to cope, how to laugh…… and how important it was for my daughters to know they were beautiful.
I can see very well
There’s a boat on the reef with a broken back
And I can see it very well
There’s a joke and I know it very well
It’s one of those that I told you long ago
Take my word I’m a madman don’t you know ~Bernie Taupin