Chapter One Nobody’s perfect. So, a lot of the people on the beach are skinnier than you. Big deal. There’s always somebody older and fatter out there, too, so you might as well wear your bathing suit and enjoy yourself
—MY BEST FRIEND, LINDA MURRAY
LIKE MOST PEOPLE, I’ve always thought of the word perfect
as an absolute, but there’s nothing like a wedding to prove otherwise, especially when the wedding’s your daughter’s and you know it’s a big mistake. Then the term is relative—like disaster
All her life, my second-born, Callie, had been a mother’s dream: smart as her physicist father, outgoing as her big brother Jack, principled and salt-of-the-earth sensible as my precious mother-in-law, and gorgeously athletic as my mother—who is still a handsome woman at eighty-four and walks three miles a day, and drives like a New York cabbie in Atlanta traffic.
Callie was our perfect daughter. Never in her life had she given us serious cause to worry.
But the word perfect
can also mean "completed." Little did I know that my obedient daughter was saving up all her bad-behavior credits to cash them in on one giant bombshell of a boo-boo that would redefine "perfect wedding" in biblical terms, meaning finished, thank-God-it’s-finally-over-with.
Oh, for a crystal ball! If I could have been absolutely sure my instincts were right, I would have gunnysacked her to keep her from the altar. As it was, I was the one who got gunnysacked. The present. Second Tuesday in January. 10:55 A.M. Muscogee Drive, Atlanta
NORMALLY I LOVE January’s sweet, silent stillness after the glittering clutter and excitement of Christmas. Stripped of wretched excess (the only way to decorate for the holidays), my house seems clean and sleek and tranquil. I bask in the new year’s quiet order with a long, relaxing breath and look forward to the high spot in my monthly routine, lunch with my lifelong best friends.
For the past thirty-something years, since we were pledges in our high school sorority, Linda, Diane, Teeny, and I (and lately Pru, our prodigal) have tended the ties that bind on the second Tuesday of every month at the Swan Coach House Restaurant, where we share laughter, fun, fellowship, frozen fruit salad, and generous doses of "Poor Baby" on a scale of one to five (the only allowable response to whining of any kind).
When we all started turning fifty, we decided to wear red hats and purple in honor of Jenny Joseph’s wonderful poem "Warning," a delightful declaration of in de pen dence for midlife and beyond. Governed only by our own Twelve Sacred Traditions of Friendship, our luncheons have become a welcome refuge of ac cep tance and sanity— or occasional insanity, none of which was ever my
idea—in this crazy world. And every month, we take turns bringing a joke that’s not woman-bashing, and preferably not man-bashing, either.
For the past thirty-something years, I’ve always gotten to the Swan Coach House Restaurant early so I could sip my iced tea or hot lemonade in our regular banquette in the back corner of the main dining room and savor the anticipation of seeing my friends.
Until that gray morning last January, when—for the first time ever—I was seriously considering skipping the whole thing. Disconnecting the phone, turning off my cell, taking one of the four sleeping pills I had left from a trip to En gland five years ago, and pulling the covers up over my head.
Not that it would do any good to postpone the inevitable, but I couldn’t stand the idea of telling anybody, even my best friends, about the dumb thing my brilliant daughter was about to do. Not until I absolutely had to.
If I stayed home and took the sleeping pill, it would knock out my internal Chicken Little along with me. She’d been dithering away in hyper-drive ever since Callie’s New Year’s Day announcement.
Not that I’m mental or anything, but when it comes to my psyche, I have this constant internal dialogue with pieces of myself that just won’t shut up. Chicken Little, my drama queen, and my scolding Inner Puritan hog up the whole house, relegating my Sensible Self and Creative Inner Child to the shed out back.
It occurs to me that some people might think it odd, especially when I argue with myself aloud, but it works for me. I mean, it’s not like I believe I’m hearing voices. I know it’s all me. I talk to machines, too—all the time—but that’s not crazy. It’s only crazy when you think they talk back. Unless they really do, which happens more and more often these days.
Nevertheless, on that second Tuesday morning last January, my Sensible Self managed to push her way into the parlor and urged me—for the fiftieth time since Callie’s announcement—to look at the big picture and remember how blessed my family was.
We were all healthy and productive. Callie had finished her doctorate in theoretical mathematics and landed a job teaching at Oglethorpe in the fall. Our twenty-nine-year-old son Jack was happily building Home Depots all over America. My husband John and I had a fabulous love affair going that had waited till midlife to burst into flame. John had tenure teaching physics at Georgia Tech. We had finally paid off the mortgage. God was in His heaven. And I had four steadfast friends to help get me through this.
Maybe I ought to go to the luncheon after all.
As usual, Chicken Little ignored all the blessings, only to squawk, Callie’s making the mistake of her life! She has no idea what she’s getting into! Linda and Teeny and Pru will know the minute they slap eyes on you that something’s seriously wrong
All I’ve ever wanted to do was keep a low profile, but no such luck. It’s a curse, having a face that hides nothing.
I could always call an MYOB (Mind your own business: Sacred Tradition of Friendship Number Five). But then my loyal friends would probably worry up all kinds of drastic things.
If I simply played hooky, they’d send out the bloodhounds. But if I called to cancel, they’d expect an explanation. When it came to our monthly friendship fix, the only acceptable excuses were foreign travel, jury duty, chemo, moving away, or hospitalization.
Standing at the mirror in the foyer of my little house on Muscogee Drive, I reapplied my nonfeathering red lipstick for the third time and prayed with as much conviction as I could muster for the grace to accept Callie’s choice. But God and I both knew my heart wasn’t really in it. So I ended up reminding Him yet again that this whole thing couldn’t be a good idea.
The Lord and I have that kind of a relationship. I speak my mind, and He loves me anyway and runs the Universe as He sees fit, whether I agree with Him or not.
Things could certainly be worse. Linda’s daughter Abby had quit Agnes Scott six months short of graduating with honors to become a hairdresser and move in with (and later marry) her Jewish mother’s nightmare: a lapsed-Moslem Rastafarian tattoo artist whose student visa had expired.
Which meant that Linda would certainly be able to empathize, but that offered cold comfort. Nobody really wants to hear, "It could be worse."
I sighed in resignation. As the Beatles said, "Oh-blah-dee, oh-blah-dah, life goes on," so I decided to suck it up and go to my luncheon.
I picked up my red felt picture hat. Maybe just this once, I could keep from blabbing everything.
Other people’s secrets, I could keep, but not my own. Still, just because I hadn’t ever been able to do it before didn’t mean I couldn’t do it now. There’s a first time for everything.
Grabbing my red pocketbook, I resolved to develop a pleasant, impenetrable mask on the way. I could do this. After all, I’d managed to keep from telling Mama so far.
Oh, lord. How would I ever tell Mama?
Excerpted from Wedding Belles by Haywood Smith
Copyright © 2008 by Haywood Smith
Published in 2008 by St. Martin’s Press
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.