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Authors: Cheryl Peck

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Fat Girls and Lawn Chairs

BOOK: Fat Girls and Lawn Chairs
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copyright

If you purchased this book without a cover you should be aware that this book may have been stolen property and reported as “unsold and destroyed” to the publisher. In such case neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this “stripped book.”

Warner Books Edition

Copyright © 2002, 2004 by Cheryl Peck

All rights reserved.

This book was previously self-published by the author.

Warner Books, Inc.

Hachette Book Group

237 Park Avenue

New York, NY 10017

Visit our Web site at
www.HachetteBookGroup.com
.

First ebook Edition: January 2004

ISBN: 978-0-7595-0985-6

Dedicated to D. Eloise Molby Peck, 1927–1976

acknowledgments

I would like to thank Trudi and Elin who spent years musing aloud, “Why don’t you just write down the stories you tell?” until
I finally did;
Lavender Morning
for allowing me to see my work in print; the Phoenix Community Church for sitting still for sometimes an hour at a time while
I read to them; Annie for tirelessly reading everything I have handed her over the years; and my family for their sense of
humor, which is nearly as twisted as mine.

I would like to thank Ranee Bryce, Teresa Terrill, Mary Jaglowski, Janean Danca and Pam Wong-Peck for proofreading this manuscript
and discovering all of those errors that fell below my radar. I would particularly like to thank Ranee for doing it all over
again five months later.

I would also like to thank Mary Appelhof, an internationally known author, for her publishing expertise and support. Historically
she has been unfailingly supportive of aspiring authors and she is a strong voice in the publishing and environmental communities.

I would like to thank our mayor, Tom Lowry, whose wonderful bookstore was the first home for
Fat Girls,
and whose support of our efforts helped lead us to a contract with the Warner Book Group.

I would like to thank Amy Einhorn—my editor in New York—for her patience, her faith in me, and for allowing me to actually
say to people I’ve known all of my life, “Amy—my editor in New York—says …”

None of you would be reading this without the tireless patience, confidence, support—and skills—of my Beloved, Nancy Essex.
She hates attention and she is driven to make worthwhile all of our time spent here on earth—the two traits every undisciplined
writer needs in a partner. I wrote it: everything beyond that point is her work and determination, not mine, and I thank her.

Contents

Copyright

Acknowledgments

Introduction

Queen of the Gym

Tales from the Duck Side

Eleanor

Chocolate Malt

Obedience

The Carpenter and the Fisherman

Zen and the Art of Tomato Maintenance

D.B. Weeest

Changing

Threads

Of Mites and Men

The Southwest Michigan Jaguars

Eminent Domain

What She Lost

Wounded in Action

The Designated Fetcher

Staring at the Light

Black Holes

Whitebread

Second Standard

Our House

How Many Lesbians Does It Take?

My Mother’s Eyes

Frogs

Mother/Spirit

Batting a Thousand

The Chicken Coupe

Maiden Voyage

Clean Sheets

A Cover Story

Thinking of You

Truer Confessions

Mother Learns to Swim

My Ten Most Beautiful Things

Moomeries

The Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company

Litter String

Fat Girls and Lawn Chairs

Wreck the Balls on Boughs So Jolly

The Go-Get Girl

Coming Out to My Father

Useless Information Acquired from Men

A Short Treatise on Brothers

A Meat-Lover’s Biased Look at Vegetarians

Of Cats and Men

The Sad and Tragic Death of Joey Beagle

The Young Person’s Guide for Dealing with the Impossibly Old

The Hand That Cradles the Rock

Does a Bear … ?

Watching Cranes

Tinker

Making Jam

Star Bright

Mother’s Day

About the Author

introduction

J
EFF DA NIELS
doesn’t know me. He could if he wanted to: we ate in the same restaurant at the same time once. He was busy talking to the
bartender and never once looked my way, but if he had he could have walked over and introduced himself and we could have become
friends. I feel I have a special interest in Jeff and his career because, like me, he lives in a small town in Michigan just
off interstate I-94. My truck, Hopalong, broke down in his hometown once. I used to work with a man whose kids went to school
with his. Our lives intersect and overlap on a regular basis.

When you live in the Midwest like I do, celebrities are a rarity. I used to know a woman who lived just down the road from
Ted Nugent, but I was always afraid that if I wandered too close to his property he would kill me and grill me. I’ve never
felt that sense of kindredness and likeness of character with Ted that I feel with Jeff. While I am a fair hand at the air
guitar, I’m afraid I would have to say that for a Midwesterner, Ted is a little out there. Jeff and I could find common ground.

I have always felt Jeff and I would get along well because, like me, he is a writer. At the age of thirteen I began writing
the great American novel on a $10 typewriter I bought from an office supply store. I set my sights midway between James Joyce
and T. S. Eliot (neither of whom I had read, I suspect, at thirteen) and I wrote passionately, dramatically and with great
meaning for the next thirty-odd years. I never finished anything except the occasional Oscar acceptance speech. (Imagination
is a vital ingredient to any writing career.)

During those thirty years my friends would listen to me rant on about my inability to produce great literature. They would
say, “Why don’t you just write down the stories you tell us?”

But those stories were about my cats, my family and the misadventures of a woman of size. They were not the stuff of great
literature. And I did not “write” those stories; they were just spontaneous verbal riffs.

Some of my friends, in the meantime, published a small newsletter for the lesbian community in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and they
were always begging for articles. Finally—after much persuasion—I tentatively wrote a short, humorous article about cat hair.
I followed that with an article about the birth of my (then) youngest niece. My reading audience swelled to five or six. Soon
I was encouraged to read my writings aloud at a talent show put on by the community church, where my audience burgeoned into
the teens. My cat, Babycakes, became a literary character.

None of my siblings remember our history the same way I do. Some claim I spent most of our childhood wandering around in the
gravel pit behind our property where I talked mostly to imaginary friends, as if the historical accuracy of a lunatic were
automatically suspect. They have pointed out small inaccuracies in every story. My response to all of this is as follows:
I write fiction.

I do have two younger sisters and two younger brothers. In the stories I have identified us in degrees of wee-ness: I am the
Least Wee, my next younger sister is the UnWee (my favorite title—it sounds like “ennui” and reflects her innately less excitable
nature), our baby sister is the Wee One (and when, at forty-one, she finally had her daughter, I dubbed the baby the Weeest).
We three girls were born within a five-year span; our Little Brother (1) is nine years younger than I am and our Baby Brother
(2) is twelve years younger than I am. He attended kindergarten the same year I graduated from high school. We don’t use such
formal titles among ourselves. We just call each other by name. My age, my father’s age, and the exact number of offspring
of the reproductive among us changes from one story to the next because over time these things do. I did hit the Wee One in
the head with a rock. She lived anyway. Her version of the story is different from mine, but hers is remarkably good-natured.

I grew up in rural Branch County, four miles north of Cold-water, Michigan. Our house is roughly twenty-five miles from the
Michigan-Indiana state line. We lived in an old farmhouse, but by the time we moved there most of the farm had been turned
into a gravel pit and our yard was cradled on two sides by a kidney-shaped 120-acre hole in the ground. Like much of southern
Michigan, the area where I grew up is farm country dotted with small wooded areas, wetlands and lakes. It is pretty country
without calling undue attention to itself. Legend has it that no one who lives in Michigan lives more than five miles from
a lake—we lived across the road and a cornfield from a chain of five of them. When I was growing up small farmers believed
their way of life was the safest, most reliable way to make a living and always would be. People were connected to the land.
People did not just recklessly move around from here to there, and change was greeted with a skeptical eye.

I have not lived an extraordinary life and I did not have an unusual childhood. (I have long felt crippled by this as a writer.)
I have tried to write honestly about the things I know about— what it’s like to sit in a fishing boat with your father for
an entire Sunday morning when you are four years old and the longest time you’ve ever spent doing one thing is seven minutes
… dealing with the dog your loving parents don’t realize hates you when you and he are about the same size … why fat girls
are wary of lawn chairs.

I am an oldest child. We oldest children like to keep everyone happy, smiling and in a good mood. We try not to hurt anyone’s
feelings. We have all of the characteristics of a good baby-sitter, which when you think about it, makes perfect sense. So
welcome to my book. Sit down, make yourself comfortable. Have a good time. I’m expecting Jeff to call me anytime now, but
until then, I’m all yours.

queen of the gym

I
T HAPPENED AGAIN
this morning. I was sitting there half-naked on a bench when a fellow exerciser leaned over and said, “I just wanted to tell
you—I admire you for coming here every day. You give me inspiration to keep coming myself.”

“Here” is the gym.

I have become an inspirational goddess.

In a gym.

I grinned at the very image of it, myself: here is this woman who probably imagines herself to be overweight—or perhaps she
is overweight, she is just not in my weight division—sitting on the edge of her bed in the morning, thinking to herself, “There
is that woman at the gym who is twenty years older than I am and has three extra people tucked under her skin, and she manages
to drag herself to the gym every day …”

It is not my goal here to be unkind to myself or to others. Perhaps I am an inspiration to her because I am easily three times
her size and I take my clothes off in front of other women. Being fat and naked in front of other women is an act of courage.
Perhaps my admirer did not realize that it was exactly when she spoke to me that I was artfully arranging my hairbrush and
underwear and bodily potions to cut the buck-naked, ass-exposing mini-towel-hugging moments of my gym experience to the absolute
minimum. She wears a pretty little lace-edged towel-thing to the shower and back. I don’t, but I understand the desire.

It was not that long ago that she bent over to pick up something as Miss Tri Athlete walked into the locker room and whistled,
“Boy did I get a moon!” Junior high gym, revisited: I can’t swear that particular exchange was the reason, but I did not see
my admirer again for the next month. To Miss Tri Athlete she answered, “Just when I had forgotten for half a second that I
was totally naked …” I doubt that she forgets that often. Almost none of us do.

Nor do I: which is why, the first time someone in the locker room said to me, “I have to give you credit just for coming here,”
I smiled politely and thought ugly thoughts for some time afterwards.
Up yours
thrummed through my mind.
Nobody asked you for credit
zinged along on its tail, followed closely by
Who died and left you queen of the gym?

“Like it takes any more for me to go the gym than it does any other woman there,” I seethed to my Beloved.

“Well it does,” my Beloved returned sedately, “and you know it. How many other women our size have you seen at our gym?”

The answer is—none.

There are women of all shapes and sizes—up to a point— from Miss Tri Athlete, who runs in the 20–25-year-old pack, wears Victoria’s
Secret underthings and is self-effacing about her own physical prowess to women who are probably in their sixties, perhaps
even seventies. There are chubby women and postpartum moms and stocky women and lumpy women … but there are very few truly
fat women.

BOOK: Fat Girls and Lawn Chairs
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