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Authors: Cheryl Peck

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I take him fishing once or twice a year. Sometimes I just call him up and inform him that a group of my friends have banded
together and will meet him on the dock Saturday morning about eleven. This works out well for all of us because he has time
to do his regular 6
A.M.
fishing and we have time to meander on down to the dock for his afternoon excursion.

After all these years I think he and I have worked out the kinks in our relationship. I never sing in his boat. Now that I
am an adult, I am allowed an occasional fidget. Three miles offshore there are no weeds to grab. I can belly-stab minnows,
but when he insists we use something he calls “wigglers,” which are a prehistoric larval stage of something with way too many
legs and beady little eyes, I hand him my hooks and wait patiently. The last time we went fishing I caught his hat, but he
seemed to take it well. His thoughts now turn to Fig Newtons and Necco Wafers after all. The trick, it appears, is to bring
food.

zen and the art of tomato maintenance

T
HE TIME IS COMING
. I can feel it in my veins, edging just a little closer with each thaw. Seeds are turning over restlessly in their sleep.
Green things are stirring just below the surface. Tiny buds are just beginning to peep up out of the ground.

It is nearly spring.

Time to plant.

Time to work the earth.

Time to visit greenhouses, pick out plants, make my gardening selections. It is nearly time to spend a small personal fortune
on those few chosen plants I wish to set out in my new garden and ignore all summer. I only plant between March and May. After
that the mosquitoes come out, the weeds get aggressive, the weather gets too hot and it’s time to go inside and read—in my
yard the planting season is fairly short.

It’s a primordial thing: Babycakes sheds, I bury green things in the ground. This is not to be confused with gardening, which
is something my Beloved does: she spends all summer watering and weeding, hoeing and bug-picking. Every other day she drags
me to her garden to admire her own personal seven square feet of tomato vines. She just sets herself up for failure and disappointment,
but my Beloved is sadly, hopelessly goal-oriented. She does nothing for the sheer sake of doing that thing. There is no distinction
in her mind, for instance, between buying pots and buying plants to put in pots, or even setting aside time in one’s busy
schedule to put the freshly bought plants into the freshly bought pots. In my mind these are all separate adventures and may
not even take place in the same decade.

An example of the foolishness of her ways comes immediately to mind. Last year she attached me to the end of a rented roto-tiller
and had me dragged, bucking and shuddering, back and forth across her seven square feet of truck garden until it was all bright,
damp, fresh loam. Then she planted forty-seven tomato plants and set her watch for August. She bought four jars of mayonnaise.
She spoke longingly of the day when she could step into her garden, pluck a bright, fresh tomato, slather it with mayo and
eat it right there on The Land.

I would never make this mistake because I have no particular fondness for tomatoes. They are better cold than hot, and they
are better out of the garden than out of a grocery store, but nothing much changes their overall tomato-ness—and nothing undoes
those big, green squishy bugs that come to gnaw on them.

At first, when the tomato damage began to appear in my Beloved’s garden, she thought she had been bug-attacked. Stems were
breaking. Huge chunks of her not-yet-ripe tomatoes were being stolen.

“Heavy bugs,” I mused, observing the damage. “Big teeth, for your average bug.”

Every night more branches were broken, more bites were stolen.

She watched one particular tomato grow and begin to color up. She carried a small, emergency jar of mayo with her every time
she went to the garden. She would say to me, “Tomorrow, I think—tomorrow that tomato will be ready.”

And indeed it was precisely tomorrow morning that she went into the seven-square-foot garden, mayo jar in hand, to discover

The Perfect Tomato

Was gone.

Vanished.

In fact, half the vine was missing.

Her garden looked as if Godzilla might have wandered through during the night. “I don’t deal with bugs that big,” I said firmly
as I surveyed the damage. “I think we should go inside until it snows.”

“What on EARTH is getting into my garden?” demanded my Beloved. I murmured fond praises of DDT, a perfectly good bug repellent
until the Green People got all excited.

Unfortunately, my Beloved is such a person, and sent me to my room to read
Silent Spring.

“Yes,” I said in my own defense, “but look at the kinds of bugs your bunny-hugging, anti-poison wusses have left us prey to.
What if this bug gets bored with eating tomatoes? He could start chewing the tires off our cars, or burrow into the house
in the dead of night and start gnawing on your mother.”

“I don’t think this is a bug,” said my Beloved.

“I saw the movie,” I affirmed. “It’s going to take more than orange juice and dish soap to get rid of this Godzilla.”

This Godzilla, as it turned out, was a tomato-stealing dish-soap-resistant groundhog.

“You’ll have to move,” I said morosely. “Nothing will kill a groundhog. Soon he’ll start tunneling under your shed.”

“I don’t have a shed,” my Beloved said. “I sprayed him with the garden hose.”

“Oh, that’s just wonderful,” I dismissed. “Now he’s going to swell up and turn into a black bear or something. This is what
happens when people like you get all carried away with follow-through: if you gardened like me and just bought a bunch of
plants, brought them home and let them die you wouldn’t be in this kind of trouble.”

“You don’t have any tomatoes,” she pointed out.

Which is true enough, I suppose, but then—neither does she.

d.b. weeest

D
URING MY CHILDHOOD
my mother thoughtfully supplied me with two little sisters and then two little brothers, the first arriving when I was 3.5
and the last when I was 12. Every so often, just out of the blue, she would sit me down and very solemnly inform me that I
was soon going to have “a new baby brother or sister.” Years would pass. My mother would grow larger and more irritable until
one day there would be a flurry of activity and she would go away. Word would float back to me that I had once again been
sibled. A week or so later my mother and the sibling would come home, vanishing immediately into the bedroom for another week,
and my efforts to acquaint myself with the alien would be so riddled with “BE CAREFUL’s” that for most of my life I have been
convinced babies are spun from glass.

During our adulthood only two out of five of us have reproduced, but those who do, do so fervently, issuing five consecutive
’phews (until, exasperated, I threatened to push the sixth back where it came from unless it was a girl) and one niece. We
are all old now, even the youngest among us is stumbling midway through our thirties, and so we found great delight and vicious
humor in discovering that the middlemost among us was once again with child. Hovering on the brink of forty-one (barely able
to bench press much more than the front end of her car), the Wee One called me during her fortieth week to tell me her unborn
was sleeping peacefully with his/her back to the ultrasound and his/her head tucked affectionately under Mother’s right lung.

As close as I’ve ever been to childbirth, it sounded fine to me and I congratulated her. However, it seems the average pregnancy
is forty weeks long, at which point the tenant is expected to voluntarily move out—preferably headfirst. Mother and doctor
had conspired, to in effect, serve a seven-day notice to quit (“pay me or I’ll take you to court”): the procedure was not
designed to induce labor so much as to “encourage” it. I was invited to tag along as company while she endured a long and
potentially boring medical procedure.

During the first ten hours we spent at the hospital the baby gave in to the constant pressure from the Wee One and rolled
into position. There was much feeling around and much animated discussion of the number of cracks that could be felt, and
finally we rejoiced that it was indeed a head (three cracks) and not a butt (one crack) that was being felt. The dangerous
aspect of the delivery had been averted (breech birth) and my sister had dilated from 1 to … 2 I believe … which meant we
could just quit and go home. The Wee One, her husband and I, the prospective aunt, discussed the pros and cons of inducing
labor or going home to watch TV. We had a TV in the hospital, we had ’phews tucked in safe places for the night, we were there
anyway, so we decided to go for it. As quickly as she had given birth to her first two, my sister assured me, she would probably
have the child before midnight.

At midnight the Wee One was having actual contractions, which she appeared not to be enjoying. She had dilated to 4 (the goal
is 10, I learned). She did not appear to me to be doing anything she had not been doing at 2:00 that afternoon, although she
did perhaps seem to be enjoying it less, and it occurred to me that we could still probably pack up and go home childless.

At 12:30 my sister’s eyes rolled back in her head, her color disappeared, the contractions which had registered numbers like
15 on her monitor were registering 35 and 42, and she stopped talking to us. She dilated from 4 to 10 in one hour, which may
rank up there as one of the most intense hours of my life and all I did was watch. At 1
A.M.
the nurses began carrying everything that had been in the birthing room out and dragging in an amazing array of trays, tables
and equipment. My sister went to live in some other universe, which consisted entirely of breathing exercises and what appeared
to be nonstop, agonizing contractions. The nurses, who had been joking around and very friendly before, became very businesslike
when they needed to communicate, very unobtrusive when they did not, and they continued to bring in the stunning array of
medical equipment. I stood next to the wall next to my brother-in-law and each of us vigorously rubbed one of her knees. I
have never felt so utterly helpless in my life. I knew that she was concentrating her energy on pain control and I attempted
to avoid distracting her, but for the first time in my life I knew
why
people boil water, or run around the room like Chicken Little— the need to
do something
was so intense I would find myself having to repeatedly check myself from asking her, “do you want me … do you want me …
what do you want me to … ?”

At 3
A.M.
she leaned forward and released this incredible guttural growl, the doctor said, “Oh, shit,” the nurses seemed to snap into
the burst of activity, the doctor flew out of the room to get properly dressed, and we endured about three contractions she
had to “blow off” without pushing, and then we had the baby. We had the baby so fast that while the doctor was trying to clear
her lungs he barely caught the rest of her as she tumbled into his hands.

What I remember thinking at the time: whatever else we as people may be, we are mammals, and as stunning and as awesome an
experience as childbirth may be, human babies are born much like kittens and calves (both of which I have seen). In some misguided
sense of modesty or propriety, we have become, as a culture, curiously divorced from the sheer physical power of our being.
After the cord was cut, while the doctor was still tending my sister, I held my niece. She can’t fool me, and there is no
spun glass here—she is made of flesh and blood and bone, and no one who witnessed her birth could be awed by how fragile she
is. Tiny, yes (8 pounds, 8 ounces, 21 inches long). Helpless, maybe. For now. What awed the aunt of D.B. Weeest, born 01/29/95,
was her sheer determination to be born, shoved like a watermelon through a garden hose to emerge bloody, but unbowed, to look
around this strange, unfocused new world and to say, “I exist. Feed me.”

changing

I was twelve

painfully

self-consciously

in bud

You were

a year or so older

a year or so younger

sprouting

like saplings

You will always be

that age for me, frozen

in that single glimpse of time

when I understood

that boys and girls

were different

when I would have

changed out of my bathing suit

in total darkness,

if I could

while the two of you

shrieked and snapped towels

and flashed each other,

calling my attention

to each other’s nakedness

as if your bodies

so new

and changing

were things

of wonder.

threads

M
Y SISTER

THE
W
EE
O
NE
—recently offered me a chance to baby-sit. The Wee One is into crafts, specifically quilting and appliqué. She comes by this
quite naturally. Our Middle Sister— the UnWee—is an accomplished seamstress who can transform four pieces of lint and a spool
of thread into an evening gown. Our mother made all of her own clothes. And the beginning of every school year of our lives
arrived just as our grandmother appeared with patterns, various swatches of fabric and those cursed straight pins, measured
our growing bodies from stem to stern. She would disappear for about a week and return bearing three to five dresses for each
of us. As a child this struck me as absolutely normal, if just a little homespun for my particular tastes. As an adult I am
still awed by the sheer industry of that project—as many as fifteen little girls’ dresses in seven days is a daunting project.
Even I
know
how to sew. I own the tools, and I have an impressive fabric collection, just in case the bumper sticker is true (She Who
Dies With the Most Fabric Wins), but somewhere my skills—and interest—die shortly after the purchase phase. I lack the UnWee’s
fascination with precision and detail (in truth, we were unevenly stirred while in the womb, and I ABSOLUTELY lack it—she
got it all) and I lack the Wee One’s manic passion for activity. She cooks, she cleans, she bears small children in a single
bulge—and she attends craft shows to sell her wares.

BOOK: Fat Girls and Lawn Chairs
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