Authors: Cheryl Peck
Copyright © 2005 by Cheryl Peck
All rights reserved.
Hachette Book Group, USA
237 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10017
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First eBook Edition: October 2005
Cover design by Brigid Pearson
PRAISE FOR CHERYL PECK AND HER PREVIOUS BOOK,
FAT GIRLS AND LAWN CHAIRS
“ The literary equivalent of chocolate kisses . . . yummy, vital, and nearly impossible to put down.”
— Susan Jane Gilman,
New York Times
Bestselling Author of
Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress
“ Three stars . . . Peck proves as playful—and poignant—as her title.”
“Wild, hilarious, poignant . . . can be enjoyed again and again.”
Dallas Morning News
“ Hilarious . . . The author’s self-deprecating wit and ability to see the drama in everyday situations make this collection so inviting.”
“ Michigan’s Cheryl Peck has been described as the lesbian Erma Bombeck. She treats us to her sweet and sassy takes on pets, mothers, vegetarians, health clubs, and more.”
Body & Soul
“Rich with sardonic charm.”
— Donna Jarrell and Ira Sukrunguang, editors of
What Are You Looking At?: The First Fat Fiction Anthology
“ It took me about three pages of Cheryl Peck’s
Fat Girls and Lawn Chairs
to fall in love with her voice—self-deprecating, confident, and funny beyond imagining . . . Peck’s personal essays are the real thing, the work of a woman who has come to terms with herself as few of us do. Please pay attention to this lovely book.”
—Paul Ingram, Prairie Lights Bookstore, Iowa City, IA
“ A hilarious collection of true stories about the misadventures of a woman of size.”
— Kathy Patrick, Beauty and the Book, Jefferson, TX; founder of Pulpwood Queen Book Club
also by cheryl peck
fat girls and lawn chairs
This book is dedicated to my first editor,
my computer tech, head cheerleader,
frequently consulted critic, sales rep, and
surrogate daughter: Ranee, you have no idea
how relieved we are to have you still among us.
i would like to
thank my friends, who have stood behind me, my partner, who has stood beside me, and my family, over whose quiet reputations I have walked, not always gently, to tell my stories.
Recently I attended my first-ever writers conference, where I learned how incredibly difficult it can be to get an editor to call you back or even discuss what is happening with your manuscript, so I would particularly like to thank my editor, Amy Einhorn, for her patience, her sense of humor, and her availability. She has been a joy to work with. And I send a big hug also for Keri and Jim, and everyone else at Warner.
I would also like to take a moment to thank Daryla for our new tile floor (they seem to go hand in hand, new book project, new flooring project) and my friend Bob, my own personal media escort. And I would like to thank Annie, of course, just for being, and all of those dedicated bookstore owners everywhere, who struggle to keep the written word available and alive.
when we were kids
my dad gave us the most wonderful gift any of us have ever received—the box that the family’s new freezer came in. We lived in our box for weeks. We lived in the box in the front yard; we lived in the box in the back yard. We hauled the box down into the gravel pit behind our house and lived there for a while. We had essentially discovered the joy of owning a travel home. Unfortunately, it rained on our box one day and our most wonderful gift disintegrated into a sticky, sloppy mess. None of us have looked at Winnebagos quite the same since.
While we still had the box, however, we were anything but contented, cooperative little homemakers. It occurred to each of the three of us—the Wee One, the UnWee, and me, the Least Wee—that we would have considerably more room and greater creative freedom inside our box if one of us were, in fact, the sole occupant. Small wars broke out. A lot of secretive stalking went on. The box traveled all over the back yard from one enemy camp to the next. Various complaints and accusations were filed with higher authorities until our mother, ever the Solomon of our lives, decreed that if any more bickering reached her ears, she would organize a bonfire on the spot. This at least united us against our mother.
What I remember is that my little sisters banded together and plotted against me. They were an unassailable union, speaking their own private language, understanding each other often without words . . . In a few short years I had gone from being the firstborn to the left-out, and much of my life at that time I spent wandering the gravel pit and feeling sorry for myself.
Curiously, neither one of my sisters remembers this bond. At best, they tolerated each other. They are, in fact, no different from any other two random people a year and a half apart in age who happened to be thrown into the same family. They were not—and are not—enemies, by any means, and they are sisters; but the unbreakable bond between them, it turns out, was my own family fiction.
The stories in this book are very much like that. People always ask me, “Is that story true?” and there is no real answer for that question. Parts of every story are true. Parts of every story were enhanced, or exaggerated, or “fine-tuned” to make it a better story, and probably parts of every story are just misremembered. Family fiction. If you were to ask any other member of my family, “What exactly happened when . . . ?” you might get a completely different answer from the one I give you here. Their version might be every bit as true for them as mine is for me. That’s just the nature of stories, and the nature of families.
When I first published
Fat Girls and Lawn Chairs
I was prepared to become both rich and famous. Cruising through the mansions on Bronson Boulevard, I thought to myself,
I may have a house like this someday.
I planned my premature retirement from my day job. I imagined what I might say to my adoring audience from the
show. All of that turned out to be yet another example of enhanced fiction, but I did have a wonderful time spending the volumes of money I would make as a published author, and composing acceptance speeches for the many awards that would be bestowed upon me.
I have since returned to earth.
You don’t have to have read
Fat Girls and Lawn Chairs
to follow this book. Many of the same characters reappear here—family members, of course, my Beloved, her daughter the Girlchild, our friends Rae, Annie, and Bob. In fact, this is a sort of “inquiring minds want to know” introduction that answers the most common questions people ask me: How is your dad? How does your family feel about your writing about them? How is Babycakes? Why do you have such cutesy names for your family members, friends, etc.? Is she your “Beloved”?
helpful things to know
I am the oldest of five children, three girls and two boys. All of the girls are older than all of the boys. The youngest boy is twelve years younger than I am, which means he was in kindergarten when I was a senior in high school. His childhood exploits are not well documented here. My mom was a stay-at-home mom until my baby brother was born, and shortly after that she went to work as a secretary for a shoe company and then for the state of Michigan. My father drove a fuel oil delivery truck when I was a child, then for a while he delivered groceries, and eventually he also went to work for the state, as a groundskeeper.
how is my dad?
I love my dad, but he can be stubborn. For something like fourteen years he dated his lady friend and enjoyed her company, but refused to marry her because he felt he had historically spent “too much of my married life out in the garage.” (This refers to his preferred method of dealing with conflict—avoidance.) She nursed him through spinal meningitis and the valve job his heart required as a result of the meningitis, but when she caught him, six weeks out of the hospital, trying to tote around his breadmaker (he had a five-pound weight-lifting restriction) she washed her hands of him and followed her life dream to return to her family in Alabama. They dated long-distance for two years, and then, as a result of the medications he takes to manage his new valves, he suffered several strokes. The strokes effectively ended the independence he had savored for so long and brought him face-to-face with a difficult decision: should he move in with one of his children, or move to Alabama?
We struggled with this question: it appears he did not.
So at the age of seventy-six, my father, who never has voluntarily left the state of Michigan, moved to Alabama, where he has now lived for two years. From time to time, just to annoy his eldest daughter, he refers to his partner as “Oh, that woman who lives here.” (His stroke affected areas of speech and memory, thus rendering a man who has never found verbal communication easy just plain helpless sometimes. He lives with her, but he has trouble remembering her name.) Because it can be difficult (and can change from one day to the next) to determine exactly what he does want, there is now a steady stream of adult Peck children running up and down I-65, plumbing his mind and listening for echoes of homesickness or mention of distress over the fact that the only saint he has ever known does not in fact have a garage where he can avoid her. He is older. His life is more limited. He seems happy.
how does my family feel about my writing about them?
Conflicted. Having grown up with the constant clatter of a typewriter in the room next door, I think they are pleased and proud that I seem, at this late date, to be achieving my life dream. Anyone’s family would be delighted to discover that one of their members has begun receiving irregular and unexpected checks they never received before. I think my being published after writing a book about them has affected them much like discovering that I’m a lesbian: it’s not what they would have planned for me, but it explains so much, and there is always the remote chance it will eventually make me a happier person—and God knows it beats all that existential angst I so perfected in high school.
On the other hand, I think there is a kind of helplessness one feels when someone who sees you far differently than you see yourself gives their “wrong” view of you the peculiar authority that the written word acquires. And there has been precious little in the values and worldview we were raised with that would prepare us to be going about our normal lives and have someone walk up to us, point, and say, “I
know you—you’re the Wee One.
” Privacy is always an issue.
was published we would gather at family events and trade stories back and forth about our childhood, and when I had finished one of mine my siblings would look at me like I had grown antlers and demand, “Where
you when we were kids? That’s not how that happened, so-and-so wasn’t even there, and those are two completely separate events . . .” Since the book has been published, they now say to each other, “You’ll have to ask Cheryl—she’s the one who remembers all of that stuff . . .” The credibility of my memory has not changed. My appreciation for the power of the written word has.