I Am Your Sister, Your Wife, Your Mother. I Am a Statistic. I Am a Human Being.

I haven’t thought about this in two decades. But I’m thinking about it now, because these words and these statistics are in the news.

  • Every two minutes an American is sexually assaulted; a disproportionate number of them women.
  • One out of every six American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime.
  • In 1995, 28 percent of rape or sexual assault victimizations against females were reported to the police. This percentage increased to 59 percent in 2003 before declining to 32 percent in 2010.
  • The majority of sexual violence against females involved someone the victim knew. In 2005-10, 78 percent of sexual violence involved an offender who was a family member, intimate partner, friend or acquaintance.
  • On average, there are 288,820 victims (age 12 or older) of rape and sexual assault each year in the United States.
  • As of 1998, an estimated 17.7 million American women had been victims of attempted or completed rape.

I could go on. (Sources linked below.)

You see, I was a victim of sexual assault, of unwanted, inappropriate sexual advances from a powerful man for whom I worked. Until today, I have only told two people about it: my friend Melania (not her real name), and my husband, Gerry.

I have reflected upon this for some time. I don’t bring it up now because I need the catharsis of telling. (I’m not a brooder, not prone to take things hard. I’m tough, I’ve always been tough, and I tend to remember the good and forget the bad.) I don’t bring it up now because I’m wounded or hurt and need help. (I know who the broken person is in this scenario; it’s not me.) I don’t bring it up because I want justice. (God knows there’s little justice in this ol’ world.)

No, I bring it up now—twenty-five years laterbecause there are women today who are being castigated for bringing up similar stories now. They’re being called liars by people (mostly men) who have no freaking clue what it was like, what was involved, what it’s like to live with the memory of something like this in which you were powerless—for a variety of reasons—to simply say, Take your hand off me, you asshole.

So let’s talk about it, shall we? My case doesn’t concern someone in the public spotlight—but otherwise it’s the same: a woman conducting her business, a man who sees women as things for his entertainment.

My Story

I got divorced at age thirty-seven; I was the mother of a six-year-old. I’d been married to my son’s father for eighteen years, and it had been my choice to leave—but it was not a decision taken lightly, and I was rattled to my core. At the time I was slim, didn’t have grey hair, and generally looked about ten years younger than I was.

After my divorce in 1990 I moved home, where I worked for a small family-owned company not far away. It was a stressful job, and while I had a few friends among the staff, for the most part I didn’t fit in. The owner of the company, a man, married with kids, was tall, outgoing, smart, funny, charismatic. He was my boss. The offices were attached to a warehouse, and it was a rabbit warren of hallways and out-of-the-way places that were not always well traveled. You didn’t necessarily run into coworkers going from A to B.

The first incident was this: The boss and I passed in one of these quiet corridors, and he engaged me in conversation. He said something funny, I laughed, we chatted. And then he reached out and gently pinched one of my breasts and said, “I want some of this.” A coworker came around the corner then, and nothing further happened. I didn’t have to respond and both of us were able to pretend as if nothing had happened.

Now—at age sixty-three—I am furious with him. Understand, I’m not damaged by it. I’m not carrying it around. But it was inappropriate at work or in any environment, and I shouldn’t have had to deal with it.

At the time I was shocked into speechlessness. Nothing like that had ever happened to me. (Sure there was that flasher in the raincoat in San Francisco about twenty years earlier, but I’d just laughed at him. Which is, basically, my style.) Also, of course, I needed the job; I couldn’t afford to make waves, though I knew this was sexual harrassment. (Actually, though, my husband reminds me, it wasn’t harassment: there was no quid pro quo. It was inappropriate touching without my consent, and that is assault.)

But I’d already learned how expensive lawyers are. I did nothing.

Just about the time I’d “forgotten” the incident, this man came into my office just as I was leaving it. I was in front of my desk, not behind it, and he asked for something, a document, I had on my desk. I turned around and reached for it, and was shocked to feel this man, my boss, up close behind me, bumping his groin against my rear end.

WTF? There was no rescuing coworker this time but I handed him the document and quickly put distance between him and me. I was mortified.

“He Didn’t Mean It”

Notice that? I was mortified, although I’d done nothing inappropriate.

I had this job because I’d been working for the company in a different capacity prior to my divorce. When they heard I was moving to the area, I was offered the job in the “main office.” I’d had the job in the field because my close friend of long standing, Melania, was friends with the owner’s wife. And with the owner.

One afternoon after these two incidents, Melania and I were visiting, and I cautiously brought up what had happened to me. And Melania said, “Oh, I don’t think he meant it like you think he did. You must be misinterpreting it. He’s a jokester.” And we never talked about it again.

See that? Someone I trusted brushed off my concerns.

A Recap

So let’s review the reasons why I did not come forward:

  • This man was my boss; he had money, power, and authority in the community.
  • He chose his moments well; a public discussion of the incidents would be nothing but “he said, she said.”
  • I needed the job: single mom, little money, couldn’t afford to take on a legal case.
  • I had no idea how to handle the situation. I was mortified.
  • A trusted friend brushed off my concerns.

Furthermore, I knew even then that women who report rapes are often blamed for it or told they have misconstrued what happened. Rape culture wasn’t as well understood and documented as it is now, but it was becoming more so. Nowadays corporations are careful to school executives and managers about sexual harassment in the workplace, but in 1990 that was a few years in the distance. It was still a Mad Men society back then, strangely, particularly in smaller companies like this one.

Women like me, we learned to get along with men in the workplace. If we didn’t laugh at their questionable jokes, we at least didn’t make a stink about them. That’s what we called “go along to get along.” I was a pragmatist. I went along, but I did my work and went home—I didn’t hang around with anybody after work.

And so I did nothing, said nothing. I went on.

Flash Forward Twenty-Five Years

A week or so ago, a videotape emerged of Donald Trump bragging about how he touches women inappropriately. It started a national conversation. And within days, other women began stepping forward, saying, “He did that to me too.” I think perhaps there are a dozen of them on the record now.

Naturally, this being an election year, the meme machine swung into action, accusing these women of being liars. These people think it’s suspicious that the women just now “remembered.”

I don’t. Think about the recap. These are all women who were accosted by a rich, powerful, tall (six-foot-two) man. No one else was present, so an accusation would be one woman against the Trump machine, which they probably couldn’t afford to do. In fact, if any of them consulted a lawyer, they were probably advised to not pursue it; Trump could ruin them. And, of course, they were probably mortified and didn’t relish the thought of being publicly shamed.

So what’s different now? There’s a tape; there’s audio proof of this particular type of bad behavior by this particular man. One woman came forward, and then another and another. The stories don’t sound made up when a dozen different women have similar stories to tell (also, they told others at the time, and those people—friends, mentors, and so on—have also verified the stories). Most of us believe them, but there are some very loud, ugly voices calling them liars … and worse.

            And this proves the point. These are all women who, like me, just got on with their lives, because who needs this crap from these assholes? Who needs it? But they are coming forward now because of current events. Because there is safety in numbers. Because there’s proof that this man acts with others they way he acted with them. Because they are angry. Because women should be able to exist in society’s public spaces without fear of being assaulted.

I’ve had a wonderful, happy life. I still have a wonderful, happy life. The things that happened to me all those years ago don’t affect who I am now, and they certainly don’t define me. I don’t live a fearful life.

Though perhaps I should. Some people are angry with the victims, not with the perpetrator. On social media, people I know and love (?) are posting the nastiest, ugliest, lyingest things the meme machine can cobble together, as fast as it can cobble them together.

So let me remind you, my brothers, my fellow Americans, one more time: I am your sister, and it happened to me. I am your mother. I am your wife. I am your coworker, your employee. I am your neighbor. You know me. You know who I am, so you can’t—you shouldn’t—disparage my character simply because I say I was sexually assaulted by a man with power and money. I am coming forward now not for sympathy but because I am angered (nay, I am enraged) by the way you all talk about women.

I am a human being.

I am not lying.

Sources:
Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN)
National Sexual Violence Resource Center
Bureau of Justice Statistics

 

 

Pumpkin Harvest

Last week I met “in the middle” with a client, which meant I found myself in tiny Nolensville, Tennessee. This one was made easier because sometime in the last year or so Veterans Parkway was completed, which means if I’m headed west, I can get to the interstate (I-840, which will cross I-65 and eventually hit I-40) without ever going into town.

I always enjoy a new drive, and this one, in particular, had some items of interest that caught my eye. So I took Gerry back a few days later.

We bought a pair of Amish-made Adirondack chairs at Smucker Farms (delivered later). They’re made out of “poly”—recycled material (including some wood) that will last for decades, we’re told.

And then we stopped at Fast’s Nursery in Arrington because I couldn’t resist the vast array of pumpkins.

Fast's farm shop in Arrington, TN.

Fast’s farm shop in Arrington, TN.

Just look at these things! A vast array indeed!

The names are fantastic: Porcelain Doll, Giant Cinderella …

The names are fantastic: Porcelain Doll, Giant Cinderella …

The colors are beautiful on these Porcelain Dolls …

The colors are beautiful on these Porcelain Dolls …

Even this classicly shaped pumpkin—a Giant Cinderella—has a hint of pink in it.

Even this classicly shaped pumpkin—a Giant Cinderella—has a hint of pink in it.

I nearly swooned over these: Warty Goblins! Blue Dolls!

I nearly swooned over these: Warty Goblins! Blue Dolls!

The sun was very bright.

The sun was very bright.

Ghostly Blue Dolls …

Ghostly Blue Dolls …

I have no idea what these are called, but as far as I’m concerned, they embody the spirit of Halloween.

I have no idea what these are called, but as far as I’m concerned, they embody the spirit of Halloween.

But wait! There’s more!

But wait! There’s more!

Yes, I bought a couple pumpkins. Who could resist?

’Tis the season!

’Tis the season!

The days are cooler, and the nights are definitely cooler. We’re heading into autumn, y’all.

 

Working on a Detox

Four years ago, in early November, I drove out to my brother’s house to chat about family Thanksgiving plans, as I do every year. (Our parents are deceased; our sister lives far from here.) When I got there and walked into the living room, my brother was angry—at me, sort of.

(I should stop here and say I am the oldest child; my brother is the youngest, four years younger than me. He is a farmer, a kind and gentle man who loves animals, has stayed married to the same woman for forty-two years, raised a great kid. He served four years in the Marines. I’ve never heard him raise his voice to man or beast. He is a Republican, just like our father was. We agree to disagree on that last bit. My life philosophy was formed in the ’60s, and though many decades have passed, I am still that woman. I have not changed.)

But my brother was hopping mad … about the recent reelection of the American president, Barack Obama. He lit into me—a convenient liberal voter he felt safe blaming—with the litany of complaints that had been making the rounds: the country was going to go into a massive depression, in fact it was going to go broke, since there were “more takers than makers”; Obama was going to take away legally owned guns; and on and on. When I tried to speak (though not to argue with him), he shouted me down: “Just you wait! You’ll see!” (Collectively, this reaction has been called in the press the Great Right-Wing Freakout of 2012.)

It scared me. I stood up and said, “Maybe I should leave. We can talk about Thanksgiving another time.” And immediately all his anger drained away. “No, no, sit down, don’t go.” And we did talk a little (his wife sat silently by), but eventually his anger level rose again, and I left, shaking and disturbed. When I got home, I called my ex-husband.

(Here I’ll say that my ex-husband and I are on good terms; I like his second wife and his second set of kids, and we do a lot of holidays together. When I married him—the little girl with flowers woven in her hair—he was a long-haired hippie himself, threatening to run away to Canada if the draft didn’t go his way. I am not sure what happened to that guy, but his politics align with my brother’s now; they are buddies, in fact. I don’t discuss politics with either of them, and generally we just don’t anyway—we talk culture, not politics. Luis always tries to make nice; he knows I don’t like to argue.)

So I called Luis, since he and his family would be sitting at my dining room table on Thanksgiving too. I was shaken and upset, and as I started to tell him what happened, I began to sob uncontrollably, something I never do, certainly not to my ex-husband. “Please help me; please don’t bring up the election or politics,” I said. He agreed to “not go there,” and Thanksgiving plans proceeded.

On the night, my brother and his wife were running late. Something locally newsworthy had happened that day, and Luis turned on the television while we waited. But he turned automatically to Fox, which I consider to be … well, not news. Bill O’Reilly et al annoy and offend me. I waited—nervously; what if my brother got here?—until we had the update on the event, then quietly, calmly, asked Luis to turn the TV off or switch the channel. He rose up from the couch and moved into the kitchen in seconds, screaming, until he was face to face with me. “Don’t tell ME what to do! I’ll watch television if I WANT to!” (Should I remind you that this was in my house?) It was like he’d gone insane. Had a psychotic break.

I put my hands up around my face, because I actually thought he might hit me. When I did that, he stopped, and all the anger seemed to leave him. He turned around, lifted the foil covering the turkey. And nothing was ever said again, about any of it.

I have often wondered what happened on those two occasions.

Now, of course, we’re in the middle of an unbelievable, ugly election (again). My brother joined Facebook about a year ago, and he’s posted a lot of nasty right-wing memes. My husband says, “Just ignore him,” but it bothers me. He’s my brother, but I don’t recognize this person. He and my ex-husband share these ugly things back and forth. Demands to repeal “Obamacare” the minute the GOP retakes the country (even though my brother’s wife uses the government’s low-income subsidies to the Affordable Care Act to get health insurance*), and support for closing our borders and not letting immigrants in (even though both of my husbands have been immigrants**; even though my sister’s daughter married a Mexican immigrant, a lovely man). I don’t recognize them anymore, this bit of my family.

It’s not just them, of course. I live in a red state. But … the anger. The hatred! Sometimes I leave a comment for my brother—“Actually, that’s not true”—with a link to good information, but he responds with a repetition of talking points (propaganda), not actual facts. In fact, a lot of people on that side of the fence do the same in public forums, and it has the effect of shutting down conversation. It is a losing battle. The amount of bad, untruthful, twisted information being slung around here is disheartening. Where is this coming from? I’ve tried to remain calm, I’ve tried to educate myself—but it has done nothing but upset and unsettle me and keep me from sleep.

Until I found this: The Brainwashing of My Dad. It’s a documentary. The New York Times says it is “Jen Senko’s documentary about how right-wing news programs, talk shows and Internet sites turned her once reasonable father into a raging embodiment of intolerance and suspicion.”

As I watched, I found Senko’s story sounding more and more familiar:

When I was growing up in the ‘60s, I remember that my parents were really nice to everybody. They had a good time with lots of other grown-up friends and relatives; they were always laughing and joking. They didn’t even gossip, whereas I remember other friends’ parents doing so quite a bit. And later, with the dawn of the hippies and the new mores, I remember feeling proud of them—they already were open-minded and accepting. … My father was huge on education. He had his master’s degree in engineering, so it was his idea for us to read an hour before bed each night. … There were times he showed extraordinary acts of kindness. I recount this one story in the film: Since we lived close to New York in New Jersey, my parents would often take us into the city to go to a museum or Radio City Music Hall. Once, when we got out of Port Authority, an African-American homeless man asked my dad for some money. My dad called him “Sir!” and gave him some money. That memory is indelible for me. He treated everyone around him with respect at a time when that was not always the norm.

This sounds similar to my childhood, the one my brother was raised in too. Then Senko notes that her family moved and her father’s commute changed. Instead of carpooling, he was driving alone, and he was driving farther. He started listening to talk radio. First he listened to Bob Grant. Then he started listening to Rush Limbaugh. Later he began watching Fox [Not] News. Senko says:

And that’s when my Dad became angry all the time, argumentative, and hateful of particular groups of people. Of all things, he began lashing out against gay people. … He railed against “liberal universities.” He railed against illegal immigrants and Mexicans, and literally started telling my mother she should wait on him because he was the man of the house. … In time, it became obvious to me that the same mantras were being trotted out on various right-wing platforms. And I could see this in the few friends I had that “turned.” They would form identical arguments, repeating the exact same talking points and phrases around the same time as my Dad. One read The Drudge Report, while my Dad listened to Limbaugh.

Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Drudge, and others of that ilk fabricate and distort routinely; they are entertainers, not journalists, and certainly not academic experts. They are looking to drive up viewership ratings (which drive up advertising rates). But in terms of actual facts, these outlets are more like the National Enquirer than they are like USA Today. Senko discovered that a lot of those nasty right-wing emails (which have become shared Facebook posts or memes in the era of social media) with stories from “regular folks” who just wanted the recipient “to know” what liberals are up to were “written by a bunch of guys sitting in a room at some right-wing think tank, made to sound as if an ‘average Joe’ wrote them.”

Gosh, it all sounded so familiar. Senko described it as a nightmare for the family; it was like Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The Senkos no longer recognized ther dad.

In the documentary, Senko goes on to explain the historical reasons for the rise of propaganda in politics (it really got a leg up in Nixon’s presidential campaign) and how the players of that game manipulate the talking points you hear across the board from Limbaugh to Fox to Breitbart and on and on. It’s a concerted effort to mislead; that “vast right-wing conspiracy” really is a thing. When Ronald Reagan killed the Fairness Doctrine in 1987, it opened the floodgate of poison that the moneyed right-wing spews. (And make no mistake, money is always the issue.)

Senko explains this history in detail, interviewing several experts, including including Noam Chomsky, CNN’s Reese Schonfeld, progressive talk radio host Thom Hartmann, media critic Jeff Cohen, Media Matters founder David Brock, and Republican political consultant Frank Luntz. The Daily Beast notes,

It’s also a densely packed, sometimes overstuffed examination of how shrewd strategists engineered a long-term takeover of the media on behalf of the GOP, arguing that right-wing think tanks, advocacy groups, and media outlets together achieved what the left has always refused, or been unable, to do: manipulate the minds of America.

With decades of ground to cover, Senko nails some choice sound bites from her interviewees. Luntz, the spin doctor who helped Newt Gingrich twist estate tax into “death tax” and the Bush administration turn global warming into “climate change,” unabashedly reveals how he polls plebes for keywords that frighten them the most and points out how Fox News anchors use hand gestures to subliminally connect with their viewers.

Senko also explains the neurology of brainwashing in general and of the negative talking points phenomenon specifically: alarm is addictive, and repetition of the same messages transform the hearer’s brain.

The whole thing was shocking. I was raised to be fair, tell the truth, to treat others the way I would want to be treated (with kindness and respect, among other things). I was raised to be competitive, to go after the things I wanted, but that winning in and of itself was not the goal. “Winning at all costs” is not the sort of human being I was raised to be.

Nor was my brother. And yet …

Watching this documentary gave me some peace of mind and allowed me to sleep for the first time in days. I like research. I like logic and facts. And here, at last, was a reason that my once friendly, gentle, kind brother has turned into an angry repeater of lies. Senko reports that hundreds of people have gotten in touch with her with their own stories. I could be one of them.

Instead, I’m writing about it. I finally decided that if I don’t get this out of my system, it will poison me. I have been journaling, writing, blogging my whole life, trying to make sense of life, so this is nothing new. As I’ve said before about this blog, it’s a lot about travel, but really it’s about my good life, my fortunate life. This is a part of it. Watching this video helped me, and if you are worried and upset about these issues, it might help you too.

(I’ll note here that I no longer engage with my brother; I no longer try to direct him to factual information. You’ve heard that old Robert Heinlein quote, yes? “Never try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and annoys the pig.” That’s where I’m at.)

* Note: A previous version of this essay indicated both were insured by the ACA, but only my brother’s wife is.

** My husband Gerry’s frail eighty-six-year-old mother is worried that if Trump wins, Gerry will be deported to Ireland. She shouldn’t have to worry about things like this and we’re surprised this level of detail has made it across the Atlantic, but such is the state of affairs right now.

Fledgling Failsafe

The sound of birds screaming—yes, screaming—in the backyard means only one thing: There is a baby on the ground!

It is early morning and I am using the screen door for that hour or two we can enjoy fresh air before the heat takes over. I’ve lived in this house long enough to be familiar with the backyard sounds. There’s always lots of ambient bird noise (we have lots of bushes and trees), and I can tell the difference between normal and screaming. Something is up.

I immediately hustle out there and bring Laddie the cat—who does not have a nestling in his mouth, but was simply strolling through the yard doing his unintentional impression of a Large Black Monster—inside.

… an unintentional impression of a Big Black Monster: Laddie.

… an unintentional impression of a Large Black Monster: Laddie.

When Gerry and Suzy the dog get back from their walk, I caution them to keep an eye out and naturally Suzy finds the baby pretty quickly. “Suzy!” we shout, and run over.

The baby is on its back, wings spread, eyes closed, neck bent. Oh no. Such a beautiful little thing, gone. A precious life. I bend over to scoop it up; a last gentle touch is all I can give it.

And I would have, except just as I touch its little head, it opens one eye, squawks, leaps to its feet, and takes off running across the yard. Who knew baby robins had a play-dead failsafe instinct?

We bring Suzy inside, keep the cats in all day. The backyard is, at the moment, safe for baby birds. All is calm.

Baby robin on our backyard bird table with Mrs. R.

Baby robin on our backyard bird table with Mrs. R.

 

Good Grief, It’s Cold!

And it’s freakin’ May!

Thank goodness the lilies-of-the-valley are hardy. They’ve had to be this spring!

Thank goodness the lilies-of-the-valley are hardy. They’ve had to be this spring!

This spring we are getting a good look at little cold snaps that the old-timers (and gardeners) label “winter” … like:

Redbud winter
Dogwood winter
Blackberry winter
Locust winter

But wait! Here in Tennessee we’ve been through all four of those and are having yet a fifth. A friend of mine—a farmer’s wife—tells me this rare fifth spring winter is called—wait for it—

Cotton britches winter

Isn’t that fabulous? I’d never heard that phrase but a little bit of googling indicates that it is, in fact, a thing. The Tennessean tells us, “The cotton britches winter is … an old-fashioned term for the removal of the long underwear and the time for cotton pants.”

Now, if we have another cold snap after this one, it, too, has a name: Whippoorwill winter (late May, early June).

We shall see. Summer doesn’t officially arrive until June 20. 🙂

 

Tennessee, Tennessee, Ain’t No Place I’d Rather Be*

My friend Michelle was one of the folks who traveled a long way to come to our marriage celebration (that post hasn’t published yet; I’m still working on it). I’d spent a lot of time creating “Tennessee tourism” posts for friends coming from out of town (go to “Start Here” and choose “Visiting Tennessee”), and Michelle—an author who was planning to do some research for a novel on this trip—made good use of them.

Then she wrote a blog post about it, focusing on Lookout Mountain and Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I even learned something: Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited US national park. With good reason.

Enjoy!

Taken from Lookout Mountain by Michelle Ule.

Taken from Lookout Mountain by Michelle Ule.

*Except, perhaps, on a travel adventure. 🙂
It should be noted these are lyrics from the song “Tennessee Jed,” by the Grateful Dead.

 

We Threw a Party: The Day After (Part 2)

When I got up at 6:30 on Sunday morning, there were two candles still burning. Now, that, my friends, is a good candle!

Here’s one of them. 6am.

Here’s one of them. 6am.

It was a beautiful day. We drank a cup of tea leisurely … and then we started to clear off the tables, fold up the (rented) tablecloths, and break down the chairs and tables. We rearranged the deck to its everyday configuration. Everything else was in good shape. Just about the time we finished this task, the guys from Murfreesboro Tent and Table showed up, and in half an hour the tent was down, the tables and chairs were loaded, and the backyard was clear. (The night before we’d put up the little bit of food that was left. And Jenny had been keeping a very sharp eye on trash and anything else that needed to be straightened up, so the yard was remarkably clear.)

You would have never known there’d been a party here. (Aside from that line of jars in the flower bed. They were there for about a week. Ha.)

Lifelong Friends

I grew up in California, graduated from high school there—and I have a group of friends from that time. We were all in the same class from fifth grade on (I came later, when we moved to town, and due to family relocation we even gained another new member of the group in high school). Lots of people form lifelong bonds in college, but I gotta tell ya, the friends of my youth are very, very special to me. I would say, in fact, that one of the rewards of growing older is having these friends, and having had them my entire life. (More than fifty years.)

When I see these women—and I do, every five years or so, since I moved “out east” when I was twenty—I see beautiful young girls. They will forever be about seventeen in my eyes. And I know that when they see me, that’s the Jamie they see too.

Four of the group (there’s nine of us, I think) came out for the party.

My besties.

My besties.

I virtually ignored them on the night—because we’d already planned to spend Sunday together, hanging out on the deck. And there were so many people to greet. (But late in the evening we did manage to get behind the picture frame together.)

The 5 of us.

The 5 of us.

The Day After

So the yard was clear, we’d had tea, and the day was fine. And now my friends were going to come hang out on the deck. With spouses and partners. This was going to be a wonderful moment.

We made sure to take a photograph, first. Because I was tired and not thinking all that clearly. (Indeed, the better part of the day got away from me undocumented.)

Two of our group had sent a handmade quilt, which I’d used as a throw across the hot tub the previous night. Husbands held it and we posed.

Two of our group (not actually at the party) had sent a handmade quilt, which I’d used as a throw across the hot tub the previous night. Husbands held it and we posed.

And we just sat around and chatted. Heaven! There’s not a one of us who hasn’t had some heartbreak, who hasn’t seen some hard times. But we are happy people; we find a way to be happy every day.

One of the husbands (Tom?) engaged my son in conversation, and asked him to play for us. (Jesse’s a professional tubist and music educator.) Was that asking too much? Maybe he didn’t have his music with him, Tom said. Maybe he didn’t have his tuba. No—as it turns out, Jesse is preparing for a competition. He had the tuba, and he played.

Jesse.

Jesse.

Thus the day slipped by. I’d worried that it would rain all day, but it was grand.

My dear friends. (Teri and Maggie.)

My dear friends. (Teri and Maggie.)

At some point Maggie and Tom ran out and got a couple pizzas, we threw together a salad, and gathered in the dining room. Which was just the right size. Gerry and I have many times been glad we have this dining room, and never more than on this night. 🙂

Tom, Maggie, Kent, Charmaine, Gerry, Mike, Kathy, Teri, Dan.

Tom, Maggie, Kent, Charmaine, Gerry, Mike, Kathy, Teri, Dan.

The night wore on, and when I was afraid that I was going to do a face plant at the table (I was so, so tired), I told them I was going to have to kick them out. They laughed, and left. 🙂

The Day After the Day After: Gifts

Monday. Still exhausted. Still gradually picking things up and putting them back where they were supposed to be. Still cleaning the kitchen, trying to get back to normal. Slicing up the remaining strawberries for the freezer. Jesse and Katie had gone back across the Cumberland Plateau on Sunday afternoon, and the rest of our crew were heading off to Memphis for a couple days.

We were back in the middle of blackberry winter, so it was too chilly to sit outside. While we lingered over a cup of tea, Tom and Maggie called to thank us for a lovely time. They were on their way to Kentucky to see some of Tom’s family. “You were right to kick us out,” Maggie laughed. “Otherwise we might still be there!”

Over the second cup of tea, one by one, slowly, we opened all those beautiful, thoughtful gifts. (They’d been sitting in the dining room. More than one person in the house had looked at us, cocked an eyebrow, and said, “Aren’t you going to open those?” Yes, we were—but when we had time to savor it, to experience it. We were too busy enjoying our friends on Sunday.) So … we opened. Sometimes we laughed. Sometimes we cried. These were such personal things. So many people took the time to write special notes in blank cards. They decorated the envelopes. They decorated the boxes and bags. We were touched and … humbled … by how well our friends know us, know who we are. It is good to be *known* like this.

Ephemera.

Ephemera.

Later that afternoon, my sister and her husband came by to say good-bye. They were loaded up, ready to drive back across the country to the West Coast. (No, they don’t mind flying; but they enjoy seeing what they see along the way.) We managed a quick photo, and they were off.

Gerry, Jill, Barry, me.

Gerry, Jill, Barry, me.

Yes, yes, I did forget to post my professional blog on Saturday. Um, and Monday. (I post on Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.) They were loaded and ready to go but … party. I was so exhausted.

A nice exhaustion.

Postmortem for a Backyard Party

There were things we did right, and things we might have done better. This is the biggest party I’ve ever thrown, and with the most moving parts. Here are some thoughts:

  • Hire a caterer. I love to cook, and I enjoy putting a nice table together. But that was out of the question here.
  • Keep the menu simple—and make sure the caterer is a good cook. No institutional food. A month later, people would still be telling me how good the food was.
  • Buy less booze. We had plenty and people just didn’t drink it. Many stuck to water and sodas, even people who would normally have an adult beverage. We were surprised.
  • Have a rain plan. The tent was brilliant. Money well-spent. And the rain kept everybody under the tent long enough for strangers to become friends.
  • Use social media to keep people interested in the party—so they show up. Otherwise, a little bit of rain scares ’em off. We had a great turnout—and I posted on the Facebook event every day.
  • Some people want to come but just can’t. A dear, dear friend of mine sent me a long note about all the crazy logistics they were trying to pull together to come from two states away. And it ended with, “I finally just said, what if we don’t go? And I chewed on it for a while. Now I think this is best and I am so sad. But this summer, we will come down for more than a day, and we will invite ourselves over and have you all to ourselves.” I know this was the right thing for them, and I look forward to seeing them later.
  • Hire someone to take photos. You won’t be able to take all the photos yourself, and it will take up a lot of your party time if you do try to do it yourself.
  • Live music is really nice. It’s a festive touch. People are still talking about it. This was a splurge for us, but it really made the night.
  • Good friends and a good network make a good party. There was no odd-man/woman-out, because everyone who came knew someone … or had interacted on Facebook, so they knew names. I’m at that age, I think, that I know really great people, the sort of folks who can walk into a party knowing no one and still have a good time talking with anyone and everyone.
  • Don’t clean the house before—clean it after. However, a sparkling bathroom is a nice welcome and makes a good impression. 🙂
  • Plan something graceful to say when you want someone to stop doing what he is doing. We invited our neighbors, and one of them relives his glory days by telling everyone he plays piano (and leaping to the keyboard if anyone so much as says “Oh, that’s nice”). At one point I noticed our back door was wide open and this fellow was in there pounding away on my piano … while the musicians we’d paid to play were doing so about fifty feet away. I was mortified and angry, and I wish I’d asked him, quietly, to stop immediately. Instead I glared and slammed the door shut. It (eventually) had the desired effect, but I’m still steamed. How rude!
  • Eat before the guests arrive. Otherwise you’ll be furtively sneaking food and talking with your mouth full.
Early in the evening.

Early in the evening.