Bounce Back


My name is Delia.
And I think I’ve finally recovered completely from my mother’s visit.

She stayed over the weekend and then some, and it was honestly good to see her.  It was draining, as I expected it to be, but I’ve finally recovered.  It was nice to have someone help with the cooking, and it was also nice to have someone to talk to.  Granted, she likes to do more advice-giving than talking or listening, but it was still nice.

She also formed an instant bond with the B&B owners, which doesn’t surprise me.  My mother forms bonds just about wherever she goes.  She’s bold and social.  I used to be somewhat bold and somewhat social -like a softer version of my mother, but it all got lost somewhere in my insecurities.  I’m starting to see hints of it coming back here and there, and it makes me happy.

It makes me feel so “at home” with myself.  Does that make any sense at all?

I started to realize this last week when I turned in some pictures for the paper.  As Ed looked through them, he sort of knit his eyebrows and “tsk”ed a little.
Then he said, “Delia, you’re a great photographer.”
I thanked him, but I sensed there was more coming.
“You just…” he paused to gather his thoughts, “Don’t know anyone in town.”
“I don’t,” I agreed, “You’re right.”  I didn’t know what knowing people had to do with photography, but he was about to tell me.
“The thing people love about this paper is the way you can feel the community through it.  Did you know that we have people across the nation and a few across the seas subscribe to this paper?”
I admitted that I didn’t.
“Former citizens.  Relatives of citizens who visit.  Military men and women looking for piece of home… the list goes on and on, but the point is: our paper captures the greatness of our little town.   We don’t waste our time with sensational stories and gut-wrenching statistics.  We want people to read about what Miss Ruby’s lunch specials and the Rittmans’ truck that’s been running for almost five generations.”
I nodded my head, but I didn’t say anything.
“Don’t misunderstand me,” he said, “I’m not criticizing you.  I’m just telling you that you need to sink your teeth into this town.  I’d like for you to study the history and the people.  See this picture of Nathan Brown?”
He held up a picture I’d taken at the Elementary school of Nathan Brown, the Student of the Week.
“Yeah…” I said.
“Do you know who he is?” Ed asked.
“The Student of the Week?” I asked, weakly.
“Nathan Brown is the son of Nate and Jessica Brown.  Nathan Brown is the grandson of Jake and Sally Brown.”
“The Bed and Breakfast owners?” I offered, a little excited at the fact that I recognized someone’s name… finally!
“Yes,” he nodded, happily, “But Nathan Brown is also infamous for being the sneakiest kid in this town.”
“He is?” I asked, smiling.
“But in this picture, he’s smiling.  Nathan Brown doesn’t smile for pictures.  Nathan Brown doesn’t smile for anything unless he’s succeeded in causing trouble for someone.”
“Oh,” I said, understanding, “I actually had to bribe him with a dollar to get that smile.”
Ed laughed at me.  I laughed at me.
“The thing is… people thrive on pictures of kids like Nathan Brown in their element.  It makes them feel at home, and truth be told: you’re taking historic pictures.  In fifty years, people are going to look at this newspaper clipping and wonder why on earth their grandfather was smiling when they all knew he hated it.”
“I see,” I answered.  And the whole thing made me laugh.  I’d never worked for a newspaper before, let alone a small town newspaper.  It was turning out to be more work than I had originally thought, “What do you think I should do?” I asked.
“Monday morning, I want you to come in and log your time and then head directly to the town library.  There’s an entire Local History section.  You can start there.”  As he spoke, the bell on the front door jingled and a customer walked in.  I turned around and saw… I kid you not… the man from the quilting shop.
I quickly turned back to face and Ed and hopefully hide my surprise.
“What can I do for you, Mason?” Ed asked.
“Just here to pay for my subscription,” he answered.  I stepped quietly to the side.  Ed wrote him up a receipt, and went to hand it to him, but something stopped him.
“Mason, have you met Delia?” He asked. He turned to look at me and my entire being filled with FEAR on the chance that me might recognize me from the quilt shop.
“I don’t believe I have,” he extended his hand.
“I’m Mason Fuller,” he said.
“I’m Delia.”
I actually DID give him my last name, but I’m not giving it to you.  Ha.
“Nice to meet you,” I said, shaking his hand.
“Mason’s recently moved back to town and in with his Mama. Isn’t that right?” Ed asked.
“Yeah,” Mason nodded, “Are you new in town?”
“Yes,” I nodded, “I just moved here with my three girls a few weeks ago.”
“Do you have family here?” He asked.
“Um, no,” I stumbled, “We just needed a fresh start.”
“This is the best place it the world to get that,” Mason smiled.
“I hope so,” I said, “Ed was nice enough to hire me on the newspaper crew.”
“No, you just happened to come in at the right time,” he chuckled.
There was a moment of awkward silence before Ed snapped his fingers.
“Mason, have you got any plans this weekend?” He asked.
“Not so far,” Mason replied, “You need something?”
“Can I hire you out for Saturday?  Delia’s been having a little trouble getting to know folks around here, and I’d like her to get a feel for the town’s history.  Would you mind taking the day?  You know more about this town than most folk, and she’d learn more from you than she would from a few library books.”
“Sure, I can do that,” he replied.
“What time works for you, Delia?” Ed asked.  I thought about pointing out that Ed hasn’t actually asked IF it would work at all, but if it were going to work, last Saturday would have been the day.  Mom was coming and she could stay with the girls.
“Nine?” I asked.
“Try seven,” Mason answered.
“Seven?” I was confused.
“Ruby’s opens up at seven, and her first bath of pancakes are always the best.”
“Oh, okay,” I nodded. “I’ll meet you there, then?”
“Seven,” he said, walking out the door.
“Glad we got that squared away,” said Ed.
“Yeah,” I agreed, trying to mask the screaming nervousness making the rounds in my stomach.  Immediately on leaving work, I did something I hadn’t done in weeks.

I phoned my mother instead of her phoning me.

DATE: 11/4/2010 2:09:00 AM
When I told my family that I would be moving, they were so supportive and extraextraextra ready to help in any possible way.  It was sweet to see how much they care and I felt a twinge of guilt for telling them to back off.

Okay, I didn’t put it quite like that.  But I got the point across. I made it clear to them that I needed to do this myself -that the girls and I needed some alone time together to establish “us” again.

Mom called last night.  She’s coming.  She says she can’t take it any longer.  I know it must be hard for her.  For the past eleven years, I’ve never lived more than a ten minute drive from her.  Now I’m (GASP!) two hours away.

I know I’m sounding mean and awful and cynical.  And I know I shouldn’t.  Is it terrible that I just want to be left alone?  Yeah, it is.  I shouldn’t want to be alone, and given my present circumstances, I think I NEED people to step in and demand to be part of my life; otherwise I know I’m unintentionally leave them out.

Obviously, there’s no room for mother in my trailer.  There’s also no hotels around, but there is a Bed & Breakfast.  I went to visit with the owners -who also met AND REMEMBERED me from the fall festival -Jake and Sally Brown.  They told me they started running the Bed & Breakfast out of their home to help pay for expenses while they raised their children.  Sally took on most of the inn running while Jake worked full time at the limber yard, coming home to eat, sleep, and handy-man at the B&B. Their children are long grown now, and they told me that their sixth great-grandchild was just born.

As I drove home with their flyer listing the room prices, I felt a weight on my heart.  I couldn’t quite put my finger on it until I realized that it was jealously -hopeless jealousy.

They were together.  They’d never NOT been together.  They started together and they’re ending together and they’re enjoying their grandchildren together.

I’ll enjoy my grandchildren.

But I won’t enjoy them with Ryan.

DATE: 11/3/2010 3:50:00 AM
Ed loved my prints from the festival.  I think he wanted to use every single one of them, and he opted to do a center-page spread just for the festival.  It was sort of surreal to see my name under all of the pictures.  I know it isn’t like my name is appearing under the pictures in the The Times, or anything.  It just gave me such a good feeling to see the fruits of my “labor.”

I have to put labor in quotes because snapping pictures with a fancy-pants camera doesn’t feel like honest labor -not that I’m complaining.

And I’ve been thinking about Stan.  I guess it hasn’t been Stan I’ve been thinking about so much as what Stan made me realize.  Stan was the first single man I’ve talked to and felt totally okay with it.  Usually when I talk to any single man -under the age of 80 -I squirm uncomfortably.  The best part about Stan wasn’t that HE made me feel more comfortable -it was ME!  I did it!  In fact, looking back on the situation, I think if I had talked to him three months ago and he had asked me so many personal questions, I would have found an excuse to excuse myself.

It feels good to get some of myself back.  And the more I think about when exactly I lost myself, the more I realize that I lost myself long before Ryan left.  Maybe that’s why he left -I don’t really know.  Part of me thinks it still matters somehow -why he left.  But most of me has surrendered to sense.

Ryan told me he couldn’t take the girls last weekend, so we went to the harvest festival together.

When I called him on Monday, he told me he couldn’t take them this weekend either.

I was really excited because I wanted the girls with me on Halloween.  But I felt a HUGE black guilt-cloud roll in after I hung up the phone because I don’t have any money for cool store-bought costumes.  I did have a little money in my account -left over from Ryan’s monthly check.  I dusted off my old sewing machine and decided to get to work.

My grandmother taught me to sew.  My mother could never grasp the relationship of needle-to-thread, and I at least wanted a shot at it..  My grandmother took me under her wing and taught me everything I know, which is only a tiny piece of what she knew.  I remember wandering down the aisles at the fabric shops as a child -my grandmother would hold my hand and I would feel so overwhelmed.

“Which one?” I’d ask her, over and over.  She’d tell me she couldn’t help.  She’d tell me it was MY project and I should be the one to decide.

Once, after I’d spent nearly an hour staring at bolts of fabric, she bent down to my level.  I can still see it in my mind -her tan fake-leather hand bag stuck in the crook of her right arm, her soft rosy eye shadow that she wore faithfully every day of her life, and her polyester pants suit.

“The fabric will speak to you,” she said, plainly, “It always speaks to you.”

I felt like she had somehow given me a key of some kind -let me in on a secret only women knew.  Of course she was right.  My grandmother was always right.

I took my money to the local quilt shop, wishing my grandmother were by my side.

As I stepped into the little shop that day, the fabric started speaking.

But the only thing it had to say was “1992… 1993…”

I had to bite my lip to keep from laughing.  The only thing their fabric is missing are the gerber daisies from my older sister’s wedding reception (and I’m not talking about the cute gerber daisies I’m seeing in toddler girls’ hair these days).

I wasn’t left alone long enough to leave, and the two older ladies running the store were more than happy to help me with anything I could ever need.  I ended up leaving the store with 12 yards of plain black fabric ($2 a yard!), a small bag of big black buttons, and two spools of black thread.

I remember meeting the ladies in the quilt shop at the harvest festival, but I could NOT remember their names.  As I checked out, I tried to be sneaky about checking out their business cards and sneaking a peak at any hints of names on envelopes or order forms… nothing.

Of course they weren’t wearing name tags.

Everyone ELSE knows who they are.  It wouldn’t have been so bad if they hadn’t remembered my name, but they did.

I was so busy name-hunting that I didn’t hear the shop door open.  Little did I know a saint had walked in.

“Ruth, has the fabric my mother ordered come in?” they asked.

Ruth.  RUTH! Of course! Her name was Ruth Clairbourne.  I couldn’t believe I had forgotten.  She had helped run the bake sale… it was all coming back.

“Yes,” Ruth answered and disappeared behind the counter, “How is she?”

“A little better, thanks,” the stranger replied.  By then, the stranger had made their way to the counter and were standing next to me.  I took a step back to see if I recognized them.


I definitely did not see HIM at the fall festival.

And I definitely wished he had not seen ME at the quilt shop looking like a frazzled hermit in my boot cut jeans, now-loose-because-it’s-a-size-too-big-thanks-to-weight-loss-(yay!) green sweater, BASEBALL CAP (for crying out loud) and ponytail.

I’m vain in that I hate it when remotely attractive people see me at my worst.

I hunkered behind my hat the best I could while he took the fabric from Ruth Clairbourne and then got in line behind me.  I wanted to ask him to please go first because he had fewer items and I’d rather him not be on the viewing end of my backside.

But we weren’t at the grocery store.

And I don’t usually talk about my hind end to strangers.

So I just quietly paid for my stuff, thanked RUTH by name, and quickly made my way the HECK out of there.

As I drove home, I realized what a moron I was.  When Ryan met me, I didn’t used to care about that kind of stuff.  I didn’t care who saw me or what they thought of me -mostly because I was filled to the brim with confidence.  These days?  Not so much.  And that’s okay.  That’s really, really okay.

I hope I don’t see The Stranger again anytime soon.  I’m hoping that my hat hid me enough that he won’t recognize me next time we meet.  If we ever meet.

Not that it matters.

What does matter is that I made three pretty amazing black cloaks and my daughters made for three pretty scary Dementors.  I may not be as handy as my grandmother with a sewing machine, but I like to think she’d be pretty proud of what I did.

DATE: 11/2/2010 2:45:00 AM
I guess I had it in my mind that the fall festival was going to be something carnival-like where the park ends up smelling like cigarette smoke and knock-off cologne.  Well, it wasn’t.  Moving from the city to a small town has been really eye-opening.  I mean, I would never have dreamed of taking my kids to something like a community fall festival because I wouldn’t know who was going to be there.  My mind was overrun with thoughts of drugs and child-snatchers.

But this was different.

I went to the fall festival because I HAD to (for work).

I took the kids with me because I HAD to (can’t afford a sitter, and I think every person who might have qualified as a babysitter was, in fact, at the festival).

When I drove up to the town park, I expected to see reality but I was suddenly faced with something a lot like Mayberry -minus the house dresses and plus iPods.  The girls immediately found their new friends from school, and I was left alone with my camera.  At least I was left alone with my camera long enough to drape it around my neck.  Dorothy found me, just like she said she would.

I think I met half the town.  I don’t remember their names, but I felt like I really got to know them as I hid behind my camera lens.  I snapped pictures of the teenagers throwing pie at the PE coach (it still boggles my mind that there’s only one school and one PE coach).  I snapped pictures of little girls chasing each other across the yellowing grass.  I snapped pictures of an old couple sitting in lawn chairs together, their hands touching as they draped their arms over the seats. I snapped pictures of expectant mothers and young mothers and grandmothers.  I snapped pictures of the bake sale ran by beautiful women in country aprons.  Dorothy told me all of their names as I took their pictures without their knowledge.  She gave me brief histories and told me who was related to whom.

I felt a certain pleasant detachment from the crowd.  Strange enough, I enjoyed sitting back and watching everyone enjoy the festival.  I didn’t want to mingle or visit -I just wanted to observe.  My camera gave me the sanctuary I wanted so badly.  I would have stayed completely tucked away if it hadn’t been for Dorothy.

In her defense, she didn’t thrust me conversation.  Dorothy would never.  Anyone who knows her would agree with me.  And everyone knows Dorothy.  THAT’S what got me.  I heard someone approach her as I snapped a few pictures of the man in charge of driving the tractor that was hitched to the hay ride.  I didn’t think much of it -mostly everyone approached Dorothy.  Generally, they left me alone.

Why is it when people standing next to you start to whisper, you hear every word?  When they’d been talking at full voice, I’d managed to completely ignore them.

The person talking to Dorothy was a man -I’d gathered that much.

Dorothy told him I’d just moved into town.

He asked where my husband was.

I thought about intervening then and telling them he was probably spending the weekend with his girlfriend and her kids, but I decided to keep with my original game plan of pretending I couldn’t hear a word of what was going on.

Anyway, Dorothy told him that I was recently divorced.

Then they paused.  They always have to pause. They always have to pause to make a face -the sympathy face.

About that time, Dorothy decided I needed to know the stranger.  I felt a soft tap on my shoulder, and I took my camera away from my face, turned to Dorothy, and pretended I had no idea what she could need me for.

“This is Stan,” she said, using her hand to present him, “Stan, this is Delia.”

Yes, I realize I just told you my name.  I think it’s about time.  Just don’t tell my mother where I am.  Thank you.

“Hi, Stan,” I said, smiling the way you should when you meet someone for the first time, “Nice to meet you.”  I shook his hand and then asked, “How do you know Dorothy?”

I watched them look at each other, completely puzzled.  Neither one of them had any idea how they’d gotten to know one another.

“Well, you taught me in Sunday School,” Stan said, “And there was that one summer you taught me piano lessons.”

They both chuckled.

“I think it all started the day Stan was born,” Dorothy smiled at him, “I helped deliver him.”

“You helped deliver him?” I asked, astonished.

“And just about every other person standing around here,” Stan added.

“Dorothy, I had no idea!” I said, amazed.

“That’s not true,” she shook her head, disregarding my comment, “I didn’t not help deliver every person standing around.  I gave that up years ago.  Besides, ” she took a breath in, “There is one person here who I did not see on their actual birthday and that’s because he’s too old.”

Dorothy pointed a delicate finger at Ed who was purchasing a candy apple.

“Excuse me,” she said, nodding at us.

She made her way to Ed, and I was left.  Alone. Alone plus Stan.

I had no idea what to say, but that didn’t seem to matter much.  Stan kept conversation going.

He asked me about my job.

He asked me about my girls.

He asked me how I liked small towns.

He asked me if I missed the city.

He asked me if I liked Dorothy and candy apples.

And before I knew it, I was neglecting my camera completely, stuffing my face with the most delicious caramel apple I’d ever had, and telling a man named Stan all about myself.

Want to know what I learned about Stan?

He’s about six foot two.

He has a head of full dark brown hair.

He’s not thin.

He’s not fat.

And he took piano lessons from Dorothy one summer.

How did this happen?  How did I let myself ramble on to a complete stranger for an hour an half?  I’ll tell you how.

I blame Dorothy.

I take comfort in this: at least he doesn’t know my last name or where I live.

And I also take comfort in this: I didn’t feel even a little bit strange about talking with him.  I didn’t feel like I shouldn’t be talking to him.  I didn’t feel like I needed to find Ryan somewhere in the crowd.  Overall, I felt okay.

And that, friends, is something like a breakthrough for me.

(Goodbye Olivia Newton-John)

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