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Judith Moore and girlfriends anticipate husbands

Unendurable summer

We were not wild girls. We lay propped up on Joanna’s father’s fat pillows and polished our toenails with Revlon’s Fire and Ice. - Image by Mikhail M. Zlatkovsky
We were not wild girls. We lay propped up on Joanna’s father’s fat pillows and polished our toenails with Revlon’s Fire and Ice.

Summers when I was young, I would |see women who are my age now, I on their knees in flower beds. “It’s sad,” I’m sure I said to my high school best friend Joanna, “to have nothing more to do with your life than care about flowers.”

I have become one of those women who care about flowers. As much as all those summers ago I admired tanned boys who wore white socks and khaki Bermudas and who sweated lightly when they kissed, now I admire my blue lobelia. My blue delphinium I am afraid I have come to love almost as much as my first great love that long-ago summer when we were still only holding hands. I go out every morning as excited to see what’s happened to the delphinium as I was when waiting for that boy — crew cut and shy — to drive up in the pea green Chevy Bel Air on loan from his father.

Today I was out on the roof where my four sunflowers, growing in a big pot, drank five gallons of water (over 16 hot and windy hours). Really, the big pot is too small and not a good idea. Even though, daily, I’ve boosted their water with liquid fertilizer, which their roots take up like our veins take in an IV drip, the thick green stalks have stunted. They’re dwarfed, cramped up. I’m sorry I did it. Blooms that normally would be dinner-plate size are no bigger than dessert plates. I feel guilty about the sunflowers. I kept them from what they were meant to be.

A friend brought me five pounds of unshelled peanuts for the scrub jays that come to my roof and feed. I scattered a pound of peanuts across the roof and listened happily to the dry shells clatter. I went back to dead-heading faded flowers from the huge pansies called Super Majestic Giants. The pansy blooms, particularly the yellow that is blotched.black in the middle, are strongly perfumed and give off a complex aroma, like a mix of white wine and talcum powder. The lavender blooms, however, hardly smell at all.

When I turned around, I saw a jay perched on the edge of the sunflower’s pot. He eyed me with his jet bead eyes, above which runs a narrow white eyebrow. He hopped off the pot into the scattered peanuts.

Full-size Zlatkovsky illustration

He pecked at one, rolling it away from his beak, pecked at another and another, and then stood still and hammered his 3/4-inch-long black beak into a shell until a nut rolled out. He took the nut in his beak, then tossed back his head and swallowed. He repeated his pecking among the nuts, then picked one up and flew away, peanut in mouth. I say “he” because scrub jay males bring food to the female before, during, and for a short while after egg-setting season. This jay’s mate sits her eggs, my guess is, in one of the nearby evergreens. Her nest, according to what I read, is a cup of grass lined with fine roots and hair, supported by a platform of twigs.

I edged the sunflower pot and two wooden tubs of blue hydrangeas with a trailing blue lobelia called Sapphire, whose 3/4-inch deep-blue blossoms are centered by two tiny white stripes. The dark, almost severe blue flowers have bloomed in such profusion as to cloak the plant’s deep-green foliage. Its stems trail down a foot and a half over the tub’s wood slats and cause the plants to seem some miraculous blue cloud. The pot that holds the delphinium Belladonna I filled with lobelia called Cambridge Blue, whose flower is a sky blue even paler than the delphinium. The latter, this year, has put out three-foot-high stalks covered with blue florets.

You can buy lobelia in shades of purple, rose, red, and white. But who would want to? The very word lobelia is synonymous with blue.

Back all those summers ago, now way more than half the summers I’ll be granted, I didn’t know any flowers’ names except rose and daisy and Easter lily and the orchid boys gave for corsages. I spent summer days at Joanna’s air-conditioned house where we lay buffered against the hot sun in her father’s dark bedroom and watched soap operas and ate sandwiches the maid Annie Mae made us. Annie Mae sliced the meat off a real ham with white bone in it. Sitting on Joanna’s father’s big bed (which in memory may be bigger and softer than it was), we watched the half-hour As the World Turns on the black-and-white Philco.

We slid off the bed and turned up the volume when Annie Mae turned on the vacuum cleaner. We turned down the volume when the organ music announced the end of a scene and the beginning of a soap commercial. We became obsessed with the romantic intrigues between the Hughes and Lowell families. We even found ourselves occasionally sympathetic (as we weren’t to our own mothers) to young Tom and Bob Hughes’s worried mother Nancy, as she paced her kitchen linoleum in the fictional Oakdale, Illinois, and offered her visitors coffee from a percolator she kept on the stove. (This was years before counter-top coffee makers like Mr. Coffee.) What Mrs. Hughes (and Joanna and I called her that, just as we would have anyone else of her age) was worried about was that her teenage son Bob was dating an inappropriate girl. A wild girl. A girl who “permitted liberties.”

We were not wild girls. We lay propped up on Joanna’s father’s fat pillows and polished our toenails with Revlon’s Fire and Ice. We talked about when we’d get married what we’d wear. We wanted lace gowns. We wanted four bridesmaids and each other as maids of honor. We wanted June weddings. We wanted a soprano with a warbling in her voice to sing “I Love You Truly.” We looked at pictures of silver patterns in Joanna’s mother’s Ladies Home Journal. Joanne wanted Chantilly. I wanted Melrose.

We expected to be virgins on our wedding night. I know that I knew the other, the physiological, definition of the word “intact” but do not recall how I learned it. I believed that to become “un-intact” would involve great pain and leave a thin trickle of darkish blood on the honeymoon sheets. I believed that after the vows and that first night, I would be as irrevocably changed as bread and wine at the altar were changed to flesh and blood. I would be a new and different person, myself no more, an entirely new loaf, named new with my new name. Even though my own parents were long divorced; even though Joanna’s mother and father, while they sipped martinis (the titillating scent of the gin’s juniper making me sneeze) and ate blanched almonds in their living room, spoke tensely to one another; even though I heard Mr. and Mrs. Hughes argue in their Oakdale kitchen, I believed I would remain unendurably happy. I would belong to my husband in a way I could never belong to myself.

Shyly, Joanna and I talked about how our lives would be in a future we expected was two or three years away. Our shyness grew not from modesty before an intimate subject but from spacious ignorance.

What kind of man did we want our husband to be?

“Cute,” Joanna would say.

“Tall,” I would add.

“Well, at least six feet tall,” Joanna would suggest.

Where would we meet him?

“In college,” one of us would say. A campus greensward, mottled by sunlight, stretched out in my mind and a tall boy dressed in crew-neck sweater, cords and dirty Spaulding tennis shoes walked toward me, smiling.

Either Joanna or I would then append, “Not in high school!” We would laugh. Maybe Joanna would say, “Be careful, you’re laughing so hard you almost knocked over the nail polish bottle. My dad will kill me if we mess up his bed.”

Most boys we knew in high school seemed barbaric. We must have imagined that these husbands who awaited us rose fully grown on ivied-brick campuses. It never occurred to us these prospective husbands would be boys who had attended other girls’ high schools.

And after we met one of these college boys, what would happen?

Love.

Nothing, of course, came out like we (foolishly, ignorantly) planned. Nothing. We made dreadful mistakes there was no escaping. But that is another story.

I watched As the World Turns the other day, now shown in bright color for an hour rather than 30 minutes. Oakdale has gone from small town to big city and boasts a yacht casino. After all these years, while Joanna went on with her real life, and I with mine, many people we watched during our high school summers still populate Oakdale. Lisa, one of the wild girls Mrs. Hughes disapproved, has bleached her hair a postmenopausal pale blonde. Her face is lined and gutted. She has, I read somewhere, had 33 lovers, five marriages, half a dozen children and been put away twice in a mental institution. Bob Hughes is a doctor and has aged well. Mrs. Hughes, who has been on the show since it first aired in 1956 (and is older than either Joanna’s or my mother) is now truly old, her back bowed and her stomach pooched out.

None of Oakdale’s women any longer hover over coffeepots or wear flowered house dresses and wait at home for people to show up and tell their troubles or bring bad news. They have glamorous jobs and babies out of wedlock. They connive at business deals as readily as at affairs of the heart. The organ music has been replaced by computer-driven orchestral sounds, and commercials offer products that cure yeast infections and tell you if you’re pregnant.

A shadow falls over summer now that for me never fell before. Even before June was over, even before the blue dropped off the jacaranda trees and my thwarted sunflowers bloomed, I began to dread summer’s end. Nature overruns, outbuilds cathedrals. I kneel down in my flowers. I’m like those old women I used to feel sorry for. I am those old women.

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El Cajon Olaf Weighorst forgeries, Reader author's parents killed

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We were not wild girls. We lay propped up on Joanna’s father’s fat pillows and polished our toenails with Revlon’s Fire and Ice. - Image by Mikhail M. Zlatkovsky
We were not wild girls. We lay propped up on Joanna’s father’s fat pillows and polished our toenails with Revlon’s Fire and Ice.

Summers when I was young, I would |see women who are my age now, I on their knees in flower beds. “It’s sad,” I’m sure I said to my high school best friend Joanna, “to have nothing more to do with your life than care about flowers.”

I have become one of those women who care about flowers. As much as all those summers ago I admired tanned boys who wore white socks and khaki Bermudas and who sweated lightly when they kissed, now I admire my blue lobelia. My blue delphinium I am afraid I have come to love almost as much as my first great love that long-ago summer when we were still only holding hands. I go out every morning as excited to see what’s happened to the delphinium as I was when waiting for that boy — crew cut and shy — to drive up in the pea green Chevy Bel Air on loan from his father.

Today I was out on the roof where my four sunflowers, growing in a big pot, drank five gallons of water (over 16 hot and windy hours). Really, the big pot is too small and not a good idea. Even though, daily, I’ve boosted their water with liquid fertilizer, which their roots take up like our veins take in an IV drip, the thick green stalks have stunted. They’re dwarfed, cramped up. I’m sorry I did it. Blooms that normally would be dinner-plate size are no bigger than dessert plates. I feel guilty about the sunflowers. I kept them from what they were meant to be.

A friend brought me five pounds of unshelled peanuts for the scrub jays that come to my roof and feed. I scattered a pound of peanuts across the roof and listened happily to the dry shells clatter. I went back to dead-heading faded flowers from the huge pansies called Super Majestic Giants. The pansy blooms, particularly the yellow that is blotched.black in the middle, are strongly perfumed and give off a complex aroma, like a mix of white wine and talcum powder. The lavender blooms, however, hardly smell at all.

When I turned around, I saw a jay perched on the edge of the sunflower’s pot. He eyed me with his jet bead eyes, above which runs a narrow white eyebrow. He hopped off the pot into the scattered peanuts.

Full-size Zlatkovsky illustration

He pecked at one, rolling it away from his beak, pecked at another and another, and then stood still and hammered his 3/4-inch-long black beak into a shell until a nut rolled out. He took the nut in his beak, then tossed back his head and swallowed. He repeated his pecking among the nuts, then picked one up and flew away, peanut in mouth. I say “he” because scrub jay males bring food to the female before, during, and for a short while after egg-setting season. This jay’s mate sits her eggs, my guess is, in one of the nearby evergreens. Her nest, according to what I read, is a cup of grass lined with fine roots and hair, supported by a platform of twigs.

I edged the sunflower pot and two wooden tubs of blue hydrangeas with a trailing blue lobelia called Sapphire, whose 3/4-inch deep-blue blossoms are centered by two tiny white stripes. The dark, almost severe blue flowers have bloomed in such profusion as to cloak the plant’s deep-green foliage. Its stems trail down a foot and a half over the tub’s wood slats and cause the plants to seem some miraculous blue cloud. The pot that holds the delphinium Belladonna I filled with lobelia called Cambridge Blue, whose flower is a sky blue even paler than the delphinium. The latter, this year, has put out three-foot-high stalks covered with blue florets.

You can buy lobelia in shades of purple, rose, red, and white. But who would want to? The very word lobelia is synonymous with blue.

Back all those summers ago, now way more than half the summers I’ll be granted, I didn’t know any flowers’ names except rose and daisy and Easter lily and the orchid boys gave for corsages. I spent summer days at Joanna’s air-conditioned house where we lay buffered against the hot sun in her father’s dark bedroom and watched soap operas and ate sandwiches the maid Annie Mae made us. Annie Mae sliced the meat off a real ham with white bone in it. Sitting on Joanna’s father’s big bed (which in memory may be bigger and softer than it was), we watched the half-hour As the World Turns on the black-and-white Philco.

We slid off the bed and turned up the volume when Annie Mae turned on the vacuum cleaner. We turned down the volume when the organ music announced the end of a scene and the beginning of a soap commercial. We became obsessed with the romantic intrigues between the Hughes and Lowell families. We even found ourselves occasionally sympathetic (as we weren’t to our own mothers) to young Tom and Bob Hughes’s worried mother Nancy, as she paced her kitchen linoleum in the fictional Oakdale, Illinois, and offered her visitors coffee from a percolator she kept on the stove. (This was years before counter-top coffee makers like Mr. Coffee.) What Mrs. Hughes (and Joanna and I called her that, just as we would have anyone else of her age) was worried about was that her teenage son Bob was dating an inappropriate girl. A wild girl. A girl who “permitted liberties.”

We were not wild girls. We lay propped up on Joanna’s father’s fat pillows and polished our toenails with Revlon’s Fire and Ice. We talked about when we’d get married what we’d wear. We wanted lace gowns. We wanted four bridesmaids and each other as maids of honor. We wanted June weddings. We wanted a soprano with a warbling in her voice to sing “I Love You Truly.” We looked at pictures of silver patterns in Joanna’s mother’s Ladies Home Journal. Joanne wanted Chantilly. I wanted Melrose.

We expected to be virgins on our wedding night. I know that I knew the other, the physiological, definition of the word “intact” but do not recall how I learned it. I believed that to become “un-intact” would involve great pain and leave a thin trickle of darkish blood on the honeymoon sheets. I believed that after the vows and that first night, I would be as irrevocably changed as bread and wine at the altar were changed to flesh and blood. I would be a new and different person, myself no more, an entirely new loaf, named new with my new name. Even though my own parents were long divorced; even though Joanna’s mother and father, while they sipped martinis (the titillating scent of the gin’s juniper making me sneeze) and ate blanched almonds in their living room, spoke tensely to one another; even though I heard Mr. and Mrs. Hughes argue in their Oakdale kitchen, I believed I would remain unendurably happy. I would belong to my husband in a way I could never belong to myself.

Shyly, Joanna and I talked about how our lives would be in a future we expected was two or three years away. Our shyness grew not from modesty before an intimate subject but from spacious ignorance.

What kind of man did we want our husband to be?

“Cute,” Joanna would say.

“Tall,” I would add.

“Well, at least six feet tall,” Joanna would suggest.

Where would we meet him?

“In college,” one of us would say. A campus greensward, mottled by sunlight, stretched out in my mind and a tall boy dressed in crew-neck sweater, cords and dirty Spaulding tennis shoes walked toward me, smiling.

Either Joanna or I would then append, “Not in high school!” We would laugh. Maybe Joanna would say, “Be careful, you’re laughing so hard you almost knocked over the nail polish bottle. My dad will kill me if we mess up his bed.”

Most boys we knew in high school seemed barbaric. We must have imagined that these husbands who awaited us rose fully grown on ivied-brick campuses. It never occurred to us these prospective husbands would be boys who had attended other girls’ high schools.

And after we met one of these college boys, what would happen?

Love.

Nothing, of course, came out like we (foolishly, ignorantly) planned. Nothing. We made dreadful mistakes there was no escaping. But that is another story.

I watched As the World Turns the other day, now shown in bright color for an hour rather than 30 minutes. Oakdale has gone from small town to big city and boasts a yacht casino. After all these years, while Joanna went on with her real life, and I with mine, many people we watched during our high school summers still populate Oakdale. Lisa, one of the wild girls Mrs. Hughes disapproved, has bleached her hair a postmenopausal pale blonde. Her face is lined and gutted. She has, I read somewhere, had 33 lovers, five marriages, half a dozen children and been put away twice in a mental institution. Bob Hughes is a doctor and has aged well. Mrs. Hughes, who has been on the show since it first aired in 1956 (and is older than either Joanna’s or my mother) is now truly old, her back bowed and her stomach pooched out.

None of Oakdale’s women any longer hover over coffeepots or wear flowered house dresses and wait at home for people to show up and tell their troubles or bring bad news. They have glamorous jobs and babies out of wedlock. They connive at business deals as readily as at affairs of the heart. The organ music has been replaced by computer-driven orchestral sounds, and commercials offer products that cure yeast infections and tell you if you’re pregnant.

A shadow falls over summer now that for me never fell before. Even before June was over, even before the blue dropped off the jacaranda trees and my thwarted sunflowers bloomed, I began to dread summer’s end. Nature overruns, outbuilds cathedrals. I kneel down in my flowers. I’m like those old women I used to feel sorry for. I am those old women.

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