Authors: Tina Welling
follows the up and down and all-around adventures of a brave woman who's willing to ask questions we've all asked ourselves. The writing is vivid and will hold you through to the endâbringing home fresh answers to old questions about strength and weakness.”
âClyde Edgerton, author of
Solo: My Adventures in the Air
“A more winning heroine than Suzannahâ¦would be hard to imagine. From page one, we are in love with this wry, insightful, funny survivor of the Sandwich Generation, squeezed between her mother's Alzheimer's and her husband's detachment. In reflections both luminous and humorous, she charts her way to love and independence.”
âSarah Bird, author of
The Flamenco Academy
“Women and men are suddenly revealed in
, an illuminating arc-of-life writing that unfolds in a rich detail of simple and complex feelings.”
âCraig Johnson, author of
The Cold Dish
Death Without Company
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Published by NAL Accent, an imprint of New American Library, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
Previously published in a trade paperback edition by Ghost Road Press.
Copyright Â© Tina Welling, 2006
Conversation Guide copyright Â© Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 2008
All rights reserved
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA
: Welling, Tina.
Â Â Â Crybaby Ranch / Tina Welling.
Â Â Â Â Â Â p. cm.
Â Â Â ISBN: 978-1-1012-1146-5
Â Â Â 1. Self-realizationâFiction. 2. WomenâFiction. I. Title.
Â Â Â PS3623.E4677C79 2008
813'.6âdc22Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â 2007025969
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
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For Alice Marie Petersen Welling
This novel is about loveâmaybe everything is. The first part of my life, I learned about love from my parents, Alice and Bud Welling; in the second part of my life, I learned about love from my husband, John Buhler. I am grateful for their lessons.
The process of translating their lessons into a manuscript required support and guidance. For this, I thank Tim Sandlin, who has generously given both for the twenty-five years of our friendship. I thank my Jackson Hole writers group: Susan Marsh, Geneen Marie Haugen, Connie Wieneke, Kirsten Corbett, with an extra measure of gratitude to Susan for her extra measure of help.
For stories and humor, I thank my sons, Toby Buhler and Trevor Buhler; my brother, Tom Welling; and my sister, Gayle Caston.
Hedgebrook, a paradise for women writers on Whidbey Island in Washington State, nurtured the early seedlings of this manuscript during the first residency I enjoyed there, then helped me to wrap it up during my second residency. I offer wholehearted gratitude for an exceptional experience with remarkable women.
My gratitude also goes to the Jackson Hole Writers Conference and the Wyoming Arts Council.
To the publishers at Ghost Road Press, Matthew Davis and Sonya Unrein, and editor Tess Jones, I give abundant thanks for their professional care and attention, making the entire process one of comfort and pleasure. Judy Johnson, Susan Wasson, Judy Boss, and Eric Boss, through their generosity of spirit, created the pathway that allows me to do what I love every day. And every day I send them gratitude.
For laughter and lunches (often brought right to my desk), I especially thank my life mate, John. Without his love, care and encouragement, none of this would have been any fun.
The shortest day of the year (December 21) has come and gone with the severest winter weather still ahead, but the shortest, dark days are behind.
For Everything There Is a Season
âFrank C. Craighead, Jr.
aturday morning opens like a meadow in springtime, about to flare with bloom and birth. That's the way the beginning of each weekend feels, even this one in the middle of January, even when memory proves weekend after weekend turns out pretty much the same. Still, possibility nests in the tall grasses. And if I keep alert I will not step on any eggs.
A world of beads nestles in my palm. Chinese cloisonnÃ©, East Indian mosaics, African eye beads, Venetian fancies, Italian dream beads. My tongue curls in silence around their names while the saleswoman tallies another customer's selections. Outside the shop window my husband waits for me. I imagine lobbing one of these beads off his forehead, just to break routine.
Instead, my fingers smooth the rounds and my ears absorb the ting of beads knocking into one another, and, as always, I am infused with the happy expectation that for two full days I can lose myself in the meadow of time. Bracelets, earrings, yard-long beaded necklaces, I will create them all and drape them on my body and the lamp shade beside my work space, then sell them and pocket the money to buy more beads.
Erik begins walking as soon as I push through the shop door. I step up my pace. “Hope you've bought something as fun as I did,” I say.
“Picked up a couple newspapers,” he says. His usual purchase.
I give a little skip to keep up with him. “Beckett sounded good on the phone last night. I think he's happy,” I enthuse to Erik, who napped on the sofa during the call from his son, my stepson, off to college far from our Findlay, Ohio, home. “He says Wyoming feels like a foreign country. People try to scare him with blizzard stories and wonder why he doesn't ride on the rodeo team. Can you imagine? This college supports a rodeo team.”
Erik doesn't respond, just keeps his head turned away from me toward the traffic on Main Street. It's a quiet day in town, but that's usual when offices at the Marathon building are closed for the weekend. A light wind nips at the bare skin of my wrists and neck. The sky is a milky blueâwhat we call cloudless around here. “Beck says we wouldn't believe the color of the sky out there.” I continue my report. In lieu of eye contact, I talk to the pale skin behind Erik's left ear as he advances toward the car. I insert another couple skips and a trot to keep up.
“He says he'd fit in better if all his jeans had worn circles in the back pocket from holding a can of Copenhagen. I made him promise he wouldn't take up chewing tobacco and he saidâ¦.”
Erik steps off the curb at the street corner, and before I catch up to him, a car making a right turn separates us. The light changes, traffic flows, and Erik is striding down the sidewalk farther and farther away. My smile and exhilaration boomerang back and embarrass me. I look around, trying to suggest to myself and anyone noticing that my smile and energy are just a general condition, not dependent on the husband who heads off without me. A man on the corner to my right catches my glance as it passes his way. A smile warms his eyes and seems to send a message to me: You deserve better treatment than that.
I pretend I don't need this message. I look away from him. I check how far Erik has walked; I look at my feet, then at the streetlight. I look back at the stranger, and he nods as if to encourage what I'm thinking. But I'm not thinking anything. I just want off this street corner. I just want to finish telling Erik about how Beck's friends served elk stew for dinner one night.
After Erik and I arrive home, the stranger's eyes and kind smile still pulse behind my forehead. Instead of a wise and elderly shaman, the man looked my age, middle to late thirties; he was dressed in khakis and a Windbreaker. Handsome, too. Why couldn't he have just flirted with me and made my day?
The urge to make the stranger on the street corner wrong overtakes the urge to spread my jewelry tools, beads, and fittings all over the kitchen table right away. A newspaper barricades Erik in a corner of the sofa. I ask him formally if I can talk to him.
“You have been talking to me. Thought you were finished.” But he lays the paper aside when I ask him to. Erik is easy to get along with, I remind myself. This is a nice man. He has never deliberately hurt me. I explain how unimportant to him I felt when he left me standing on the street corner alone. I leave out the handsome man watching us.
“Suzannah,” he sighs, impatience tinging the edges of my name, “don't take everything I do so personally.”
It's true that I used to carry a personal burden of guilt for half the stories on the evening news when I hadn't even left the house, but I've grown out of that. And now I feel I know what belongs to me personallyâthat is, if a handsome stranger alerts me to my feelings first.
I feel dismissed on the street corner again, and this time anger rises in me.
“All right,” I say, gathering my dignity. “I won't take everything you do so personally. In return, I'd like you to take everything I do personally.” I get up steam. “Whatever I say to you, whatever I do to youâtake it very personally.” I swat at his newspaper draped open on his knees, rise from the sofa, and leave the room.
At the kitchen table I unpack everything from the slate blue overnight case I keep my bead work in. I lift out six fishing lure boxes, each divided into small squares that keep my beads separated, but the mounting anticipation I usually experience doing this feels diluted. Erik works like a sponge on my good spirits. He shields himself not only with the newspaper, but with obtuseness; he refuses to catch my wit or the real meaning of my words to him. With Beckett gone no one is left to laugh at my silly jokes or to color in the blank spots between Erik and me. The loneliness makes my days drab as those leafless trees outside my kitchen window.
Packed at the very bottom of this stained satin-lined case from my childhood sleepovers is a cigar box holding my tools. The paper cover on the box is designed to make it look like a wooden humidor. A gold label proclaims:
BERING IMPERIALS, TWENTY-FIVE ALL TOBACCO CIGARS
. I lift the lid.
IMPORTED LONG FILLER, NATURAL LEAF BINDER
, it says beneath a picture of Vitus Bering, the Danish navigator who discovered the Bering Strait. That's what I need, an imported long filler for my natural leaf binder, I joke to myself, picturing the handsome stranger on the street corner. I lay out my tools with the care of a surgeon. Three pliersâbending, round nose, chain noseâside cutter, tweezers, gauge. I should take a trip. Just up and go. I have never done anything rash. Never traveled alone. Never made any discoveries. Vitus Bering had all the fun. All the good clothes, too, by the looks of his red velvet cap and ermine draped robes.
Happy by nature, I can become manic trying to produce boughs of good cheer to wreathe the air between Erik and me. Manic like today in town. I square up my bead tray with the table edge. Acculon wire cable, head pins, jump rings, I finger it all, trusting my hands to show me what I'll work on first. I love Erik, and sometimes when I'm not with him, I feel such a passionate yearning for his company. But come to think of it, I often feel that way sitting right beside him on the sofa.
CRAFTED IN TAMPA, FLORIDA, BY THE SAME FINE FAMILY SINCE
1905. I close the cigar box and set it aside. My family lives on the other coast of Florida in Stuart, and my father probably emptied this box of its cigars. Reasons abound for our scant communication the past couple years. The main one being my mother's drunken phone calls at one in the morning. But if my father had raised a decent daughter, she would visit and set things straight.
I bring my thoughts back home and line up black Czechoslovakian satin beads with tiny pink rosebuds inside them, both ovals and rounds, between the ridges of the white velvet-lined beading tray. Erik and I are both right in our advice to each other. I should stop taking his sulks and unresponsiveness personally; it would be a relief to us both. And if he'd stop treating me like I was the general public, it would help a lot, too. I separate the beads with frilly silver spacers. Suddenly I feel a cold grip to my insides: If it doesn't have to do with me personally, I can't personally fix it.
I pull out memory coil that slips from my right palm to my left like a small-scale Slinky toy, count off three loops, and snip. As I bend one end of the coil to catch the beads I'll thread onto it, I remember how I first started beading. Four years ago I stood in the hallway at school and looked at the watch on my left wrist, knowing vaguely that I meant to get information from it. Rather than hold the watch to my ear to check whether it was still ticking, I slowly brought it to my nose. This so frightened me that I was forced to discover at least one thing that would perk an interest in life.
That first trip into a bead store set me on a path that now weekly engulfs me with joy. For five days a week, I am stuck teaching junior high schoolers English, but weekends are mine to make jewelry. In my classes the teacher joins the students cheering on the clock till it hits three fifteen and the bell rings, calling an end to the day. Sometimes I'm even first out the door.
I need more silver for this braceletâthose lacy bead caps. I root around my lure boxes.
Again, the strange man's smile slices into my thoughts like a crescent moon slipping from behind cloud cover, and I see a reality I have refused to see on my own: I've been trotting after Erik the whole seventeen years we've been married. How can a total stranger witness a single moment and uncover for me a thing hidden so long? He did not pass judgment, rush into action, say a word. He just saw the truth and mirrored it back to me.
My hands stop their work. What truth?
In the shine of that man's smile, I felt something deeper than embarrassment. I felt shame, a lack of power to choose against taking part in something wrong. Again now I feel the red curtain of it rise to cloak and confuse my thoughts. In that man's eyes I saw how I allowed myself to be treated by the person with the most power over me. Power I had given along with the intimacy I offered him.
Perhaps I need to take the power back. Learn the trick of just offering the intimacy.
I have come a long way in this marriage. From a teenager in high school with the afternoon job of babysitting a college professor's infant to that professor's wife and that infant's mother. But what did I give away in the process?
Once, Erik needed me for Beckett's care. I created a home and a life for them both. Time passed and Beckett grew, and I became free to return to school, choose a career, but I'd forgotten how to make choices for myself. I didn't even want to. By then I disliked leaving my house; small interruptions in routine disarmed me of coping skills; I was easily rattled and very dependent on Erik.
I pick up the memory coil again, feed it a large round Czech satin. When I purchased my first jewelry-making supplies and discovered I could create something beautiful, I became stronger bead by bead. It was my first experience of doing something just for me. I should pat myself on the back, because when it does have to do with me personally, I know how to personally fix it. I just need alerting first from life's little embarrassments. Like smelling my watch in the school hallway. Like almost getting hit by a car while entertaining my husband.
I even pushed past my fear and began trying to sell my work so I could buy more beads, keep making new pieces. Now two shops here in Findlay, one downtown, one in the mall, sell my necklaces, earrings, and bracelets.
Hours later, dissolved in contentment and forgetting that I'm mad, I holler to Erik still in the living room. “What should we have for dinner?”
Long pause. I wait, head cocked. Newspaper rustles. Another minute passes.
“I don't know.”
Big investment on my part for this nonanswer. I try again. “What do you feel like eating?”
This time I continue choosing beads, guiding them onto a yard-long piece of Acculon. Three beads, four, five.
“What do you feel like?” he answers in an uninterested voice.
Conversation with Erik is like playing catch with someone who keeps all the balls.
“I feel like escargot at a four-star restaurant followed by beef Wellington. Okeydoke?”
As I finish the necklace, I slide into a daydream in which Erik and I laugh and whisper on a dinner date while sending smoky, low-lidded looks at each other across escargot and glimmering glasses of wine. I touch my tongue to my lips, then lift my eyes to spot the street-corner stranger witnessing our flirtations. He corrects his assumptions of me as a wimpy wife left in the debris of the curbside and tries to come on to me behind Erik's back.
I take a break and stretch. That won't happen. Erik and I don't date, and the stranger's assumptions, as I am reading them, are right on the money. My evening holds silence from Erik and tedious noise from the television. I scoot back my stool and walk into the living room.
“Erik, I'm leaving.”
No reaction. “Would you answer me?”
“I don't believe you asked me a question.” He continues reading.
I ask one now. “Erik, did you hear me? I'm leaving.”
Erik lifts his flat eyes from the newspaper to my face.
I mean to say that I'm going to the grocery store to get things for dinner, but his lack of responsiveness works on me and I blurt, “I'm going to Florida. Back in a week.”