A MOST UNUSUAL WEEK
POINT CLEAR, ALABAMA
MONDAY, JUNE 6, 2005
76° AND SUNNY
MRS. EARLE POOLE, JR., BETTER KNOWN TO FRIENDS AND FAMILY AS Sookie, was driving home from the Birds-R-Us store out on Highway 98 with one ten-pound bag of sunflower seeds and one ten-pound bag of wild bird seed and not her usual weekly purchase for the past fifteen years of one twenty-pound bag of the Pretty Boy Wild Bird Seed and Sunflower Mix. As she had explained to Mr. Nadleshaft, she was worried that the smaller birds were still not getting enough to eat. Every morning lately, the minute she filled her feeders, the larger, more aggressive blue jays would swoop in and scare the little birds all away.
She noticed that the blue jays always ate the sunflower seeds first, and so tomorrow, she was going to try putting just plain sunflower seeds in her backyard feeders, and while the blue jays were busy eating them, she would run around the house as fast as she could and put the wild bird seed in the feeders in the front yard. That way, her poor finches and titmice might be able to get a little something, at least.
AS SHE DROVE OVER the Mobile Bay Bridge, she looked out at the big white puffy clouds and saw a long row of pelicans flying low over the water. The bay was sparkling in the bright sun and already dotted with red, white, and blue sailboats headed out for the day. A few people fishing alongside the bridge waved as she passed by, and she smiled and waved back. She was almost to the other side when she suddenly began to experience some sort of a vague and unusual sense of well-being. And with good reason.
Against all odds, she had just survived the last wedding of their three daughters, Dee Dee, Ce Ce, and Le Le. Their only unmarried child now was their twenty-five-year-old son, Carter, who lived in Atlanta. And some other poor (God help her), beleaguered mother of the bride would be in charge of planning that happy occasion. All she and Earle would have to do for Carter’s wedding was show up and smile. And today, other than one short stop at the bank and picking up a couple of pork chops for dinner, she didn’t have another single thing she had to do. She was almost giddy with relief.
Of course, Sookie absolutely worshipped and adored her girls, but having to plan three large weddings in fewer than two years had been a grueling, never-ending, twenty-four-hours-a-day job, with all the bridal showers, picking out patterns, shopping, fittings, writing invitations, meeting with caterers, figuring out seating arrangements, ordering flowers, etc. And between dealing with out-of-town guests and new in-laws, figuring out where to put everyone, plus last-minute bridal hysteria, at this point, she was simply weddinged out.
And no wonder. If you counted Dee Dee’s last one, technically there had really been four large weddings, which meant shopping and being fitted for four different mother-of-the-bride dresses (you can’t wear the same one twice) in less than two years.
Dee Dee had married, then promptly divorced. And after they had spent weeks returning all the wedding gifts, she had turned around and remarried the exact same husband. Her second wedding hadn’t been quite as expensive as the first, but every bit as stressful.
When she and Earle had married in 1968, it had been just a typical church affair: white wedding gown, bridesmaids in matching pastel dresses and shoes, ring bearer, best man, reception, over and out. But now everybody had to have some kind of a theme.
Dee Dee had insisted on having an authentic Old South Gone with the Wind wedding, complete with a Scarlett O’Hara dress, large hoop skirt and all, and at the last minute, she had to be driven to the church standing up in the back of a small moving van.
Le Le and her groom wanted an entirely red and white wedding, including the invitations, food, drinks, and all the decorations, in honor of the University of Alabama football team.
And Ce Ce, Le Le’s twin sister, the last girl to marry, had carried her ten-pound Persian cat, Peek-a-Boo, down the aisle instead of a wedding bouquet, and the groom’s German shepherd, dressed in a tux, had served as best man. And if that wasn’t bad enough, someone’s turtle was the ring bearer. The entire thing had just been excruciating. You can’t hurry a turtle.
LOOKING BACK ON IT now, Sookie realized she really should have put her foot down when Ce Ce and James invited all their friends to bring their pets to the reception, but she had made a sacred vow to never bully her children. Nevertheless, having to replace an entire banquet room’s wall-to-wall carpeting at the Grand Hotel was going to cost them a fortune. Oh, well. Too late now. Hopefully, all that was behind her, and evidently not a minute too soon.
Two days ago, when Ce Ce left for her honeymoon, Sookie had broken down and sobbed uncontrollably. She didn’t know if she was experiencing empty-nest syndrome or just plain exhaustion. She knew she must be tired. At the reception, she had introduced a man to his own wife. Twice.
The truth was, as sad as she was to see Ce Ce and James drive off, she had been secretly looking forward to going home, taking off all her clothes, and crawling into bed for about five years, but even that had been put on hold. At the last minute, James’s parents, his sister, and her husband had decided to stay over an extra night, so she had to quickly try and whip up a little “going away” brunch for them.
Granted, it wasn’t much: Earle’s coconut margaritas, an assortment of crackers, cream cheese and pepper jelly, shrimp and grits, crab cakes with coleslaw, and tomato aspic on the side. But still, it had taken some effort.
WHEN SOOKIE DROVE INTO the little town of Point Clear and passed the Page and Palette bookstore, it occurred to her that maybe tomorrow, she would stop in and pick up a good book. She hadn’t had time to read anything other than her daily horoscope, the Kappa newsletter, and an occasional Birds and Blooms magazine. We could be at war for all she knew. But now, she was actually going to be able to read an entire book again.
She suddenly felt like doing the twist right there in the front seat, which only reminded her how long it had been since she and Earle had learned a new dance step. She had probably even forgotten how to do the hokey pokey.
All she really had left to deal with was her eighty-eight-year-old mother, the formidable Mrs. Lenore Simmons Krackenberry, who absolutely refused to move to the perfectly lovely assisted-living facility right across town. And it would be so much easier on everybody if she would. The maintenance on her mother’s yard alone was extremely expensive, not to mention the yearly insurance. Since the hurricane, the insurance on everybody’s house on the Mobile Bay had gone sky-high. But Lenore was adamant about never leaving her home and had announced with a dramatic gesture, “Until they carry me out feetfirst.”
Sookie couldn’t imagine her mother leaving anywhere feetfirst. As long as she and her brother, Buck, could remember, Lenore, a large imposing woman who wore lots of scatter pins and long, flowing scarves, and had her silver hair teased and sprayed into a perfect winged-back flip, had always rushed into a room headfirst. Buck said she looked like something that should be on the hood of a car, and they had secretly referred to her as “Winged Victory” ever since. And Winged Victory never just left a room; she whisked out with a flourish, leaving a cloud of expensive perfume in her wake. Never a quiet woman in any sense of the word, much like a show horse in the Rose Parade, she could be heard coming a mile away, due to the loud jingling of the numerous bracelets, bangles, and beads she always wore. And she was usually speaking long before she came in sight. Lenore had a loud booming voice and had studied “Expression” while attending Judson College for women, and to the family’s everlasting regret, the teacher had encouraged her.
Now, due to certain recent events, including her setting her own kitchen on fire, they had been forced to hire a twenty-four-hour live-in nurse for Lenore. Earle was a successful dentist with a nice practice, but they were by no means rich, and certainly not now, with all the money they had spent sending the children to college, the weddings, Lenore’s mortgage, and now the nurse. Poor Earle might not be able to retire until he was ninety, but the nurse was a definite necessity.
“Lenore, who was not only loud but also extremely opinionated and voiced her opinion to everyone within earshot, had suddenly started calling total strangers long-distance. Last year, she had called the pope in Rome, and that call alone had cost them more than three hundred dollars. When confronted with the bill, Lenore had been incensed and said that she shouldn’t have to pay a dime because she had been on hold the entire time. Try telling that to the phone company. And there was no reasoning with her. When Sookie asked why she had called the pope, considering that she was a sixth-generation dyed-in-the-wool Methodist, Lenore had thought for a moment and said, “Oh … just to chat.”