Tuesday night I went over to my grandmother's house for a birthday dinner. She fixed pot roast, mashed potatoes, gravy, homemade bread. She fixed a suspicious Jell-O mold that had nuts in it. She fixed fresh peach pie.
I said probably ten whole sentences from the time I arrived to the time I left. Between those points my grandfather--who isn't really my grandfather, but a farmer my grandmother married when I was young--directed the conversation toward more important avenues than my impending twenty-fifth birthday. He wanted to discuss combining, manure, and pistons. He wanted to talk about calving, about tires, and about the Amish up the road: They're weird, you know. They don't even have buttons.
If my grandmother wanted to ask me a question, she had to lean over and whisper it close to my ear because he never stops, my quasi-grandfather. He was talking to my father about haying and my grandmother moved over to ask how my teaching was going. I said it was great, I was loving it, I was fond of my students, and I would've said more, but that's when her husband raised his already-booming voice to decibels unknown. He didn't want anyone interrupting his treatise on the rainy weather and its effect on the season's haying.
The pie, though. Well, that sure was something.
It was my birthday, so I didn't really feel like doing anything. My father called. "Rent movies off the dish," he said. "Just sit in front of the television all day. And when I come home, I'm making you dinner."
My mother called. "Are you pantsless?" she asked. There was a week after I moved home from Minnesota that I woke up in the morning and refused to put on pants. It just felt right to wander around the house like some sort of displaced, pantsless bum.
I told her I had already been out to the mailbox, so I'd had to put on some pants.
Later, my father came home and made me dinner. Shrimp scampi. Then he brought out a raspberry cheesecake with a single candle burning in its center. There was also a Hello Kitty balloon and a card with tickets to Mama Mia! at Shea's. I forced him to watch Two Weeks Notice, which is one of my favorite predictable romantic comedies.
A few hours later the water stopped working completely. We couldn't flush, shower, or wash our hands.
I went to school and taught my three classes. My middle class--easily my favorite so far--was held in a room that was as roasting as one of the deeper levels of hell, so I marched over to the window to open it for some circulation. But even after I opened it, there was none. One of my students suggested I open the blinds. My try to do so resembled some sort of screwball comedy that you'd see on the Three Stooges. I tugged, I pulled, I fiddled with each of the three pulleys. Nothing. And that class laughed and heckled as I fought with them. Finally, I gave up.
"I give up," I told my students. "If one of you wants to give it a whirl, be my guest."
One of the boys wanted to try it. As soon as he started toward the window I figured I was about to be shown up and made a fool of. Surely the thing was going to work perfectly for him, establishing that I--a teacher of college-level English--was completely spastic and unable to function in everyday circumstances, like opening blinds.
I turned around and started writing the day's journal topic on the board. When I was one line in, that's when the crash happened. I turned around and saw the boy battling with the blinds. He was yanking and batting at their swinging plastic bodies. Now the class was heckling him. And then, then, then--then one of the blinds broke clear off the track and clattered to the floor. But at least the rest of them accordioned back into a neat row. Just the way we wanted them.
"Thank God," I said, but then I pointed to the fallen blind. "I think your tuition is probably going to go up now. Maybe you should sign and date it. It could be a memento."
Then I turned back to the board and the journal topic. When I was finished, I faced them again, and there it was: the blind, sitting on my desk at the front and decorated with twenty-five fresh signatures written in thick, silver ink. CLASS OF '10! one of the students had written in the middle. The boy who broke it had written his name and then a confession: I broke it!
"It's for you," my students said. "You can hang it in your office or take it with you wherever you go. So you'll never forget us."
I love them.
Much later, after I was done teaching and after he was done with his own classes, Jeff and I met up for dinner at an organic deli down the road from our school. He got me a wrap stuffed with organic turkey (FYI: organic turkey is in desperate need of salt), cream cheese, sprouts, avocado, and miso. "That's fermented soybean paste," Jeff told me.
"Oh, it's like I'm eating Minnesota," I said. It was delicious.
On our way back to school, we passed our area Hooters, the restaurant at which my brother is a faithful and steadfast patron.
"That's my brother's Hooters," I told Jeff.
Jeff made a face. He frowned. "Hmm," he said. "That's sort of gross."
When I got home an hour later my father looked me very seriously in the eye. He had some news. Very solemn news. "The Hooters is closing," he told me.
"Hooters?" I said. "I just drove by it today! How is that even possible?"
"I don't know," my father said. He shrugged. "Just imagine how your brother is going to feel."
The plumber called this morning at 7:45. He called me Mrs. Smith. He asked if my husband had any idea what might be wrong with the water.
"He's my father," I said. "And he thinks it might be the pressure valve."
The plumber asked for directions and said he'd be right over. I got out of bed and changed out of my pajama pants. I knew what company my father had hired, and it's a family operation out of our hometown. The sons work the business along with their father. The sons are really tall, really blond, and really cute. I used to stare at them in church.
I've learned my lesson from last weekend when my brother brought the cute Midwestern boy he's befriended by the house. I fed him blueberry muffins while wearing too-short pants and slipper socks. If there was a chance I was going to get one of the cute son plumbers, I wanted to look like a normal girl instead of the freakish thing I look like when I first wake up.
Thirty minutes later, I was sitting in my living room when the plumber--a 40ish man with receding hair who had been fiddling around with the pump downstairs--came up to the window and knocked. "I COULD REALLY USE YOUR HELP RIGHT NOW," he said through the pane of glass.
"Okay," I said. I went outside. Turns out, I was in charge of catching a long pipe that he was snaking up out of our well. I caught it fine. I walked it back and back and back until the whole thing was out and into the light of day. Then I had to lift it up and walk it back to him when it needed to go back in. This would've been much more thrilling and important if it had been one of the cute sons, but just as I was thinking this he told me that everything would be okay now, and that I would finally be able to shower. That's when I forgave him for not being really tall, really my age, and really blond. He gave me the ability to shower, to do the laundry that's been piling up, and those are both really good gifts since tonight we're going out to celebrate my birthday.