Posted by: hambletthouse | June 16, 2008

“Precious Plants a Garden”

         It’s summer, and Maybelle knows this because the birds are singing louder and the temperature is getting warmer. Because she’ll be turning on the air conditioning soon and fighting off mosquitoes during her early evening walks. But her surest indication of the arrival of summer is the increased traffic at her front door: UPS, FedEx, take your pick.  

         “This is the one,” said Maybelle’s husband, Precious, as he ran to sign for yet another package one recent afternoon. “I’ve done my research and I’m convinced this particular planter system will yield a richer crop of vegetables than last year’s with regard to ratio of time invested divided by seeds planted and water distributed.” There is more he could say on the subject—take Maybelle’s word on this—but he was so excited about his new contraption that he dashed toward the deck to break open the box before she could sprinkle him with such questions as, “Honey, what about the planter from last year?” and “Sweetpea, how about the newfangled hydroponics thingamajig you bought the year before that?” (Because their house does not have a backyard to speak of, Precious is limited to what he can grow—or attempt to grow—in pots on the deck.)

         “Trust me,” he shouted through the screen door as if he had read Maybelle’s mind. “This year will be different.” His eyes were gleaming almost instantly, brimming over with visions of juicy tomatoes and firm squash, leafy spinach and tasty peppers. All this before he’d even ripped into his bags of mushroom-infused mulch and nutrient-enhanced potting soil stacked in the carport. There is an upside to her husband’s summertime fascination with manure, however, because it reminds Maybelle of her father, and she means that in the nicest way.

         Maybelle’s daddy, who died in 2000, also loved to garden. His carefully tended rows in the farthest reaches of the backyard might yield cucumbers and tomatoes one year, lettuce and zinnias the next. Always there were roses. Sunflowers made a rare appearance one season, and Maybelle has vivid memories of a lot of corn: fried corn, creamed corn, corn blended into batter for cornbread, corn on the cob (buttered and nestled in a piece of white bread, her personal favorite).

         The planning started early for Maybelle’s dad, as soon as the gardening catalogs began arriving during the winter months. He’d pore over them and dog-ear the pages that tempted him with exotic hybrids or increased yields. Soon enough, as February melted into March, deliveries from Jackson and Perkins, Wayside Gardens, and White Flower Farm—just to name a few—would begin to arrive.

         Now Maybelle spends her winter evenings with a different man, another eager gardener who routinely orders more plants and seeds and related paraphernalia than he actually needs. (Maybelle has a few more purses than she actually needs, though, so she and Precious have adopted a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy concerning gardening and shopping.) And this summer is no different from the other five they have spent together as husband and wife.

         Apparently the newly arrived “sure fire” system was somewhat difficult to assemble, for soon after Precious opened the box labeled “Get Growing Now!,” Maybelle was assaulted by pounding noises.

         “Okay,” he said, a bit of sweat hovering between his eyebrows when she went outside to make sure he wasn’t bleeding. “I think I’ve got it figured out now. The instructions didn’t include any pictures—can you believe that?—and they must have left out a few steps, because this thing was tricky to put together. But I just know we won’t be the least bit tempted to drive down to the Farmer’s Market this year. Trust me.”

         Maybelle has heard it said that daughters marry their fathers. She did not, although she can say without question that she loves those two men like no other. Despite their differences, they share a few commonalities, not the least of which might be their appreciation of dirt, and their love of Maybelle.  

Copyright Amy Lyles Wilson, 2008

Posted by: hambletthouse | May 13, 2008

“Maybelle Drags Her Mother Online”

Maybelle is just old enough (don’t ask) to have missed being a true member of the computer generation. When she was in grad school, the computer lab consisted of massive monitors and clunky keyboards. Today that same school, a state university mind you, has rooms full of Macs and wireless all around. Maybelle is so happy for those kids she could just pop.

But Maybelle can surf with the best of them, so it was with full confidence that she offered to help her mother navigate the information superhighway.

“It’s easy, Mother. All you have to do is log on.”

“Log on what?”

“Log onto the Internet.”

“The Interwhat?”

Maybelle’s mother stared at her daughter, lips pursed.

“It’s libraries and research institutions and people connected by computers. You can access all sorts of information, even order clothes.” Maybelle knew this was not the time to get technical.

“Let’s look up something,” she suggested.

“I need to find the middle name of your father’s third cousin twice removed’s great-grandchild on his mother’s side. You know, the guy who was run out of town in the 1800s.”

“Right,” said Maybelle, rolling her eyes with fervor. “I remember him.”

“It could be the missing link to your family tree, Maybelle. Really, you ought to have more respect for your roots.”

“Okay. Let’s post a query on a listserv.”

“Post a what on a whosit?”

“It’s like a bulletin board. You ask a question and people respond, either here or in your mailbox.”

“The  mailbox at the end of the driveway?”

“No,” said Maybelle, gripping the sides of her chair. “The mailbox attached to your email address.”

“Do I have one of those?”

“Yes, Mother, you do.”

“Oh,” she responded, shrugging her shoulders.

“Didn’t Mrs. Bartlebaumer send you something after her grandson got her online? Look, here it is, a picture of her great-grandchild. Yikes, she really shouldn’t have!”

“Don’t be mean,” said Maybelle’s mother, squinting.

“Maybe you need computer glasses.”

“Those sound expensive. I’ll be alright. Don’t worry about me.”

“Okay. Hit ‘reply’ and type Mrs. Bartlebaumer a note.”

“I don’t type very fast,” said Maybelle’s mother as she hunted and pecked and made clucking noises with her tongue.

“What happens if I accidentally punch the wrong button? Will that bother anyone else?”

“Like who?” asked Maybelle.

“Those researchers you mentioned, or people who are shopping.”

“You’re not going to bother them,” said Maybelle, patting her mother on her left knee. “I promise, you can’t bring down the entire Internet with one misplaced keystroke.”

“Well, I should hope not. Goodness knows I have enough to worry about.”

Several weeks later, Maybelle’s mother was bookmarking websites, visiting chat rooms, and sending emails with ease.

“Wow,” said Maybelle when she stopped by her mother’s house for a visit. “You’re doing great.”

“Don’t sound so shocked. But I don’t have time to visit right now. I got a lead on that relative of your father’s. The nicest historian in Scotland is emailing me. Maybe you and I can IM later tonight when traffic’s not jammed on the server. I’ll text your cell when I’m free.”

Maybelle hates it when she’s forced to resort to cliches, really she does. And she hopes you can forgive her. But all she could think as she walked away was, “We’ve come a long way, baby.”


Copyright Amy Lyles Wilson, 2008

Posted by: hambletthouse | May 6, 2008

“Maybelle Lends a Hand”

            Maybelle has long said she was raised by volunteers. By this she does not mean that complete strangers came by her house in the afternoons to teach her right from wrong or fry her some okra for dinner, but that her parents were committed to giving back to their community. So much so that sometimes when Maybelle needed help getting her Girl Scout uniform ready or planning her science project, her folks were at a committee meeting or fundraiser, leaving Maybelle to fend for herself.

            “We knew you would be okay, for goodness sakes,” says Maybelle’s mother when Maybelle has the gall to bring up something so petty from her childhood. “But there were some people who needed our help, people who didn’t have your resources or opportunities.”

            Of course, at the time, when Maybelle was little, this did not make a lot of sense to her. She just knew that she was tired of ironing her clothes and doing her homework alone. But as she grew up, Maybelle learned the value of volunteering. Such outreach efforts not only assisted others, but they also helped her develop as an individual.

            Maybelle’s parents taught her a lot, actually, when they weren’t out effecting change. And two of their guiding principles were: “to those whom much is given, much is expected,” and “we are all pilgrims on the pathway of life who must help one another on the journey.”

            So it may not be surprising that Maybelle, too, has developed into a volunteer. One of her favorite outreach gigs is working with hospice patients. Maybelle’s family never talked about death and she didn’t want to be fearful of something so integral to life. Or at least that’s the way Maybelle sees it. So she gathered up all the gumption she could muster and signed up to be a patient caregiver with hospice.

            At first, Maybelle was worried she might not be able to meet the patients’ needs, but she shouldn’t have been concerned. Everyone she has worked with so far has been grateful and appreciative, and had something to teach Maybelle about death–and life. They ask for so little, to Maybelle’s mind. An errand here, time spent listening, a little housework there. According to many of the families, hospice volunteers allow them to recoup their energy so that they might continue their mission of caring for their loved ones at home.

            One patient, a feisty seventy-something woman named Melinda, sent her daughter out shopping the day before she died to buy Maybelle a gift.

            “Find something with an angel on it,” the mother instructed her daughter. “Thank you for being my angel,” read the card that accompanied the precious pewter pin of an angel clutching a heart. This made Maybelle cry, of course.

            It’s a story Maybelle tells when people ask her why she does it, why she hangs out with the dying.


Copyright Amy Lyles Wilson, 2008

Posted by: hambletthouse | April 30, 2008

“Maybelle Attends a Baby Shower”

            Many of Maybelle’s friends have children, and a few of them even have grandchildren. Maybelle has neither. So she’s used to being the odd woman out when it comes to celebrating births. But her displaced status hits her like a stinky diaper when, over cheesecake and decaf at her friend Sarah Beth’s baby shower, she hears these words: “At least my gums aren’t bleeding as bad with this pregnancy.” Maybelle glances at her with a look of horror. “Your gums bleed?”

            “Oh yeah,” says Sarah Beth, her face serene though puffy. “You don’t know the half of it.”

            Several of the fifteen or so women in the tasteful, book-lined den nod. They huddle around the ottoman-turned-coffee table and cluck their tongues in agreement. Soon Maybelle excuses herself and goes into the kitchen to put away her plate. There she notices that the magnets on the Subzero hold children’s finger-painted pictures full of primary colors and promise. On Maybelle’s Whirlpool you’ll find pizza coupons and heartworm reminders for her mutt, Quay.

            When Maybelle returns to the den, the conversation by the fireplace has turned to difficult deliveries. “They waited too long to give me an epidural,” says one woman. “I thought they’d never get my son out,” claims another. “I was actually glad to hear the doctor call for the forceps.”

            “Read any good books lately?” Maybelle asks, trying desperately to be one of the girls. “No,” says a redhead. “But I’ve memorized the entire Veggie Tales video series. In English and Spanish.”

            Sarah Beth is just weeks away from the due date of her second child. Maybelle has witnessed quite a few of her friends’ pregnancies and every time she considers it a miracle. How can a woman’s body do that? What does it feel like? Do they know what they’re getting into?

            Maybelle’s even thrown a shower or two, including one for Sarah Beth when she had her first child. Maybelle sent encouraging, funny cards when Margaret was flat on her back with a pump in her leg during her last trimester. Last summer, Maybelle wiped more than a few runny noses and kissed several knees during Vacation Bible School at her church. Her own sister has three kids, and Maybelle’s a godmother to two precious boys, for crying out loud. So she knows about centimeters dilated and hemorrhoids and the terrible twos and appropriate consequences for inappropriate behavior and endearing hugs against the crook of your neck. But Maybelle does not have first-hand knowledge of throwing up every morning for three months, not being able to stand the smell of her husband during the second trimester, and tottering around on swollen ankles the size of baseballs.

            Maybelle and Sarah Beth have been friends for more than ten years. They have been through a lot of bad dates (mainly Maybelle’s), several career changes (both of them), and the loss of one sibling (Sarah Beth’s).  And Maybelle loves Sarah Beth’s daughter, who seems to like Maybelle well enough, though when she says her prayers at night apparently Maybelle is not mentioned until after the nanny and the nanny’s dog.

            As the shower draws to a close, Maybelle thanks Sarah Beth for the invitation. She knows that Sarah Beth worries about her sometimes, being that Maybelle is focused on her career and does not have children. Caught in a sea of maternity, as it were. Maybelle tells her that it’s okay, that everyone isn’t destined to be a mother, that God has something else in store for her, that she’s thankful for the time she can spend with her friends’ children. (Maybelle is a pretty cool babysitter if she does say so herself.)

            “I appreciate being included tonight,” says Maybelle as she heads toward her car, parked under a bright night full of stars and wonder. And she does.

            “But you can keep your bleeding gums to yourself.”

 Copyright Amy Lyles Wilson, 2008

Posted by: hambletthouse | April 24, 2008

“Maybelle Goes to a Wedding”


         And so Maybelle’s niece has gotten married. At 22, her niece is the same age her mother was when she married in 1973. Back then, Maybelle’s oldest sister, Emma Rae, was kind enough to have her 12-year-old, chubby-cheeked baby sister—that would be Maybelle—in her wedding. Maybelle was quite proud to be included, and it made her feel terribly grown-up.

         No one bothered to school Maybelle in the finer points of wedding etiquette however, because when Emma Rae threw the bouquet Maybelle practically mowed down her middle sister, Theodora, to catch the flying flowers as they arced through the front yard of their family’s home.

         Although Maybelle was usually quite the sensitive and well-behaved child, on this day she did not realize it was proper for the bouquet to land in the eager palms of a more age-appropriate girl. After someone pointed out her gaffe, of course Maybelle apologized and handed over the blooms to Theodora, who was gracious about the whole thing. Then Maybelle asked her mother if she could change out of her bridesmaid’s dress and put on some play clothes.

         Having defied tradition so blatantly, Maybelle wondered later if she might have jinxed Theodora’s chances of finding a soul mate of her own. Maybelle needn’t have worried, though, for Theodora and her husband tied the knot in 1981 and have been married for some 27 years now. Maybelle, on the other hand, did not make her way down the aisle until she was 40. (Six weeks shy of her 41st birthday if you must know.) Maybe the delay was some sort of cosmic payback for the unladylike bouquet-snatching episode of her youth.

         As Maybelle’s family gathered in Birmingham for her niece’s wedding, she assured the blushing bride she would be on her best behavior. “My flower stealing days are over,” Maybelle promised. The odds would have been against Maybelle anyway, what with her arthritic knees and some 12 taffeta-clad girls to overpower. She did, however, muster up the energy and wherewithal to spend an inordinate amount of time on the dance floor with wedding attendants, family members, and perfect strangers, gyrating to “Tighten Up” as if she had been told it would be her last opportunity to do so.

         Even today, many months after the wedding, each night as Maybelle lays her head on the pillow she prays she will not wake up to find a video of her antics on YouTube, for more than once she has been accused of dancing “like nobody’s watching.” Thankfully Maybelle’s husband, Precious, who is not the gyrating type and instead prefers to stand on the sidelines and smirk, does not know how to work the camera on his cell phone.

         When the time came for Maybelle’s niece to toss her own bouquet, it separated into several smaller clusters so multiple girls could catch them…some newfangled invention called a “breakaway bouquet.” My how things have changed since 1973.

         Maybelle didn’t throw the bouquet at her own wedding in 2002. Something about heaving a tightly wound bunch of lilies toward a room full of middle-aged guests—many of whom were shocked even to be witnessing her betrothal—chewing on crudités seemed a bit unseemly at Maybelle’s advancing age. There was no ripping off of the garter, no smushing of cake into the faces of the bride and groom. Just a man and a woman coming together—a bit love weary but still full of hope—vowing to make the best life they could with one another.

Copyright Amy Lyles Wilson, 2008

Posted by: hambletthouse | April 18, 2008

“Maybelle Gets a Craving”


For some reason, Maybelle’s not sure why, she ate an entire bag of doughnuts yesterday. They were the small ones, mind you, but still. A whole bag. The white powdered kind. Maybelle prefers the ones that taste like they have coconut on them, but those are hard to find when a gal is in the middle of a craving and has only the neighborhood convenience store at her disposal.

Although Maybelle did not eat them in one sitting—more like one sitting (on the floor), one ravaging (at the kitchen counter), and at least one reclining (on the couch)—eat them she did. She had put it off as long as she could, well past noon, but she was craving something soft and sweet, an unfortunate diet buster that’s been sabotaging her more and more frequently these days. Maybe she should ask her gynecologist if this is another disappointing development she can blame on menopause, even though her doctor keeps telling her she’s not in menopause yet.

“You’re not menopausal until a year goes by without a period,” he says as he scoots back from the examining table with a thrust and snaps off his plastic gloves as if he has just won some sort of vaginal duel.

“Even if you have symptoms for some ten years before.” Now he is jotting down notes in Maybelle’s file folder, which seems alarmingly full now that she takes a good, long look at it. Did he just say ten years?

By Maybelle’s calculations, which even Maybelle must admit often skew things in her favor, she’s been at this for two years, easy, by now. Or at least six months, for sure. But regardless of how long it’s been, she knows her body, for goodness’ sakes. She’s been hauling it around for forty-something years, and she senses when one organ or another is out of whack. Like the time in elementary school when she woke up and called out to her mother to say something was wrong with her stomach. Maybelle promptly threw up all over the blue-and-white floral bedspread she had picked out herself not two weeks earlier at JC Penney in the mall. Stomach flu. Or the time more recently when shedoubled over in pain in the Hallmark store while shopping for Halloween cards. “Something’s not right,” she told her husband. Ovarian cysts with an abundance of endometriosis.

Whatever was happening with Maybelle’s body now had to be the worst, if for no other reason than its unpredictable nature. From one hour to the next she did not know if she would be hot or cold, happy or sad, full of energy or down for the count.

“Some women don’t have problems for long,” says her doctor, ushering her from the examining room to the billing office. “Maybe you’ll be one of the lucky ones. But be sure to call me if you bleed for more than three weeks in any one month.” Did he just say three weeks?

Copyright 2008, Amy Lyles Wilson 



Posted by: hambletthouse | April 17, 2008

“Maybelle Empties Her Pockets”


When Maybelle empties her pockets before putting her clothes into the wash, she sometimes feels as if she is on an archaeological dig. As she turns the material inside out, she never knows what she might find. Usually she can count on at least one receipt from TJ Maax, because she hangs onto the small, smeared pieces of paper for months after they are of any use. Scared she might need to return a 12-dollar pair of pants bought on impulse—Maybelle loves a bargain, even if it is ill-fitting—or the cracked plate she thought would be perfect under the jade plant in the den.

Always there is loose change. Maybelle and her husband, Precious, have taken to putting their extra coins in an old Folger’s coffee can in the kitchen. They call it the “bank of can.” Every so often Precious takes the can to one of those coin-separating machines at the grocery store. The one at Harris Teeter, he says, is less conspicuous than the one at Kroger, as if he might be worried someone they know will see him and think, “Isn’t that Maybelle’s husband? I thought she married money.”

In reality, Maybelle and Precious love the “bank of can,” for it reveals untold treasure for them when they least expect it: dinner at a favorite restaurant, concert tickets for the symphony, payment for overdue library books.

Sometimes in Maybelle’s pockets there will be a tattered tampon, the wrapper half off, the slender sphere gone useless. It disgusts Maybelle when she finds such a remnant, makes her feel inadequate somehow. Surely if Maybelle were a different kind of woman, a more organized gal or a classier broad, this would not happen. Instead of tooling around town with exposed feminine hygiene products in her pockets, she would sport a zippered Prada case like Sally’s—or at least a plastic baggie—to protect her monthly arsenal. Alas, Maybelle is not that kind of woman.

Instead she is the kind of woman who ends up with matchbooks in her pockets even though she doesn’t smoke. Maybelle tried to master the fine art of blowing smoke rings in college when she thought it might make her seem alluring to the handsome fraternity president in the front row of her political science class. Because Maybelle dissolved into fits of coughing every time she lit up, she may be one of the few folks who believes Bill Clinton when he says he “didn’t inhale.”

It was all for naught anyway, for what Maybelle didn’t know at the time was this: the only thing that would have caused Frat Boy to look her way was a penis. And that Maybelle does not carry around in her pocket.

Copyright 2008, Amy Lyles Wilson