Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Things They Hand-Me-Down

Essay submitted to Skirt! but not included in the December issue. Enjoy!

Lamp, microwave, sheets for my new full-sized bed. Before I moved into my first apartment, as a sophomore in college, I made a list of items I would need: “nightstand, lamp, kitchen trashcan.”   

To each item a good friend and future roommate responded, “don’t buy that, I have one.” 

It became such a joke that our third roommate and I began suggesting outrageous items like private planes, sequined gowns, and autographed copies of the first Beatles album following each with, “don’t buy that, Josh has one.”

We carried this couch down the street from mom's house to our old house. It sits in our home to this day, comfortably broken in and a little bit shabby.

We furnished the apartment on hand-me-downs. A couch someone would have tossed out, a halogen lamp that wobbled when the front door closed, a television stand that used to hold a microwave in someone else’s kitchen. My favorite was the kitchen table with the 1970’s-style roller chairs.

As newlyweds, several years later, Charlie and I furnished a rented bungalow in Charlotte’s fashionable Dilworth neighborhood with our collected assortment of hand-me-downs. A stereo cabinet circa 1975, a cherry wood desk with one bad leg, a wooden four-poster double bed that squeaked mercilessly. The few new items we possessed (wedding gifts like ice buckets, coffee bean grinders, and crystal punch bowls) hid in kitchen cabinets.

Charlie played a second-hand set of drums in a rock band and I enrolled in graduate school and read used books; we waited tables in a brewery nearby and tried to make ends meet on tips and student loans.

Our first landlord had given us the old washer and dryer in the home we rented before we married. When we left for Charlotte he sent those appliances with us. But by the time we arrived the washer had been through enough and called it quits before we could ever employ it in Charlotte. 

We made do until we could save up for a new washer. Charlie took a few baskets of work clothes to the Laundromat and brought them back, soaking, to toss into the dryer, which still worked. I hung what I could on the rusted clothes line just a foot above the tallest weeds in the backyard of the rental property.

One morning before work the doorbell rang and a delivery driver from Lowe’s stood on the porch. He confirmed my name and said he had a delivery for us: a shiny new washing machine.

Standing in that dingy bungalow kitchen, having no idea how such an item would just show up one day, I explained to the man from Lowe’s that I couldn’t pay him for a new washer.

“No, ma’am,” he said, “it’s already paid for.”

I hugged him.

Conversation chairs, also a mom hand-me-down. It's still strange to see these in my living room. These were "fancy" furniture in my parents' house.
A year later our income would level out and we’d buy an $800 couch and finance a new car. We had full time jobs, health insurance, and in two more years we would buy our own 1400 square foot home. 
Back in 2001, Charlie’s Aunt Carolyn Sue had relocated, too, and had lost need of her old washing machine. She’d graciously offered it to us and then, without the resources to get it from her apartment in Uptown Charlotte to our home in Southend, she simply sold it to the new tenant and took that money to Lowe’s.

That she didn’t call to tell us the item was en route was in keeping with what my in-laws termed Carolyn Sue’s “eccentricity.”

Barefoot, holding my wait staff apron in one hand, the half-read text of some American Realism novel in the other, I admitted the Lowe’s delivery staff and watched as they shimmied the broken washer out of its nook in the kitchen and rolled it through the doorway.

It seemed like a dream as they hoisted in the new one in, connected it to the wall, and handed me a clipboard to sign. There it was, my name, on the top of the list for deliveries.

A surprise, new, hand-me-down washing machine.

Eleven years later, Charlie would get promoted; I would finish graduate school and start my own business. It's nearly December and we’ve moved into our second home. 

With so much square footage and so few items to fill it, we’ll again rely on hand-me-downs to furnish a new home. My mother’s cherry dining room suite that my aunt has had for the last eight years, a bedroom set for our daughter’s room that used to be in Charlie’s room when he was a boy, the green couch we hate but has served us well since we inherited it nine years ago.

We’ll again wonder if the risks we’re taking are the right ones and we’ll again cross our fingers against the bad luck that tends to find those with the least amount of extra funds.

That morning in 2001 I drove to work with the glint of the shiny white metal still bright in my eyes. I told my coworkers a washing machine had been delivered to my house that morning and that I had no idea why or how such a thing had come to pass.

For a minute we all wondered at a universe that simply provides.

Then we strapped on our aprons, started the tea, pulled down the chairs, and opened the restaurant.

Have you been surprised by an item you desperately needed but couldn't afford to purchase? Tell me about it in the comments.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Confessions of a Book Club Slacker

I joined three book clubs this summer. It’s not a big deal because I read voraciously and the three clubs are very different.

The first, through the Richland County Public Library, reads book-clubbable-books. We read The Postmistress, Before I Go to Sleep, The Language of Flowers, Unbroken, State of Wonder, and The Good Daughters.
The second group, Read Between the Wines, is just what it sounds like: an excuse to drink wine. We read Emily Giffin’s latest, little-known author Mariah Stewart’s Coming Home, and a John Grisham novel called The Litigators. We’re not reading a book in November because it’s the holidays. Yep. Easy peasy.

The third group is an online group of writers and we read writing craft books. We read On Writing by Stephen King, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, and Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, and are now reading The Right to Write. I’ve become moderator of this group and find myself more attached to the group’s success than before.

In November the Clemson English Alumni group decided to read Cloud Atlas and meet here, in Columbia, to have a discussion on the book. Book club four? Sure! I’m in.

Try Over-Committing Just Once
It was at this point that book club FAIL occurred.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

How I spent 3 hours returning a library book

I was turned away from the polls. Here’s how it happened. I parked at the library and walked over to the middle school, my voting precinct as identified by a web search. 

I had with me the library book for book club. I had only just started it and book club meets next week (oops).

I stood in line for two and a half hours. I’ll spare you the details of how cold it was. I had on my Ugg boots and a fleece. 
There is a time for every purpose.

I won’t mention how everyone wanted to complain but didn’t. We all know how ridiculously lucky we are that we are allowed to vote and that we were safe at the voting place

We also know there are procedures for voting. I thought I’d followed them. I thought I had gotten my new driver’s license and registered to vote at the same time.

On the website where you would change your voter registration it says, “change your driver’s license first” with a link that carries you away from the voter registration.

I never went back.

Meeting Your Characters IRL

This post originally appeared on the Columbia II Writers Workshop blog. It's revived here because I think this audience would appreciate...