Saturday, July 10, 2010

How to Start a Marriage Off Wrong

My first wife so earnestly wanted to be sophisticated and citified, and was as a consequence, a determined early woman’s libber.  She had a ‘down home’ first cousin named Bobby Jack.  Ol' Bobby Jack was a lanky and laconic Good Ol’ Country Boy who had a drawl that seemed to drag across two or three time zones. Bobby Jack was married to a buxom country girl named Sharla Sue - a name it seemed to take Ol’ Bobby Jack several seconds to get out. They shared a little wood framed house with a couple kids about ten miles out in the country from town. I will always remember the one and only visit my ex-wife and I made to see them, early in our marriage.

My ex-wife sprang from exactly the same kind of poor dirt farmer country stock as Bobby Jack and Sharla Sue. But, she outgrew her roots so to speak, went off to college, got educated and leveraged herself by sheer force of will into entirely another social strata. I will always credit her with the willpower and determination to do that, no matter our many other differences.

Normally my ex didn’t have much to do with her country cousins, and certainly not on a social level. She always tried to keep them at least an arm’s length away if she could. Nowadays I've observed she’s more laid back and generally more accepting of her family and their roots. Age can do that for you I think. But, back then she wasn’t. On that occasion she kind of let herself get trapped into this particular visit.

Sharla Sue bumped into my wife unexpectedly in town and just insisted that we come out to ‘supper’ that very night - 'dinner' being the noon meal in that part of the world. My wife reluctantly, but graciously agreed and later, dragged me out to their house for dinner, ‘to be polite.’ I didn’t really mind, and besides, I was newly married and curious about her family.

Sharla Sue met us at the screen door, gushing over with welcome and invited us in. She said the kids were playing in the back room. And, Bobby Jack sat there in the living room all kicked back in his Lazy Boy recliner watching television. He didn’t bother to get up, but waved his hand lazily in the air.  “Y’all come on in.” he said neighborly, “Y'all come on in and sit down and make yo'self comfabull.”

He languorously waved over in the general direction of the sofa next to his recliner. I politely shook his hand and sat down. I'd never seen the guy before in my life. My wife and Sharla Sue headed for the kitchen where the dinner was cooking. It smelled great. Fried chicken nearly always does I’ve noticed.

I exchanged a few cautiously polite words with Bobby Jack as I sat on the sofa. Then almost out of nowhere Bobby Jack announced, “I gotta get these God-damned shoes off.” referring to his dirty brogans which were splayed out on the footrest, all covered with mud and God knows what else from the hog pen. I assumed he was excusing himself in order to get up from the recliner and go somewhere to take those nasty things off. They were, after all, exuding a fairly unpleasant odor, competing uneasily with the smell of dinner.

But Ol’ Bobby Jack surprised me by simply rolling to one side on that Lazy Boy recliner, turning his head in the direction of the kitchen and loudly hollering, "Sharla Sue! Sharla Sue! Come in here just a damned minute!"

Those were his exact words. Sharla Sue’s head popped into the doorway almost instantly as she asked sweetly, "What you want Sugarpop?”

Bobby Jack ordered in a sort of peevish, whiny quarrelsome voice: "Pull off my God-damned brogans  and put on my God-damned slippers!"

It was a startlingly definite command or order, delivered with little inflection, yet was most emphatic. The slightly peevish way he said it made it forceful, even through a heavy drawl which seemed to take half a minute to get out.

Bobby Jack then sort of stiffened his body and pushed back a little further in that recliner, sticking his broganned feet out beyond the footrest. His body language and attitude reminded me exactly of a petulant, willful child. I could see my wife watching from the doorway with a offended, glittering look in her eyes. I was quite stunned myself, but also amused by my wife’s reaction, apparently unnoticed by the others. I didn’t say a word.

Without missing a beat and just as cheerful as could be,  Sharla Sue takes hold of his muddy shoe and said, "Here ya go sweetheart." and unties and pulls those smelly, muddy old brogans off and puts on his house slippers. She tossed the brogans on the porch and wiped her hands on her apron.

“That all you need Sweetie Pie?”  She asked as she headed for the kitchen - butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth.

“Mmph.”  Ol’ Bobby Jack acknowledged grudgingly.

Sharla Sue simply smiled sweetly and went on in the kitchen.  My wife turned to follow her in - I could sense she was more than a little indignant and wondered what she might say to Sharla Sue.

They were gone only a moment or two when Bobby Jack asked me, “You lack ('like') that there God-damned tee-vee show?”

“It’s OK,” I said politely.  “It doesn’t make any difference to me.” I was more interested in the family interplay and hardly paying any attention to the television at all.

Bobby Jack leaned back and hollers out again,  "Sharla Sue!  Sharla Sue!  Come back in here just a God-damned minute!"

She came back in from the kitchen and only slightly less sweetly says, "What you want now Sweetie?"

Bobby Jack ordered, "Reach up there and change the channel on that there God-damned tee-vee!”, this being in the days before TV remotes.  He could easily have reached it himself by raising up a little and stretching and leaning forward in the recliner.

But Sharla Sue didn't say a word,  she just smiled sweetly,  reached over and flipped the the channel selector, watching closely until Bobby Jack nodded he was satisfied.  She then returned to the kitchen to finish cooking the fried chicken.

My wife was standing in the doorway once again with her eyes glittering. I could see the rage boiling into her face like a cloud of angry red wasps. I immediately sensed this was a moment not to waste.

I simply could not resist the impulse to say to her, "Honey, I need you to pay really close attention now and take really good notice. You can take notes if you need to. This is the way I  expect you to treat me from now on, by God! Understand?"

And, that right there quite possibly, might be one of the big reasons I’m not married to that woman today. Some people are simply not equipped to share a rollicking sense of humor. Anyway, he was HER damned cousin!

(This little story is entirely true, although I have changed the names to protect the guilty)

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