Why now? And why this title?
|Place Settings: Memoir of an Anomaly|
Place settings: the precise, organized placement of utensils at a formal meal.
Anomaly: That which does not fit proscribed placement or being.
So, why this title? It's been Place Settings in my mind for twenty-plus yeas. BUT. That wasn't quite right. It didn't really imply the duality of me. This does. I've always been the 'good' girl. Wel, except for ... well, except for when I wasn't.
I've never been one to color within the lines, for starters. For a specific example, in first grade, I got in trouble because my teacher, Mrs. Bozard (whom I adored!) disapproved of the way I colored a picture of a snowman. The sheet of paper was already white, so why waste my white crayon? I added the sky, trees, kids, and a dog, but I did not color in all the snow in either the background or the snowman. I did not color in the picture which was only a snowman outlined in black. I colored in his hat, scarf, his stick arms, and his round eyes. I remember being so angry when I showed the picture (that I was rather proud of) but ruined with a big, red, circled 'F' on it to my parents. I clearly remember the discussion that followed.
"What were you supposed to do?"
"My teacher said to color in the picture."
"Did you color in the picture?"
"No, because the paper was already white. So, I added more stuff to the picture and colored that in. It is silly to color white on white paper."
"So, you really did not do what the teacher asked you to do, did you?"
"No, because it was dumb."
"I know you think it didn't make any sense to you. But, just maybe, it made sense to her. Maybe, she wanted to make sure the children knew which color was white."
"But, Dad, I left it white!"
"I know you did, and it is a great picture. But there will be many times in life people or teachers, maybe even a boss, someday, will ask you to do things you think are dumb, but there will be a reason for it. Just because you don't know the reason, doesn't mean you shouldn't do it."
"I still think it is silly, but, okay, Daddy. I'll try."
My dad cleverly framed the picture so that the 'F" didn't show and hung it up on the wall of his office. Over the years we'd talk, my dad and I, and one or the other of us would comment that "It's a snowman thing." I always wanted to know the 'why' of doing things that simply made no sense to me. I did try, but mostly, I'd say something and get myself in trouble. My folks never had to use that old saying with me--the one about the other kids trying to jump off the roof and would I do that. I knew better. It didn't make any sense.
As time when by, I realized that a great many people would ask me to do things that, to me, made no sense. Things that didn't seem logical at all. Most of the time, I'd find a way around it. Sometimes, I did them (often to my regret!) but along the way, I learned about compromise, and what manipulation was, and how to tell the difference.
Another time, my grandmother decided that I needed to know how to set a 'proper' table with several forks, knives, spoons, bone dishes, dessert dishes, water and wine glasses, and numerous plates and bowls. I also had to know where everything should be placed. More, I had to learn which was used for what. She made elaborate meals when it wasn't even a holiday meal so we'd all learn what to use and when an occasion should call for it.
"But Annie, that means I have to wash all these extra dishes and silverware," I'd complain.
"You never know when you might have dinner with the governor and you need to know the right way to show you have proper manners."
There was no arguing with my grandmother. Right. like I'd ever have to eat dinner with the governor. For months, until she was assured that we all knew (but me, especially!) what went where and was used correctly, I washed so much silverware that to this day, I really dislike putting silverware away!
And wouldn't you just know that when I was eighteen years old, I did, indeed, have dinner with the governor because I'd raised more money for March of Dimes than any other kid in the state! Unlike the typical place setting picture, there were four forks (because there was also a shrimp fork), two knives, a dessert spoon, a coffee spoon, and a soup spoon! Yes, I knew which glass was for water, dinner wine and dessert wine. The gentleman sitting next to me had no clue. He nudged me and asked me how I knew which to use.
"Work your way in from the outside," I whispered. "Or watch the hostess. She'll always know."
"I'll just watch you. You clearly know what to do!" he replied, smiling.
Life certainly doesn't always make sense. Sometimes things happen that make sense later on. It is all a matter of learning what and when. But now you know why I named this book as I did.
Still, it is not your typical memoir that 'tells' a story. It is a combination of essays, short stories, lists and poetry. These together show who and what I am, let people know the real me, and hopefully, give people something to think about.
The other question I'd like to answer is why I 'should' write a memoir in the first place! I'm not a famous celebrity. I'm not a celebrated writer. Yet. I'm not a movie star, a politician, or someone with grand and glorious secrets to spill. I'm just me. And yet, I am often told that I have lived more in my (thus far) sixty-eight years than most people could live in a hundred-and-sixty-eight! I have certainly had many adventures, met tons of people, and never given up on myself. I've been the princess in the remote castle and been homeless. I've survived abuse and cancer. I've been blind. And, according to most who know me well, I'm one of the best, happiest, glass-half-full people they know.
It drives me crazy to hear people tell me that I've done so much and they haven't done anything. Not so. It is all a matter of putting things into perspective and choosing to focus on the positive.
A neighbor once made a comment similar to the one about 'doing stuff.' She is an amazingly truly good lady who has brought up two daughters. One is working on her combined doctorate/master's degree and the other is special needs. Both girls are incredible human beings. The mother has patience beyond that of a saint, a true understanding of people in general, and is good clear through. I honestly do not think I could do all she has done. She is spectacular. I just wish she really knew it. Believed it.
Another friend has a heart the size of the universe, is gorgeous inside and out, and yet, thinks I am special. She hasn't a clue (and doesn't really believe) that she is the special one.
I'm just me. I've done a lot, been to a lot of places, and met some incredible people. I've messed up bunches. It took my being married multiple times to learn how to do it right. (Or at least better than I'd done it before!) Life is a learning process. I believe we should never stop learning.
I hemmed and hawed for years about writing this book. Something about the idea of a memoir sparked fears of writing it and then dying. My son had it right when he told me: "But Mom, this is only Volume One!"
One note. This book has been put into a more-or-less chronological order. That doesn't mean you need to read it that way! Flip it open and read a piece or two. Flip forward or back. No one ever gets to know someone chronologically. We get to know them by stories told out of context, at the moment, or just because someone else's story reminds them of the time they ...
The stories are true. As are the essays and poems. This is me. Unvarnished. I hope you laugh. I hope you enjoy. I hope you feel. And I hope you reflect on your own amazing life!