by Mari McKee
April showers bring flowers and romance
|A Southern Fried Romance
Her forty-eight years of existence had been most gracious to Mary Helen Wallace, which was a good thing, she thought, as she found herself rudely thrust into the wretched singles scene after twenty- five years of marriage. Her momma, Helen Elizabeth Smith, had had the good sense to marry John Wallace, III, who had an impeccable genetic background. Mary Helen had inherited the Wallace height, good teeth and hair, a great sense of humor, and a high intellect.
What she had not inherited or been taught was how to survive the crisis of divorce. The very word brought a sour taste to her mouth, as it was never uttered in the Wallace household when she was growing up. Indeed, she did not even know a divorced person until many years into her marriage. Her family refers to Mary Helen’s divorce as the “Unfortunate Event”, as if it was merely a bad case of athlete’s foot, which is also unmentionable in the Wofford household. Mary Helen refers to her ex as T.B. (The Bas***). She likes the name T.B. because it is also an abbreviation for tuberculosis, a horrible fungal lung disease that afflicted many people years ago, often resulting in death. She liked thinking of him as a fungus.
After the long drawn out divorce, Mary Helen had retreated into hiding from the world. Alone, she could indulge in the wringing of hands, the gnashing of teeth, the beating of chest, and the endless moaning and groaning without having to worry about messing up her makeup. She would do her motherly carpool from hell each morning to school wearing pajamas under her coat and praying she wouldn’t be stopped for any traffic violations or be in a wreck. Driving to various other activities for her three daughters, she tried to be incognito with her huge sunglasses and sliding down as low as possible in the driver’s seat. When she nearly hit Mr. Raines' dry cleaning van because she couldn’t see it from behind the steering wheel where she cowered, she finally had to show her head above the steering column. Performing the absolute minimum of her required duties, she would then sit in her darkened room for hours reminiscing about her marriage with all the requisite memories and how the “Unfortunate Event” had befallen her.
It is said that divorce is akin to a death and requires the same steps in healing. Death was preferable to Mary Helen as her “Unfortunate Event” was far worse than mortal death. Within the upper echelons of Southern society, divorced women are avoided as fastidiously as diet conscious people avoid fried chicken. In the South, divorce is the social death, the absolute worst kind of death, from which there is no healing, no resurrection, and no end.
After many months of her daughters” nagging, and a threat from her counselor to send her to a psychiatrist, Mary Helen emerged from her cocoon. One morning she got up out of bed, put on make-up, and got dressed in a go-to hell flowered dress. It was spring, a new beginning for the earth and for her. She drove to the Farmer’s Market to buy her annual flowers for her garden. She enjoyed browsing all of the varieties of flowers with the various vendors.
Her trunk was filled with flowers, but she had to see the vendor who had a beautiful and unusual flower displayed. She took one of the flowers to the vendor, a middle-aged man with dirty fingernails and bright red sunburn on top of his balding head. She showed him the expensive flower and asked for information about it. She was surprised at his scientific answer, giving her the genus and species names, along with how and where to plant it. He even told her about its circadian rhythm (sleep/wake cycle). She wondered if this flower was native to the south. If not, it would not survive the scorching temperatures no matter how often it was watered. She decided to take a chance because no one she knew had this flower in their gardens. She bought several flats and was trying to rearrange the other flowers in her trunk so that she could add this recent, expensive purchase. The vendor wandered over to her trunk and quietly watched her. Aware that she had an audience, Mary Helen stifled the obscenities she wanted to utter under her breath.
“Madame, I can deliver these flats to your house later today on my way home.”
“Thank you,” Mary Helen responded. “How much do you charge for delivery?”
“No charge, Madame. I would like to see your garden and advise you how and where to plant these beauties.”
Mary Helen thanked him and wrote her name and address for him. He gave her one of his business cards as she left.
After arriving back to her house, she unloaded the flats and went to change into her gardening clothes. She came back out with a wildly floral shorts outfit, matching clogs, matching gardening gloves, and a hot pink wide-brimmed straw hat. She hoped that the bees wouldn’t attack, mistaking her for a flower.
Playing in the dirt was very therapeutic for Mary Helen as she planted flowers. She wondered what time the vendor would bring her the unusual flowers. She went back to her car and retrieved his business card. The name on the card was John L, Hampton, PhD. The “PhD.” intrigued her. Why would someone with a doctorate degree be selling flowers at the Farmer’s Market?
She resumed carefully planting and arranging her flower beds when an old truck pulled in behind her car. He called out her name, waved, and began bringing the flats into the yard.
She greeted him by his first name. He was studying her garden as she asked him about the PhD.
He smiled and said, “I am a botany professor at the University. After my wife died a few years ago, I grew weary of sitting alone in my house every weekend, so I decided to sell flowers at the market so I could have some adult company and conversation, even if it was just for a few minutes each time. Of course, I love flora and like to educate my customers on their purchases. It gets me out of my house.”
Mary Helen looked at him with a new appreciation. He began to plant some of the flowers to show her where they should be planted with her other flowers. Mary Helen got on her knees and began planting beside him. It wasn’t long before Mary Helen told him her tale of woe about her divorce. He had a sympathetic ear and a twinkle in his eyes. After it all came out, she was embarrassed and excused herself, going inside her house.
She re-emerged shortly with some tall icy glasses of homemade lemonade with sprigs of mint from her garden. They sat on the patio, drinking lemonade and talking about their mutual love of flowers. The girls were with T.B. for the weekend, so she did not have to prepare dinner. She brought out some cheese and crackers after refilling their glasses for the third time. It was beginning to get dark and the mosquitoes had come out to feed on Mary Helen, who swatted them in between sentences. The circadas were chirping so loudly, they had to raise their voices to be heard. She was soon covered with welts from the mosquito bites.
To keep Mary Helen from turning into one giant welt, he got up to leave, thanked her for her hospitality and told her how much he had enjoyed her company. Mary Helen felt something she had not felt in a long time. She felt like a school-girl who had found a new boyfriend. She asked him to come to dinner the next day. His wide smile as he quickly accepted her invitation, caused Mary Helen’s heart to excitedly flutter. She could not stop smiling at him as he got into his car.
Thus began the wonderful spring romance between John and Mary Helen that continued through-out the rest of the seasons of their lives together.