52. Tallyho!

52. Tallyho!

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Family Matters


It is the woman who chooses the man who will choose her.

~Author Unknown

My mother decided it was time—even though she’d said she could never love another, would never want another, would never need another man. Early on, she had heated a can of Campbell’s and, forgetting, divided it between two bowls. When she realized her mistake, she poured them both in the sink and ran cold water until the last chunk of chicken and the remaining half noodle slithered down the drain. Her sobs drowned out the grind and growl of the garbage disposal.

She tried taking her meals at the Country Kitchen, but their home cookin’ was as bland as an obituary that doesn’t live up to the life it describes. Wendy’s dollar menu worked, though: a salad or a bowl of chili at the drive-through. A meal-for-one. And, of course, a real value with extra packets of saltines and dressing. No need to change out of her sweats, comb her hair, or do her face. Or sit at a table, a woman alone.

Watching her fly solo after nearly five decades of living as a pair was painful. I couldn’t fault her for drifting into The Pack.

She’d rolled her eyes at me each time the five gals appeared—en masse—at the Main Street McDonald’s for morning coffee. And the free refills. And the complimentary weekend newspaper strewn across the booths. As tight-faced as they were tight-fisted, the widows hounded local events to see and be seen. To fill the hours.

Now, my mother was the latest inductee to their club, following them from retirement gala drop-ins to church revivals; from lectures at the community college to wedding receptions; from park concerts to grand openings of (take your pick) floral shops, branch banks, boutiques and gas stations, where they’d sniff out the refreshment table, hoping all four major food groups would be represented, thus eliminating the need for another bowl of bedtime bran flakes in front of the 10:00 news.

Then they all began frequenting funerals.

Mother was acquainted with the deceased—most of them. Or someone in The Pack probably was. Or, perhaps not. Nevertheless, in addition to the eats afterward, it was another opportunity to dress to the nines and accessorize. After all, “You never know who you’ll meet.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Oh, you know. Divorced friends-of-friends. Widowers. Bachelor uncles.”

At her age, single women far outnumbered available men. She repeated the stale line that all The Pack really needed was one good man to share between them. The only requirement? He must be willing to drive at night.

“The problem is,” she lamented, “when you finally do track down a man-with-possibility and you’re traveling as one with The Pack, complications arise before you can even get close enough to savor his after-shave.”

While she was mining her oversized handbag for a crimson lipstick—Bold Seduction—among the packets of croutons, Italian lite dressing, and powdered saltines, three complimentary ink pens from the insurance agency and an emergency rain bonnet from the health fair tumbled to the floor. Her hangnail snagged on a crumpled Kleenex and dragged it, too, from the catacombs of her purse…. By then, the hungry predators had already surrounded the prey.

Badgering him with requests for household repairs.

Baiting him with invitations for outings.

Luring him with offers of home-cooked meals.

So she retreated. “After all,” she reasoned, “no man is worth losing a girlfriend over.”

“But…” I started to object.

She shook her finger in my face. “Girlfriends are vital; at our age, it takes all of us just to finish a sentence!”

Yet she admitted an overpowering urge to tuck her tail between her legs and hightail it out of The Pack. Away from the aimless social life. Away from the all-too-knowing eyes.

And, so, I watched her set out alone, on a hunt of her own, to bag her buck.

She planned her own ambush.

She posed before the “skinny mirror” on the back of her bedroom door. The mirror that gave her a boost of self-confidence while it subtracted ten pounds from her fat clothes.

She test-drove her smiles. Quick and flirtatious. Heavy-lidded and mysterious. Wide-eyed and innocent. Slow and seductive.

Leaning in, she finger-flattened the part in her hair to inspect her roots. “A touch-up, maybe?”

Huh, I thought. You can get as accurate a reflection in the sea of bobbing bald pates and wispy combovers that shine at every concert down at the Rialto.

She bared her teeth like a horse at auction. “Maybe one of those new whitening toothpastes?”

I pictured the church’s monthly potluck with its side menu of dentures, partials, gold fillings, tobacco stains….

She stepped back for a full-length inventory and frowned. She’d made friends with elastic waistbands years ago.

“Do you think I ought to take Water Aerobics at the Senior Center?” She turned her backside toward the mirror, looked over her shoulder, and ran her hands over the full curve of her thighs.

I remembered the Center’s standard fare of paunches, beer bellies, and suspenders.

She paused. She looked again, probing the mirror for flaws.

“Nah.” She tossed her head. “I’ve got the bait. I just have to find my animal.” She gazed once more at her reflection, crinkled her nose, and growled.

Let the hunt begin!

~Dee McFoster

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