Barbara fluttered around, this way and that; swooping down on piles to clean off of tables, and diving into boxes of china and crystal to set up. She flew around from room to room, checking off her list and trying to think of everything that needed to get done for the party tonight. She interrupted her own out-of-tune rendition of “It’s My Party” to mumble to herself: what am I forgetting? Honestly, if I didn’t think of everything, then who would? Not Jim, that’s for sure. He wouldn’t know where to begin to throw a party. Even though she was having the party catered, and a maid crew to clean before and after, she still had a lot to do if she was going to make her hair and nail appointment on time. She had planned to arrive her usual 15 minutes early.
And, the girls were coming in this afternoon. Dear Lord, she prayed, please let them all get along. Just this once! Sometimes she wondered how her three girls all came from the same household: Maggie, the oldest and only wife and mother of the three; Lori, the middle child, the career woman; and Ginny, the baby, the flower child. Lord knows I did all I could and more; I did too much, too well, she assured herself.
Barbara picked up a stack of photos she had been organizing. There was one of the girls on Halloween: Maggie as Dorothy, Lori as Glenda the Good Witch, and Ginny as Toto. Ginny had begged to be the Wicked Witch but their church did not allow scary witches at Halloween. Barbara remembered how darling she was as Toto; Ginny had been so petite during childhood. Oh, how things had changed, Barbara mused. The girls had grown up so close, with just 2 years in between each, but as adults, they had drifted apart. Their lives were so different; Barbara hoped they would find their way back to each other one day. Today, she just hoped they could get along. It was, after all, their father’s sixtieth birthday.
On top of everything she had to do, she was totally preoccupied with the letter. She had it with her in her purse and kept pulling it out and looking at it. She reminded herself that God does not give us more than we can handle, and with Him at her side, she could handle anything. She was a “steel magnolia,” just like M’Lynn, her favorite character in the movie. She wondered how M’Lynn would handle the letter: probably go down to the salon and talk to Truvy, Dolly Parton’s character. Maybe cry dramatically a little bit before pulling herself together, with hugs from Weezer and Claree. As Barbara slowed to a stop at a red light, she took out the letter to read again for the umpteenth time:
Dear Mrs. Lowell,
My name is Casey Lumpkin and I am contacting you about the time you spent in Mobile, Alabama. I was there, too. I’m a social worker in Atlanta now. I don’t want to say too much in a letter, but I would love to meet with you and talk with your further. I feel like there are so many unanswered questions, and am hoping you can help me. Please call me at xxx-xxx-xxxx if you are interested.
Sincerely, Casey Lumpkin
What am I going to do? she asked herself. The Lord knows what His plan is, but she could not believe this letter arrived the same week as her husband’s 60th birthday party. She wondered what he looked like now. She couldn’t believe he was in Atlanta! Only an hour away.
“Hey lady, it ain’t gettin’ any greener!” the driver beside her yelled into her cracked window. She stuffed the letter into her purse and drove on to the salon. Her body may have been in present day Georgia; but her thoughts were in 1970 Mobile, where she was handed off to the nuns at 17, pregnant, and scared to death.
“Hey Mom! I brought some wine! Hello….?” Maggie hollered, walking into the kitchen.
“Maggie! How are you? Where is everybody else?” Lori hugged her sister.
“Lori, you made it. You look so thin and so tan! Love it. The kids are coming later with a sitter, and John is still at work. But he’ll be here. He said he’d be here,” Maggie frowned, looking at her watch.
Lori eyed her sister. “How are the kiddos?”
“They’re great. Really, couldn’t be better. The girls were the stars of their dance recital. And Tripp starts kindergarten next month and is already reading; he made the All Star baseball team and had a home run last game ,” Maggie said.
“Wow, that’s exciting. I guess you’re pretty busy; I haven’t heard much from you lately,” Lori grabbed a handful of nuts.
“Well, Lori, some of us stay very busy tending to our families and taking care of our husbands, you know. You might take some notes,” Maggie glared at Lori.
“Where’s the party?” Ginny asked as she walked in.
“Ginny, hey!” Lori gave Ginny a hug.
“Hey Mags, long time no see,” Ginny smiled at Maggie as she walked in the other direction.
“Hey Ginny, long time for sure. At least 25 lbs ago. You’re obviously enjoying your cooking these days,” Maggie scrunched her nose as she walked out of the room.
“She never changes, does she? Jesus Christ, what a bitch,” Ginny rolled her eyes.
“Well, if you were married to the biggest douchebag in town, you’d be a bitch, too,” Lori said.
Ginny smiled. “True. I also think she just needs a sandwich. Poor girl, you can almost see through her. So how are you? How’s island life?”
“It’s different. Slower pace. Flip flops instead of Power Heels. Started a garden…you’d be proud.”
“Nice! Next thing I know, you’ll be cookin’.”
“I’ve learned a few basics. How’s the restaurant biz?
“Crazy. Scary. Awesome. So, how long til you’re out of hiding?”
“I don’t know. I’m kinda starting to like it there.”
“Seriously? You? Please, you’re not even good at vacations, dude. Get back out there and kick some lawyer ass.”
“Ginny, you don’t understand what I’ve been through. It was rough. It was hell.”
“Of your own making. You made your hell, now you have to fry in it. So where’s Mom, anyway?”
Lori stared a hole through her sister. “Why don’t you go fuck yourself? Probably the only action you can get.” Lori stormed towards the liquor cabinet.
“Enjoy your Jack and Coke. The true love of your life,” Ginny said as she headed up the stairs.
Barbara intently put on her lipstick. She poofed her hair in the back and sprayed one more time; hurricane winds couldn’t penetrate this hairstyle. She dabbed her wrists and neck with Chanel No. 5. How had he found me? Could I possibly meet him in secret? She had always wondered what had happened to him. Now she had a chance to find out, but she couldn’t risk anyone else discovering him.
“Hey Mom, whatcha thinkin’ about? You look pretty,” Ginny air-kissed her mother.
“Darling, I’m so glad you could make it. You look, well, very nice. How is everything downstairs?”
“Seems fine. Servers are getting ready, bartender already mixing drinks.”
“What? Already? Who’s here?”
“Oh. Lori, of course. She better keep herself together. This is her father’s night. She has had more than her share of attention, of the negative variety, and she needs to be meek and mild tonight.”
“Yeah, well, I hate to break it to you but meek and mild has never been Lori’s style,” Ginny said and shook her head.
“How I have a child so bold and brassy is beyond me.”
“Mom, what can I help you with?”
“Can you just look out for your sisters? Maggie has a bee in her bonnet tonight, too, for some reason,” Barbara said and straightened her skirt.
“Yeah, I noticed.”
“Guess we better head on down. Damn it, I forgot to check the centerpieces! Forgive my language, dear Father in heaven. What if they’re not done yet? Dear Lord, please let the centerpieces be beautiful. Ginny, bow your head! Dear Lord, please also let the hors d’oeuvres be ready. And please let Lori not be drunk yet. Amen.” She flew out of the room, yelling, “Ginny, I need to give the lady her check for the cake. Grab my purse, there’s an envelope with a check in it. Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound…” Barbara was singing/praying as she blustered down the stairs.
Ginny looked around her mother’s bedroom. This bedroom looks like the floral section of Michael’s, she thought. How does dad stand it? She saw his glasses on his dresser, but otherwise, there was no sign of him in this room whatsoever. She looked on her mother’s dresser and her vanity; no purse to be found. The room smelled like perfume and Listerine. Out the window, her mother was talking animatedly to the valet, giving him her I’m-better-than-you smile. Over by the window, on the floor, was her mother’s purse. She opened it and found an envelope right away. She pulled out what appeared to be a letter, instead of a check. She read over the short letter, from somebody named Casey Lumpkin. When was Mom in Mobile? He wants to meet with her…sounds like a love letter! What the hell?! Who is this guy? Holy shitballs, Mom had an affair! Ginny put the letter in her pocket and walked towards the stairs. She had to go find her sisters.