Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Totem Pole Relationships Part II

Here is the final half of the story:

With that thought in mind, Jan cheerfully prepared for the holiday. She scrubbed everything in sight, unwilling for Patty to find anything to criticize. She baked and cooked for days, determined to make this holiday a delight in every way. Oblivious to Jan’s true motives, Ray was thrilled that his wife was working so hard to make the family holiday something special, and he enjoyed being the guinea pig for the new recipes she tried.
Patty and Robert arrived the day before Thanksgiving, warmly welcomed with a cup of coffee and the smell of cinnamon and apples hovering in the air. Jan maintained her smiling attitude as Patty insisted she smelled a sour odor in the kitchen. As Patty rooted around in the refrigerator, looking for the source of the odor, Jan continued to work on Thanksgiving preparations while urging Robert and Ray into the living room for whatever sports they could find on the television. The next morning Jan was up before dawn and her pleasant mood continued as she cooked a big breakfast and then cleared the dishes on her own. She greeted Frank and Sherry with a smile when they arrived and even gave Patty a supportive squeeze when Sherry was introduced. Jan didn’t even mind slaving in the kitchen while everyone else made awkward small talk in the den. There had been long bouts of silence for the first hour or so, but now everyone seemed to be loosening up a little. She even heard a few polite chuckles drift through the doorway, for which she was genuinely glad. She really liked Sherry, in spite of her age and the other things against her. She knew what it was like to have Patty turn her animosity on full force and she wouldn’t wish that on anyone, least of all someone like Sherry—a quiet, shy woman who huddled in her new husband’s shadow. Jan almost felt sorry for the agony Sherry was going to have to endure.
“How’s it going?” Jan whispered hopefully as Ray came out to the kitchen to refill everyone’s glasses.
Ray smiled down at his wife, unaware of her motives.
“It was pretty bad at first,” he answered quietly as he pulled ice trays out of the freezer. “Mom was predictably horrible, but she seemed to warm up some after you brought out the appetizers. You know those shrimp puffs are her favorite.”
“I know,” Jan all but crowed. “I hope I can keep her satisfied at least through the meal. Poor Sherry doesn’t know what she’s in for.”
Ray shrugged and scratched his nose thoughtfully. “I’m sure that Mom had in mind to really make Sherry’s life miserable,” he admitted. “But Sherry looked so much like a deer caught in the headlights that I think Mom didn’t have the heart to tear into her. They were actually finding something in common to talk about when I left.”
Jan looked up in amusement. “Really? What on earth would they have in common?”
“I think they were discussing whether Ben Gay or Mineral Ice was better on backaches.”
“They’re comparing aches and pains?” Jan laughed in disbelief. “I guess there are some advantages to marrying a woman almost as old as your mother.”
“They were also comparing grandchildren stories,” Ray leaned over and dropped a kiss on Jan's head before continued to drop ice cubes into the glasses. “And I think I heard them making plans to hit the holiday sales tomorrow. You're really the one that's bringing them together. I'm so proud of you, Jan.”
Jan stopped in her tracks as a steel ball formed in her stomach, four months of smiles and pleasant dreams turning sour in a moment. This couldn’t be happening. “Th-they’re going shopping?” She asked.
“Ray, dear, what’s taking so long with those refills,” Patty demanded as she breezed into the kitchen.
Jan stared at Patty, unable to move. Unable to blink. “You’re going shopping tomorrow?” She managed faintly.
“Sherry offered to show me around,” Patty answered as she took over Ray’s job. “She’s so sweet, isn’t she? And who ever would have guessed that she’d be so tiny!”
Patty’s air was innocent, but Jan felt the sting of the verbal dart all the same. With an effort she adopted an equally casual attitude.
“And whoever would have thought you’d be able to compare stories of your grandkids with your daughter-in-law’s? I guess you two have a lot in common, being from the same generation and all.”
Ray shook his head and left the room as the women faced each other.
“Would you like to come with us tomorrow, Jan?” Patty smiled. “I think it would be fun for the three of us to shop the mall together.”
Jan swallowed. Maybe all wasn’t lost after all. “I’d love to—" she began, but Patty went on enthusiastically.
“I know you usually shop in the women’s department, but would you mind if we looked at the petites tomorrow? I’d like to try and find an outfit to give Sherry. After all, we want to do all we can to make her feel a part of the family, don’t we?”
And that quickly, Jan was back at the bottom of the totem pole.

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