The last two months of Charlotte’s life had been tough going and she had grown weary. Try as she might, she couldn’t keep up with her life, and most weekends she cocooned herself in a world of innocuous Hallmark movies and trips to the grocery store. She liked to imagine the checkers at Kroger suspecting her of being European what with her daily and sometimes twice daily visits. Each time Charlotte walked through the automatic doors she found even something as simple as her buggy choice fraught with meaning. If she chose the stubby cart, everyone would know she was single and she would have to assess her outfit to determine whether she looked mysterious and approachable or lonely, middle aged and pet friendly. Choosing the midsize cart might make her seem pretentious and her purchases appear dwarfed and pitiful as she pushed her 3 or four items around the store. On the days she chose to use the basket one carried, she wandered through the store listing to one side. It was after such a trip, that Charlotte loaded her one sack of groceries into her car, sat behind the steering wheel and cried. Her Uncle Lou would have told her she was tired. He had been a doctor and attributed tears to lack of sleep.
Perhaps she was tired, but it was a fatigue brought on by so much more than how much sleep she was or wasn’t getting. As she cried, she went through the litany of woes she had been hanging onto. Each complaint was followed with a “why me?” and “it’s not fair!” Charlotte was doing her best middle school girl imitation and she didn’t snap out of it until one of her students knocked on the car window and yelled, “Hey, Ms. B!’ and ran off. Charlotte blew her nose and started the car. During the drive home she could hear her mom’s voice telling her how silly she was being and how in the scheme of things she had nothing to cry about. Charlotte knew the mom in her head was right. Had she been sitting at the kitchen table in Montgomery where most of her complaining had been done as a teenager, her mother would have given her a spoon of peanut butter and told her to save her tears for something important. Charlotte didn’t have a jar of peanut butter, but she did have a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, and she reached into the Kroger sack to get it. After inhaling it, Charlotte felt better. There really was something to the fact her mother had heard so many years ago on Phil Donahue. When one is out of sorts it is more than likely due to a drop in protein levels and peanut butter is a quick fix.
Later that night, Charlotte did her best not to dwell on what was wrong in her life. She tried to concentrate on all the good. In an attempt to distract herself, she scrolled through her inspirational quotes board on Pinterest and looked at family pictures of the women she admired. Growing up, Charlotte had delighted in the stories of her Grammie and Aunt Jean and Great Aunt Sweetie among so many others. She loved to hear how her Grammie, the Charlotte for whom she was named, had walked all over Charleston wearing her heels and pearls, her hair neatly coifed into a French twist. Her husband had died when she was 50, and she never remarried. Charlotte’s Aunt Jean had been a mother of 5 young children when her husband divorced her. Charlotte’s favorite story about her was how she had stole her way into Audubon Park in New Orleans under the cover of darkness and cut down a magnolia tree on Christmas Eve so her children would have a Christmas tree when they woke up. Another Aunt whose story didn’t include a knight in shining armor was her Aunt Sweetie. She had never married, but she managed to look after scores of children and adults with her cooking and her selfless acts of kindness. As a girl it had never occurred to Charlotte how courageous and strong these women had been at a time in history when it was more common for a woman to have a man lead her through life than it was to navigate it solo. Even the married women in Charlotte’s life had spines of steel. It wasn’t until Charlotte was a grown woman that she encountered women who orbited their men like satellites, dependent on the gravitational pull to keep them upright.
And as she drifted off to sleep, Charlotte was reminded by the voices of so many of her Catholic ancestors to offer up her troubles. And so she did, uttering a prayer with each she released into the black of the night, joining her prayers with those of her loved ones and drawing strength with every breath.