One of the Queens, TammyPippa, owns an architectural salvage company, Backroads Architecturals. This delicate flower of womanhood goes out and tears down old houses and buildings with her own hands and hauls off the good parts to sell to home-building folks with good taste. (Her husband, Charles, does help out.) In one of the fine old houses she was deconstructing, TammyPippa discovered a little paperback book that no doubt had been hidden away because of the shocking nature of its contents. Called The Book of Nature, this thin tract was written and sold in the early 1920s for a dollar. The cover notes proclaim it to be for “the married and those intending to marry—a complete explanation of all.” TammyPippa called me immediately.
I raced over to pick up the book and found plenty of explanations I’ve been wanting for quite some time. I was expecting to sleep much sounder in the future after getting all my troubling questions answered and all. I also expected to acquire the knowledge to settle a number of unduly vexing issues for you, my readers.
I knew in the opening pages of the book that I had come to the right place. The author, a guy, stated that some other guy had possibly exaggerated when he said that the reproduction of the species is the only duty a woman has to fulfill in human society. Hmmmm? That other guy gave me pause, I gotta tell you. I’m thinking, okay, fine, have it your way, buckwheat. We’ll reproduce ’em, and then we will be punching out. Everything else—everything else—is now your problem. Since you’re so fucking smart, here’s a bunch of babies for you. We’re going out for margaritas and then we’ll be napping. We’ve fulfilled our duty to society. Good luck with them kids!
To smooth things over, the author wrote that he personally thinks that there are women who have brains as well as ovaries. He was not making a rash, blanket statement of generalization, of course, but simply conceding that it might’ve happened sometime, somewhere. There are whole piles of women who never have children, he opined, but care for the children of others and thereby may be performing an even greater service than the actual production of children.
What makes me even crazier than reading this kinda crap from some guy—even if it was written eighty years ago—is seeing women still buying into it today! Young girls are still going off to college with not a thought in their heads about getting an education that will lead to an actual job so they can go out into the world as self-actualized, self-supporting people. There are far too many enrolled in Pre-Wed, only to survey the crop of prospective husbands who might be manipulated, cajoled, or otherwise convinced to support them for the rest of their lives—men who’ll simply take up where Daddy left off.
I know a little about this kind of thinking. Remember, my own personal financial plan for the future was that my daddy would live forever. I never considered interviewing other potential candidates for the position, and I certainly never thought about taking care of my ownself. As far as I was concerned, Daddy had a lifetime appointment, and his lifetime would naturally coincide with my own. When all of a sudden his life was over, there I was with a whole bunch of my life left and no Daddy to finance or direct it. Huh? Now, there’s a quandary for you, right there.
So what did I do? The only thing I thought I could do—I looked for another man to take his place! Let me just tell you, if you find yourself in a similar situation now or ever, this ain’t the answer. In fact, it is the very antithesis of the answer.
Now, don’t misunderstand me. There’s a cosmic difference between having someone who supports you and fixes things and handles all the pesky details of the financial side of life and believing that you need someone to support you and fix things and handle all the pesky details. Hunny, I am all for sitting on your ass and being waited on hand and foot—it’s great work if you can get it—as long as you know, firsthand, that you could do it for yourownself, should the need or desire ever arise.
Because, lemme tell you something else I learned the very hard way: Every potential husband is a potential ex-husband or even a potential dead husband, and you need a plan just in case either scenario develops down the road. And sometimes (make that usually), whether he leaves your life upright or feet first, he leaves behind a big ole mess, and who do you think gets to clean it up all by herself? Don’t be looking around. It’s you, sweetie.
Remember how you felt as a teenager, chafing against your parents but having to do what they said because of the “my house, my rules” deal? And how as a young adult, you still had to please them some to hang on to their support because you just couldn’t make it on your own yet? Remember how that felt? Well, imagine that you’re forty and have no education. You quit school to get married, and you haven’t had a paying job in twenty years. You’ve got one or two children and a fair amount of debt, and your husband is a screaming asshole. Yet the thought of leaving is more terrifying than the thought of staying—because you’re totally dependent on him.
If you’re gonna go to college for Pre-Wed, I insist that you also take a full course in Pre-Death/Pre-Divorce and get yourself an education that will prepare you for the “unthinkable situation”—taking care of yourself and possibly a bunch of children by yourself for a large part of your life. You’ll sleep a whole lot better, I promise. Parents will sleep better, too, if they help their children learn this.
Groom Selection Process
Once you’re living in the world of reality, you’re ready to think about the Groom Selection Process. Our precious Queen Loni had a fascinating screening process, which she used with felicitous results for quite some time. Loni had the great good fortune to live near a very gifted psychic named Bonnie, who could “read” photographs of people and was never known to err. Bob was the guy du jour in Loni’s life, and she wanted Bonnie’s stamp of approval on him—or not, as it were. So the next time Bob came over, Loni told him her daughter, Jackie, had just gotten a new camera and would Bob mind too much, you know, humoring the ten-year-old and posing for a picture? He was only too happy to oblige; it was, after all, a photo of him.
Loni then took several pictures over to Bonnie for a “reading,” slipping Bob’s into the mix. Bonnie spread them all out on a table and gazed at them thoughtfully and mystically for a brief moment, and then, with no hesitation, she snatched up the photo of Bob and in tones dripping vitriol, said, “Who’s this prick?” Loni said hesitantly that, well, it was Bob, who was kinda her new boyfriend. Bonnie put the ole ix-nay to him quick, declaring Bob unfit for human consumption—a foul-tempered, lyin’-ass drunk. (Don’t you love her quaint economy of words, cutting right to the heart of the matter?)
Then Bonnie conjured up another revelation from the images, which Loni had selected randomly, somewhat as a test for the psychic. Bob was the only one Loni had wanted the scoop on, and he had been promptly culled, but in the mix was a photo of a friend of Loni’s, a young man, a very young man, a man twenty years younger than Loni to be exact. When Bonnie came upon this photo, she picked it up and said, “Your ship has finally come in.” She pronounced to thirty-nine-year-old Loni that nineteen-year-old Jim was her perfect match. Loni laughed nervously and left. She had a lot to think about now, for sure. She hadn’t expected anything like what Bonnie had just laid on her—not about Bob and certainly not about Jim.
In a very short time, Bob revealed himself to be the very same foul-tempered, lyin’-ass drunk Bonnie had described, and Loni ran him right on out the door. And, by and by, young Jim commenced to coming around pretty regular, and he finally convinced Loni that she needed to pay attention. And, well—you guessed it—Loni and Jim have been very happy together ever since. Who’da thunk it? Well, Bonnie, for one.
It’s a crying shame that the very gifted Bonnie has since departed this life. She was a wonderful human being and she’s greatly missed by all her family and friends, I’m sure. But hey! She would have been a service to womankind had she lived long enough to provide this excellent screening service to us all. She could have had a website, and all we’d have to do was e-mail her a guy’s picture for new divinations, saving us untold hours of heartache and tears, not to mention pain, money, and wear and tear on our friends. I’d a whole lot rather pay an anonymous psychic a buttload of money to tell me some guy’s a lyin’, cheatin’ sackashit than listen to it for free from my girlfriends—or worse, open my own personal eyeballs to what’s smack in front of ’em. But no, Bonnie’s dead and gone, and we are just all on our own, winging it here. It behooves us one and all to Be Particular.
That sweet Seattle Queen Natalie wrote me with a question about a vitally important issue. She’s only about thirty and therefore larva, as we know (women under forty are larvae in SPQueendom), but she was doing the right thing and seeking counsel from me and dipping into the vast storehouse of knowledge and experience held in trust by my Queendom. Natalie had had, it seems, the great good fortune of a Southern birth and childhood in North Carolina, but along about her mid-twenties, her parents divorced and her mama decided she needed to move to the other side of the country for a breather. Our Natalie decided that sounded good to her too, so she loaded up and moved off to Seattle with Mama. For a few years she was liking it out there just fine. She and Mama both have good jobs and share a home they love, but . . . (You knew there would be a but in there, didn’t you? Me, too.)
Everything is fine, Queen Natalie said, but she is 100 percent not attracted to the men out there. It took her a little while to figure out why the local guys were off-putting in such a big way, but it finally dawned on her: They don’t smell right to her. She had grown up around—and learned to love—men who smelled like pit barbecue and the occasional oil change. The men out there smell like decidedly unmanly things like cologne and mocha lattes. I see her problem. I feel her pain.
Natalie was shocked to learn her olfactory sense played such a big part in her love life. I was not at all surprised. I’ve known firsthand for years that most of us humans really and truly cannot get past the end of our own noses. Smell matters. A lot, they say. (“They” are famous scientists in France, I suppose. I worked with a guy once who was always claiming to have read about major breakthroughs in whatever bullshit he was peddling that day. When questioned, he always attributed the breakthroughs to “famous scientists in France.”) Anyway, they say that blindfolded mothers can identify their own newborn babies by smell. I haven’t tried to do that, but I do know that the smell of a baby’s head—and yes, in particular, my own baby’s head—is just about the most highly addictive, thrilling, and yet soporific fragrance I have ever personally encountered.
When my own precious daughter, Bailey, was a wee babe, I would lie down with her for a nap and curl her tiny body into the curve of my own and fall asleep breathing her scent. I’d drink in the smell of her the way a recovering drunk sucks on a cigarette. If I could’ve stuffed her entire body up my nose, I would have. I can still close my eyes and remember the feeling I’d get from that fragrance—but maddeningly, I can’t conjure up the actual smell. (Now, there’s a great thing for somebody to figure out how to bottle. Forget “new car.” If you could offer a mother a tub of something that smelled exactly like her own baby’s head, well, there’s a fortune waiting to be made right there, is all I’m saying.)
The smell of a man has always been of paramount importance to me, too. Natalie was blindsided by her nose—but not me. I’ve always trusted mine. There’ve been men I liked just fine at first meeting, but upon the first close contact—HUP! YOU’RE OUTTA HERE! Not that they smelled bad—who would even go out with a stinky guy? No, they just didn’t smell “right” to me. The right triggers just weren’t firing, and that was that. And we’re not talking about cologne here—we’re talking about skin. The particular hot spot for me is the skin in the area where their jaw meets their neck, and drifting on down to where their neck joins their shoulders. I’ll hug a guy and give him a good neck snort and see what registers. The right smell will give me a definite “twitch.”
Your nose—or at least my nose—will sometimes know when a relationship has ended before your brain does. I remember one relationship in particular that was going from bad to worse, but I was still hanging on in that inexplicable way we too frequently do. After an exceptionally bad boyfriend day, he hauled off and hugged me, and I stuck my nose in that neck spot and sniffed, and boy hidee, I’ll tell you, I just knew. We had hugged—and everything else—our last time. He no longer smelled right to me. He weren’t mine—and more important, I weren’t his no mo’.
But back to Queen Natalie’s question for me. What she wanted to know was did I think that she should suck it up and stick it out in Seattle and hope to (a) happen on the only barbecue chef in the Great Northwest, (b) change her taste in smells, or (c) just become a none (like a nun, only without the religious theme)? Or should she (d) go into debt to finance a move back to the South to sniff out her Mr. Right? I think you know what I advised.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from The Sweet Potato Queens' Wedding Planner/Divorce Guide by Jill Conner Browne. Copyright © 2005 by Jill Conner Browne. Excerpted by permission of Harmony, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.