Thank you for joining me for the summer redux series. I am re-posting stories you may not have read, in the fashion of a summer re-run. The original “The Caber Toss” posted back in January 2012. It’s been embellished a little since then.
* * *
“And for your wedding gift, I’m giving you my ironing board,” my mother said, three month before the wedding. “It’s stood the test of time. That should satisfy the something old and something blue categories. You know they just don’t make ‘em like they used to.”
She’d set her sights on a sleek five-pound ironing board.
“Richard will appreciate the luxury of ironed sheets,” she said, nodding her head. Her 1978-style Suzanne Pleshette wig tied into place with a pale blue silk scarf. It matched her pant suit and sandals.
The 40-pound blue-anodized aluminum ironing board circa 1947, with optional iron rest, arrived with my parents’ blessing, a large bow and a box of gilded thank you notes.
The next day the phone rang.
“Fannie, it’s been two days,” my mother said, “I haven’t seen a thank you note yet.”
I could feel the look travel through the phone lines from Gig Harbor to Seattle. “Mom, I wrote it on the new stationery you sent me and mailed it the same day.”
The following day, another phone call.
“Fannie, I got your note, I’m so glad you’re enjoying the ironing board. It’ll last forever,” she said. She took a breath. “You know, your Aunt Verla gave it to your father and me as a wedding present.”
“Well, you can let Aunt Verla know we’ll take good care of it,” I said, running my fingers through my shoulder length brown hair, waiting for the the punch line.
“She’ll want visitation rights,” my mother said, no longer burden with custody of the gift.
Two days later the sympathy cards arrived from my sisters, rejoicing they dodged that particular bullet.
Richard read the sympathy cards. His forehead crinkled. His smile dropped about an inch.
“Fannie, I forbid you from ever ironing my sheets, EVER,” Richard said, rising up to his full height, bumping his head on the door jamb. Ire flashed in his blue eyes. “And if a sheet looks pristine I’ll crumple it up on general principle.”
He kept his word.
* * *
One parking space remained outside of the pink and white building with the cursive sign reading Chantilly Manor, Gig Harbor’s best kept secret. Wigs of every description adorned the display windows draped with off-white lace. Large french doors with polished brass knobs crowned the entrance.
The buzz of two dozen women filled the lobby and salon. The smell of hair spray commingled with perfume.
“Fannie darling, I haven’t seen you in years,” Suzy said, wearing her signature pink and white smock. “Your mom and aunt I see regularly.” She stood behind the counter. Her blond beehive hairdo tied with a pink and gold scarf rolled into a tube. “To what do we owe this unexpected pleasure?”
“Suzy, I’m getting married and I want you to do our hair and make-up,” I said, walking up to the counter.
“Oh, we love weddings here, don’t we ladies,” Suzy said, batting her over sized black lashes at me.
A cone of silence spread over the salon. Everyone nodded.
“We’re getting married up at the Salish Lodge in two months.”
“You don’t say,” Suzy said, leaning onto the counter, resting her chin on her interlaced fingers.
“I want to do something special for my mom and aunt to thank them for all of their help,” I said, grinning. “I would like to purchase two gift certificates for six wig stylings each, it would mean the world to them,” I said, reaching for my wallet.
“Fannie darling,” she said, “I’ll make you a deal and only charge you half.” Using her famous stylized calligraphy, Suzy filled out the certificates.
“Suzy, thank you, thank you, thank you, this will mean so much to them.”
Facing the crowd, I said, “Remember ladies, this is top secret.”
Suzy looked into the crowd. “Trust me, no one will breath a word, or I’ll refuse to do their hair. You have my word on that.”
The room went silent.
* * *
“Richard, I’ve got an appointment with the florist and the musician this afternoon, do you want to come?” I asked, putting on my rain coat and grabbing my purse and umbrella.
“No, I’ve got a bunch of stuff I’ve got to get taken care of for work so we can go on our honeymoon,” he said, kissing me on top of my head. “I trust your judgement.”
“I’ll be gone about an hour,” I said, giving him a hug.
Richard walked the five feet down the narrow hall of our new West Seattle apartment. He knocked over the forty pound ironing board leaned against the wall. It hit him in the thigh en route to the floor. The air in the apartment turned blue.
Hopping on one leg, he pointed to the ironing board. “You need to find a home for that or I swear it will disappear never to be seen again.
“Richard, I’ll unpack the boxes in the hall closet when I get back so I can put it away,” I said, shaking my head. My guts hosted a brigade of butterflies. “We cannot get rid of it. It’s a wedding present. My family will not let us hear the end of it.”
Richard hobbled to the second bedroom where we set up his office the week before. The window faced a sixty foot high basalt retaining wall covered in English ivy. As I walked down the stairs below our apartment toward the parking lot, our phone rang over the sound of rain pelting my umbrella.
* * *
Richard stood in the living room when I walked in the front door. “Fannie, I have some news for you.”
“Richard, you look horrible. Is everything all right?” I asked.
Dark circles under his eyes replaced his mischievous twinkle. “My manager called from Omaha, our company has been purchased. They’re having a mandatory training session in three weeks. I have to go to Omaha or loose my job.”
My heart landed somewhere near my ankles with a hollow thud. “Oh my god, Richard, did you tell them we’re getting married in three weeks?” I asked, twisting my ring. “We’ve already paid for everything.”
“They’ve agreed to move the meeting out two days so we can still get married, but we can’t go on our honeymoon. And they won’t reimburse us for the costs. We’ll have to see what we can salvage if anything.”
“Well,” I said, giving him a hug, “who needs to go to Australia?” The ironing board landed on my heart—squish.
My mother and I spent the next two days canceling the honeymoon.
* * *
Eight years later we saved enough to buy a home. It coincided with my aunt and uncle downsizing.
“Fannie, Richard, we’re so glad you’re buying the house, I couldn’t bear it leaving the family. You know your mother and I were born here. Your Uncle Carl added a hook to the wall in the broom closet to hold your ironing board,” Aunt Verla said, in her clipped tones never taking a breath, “as our way of saying thank you.”
On moving day, four cars sat parked in the cul-de-sac waiting for the moving truck to arrive.
When we arrived, my family poured from their vehicles to help us move in.
Overwhelmed by the audience, one of the movers asked, “Would you please move out of the way so we can finish our job?”
Richard pulled one of the dining room chairs from the moving van. Aunt Verla blocked his path.
“Richard, have you seen the ironing board?” Aunt Verla asked, tapping her foot.
“Not since this morning when we packed it into the truck.”
“Well let me know the minute you find it. I want to see how it looks hanging in the closet.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Richard said, rolling his eyes. He went in search of the ironing board.
From the corner of the garage between aisles of stacked boxes, my older sister—the professional amateur detective—Lenora Jane, called out, “Richard, I found it.”
Richard pulled it from the corner. The family crowded him.
“If you give me some room,” he said, staring at me over their heads, his eyes pleading for help, “we can get this put away.”
My mother held the door open. Following my aunt, Richard entered the house. The rest of us filed into the cramped hallway.
My aunt opened the broom closet door. The hook waited for its prize. Richard placed the board on the hook while the women of the family held their collective breath. The board stayed in place.
Two minutes later a succession of tail lights disappeared down the street.
“Thank heaven that’s over with, now we can actually move in,” I said, wiping my hands on my dusty blue jeans.
“Fannie, some day I am going to get rid of that ridiculous ironing board,” Richard said, his jaw muscles tightened.
“You mean the 40-pounds of pure ironing pleasure that falls on you almost every time you get near it? If you do get rid of it, I want to be far, far away because Aunt Verla will birth a cow and two cotton kittens.”
Two hours later, the movers left, leaving a trail behind them.
“Fannie, I am going to clean up a bit of this debris. Have you seen the vacuum?” Richard asked, looking around.
“Yeah I put it in the broom closet next to the ironing board,” I said, opening the linen closet door, “I wanted to make sure we could find it when we needed it,” I said, exhaustion catching up to me. “I’m gonna make the bed so we can fall in when we’re ready.”
Richard grabbed the vacuum from the closet hooking the bottom of the ironing board. The board tottered, slipped from the hook. He threw his arm out to catch the board pinning his arm between the board and vacuum.
A scream ripped down the walls. I ran into the hallway.
“Would you get this bloody ironing board off me?” he asked, pain radiating across his face.
I lifted the board off him. We examined his arm.
“You’re gonna have one heck of a bruise but nothing else,” I said, relieved.
Richard glared at the ironing board for a moment. His shoulders stiffening, he rolled the vacuum down the hall. He disappeared around the corner. The vacuum roared to life. I made the bed.
* * *
The telephone rang somewhere in the house. The clock read 6:18 a.m..
“Don’t answer that,” I said, rolling over.
“It’s either your mother or your aunt,” Richard said, sliding the blankets off me.
“Exactly, don’t answer it. We will call them back at a decent hour. Besides, do you remember where we put the telephone?” I asked, pulling the blankets back up.
Ten minutes later the phone rang again.
“I’m unplugging the phone,” I said, staggering out of bed. My hair mimicking a Chia pet, my eyes looked like puffed up prunes.
I made it as far as the hallway when the doorbell rang.
“This is a nightmare,” I said, stumbling toward the door, “we are going to have to set some ground rules.”
On the porch stood Aunt Verla and Uncle Carl. His cheeks bright pink. He could not look at me.
“Fannie, when you didn’t answer the phone we decided you probably didn’t have it hooked up yet. I couldn’t wait to tell you the news. So we decided to come over and tell you in person. We know it’s not your turn, but you and Richard have been nominated to host the next family holiday,” Aunt Verla said, in her clipped tone, pausing long enough to draw a breath. “Your mother and I were discussing it this morning and thought it would be a great way to host your first open house welcoming the family.”
She stopped long enough to allow me to respond. I stood there staring at her.
Looking at me for the first time since I opened the door, Aunt Verla said, “Fannie, you look a mess, you’re not even dressed yet. The day is already half over, what’s the matter?”
Taking a deep breath, “Good morning Aunt Verla, Uncle Carl.” I said, nodding to them. “We were up half the night unpacking and decided to sleep in. The phone is plugged in. However, we are not going to answer it until after 9 a.m..
If you decide to call before then, you will have to wait until that time for a response. Additionally, after this we won’t be answering the door until after 9 a.m. unless we are expecting you. So I request you call first instead of assuming you can just barge in anytime you want.” For the first time in my life, I’d adopted my mother’s “my-word-is-law” tone.
Aunt Verla stiffened and Uncle Carl turned away so she wouldn’t see him laughing. Her jaw pumped up and down a few times but no sound followed.
Pouncing on the moment of silence, I said, “We would be happy to host, we will send out formal invitations once we’re settled in. I’ll be serving coffee and danishes at 10 a.m., and you’re welcome to come back then. Now if there is nothing further, I’m going back to bed.”
“We’ll see you at 10,” Uncle Carl said, grinning, guiding Aunt Verla back to the car.
“Wow, Miss Spunky, I didn’t know you had it in you,” Richard said, putting his arms around me when I climbed back into bed. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard your aunt quiet that many seconds in a row.”
“It may not happen again for a while, you better enjoy it while it lasts,” I said, “they’ll be back over at 10.”
“Who do you think the other caller was?”
“My mother. I’m sure she will hear all about it before I call her back. She’ll be so pissed Aunt Verla beat her to the punch,” I said, laughing.
My parents’ mobile land yacht pulled into our driveway at 9:45 a.m., followed by Aunt Verla and Uncle Carl at 9:55, my older sister, Lenora Jane with her husband Steve, and my younger sister, Eleanor, arrived ten minutes later.
The coffee and danishes disappeared followed by a group unpack.
Uncle Carl grabbed the box knife from the kitchen counter. He reached for a box on the kitchen table. My mother carted a twenty pound bag of rice, headed toward the pantry. They collided midstream. The box knife pierced the bag. Rice spilled to the floor.
Aunt Verla, ready to save the day, dashed down the hall. She grabbed the vacuum from the broom closet. Richard exited the guest bathroom adjacent to the closet. Aunt Verla jump. She yanked the vacuum cleaner from the closet. The vacuum’s canister caught the ironing board pulling it out, hook and all. It clattered to the floor falling toward Aunt Verla.
She screamed as the board hit the vacuum. The vacuum pushed her into the wall. She grunted. The ironing board rebounded onto Richard’s chest forcing him backwards into the door with a loud thud. Air rushed out of him.
He gasped for breath. Pain spread across Richard’s face with the speed of a wildfire. Everyone froze.
“Richard, Richard, are you all right?” I asked, adrenaline pumped into my veins.
“I’ve had it with this board,” he said, his voice low and steady. “I should have done this a long time ago.”
He picked up the board. He headed toward the garage.
Stepping in front of him, Aunt Verla asked, “Where do you think you are going with that ironing board young man?”
Richard looked her in the eye. His eyes went flat. Rising up to his full height he towered over her. Aunt Verla bit her lip.
“I’m doing what should have been done a long time ago, I’m getting rid of this monstrosity.”
Pushing passed her, he charged into the garage. The family followed the pied piper. He carried the board to his car, threw it into the trunk—crash. Slammed the lid, rounded to the driver’s side and got in.
I claimed the front passenger seat and every male member of the family squeezed into the back seat. He threw the car in reverse, gunned the engine. No one spoke. Squealing tires on pavement, our accompaniment.
Eight miles of back roads and six minutes later, we arrived at the dump. Paying the ten dollars, he backed up to the stall indicated and opened the trunk.
The men poured from the backseat. I stood next to my father.
Richard ripped the ironing board from the trunk, ran toward the garbage pit, let loose a blood curdling scream, and heaved the board over the top of him like a caber.
The caber tossed through the air, end over end, crashing on the bottom of the pit, metal to concrete. The legs splayed in odd directions.
After a moment of silence, wild cheers and applause broke out. Everyone clapping him on the back.
He hugged the air out of my lungs.
The conquerors returned home.
Aunt Verla never mentioned it again.