Thursday, May 28, 2020

She Wore A Red Dress

By Fred Owens

After the wedding ceremony before the Justice of the Peace, we drove back to 21 Shottery Crescent in the same order, Mr. Jones driving, me in the front seat, Mataka, Precious and Tanti in the back seat. It was a pretty car, but small. Precious's bridal finery took up all the room. It was a somber group driving back, as if we had done something important, something good, and something that could not be so easily undone,  as if the continents themselves were bound together by magical strands, so we were part of that larger binding.

Or maybe we were just getting thirsty and it was time for a cold beer back at the house. Precious looked calm and victorious. Mr. Mataka was unusually quiet and somber. Tanti was smiling, like she always did. "These dress pumps I am wearing are starting to hurt my feet," she said and laughed. Precious said, but in Ndbele so I wouldn't understand, "I have to pee so bad I think I will scream." I heard her say that in Ndebele which I scarcely understood and made a mental note to find somebody, maybe one of her younger cousins, who might teach me that language. Frankly, Precious enjoyed speaking Ndebele in my presence as if I might not go there, wherever she was going. Her English was poor, along the order of "I want to watch TV," and "Are you hungry?" We had a mutual working vocabulary of less than 100 words, which kept us out of subtle verbal traps.

We got to the house and the fifty cousins gave out a cheer and Precious smiled broadly, such good teeth in her smile I had noticed many times. That was the life span of our marriage, those seven years, when she finally got tired of me looking at her. But she was so beautiful, what could I do? She married a mouth breather. I was always that way, still am.

We ate the cake, amid much cheering and shouting and the music got louder. Precious retired to our bedroom to get out of her bridal veils and into her new red dress, bought for the occasion and quite comfortable. Now it was done and we could get ready to eat the roast goat, which Joseph had been tending with slow-roasting affection in the back yard, under the guava tree.

The roasted goat was placed on the kitchen table and was quickly sliced and served. The beer flowed. Beer was invented in Africa some thousands of years ago. It is the home beverage. First the grain crops were developed, then, by divine miracle, the grain transubstantiated into beer. They should build a statue to the first African man who got drunk. We had a bottle of champagne but no takers. Wine, whiskey were offered but no, just beer and lots of it. And sadza, or pap, the heavy cornmeal porridge cooked to the stiffness of mashed potatoes. For flavor, add salt. People say that Zimbabwe once had an elaborate cuisine, but a century of British rule ruined it. The British built highways, railroads, and bridges, but British cooking destroyed the local palate. Still the many cousins were happy.

Mr. T and Smiley sat together on the upholstered love seat, not by choice. But they were brothers and Mr. T was the oldest and it was his daughter that was married. Smiley's daughter Grace was only eight and not yet ready.

But Smiley and Mr. T were in conference over the bride-price. Mr. T was short of breath and sweating, over-excited, it seems the money was not forthcoming. Smiley soothed him saying, "But he's white and we can't make him pay." Mr. T threatened to capture Precious and take her home because the deal was off. "I will keep her. She can find another man. This white man is nothing. I have seen this before." The cousins, rejoicing, established a cone of silence in Mr. T's perimeter. They could feel his volcanic eruption about to burst and end the party.

The newly weds huddled in the kitchen. "I'm getting bored," Precious said. "We are married now, so they should all leave."

"But you know they will leave when the last bottle is empty and the sadza is all eaten. Then Mr. T. can pile them all into the bed of his old green truck and take them back to Luveve. After they leave, we shall retire to the bedroom and drink the champagne. We are Mr. and Mrs. Owens now and forever," I said.

The next morning we got up and the house was a mess. Nobody cleaned up, but at least they all left. We were happy together. We began a period of domestic tranquility over the next six weeks. Nobody bothered us. We talked about going to Milawi for our honeymoon. To Chembe village, which was the ancestral home of the Matakas. It was Precious's true home and we must go there and talk with Amina.

"Who is Amina?" I asked her many times,  because each time I asked she gave another answer. "Amina is the sister of Mataka. She has lived in Chembe village her whole life. She has never worn shoes. She has never sat in a chair."

The story makes a natural break right here. Precious and Frederick settle down for a few weeks of domestic tranquility. Meanwhile the folks at Frog Hospital headquarters -- Eugene and me -- are working on some changes to the format and content. Nothing too radical and we will be making mistakes as we experiment. So stick around and as we make changes be sure to send us an email saying if you like it or not,

Thursday, May 21, 2020

I Do, I Do, I Do

I Do, I Do, I Do

By Fred Owens

Something about her quiet determination got my attention. That morning of the wedding day, we got up and made tea as always. Precious talked about her mother Matilda who had passed away at an early age. Matilda had flown away from the brutality of her husband, Mr. T, going back to her Tonga village and family alongside the Zambezi River, in the hot country. The Tonga were a small traditional tribe and very poor. Precious had only one small wallet-size photo of her mother, as if Matilda had traveled through her tragic life and left no trace, only the photo. Even so Matilda's  mournful face moved me. Even today I can see her face and hear her voice although I never met her. She had the soul of every African woman. Precious shared that soul and today she would redeem it. Today was for Matilda, although per her normal custom, Precious did not say those words, having just a wan smile and telling a story about how Matilda went to the market every day to sell tomatoes. "My mother was very kind to me," she said. "Her life was too hard and she died, but I think about her every day. She sold her tomatoes every day and bought me  candy when I was a small girl. I can never forget."

Someone was rattling the chain at the gate of our rented house on 21 Shottery Crescent. Cousin Tanti, the Maid of Honor, had come by herself, without any of her seven children, to do Precious's hair. "It's Tanti," Precious said, "Go let her in." "What are you going to do with your hair?" I asked smiling. She said, "You go and leave this bedroom. You will not see me now. Go over the fence and help Mr. Dlhwayu with his broken motors."

Fair enough. I took my suit and shirt and shoes to the other bedroom and went for a shower. I had a fresh haircut from the white barber in downtown. This may seem obvious once it has been pointed out, but black people and white people don't go to the same place for their hair. Eat the same food, go to the same school, play hopscotch by the same rules, but hair is the difference. My white barber was gay, he seemed to enjoy brushing up against my leg. He complained to me, a perfect stranger, about being harassed about his collection of pornography. "It's my business if I want to look at art photos. You have to be so careful in Bulawayo. The natives -- and I don't mean just the black people -- are very conservative."

"I hear you, and you better be careful who you trust," I said, looking around the room, seeing only white men reading magazines -- old Rhodesians, the remnants of a banished tribe. I was not and never could be a member of their club. A white man could sleep with a black woman anytime, but quietly, or talked about in code words. You couldn't marry one, in the open like I was about to do. But it never came up in the conversation, because we never talked. I just knew it was a waste of time. The old Rhodesians were famous for being close-mouthed to strangers. But I got a good haircut. I did want to share my story with the gay barber because he had his own persecution to face, but I did not have the chance to tell him that the haircut was in honor of my wedding in a few days. I said nothing, but gave him a very large tip, which was typical of Americans in Africa. We were loud, we banged into furniture, and we left vary large tips. I thought Zimbabwe could use a few hundred American immigrants  --- things I might have said to the old Rhodesians if they had given me the slightest welcome. It didn't matter.

My shoes were shined in the spare bedroom. My suit and shirt were fresh from the store. I even bought a red tie. "Who is bringing the goat?" I shouted through the closed bedroom door. "That man is bringing it," she said. "What man?" I asked. "That man who brought us together, Joseph from the Palace Hotel. You don't remember?" she said. "How could I forget Joseph? He changed my life. He made me a prince among men because he brought you into my life ..... but will Joseph bring the firewood for cooking the goat because we don't have any?" "Don't concern yourself with that," she said with irritation. "Go back to Dlhwayu and help him fix his car."

Well, I didn't have anything to do and it was too early to drink beer. Stand around and wait. That's what grooms do. I was finished thinking about it. I could have grabbed my passport and credit card and fled out the back door, and gone out to the airport and caught the next jet going to Johannesburg and then back to America. I could still escape. She would never find me......Nah.... Nah.... I'm staying. I'm doing this. It's like Wyatt Earp at the OK Corral. I'm going to face those demons and start shooting. Maybe die. 

All right, I won't die today but why does a wedding feel like death? The death of a dream? The ruination of fantasy? And where the hell is Mr. Jones? I was expecting Colonel Clifford Jones, retired, Zimbabwe National Guard and my Best Man, to show up with the rental car. Precious was not going downtown in her gown all smashed into my pretty white Nissan diesel truck. We had to pay for a new car rental.

Three cigarettes later -- I must have been nervous -- Jones drove up in a shiny new rental Honda. He parked it in the driveway and walked over to my vigil spot, my pacing chamber under the pepper tree. He formed a languid figure in his sport coat and tie, sort of a charcoal grey-brown light wool jacket, suitable for hunting foxes. Jones could have hunted foxes, if he had wanted to, he gave that impression, a mixed race warrior and he had nothing to prove. "It's your big day, kid," he said. "Kid? No one calls me kid. You can call me Freddy if you want," I told him. I had scouted out this pepper tree in our front yard a hundred times. With the result of deep research I chose just the right Wedding Day tree limb to lean against while I awaited the bride. If you know anything about trees, you can't just lean against any branch. Men do this the world over. In 1972 in Manhattan in the Lower East Side, at 3 a.m. in the morning, outside a smoky tavern, on a hot and humid August night, I chose the rear fender of an old green Chevy to lean against. I was really cool and then I realized that the guys gathered towards the front of the same car, breathing the same air as me, smoking the same smoke as me, were beatnik poet Allen Ginsberg and his coterie. That's when I realized how cool I really was. Leaning on the same car with those guys. So don't tell me a pepper tree in my front yard in Bulawayo was any different. I chose my leaning limb and struck a pose. And Mr. Jones, without even trying, chose a leaning limb just as cool as mine. That's why I picked him to be Best Man. Let Precious and Tanti do their magic in the bedroom. We had the car ready and we waited, and it was going to take a long time.
You still going through with this?" Jones said. He looked up and down the road and gave me a chance to reflect.

"I don't need to think about it anymore. I thought of just running to the airport and catching a plane, but I'm staying," I said.

"Well, I got the car and I'm your man. You want to fly, let's fly. Cause they're in there right now planning to take over your life."

"You're against marriage but I'm not. My Mom and Dad had a happy life together. I want that same thing. I always thought I'd be married. I never soured on it. I never blamed myself when it went south. I like being married because it focuses the mind. Precious is who I'm going to deal with, just her."

"Is it too early for a beer?"

Guests were  floating in. The uncles Ronnie and Milton, both bachelors. Milton was gay. He went to Jo-burg for work and ran with the wrong crowd and got shot and killed a few years later. That kind of thing happens in Joburg. Ronnie came with the usual sad story. Smiley came with his wife and daughter. Maphuto, Patrick, Francis and Christopher were bachelor cousins. Mr. and Mrs. Ndlovu. All kinds of lady cousins all dolled up. I didn't know their names. The house filled up and the crowd spilled over to the yard under the shade of the pepper tree. But people were still quiet and the music was soft, waiting for the bride. Mr. Mataka and Mr. T came in Mr.T's old green truck, or maybe he just borrowed it. Aunt Marji rode in the back with various younger children, Prince, Johnny and Juliano. The Dlhwayus walked over from next door. Bill and Mary Collier, the nasty white people down the street, were invited, but we knew they wouldn't come. Clyde, the cashier at Solomon's fancy grocery store, came with his girl friend. The goat was already roasting. Someone in the back was fixing another fire to boil a big pot of sadza, that heavy cornmeal mush that Zimbabweans never get tired of.

I was glad to see Mataka and not glad so see his oldest son Peter Lovemore, the one we called Mr. T. Coming for the bride-price. I'm thinking ten cows at $500 each. The cows to be delivered one year at a time, or the cash instead, and people nowadays usually took the cash, which made it a lot less interesting.

Less the cost of the wedding, which I was paying for. Less a discount for her advanced age, almost 35. Less a discount for already having children, but that was a plus too because it proved she could -- have children.

I was just not too interested in this discussion. Mr. T would have to wait. I had this advantage because I was not of his culture. He could not  make me pay, or shame me or embarrass me. Besides I was already paying for this and that. I paid for school fees and over due water bills and groceries. I was prepared and willing to keep making small payments on a sustainable scale. And not because I owed the bride-price, but because I came  from America. For some reason, Americans have a lot more money than Africans. So why not be generous?  Later on, years later, Mr. T. got a large chunk of my money, but that was too his ruin. I will tell that part at the end of this story.

Precious emerged in slow procession from the house, coming out the front door, with Tanti holding her train up from the red dust of Africa. She gave a confident laugh at the crowd of relatives,  a laugh that said you thought I couldn't do this, but I can do this and today is my day.. The crowd of relatives parted like waves on the Red Sea. She was beautiful and regal.  She looked at me but did not wave, walking slowly to the driveway and the waiting car. Mr. Jones took his position and kept the door open. Precious eased herself into the back seat followed by Tanti. Mr. Mataka came in the other side. I rode up front while Mr. Jones drove downtown to the travel agency.

We climbed the stairs to the judicial chambers. The agent seated Precious and me at an elegant table where we signed papers applying for a civil marriage. We all stood up and the agent, now acting as Justice of the Peace, read the vows and we repeated after him, that we promised to love one another, cherish and care for one another until death do us part. I thee wed and you may kiss the bride. It was very simple and not overly solemn. It was a good day. Africa and America were united in marriage. We would float down the river of chance and die or not die, but together, and we were bound to each other and what was hers, from the pyramids to Capetown, was now mine, and what was mine, from Virginia to San Francisco, was now hers. And her family joined my family, from the lowest earth to the highest stars above. It was a good day. Outside, maybe ninety degrees and clear skies. Not too hot. We rode in silence back to our rented house at 21 Shottery Crescent, now married, and what would my parents think of this? Surprisingly my father, who died in 1974 and harbored racist views that would never change, told me, in my dreams, that he had a change of heart since he died and went to heaven. "I like that Precious girl. I think she will be good for you."  But my mother, who died in 1996, had her doubts. "Don't say I'm prejudiced, but she has no education," mom said. "How can she make a living except to be a housekeeper?"

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

My gardening blog is  Fred Owens
My writing blog is Frog Hospital

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Precious and Frederick Get Married

Precious and Frederick Get Married

By Fred Owens

We decided on Saturday, September 1, 1997 as the date. That was our plan, but it was not in our plan for Princess Dianna to die in a car crash the day before. This tragic news rocketed through Africa, for Dianna was a beloved figure. Many a humble home had her framed photo on the wall in an honored spot, next to a photo of Reggae star Bob Marley. People were devastated about this unexpected death. And it would have been selfish for the bridal couple to exclaim "What about our coming joy tomorrow?" Spirits were dampened but we took it as no bad omen, for each day has its own story and our story would be told on September 1.

The owl was a different matter. We heard it softly cooing in the pepper tree in the front yard on the evening of the big day. "Look, Precious, an owl in our tree, how wonderful, what a good sign!" She looked at me with astonishment. Speechless with fear. "They are witches. They are bad luck. We must chase the owl away." But I refused to just switch sides on this matter. Immediately I saw the problem -- where we see owls as symbol of power and wisdom, Africans see them as dangerous bad luck, bewitched and devilish. I quickly suggested an agreement. "I think owls are a good sign for our marriage and you see them as trouble. Let's agree with both. We'll have wisdom and we'll have trouble too." I was pleased with myself for this solution, but I could see that Precious was already bored with the idea, just too much witchcraft in her life anyway, bad spirits. My view indicated that we had a choice, to welcome the owl or not. Her view was fatal. There is no choice, the owl is here and it is bad.

Do you think we could have talked this over? Do you think we talked over anything? The fifty cousins would descend on our house tomorrow, all happy and ready to party. I had nobody but myself, if you could picture the groom's side of the aisle. Just Mr. Jones, standing for me. And we had Joseph, the waiter at the Palace Hotel, who introduced Precious and me to each other. He got this whole thing started so he took a master seat, on a crate, in the shade of the guava tree in the back yard, near the fire where the goat was roasting. Did I have doubts about all this? I had no compelling reason to get married. We already lived together harmoniously. But I wanted the full catastrophe, to be chained up forever with a wild full-blooded African woman, a most dangerous creature. We would fight to the death, or love each other until death do us part. Somehow death seemed to be involved. 

That evening, Precious was busy with wedding stuff. I didn't ask, but I think it meant a lot to her, to be honored by her family, as first among the fifty cousins, to wear the pearls and lace and gauzy veils of a proper bride. Tanti, the maid of honor, had been over earlier in the day, helping to clean the house and she worked on Precious's hair. My unspoken instructions were to get out of the way and not ask stupid questions. But the cake was already out on the dining table on a cake stand and covered by a veil to fend off flies. We could not store beers on ice because we had no ice or coolers to hold it. Instead, we would send boys over to the Plumtree bottle store, to buy many cold bottles as needed.

All was well that last evening, and instead of watching TV from the couch, I stepped out into the back yard for star gazing and quiet contemplation. Bulawayo had a half-million residents, but most of the housing was lit with 25-watt bulbs which did not overwhelm the natural stars of southern Africa. Many stars, and quiet sounds. Mr. Dhlwayu, my next door neighbor, was putting his car tools away. I bid him good night and looked forward to his attendance at the reception. Then I paced back and forth by the garden, viewing the rows of strawberries and the tomatoes in cages.And looked up.  There was something about the starlit African sky that made all the suffering worthwhile. I mean the suffering of the African people, a land of constant decades-long civil war, a land of ignorance and disease and hopeless poverty. Why could they not develop their country and become prosperous and democratic like us?  Why were they taken in slavery, and then overwhelmed by colonial powers, and now, in 1997, ruled by heartless dictators? But they had those stars and that sky. They had nothing but that sky. God it was vast.

Growing up in a suburb of Chicago, I had the usual interest in black culture, which is to say, I liked the music. Motown, Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye and Ray Charles. One summer in high school, Doug Serwich and I got tickets to see James Brown playing at Soldier Field. This was adventuresome. Over 25,000 fans came to this show and I believed Doug and I were the only white boys in the crowd. The music was electric. No one sat down from first note to last. James Brown was over the top like I had never imagined....

Another time we went to the Arie Crown theater downtown, seating 3,000 fans, for Ray Charles. That was cool. But what really blew me away, may have planted the seed in fact that got me to Africa, was when the Raylettes strutted on stage. They were so big and power-packed, big hair, big everything. Forbidden fruit. Not for me. My world was white. I lived in a prosperous leafy suburb. I had a drawer full of nice sweaters and a seersucker sport coat in the closet to wear on hot summer evenings. And I was progressive and modern in my developing views on race. I was not going to be like my father, who some times spoke his prejudice against black people. But I have to put a word in for my Dad here. Yes, he had a bad attitude, but he never expected his children to adopt his views. He grew up poor in St. Louis and he had to fight with black kids on his way to school and fight them again on the way home. And my Dad's whole life was about getting out of that neighborhood and getting to the leafy suburb where he raised five kids, all with nice sweaters, all bound for college, and all ready to correct his language at the dinner table.

My older brother and I went to the civil rights marches in Chicago that summer of 1966. We walked along side Jesse Jackson and Martin Luther King. My mom approved, but my Dad was furious. It was like that everywhere in Chicago that summer, an argument in every kitchen.

But it felt awkward. I didn't really know any black people. My high school was all white. The neighborhood and the parish church was all white. There was a prosperous black family in Kenilworth that I had heard about. Otherwise it was Benny the cleaning lady and LC the mechanic  at the Shell Station who would go buy us six-packs of Country club malt liquor for drunken binges. Why did I ever drink such swill? But I didn't have any black friends.. It was awkward, but I already said that. I left it at that. My father's way was overcome and so we moved on. And I loved the music.
But I never dated black girls. Or sought them out. All my fantasies were about white women. It never occurred to me otherwise. I looked at Playboy magazine. All white.  Except I did have a thing for Nancy Wilson, the jazz singer. I bought her album just so I could look at her photo on the cover.

I went to college. I got to know some black fellows from Jamaica. They were nice guys and really good at Ping Pong. I went out West after college and lived for 25 years next to a Reservation and got pretty involved with Native American people. Later, I moved to Boston for six years and joined a Jewish study group. Why Jews? Well, why not? They became good friends. And it wasn't awkward.

But I never got to know any black people. I mean, it's not like I had a check list, but still, when my mother died in 1996 and I went back to Chicago to straighten up her affairs -- that's when I started to think about this.

Any reasonable single man, who had buried his mother, had sent his two kids off to college, paid off his debts, and still had some coin left from the estate -- that reasonable man would have booked a flight to Jamaica, to idle in the shade of a palm tree, smoking doobies and sipping rum in the company of a very beautiful Jamaican lady. I could have done that for six weeks and come refreshed and enlightened.

But no, I had to go all the way to Africa, to Zimbabwe, to meet and marry a totally fearsome African woman named Precious. That was more than taking the plunge, that was taking on a hurricane from the Third World. No baby steps for me, but whole hog. I was enjoying the calm starlit African evening in the back yard of my house -- rented, but still very much mine. I had somehow transferred my life and existence half way round the world to cast my lot with a woman who I did not really even understand. So of course I married her. Because I didn't want her to get away.

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

My gardening blog is  Fred Owens
My writing blog is Frog Hospital

Saturday, May 09, 2020

Do You, Mr. Jones?

Do You, Mr. Jones?

By Fred Owens

Do you know something is happening, Mr. Jones?" I said that to Clifford Jones, Retired Colonel Clifford Jones of the Zimbabwe National Army, currently residing on Plumtree Road one block from our house on Shottery Crescent. Jones I call him. Owens he calls me. His wife Audrey and my bride-to-be Precious are fast friends, apt to get loud and raucous after a few beers, turning up the music loud and trying to get us to join them, but Jones and I retreated to his back yard.

"I don't like all that noise," he said. "Those two are trouble. Why are you getting married anyway? You see my trouble here. Do you want that kind of life? If you marry Precious you will be chained. You will have to feed all of her family. Every single cousin will come and knock on your door. And be very humble. And sit on the couch in your living room. Until you feed them. So you feed them. But that's not enough. They want beer. Then they want a bed for the night unless you give them bus fare to go someplace else. This is what my life is like with my family, all these cousins.

"Go look in my refrigerator. It's empty. We have no food. All my relatives ate the food. None left for us. These days we only go out to eat at a restaurant. So my advice to you is that if you get married to Precious you move far away from her family. Otherwise they will take every penny. Believe me."

Jones stretched out his lanky frame in the lawn chair in his weed-full, unkempt rag-muffin of a back yard. "You're not inclined to smell the roses are you?"as I noticed the squalor of dead flowers and creeping weeds.

"No, I leave that to Audrey. She is my little pumpkin. She can fix the garden if she chooses, but she doesn't  choose to dabble in dirt."

"Jones, if she is happy, then what else matters. So, you must know that I came over here to ask you a favor. This is not what you expect. Not about money. What I need is for you to stand with me next Saturday when I get married. I will be making promises and I need somebody strong to stand with me. But don't answer right away. Don't say yes you will do it until we have more time to talk."

Jones yawned and then gave a small cough. He did not seem a soldier, not all stiff and proper, or tough and corrosive in bearing. Jones was easy-going in posture and in principle. He smiled too easily. I didn't trust him. He sent men to their death during the Revolution against Rhodesia..... But I did trust him to stand as Best Man. I was not looking for a paragon of virtue.

Precious was inviting her family to the wedding, the fifty cousins. She had more cousins than friends, but friends were coming too. What about me? I was starting to feel like the loneliest white guy. I had no cousins, no comrades. If I could find just one man to stand with me, then we could face the black horde.

"You see, you're coloured. You're a coloured man, you know, mixed. Your father was Irish"

"No, he was Welsh. And my mother was Kalanga from Plumtree. They never married. The law would not allow it."

"So, do you feel mixed? Are you at odds with yourself or are you blended? Because you look like a mocha."

"A mocha?"

"Yes, light brown. You don't see too many coloured people in Bulawayo. Do you guys all know each other?"


"Sorry, bad joke."

"Ugly fucking American! ... I was there in your country years ago. What I could see is that all the American black people are not black. They are coloured,  like me. They are not African. The slave masters raped the African women and from that you get Muhamed Ali. He is not black. He is coloured like me."

"Yes, I see it in the bones of your face. But you are a little like me. I am white. You are part white. You can stand with me. Do you agree?"

"I do agree. Audrey and I will come to your house on Saturday for the wedding. I will be your Best Man."

"Good, because you can do it, and no one else can understand this," I said.

The Cake Stand. Meanwhile we were shopping for a wedding cake. In Zimbabwe they follow the British tradition, of a dense fruit cake baked months ago and soaked in brandy. You buy the cake and they put the icing on. I should have taken a photo. The cake was beautiful and Precious and Fred Love Each Other, it said in the letters of pink frosting

"And we need a cake stand," she told me. "What is a cake stand?" I asked. "It holds up the cake for all to admire." "But we don't need such a cake stand. I have never seen one." Precious looked at me as if I knew nothing about weddings, which was true. And she had that quiet way about her, not being the talkative type. "Otherwise we need a cake stand." I quickly agreed to that purchase. "Of course we need a cake stand, " I shouted with joy. "A big beautiful expensive cake stand." That's why you can see that I wanted to get married. Because it was my pleasure to give her things that she wanted.  This is why Colonel Jones loved his wife Audrey and called her little pumpkin, even though she was far from little in size.

And a gown for her, rented, elaborate, traditional, that is European-style, white and lacey, very pretty. And I bought a suit, black, too big and baggy, for $100, with a white shirt and a red tie.

And a goat, to cook and serve to the fifty cousins. and two trays of anti-pasta from a downtown deli, which no one ate at the reception, no on but me. Everyone else wanted the goat and the sadza.

A truckload of beer, and a reservation to visit the Justice of the Peace, an Asian man who ran a travel agency and maintained judicial chambers of polished wood on the second floor of his building. This Asian man would preside as we made vows.

And a rented car  to carry the wedding party. Precious would bring Mr. Mataka and Tanti, Aunt Janet's daughter. Mr. and Mrs. Jones would come in their own vehicle.

And wedding announcements to mail back to America.

Suddenly we were in a big hurry to get it done. As if someone was chasing us, and we better keep running.

Do You Need Me? People asked me why did you marry her? Did you love her? They should ask her too. It's patronizing to think hitching up with me was the best chance she would ever have, although she did have a smile on her face like she hit the jackpot. Precious, did you marry me because I am a rich white man who can take you to America? "Yes," she answered, "but there was more than that. I married you because we both like that Don Williams' song on the casette. I married you because you showed me how to skip stones on a pond of water." Is that all? Any other reasons to stay with this guy until death do you part. "You're a white man, you won't beat me or have another girl friend, and you're cute, kind a old, but cute."

But you Fred, why did you marry Precious? "I married her because I was lonely. My mother died and there was no one to look after me, My mother used to make me breakfast and iron my shirts, but she died, and there was no one to take her place. So I went to Africa and met Precious. You remember that first day when we were together in the rented room on Airport Road? She fixed my breakfast and ironed my shirts. So I wasn't lonely any more. I fell in love.  Plus she had a really great ass.

I'm skipping her faults. She had a full range of bad habits and a history of bad choices, equal to mine. Tales of moral depravity that you can find in any cheap novel. Her drinking habit, her assault conviction, her inability to tell the truth, her tenuous grasp of monogamy. her failure to understand delayed gratification when making financial decisions. It's a rich topic. My own pathetic needs -- ironing shirts? weird -- lack of responsibility closely allied with a lifelong sense of entitlement and privilege, my failure to plan and make long-term goals, my twisted understanding of what women want based on 16 years of Catholic education. I could continue.

Oh, we were a pair of mangy dogs all right and neither one of us as good as we might be, but it was my life, it was her life, and we decided to get married just because we could. Our favorite song was I Believe in Love by Don Williams, the American country singer. When she wanted to make love to me she said, "Do you need me?"

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

My gardening blog is  Fred Owens
My writing blog is Frog Hospital