The Old Maid
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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Tue, 11 Apr 100 13:01:54 -0700
Subject: The Old Maid
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THE OLD MAID
-- by P.S. Wall (Off the Wall), May 30, 1999
When I was a kid, most of Mom's friends were on the verge of a nervous
breakdown. Every afternoon a station wagon would jerk to a stop in front
of our house, the doors would fly open, and a wild-eyed woman would fall
out. Knocking her screaming kids out of the way like a linebacker, she
would dash across the yard to Mom's coffeepot as if her life depended on
Firing up a Virginia Slim, she'd squint at me through the smoke. "So,
kid," the woman would say, eye twitching and spiked coffee sloshing out of
her shaking cup, "what do you want to be when you grow up?"
"Old maid," I'd say without hesitation.
Judging by the look on her face, this had not been a career option when
she was a girl.
"What on earth did you do to her?" Mom would demand, as she wrapped her
arm around her glassy-eyed friend to console her. I wasn't sure what I'd
done, but she had definitely pointed me in the direction of my career path
like a compass.
In my pursuit of being the best old maid I could be, I chose as my mentor
Callie. Callie was ancient -- probably pushing 30. And since it was just
a matter of time before we planted her in the Memorial Gardens, I planted
myself by her side for cultivation.
Fortunately, Mom believed in the "free range" philosophy of child rearing.
As long as we were within a day's walk from the driveway, and they didn't
charge rent, it was OK to be there.
With five fertile females in the family, in various stages of hormone-ing,
the atmosphere at my house was like the NYPD during a hooker bust on New
Year's Eve. Walking into Old Maid Callie's house, on the other hand, was
like putting your ear to a seashell. Piles of books whispered all the
possibilities the world had to offer, and there wasn't one jelly glass in
Callie made a living collecting wildflower seeds for biologists who studied
endangered flora. She was as thin as milkweed and so quiet and still, you
sometimes lost her in the wispy bunches of drying weeds that hung all over
"So," Callie said, as she calmly dipped a tea bag, "what do you want to be
when you grow up?"
"What exactly are you?" I asked.
Slowly stirring her Red Zinger tea, Callie gave this some thought.
"An independent woman," she finally said.
This was a revelation. According to my research, a girl either grew up to
be a female dog or a pig, depending on her disposition or the size of her
Since my disposition wasn't that great and my thighs were growing
exponentially, the possibility of becoming something other than livestock
struck me as a fine idea, and I was eager to get started.
"How exactly do I become an independent woman?" I asked, leaning forward
in my chair.
"Be like a wildflower," Callie said firmly. "Don't wait for a man to till
Turning toward the fireplace like fireweed toward the sun, Callie stared
at the photograph of the man she didn't marry. He had windblown hair and
a smile that would have domesticated a less dedicated old maid.
"And," she sighed into her mug, "learn to self-pollinate."
Copyright 1999 P.S. Wall. All rights reserved.
© 2000 Peter Langston