Clarice James

Smart, Fun, Relatable Fiction


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Through a Glass Darkly: The Quilter

As an author, here’s how I see things vs. how they really are. Sort of.

The way I imagined it . . .   

Jeff ConwayRecently, while walking through the Mall of New Hampshire, I noticed a man, probably in his mid-forties, with his hair rolled into a slick pompadour like Jeff Conaway as Kenickie in Grease. He wore a royal purple  satin jacket with knit collar and cuffs. Embroidered in gold on the back were the words “Perth Amboy Foreign Autos.”

A short, sandy-haired woman dressed in a flowered turtleneck and denim jumper held his arm and clogged along loudly beside him. She looked nothing like Stockard Channing as Rizzo.

While the happy couple admired the display of miniature hand-blown glass animals at a kiosk, I “found” them a family.

A trio of tittering pre-teens, windowshopping outside Claire’s, seemed perfect for the role of their daughters. I named them Sephira, Solara, and Sienna.

A 15-ish square-built boy, looking bored near the escalator, became their son. The crotch of his jeans was almost level with his kneecaps. Crippled by this ill-advised design, I dubbed him Yugo.Yugo

They’d traveled all the way up from Perth Amboy, New Jersey for the “Happy to be Scrappy” Ladies of the Lakes Quilters Triennial Quilt Show. It had been held over the weekend at Kingswood High School in Wolfeboro, where “Mrs. Kenickie” had taken first place.blue-ribbon

The family planned to return home directly after the judges’ decision in time to phone friends and family before the news got old. They would’ve, too, but for the nuisance of a dragging muffler on their 1992 Chrysler Town & Country mini van.

Rather than pay for an extra night at Motel 6, they hiked to the mall about a mile from the mechanic’s garage. Before they entered, their kids watched as their proud dad pinned the blue ribbon to their mom’s jumper.

The family whiled away the hours, not bothered by their car trouble, just pleased to be together to celebrate this milestone occasion.

The way it was . . .   

John Travolta hairThe couple, Hank and Betty Dutra, hailed from Raymond, NH. Hank combed his hair this way because twenty-seven years ago Betty told him he kinda looked like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever.

Hank bought the royal purple satin jacket (practically brand new) with the Perth Amboy logo for $5.00 at Goodwill because he’d never owned anything from Australia before. Betty hated it. He wore it today mainly because she’d made him come to the Mall.

Despite Hank’s jacket and hard-headedness, Betty wanted this day to feel special. That’s why she’d exchanged her comfy sweats for a proper jumper. After all, it was Mall of New Hampshire in Manchester, not Dollar Tree in Raymond.

Used to her everyday sneakers, she clung to Hank’s arm, unsteady in her dress clogs.clogs

As they passed by the kiosk filled with miniature hand-blown glass animals, Betty  whispered to Hank, “Who on earth would pay these prices?”

Hank answered, “Who knows? Maybe the kind of people who live in Hollis and Bedford and Exeter.”

They listened to a trio of girls cackling outside Claire’s and witnessed a teen boy’s jeans slip down to his knees.

Hank shook his head. “Aren’t you glad we have dogs?”

“Don’t forget the chickens,” Betty said. “They might cackle but at least they keep us in eggs.”

flex-seal-liquid_1000After a few hours of browsing, they bought some Flex Seal Liquid Rubber (as seen on TV) so they could repair the used truck bed liner they purchased for their 2016 double cab Ford 2500.

The blue ribbon on Betty’s jumper? It was there when they left the house. She’d taken first place in the “Happy to be Scrappy” Ladies of the Lakes Quilters Triennial Quilt Show held at Kingswood High School in Wolfeboro that weekend.

And Hank made sure everyone in the Mall of New Hampshire knew it.

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. ~ 1 Corinthians 13:12 (KJV)

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If I Died Tomorrow, What Would You Do?

princess_clarice_t_shirts-rfa733ec9911542a1abb37407cce219d6_8nhmp_324“Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise. Without having any chief, officer, or ruler,  she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest.” ~ Pr 6:6-8 ESV

For twenty-three years I was married to a happy-go-hardworking guy who preferred that I handle our personal and business finances. Early on, we both agreed it was one of the few tasks I performed better than he did.

When the bills, mortgage, and premiums came due, I wrote the checks. I handled the checking, savings and IRA accounts along with our  business payables, receivables, and payroll. When the statements arrived, I reconciled them, being sure to enter every single ATM withdrawal he made.

Charged with maintaining a filing system, I could put my hand on anything we needed in a minute or less. When April loomed, it was me who filled out the forms and filed our tax returns.

Because my husband didn’t have to handle the day-to-day deadlines and drama, he enjoyed the freedom to work and play unhampered. Never having to stare at that bottom line—sometimes in the red—he figured if he had it in his pocket, he could spend it. He didn’t have to face the consequences because I did that for the two of us.

Even though part of me liked having control, eventually playing the role of bad cop got old.

  • “I need you to collect what’s owed so we can cover payroll.”
  • “What do you mean you bought a truck?”
  • “You told them what? They could wait to pay? But the equipment loans are due.”
  • “Yes, I know how hard you work, but that doesn’t always mean we can afford what we want.”

I can still hear the question I used to ask him time and time again: “If I died tomorrow, what would you do?”

Well, the thing is, I didn’t die. But he did.

Being a widow with an income cut by two-thirds is bleak enough without being lost in a maze of unfamiliar financial and personal records. I was thankful I knew what to do. Although it didn’t lessen my grief, in some weird way, it made grief bearable without that extra burden to carry.

Now, almost seventeen years later, I am blessed to be remarried to a wonderful man.  And guess what? Since the day we got married in 2006, this Prince Charming  has handled the finances! Without day-to-day deadlines and drama, I enjoy the freedom to work and play unhampered. Never having to stare at that bottom line, I figure if I have it in my wallet, I can spend it. I don’t have to face the consequences because he does that for the two of us.

Uh-oh.

But don’t I deserve it after all these years?

15clariceI hear the Voice of Reason. “Hello Clarice.” He asks the question I used to ask time and time again: “If he died tomorrow, what would you do?”

ME: “Oh, be quiet.”

VOR: “No, really, what would you do?”

ME: “I don’t want to talk about it.”

VOR: “You have to talk about it at one point or another.”

ME: “Why? I enjoy being treated like a princess.”

VOR: “I’d have never guessed. You do know life is not a fairytale, don’t you?”

ME: “Leave me alone. If the time comes, I’ll figure it out.”

VOR: “Oh, really? What’s your attorney’s name? Where’s the deed to your house? Do you know the user name and password to get into your online bank account?”

ME: “It’s filed with our important stuff.”

VOR: “Where is that exactly?”

ME: “It’s for me to know and for you to find out.”

VOR: “Does your husband have a Health Care Proxy? Where are your insurance policies? Do you have a key to the safety deposit box? Do you even know if you have a safety deposit box?”

ME: “Do you even know what a killjoy you are?”

VOR: “You’re being a bit childish, don’t you think?

ME: “I-know-you-are-but-what-am-I?”

VOR: “Please, tell me what you intend to do next?”

ME: “Pfftt, pfftt, pfftt!”

After pouting for a period of time deemed appropriate for royalty, I decided to ask my husband a few questions. “Do you have a Health Care Proxy? Where’s your life insurance policy? Can I have a key to the safety deposit box?”

I think I scared him.

Once I explained how loudly the Voice of Reason had spoken, he relaxed and agreed we needed to talk. And I agreed to listen.

Here’s a helpful article by Roger Whitney of WWK Wealth Advisors called Have You Shared Your ICE Plan with Anyone? He’s also provided a free worksheet to download, Your Life ICE Worksheet, to help you organize your financial life.

We’re filling ours out now. I feel better already. How about you?


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Words That Strike Fear in My Husband’s Heart

Persuasive-Essay-IdeasWhen I utter this specific string of five words, I see the fear in my husband’s eyes, I hear it in his voice, and, I swear, I smell it oozing from his pores. The words in themselves are innocuous; it’s what they represent that scares him.

Some husbands panic at “We have car insurance, right?” Others tremble at “Mother’s coming for a visit!” And a few quake at “Honey, I think I’m pregnant.”

Not my husband. First, he doesn’t let me drive that often. Second, my mom won’t leave home for more than three hours at a time. And, third, we’ve decided to wait to have kids.

[That’s a joke for those who are looking at my profile photo and wondering if I’m delusional.]

“What could those words possibly be?” you ask. The five little words that strike fear in my husband’s heart are . . .

“Hey, I have an idea!”

He tries to hide the terror, but his subtle body language tells me otherwise: the slumping shoulders, the eye-twitching, the convulsing, the hand slapping his forehead, or his head banging against the wall. He thinks I don’t notice, but I’m observant, if nothing else.

I don’t know what his problem is. My “hey-I-have-an-idea” ideas have been good ones, if I do say so myself.

  • Rent out our house to friends while it was on the market. [Okay, so placing huge couches in front of the fireplace and front door wasn’t the best staging strategy.]
  • Begin an online publishing syndicate. [I admit working twelve hours a day and watching $13,000 go down the cyber drain was not the most fun we’ve had.]
  • Create an art piece to draw attention to our living room’s cathedral ceiling. [Can you believe he took issue with lifting and hanging my 4-foot by 8-foot masterpiece built of wood, tile, and stone?]
  • Start Party of One, A Fellowship for Those Tired of Dining Alone. [Some found it unusual that I asked my husband of four years if I could start a group for singles. Who knew?]
  • Initiate a marketing campaign for my fellow literary clients—all 154 of them. [Sheesh. All I asked him to do was take pictures of the books individually on our bookshelf; size the photos; create individual Facebook cover photo banners; Photoshop e-books into the bookshelf; and, oh, create the nonexistent book spines for these e-books.]

Hmm . . . Hey, I have an idea!

Since my husband is so good at executing my ideas, I think I’ll make him a nice meal today before he executes me or, worse, gets any of his own ideas about that singles group.

hanging

Actual size of wall hanging: 4′ x 8′