Please Return Our Longaberger Basket!

PLEASE RETURN OUR LONGABERGER BASKET!!!1!! ITS BEEN 3 WEEKS AND WE MUST HAVE IT. DANNY IS IN TULLAHOMA FOR WORK BUT I WILL BE HOME IN THE EVENINGS. IF I AM NOT THERE USE THE SPARE KEY. ROCKY SHOULD REMEMBER YOU BUT IF HE DOESNT JUST YELL “ATTACK!!”! THATS DANNYS TRICK TO GET HIM TO SIT! LOL!! IF WE DONT SEE IT THIS WEEK U WILL PAY! REMEMBER, THIS IS OUR BASKET.

Nina lives down the street, and she’s right about one thing: we have had their Longaberger basket for three weeks.

She wrote us this note, literally typed it out and taped it to a saran-wrapped plate of muffins, blueberry, from what I can tell. There are two muffins, one for each of us. I haven’t opened them. She also took a picture of the note (before affixing it to the muffins) and sent it in a group text to Laura and me.

The note, and the muffins, are now sitting on the butler’s pantry, beside the basket in question.

Three weeks ago, Nina and her husband Danny had us over for dinner. We had a nice time. We met them at this festival down at the park. Laura and I were on our way out, and we saw this dog—just this AWESOME German shepherd, strolling toward us like royalty. I couldn’t help myself, and I mentioned to the guy (Danny, as it turns out) what an awesome dog he had. He said thanks and not much else, but his wife was on us like raw steak, conversationally speaking.

She went right for it, said something about my Braves shirt to which I responded favorably, and so then her and Laura chatted and LOL’d over words like “MARTA” and “Tech” and “traffic!”

We were all smiling and chuckling. It was a nice moment, but I kind of finished my laugh like, “Well, it was good to meet you guys,” but then Nina astutely pointed out that we hadn’t met each other, so names were proffered, and of course they got all hung up on mine and I had to do the “I can’t take credit for it” line.

I didn’t necessarily want to be talking to these people, but then again they were listening, and laughing, which is honestly a great way to get me to talk to you. Now Laura was the one with her hand on my wrist, ending the banter, leading us away. She could probably sense the dinner invitation coming, probably in some way the future tension, the psychotic bitch-venom that Nina would in a fortnight spew.

They asked us to dinner.

Well, they asked us where we lived. I of course offered up precise directions, which turned out to be a few doors down from their place on Gale! That settled dinner right then and there. As we walked away Laura seemed actually excited, while I, aware that my uncontrollable wit and verbiage would have us sitting down for dinner in a stranger’s house, forced to make conversation about, you know, things, flagellated myself. “Ehhh, sorry about that,” I told her. “About what?” she asked. “C’mon, it’ll be fun.”    

It was sort of fun.

When we left, Nina insisted we take home some banana pudding, insisted the way people do. She gave us what was left, which was over half the pan. To make things less cumbersome, Nina placed the pudding leftovers into a basket, procured from atop the refrigerator. “I’ll put it in this Longaberger basket for you! That’ll make it easier.”

Then she handed it to us. No special instructions. No “PLEASE ENJOY BY” or “PLEASE RETURN BY” date. I mean, we didn’t think she was just giving us the basket. We understood the gesture. And she definitely enunciated that “Longaberger” part.

So that’s how we ended up with it. I carried it in from the car, put the pudding in the fridge, and left the basket on the counter. It’s literally still right there. Nina played it cool for like a day. Dinner was on Saturday, and on Monday afternoon Laura had a text from her: Can you please return my Longaberger basket? Laura said of course she would but then she got home late and forgot. Since then: frantic texts, countless phone calls, and harried voicemails; two really sweet and well-written emails; a handful of unannounced drop-ins (we used to leave our doors unlocked, but last Friday Nina just let herself in—she didn’t go for the basket, though, which would’ve mercifully ended things; she just stood there on the welcome mat, calling our names, while we hid in the laundry room); a bizarre, cryptic Facebook post (Nina’s status: “Real friends help you fly; fake ones help you die. The proof is in the pudding. #realtalk”. The proof is in the pudding???); and now, this note, and these muffins.

We are terrified, and slightly bemused.

At dinner, Nina told a story about the film The Notebook. She is a self-proclaimed “huge Nicholas Sparks girl,” and happened to be living in South Carolina when the movie was being filmed. One day she just wandered over to the shoot, figuring she might get to sneak a peek at one of the scenes or something. Worst that could happen is that they’d make her leave. Well, she hopped a fence, told some guy who hadn’t asked that she was Meggie from costume and one thing led to another and she was in the freaking movie. They put her into one of the carnival scenes towards the start. She’s holding an ice cream cone and laughing and leaning on a man.

I’d been thinking about this Notebook thing, because our life was a barrage of Nina bombs and basket-related threats. When I told the guys at work about it, I always fixated on the Notebook thing—she was just so damn proud of it, still extremely jazzed, what, like, a decade later? In this insane three-week period of basket captivity, I thought that this extra-in-The-Notebook bit was easily the most bizarre. I’d watched the movie many times, mostly because my high school girlfriend loved it, and, thinking I loved her, I loved watching it with her, because of her vague resemblance to Rachel McAdams and my youthful, teenaged conviction that I loved her the way Ryan Gosling did. This might be the banana pudding talking, but did I remember Nina from the carnival scene?

I was sitting at home, kind of hanging out on the porch, reading a book, when Laura got home. We chatted for a second. I showed her the note, the muffins. “Should we eat ‘em?” I asked. “Hell no we shouldn’t eat them!” Laura said, concerned. I was just joking, but she looked, like, actually upset. “You okay, babe?” I hugged her to my chest, and she started to cry. “Sorry, sorry,” she kind of choked out a laugh. “Jesus,” she said, wiping her eyes, “Jesus, this is just so fucking weird.” In this moment, without speaking, we agreed to it. We had opted not to return the Longaberger basket. “She really is an actual crazy person,” I said, letting Laura go from my hug.

We made dinner together and flipped channels. It was getting dark, and, because I like suggesting things heavy in irony, I suggested a movie. “Anything in mind?” she asked. I had something in mind, but wanted it to seem natural, like I had just thought of it right then and there, like it was the most normal and casual movie recommendation of all time. “I don’t know, we could—haven’t seen this in a while…we could…watch The Notebook?” Laura kind of looked at me and paused, then rolled her eyes knowingly and flicked the remote to the MOVIES screen.

I don’t know why we never returned the basket.

Laura forgot, that first night, which was totally understandable. First I heard about it was Tuesday morning, the morning after Laura forgot, when we woke up to a text that said, Hey girl. You got my basket? Laura’s stomach dropped the way it does when you wake up to a text like that, and I felt her pain—I’ve always feared a text like that, to this day, a text from my mom or my bank, my boss or my student loan people. I consoled her, got a little defensive, told Laura not to feel bad, that Nina sure was “putting all her eggs in one basket!” But she forgot it again that day, and that evening, when my phone started blowing up, I took it over but couldn’t find a place to put it. I don’t know, Nina was just freaking out about the freaking basket, plus it sounded expensive—so I didn’t want to just leave it outside.

After those initial miscommunications things just got weird. Couple days later is when Nina just showed up. That honestly scared the crap out of us. Thought it was a freaking robber or something. But then Nina laid low for a few days, sent us a really nice email, talking about how much fun she had, even inviting us to the Belcourt for a film that night. She seemed to have forgotten the basket, or at least chilled out about it, and so did we. Then these distressed voicemails started coming in, and we started locking our doors, and a kind of unspoken, internal decision was made between us and it was decided that we would pretend that Nina and Danny and Rocky and the Longaberger basket did not exist.

Rachel McAdams had locked eyes with Ryan Gosling, and Laura and I were almost through a bottle of wine. She leaned over to me, rubbed her nose with mine, Eskimo kisses. We were only half-watching, the film doing its job by enkindling a spark of romance between us. Laura was leaned into me, and begun to kiss me deeply. I sort of had my eyes halfway open, because I like to kiss that way whatever, and Ryan Gosling says something to one of his buddies and his buddy slings his arm around his girl, and my eyes got as big as those poisoned-ass muffins. It was Nina, licking an ice cream cone with such pure youthful joy. Laura’s tongue was really going for it now, and she had lost all interest in the goings-on onscreen. Didn’t take much wine to get her going. There was a scratching at the door, but there was so much going on—Nina on screen, Laura in my mouth—I hardly noticed. She was biting my lip, and someone was trying the door. I paused the screen and tried to get Laura to stop, but she wouldn’t. A booming bark unleashed itself, and I knew then that it was Rocky, that Nina had come for her Longaberger basket once and for all. Laura bolted up, terrified, and the banging continued and the barking never ceased but we never got up, could not look away, couldn’t be bothered, for we had decided, unspoken, a truce. Plus, there was Nina, on screen, smiling like a school girl, ice cream cone in one hand, Longaberger basket in the other.   

Who Wedding'd Best?

A point-by-point breakdown of who had the better wedding night: me or Mable, the 100 year-old wedding caterer.

Weddings are fine things. Spirits are high, everyone’s wearing their best, their tiniest crannies crammed with flasks (question I’ve never thought to ask: how do they get the liquor into the flask?). A marriage ceremony is one of those rare life events where everyone gets to be there--your high school buddies, your college best friends, your great aunts and little cousins, rando plus-one dates and your squatty, nimble, 100 year-old relative Mable. 

It’s all of these things--the getting dressed up, the lightness of spirit, and the kind of wine-swilling that even Jesus signed off on--tossed onto a dance floor with all of your beloved family and friends, that makes weddings gorgeous events. 

I love weddings also because I am good at them. I am good at dressing up, good at making casual wedding jokes with acquaintances, good at singing Mariah Carey’s “Always Be My Baby,” good at drinking wine. 

Last week, I met my comeuppance. Mable has been comeupping for right smack dab on a hundred years, coming up on 101 soon. The groom’s geriatric great-great-something-or-other cooked the food, prayed to God for it, and in the eternal tradition of food-cooking female relatives, spent the next several hours shooing people out of their chairs and into the buffet line. 

I had a good wedding night. But was Mable’s better? Let’s break it down.

Swag

Arriving on the scene at the be-sweltering strawberry farm, I was swiftly and unanimously praised for my seemingly suspect sartorial choice of shorts. (It was effing hot. I looked great. Shorts at an outdoor wedding in summer? Yes we can.) I complimented my lower half with some crisp, bright uppers--donning a salmon short-sleeved button-down, a navy tie (matching the shorts), and a tie bar. My shoes were dark brown Sperry’s, rescued from the shoe-shelves in the Green Hills Macy’s about 90 minutes before the wedding. Folks used these words when describing my outfit: “Great,” “cool,” “looks great!”   

I can’t say for sure I heard anyone compliment Mable’s attire. Wedding-goers were more likely to laud her surprising alacrity or her green beans (we’re coming back to this!), and I think it says something about her outfit-of-choice that no one said something about it. Fitted modestly in a silky pastel blouse--we’ll call it easter-aqua--Mable carried herself as one less interested in praise than just getting down to business. Maybe, after one hundred years, I’ll tire of praise. Her pants--in a determined and wise heat-beating effort--were flowy and cream-colored. Mable was not attempting to garner any style points, but, of course, not giving a fuck is actually worth a handful style points.

Who took the swag-cake? I vote me, and pretty convincingly.   

View of the Wedding Vows

As the ceremony commenced, with Sigur Ros playing through the speakers hidden in the woods like those little fake speaker-rocks at theme parks, a little sprinkling commenced as well. Around the woodsy, outdoor amphitheatre, umbrellas went up, briefly but decidedly clouding my view of the bridal party’s stroll down the aisle. This is among my favorite parts of a wedding. The groomsmen in their suits and suspenders, the bridesmaids in dresses clutching flowers, all grinning at the groom, who beams. It’s just really nice. And for much of this procession, I stared at a nylon umbrella. 

I have no idea where Mable was during the ceremony. As an honored family member, was she stationed close to the front, her vision unoccluded by parasols? Or perhaps she was standing, in the back, her knees unwilling to bend with the ups-and-downs of bridal processions? It is also entirely possible that, what with her responsibilities at the reception, Mable spent the wedding scooping barbecue into those heated aluminum vats. 

There is no way of knowing what the wedding--or the world--looked like through Mable’s eyes. But I know how it looked through mine. Mable had the better view of the wedding.

Dating History with the Bride

I used to date the bride.

Mable, I’m pretty sure, did not used to date the bride.

I have no idea who wins this one.

Blessing of the Food

I don’t know what your religious background says about women, but mine says they ought to cook the food (ten wedding points for Mable!), clean the dishes, and keep quiet. When there are prayers to be led, the paterfamilias ought to pray them. She’s the family matriarch? Great! Give us a second so all the men can leave so your little female food-blessing can actually get heard by the Lord. (While Mable was praying out loud, I prayed silently in my head. I think that counts.)

But seriously, Mable rocked that blessing. When someone announced that Mable would be praying, sans microphone, seeking blessing for all assembled, I had my doubts. I didn’t think my voice would project that far, and my low-frequency rumbles often rustle sleeping nocturnal creatures in my neighborhood. Her, well, century-old voice box was surely not up to the task, I thought. But she honestly crushed it. She expressed everyone’s thankfulness for the day, satisfactorily blessed the food and the hands that prepared it (self-blessing), and thanked God for the fortunate weather patterns (the rain relented for the ceremony). If you want to see the full performance, some lady beside me video’d the entire prayer on her iPhone, this after snapping like sixteen panoramic shots during the wedding. Was she sitting in front of me and beside her husband, Umbrella Guy? Of course she was!

Even within my religious background, there is some leeway for ceremonial prayer-leading. How many times do you get your food blessed by someone who lived during the Depression? She knows food is a blessing! Mable wins again.     

The Blessed Food

I was among the first in line, due mostly to Mable, and my being in the right place (standing earnestly beside the food) at the right time (right after “Amen,” when Mable started shooing us, like clucking chickens, to the food line). I cleaned my first plate, offered aid to a tablemate who was unable to finish hers, and returned for seconds. Later, when the traditional wedding mini-pies (!) were served, I ate two strawberry ones with my bare hands. 

Mable cooked all the food. In a former life, she was a wedding caterer. Now I guess she just does it to have something to do? Either way, the spread was pretty nice. There were, if my vino-blurred memory serves: dinner rolls; pasta and vegetables splashed in a creamy, tangy, white sauce; spinach salad with fresh strawberries (From the farm? Say they’re from the farm!); corn; a kind of mashed potato-cheesy hashbrown hybrid; green beans (the obvious low point, as they tasted like Mable had been preserving them in brown sugar and vinegar since 1956); and barbecue. My major complaint (the green beans notwithstanding) came when I reached for a dinner roll. The rolls were pre-packaged (what else have you pre-packaged, Mable?), the kind you have to tear apart before serving. When I arrived at the roll station, there was Mable, totally negating her blessing, all her hands in that pan, just tearing and pulling and rolling the rolls, anxious, it seemed, to touch each single dinner roll with fingers. I wouldn’t call myself a germophobe, but there’s no telling where those hands have been in the last hundred years. 

Mable cooked it, I ate it. Sounds like I’m the winner here. 

The Dance Floor (alternatively titled, “Where Was Mable At?”)

If there was a rug to cut, I cut it. If there were panties to drop, I caused them to drop. If there was a way for my shirt to be any sweatier, I’d have wrung it out and left it for the fawns to lick like a salt cube. I was an essential cog in the wedding wheel, dancing and singing, harmonizing to 90’s R&B hits, rapping to obligatory Jay-Z tunes, even unmooring my Nazarite locks during the climactic song (Mariah’s “Always Be My Baby”). My girlfriend stood on my feet and we danced a slow number. I drank all of Jesus’ wine, displayed impressive vocal range and recollection of nineties pop songs, and offered a tasteful taste of my hip-swerving dance stylings. I had a blast on the dance floor, and I think others had similar blasts with me. 

Where was Mable at? I’ll tell you where: over by the barbecue, dishing out pork in little plastic goody bags. Consumed with her catering duties, Mable couldn’t be bothered to bust a move. Even the Harlem shake--her favorite song!--couldn’t wrest her from her food spread. There was one point when I thought she was making her move, ambling quickly and not unrhythmically towards the dance floor, shaking her hands in what could have easily been interpreted as dancing. What she really was doing was shooing me out of the way, clearing some room for her to carry a tray of green beans to her car. 

Be they male or female, young or one century old, the gathered masses agree: I am a better dancer than Mable. 

The Winner

As witnesses of those beautiful nuptials at that drizzly strawberry farm, we were all winners. We even got little jars of jam to prove it! 

But between me and Mable, who’s had one hundred years to carve out her niche on the dance floor? Check the scorebook, Mable--looks like I’m the winner (3-2).