Thursday, September 27, 2012

Cristol Saplin Visits the MTV Studio: White Trash in the Snow Chapters 37 and 38

I admit it.  A real event inspired this chapter. It was Jennifer Lopez's appearance on a certain TV show during October 2007.  Here is a YouTube link for all you J Lo fans and interested others.  And by the way, I'm not responsible for the title of that clip. It was given by the person who posted it and  I'm not "doublegrandmapalin." If that person reads The Palin Place, thank you for this clip  and all the Palin-related videos you have put on YouTube.

While I was there, I watched the December 2008 news coverage of Bristol going to church after the fire.  Wonder why her legs are thinner in 2008 at nine months pregnant then two years later while Dancing With the Stars?  Isn't dancing good exercise? Isn't chasing a one year old good exercise, too?  No wonder people theorize  she was pregnant in 2010.  

Todd waves to the camera.  Such a Christian, right?  Wonder if he said a prayer for the single mom he was prostituting out at that time, or for her two disabled kids.

One last thing - Shailey Tripp's non-fiction book Boys Will Be Boys: Media Morality, and the Coverup of the Todd Palin Shailey Tripp Sex Scandal  is a work of courage, while my book, White Trash in the Snow, is an outlet for my humor and my imagination.  I'm pretty sure Sarah hates them both and the two of us. Such a Christian.

White Trash in the Snow

by Allison


J Lo was greeted with wild applause. Wearing a black and white striped retro-1960s tent style mini-dress with black over-the-knee boots, Ms. Lopez descended the stairs carefully, glowing and obviously very happy. Cristol was envious and embarrassed. She’s, like, twice my age and I’m the one dressed like an old lady in this stupid skirt and blouse. Cristol stopped applauding, and wrapped her arms around her stomach. And that dress could hide a full-term pregnancy, but it’s still cute. The jealousy was ratcheting up while the super star strutted around the small stage, acknowledging her fans. I’d probably trip if I even tried on boots like that. I’m so clumsy. And that hat! The black floppy hat, the perfect vintage accessory, was, Cristol was certain,  the cutest hat she had ever seen. She can dress like that because she lives in New York. Or does she live in  Hollywood? It doesn’t matter either way, she sure isn’t from Azzolla. Heck, she probably has homes in New York and Hollywood. She’s so lucky.
All the Saplin girls had inherited their Mom’s love for clothes, but living in Azzolla retarded their development of style. Rachael had recently retained a personal shopper at Nordstrom who was incrementally upgrading the governor’s consignment store wardrobe. Maple was hooked on designer labels and teen magazine trendiness, whether or not the clothes looked good on her, and Cristol had been hiding her body in baggy jeans and sweatshirts since late August.
When Jennifer Lopez stopped right in front of her, Cristol wanted to cry. Cameras were pointed right at her. It was terrifying. Was she being broadcast on national TV? Could people tell she was pregnant?  The rest of the young audience was still cheering and applauding, and, in at least one case, weeping.  “Applause” light was flashing, and  Cristol managed to clap again, albeit mechanically. She fought her fears and scolded herself.  Damn it! This is the only time I’m ever gonna get to see a TV show in person. I’ve got to be able to tell my friends what this was like. I’ve got to stay in the moment! Cristol turned her attention to the performer who was saying “…learned over the years is to try to be in the moment…”  
What? …Did J-Lo say…?
“So many amazing things have happened in my life, I just feel like I want to enjoy the moment…”  There it was again! Heart pounding, Cristol believed a miracle was happening to her, right there in MTV studios. God had a message for her.
Ms. Lopez was glowing. “This is a great time in my life. It’s just amazing. I just want to enjoy it.” She talked about being on tour with her husband, Mark Anthony, and performing with him at Madison Square Garden. Perhaps some in the audience believed Ms. Lopez’s euphoria came from those things, but anyone who read gossip on the internet knew that Mrs. Mark Anthony was suspected of being “with child.”  Cristol had read the rumor sites, not because she was a great fan of J Lo but because Google results for “pregnancy” had put the Jennifer Lopez stories in the top results.
 She is pregnant! Just like me! A surge of kinship washed over her. And she’s right, this is an amazing thing, a very special time. The host cued up a slice of the video “Love Don’t Cost a Thing,” and Cristol’s muse spoke to her again “At that time in my life, I was just becoming famous and I was just beginning to make a little money after growing up in the Bronx.  And I was like, all that doesn’t’ matter if you don’t have love.  It was kind of about getting rid of the mansion and the fancy car and all that kind of stuff.”  Another message for me! Mom is getting more famous, and her and Dad are making good money now, and when the promotional stuff really kicks in she says we’re going have lots of money… and yet I hate my life.
All I need, all I want, is love.
Cristol was mesmerized. The beautiful, radiant star, glowing with maternity and happiness, was  blowing kisses to her adoring fans as she headed for the exit.  After one last refrain of “You have to be real,” the star left the stage and the miracle was over.
The Governor’s daughter wanted to shout “Hallelujiah!” right there in the MTV studio. But, of course, she didn’t.  She kept her thoughts to herself. God brought me all the way across a continent to receive this message.  Thank you, God. Thank you for loving me so much, and for loving my baby, too. I will treasure these next months. I will be a good mom to this baby you’ve given me.
 Cristol felt wonderful. She felt alive, happy, and set free. It was a miracle.

Cristol felt so wonderfully relieved she half expected her mother would notice the change. But, Rachael was too excited by her city cut and pedicure to notice anything about her daughter. 
That evening at dinner, Governor Saplin was scrolling through her Blackberry and hoping to be recognized her from the article in Newsweek. She had been disappointed that the men and women working in the salon had not made a fuss over her for being an elected official. She talked as she scrolled, “For Pete’s sake, you’d a thought they had governors in there every stinkin’ day.  Honestly, Cristol, we get treated better at home. Wait till I tell the girls at “Big Tease.”
Twenty four hours before, Cristol would have picked up the theme and joined in with her mother in criticizing the hairdressers in New York. But th new Cristol Saplin spoke instead, .“Mom, that doesn’t matter. Let’s not talk about hairdressers. I need –“
“You are so right! Why would I care about the attention of a bunch of hair school graduates?  Heck, did they even graduate? Did I see their diplomas?  Well, actually, there were these little framed-“
“Mom, stop talking about hairdressers; Wrangler and I are having a baby and -”
“And I’m being inconsiderate,” Rachael said, setting down the smart phone. She looked directly into her daughter’s face wearing an I-really-care-about-you look that she’d perfected while campaigning, and explained, “I wasn’t thinking. So much on my mind, yup, I should have realized how you feel about hairdressers, Wrangler’s mom being one of those people which it is that cut other people’s hair and of course that’s not anything like being a governor of a whole state and a potential running mate for a future President. So, let’s get it out in the open, otherwise it’ll rot inside you like dead fish left in the net. How do you feel about Wrangler’s mom?’
“Wha..wh…” Cristol was dumbstruck.
“Jerrie’s a retired hairdresser, right?  She must be pretty bored.  Has she been puttin’ pressure on you kids to give her some little rug rat grandbaby so she can have something to do all day?  You don’t have to do that, you know. It’s your choice to make.”
“Stop it!” Cristol spoke a bit too loudly. She reddened and her eyes darted around the room. Rachael noticed.
“Is  anybody is staring at us?”  she asked.  “You can’t be makin’ a scene here, ya know, ‘cause people are gonna recognize me. Take a  look and I’ll just be checking my email.” She picked up one of the Blackberries that lay strategically on the white table cloth  to imply that she was an important person. “So, here I am, like my sisters and brothers in service to their country, us who get elected to high public office are always workin’.”  It was her theatrical voice; it deeply offended Cristol at this moment.
“So,” Rachael hissed quietly through her teeth while still thumbing the Blackberry, “is anybody noticin’ how hard I’m workin’?””
Before Cristol answered, the waiter appeared to take their orders.  “Surf and Turf. Two of ‘em.”  A flick of her wrist indicated the second was for the blushing teenager across the table. “And bring extra butter with the bread.”
Between the ordering and the arrival of their entrees, not much was said. When the meals were set before them, Rachael asked about the studio taping, and listened while she savored each bite.
 Cristol tried to do justice to the miracle at MTV and her mother nodded occasionally and squiched her mouth together sometimes. The former might have been a reaction to the story or an expression of approval of the culinary talents at work in the kitchen.  The latter could have been interest in a particular thing being recounted, or it could have been Rachael trying to use her tongue to dislodge something stuck between her teeth.  In both cases, Cristol’s interpretations were generous.
“See, Mom? It was meant to be. God spoke to me.!”
“Well, maybe. But still, we’ve come all the way out here, and that was God’s doing, too. You are far, far from home. No one knows you here. They might know me, but not you. So why no have a little talk with the folks at the clinic? I’m pretty sure there’ll be a message for you there, too. Won’t know unless you walk through that door.”  She was smiling again – a big smile. “ Remember what I said about doors?”

“Yes, Mom, I do. And, no, I won’t go to any clinic.  I’m having this baby. Do you know he has a heartbeat? And fingernails? And he knows my voice?” All the things Cristol had learned in youth group had been reinforced through Google searches. The fetus was very real to her, and it was a baby, not a condition. “I’m going to live in the moment and my life will finally make sense.”
Rachael went back to scrolling her Blackberry and waited for the waiter to take their plates.
“No dessert, thanks. Some of us are carrying too much weight.”
Later that night, when reasoning failed, her mother tried pleading, threatening, whining, pouting, and insulting. Rachael had accumulated many weapons of coercion in her four-plus decades of living and never had they been less effective.
“Get over it, Mom. I’m having my baby.”Cristol conceded one thing, that she would “embrace the experience” quietly and privately, not telling anyone until Rachael and Tad came up with a game plan.
Over the remaining days, Cristol sent Wrangler little messages like “luv U” and “miss U” and “J Lo = AWESOME.” Telling him exactly what happened in the MTV studios was going to wait until she got back and they were alone, wrapped in each other’s arms.  Only then, when the time and setting were perfect, would she would tell him about the miracle. And afterward, she was going to insist that he live in the moment, too, and promise to never take love for granted.

It was the day before Cristol’s seventeenth birthday. Grandma and Grandpa Heat were having the Saplins and the Strausses over for a small celebration.  Wrangler knew Buck and Betty, .and his mom and sister knew who they were, of course. The Heats had seen  Jerrie and Porsche around town, too. In an area as remote as Azzolla, the only people you didn’t recognize were the visitors.
. The Heat’s had both retired from the Azzolla school system as tenured teachers, and Jerrie feared they would look down on her. They probably preferred to be around  “educated types.”  Not only did Jerrie have no post-high school education, but Jerrie’s vocation  put her pretty much at the bottom rung of the social ladder.  For twenty years, she made ends meet through a steady knocking on the back door by women needing a shampoo and cut, or foils, dyes and perms. Hours were long, and she worked hard. Her clientele worked hard, too – women coming by after a long day in an office or standing behind a cash register. Sundays were busy. Some regulars didn’t have any other day off.
The Strauss kitchen served as beauty parlor, sanctuary, book club, group therapy meet-up, and women’s self-help club. There was always a pot of coffee brewing, and from very young ages, the smell of freshly brewed coffee could subconsciously makes Wrangler and Porsche feel safe, happy and loved.
The two of them kept out of sight while their mother’s guests  talked about their kids, their husbands and their bills, got a trim or a new “do” and left with some tidbit of gossip.  Jerrie and her customers were friends, but Jerrie never let work come before being a mom. As a hairdresser, she could work while still being home for her kids.  It was  all she ever wanted, and she felt blessed.
Blessed though she was, Jerrie was nervous. That’s why she was taking extra care to look nice tonight. Jerrie wanted her hair to be perfect, it was the one thing she could control. Deftly working the curling wand, she mentally ruminated on what she called the card game of life. She knew she’d been dealt a less promising hand than tonight’s hosts financially, physically and intellectually. But her philosophy was to play the cards you’re dealt without whining.
Two years ago she had been dealt a tough hand. A serious back injury forced her into bed rest and nearly full retirement. One of the working poor, she had no health insurance. Medical bills piled up and she could have lost the kids to foster care. But she sold everything she owned of value including her car, canceled cable television and figured out a budget that could be met by welfare and child support payments. Things were tight, but they were making it. The kids didn’t complain, they used lots of blankets at night and wore sweaters and layers during the day to keep the heat down. Wrangler had found a couple part time jobs and could keep his truck on the road through his own earnings. And by hunting and fishing he stocked a freezer.
No one outside the house, not one neighbor or previous customer ever  guessed how truly difficult it was for the Stausses.   Jerrie always had a smile and a “hey there” for everyone she met, never burdening anyone with a hint of  her own worries. Tonight would be no different. She was going to appreciate the cards she held, and keep them close to her vest. Sure would be interesting, though, to get a glimpse at the hand the Heats were holding.
Jerrie suspected that the Heats, thanks to their daughter’s political connections, had been slipped a few aces. So what? To let that bother her, she’d have to cash in some of her own chips –  some of her favorites, like peace of mind and optimism.. She wasn’t one to up the ante of  resentment. Hey, if she’d been dealt some high point cards from the bottom of the deck  she would have held on to them, too.
 “Yup, you betcha,” she imitated Rachael for her own amusement and winked at her image in the mirror. “Ouch,” she said as the hot metal touched her neck by mistake. A red welt began to rise on the spot.  “Oh man,” she groaned, “That’s gonna show. It’s gonna look like one of those hickeys like the kids give each other.” She frowned, then smiled and played the card she was dealt. “Jerrie,” she said to herself, “ it will make me look like one of the kids instead of a soon to be grandma.”
Jerrie kept working the wand and making curls and reminisced about raising Wrangler and Porsche. Where had the time gone?
Those two were Jerrie’s reasons to get out of bed in the morning and her reasons to stay sober during the day. In this world, she neither expected nor coveted fame, popularity or wealth. She had two healthy kids who gave her respect and showered her with love. Yup, she was blessed. Her kids were real good kids, too.  Some boys put their moms through hell. There wasn’t enough to keep kids busy in this little geographical no man’s land.  The state’s population was small and scattered. The Valley was bleak, cold and dark for  many months out of the year. It’s tough on parents and kids alike.
 Azzolla Valley parents lived in fear that  their sons and daughters would become involved in the community’s biggest cottage industry. Home cooked supplies of meth sold well in Azzolla; the illegal drug added to the town’s economy and subtracted from its quality of life. Police had raided and shut down nine meth labs in the previous twelve months.
It was rumored that Field Saplin had become a user. Jerrie felt bad about that. Poor kid, he was a wild one, but Jerrie liked him. Apparently, that stunt with the school buses was the last straw. Wrangler said “everybody in school” knew who did it, and yes, Field was guilty. “Were you there, too?” Jerrie had asked. But Wrangler said no, he was with some girls that night. She believed him.
Jerrie’d heard it was Rachael who had arranged to send her son away for that senior year he spent out of state. Wrangler confirmed that, too. Apparently, the rest of the family pleaded with her not to do it, but she told them all he was” messin’ up her image.” Next thing they knew, Field was in Minnesota.
Hopefully, Cristol isn’t  like her mother, thought Jerrie.  If she gets as mean and bossy as Rachel, Wrangler and the baby are in for a tough life. And with them all livin’ at the Saplins, that will make it even worse. Why, I should suggest she move in with us, and I’ll help them get ready for the baby. The governor’s busy, it will take some worry off her mind. Besides, Wrangler says the Gov and the First Dude do a lot of arguing. That’s bad for Cristol and the baby. I’ll talk to the kids about it after the party.
She smiled at the idea of having her son around more. He was busy now, busy with sports, a job, and a girlfriend. Was he keeping things in balance? She didn’t know for sure. He seemed to be keeping up in school, though only time would tell. Most of his classes were online, a change Jerrie had approved so that he could keep Cristol company while she stayed home and grew a baby in her belly. He was there to help her, too,  if she needed something.. So far, what the girl seemed to need the most was assurance that Wrangler wasn’t cheating on her. Keeping him away from Azzolla High School was one way to do that. Wrangler willingly gave up that freedom to keep Cristol happy and Jerrie kept her opinions to herself. She and her ex-husband were different that way.
All Kevin Strauss knew about Wrangler’s schooling was that, in spite of his disapproval, Jerrie had agreed to the homeschooled situation. It was a bad idea. Too many times, he’d seen the word “homeschooled” applied to kids who stopped attending classes but didn’t officially drop out. (Academic requirements in the valley school district were some of the most lax in the country.) As a father, he wanted better for Wrangler. He wanted his son in the classroom, under the teachers’ watch, socializing with other Azzels his age.
Partly because of their different ways of seeing things, and partly because she liked the power, Jerrie kept Kevin in the dark about almost everything important that happened with Wrangler and Porshe. As far as she was concerned, when he left her he lost parental rights. The courts would have disagreed, but Kevin didn’t have the money for lawyers, and Jerrie knew it. Kevin didn’t know Cristol was pregnant, and he didn’t know that Wrangler’s online school work was being done inside the Saplin compound, or that his son was almost living there now. He’d have been somewhat upset about the baby on the way, but he would have gone ballistic if he had a clue that it resulted in his son becoming a quasi-prisoner of the governor’s family. 
During the disagreement over homeschooling. Jerrie had defended the arrangement saying, “If the computer stuff is workin’ for him, then don’t rock the boat.” Kevin wasn’t surprised by that, his ex-wife’s approach to life could be summed up as  “Find an honest way to get by, then stick with it.” Like everything else about the woman, it wasn’t glamorous, but it was adequate.
Perhaps that was why Porsche craved glamour. Even as a little girl she liked to sparkle, to flirt, and to be told she was pretty. And she was pretty. Her brand of pretty was the wholesome, apple-cheek kind. Only yesterday, Jerrie told her she looked like Cheryl Teigs. It was meant as high praise, but Porsche had never heard of the twentieth century face of CoverGirl cosmetics.  “Really?  A super model named Cheryl? When was that Mom? Like, when photography was invented?”  Though Jerrie laughed, the joke made her feel old. Well, I am old, she told herself. Old enough to be a grandma, no denying that.  She took another look at the burn on her neck and reached for the bottle of liquid makeup.
Glamour came easily to Porshe who could make second hand clothes look like they’d cost a fortune. She had a great figure already, and a mane of head-turning hair. She’d been a platinum blonde when she was a young child, and now, Jerrie colored and streaked her daughter’s long tresses every few months, keeping it within two shades of the baby blonde curls she was born with. Sometimes the streaks were maroon, sometimes a more natural shade of red. On St. Pat’s day they were green, and for a while last winter, blue. Whatever she wanted, her mother provided with love.
The mother/daughter relationship was balanced. Porshe did a lot to help out around the house. Jerrie depended on her for help with the cleaning, meals and laundry. And with no parental prodding, she got herself off to school on time, finished her homework, earned passing grades, and, so far, unlike some of her closest friends, had not been brought home by the police for any misconduct.
On her MySpace page, Porshe listed two heros-- “my mother Jerrie” and “my big brother Wrangler” – and she had 172 “friends.” Vivacious and outgoing, she enjoyed the benefits and suffered the torments of popularity. There had been steady boyfriends, one after another, starting when she was eleven. Jerrie smiled when she remembered the shy first boyfriend who visited the house. Those two hadn’t even held hands, let alone kiss. But as Porsche matured physically, so had the boys who came calling.
 When her daughter turned thirteen, Jerrie’d handed her a box of condoms and made sure her daughter knew how they were used. No matter how tight money was, there was a box in the bathroom cabinet supplied by Jerrie with the unspoken understanding that it would be replaced when empty, and  neither Porcshe nor Wrangler would be questioned. This reduced Jerrie’s worries. While she had hoped Wrangler would act responsibly, she definitely didn’t want Porsche having a baby before she was ready, and though it was out of her control, as a mom she was at least doing something.
Porsche wasn’t perfect. She loved to drink, and she’d tried cigarettes and pot. Jerrie knew some of it because she and Porsha were honest with each other. Jerrie gave good advice, and she didn’t overreact. Rather than put a wedge between them by holding the reigns too tightly, she parented her kids with equally generous amounts of open communication and freedoms. As far as she could tell, it was working okay.  Hey, it wasn’t Porsche that was pregnant, now was it?
Nevertheless, I’m going to be a grandmother. Guess I should have given Wrangler more warnings and more condoms.  But that thought didn’t square with her. She wasn't going to take blame for Cristol Saplin’s mistakes. Everybody knows it’s the girl’s responsibility to prevent herself from getting knocked up. Do they call it that nowadays? Until science makes a way for boys to have babies, it’s all on the girl. Just like it’s her choice whether or not to have it.  So, if Cristol’s parents, or anyone else were to disagree, Jerrie was ready to set them straight – even if it was at the birthday party tonight.
There were many times Jerrie and Rachael were on opposite sides of an issue. Most involved Mayor Saplin’s efforts to make Azzolla perfect. Perfect, of course, is a matter of opinion. And the freedom to express opinions is one of the things that makes this country great.  Thinking about it that way, Jerrie didn’t hold it against Rachael for working so hard to change the town to fit her own visions, but the stuff she did sure raised eyebrows and blood pressures all over the valley.
As mayor of Azzolla, Rachael did whatever she could to stymie the work of Planned Parenthood.  Beyond cutting back on public dollars for sex education, she’d tried to keep the agency from being listed as a community chest organization. Which meant it would suffer a reduction in private donations from those who funnel their personal charitable giving through that network. But the worst thing, in Jerrie’s opinion, was the plan to charge a girl who was raped for the cost of collecting evidence. Pick a poor girl’s pocket after she was assaulted? Really? Jerrie wanted to ask Rachael “What would Jesus do?” 
Then, there was the library whallopalooza. A priest, well known  for his ministry to the gay community had written a book that sensitively told the story of a divorced father introducing his new partner, another man, to his son. In her first week as Mayor, Rachael Saplin tried to have the book removed from the library. When Jerrie read in the paper about the big argument at the council meeting over a children’s book, she decided she’d read it herself so she would have an informed opinion. She found it well written and touching, though she knew that when it came to divorce, and kids, she might have a bias.
Rachael, herself, had not read the book. A councilwoman suggested she should read it but  Mayor Saplin flatly refused. Eventually, the “compromise” worked out was that the book be sent to another library in the system, and it could be requested and issued “on loan” from there. The other library turned out to be the most remote library in the region, and there, it was kept under the front desk for circulation only by request to adult patrons.
Then, Mayor Saplin fired the local librarian. It was an unforgivable act as far as Jerrie Strauss was concerned. Jerrie made weekly trips to the library, access to free books and magazines was very important to Jerrie. The librarian, Elaine Johnston,   had helped widened Jerrie’s understanding of the world, helped her open up to new ideas. When Jerrie was at the library, she felt respected and intellectually curious. For this, she loved Elaine. Mayor Saplin quickly found out many people felt like Jerrie did.  The termination was retracted and a statement issued saying there had been a misunderstanding. Jerrie didn’t buy it.  Misunderstanding, my ass, thought Jerrie.
Clearly, this little baby would have two very different grandmothers.  Jerrie and Rachael were on different sides of many social issues even though both claimed to be Christians. Rachael wore her religion on her sleeve, so to speak, often telling others that she found their actions to be “against the word of God.” Jerrie, on the other hand,  kept a quiet faith in a loving God who watched over her and those she loved, and understood that everone makes mistakes sometimes.  In her heart, she believed God was sympathetic, and as long as she wasn’t intentionally hurting anyone, He would help her get back up again and keep on going.
Jerrie wondered if the baby was a message from God to Rachael Saplin. Maybe Rachael’s “Heavenly Father” that she spoke of often, was testing that flashy faith of hers. “We love all babies” was the pro-lifer’s chant outside that local clinic. Well, we’ll see.  Will Rachael love this grandchild?  Will she rearrange her priorities to find some time to spend with it? In my home, Wrangler's child will always be welcomed and loved.  The thought brought her full circle. Sure would be nice if they decided to live with me.
 The sound of a familiar horn interrupted the silence, and through the  kitchen window she saw Wrangler’s truck idling in the gravel driveway. This will be interesting, Jerrie thought, as she zipped her NorthFace jacket (a lucky find from the Goodwill Store). She didn’t bother to lock the back door after closing it behind her. She knew there was nothing inside worth stealing.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Time for some levity: White Trash in the Snow - Chapters Thirty Five and Thirty Six

Once upon a time there was an obscure female governor in an obscure state who had illusions of grandeur. Then, she discovered her 16 year old daughter was pregnant...

Meet the Saplins - a fictional family that lives only on the Palin Place blogspot and in our imaginations. You might find yourself believing that you somehow know these people.  Like any new fiction writer, that would please me very much. Thanks for stopping by. 

(Last week's chapters of White Trash in the Snow - 33 and 34 - can be found HERE.)


White Trash in the Snow

by Allison


“You’ve never seen New York City, Cristol.  Aren’t you excited?”
Rachael and Cristol were on a transcontinental airliner 36,000 feet in the air. This trip was unusual in many ways, not the least of which was that no other family members came along. Rachael had spent the first minutes of the flight reveling in thoughts of taxpayer dollars covering this trip east. They were public servants. All of the Saplins were practically working for nothing. Tad wasn’t on the payroll, but, like Hillary during the Clinton years, the electorate was getting “two for the price of one.”  That was the only comparison with that couple that Rachael Saplin would allow anyone to make.  That whiny Harvard educated lawyer and her philandering womanizing husband are nothing like me and Tad.
Settling back and closing her eyes, Rachael turned her thoughts to the office where an assistant was still trying to complete details of the agenda for the days immediately in front of them. It had been a last minute decision to have Cristol accompany her  to New York. The reason given was that Cristol would attend a women’s luncheon with her mother. As with most events, the invitation was sent in the governor’s name only, but Governor Saplin ignored such minor details. She showed up with extra people (usually it was Pride and Tad) to events of all kinds.  As a whole, organizers were very gracious people.  It was their job, wasn’t it? Table settings would hastily be set, extra rooms provided if Maple and Cristol went along, and everyone acted as if it was the management’s oversight not to have things “just right” prior to Governor Saplin’s arrival.
Governor Saplin bragged often that she was thrifty, and she was. This flight was coach, and she and Cristol would be sharing the lodgings, too -  suite in a luxury hotel on 5th Avenue for only $900 dollars a night. And out of the four day trip, they would only go to three expensive restaurants for dinner; one night they would have New York style pizza. “Four days?” her assistant had asked, “But the women’s conference is just three hours. What else belongs on the itinerary?”
The Governor came up with an itinerary and an excuse for it, “Leaving quickly would short-change the people who elected me, to represent this great state, of course, by being seen at some of the city’s most famous places, there, too, and meeting with other high level government executives in the east.” Her office sent a news release to the New York Times, but they showed no interest. Nevertheless, this was all good for her state, she told herself, and it was going to be very good for her and her family.
There is no such thing as a coincidence, Rachael reminded herself. Being able to get Cristol out of the state and across the country at this pivotal time is God’s plan, not mine. And the destination – New York City - is the best place in the whole world to go about your business undisturbed and unnoticed. Obviously, this was divine providence. In the middle of the previous night, she had followed up and helped Providence along by calling a toll-free hotline and confirming that, in New York, an abortion could be obtained through the 24th week of gestation.
In  the SUV on the way to the airport, she brought up the “common sense solution” and stated the obvious.  No one knew them in New York. And privacy was protected by the founding fathers. “Do you know that the Constitution protects a woman’s right to have an abortion? Yup, it seems the founding fathers knew women, that in which they did, pertaining to, it seems, abortion is legal even though it’s not ideal. And when patriots, and the Supreme Court got together and wrote the laws, they had to allow it because of Freedom of Choice.  I have great respect for all of ‘em and you know I’m a Constitutionalist, also.”
Cristol scowled, but said nothing.
“What do you think about that?,” Rachael prompted. Cristol did not feel obligated to open up. There was silence in the vehicle the entire rest of the way to the airport.
Rachael put the vehicle in long term parking. They took their bags out, locked it up and started the walk to the departure terminal. Rachael tried one last nudge. “Pray about it while we’re up in the air. You’re closer to God up there.”
Now, Cristol appeared to be sleeping, and Rachael decided to try to do the same. After all, they had  a busy time in front of them.  On Wednesday there would be a handshake photo-op with the mayor.  That was the most important stop on the trip.  If Rachael Saplin was going to succeed in becoming a national political figure, she needed to be seen with famous people. The Mayor of New York would be a valuable addition to her portfolio of pictures she referred to as “headshots with hotshots”.
Prior to the photo op, Rachael was scheduled to have her hair done. That would be expensed because the photo would be displayed in the governor’s office. How much would an updo cost in the Big Apple? Who cares? And she would pamper herself by paying out of pocket for a manicure and pedicure, (she’d never had a pedicure). Hmm, if all the charges were combined on one invoice and not broken down, I can submit the whole thing for reimbursement.  
Now then, what was she thinking about before? Oh, yes, while she was spending a long afternoon in the salon Cristol would be having a great time. Through connections and a bit of luck, arrangements had been made for her to be in the audience at the taping of a show at the MTV studios where Jennifer Lopez was scheduled as the show’s guest that day. Rachael wasn’t sure if Cristol was a J-Lo fan, but she knew Tad thought Jennifer Lopez “had a great ass”.  If Cristol got an autograph she could probably trade it with her dad for six month’s worth of weekend car privileges.
Cristol turning 17? Where’d the time go?  Is Cristol ready for greater responsibility? She hasn’t proven herself very careful with her driving permit.  Rachael’s thoughts wouldn’t shut off. She kept her eyes closed, but sleep was edged out by concerns about her oldest daughter. Already she had a couple speeding tickets.  And there was the problem with her friends drinking and using illegal substances.  I hope she doesn’t drink and drive, and, hoo boy, sex, obviously, is another area where Cristol’s been acting irresponsibly. An unwelcome memory popped into  her head and Rachael saw herself in Cristol’s bedroom, yelling, saying that they were going to be late for a photo shoot, looking under the bed for a lost shoe and finding a pair of briefs. 
I should have sent her to live with Helen right then and there. Rachael twisted in the seat, trying to get more comfortable.  The uncomfortable memories continued to prick at her. Why didn’t I? Oh, yeah, it was Dad…, she remembered that when she’d told her parents about the discovery under Cristol’s bed, Buck’s reaction helped her cool down;“You know kids,” he said.”They’re always losing their underwear.”  
 She’d given her dad a hug and he’d given her a pat on the rump. She hadn’t let the misplaced clothing bother her after  that, until now.  It’s not my fault. I’m so busy doing the Lord's work, I have to trust Him to watch over the kids..
With troubling thoughts in her head, and Cristol napping beside her, Rachael gave up on trying to sleep and stared out the window instead.  The clouds beneath looked like a landscape of snow. The snow reminded her of home. Sometimes her state could feel as large as the sky. And she was responsible for all of it! She began mentally ticking off all the pressing issues and urgent situations that had occupied her time since early summer. There had been difficult staff changes (so many people were not loyal!), and the trip to Kuwait (that’ll look good when they want me to run for VP), and week she spent with Tad when he was commercial fishing (Thank God I could keep in touch with work through my two Blackberries), and Field’s enlistment in the US Army.  Then, there was that “Airport in Nowhere” deal that she’d had to reverse herself on when Senator McElwain came out against it (whew,dodged a bullet there), and she’d had to really scramble when she got such short notice about that visit from the all the powerful guys in the party  (Thank God for Costco's, too). And so many problems with her former brother-in-law! She’d lost her temper when she saw him working at the State Fair’s trooper information station on First Family Day at the fair. (Who’s brain fart was that? I’m pretty sure who, and when I get back head’s will roll!)  Lately, Sally’s problems with Ed were messing with Sally’s ability to help take Pride to school and lessons. That would have to be dealt with soon. And, last but not least, she’d called for a special session of the legislature so she could push through her energy proposal.
With all that happening and overlapping, of course she’d been distracted. Of course she hadn’t had much time for Cristol, or any of the rest of the family. Of course she'd not known Cristol's “development”. She couldn’t be faulted.
Maybe this New York trip would take care of that problem and also be a time for them to reconnect. Praise God.

It was Sunday night. The trip had been long, and both Rachael and Cristol were exhausted as they settled on to separate plush sofas in the posh suite, waiting for “Desperate Housewives” to start. Watching the show together was the one thing they shared, a reoccurring event that connected Cristol and her mom once a week. Even if Cristol was  in Azzolla and Rachael was away, one would call the other as the theme song began and, with phones on speaker, they would comment and laugh and share the hour’s entertainment.
Both were looking forward to this evening’s show; the previews hinted that one of the main characters was going to announce she was pregnant in an attempt to keep her teenage daughter’s illegitimate pregnancy a secret.  This season promised to get interesting.
“It’s going to be fun seeing if she pulls that off,” said Rachael. “After four kids, I could fake it.  Shoot, it’d be easy.”  
Cristol’s hands were draped across her own tummy. She asked a benign question, “Which do you think would be harder, to hide a real baby bump or fake having one?”
“Ha! Faking one’s never crossed my mind. Now, hiding…” Rachael stopped mid-sentence. “Either way, it’s all about baggy clothes.”  
Cristol nodded.  Her mother went on, “ Just watch. I’ll bet she will be strappin’ on a pillow and wearin’ baggy clothes.”  
Cristol was about to share her feelings about hiding what she thought was now a ginormous midsection, but, to her dismay, her mom changed the subject  “Isn’t this room great?” she beamed, looking around.“I’m feelin’ spoiled.” She went to the in-room snack/beverage selection, took an eight dollar bottle of spring water, and sat down again..
“This is a blessing, Cristol - you and me having girl talk and waiting for our favorite TV show.” She went back to the sofa and stretched her legs out onto the hassock. “Did I ever tell you that, when my sisters and I were little, satellites didn’t reach us?  The TV Guide was worthless to us Azzles.  Our local station played everything a week late, that’s when the tapes arrived by boat or plane. Even the moon landing was on tape.”
Cristol groaned. “Yes, Mom, you’ve told me.”  About  million times.
Rachael was fascinated by her own life’s experiences. She could find opportunities in nearly any circumstance to regurgitate tales of her childhood and young adult life. Sometimes the facts changed. If you called her on it, she ignored you. Field said it was called self-obsession.  Cristol and he would roll their eyes at each other when she started in to one of her stories. They both thought she should just write an autobiography and get it out of her system.  If she did, would Cristol be more than just as a footnote?  “Chapter six footnote: full-term delivery October 27, 1990. Seven pound six ounce baby girl.”
Continuing to be fixated on memories of her childhood, Rachael babbled on. “Petticoat Junction was my favorite show. There were these three sisters, Billie Jo, Bobby Jo and Betty Jo in this little town called Hooterville. Hooterville had only a few townspeople and a general store. It was a lot like Azzolla.  Back then we only had nine hundred people, you know. Sally and Helen and I used to pretend we were the girls from Petticoat Junction.” She kept prattling on, not noticing that Cristol could hardly keep her eyes open. “It was understood that I was the middle one, Bobby Joe. She was just like me. A brunette and a tomboy – and also, she was the smartest one.”
Rachael’s soliloquy switched over to another comedy show of the same decade “Then there was “The Beverly Hillbillies. We used to act that one out, too.”  She laughed, Cristol yawned. “I was always Granny ‘cause I was really good at bein’ feisty and having crazy ideas and also at bossing around Ellie May - that was Sally- and Jethro – that was Helen.  Helen hated being a boy, but we made her do it or else she couldn’t play with us. That was great. I was awesome. Even today Dad will say to me “you’re as stubborn as Granny.”
Hooterville?  Hillbillies? Granny and Bobby Jo? What a lame-ass conversation, Cristol thought. But, it was always easier to let the conversation flow in her mother’s direction than to try to steer it somewhere else, so she said, “You should have become an actress, Mom. You are still really good at that stuff. And you like to be on a stage and have an audience clap and cheer for you.”
Rachael lit up. “You betcha! I do. And also, I like to tell stories; I’m a great ad-libber, too.  But, as I’ve told ya before, I have a calling, discovered it when I was a teenager, politics - that’s why I’m out there every day trying to make the world match what I know is the only right way for things to be.”
 Cristol was uncomfortable. She plumped up a throw pillow and moved around, trying to find  a better position.  If her mother insisted they talk, they would talk, but  it wasn’t going to be lies and spins. “Sometimes, Mom, your stories just don’t add up,” she challenged. “If you heard God calling you into politics as a teenager, why did you study to be a sports broadcaster?” she challenged. “That sounds to me like you were rebellious. A real sinner, huh, Mom?” she was being facetious, even though that word wasn’t in her vocabulary.
“Now, just see here Cristol Sherman.” First and middle name - Rachael was showing her  annoyance. “You know very well that if a door is open, I go through.”
“Right, Mom. Like the twenty college doors you went through trying to get someone to put a graduation cap on your prom hair?”
Rachael ignored the digs took a long drink of spring water.
“So, really, Mom, God said ‘Rachael Heat, go forth and be a substitute news reporter’?”
 “Absolutely, yup, that’s right. God opened that door, too. And, before you ask, I’ll tell you the rest. God spoke to me through a friend’s father and said ‘Rachael, you should run for city council.’ It was another open door. Like I said, it’s simple. When a door opens, go through.”  Rachael went back to the sofa and sat. Cristol watched her mother curl her trim legs up onto the seat and realized that was something she, herself, could no longer do.
“Cristol, see if there’s any straws.” Rachael always used a straw when she drank from a plastic bottle. It was a compulsion with her, a tiny bit of OCD.  
Cristol got up and looked around the kitchenette for some straws, preferably the kind that had an accordion-like flexible elbow. She didn’t find any – straight or flexible. She was  miffed. “Wouldn’t you think for the price of this room they would provide the essentials?”
Rachael wasn’t upset. She simply picked the phone and called room service. “This is room 2012. Can you send up some straws?...Yes, straws. Thanks. Oh, wait a minute. Make sure they’re the bendy kind….yes…thank you.”  She hung up the phone, then looked at Cristol, “Do you think I should tip?”
“Huh? Tip them for a couple of three cent straws?” she said. “That would be stupid.”
“Yeah, we don’t want to look like hicks. So, where was I?”
“You were going through a door.  But I have another question. You said there’s only one right way.  How do you know that? Can’t there be other choices just as right? Why would the choice you make be the only right one?”
“Like I just said, Cristol, God tells me.”
“Out loud?”
“No, of course not, but everything is in the Bible. Maybe not by name, but in spirit.  I choose the way that is based on faith, love and truth.  That’s always the right way. It’s simple.”
“Simple? I wish”
Rachael unmuted the television with the remote, and spoke over the intro music, “Some day soon you will get your calling, then it will be easy for you, too.”
There was a knock at the door, and Cristol went to get the bendy straws for her mom.
Rachael kept talking. “Just remember – base everything on faith, love, and truth.”
The young man sent to room 2012 with an unusual delivery felt no love from the girl who answered the door.  Cristol grabbed the dozen paper wrapped tubes from his hand and closed the door without making eye contact.  A split second before the door shut tight he heard a woman’s voice call out “Thanks.” The sound of a chain scraping through its metal track told him he need not bother waiting for anyone within to return with a gratuity.
For the following hour, they tried to escape their own problems by watching a character named Bree deal with disturbing news from her teenage daughter. Neither found the relief they wanted. Each of them was half tuned in to the action on the large flat screen while the other half of the brain was scripting their own reality show.
Later, after lights went out, Cristol took  her cell phone from the nightstand and under the covers, sent a text to Maple. “Mom is bree. LOL.”
“wat???” came the prompt reply.
“tell u when we get home : )” She closed the phone and continued thinking about the similarities between the “Housewives” character Bree, and her own mom.  Both of them always trying to give the appearance that their family was perfect and that they, themselves were perfect mothers.  Almost as common as her winking, was Rachael’s saying  “If there was a better way to raise children, I would have found it.”  The mantra was accompanied by a wagging finger.
Cristol promised herself that she would never expect her own children to be perfect.  Neither did she harbor hope of becoming perfect. She knew that, already, she was far from the perfect mother.
She tossed and turned and finally began to think about the next day;s MTV taping of Total Request Live!  Jennifer Lopez was the guest star, and Cristol was excited to see her in person. While internet surfing for information about pregnancy, she’d found rumors that J-Lo was expecting twins in February. If the Hollywood bloggers were right, the actress and Cristol had gotten pregnant about the same time. Cristol would get to compare herself with Jennifer’s size and shape. She must be much bigger if she’s having twins, she thought, dismissing the chance that she, herself, could also be having twins. Twin babies would, according to things she’d read, be smaller than single-birth babies, even with the same gestation period.  My God, I’m using words like “gestation period.”  This is totally weird.
Drifting off to sleep, Cristol pictured herself walking onto a sound stage in the clothes she’d packed - low heels, a dark skirt, a white top that hung loosely over her belly. Will I be on camera? Do I show in that shirt? Will the skirt hang alright even though I can’t pull the zipper up all the way?
 It was a restless night.