Wee Margaret's bean calendar
I had one of those ‘holy shit” moments this week sitting down to write this blog, when I realized we are nearly in April. I can’t believe how fast time is going. It feels like only yesterday I was complaining about it being Christmas already.
And now getting over last week’s lurgy, I feel like I’m constantly doing catch up. Watching me dither about the kitchen, my youngest told me not to stress. He said that I was just a little slow of thinking, and it wasn’t as if I was operating under Wee Margaret’s Bean Calendar. Surprised, I laughed out loud. My whole mood changed. Sometimes it’s the weirdest of memories that change your perspective.
I should explain.
Several years ago, we had just moved into this house. Tweddley manor had needed a full refurb and there was always something getting fixed somewhere or other and that made it ...uhm...interesting you’re trying to find keys or lost paperwork, or ‘that thing’ you’d put down for just a minute.
The kids had just gone back to school which was great on one hand, and terrible on the other. My youngest had resurrected his campaign against 10 year olds doing homework ever, and my eldest seemed to have an ongoing slew of “really important’ school projects that needed to be delivered in about half an hour.”
I believe there are times when it is technically possible to demonstrate good textbook parenting. I also believe there are also times to be a complete parenting shambles. That week had been more towards the shambles
We were all a bit nippy with one another, and when my eldest got snappy with me because I kept forgetting to refer to his ‘nonbinary’ friend as ‘they’ and not ‘she’, I snapped back and said, “Think yourself lucky. When I was growing up, my mother didn’t believe that anyone was gay.”
There’d then followed one of those silences that means there’s explaining to do. My 10 year old had put down his homework (any opportunity) and eyed me with earnest disbelief. My eldest, looking faintly disgusted, waited.
So I explained.
Where I grew up in Scotland pretty much everyone, lived in the same type of houses, was the same color of white, and men and woman got married – or mysteriously remained single – and the only perceived difference between groups of people, was that some were Catholic and others were Protestant
But when I went to drama school in Glasgow, nobody cared who was Catholic or Protestant – people were distinguished between who was gay and who was straight.
My mother could not understand this. “Men don’t kiss men. And women are much too sensible for that sort of thing.” she’d say.
I tried reasoning:
“Ok then, Liberace?”
“He’s flamboyant. He’s just a showman.”
“What about Rock Hudson?”
“Not gay. Too tall.”
“Alright then, Boy George.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. He’s just a pop star. All pop stars dress up as girls. Don’t you remember the 70s?”
I’ve pretty much always known I was heterosexual, but it seemed to me that not recognizing that some people were gay was bizarre – like not recognizing that some people have brown hair, or green eyes or are left-handed or right-handed. And I couldn’t understand that my mother could not understand that, when she was someone who valued the truth so highly.
Years later after drama school, I took a job working in a gay bar with my friend, Strappy. Strappy is gay, and one of the smartest and most considered humans I know.
Strappy loved my mother, and my mother loved Strappy, and so one night when we were talking in the kitchen behind the bar, I told him about my frustration that my mother just didn’t believe that homosexuality existed.
“It’s just a matter of timing.” he said. “She’ll get there eventually. People are different. Some live in the here and the now, and use the Gregorian calendar. Others mean well, but take a while to catch up. And then those who live by Wee Margaret’s Bean Calendar.”
And we laughed.
Wee Margaret was a diminutive woman of indeterminate age who made the pub lunches during the week. Her calendar was a large pot that sat in the stove in the kitchen.
Every Monday, Wee Margaret would, with great effort, empty a giant can of beans in the pot and heat them up. After Monday lunch, there would be a line above the beans, showing the original cooking level. On Tuesday, she’d cook the same pot of beans, so after Tuesday lunch there would be two lines. As the week went on and more beans were served, there would be more lines. Strappy and I both knew people who only knew what day of the week it was after consulting Wee Margaret’s Bean Calendar.
One night in the bar, Strappy was doing admin in the quiet of the kitchen, while I stood reading magazines in between periodic bartending.
Two men came in and ordered a Guinness and a gin and tonic. They hadn’t been in the bar before, but I recognized them at the same time that they recognized me. It was my Mum’s Minister, with the Assistant Minister. Though we all exchanged smiles, there was a moment where we all had an expression of, oh, “holy crap.”
As soon as they took their drinks and sat at a corner table, I hurried into the kitchen to tell Strappy what was going on. Strappy, puffing on a cigarette, was completely unfazed.
“Meh. We get Bishops in here. Rabbis. Even a couple of Archdeacons.”
“No,” I stressed, “The point of it is that it’s my Mum’s Minister.”
“No, the point of it,” said Strappy, “That it doesn’t matter who he is. This is a safe space for someone who currently doesn’t have many safe places. You’re freaked out? Believe me, he is more-so. So, go out there and make sure he knows that he’s alright.”
So I went back out front. It was very quiet. There was nobody to serve, so I cleaned the bar.
And then all of the glasses.
And then I decided to wipe down the tables.
I had cleaned everything, but I still didn’t know how to approach things or what to say.
So, eventually on the pretext of cleaning their table, I said to the Ministers, “I just want you to know that everything is totally cool, and that this is a safe space and...and I won’t tell my Mum.”
And my Mum’s Minister smiled and asked, “Are you one of us as well?”
To which I replied nervously, “What? A Minister?”
They snorted with laughter, and then so did I.
Though I had promised him I wouldn’t tell my Mum, I did.
It came out in the middle of an argument. When she said, that she didn’t know any real gay people, I told her she did.
It wasn’t my proudest moment.
And yet it didn’t surprise me at all, when she replied, “Well, that in no way changes the way I feel about him.”
In the end I was glad I told her.
In the late 80s, a gay Minister was still big news, and when the newspapers came after my Mum’s Minister, my mother fought his corner with gusto.
“Wasn’t he the same man who sat with your daughter? Wasn’t he the same man who visited your father every week in hospital? What business is it of yours if he likes men or women? He’s a good man, and a fantastic Minister.”
“So,” I’d told my kids, “If I’m honest, she didn’t have a problem really, she just took a while to catch on. Like me, with the he, she and they.”
My 10 year old hadn’t really understood the story. He couldn’t see why anybody would have a problem with anyone being gay.
So, my teen explained that people used to be really against it, and that in some places some people still are.
“People who know what day it is by using Wee Margaret’s Bean calendar.”
Crisis averted, my 10 year old had tried to concoct more reasons why he shouldn’t have to do homework. I had resumed trying to find ‘that piece of paper I’d just put down for five minutes.’ And my eldest had wandered off to his computer to talk to someone much more groovier than me on Skype
I heard him talking to his friend online.
“Dude,” he said, “ I am never eating beans in a restaurant again. …Well, maybe on a Monday.”
My youngest is no longer 10 but 15. It was five years ago I told them that story. Time really does fly. But then in some ways, in those past 5 years so much has happened, it’s almost like another lifetime.
I guess, sometimes life is moving so fast it can feel like it’s not moving at all. And sometimes you have to let go of where you’re going, to take time to look back to see how far you’ve come. Then you can really recognize and appreciate change.
Otherwise you might find yourself having to work out what day of the week you’re on, by the actions of a small woman, of indeterminate age, and a giant can of beans.
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Hello there, lovelies
Welcome to the virtual kitchen gathering. It really is funny the things that stick to your mind, and how stuff comes full circle. The second part of that story was
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