Dear Martha Stewart,
Today, my son projectile vomited all over my shirt. I had to change into a gown at the pediatrician’s office, walking out with a pile of my son’s throw-up still remaining on the little table. Try getting that out with a stain stick.
Years ago, in your post-prison haze, I took a leave of absence from my job. I said goodbye to my husband for the summer and jetted off to New York in a vainglorious attempt to work for you. To impress you. Befriend you. After all – it’s ME! Funny, confident, dancing-in-the-hallways me! If I could just have a chance to meet you face-to-face, you’d totally agree with my three best friends that I’m fabulous. We’d toast to our newfound friendship, sewing monograms onto calico pillows while sipping on chai tea. I’d finally admit that I’m a wretched gardener and we’d have a grand afternoon plotting total world domination.
Okay, so it was reality television. Not exactly the classiest venue. But the fifteen folks who joined me in New York were not pond scum, but really successful people, chosen over a million folks to be talking with you about summer bulbs and apricot preserves, vying for a job where we could work with you on a daily basis. This was my chance.
On day, in the middle of making a wedding cake to be sold at a bridal expo on 5th Avenue, your daughter paid us a visit. I asked her a question I’d always wondered about.
“What was it like to have a mother like Martha?”
I envisioned parties of grandeur, with sugar cookies piled high with edible flowers and friends dancing around maypoles drinking cucumber water and reciting old nursery rhymes. Alexis just gave me a flat look and said with hardly a breath that it was hard. “Once,” she said, “when I was young, I tried to bake her a cake.” I saw little Alexis running around in my mind in a petticoat, flinging sprinkles around with glee. “She yelled at me for making the kitchen all sticky.”
Everyone chuckled with nervous laughter, because the reality was too sad to imagine. We were on television. 5th Avenue, no less! Let’s not focus on what the woman did years ago. She’s changed! So what if her daughter is dressed in black and seems to have a sour attitude, living with the memory that she never could live up to her mother’s standards. We’re living in New York City. Street vendors and expensive four-inch heels. Who-hoo!
Now, Martha, let’s be honest. I didn’t have to meet you personally to realize you’re a big fan of order. Rationalized numbering. Labels. You like steel and grey and windows and white, all clear of clutter and chaos. You could literally eat on the floor of your office. Somehow in this imperfect world we live in, you’ve found a way to have perfect rows of cabbage. I respect that. The ability to yell at the gardener and demand he remove the one wilted head on the end of the row? Genius.
But I slowly allowed myself to question the long-standing truth that (1) you would surely think I’m special (2) we would be swapping sweet potato recipes long into the future. Perhaps you weren’t the person I imagined. A crack was starting to form in the armor of my Martha-ness.
The thoughts naturally arose – does anything gross happen in your world? Have you ever accidentally peed in your pants or had to comb lice out of your daughter’s hair or invented a recipe that tasted like goat manure? Surely once in your life you thought “I’m going to hurl. I’m totally throwing this out and ordering pizza.”
Weren’t there ever a few moments in life, brief as they might be, that you cupped your hands over your mouth with delight at the beauty of seeing your child try to bake you a cake or make you a valentine or knit you a crooked potholder? Is there ever a wilted cabbage you just don’t have the heart to pluck?
One morning, we got to have brunch with you in Bedford. I was so confident you’d finally love me that I casually strolled over to the cappuccino machine in your gigantic kitchen and made small talk about the flower arrangement.
“Want one?” you asked me as the coffee machine hummed and hissed. I tucked my hair away from my face and nodded. Just me and a few pals, hanging out at Martha’s. No biggie. I was prattling on about how we can’t grow peonies down south, due to the hot weather and all, when I realized by the look in your eyes that you weren’t even listening.
“Are you Amy, from California?” you suddenly asked.
“No,” I stuttered. “I’m Amanda. From Texas.” You briskly walked back in front of the camera to give a lesson on making waffles. I was hurt and ashamed. All the while talking of peonies, for goodness sakes.
The moment we left your place, after taking a tour of the greenhouses, hearing about elephant ferns, and watching your brilliant black horses pad around the back 40, we climbed in the car back to our quarters and, suddenly, it was if we didn’t exist. Just another day in the office. Just Amy from California.
I suppose the folks we idolize don’t always turn out to be as amazing as we had hoped. There is no pleasing you. You will always be yelling at the gardener, the sticky child, the producer. No cabbage or bath towel or applicant will ever be good enough. I suppose if I get my book published, I won’t be back on your show to promote it, eating those yummy scones and sipping coffee backstage, waiting for hair and makeup. Which is unfortunate. Those were really good scones.
I don’t have to be walking along Broadway to feel my lungs fill with fresh air. I can do that in my own backyard, watching my daughter scoop piles of pebbles into bowls and call it popcorn. She will come running over to me with messy hands and a popsicle-stained face, showing me a stick that reminds her of a telephone. My son will someday break a lamp or get motor grease all over my travertine floor and eat so much fried chicken in one setting that he’ll groan with delight, wiping grease on his jeans as he stretches back in his chair. This is the texture and fabric of life. It’s not monogrammed. It’s not in perfect order. It’s vomit-down-your blouse crazy.
So screw peonies. I’ll take fields of bluebonnets, swaying in the breeze, my kids on the side of the highway buried in them, squashing the flower heads in their Sunday best. It’s then, and only then, I realize they have buggers in their noses.
Yours most truly,
Amanda (from Texas)