Not A Perfect Fit
by Jane A. Schmidt
Genre: Heartwarming Humorous Short Stories
About the Book
Not a Perfect Fit is a collection of stories that are laugh-out-loud funny one minute and thought-provoking the next. Stories range from Schmidt’s experience living off-grid as the only English woman in an Amish neighborhood to family trips that are remarkably similar to National Lampoon’s Vacation. Through it all, she manages to rise above the many challenges she faces—inspiring and entertaining her audience along the way. Filled with animal antics, gratitude, mishaps, and madcap adventures, Not a Perfect Fit’s tell-all, single-girl-gone-country, down-home stories give readers permission to laugh and cry—and, most important, to carry on.
Backyard Camping with Dad
I’m a believer that you don’t have to travel far to get away. I may have picked up this attitude from my dad. He was big on taking me camping . . . in the backyard. And although we loaded up the green station wagon and went on family adventures every summer, it’s the trips to the backyard that I recall the most fondly.
I remember the musty smell of my dad’s old green army tent. The tent was rolled up tight and neat in a dark green army bag. When we unrolled it, a skinny bag stored in the middle would fall out with a thud.
Looking back, I see that there was always an order to how things got done when my dad was doing them. Hindsight tells me this was his military training.
Before we set up the tent, my dad would mow the grass. Next, he would lay down a piece of tarp that was cut perfectly to fit under the tent. Then he’d ceremoniously roll the tent out onto the tarp. Everything lined up neatly, just the way my dad tried to get me to make my bed.
The skinny bag held all the heavy wooden poles that needed to be fitted together. Two of them went inside the tent and were responsible for holding the tent up. Once those were in place, I had to help pull out each corner of the tent so my dad could anchor it to a huge metal stake that he pounded into the ground. It took forever to set those stakes and get the tent to stand at attention. I seemed to always trip, fall, or crash into, onto, or over one of those primitive stakes or tent lines when I had to get out of the tent for anything.
The poles inside the tent were challenging to maneuver around. My dad would use the one near our heads to hang a flashlight from. Once the tent was up, we’d fill a cooler with pop for me, Pabst Blue Ribbon for my dad, and pretzel rods for the two of us. I’d put my pajamas on and crawl head first into the tent on my belly, trying not to knock out the poles and wiggling my shoes off as I went. Shoes were always left outside the tent.
Once we were both settled, we’d play endless games of Crazy Eights by flashlight. I’d always fall asleep before saying good night, which meant that our nightly ritual—a prayer followed by “Good night, alligator; after a while, crocodile”— never made it out of the house and into the tent.
I remember the thickness of the flannel-lined sleeping bags, and how they got wet when it rained (because the rain never failed to leak into the canvas tent). I also remember making a mad dash for the house when my dad gave up trying to dam up the pools of water that would collect underneath our tired bodies.
Many nights were beautiful, however, and we’d lie with our heads pointed toward the door flap so we could stare out into a star-filled sky. I remember to this day where the
Big Dipper would appear on a cloudless night: right over my pet rabbit Thumper’s cage.
Sometimes when I’m driving home from work, I find myself looking into backyards and searching for tents or for children playing. This ritual with my dad was priceless, as was playing outside with the neighborhood children. When I got older and had sleepovers, my friends and I often chose to sleep outside, and my dad would still help me set up the tent. As an adult I continue to prefer sleeping in a tent with my head on the ground.
It’s just about tent season, and I’m planning my first backpacking trip of the year. I’m hoping for less mud on the trails this May and more star-filled nights. When I crawl into my tent, I’ll be sure to be thinking of my dad and thanking him for instilling in me an appreciation of the wonders of sleeping outdoors. I’ll also be thankful that my tent doesn’t leak—or have wooden poles inside!
I find it amusing that while I’ve stopped wearing makeup, my granddaughter, Helena, has started wearing it. This recent discovery was one of those “aha” moments people talk about. I didn’t quite do a head slap when I asked Helena what she wanted for her fourteenth birthday and she replied, “Makeup,” but I did a quick head turn. She was sitting in the passenger seat, and I was driving. I had to look quickly, because I thought for a moment that she’d be in the backseat of the car, securely seat-belted down, with her
sippy cup. But there she was, in the front seat, long hair and long legs, asking me for makeup as her birthday gift.
I admit I’ll still grab my wand of mascara if I’m going out in the evening or on a date. I’m addicted to my all-natural lip gloss, and my magic face cream is like my new best friend. But I haven’t used makeup—as in, eye shadow, rouge (do they still call it that?), eyeliner, and face frosting—for a long time now. Did I get older and stop caring what I look like anymore, or have my eyes just gotten so weak that I can’t see my own reflection in the mirror? Either way, my makeup drawer nowadays is slim pickings. And I like it that way. Less mess, less money spent, and faster out of the house in the morning.
Helena has gone from the “I don’t want to shower and wash my hair” phase to the “I can’t stop looking at myself in the mirror” phase, running her hands through her long hair in that way kids do, fast and snappy. As for me, living off-grid for four years without a mirror or bathroom worked wonders for my philosophy that we are a way-too-clean society. I never did understand showering in the morning; if you wash the day’s residue off at night, how do you become dirty by morning? But seeing Helena on her birthday, absolutely beautiful and well groomed, I made a note to myself, and it said, “Remember, Jane, take the time to look in the mirror.”
Which I did—and yelped. When Helena asked, “What’s wrong, Grandma?” I could only reply, “I just saw my reflection.” It’s gotten that bad. I tried running my hands through my hair but my fingers got stuck, and instead of fluffing up my hair, I merely distributed the oil a bit and matted it down.
When we got in the checkout lane, I looked over Helena’s purchases carefully. One was packaged in a pink plastic space shuttle container. I am still clueless as to what was in it. The eye shadow was easy to figure out, though, as were the lip gloss and nail polish.
As part of Helena’s birthday celebration, we went for pedicures. Now that is something I still relish. I am a foot freak of the best kind. “I brake for foot rubs” could be my personal bumper sticker. Helena chose silver nail polish; I went with the hot pink. I loved when they sandblasted the dry skin off the soles of my feet (safety goggles would have been helpful). Helena, however, quickly held up her hand for the young man to stop, pleading too ticklish. She had him paint a nifty flower on each of her big toes. I asked for a swirl on mine. Her flower turned out fantastic. My swirl looked like a snail with paint on its butt had walked across my big toe. I asked to have it painted over.
Right about then I saw a sign reading, “Eyebrow Waxing $10.” When I pointed it out, Helena told me her mom had just had hers done, so I thought I’d give it a try. Only after our toenails were dry and we were walking back to the tiny, barren room where they did the eyebrow waxing did Helena confide in me, “It’s really painful, Grandma.” I’d guessed it might be. I mean, why was the room hidden in the back of the building? Obviously so other customers wouldn’t hear the thrashing and yelling.
I started to tell the tiny torture lady that I was fifty-seven and had never had my eyebrows waxed when she shoved the top of my chair down, and I gulped as I tilted back into a prone position, blinded by an enormous spotlight.
“Oh, very bad. Very bad. Oh, very bad!” she exclaimed.
I tried lifting my head to give Helena my “What the heck?” look, but that tiny claw, I mean hand, shot right out and held me firmly down. I felt something warm, no hot, and Noooo! Oh, that was brutal! And before I could say anything . . .warm, hot and ohhhh again. And again. And again. The whole time the pint-sized, could-be-a-perfect-prison-torture-guard kept saying, “Very bad, very bad,” over and over again.
Soon she pushed my chair into an upright position and handed me a mirror. I involuntarily shrieked upon seeing the two angry, “very bad” welts over my watering eyes. “They look great, Grandma!” Helena said. “Wanna go go-karting?”
And off we went, Helena looking young and simply gorgeous, me looking old and dazed.
I couldn’t help but think that all the makeup in China wouldn’t make my eyes look any better for days . . . maybe even years. Good thing I’ve stopped wearing the stuff.
Blindsided on a Date
Dating in a small rural area can be a challenge. Most of the men I meet are happily married or happily single. That doesn’t leave much opportunity for the single woman.
When I moved here, alone and very much single, I was ready to follow in the footsteps of one of my few heroes, Henry David Thoreau. I wasn’t really thinking about finding a partner. And yet the fact of my singleness was never too far from my thoughts. (Honestly, I think I was more interested in finding someone who would do the daily cleaning, organizing, cooking, and such, as I’ve always loved the work that I do to make a living.)
From the very beginning, all the kind people I have met here have taken an interest in my single status and have tried, usually without success, to set me up with their brothers, widowed friends, and in one case their father. And I thought it was all rather endearing . . . sort of.
My very first blind date turned out, thankfully, not to be blind at all. He was a gorgeous local farmer, and we hit it off right away. Imagine my surprise when, on our very first date, after three hours of nonstop talking and walking, I ventured the question, “So how long have you been divorced?”
“Well, I reckon a week now,” he replied.
I just about passed out right there in his cornfield. Really?! I mean, personally, I think that’s a little bit too soon for dating, and I wasn’t interested in being rebound material—although my dad did always tell me, “Janie, you bounce well!”
My next real blind date just about had heart failure, along with a major adult breakdown, when I casually suggested a ping-pong date at my neighbors’ home.
“Ping-Pong!” he exclaimed. “Ping-pong?!” he practically shouted over the phone as I sat breathlessly, wondering why the drama. He went on quickly and loudly to say that he was not interested in playing some competitive game with me on our first date, and why would I even think that would be acceptable to him?
Needless to say, no first date.
I love ping-pong. My family had a table in our basement, and it was a never-ending source of family fun, togetherness, and laughter. I would not let Mr. Poopy Pants ruin that memory for me. Surely there must be single men out there who love a friendly game of ping-pong. So onward I bravely marched.
Sometimes, when we least expect it, miracles happen, and so it was for me. I was invited to a friend’s party, and it was a wonderful mix of people—some of them strangers, and some my newfound friends. We played a challenging game of croquet, dined on a smorgasbord of healthy organic foods, and ended up sitting around the campfire with various instruments in one big, happy sing-along. And I met a man—a single man. Good-looking, kind, gentle. We talked long into the night by the fire as the embers cooled, and when I left, we exchanged phone numbers. I had recently moved into what I used to refer to as the “White House”—a small, plain house without any frills—and had gotten my first telephone since moving to the area. I left the party feeling good and, yes, with a bit of blushing-bride anticipation.
He called two weeks later, and we decided on dinner cooked over a campfire in my new backyard as our first date. I waited eagerly all week and kept adding dry logs to the fire pit in order to ensure a blazing fire when the big night came.
That evening I went to my neighbors’ house and borrowed their shower (still no running water at the White House), used their mirror, and tried hard to remember how not to poke myself in the eye as I applied a touch of mascara. My neighbors kindly gave me a thumbs-up on my way out the door. I drove the 3.7 miles of curving single-lane road home in two minutes flat and waited . . . and waited. . . and waited.
One hour later than our appointed time, there were lights, followed by a car door closing, and then a curious click, click, click on the wood slabs I used as a walkway. I answered the light knock on the door and there, dressed to the nines in full drag, was my date!
Not only was his makeup better than my rushed mascara job, he looked disconcertingly like a slutty version of my best friend, Janet. Without hesitation, I pulled him inside lest the neighbors drive by, being careful not to catch his stiletto heels in the slab wood and make him topple over in his tightly padded corset.
“You may get a run in your fishnet stockings by the campfire,” I managed to say.
This was the end of my blind date streak for a while.
JANE A. SCHMIDT is a columnist and the owner of two businesses, Fitness Choices and Turtle Adventures. When not teaching her fitness classes or encouraging women to get outside, she spends her time backpacking in places like the Grand Canyon, Superior Hiking Trail, and Isle Royale National Park; biking across Wisconsin; hiking and kayaking in the Kickapoo Valley Reserve; or just hanging out with her animal family in rural Viola, Wisconsin.
An Interview with Jane
When did you make the move from the city to rural Wisconsin? Why? I moved to the Driftless
area of Wisconsin after the hype of the millennium in 2000. I spent a lot of time driving in the
country when my daughter was small. I’d see an old cabin or a house that was falling apart and I’d
think, if only I could buy that place. My dreams were of land, out-buildings, animals, and a quiet
country life. I longed to get out of the city and live closer to the land, where I felt I’d have more
room for living.
- How did moving to rural Wisconsin impact your life? The impact was huge. I had to start all
over. I had no friends here, no job, and after a couple of months I was living off-grid. The learning
curve was not only steep but sometimes dangerous. I cooked with a head-lamp on in order to see.
The “hot plate” was connected to a propane tank under my cabin. I lived in fear every time I lit a
match. I thought I’d blow myself and the cabin up. Every day I learn something new. Like don’t use
the John Deere mower to blaze a hiking trail through your Amish neighbor’s hay field. Before
moving here I spent all my free time getting away. I’d drive to the parks, small country towns, lakes,
and rivers. I was camping out every chance I had. Now I live in the kind of areas I was always
running too. I can finally slow down and walk!
- What is your favorite part about living in the country? Is there anything you miss about city
life? I lived in apartments before moving to this area. I love the freedom of living alone, surrounded
by trees and my animal family. Coming from apartment city living to my own home in the country
is liberating. I feel I can live-out-loud better here. I miss ethnic restaurants, my family, and the many
lakes I lived near when in the Milwaukee area.
- How does your passion for fitness and wellness influence your stories? My passion for a life
lived outside has influenced my interest in fitness and wellness. I knew from the get-go that I
needed to stay fit and healthy to live the life I wanted to. My stories revolve around my life. My
passion for fitness and wellness is reflected in them.
- Why do you think readers connect with your stories? My stories are real. I talk about everyday
happenings that some people would never admit to. Reading about walking through an airport with
toilet paper hanging off my rear end or mixing up the words circumcise and circumnavigate allows
people to relax and find the humor in their own lives. In the end, we’re all just people trying to do
the best that we can. Not a Perfect Fit reeks of humanness.
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