Janet Sheridan: Hanging on to happiness
At the last minute, Dr. Moody cancelled my tonsillectomy. So instead of dying too young or vomiting blood — the only options I’d imagined — I enjoyed an afternoon with my parents and without my siblings: a rare and wondrous occasion.
Because they no longer had to sit at my bedside while I faded away in a bubble of blood, my parents seemed to share my high spirits. As we fled the doctor’s office, I sat between Mom and Dad in the front seat of the car, a spot usually reserved for Barbara, our baby, or Bob when he was being rambunctious. Dad completed my happiness with the world by saying, “Hey, Janet, how about we drive to Orem to Uncle Allen’s and stop at the Dairy Queen on the way?”
Wow, the Dairy Queen, when it wasn’t even payday, and the immense fruit orchard owned by my great uncle and aunt, two people and a place I loved dearly. Aunt Ag smelled like molasses cookies when she hugged me, and Uncle Allen always let me explore the orchard without warnings or rules. I liked to sit in the cool dimness of the grape-covered arbor, walk rows of trees planted in groups: plum, apricot, apple, peach and pear, all beautiful when in full flower, polka-dotted when loaded with ripening fruit and lonely when stripped of their bounty. I searched the strawberry and raspberry patches for forgotten berries, threw leaves into irrigation ditches filled with rushing water and sprawled in a hammock slung between cottonwood trees.
When I finished my explorations on the wonderful day I didn’t die, Uncle Allen said he needed my help. A distributor friend had given him several cases of stale marshmallows for his hogs, and it was time for their treat. “The pigs are wild about them,” he said, handing me several boxes, “and — don’t tell your aunt — I eat them too. Try one. They’re old and a little chewy, but they’re good.” I had to sample several to make sure I agreed.
As we approached the pigpen, a dozen pigs, big and little, trotted to the fence, their tails twitching like happy windshield wipers. They squealed, grunted, shouldered one another for position and tried to catch the marshmallows we tossed into their ruckus. It was glorious.
When it was time for us to go home, Uncle Allen gave me four boxes of marshmallows and said I didn’t have to share them with my siblings unless they said pretty please. It was the best day ever.
It took so little to fill me with joy when I was a child: time alone with my parents, sitting between them in the car, lunch at the Dairy Queen, a hug that smelled like cookies, the freedom to explore an orchard and four cartons of stale marshmallows.
As I matured, I continued to find happiness in events both commonplace and grand: my first date with a boy I adored, a dress my mom made for my high school graduation and the independence of leaving the village that raised me to go to college. As newlyweds, my husband and I looked forward all week to Friday night’s take-out pizza. I can still feel the excitement that flooded me when I first glimpsed the Tetons, and a good roller coaster has always made my day.
I was 27 when I heard Peggy Lee sing, “Is that all there is? Is that all there is?” as she lamented her life’s many disappointments, such as going to a circus when young and falling in love for the first time.
“Goodness, girl, “ I thought, as the song ended, “How old were you when you stopped responding to life with joy? Three?”
I’m thankful I’ve held on to my happiness and ask, “Is that all there is?” only when I’ve finished my dessert.
Sheridan’s book, “A Seasoned Life Lived in Small Towns,” is available in Craig at Downtown Books and Steamboat Springs at Off the Beaten Path Bookstore. She also blogs at auntbeulah.com the first and 15th of every month.