Mary Beth Writes

Virginia swore under her breath as she kneaded, pounded, and rolled out her third batch of cinnamon rolls. The cat, startled by the racket, ran from the kitchen. Virginia stomped across her tiny kitchen to microwave the butter. She measured the cinnamon and sugar and then sprinkled it over the smeared melted butter with absolutely no patience for what she was doing.

Third batch. This was her third batch this morning and it was still only nine o’clock. Did people have any idea how long it took to make sweet dough with melted butter and scalded milk and flour as white as a Trump family reunion?

Did people have any idea how much butter cost? And the goddamn chocolate chips?  At the last meeting of the “Books for India Committee” there had been discussion about how to raise money for more books. Virginia suggested they create a list of books the partner schools in India would like to have and then post access to that list on Twitter and Facebook. This could increase traffic to their website, which could only help the organization. If people donated books from the outgrown collections of their now-grown kids everyone would win. Less clutter. More identification with the effort. Eventually more money to buy the particular books the schools needed. She was proud of being a retired person who had some clues about how to use social media.

The others listened less than 27 seconds until Ellie Tidwell, who was a large and chesty hen masquerading as a person in Virginia’s opinion, clucked that they should sell Virginia’s amazing cinnamon rolls at the auction to raise even more money. Everyone listened to Ellie Tidwell because her husband had been a state senator when dinosaurs roamed the state. He was long gone but the kind of people who run a “Books for India Committee” are predisposed towards kindness towards chatty chicken-resembling widows.

Before Virginia could figure out how to get out this very large obligation, the others all agreed with Ellie and the committee chair turned to request she bake at “at least” 200 buns. She sputtered as she mentally tallied the cost to buy the pounds of butter and chocolate, the eggs and cream cheese and more.  Before she could calculate what they were asking of her, they’d nattered on. None of them would have imagined that at $56, this was going to affect her personal grocery budget for the month. Some folks, she muttered to herself, actually used their social security payments as living income.

But, she had some pride. She said nothing.

Thinking about it again this morning, Virginia slammed another pan of rolls on the table to rise.

Marla Smythe had donated her adult daughter’s 8-year old Buick (Marla had just bought the daughter a 2-year old Camry).  Marla’s husband was a comptroller at a factory that made screws for computer cases and Marla was, as everyone said, the very model of generosity.

Anton had donated a day sailing on Lake Michigan, which he would do whether he had people on his boat or not. He was so weird, Virginia thought, that he ought to pay people to ride around with him all day. Joie was donating one of her pashminas. Hah, that would require four minutes to choose which one to give away. Lora was offering a week at her cottage in Vermont -- outside the schedule when she and her family used it. Which meant someone was going to pay through the nose for a large unheated log cabin in November. They ought to include Thermal underwear with the auction offer as a discreet head’s up.

Virginia carried the next sheet of unbaked rolls to the dining room table since there was no room left in the kitchen. The first batch was already baking. Virginia stopped to sniff. Her little house was beginning to smell like heaven. She did know how to bake, no doubt about that.

Right then the doorbell chimed which surprised her. She couldn’t imagine who else would be at her door so early. 

When she peaked out the front door window, she had to look down.

It was Rosie, the little girl from down the street. When Virginia sat on her front steps to smoke her one cigarette per day, she and walking-home-from-school Rosie would sometimes say hi and smile. Virginia knew Rosie was in the 4th grade. Rosie knew Virginia had a cat named Callista. That was the extent of their relationship.

“Mrs. Virginia, Ma’am?”

“Hi Rosie. What’s up?” The child looked worried.

“My uncle didn’t come home from work last night and my Grandma she is crying. She thinks maybe the icy police they got him. She don’t know what to do and she is legal but she doesn’t speak English and I was wondering if maybe you could help me call the police to find out.”

“Oh, Rosie. Sure, I can help. Um, I am in the middle of baking in my kitchen so if I leave it right now, it’s going to get ruined. Do you think you can get your grandma and bring her here?”

The woman was, Virginia surmised, terrified. She had large and romantically gorgeous eyes that were red-rimmed. She also had crooked teeth and an entire outfit cheaper than one knock-off pashmina. Rosie introduced them. Her name was Graciela de Leon. Both Graciela and Rosie were amazed at the multitude of sheets of baked and unbaked cinnamon buns strewn throughout the kitchen.  

Virginia asked the relevant questions about Graciela’s son.  Name, age, where he worked, what he drove, what time he usually came home.  She then called the police station where they referred her to jail intake, which is where he was.  He was going to be charged early in the afternoon for driving under the influence.

Virginia explained this to Rosie who then explained it to her grandmother. The older woman’s face melted with relief.

Rosie listened and then translated back to Virginia. “She says if it is just he was stupid, then we can take care of him. He’s legal but we are so afraid the migras police will not respect that and he will get sent to Mexico where he has never lived. My grandma, she knows people this has happened to. They get sent to Mexico even though our family is from Guatemala. Those police is sometimes not very careful about what they are doing.”

“Where does you uncle work?”

“At a company by the airport. He is a welder.” She said this with pride.

“Rosie, we should tell his boss where he is so he doesn’t lose his job. Does your grandmother know the name of his company?”

Rosie conferred in a little burst of Spanish. Then Rosie looked back. “No, she and me knows where it is but not the name of it.”

“Do you think your grandma can finish making these rolls while you and I drive around looking for the company?”

Another burst of Spanish.

“Si. Yes. She says they are supposed to be light brown, like the ones you already have over there, right?”

Virginia smiled. “Exactly. They bake about 15-18 minutes, but I look mostly the color and take them out when they are golden tan.”

Graciela looked at Virginia; there were tears in her eyes again, but a smile on her face, too.

Rosie translated. “She says they are the most beautiful breads she has ever seen and it would be an honor to take care of them for you. “

Virginia changed into dark khaki pants and the lovely hip length sweater she’d bought at Goodwill two weeks earlier. She knew she looked as professional as she did back when she was a receptionist at the social service agency in town.

The municipal airport was not huge. Virginia drove around the circumference of it until Rosie noticed the welded chains that were the legs and frame of the sign reading, “McGill Machining”. They pulled into the parking lot and made their way in to the front office together, Rosie tentatively holding Virginia’s hand.

The receptionist called someone back in the shop; in a few moments a stocky man with gray hair walked out, wiping his greasy hands on an orange rag. The winkles in his face and the easy way he smiled made Virginia feel comfortable. This guy wasn’t out to give anyone a hard time.

“How can I help you ladies? I’m Mack McGill.”

He reached his hand to shake theirs; both Virginia and Rosie put their hands out in response. He chuckled and took both their hands at once, making eye contact with Rosie before Virginia. She thought that was classy of him.

Rosie carefully explained that her uncle who was Diego de Leon would not be at work because he was in jail, but that her grandma thought he would be to work on Monday.

“Can you tell me why he is in jail, Sweetheart?”

Virginia didn’t blame him for calling her that. With her long brown pigtails and huge brown eyes, she was adorable.

“I guess he was driving with beers in him.”

Mack McGill looked at both of them. “Diego is a good worker and I want him here. I’ll tell you what, I’ll call the courts and find out what his bail is and post it later this afternoon. I’ve done this for other guys from time to time. You can tell your grandma and then Diego when he comes home that he will have to pay it back from his wages, but we can spread that out.”

Rosie’s posture actually slumped with relief. What a lot of responsibility this little girl carried in her family. When Virginia laid her hand on her shoulder, Rosie leaned against her. Virginia’s heart melted.

“And, if I may be so bold, Ma’am, are you part of Diego’s family also?”

Virginia smiled. “I live down the street from them. I’m Rosie’s ride.”

“Nice. I like when people work together to fix problems.”

Rosie straightened back up. “Mrs. Virginia left about a thousand buns all around her kitchen to help me. My Grandma is at her house now baking them up.”

McGill’s eyebrows lifted, “Say what?”

Virginia smiled. “I was baking cinnamon rolls for an event tomorrow when Rosie stopped by. We need to get back home, I’m afraid she’s nearly right. I have a hundred rolls complete and I need to make another hundred by the end of today.”

“Seriously? You are making 200 cinnamon rolls? From scratch? Where is this event? Is it open to the public?”

Virginia laughed for years about that day. She had been railroaded into a task that was daunting, tedious, labor-intensive, expensive, and stereotyping of her age and sex since her fellow committee members assumed grandmothers should bake, young males should know social media. And yet she had done it because without volunteering and trying to make a good difference in the world, she would be just one more old person with a sad life.

Generosity was the thing that kept adventures out in front of her.

But this time, in the middle of a cranky kerfuffle of a morning the universe had given back to her people who would become wonderful, true friends. She would even, one day long into the future, make 200 cinnamon rolls again for Rosie’s Eighth Grade graduation party. Although that next time, Mack would help her and that would be far more fun. 



Loved it. I’m smiling. A feel good about life story

What a delightful story and very topical. I was also very moved by the #metoo memoir. So many women speaking up has to change things for younger women. Thanks for being a part of that.
Mary Beth's picture

Thanks! There will be buns.... And thanks for responding to the #metoo memoir. I appreciate that acknowledgement, And yup, that the reason to say it aloud. Try to clear a wider path for the generations after us, while dealing with what's going on here, in our lives, now...

This was a delightful story MaryBeth! I could actually smell the cinnamon buns, and feel the tender exchange of generous acts of people finding ways to be kind and generous. Thank you!

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U is for Umbrella


Note to readers: I gravitate to writing in first person. This is fiction as much as any writer can say they invented what they know.

A-Z A Fine Romance .....


Len and I are about to take a trip that’s been in the works since January - you know I will post about it when we get back. Meantime, here’s a story I wrote long ago that I still like and think about a lot. I probably should post this at Valentine’s Day but, hey, we’re at the letter Q.


The Wisconsin Writers Association hosts a short story contest each year. This morning I submitted a story I wrote over the past few months. If and/or when it doesn't win (I'm not optimistic but I have hope. Thanks, Carly.) I will get around to posting it here.  

Meantime, this is the story i wrote for the WWA contest last year. It didn't win anything but reading it again just now for the first time in nearly a year, the beginning made me laugh. 

Maybe you will like it, too.  




Harriet Amaryllis


Harriet Amaryllis met John Blake in her twenties when she volunteered for a medical study; she did those kinds of things back then to make extra money. John, who was the intake guy at the clinic, looked at her name, looked up at her and said her name was the most beautiful name he had ever heard in his life.

She was so nonplussed that she stammered that her brothers called her Hairy.

John said, “Would you like me to clobber them out for you? I did a year in Vietnam. I have skills.”

Thunder and Courage

After I write a story, I like to let it sit and steep. This story has been in the 'story cellar' for two years. I woke up this morning thinking about it, so I think it's time to put it here.

I'm surprised by how much courage  some people have when they think they don't have much at all.  This is my take on that thought.

PS: if you like this story, forward it to others you know who might like it. Thanks. 


Thunder and Courage

The Pilgrimage of Wally, Diego, and Miles

I wrote this story nearly 20 years ago. Our second kid was getting ready to go to college, our youngest was in middle school. I needed to find a job - and trying to find a satisfying one when you still don’t know, at the tender age of 50-whatever, what it is you want to do … that is a tricky time for many women. For many adults.

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