potpourri (or: we labeled our plastic bags po-per-e)

Kate’s middle name is Loretta, but I did not know that until we had been friends for about three years. Even at a young age, I admired all the syllables that were contained within her name—it wasn’t curt and could not be muttered under one’s breath quickly like I believed mine could be.

Almost intentionally, Kate seemed to rebel against the beautiful nature of her name. She grew up with two brothers and a stern father so Kate was loud and brash, with thickly cut blonde bangs that always seemed to be in her bright blue eyes. She loved to talk about how frequently she got nosebleeds and refused to speak to me for two weeks in the second grade when I did not believe that she swallowed a rock… which she did, because she didn’t want our teacher to take it from her. When we all started playing basketball in the sixth grade, Kate was the only person on the team that refused to buy kneepads because she loved the way her legs looked covered in bruises.

Kate and I decided at age eight we needed to be financially self-sufficient so that our parents couldn’t tell us we weren’t allowed to buy nachos and sour punch straws at the basketball games we went to every weekend.  It was her idea to take the withering flowers my dad had given my mom to make potpourri. I watched patiently as Kate tore the petals off the flowers with vigor and threw them into five or six clear plastic bags. We weren’t sure what potpourri was supposed to smell like, so each bag was sprayed with a Cucumber Melon body spray. The bags were wet and dewy; we decided they were worth three dollars apiece.


My mother set limitations to our two-girl traveling salesperson routine. We were only allowed to go to the houses that she could see from our front door.  Our first stop gave us an empty home, and the second, a patron who was allergic to flowers. (We didn’t realize until years later that she had been gardening when she said this.) Kate gave her speech to the final house on my street: “Hello, I am a friend of Bridget’s….”, but again we were met with disinterest. As I hopped down the brown wooden steps onto the black pavement driveway, Kate called my name. Turning around I felt something hit the area in between my eyes and fall to the ground. Looking down, I saw a dead mouse. Kate ran over to me, gleeful that she had nailed me in the face with the dead creature, eager to inspect it. It was a tiny, gray mouse the neighbor’s cat had killed. Though moments before she had used it as a plaything, Kate then insisted we give the mouse a proper burial. I dumped out the bags of potpourri (five or six of them; we hadn’t sold one) around the mouse as Kate sang “Amazing Grace.”

Later that evening, my neighbor called my mother, angry that her cat had eaten some of the petals and had gotten sick. Kate and I listened from the stairs—her telling me that if she could survive eating a rock, a cat could survive eating a flower petal, and together, we could survive anything.


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