Last week (on a Tuesday!) I introduced Manderley, the main character/protagonist/heroine of Buttonholed. This week, you’ll meet Tara Jessup. On a Thursday because I have been housebound since Sunday afternoon with nothing to do except delay posting on a Tuesday.
Tara is Manderley’s mother and I enjoy her immensely. Practical and a romantic, artistically gifted and happy as a homemaker, trusting God but unable to fully eliminate worry over her offspring.
Here is Tara.
Taken on vacation last year. She hates this photo because she’d gone swimming, had no makeup on, and her hair had dried “any which way.” Tara’s husband Pem loves the picture.
Her hair is short because “no woman over 35 should have long hair.” She’s wearing a very modest swimsuit because humans should never, ever show too much epidermis. Freckles and the red-gold hair she inherited from her Scots-Irish ancestors (although whether that hair color is all natural or gets help from the local beauty salon, we’ll never know. Tara and her hairdresser aren’t talking). The jewelry is a demonstration that the well-dressed Southern woman does not appear in public unadorned. Tara also wishes someone had told her the necklace had gone askew.
Below are some passages from Buttonholed that will help you get to know Tara. And if you want to know her even better, snag a copy of the book from Amazon! *
TARA AND EXCEEDING, LADYLIKE PATIENCE:
Tara could match her daughter sigh for sigh. She’d been practicing for fifty-four years, ever since, instead of a newborn’s lusty cry, her response to the doctor’s slap was a genteelly offended gasp. “Now Mandy Lee, don’t say it like that! How often do I call with dreadful news?”
It was a valid point. Last Sunday had been unbelievable news, the Tuesday before her mother was too shocked for words, and Manderley could recall twice in the past month when Tara’s calls began with “Darlin’ are you sittin’ down?”
TARA AND HOMEMAKING
Tara bustled around the kitchen. Bustling, according to Manderley’s mother, was how one should always tidy up, but now it was a cover story for fretting, which was how mothers waited for news of their offsprings’ activities.
Tara held a ladylike hand to her forehead. “Oh, gracious. I suppose. You go visit with the family. I’m peelin’ potatoes for tomorrow and no, you can’t help. Bartie bought this thing he calls a tablet and loaded it with all my favorite books on tape, and I can’t wait to start a new one.”
Manderley hid a smile. They would be ‚books on tape‛ to her mother no matter how technology tried to convince her otherwise.
“Now shoo. I don’t want any distractions.”
TARA AND PRUDISHNESS:
Tara fluttered her fingers before affecting great surprise at the time on her delicate wristwatch. “Heavens! So late! Barton, you can help me with the dishes. Ruthanne, isn’t it our baby girl’s nummies time?” Tara would never, under pain of death, refer to a baby as ‘nursing.‛
TARA AND HER “LITTLE TALENT” FOR PAINTING
(Upon being complimented by Jameson, researcher on the duel, on a painting she’d done years ago.) Tara thawed. “Well, it was painted with a lot of love. My Grand-daddy Raikes was a wonderful man. I always thought our blue pansies resembled him.”
Manderley hastened to explain. “The markings in the middle of the flower. See the face? Like two bushy eyebrows and a full, sort of drooping mustache. Great-Granddaddy actually did look a lot like that.”
“You know what Mandy Lee?” Tara wore a dreamy expression. “I haven’t painted in a while, but I know for certain I could paint you your own little Grand-daddy pansy picture.”
Jameson was seized by a fit of coughing and Tara’s expression turned suspicious.
[Manderley] circled the blocks back home and found her mother in the study, soap operas sniveling in the background, and a sketchpad and pile of graphite pencils in front of her. She didn’t even turn her head when Manderley walked in.
“Oh, honey!” she wailed, waving a sheet with several half-finished pansies covering it. “I’ve lost my touch. My artistic eye must be failin’.”
“Not true. Creating art is like riding a bike. You never forget but you might wobble the first few times back on. Keep working. That one does look a lot like Great Grand-Daddy.”
“Of course, it does.” her mother snipped. “It just doesn’t look anything like a pansy.”
TARA AND HOPE FOR THE SINGLE DAUGHTER
“I declare baby doll, you are so pretty that I could shake all the single men in town, Chicago included, and ask if they are nearsighted, or plain stupid. But don’t you worry, sugar.” Tara checked furniture surfaces for dust mites, real or imagined. “Somewhere out there a man is waiting for a real lady like you to make his life complete. And I know how you can catch his eye.”
TARA AND BEAUTY
HOME BEAUTIFICATION: When she opened her eyes to nothing but darkness, Manderley didn’t know where she was, when it was, or why she couldn’t see. Floundering, she realized she’d buried her face in one of the ruffled pillows covering nearly every horizontal surface in her bedroom. No doubt she’d drooled on the flowered pillowcase.
DAUGHTER BEAUTIFICATION: Tara wore a summer robe too, but her hair and makeup were already fully marshaled, and she exclaimed in dismay at Manderley’s fresh-scrubbed face and ponytail.
“Darlin, we need to be gone in under an hour!”
“Mama, my makeup routine lasts five minutes, and that’s when I go all out.”
Still bleating, Tara prodded Manderley up the stairs and to her own dressing table. For the next half hour, she employed every cleanser, pore-reducer, tweezer, and concealer, liquid, powder, gel and stick. One eye on the clock, she set to work on her daughter’s hair, comparing the curling iron unfavorably to her hot rollers, a set that predated the Gulf War and finally expired from age and overwork. At five-fifteen, she turned Manderley around to the mirror.
It was disconcerting, that face looking back at her.
My daughter lived in Chattanooga for 11 years and observed the Southern ways. I’m sure she would say this characterization of Tara as a Southern lady is spot on!
I’m partway through the book and am loving it. The people are real! Tara and others live beyond the pages.
That is good to hear. I worry that true daughters of the South would wonder at the nerve of me—writing as if I was from there. Thank you for the feedback on the book!
Nice job! Visually appealing to flesh out your novella.