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Malice Domestic

A TELL-ALL AUTOBIOGRAPHY

The Baby of the Family, I was born last amongst my siblings, right before our jelly-bean father high-tailed it from our home in the Oklahoma Panhandle to the Promised Land of California. As an adult I realized that I was no doubt the last straw in Fred Sprague’s burden of discontent. But thanks to my mother, Delia Hodges Sprague (who had a will strong enough for make up for 20 such men), the possibility of being a burden to her, never once entered my head as a kid.

“You are my special blessing,” Mother always said, and being totally egocentric (like most kids) I was sure this was the absolute truth. After all, Mother said so.

With three children under four, no money, no husband, and no job, (I was born at the tail-end of the depression) my fiercely independent mother was forced to feed her three children with the help of state provided commodities (forerunner to food stamps).

“Sorry,” each prospective employer told her, “I’m giving this job to the Head of a Household,” i.e.: a man.

“I am head of a household,” Mother shot back, and I can imagine her red hair almost standing on end with seething indignation. (Some women are born liberated.)

But her argument was useless. At that period divorced women were trash in the opinion of “decent” society. It didn’t matter that Mother had a college degree (rare for a woman in those days) and regularly attended the local Southern Baptist Church. In the eyes of small town businessman and school officials, she was “second rate” because she was a “grass widow.”

But finally she was able to get a teaching job, and at five I was the youngest kid in a country school where Mother taught eight grades. With no one to baby sit, Mother enrolled me, and since there was no public kindergarten back in those days—voila, I was a first grader. Keeping to the same baby-in-the-group schedule, I skipped a grade in high school and entered Southwestern State College at sixteen—once again the youngest amongst the wise and sophisticated. Thus I ended up married at the ripe old age of 18.

I met my husband Jim, at Southwestern, and when I transferred to The University of Oklahoma, he pursued me and we married before I was graduated.

The whirl of life intervened: the birth and rearing of three children, the death of my mother, and eventually, my husband-of-thirty-plus-years’ unexpected mid-life crisis. The only drama I enjoyed was pretend drama—books, movies, and just plain day dreaming. Having my own life turned upside-down into a maelstrom of emotion produced a crisis of my own. Suddenly I was fifty and divorced against my will. So I learned to suck honey from a Rock. Later I’d use that honey to make lemonade.

My fantasy of growing old with a devoted husband was shot to smithereens, so after Scotch-taping my broken heart back into some kind of working order, I asked myself this question: “What do I want to be when I grow up?” The answer was, “A writer,” so I enrolled in writing classes at the local Community College.

Peggy Fielding was my teacher. She blew into the classroom wearing a psychedelic caftan and an infectious smile, where she taught me (and others) how to write. The two of us (who should have mixed like oil and water) quickly bonded into one of those friendships that only comes along a few times in life. This witty, vibrant, outrageous woman soon became not only my role-model but my mentor.

Another major role-model in my life is a beautiful woman in her nineties named Jewel Hewett Hodges. (Many thanks to my now deceased Uncle Gilbert for marrying such an exceptional woman.)

I was delivered in their farm house at 3 a.m. on a cold February morning. Aunt Jewel (twenty-something at the time) served as mid-wife for an old guy affectionately called “Doc Duncan,” by all of the Forgan, Oklahoma townsfolk.

Labor proceeded late into the night. Then suddenly Doc Duncan needed more hands than nature had given him. He placed the forceps around my head, and told Jewel, “I want you to pull, because I need both hands to push.”

Aunt Jewel admits to being terrified, “I wanted to run and hide,” she now laughs, “But I did what was necessary.”

Isn’t that the truth of most women? Somewhere within our hearts, we find the inner-strength to do what’s necessary. That’s why I love to write about women, women’s problems, our often unspoken heart’s desires, and the fascinating men who complicate our lives.

It’s no mystery to me that men love us.


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