Kimberly is forever effervescent, bubbly, and high spirited. Yes, overall a very difficult person to be miserable around. It’s almost like a drug being near her, as whatever aura she projects lifts your mood regardless of how firmly you hold on to it. Sometimes I find myself standing on tip toes, as if holding the only tether of a hot air balloon during lift off. Determined to not be cheerful, to embrace my curmudgeon-ness regardless of her efforts, but of course one more burst of energy and I’m letting go of all my negativity because it’s just too silly to dangle there like a dodo all by myself.
This odd effect coupled with her voice, which feels so much like home that she could read the telephone book to me and I doubt that I’d care, not only made us instant friends but created in short order something unique for me; a feeling that I could be totally myself.
I know without a doubt that she’s a woman in love with her own life; she’s happily married to a loving man, secure within her self, and has a family that she cherishes more than money. Perpetually upbeat and always looking for the silver lining, some friends are irreplaceable, and in this case transcontinental.
Several years ago Kimberly scheduled a coffee lunch date so that I could check out her latest creation. There is always a latest creation with Kimberly, and it’s always something personal, intimate; sometimes it’s a painting, a photo book, a piece of writing that touches her, regardless of the media it’s always something meaningful and rich and lovely in its detail and emotion. As we sipped our coffee, she places a small book on the table and apologizes for being late because she’s been off buying “no-goods” at the dollar store. Kimberly has a special relationship with time, she’s never very late, but she’s never exactly on time either.
As we share a common Southern culture and vernacular, my lack of familiarity with the term no-good had me instantly questioning where this phrase came from. Kimberly and I often used terms specific to Southerners that the local Seattle folks couldn’t wrap their tongues or heads around. In our conversations words like ya’ll, all ya’ll, and oughta, were always thrown around like old shoes. Maybe “no good” was something specific to the Carolinas where Kimberly grew up that we didn’t have in North Florida, and my love for words even odd combination of words needed to know the origin of this new one.
Of course when asked, Kimberly said “You never heard me say no-good before?” Like it was common as dirt, and in her family it was. As she told the story she flipped through the little photo book she’d made from old family photographs and had brought specifically to show me during our meeting. Pictures of three little girls, Kimberly and her sisters playing the dominant figures, with photographs of her parents, aunts and uncles and various cousins all in variations of blonds and red heads. Kimberly’s siblings were so similar in appearance that they could have been the same child except at slightly different ages. In one image Kimberly asked me to pick her out in an old worn Kodak photograph of three children sitting on what appeared to be the back porch steps of someones country home, and honestly had I not known that she was the eldest I would have been completely stumped. I know that siblings frequently appear similar as children, as though they are related, with the same ears, or eye color, chubby cheeks, but this level of sameness was eerie.
The no good story began when the girls were very small, the youngest a toddler just out of diapers. Kimberly’s mother, the source of the phrase, was a strikingly beautiful woman who maintained her appearance in spite of having three little girls under foot. In the minds of these little girls they wanted to grow up to be just exactly like their mother in absolutely every way. That meant make up and lipstick, high heels, and dresses, and big poofy hair that was always in style and perfectly groomed. It also meant grace, and poise, and a sense of wonder, and joy at the world in general.
One evening while putting on the last of the lipstick in the tube, Kimberly’s mom offered the empty tube, which looked very sophisticated to the oldest child, saying, “You want this? It’s no good.” That one act of kindness began an ongoing struggle between the sisters for the no goods. The girls loved the no goods. They would bicker between themselves saying “you got the no good last time, it’s my turn.” Or “ mommy, I want the next no good.” So the next empty compact, or mascara, or lipstick would become the newest of the no goods and was given to the next child in line. The girls played with no goods like Christmas toys not knowing that a “no good” was more an item destined for the trash bin than a gift item to be cherished.
As the years passed no goods were less of a novelty, but the phrase stuck on items that had little value but felt like something significant. A note pad could be a no good, or a really cool pencil, the mirror that stuck inside your school locker, or a cheap yo-yo, these things were all no goods.
As I listened to Kimberly tell the story what struck me the hardest was that these ordinary objects took on a special meaning to the children receiving them. Not because the no goods had any particular value, regardless of the objects form it became precious to them because of the love they shared with the giver, their mother.
Although Kimberly’s mother passed away prematurely many years ago, the legacy of no goods remains in her children, and their respective families, and now with each of you.