The Sweet Little Texas Housewife

After we had appeared together on a panel at the Virginia Festival of the Book, Kerry Reichs told me what her mother had thought of me.

“She said she thought you looked like a sweet little Texas housewife,” Kerry said. “She didn’t expect you to talk the way you did. You really surprised her.”

As it turns out, Kerry’s mother is the famous and prolific author, Kathy Reichs, who’s written so many bestsellers, from Deja Dead to Grave Secrets that it gives me the vapors just to think about it. She’s also a forensic anthropologist and the producer of the TV series, Bones, which is based on her work. All of which is highly intimidating.

But … I look like a sweet little Texas housewife to her? I think I’d better invest in a new wardrobe one of these days.

That’s the way it goes in these book festivals, though. You get thrown in with a bunch of strangers and you talk about your book and people ask you questions and you try to answer them and pretty soon you’ve been revealed to be a head case or terminally slow-witted or something that belies your appearance. (Which is precisely why I’ve never once wanted to be on Jeopardy!,  even though I can be a pretty hot ticket when it comes to playing trivia in my own home without a buzzer. You never know what you’re going to do when the pressure’s on. I could always picture myself going massively stupid and sitting there with a big, idiot grin on my face in front of a national audience and that know-it-all Alex Trebek. I mean, please. Who needs the humiliation?)

In this case, at the Virginia festival, the other panelists and I were all asked the same question about why and how we use humor in our work.

I said that I felt humor was mandatory for my life and my work, since I basically viewed the world as a pretty tragic place. As often as I could, I wanted to laugh and make light of life, I said.

All of which was probably fine, but I felt I should go on and give an example from my life. So, I used the humorous example of my experience with a bilateral mastectomy. After the surgery, you get tubes under your arms to drain the incisions as they heal, I explained. My incisions drained into two small bags that bounced around my knees when I walked.

“It was really interesting,” I said. “Every time I walked around, I realized this must be what it’s like to have balls.”

The audience froze for an instant. Then they started to laugh and they couldn’t quit. I thought a couple of women in the audience were going to pass out, they were laughing so hard.

I’ve told that same story many times over the past 15 years and people usually find it fairly amusing. But not like this.

But then, most of the people I tell it to already know me and aren’t particularly shocked when I say something in questionable taste. This sweet little Texas housewife business — well, maybe I’ve found my new literary persona.

(Copyright 2011 by Ruth Pennebaker)

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22 comments… add one
  • Ruth, I love you.

  • If I ever take up Bedazzling as a hobby, I’m gonna make you a “Sweet Little Texas Housewife” T-shirt. (And feel free to shoot me for the use of the term “Bedazzling.”)

  • Wait. You’re from Texas. That “feel free to shoot me” bit was a joke.

  • A sweet lil Texas woman with balls.

  • I’m trying to picture a sweet little Texas housewife. It doesn’t seem to match you, Ruth. Thank goodness.

  • “This sweet little Texas housewife business — well, maybe I’ve found my new literary persona.”

    Ha! That’s like Suzanne Sugarbaker suddenly flouncing around with a pet pig.

  • paul grubb Link


  • So what did you find so offensive? The thought you looked “sweet” or as a “housewife” or was it the reference to”Texas”? I bet it was the” little”. The only way I’d like to be refered to as “little” would be my dress size. Guess that observation fits the sterotype of a sweet little housewife from Georgia.

  • You crack me up, you do, you sweet little Texas housewife with balls, you.

  • Steve Link

    Kris Bordessa took the words right out of my mouth. I know no other woman who would say such a thing, much less in a crowd. I do love you.

  • I second Sarah — maybe a sweet little Texas housewife with wit, wisdom, and a six-shooter tucked away just in case?

  • Sheryl Link

    So fitting..the sweet lil Texas housewife with balls. REAL balls.

  • Merr Link

    No, no, no new literary persona needed! Just all you, Ruth – blend it (them?) all in as you always do.

  • Wait, I got a little dizzy after the first few sentences where you revealed that 1) you were on a panel with Kerry Reichs; 2) her mom is the great Kathy Reichs; and 3) that Kathy thinks you’re a sweet little Texas housewife. I’ll get back to you after I process all of that… it may take a while…

  • Ruth, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect with this post until the end. I’m still laughing. Someday, when I see you in person, I’ll add my own humorous remark. But, since Google indexes comments, I’ll stick to my persona of a naive, innocent and very proper Mrs. PTA (that was in Virginia by the way). But here’s a hint – my humorous remark has something to do with twins and a body part named Big Jim.

  • This post gave me a good laugh. Needed that today. Thanks!

  • Anybody who’d say that in public has gotta have BIG ovaries!

  • Huh, I wonder how she came up with that? Love your blog, Ruth!

  • I wish I lived near you, but as long as I can read your posts…I’ll be fine…just fine…

  • Susan Link

    Love this anecdote!!! Reminded me a bit of Mennonite in a Little Black Dress, which I just finished reading. The author had a pee bag after a botched surgery and handled that experience with similar humor.

  • I do think that’s part of your charm. You have this southern accent and you you look really innocent, and then you let these phrases drop that no one would ever imagine you would say.

  • I have a feeling you’re not the only one who feels that way about Jeopardy – sigh. We could both be thousandaires if we just knew we could keep our cool under pressure.

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