Oh yes, I survived.

I survived the small talk, Vern’s corny jokes — “Do you have a twin? No? Because you look  just like the woman who lives across the street!” — extremely dry chicken breasts topped with orange juice and burnt rosemary needles, frozen vegetables still frozen in the middle,  and grace, oh yes, grace.

Grace went on for approximately four minutes, and we had to hold hands around the table as it was uttered by Vern. A twitching, stuttering Vern  incorporated so much: he thanked the Lord for the weather, for the fact that I moved in across the street, for my children, for his children, for Minnie’s delicious dinner, for the upcoming dessert, for the fact that rain was in the forecast in the coming hours, for general health, happiness and prosperity. The chicken was cold by the time he finished, and my hand was sweaty from his.

There were two highlights of the night: firstly, when Vern told me “I love you!” when he hugged me good-bye — wha????? — but a half hour before that, when he made the mistake of allowing a blueberry to roll off his plate. I had baked a blueberry coffee cake for dessert, and Minnie went snaky because a lone, plump little berry fell off Vern’s plate and rolled across her polyester lace tablecloth that was bound for the washing machine anyway. Shades of my mother. Poor Vern was all embarrassed; I felt for the twitching old guy even though I still suspect he has buried body parts under Minnie’s root cellar.

The other hilarious moment: Minnie complimenting “all the lovely dresses you wear,” and then taking down the information when I told her about vintage 1950s day dresses on eBay. That’s right, bitches — I’ve got a single white female, and she’s a 70-year-old Jesus freak!

Another fascinating revelation — both Minnie and Vern have their masters degrees in psychology. And Minnie’s mother went to med school in the 1920s, and divorced her husband in the 1930s — a single mother of two children, way back then. Her mother went on to marry a bad man, however, and when Vern started to talk about what an evil bastard he was, Minnie hissed at him to zip it.

I believe this is the key. Minnie had an evil stepfather, and she turned to religion to survive him.

And so for many reasons, four-minute grace and Vern’s proclamations of love notwithstanding, I am glad I went to dinner at Minnie and Vern’s. They are weirdos, but intriguing weirdos. They asked me what I thought about the health-care debate, and when I told them calmly that I thought it was inhumane and un-Christian for such a generous country to deny almost 50 million Americans affordable health care, I saw something click in their Republican eyes … something compassionate and empathetic.

And one other thing? Minnie goes to Trader Joe’s once  a week, and says I can come along any time! Me and Minnie, in our matching vintage rockabilly dresses, cruising the Trader Joe’s aisles for frozen Thai dumplings because FUCK Whole Foods!!

I love living in America!