Archive for the 'Grandmothers' Category

I Believe Therefore Let’s Talk


Now and again the furniture goes on attack and I’m done for. Tables hit me on the hipbone, chairs trip me, and our bed throws me over its side. I end up near or on the floor wondering what I’d ever done to them. I have bruises as proof so please don’t scoff like my husband. I am against scoffing and never do it myself unless I’m responding to the promise of an elected official. When I was young I thought such individuals were doing their best for the country and guileless as newborn pups—I truly thought they were next to God in their goodness and wisdom. So I’ve come by my scoffing at them the rocky uphill way. In all other regards I’m pretty much a believer.

For example: I believe for every drop of rain that falls, a flower grows. You may believe the same— although I doubt either of us has a garden with enough flowers blooming to show for it. A true believer, as you know, doesn’t need proof. A true believer for good reason or no reason has embraced a philosophy or a point of view and will stick by it no matter what. And so, too, the true unbeliever. In fact there may be more true unbelievers than their antonyms. True unbelievers do not believe in evolution, global warming or leap year and some thus can be identified without confrontation when you ask them what day it is.

What difference does it makes what anyone believes or doesn’t believe? Either way whatever is or isn’t remains the same and at the proper time the Almighty, in whom I believe, will let each of us know what’s what and what’s not what. I can’t wait. Can you? Of course that implies I think my beliefs and unbeliefs will prove out, an unbelievable form of hubris for someone who purports to be reasonable, even sane.

On the other hand, what we believe or don’t believe makes a difference in the here and now, as you know perfectly well, because of what we do or don’t do to edify students, protect the shoreline and insure the integrity of the calendar. I can’t believe I had to explain that.

You may have run into the category of people who are neither believers nor unbelievers—they are the I-could-care-lessers. They are seldom interviewed or polled because they could care less. The extremists on the far right of this group are the I-don’t-give-a-s—tters and if you want my advice I suggest you stand back when you run into them because they really, really don’t, which means they could give you a surreptitious pop in the eye for which you probably don’t carry insurance. The extremists on the far left are the I-haven’t-the-faintest idea-ers. They often say, “Whatever.”

One redeeming quality of the latter category is that they are all non-scoffers since you have to believe or not believe in order to scoff. My husband believes what his nanny told him, which is you can’t take a bath until an hour past dinner for fear of drowning. I don’t believe it and yet, unless you count a half-hour laughing fit, I don’t scoff. Never. Oh all right. Twice.

I thought the inanimate objects in the house had given up their aggressive acts for the day, but a door that did not look the least bit menacing just flew back and hit me on the shoulder.

The image





Foot Fault


August 8th, 2007

I tortured my poor feet for a very long time. Ten years ago they refused to take me where I wanted to go in the shoes I wanted to wear. Since then I haven’t worn heels measuring even one measly inch. Moreover, I can only wear shoes deep enough to accommodate orthotics-plastic molds that match the bottoms of your-that is to say my-feet to correct their imbalances. Such shoes do not win awards for pizzazz.

Details of what I did to torture my feet were seized by the CIA to use against terrorist operatives Here are a few from memory:

I wore high-heeled shoes.

I wore high heels shoes with pointy toes.

I didn’t take off my shoes when they were killing me.

I never soaked them or gave them the time of day.

I just took them bloody well for granted as perhaps you are
now doing yourself.

My mother hated her feet. “They’re ugly,” she’d wail, holding them one at a time and giving them the full force of her most disapproving look before pulling on her panty hose.

“It’s all those years on my feet,” she’d say as if most people had an alternate way of standing and walking about.

“It’s all those years on my hands,” perhaps some woman gymnast is now complaining to a palm-reader looking at the calluses on her mounds of Apollo and Saturn.

“Look at these toes!” my mother would command as if I hadn’t already observed them a few hundred times.

The toe next to her big toe on each foot crossed all the way over its two sister toes and snuggled up to the littlest one. In order to put her foot into a narrow high-heeled shoe she had to force the rambling toe back to where it belonged while moaning and looking up at me for sympathy.

Finding shoes that both feel and look reasonably good to me and pass muster in the eyes of my mother, as well as my two daughters is daunting; my mother does not approve of anything clunky or flat. On my last visit to see her I noted she was in a bad mood the moment I arrived from the airport exhausted from carrying luggage and grateful that my feet were still willing to support me–never mind that I was wearing clunky black running shoes.

“Are you going to wear those?” she asked before I could sit down.

I changed into other shoes somehow more acceptable even though they held my travel-swollen feet as if in a vise.

“Now that’s better, isn’t it?” my mother sighed, flashing, for the first time, a loving smile. “I’ve been worried sick about you.”

My daughters have pretty feet that do not hurt-at least not yet.

Both often wear sling-back, high-heeled numbers destined, were it not for my daily prayers to the Almighty, to catch on something and throw them flat on their lovely faces. Whenever I’m with them something disparaging comes up about my appendages or, rather, what I have elected to put on them.

“Oh my Goddd!” one or the other will say. “Don’t you have any nice shoes?”

I reassure them that as soon as a good percentage of boomers require orthotics, attractive, even stylish, flats will appear in stores and I will be able to look fashionable and move about comfortably at the same time.

A frown crosses each face. What did I say? Oh dear, I completely forgot. They’re on the cusp—call it a foothold—yes, borderline boomers—and if they end up wearing orthotics—it will be, like so much else, all my fault.

The image


In Memorium


Although my Mother was nearly ninety-three when she died, she was never old enough to receive Modern Maturity, the AARP monthly sent to every member, like it or not.

“God damn it to hell,” she would shout when it arrived so as to be heard as far as the duck pond across from her townhouse in El Reno, Oklahoma and the cemetery down the block where her ancestors slept. The publication was so repulsive that several days passed before she could lay a hand on it. Then suddenlyshe would stub out her cigarette, rise from her prone position on the couch, pick up the despised magazine and toss it with extraordinary precision–considering she was not athletic, hated to walk or move about unnecessarily–from some distance into the wastebasket.

“I’m not mature enough!” she’d say and then, as if she’d heard a chorus of protestations. “No, and I never will be either. So there.”

She must have had her last cigarette on the evening of September 3, 2000, because the next morning I found her, via telephone which she answered as if nothing were wrong, by her bed on the floor where she’d fallen, following, as I later learned, a Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA). The only upside of this episode was that she never smoked again. Before this it was useless to protest her habit even though I found burns on tabletops and burned out cigarettes in ashtrays whoseinch-long ashes drooped menacingly. It also did no good to mention my throat got sore from second hand smoke.

“Why that’s not true, dear,” she said, disappointed at yet another confirmation that I had failed to inherit her good sense. “There’s no such thing as second hand smoke.”

One evening after I coughed and coughed twice more, she stood up, glared at me and said, “That’s just ridiculous and I don’t want to hear about it ever again.”

She was firm, confident, unyielding. I don’t recall her being in doubt ever about anything except once. After an evening when she said she’d had “a snootful,” a self-compliment because people who didn’t
drink were of no consequence, she wondered if she’d behaved quite as she should have the night before.

“Still” she said, upon a brief reflection, “I did it–so it must have been all right.”

When it came to politics or bias my mother never held back. At the height of William Jefferson Clinton’s undoubted scandal, my Mother said she had characterized the President to her younger sister, a woman as far to the right as she was to the left, as “that sweet, darling Bill Clinton.” Her sister allowed she wouldn’t be in touch for a long, long time.

“I don’t care one bit if she didn’t like it–that’s how I feel. Anyway,” she continued with accidental clairvoyance, “she didn’t have to make such a federal case out of it.”

The mini-stroke affected her profoundly, and, unable to be on her own any longer, I brought her home to Connecticut. Although she lasted another nineteen months I knew my mother had turned a final corner when she said nothing about the Florida ballot dispute or the ultimate determination of the election of 2000. As often as W appeared on the screen, I was never again to hear her say,”I don’t know what it is–but I just cannot STAND that man!”

A month after her death I went to get the mail across the street from the end of our driveway and found my Mother wedged in above the circulars, junk mail and bills, in a box. It was a shock despite the fact that I’d been expecting her. I thought she was going to be delivered by UPS, a dispatch I would have preferred as more dignified and less trivializing although there’s nothing dignified about having ashes delivered by any means, then to save, inter or sprinkle them, as I would do when I decided where. I thought it might be appropriate to take some to Park Avenue where she lived for many years although itdidn’t seem environmentally correct. What if everyone did that?

I could also have sent them down to Oklahoma where my mother was born, and where she lived fifteen of her last seventeen years. Courtesy of one of my many cousins, her ashes could go in the duck pond or around her parent’s graves. But mailing her again would have been “too macabre” as my mother liked to say–that always made me want to ask if there were such a thing as just macabre enough? Of course I knew full well that she just liked saying the word, glamorized with the “too” asin “too fabulous” while stretching out the second “a” in macabre for a bit longer than was endurable. It was also her way of not having to discuss something as unpleasant and, to us both, unlikely as her death.

She went so far, however, when lost for a more controversial topic, to remind me she did not want a funeral or a burial–that she wanted, never mind the disapproval it engendered among her siblings–my mother thrived on disapproval–cremation.I thought I might put her in the Atlantic Ocean where she’d sprinkled her husband’s ashes in 1980 off the Westhampton shore, their summer residence. That had to be the place because as soon as I thought of it I heard her come to life in my head and respond in five of the many voices that accompanied five of her many roles:

The baby, “Oh goody, swimmin’ with the fishies;” the grande dame, “Absolute perfection, darling girl;” the hillbilly, “Shucks, this old country gal’s not fussy;” the kindly gentlewoman, “Bless heart, what a sweet idea;” or herself, “Goddamn it to hell, I don’t give a shit!”

So my inimitable mother was reduced to ashes–as we will all be, one way or another, to be delivered–as we will all be, one way or another, back to earth. It is very ordinary. It is very strange.