Part Two: The Night Of The Living Helicopter Parents

This post continues where my previous one left off. If you do not share a minimum of 25% of either my DNA or aren’t a close family friend, you’re probably going to find this as boring as watching competitive cross stitch competitions. I suggest you bail now. Unless you have insomnia in which case- you’re welcome. Now you can save that Xanax for a night when you truly need it.

After the mall, we quickly hopped back into the bike to go see all of our three year old’s favourite decorations. In addition to hugging the blow up cats, monkeys and Halloween dogs, Mini-Tex of course had to tell each inflatable a story, and ask them questions. Thus started the routine of the evening, where the homeowner would come to the door after hearing voices, then stand and watch as our son mauled their decorations with hugs. The candy bearers were quite patient- they’d stand there for five minutes.

Mini-Tex, having finished his job of hugging the inflatable decorations, would head back to the bike to be ferried onto the next set of blow up decorations to be hugged, leaving the puzzled homeowner to wave their candy at him from the door. One woman even chucked a bag of chips at our bike when she realized that we weren’t going to come to her door. Mini-Tex’s entire raison d’etre was the decorations. The candy was a nice but completely unnecessary addition.

There were at least a dozen houses that we visited where we didn’t even bother ringing the doorbell. We just left. So this totally solidified our son’s assumption that Halloween was all about kissing and making friends with inflatable lawn ornaments.

Something you’ve undoubtedly realized is- I love Halloween. I don’t love getting dressed up. I don’t love decorating my house but I adore watching a parade of little people live out their dreams for one night. I’ve spent many years living in accommodations that children would never visit; above a doctor’s office, in apartment buildings, the list goes on. In the past, I’ve found friends who were willing to host me for the night. “I’ll bring the candy and dinner, you just have to let me squat in your front entrance for the evening” was always my agreement.

In the absence of trick or treaters, I’ve even been the creepy lady sticking her head out the front door when a group appears down the street, yelling at the children “I have candy! Lots of candy!” And it’s true, I heap the sugar upon the little people, like I’m at a costumed strip club and making it rain Hersheys. Wow. I just took an already awkward interaction and made it worse.

I ask every little person, “And what are you?” with all of the earnestness of Mr. Rogers. I fawn, I high five, I tell the trick or treaters how pretty/spooky/imaginative they are. Heck, I even like the sullen teenagers in plain clothes who show up at ten o’clock at night. The point is: I truly love Halloween.

Having now taken an adorable little person around for all Hallows Eve, it turns out- I’m not the only one.

Tex and I came up with a game plan while our son was napping. Start at the mall, bike to the opposite side of the city and make our way back to our house stopping at only the high yield houses. Meaning the houses with either three blow up decorations or more, or the ones with super neat decorations. For example the house with what looked like an ordinary inflatable giant pumpkin but actually played Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and had lights on the inside so the face of the Jack-o-lantern changed making it appear that the pumpkin was singing the music. That was cool. We spent ten minutes camped out on that person’s lawn dancing and whooping it up. We wanted to see every one of those places in town.

This meant that there was a little old lady who watched our trio go from well decorated house to well decorated house on her street. She had gotten into the spirit, but her decorations were small and dated. Also it was getting late. Abruptly, as we were about to walk up her driveway, I insisted we return to our bike and head to a warm place to give Mini-Tex dinner. My husband agreed and we turned around. The lady watched forlornly from her window as we walked away. Once it became clear that we were about to leave, she ran out onto her porch waving a giant bag of candy. “Don’t I get to see the little one?” she cried.

I felt awful. Not just because I had now seen myself in thirty years’ time, but because I was disappointing a woman who was the spitting image of a grandmother stereotype; the kind of lumpy figure that gives out amazing hugs, short cut hair curled perfectly with rollers that she sleeps in and wire frame spectacles. She was even wearing a grandma style sweatshirt.

The problem with driving a bike is that you can’t roll up your windows or make a fast getaway. “Get pedaling” I hissed at Tex as the septuagenarian contemplated whether she was going to run down the street after us. We waved jauntily as we cycled away, watching the poor old lady deflate like a balloon after a birthday party in the bike’s rearview mirror. Apparently there are people who love this holiday as much as I do.

Luckily the hospital where Tex works is halfway in between our house and the opposite side of the city. I was on the verge of hypothermia while Tex was on the verge of a meltdown from too many layers. He quickly shucked a shirt and long johns so I could put them on. In the meantime, Mini-Tex was having the dinner of his life, sausage pieces with a side of Smarties and juice to wash it down.

Juice is not a beverage that makes an appearance in our household. Ever. It is also heavy, relative to chips. It was decided, in the interest of storage space and weight, that we would open every juice box that Mini-Tex had been given up to that point. So for dinner he had a smorgasbord of juice. Between that and the dual parent dressing moment earlier, Tex and I should get an award. I’m not sure which one- whatever the parenting version of a Razzie is likely.

By the time we finished our dinner, it was seven. Reasonable, good parents would have recognized that the evening had been sufficiently fun and called it a night. But as established by our actions, we are not those people. So back into the bike we went, to hug the mummy blow up and shake the hand of the baby monster. Tex wins an additional award for not tripping over the thousands of guide wires securing the nine blow up decorations at the mummy house as he lifted our son from one decoration to another in the pitch black garden.

It was shortly after that when I realize that although we had put out a giant bowl of candy next to our three pumpkins for trick-or-treaters, I had neglected to turn on the porch light because it was four o’clock in the afternoon when we left. Meaning that, at the end of the night, we would return to a giant bowl of candy.

After a quick stop to hug the moving, fake fire breathing dragon, we headed home. Oh sorry, dragon-food eating dragon. Weeks ago, while I was strapping my three year old into the bike after visiting the library across the street from the dragon, Mini-Tex asked me “What is the dragon eating?” not realizing that there was something in the dragon’s mouth, I gave him what seemed like an obvious answer- dragon-food. Then of course we rode by the house and I realized that the dragon was breathing fire. But by then the damage had be done and the fire was henceforth known as “dragon-food”. No amount of correcting could convince our son otherwise.

Tex pedaled us quickly across town and I ran into our house to refill the candy bowl a bit and turn on the light.

OK, rant. What happened to all the greedy little miscreants who empty candy bowls? I was depending on them! Otherwise I wouldn’t have purchased three boxes of treats. I swear every single kid must have respectfully taken one lone piece and left the rest. Who raised these excessively polite children with endless reserves of willpower?  What is our world coming to when we can’t rely on the candy grubbing nature of the youth?

Also, I forgot the part when we stopped at the local nursing home. When my grandmother was alive, despite how desperately painful and embarrassing the experience was due to my toddler’s behaviour, I would always bring Mini-Tex to visit her. Little kids bring old people joy. Small children dressed up for any reason bring lots of joy. So we stopped at the local nursing home. As it turned out, we entered through the dementia wing just as they were sitting down to dinner. Mini-Tex wandered around and said “Hello” to all of the residents. They were delighted. One of them was blind so the nurse described all of our costumes to him.

Then we went and knocked on the individual doors of people still living independently in the home. Tragically most of the residents were verging on deaf and didn’t hear us. (Or didn’t want a visit.) But the couple elderly people we saw were happy. Though they felt guilty about not having candy which we reassured them wasn’t the purpose of our visit.

By this point in the evening, Mini-Tex was still excited but wilting. All the other little people and their responsible parents had returned home. But we continued to cycle around the city because gosh darn it, I was going to get my money’s worth out of that fifteen dollar Olaf costume from Kjiji. Also we had yet to visit the street with the ghost that jumps out of the pumpkin or the house with the spider on the roof.

It was around this time that Tex and I decided to forgo the candy part entirely. People had once again filled our son’s decorative pumpkin basket to the brim and we were running short on toddler energy. After terrifying our offspring by holding him up to touch the peekaboo ghost, we headed for the house with the giant tarantula.

Mini-Tex was beginning to look like Olaf in summer; he became a puddle of costume and snowsuit. “Do you want to see the spider on the roof?” I asked. “No” came his terse, small reply. That was it; we had maxed out our toddler’s love of inflatable decorations. Tex and I concluded that it was time to go home. The problem was that we had agreed to visit friends of ours.

As quickly as he could, Tex cycled past the spider house. In spite of his exhaustion, our son did get out and hug both Jack Skellington and Darth Vader along the way. We quickly popped by our friends’ homes and headed home.

Then on our way home it happened. The event we had been dreading. We live in a small town. Meaning there is a small police force so we NEVER see the police. While we wear our helmets religiously, much to our son’s chagrin, on this night none of us wore one. Wearing a helmet would have mussed my do, prevented Tex from wearing his Kristoff hat and wouldn’t have fit under Mini-Tex’s Olaf costume. Even still, during the afternoon, Tex had placed our son’s helmet in the bike because it is the law for children to wear head protection while cycling.

As we were pulling away from our friend’s house, coming in the opposite direction was an RCMP vehicle. All the colour drained from my face. There was no way with all our lights that he wouldn’t notice our bike. We were going to cap off our perfect night with a ticket. A ticket that was well deserved, but a ticket nonetheless.

The Mountie rolled down his passenger window and I broke into a flop sweat. “Did you get a lot of candy?” the officer asked Mini-Tex. Our toddler had transformed into a catatonic mess so Tex answered for him because I was suffering from the worst case of dry mouth I’d ever had in my life. “Lots.” The officer gave us a wave, “You folks have a good night then” before he continued on his way. It was only when the vehicle’s lights became pinpricks in the bike’s rearview mirror that I could exhale.

Happily, when we arrived home, the candy bowl was empty. I had instructed a group of teenagers that we passed to visit our house and take everything they found there. Old people who complain that kids these days don’t listen have clearly never offered two kilograms of sugar in exchange for walking four streets over.

Unfortunately there was still a full box of treats in the house. Furthermore it was open, so I couldn’t return it even if I did do responsible adult things like save receipts, which I don’t. But, as I went to unplug our inflatable Paw Patrol decoration, I heard voices down the street. “Oi!” I yelled in the direction of the youths. “Trick-or-treaters! Come clear out our candy bowl!”

Then I went back inside, without much hope because you know, kids these days. Likely they were angel children who only took one piece from the bowl. Then, as I was stripping off layer after chilly layer, I heard voices approaching. “Take everything!” I said.

“Everything?” the kids asked incredulously.

“Well divide it fairly amongst yourselves obviously but yes, everything.”

And that was the end of our Halloween. Well sort of. Turns out eating five packages of Swedish Fish will give a toddler a second wind. So Mini-Tex was up for another hour. I am an amazing parent, for serious, where is my Razzie?

Also, I welcome all hate mail about my bike safety decisions or lack thereof on all Hallows Eve. If you’re feeling lazy, you can just put them in the comments.

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Don’t Read This. Seriously, Stop Right Here. Just Keep Scrolling.

I bet you don’t respect authority either. Oh well, your funeral. That’s if you die of boredom. Or banal cuteness. You might actually enjoy this post if you have a subscription to Reader’s Digest. So this blog belongs to me. Most of the time I make funny with the haha. On occasion, I write endearing things about my beloveds on it. But that’s rare. Most often I use it to gently insult my mother. Because she’s the one who taught me how to laugh at myself.

Anyway, the primary readers of this blog are – my parents, my grandparents, and my son’s Godparents. All of them asked about our Halloween. So as a show of how much I love them, here is our Halloween in full. (Oh also Sula and her Mom read this blog. They would also want to know about our Halloween.)

Last year we had a German au pair who had never trick or treated before. Hence why for the first time ever, I went all out with family costumes. Tex paid a Kijiji seller fifteen dollars and in exchange we got our son an Olaf costume. Janey went as Elsa and I made myself an Anna costume. It was fabulous. It was the most elaborate costume I had ever created. Which is to say not elaborate at all but I put in effort so that was a change. I offered to make Tex a Kristoff costume at the same time, because we were in a city so I could buy items like costume materials. He declined.

This year, with only two and a half weeks until Halloween, Tex comes up to me and says “I want to be Kristoff”. People, we have lived three months without a bathmat because you can’t buy them here. The likelihood of me being able to procure the materials for a Kristoff costume without making a four hour round trip to the next large city over, (Well largeish. Ok small, it’s a small city.) was next to zero. However Tex never asks for things and he really wanted to participate in Halloween. So I sent him to the mall with a list. He returned without fake fur. Not surprising.

Two days and two dollars later, after a visit to the local second hand store, I found a teddy bear. (The secondhand store is only open certain days of the week hence the wait.) I gutted that stuffed animal like a fish. I chopped it into pieces and sewed the bits as fur trim to a jacket Tex had bought when we were first dating. Then I added piping, and made him boot covers so he’d have the requisite pointy ice seller toes. Also, I made a lantern that actually lit up for our “sleigh” which was our bike.

Tex looked awesome. Mini-Tex looked adorable. I looked well, Ok. And we borrowed a stuffed reindeer toy from my in-laws to act as Sven.

The day of, Tex had the afternoon off, so we spent our son’s nap rushing around, filling water bottles, preparing dinner for the road, affixing reindeer to the front of our bike, changing bike lights over so that we would be more visible and so forth. It took two and a half hours, but eventually we were all dressed and ready. I had four layers of long underwear up top and three layers on the bottom. I was plump. But warm.

We had everything together; we were all set for the best Halloween ever. All we needed was our Olaf. But he was sleeping. So Tex and I busied ourselves with filling the candy bowl, tidying up the house and looking at the clock going “How is he still sleeping?”

Readers, until that day, I didn’t know someone could sleep belligerently; it was like Mini-Tex was trying to miss out on Halloween. Finally, it got to the point where we were going to be late for trick or treating at the mall, so Tex and I did the unthinkable- we woke a sleeping child.

Because we’re obsessive parents who both need to bear witness to our offspring’s joy, we woke him up together. “It’s Halloween! It’s time to go trick or treating! It’s time to hug the blow ups!” Mini-Tex had been waiting A MONTH AND A HALF to hug all the inflatable decorations around town. Over the past month, we had put 200 kilometers on our bike and spent countless hours pedaling out of our way so he could see the blow up monkey, the blow up dragon, the blow up Jack Skellington. And every single time we saw them, our almost three year old asked “Can I hug them?” at which point we’d answer “On Halloween.”

To say Mini-Tex was excited was an understatement. But he was also very very sleepy. He stood straight up and then promptly did a face plant back into the bed. Tex grabbed him and popped him on the potty. We started both dressing him and undressing him together. It was like an instructional video on tandem helicopter parenting.

Within three minutes our Olaf was dressed and in the sled. Despite still waking up, he would yell “Jump Sven!” at random intervals. He would only call me “Anna” and his dad was “Kristoff”. It was quite possibly the best day of his life.

While riding to the mall to trick or treat with the other little people who go to bed before seven pm, we became aware that there were houses that had waited until the last possible moment to put up their decorations. Meaning that we hadn’t seen their magnificent inflatable decoration arrangements.

“Do we want to stop?” asked Tex. And so the blow up decoration love fest began. Mini-Tex was elated, he finally got to hug every pumpkin bearing Minion, every giant cat, every spooky ghost. The first house we stopped at had four blow up decorations. We stopped at two more houses before the mall until I got panicky that we would miss seeing all of our friends whom I had made arrangements with to meet.

Of course when we got to the mall, I didn’t recognize any of Mini-Tex’s friends and we just wandered around hugging the decorations. Tex took Mini-Tex to exactly one store to trick or treat and there was an over eager salesperson who jumped in our path so she could place candy into our son’s decorative pumpkin basket.

Then, on our way out, one of the best moments of the night happened; Mini-Tex’s best friend’s family appeared. His best friend was dressed as a ninja turtle. However the friend’s little brother who Mini-Tex also plays with, was also dressed as Olaf. The kids were delighted. Mini-Tex was over the moon. The eighteen month old who was also dressed as Olaf was vaguely confused and overwhelmed. It was fantastic.

Because all of you are gluttons for punishment, I’m going to continue writing about our Halloween. But in another post, because even my family and dearest friends can only take so much banal storytelling.

What Matters

You changed

out of your new outfit

that you proudly

modeled for me

because it showed

your upper arms

 

Even my mother

whose biceps are

large stones

beneath her fit skin

HATES  her upper arms

 

But I found it funny

given that it was here

in this sunny kitchen

over the endless

buffet of soul food

that you served

of stories

 

About building character

about seeing the person

through the disability

about what it took

to offer true dignity

that I learned

what truly matters

 

Upper arms don’t

but I understood

the costume change

 

If I’m honest

your arms

have never been

my favourite parts of you

your compassion

your bold laugh

your inherent ability

to show respect

to everyone

always seem

to come first

The Original Storyteller and The Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

My grandfather is the reason this blog exists. He told wild, interesting, funny stories to me before I could speak. My Granddad spent my childhood captivating audiences and his family. Those experiences are the reason why I myself became a storyteller and why my two year old son, who carries my grandfather’s name, now starts sentences with “Remember the…?”

For the past little while, I’ve been struggling with the nature of my blog. I debated whether I should keep it in its original form- a place for wickedly amusing happenings in my life, or transform it into something entirely different. My husband remarked that three years ago I lost my funny entirely and have since been penning a subdued form of Reader’s Digest humour, so maybe the change has already occurred.

I began this blog, with the same hope that many other writers have- to strike it big, be recognized and be published for the larger masses. It never happened but still, I kept going. Over time, as with anything, my writing became better, more descriptive, more fluid. Even the process of writing itself became easier. When I started The Great Unwashed, it would take me an entire evening to come up with a couple hundred words. Slowly, the work of writing, editing and publishing became much faster.

As the years passed, I built up a portfolio of work. To date, I’ve published nearly 400 posts. When my son was born, something that I felt proud of was that my baby would always know my voice- no matter what. Not the sound of it, but the cadence of my words, my stories, what I found funny, what hurt me, what buoyed me up. Should anything ever happen to me, my son will have this. And obviously his baby book, where I write ridiculous long paragraphs of how much I love him. Undoubtedly he’ll throw the thing on a fire in his teens. But I digress.

There are unforeseen benefits that have come as a result of writing regularly for five and a half years. Ultimately, what I love about my blog is that it chronicles my life, and my stories. This year has been a tough one for me family wise. Hef died to start with. (Anyone who has followed this blog for any length of time understands the depths of my obsession with the bunnies and recognizes what a blow this was to me.) So I knew the next twelve months were going to suck on some level if this was a warning of what was to come. Then my grandmother became very ill and passed away as well. Her death wasn’t unexpected- she was older than Hef. But this made the dark winter months significantly darker. Most recently, my grandfather was given an upsetting diagnosis.

The moment I received that troubling news, a decision was made. Nearly two months ago, The Great Unwashed ceased to be the only place where I write- currently I have two other writing projects on the go, so this blog can be whatever I choose. I pick family stories, whatever is clattering about my head on that particular day. The following are my heart’s musings for the day.

When I was fifteen and my sister was thirteen, our cat attempted suicide. Ringo concluded that he’d had enough of the excessive attention my sister lavished on him, that a life spent chasing a laser was not worth living and that perhaps my mother was buying the cheap cat food when truly Ringo deserved the expensive stuff with chunks of chicken rather than the machine pressed junk. So in a fit of angsty feline rage, he threw himself off the upstairs banister.

This is my version of the story. Despite cleaning our cats’ litter boxes for over a decade, I am not, nor have I ever been, a cat person. My mother has a different version.

Ringo was an acrobatic cat. Around the neighbourhood, he was known as the cat on the roof, because he would jump from the deck railing to the lower roof, finally making his way to the top of our forty foot house. Ringo was a thin, determined cat who knew what he wanted out of life- generally it was your chicken dinner. He walked around our house like he owned the place. Seeing as I spent my entire adolescence shoveling Ringo and his brother’s waste, I felt he had good reason for this.

Ringo used to taunt death by jumping onto our upstairs railing and walking along the thin curved piece of wood, twenty some feet in the air. He never once fell. At least until that day.

My mother recognized Ringo’s miscalculated landing immediately, had she not been in a hip to toe cast at the time, from a ruptured Achilles tendon, she herself would have rushed to Ringo’s aid. As it was, my mother’s cast cost Ringo the precious seconds it took for her to yell, “Dad! The cat!” Ever the knight in shining armor, my grandfather rushed to catch the now falling cat.

Granddad didn’t get there in time. But the point is he tried. Granddad tried even though he would constantly claim that we only had one black and white cat because he couldn’t tell the difference between the feline brother duo – Ringo and Splat. He tried, even though he hated cleaning up cat vomit especially when it was from a cat that didn’t belong to him. I have suspicion that Granddad does not actually like cats.

For all those concerned about the cat- Ringo used one of his nine lives that day and walked off without a scratch or even so much as a limp, whereas Granddad had to feel sorry that he didn’t catch our cat. Twice; once when he failed to actually catch the cat, and the other time when my mother relayed the tale to my sister and me over the phone while we were on vacation with our Dad.

This was the Granddad story I wanted to share this evening. He would tell you it’s less a story about him and more about our daredevil of a cat. True, but like so many of the stories of my life, Granddad was there, and I wanted to remember that he played a role. My grandfather of course loves having top billing but for this story he was there.

Also, the roof cat might not have been Ringo. My parents have had so many pets in their life that the cats blend together into one furry, Sarah-hating animal, that I spent years cleaning up after and chauffeuring to the vet.  All except for Splat who was almost as dirty and uncoordinated as me, God rest that filthy feline’s soul. If there is a lap to topple from in heaven, Splat is laying legs akimbo and irritated on the floor.

Who Needs Hottie Boyfriends and Furniture That Isn’t Stolen From Dumpsters When You Have Love and Approval?

Growing up, I was never one of those girls who dreaded Valentine’s Day because I always knew that I’d get a valentine. Every morning on February 14th, I’d walk down the stairs to find a card, and when I was older a box of chocolates, sitting at my place on the kitchen table. My Dad continued this tradition long after my sister and I left the house- sending us Valentine’s Day care packages in university. Then cards stuffed with thoughtful notes and something special when we became adults. Love was a given, it was unconditional. A hunky escort to the movies with a hot car on that day? Well, that was a bonus.

I played sports only once, but long before then, my Dad was always on my team, sitting in my corner, rooting for me. After university, when my peers were applying to prestigious graduate programs and medical schools, I chose to be an underpaid performer at Walt Disney World. My Dad was the first one to stand up and applaud my decision. My father laughed heartily when I told him that the Disney recruiter had asked whether I didn’t want to do something bigger and better with my life. From the time I was small, I have received my father’s support. It’s a key element of my freight train like momentum whenever I get an idea in my head.

While the love my father shows me and the confidence that his constant approval has built are some of the best parts of my Dad, undoubtedly my favourite quality of my his is the way he reserves judgment. In university, I dated a pot smoking, PHISH loving, wisp of a man. My parents hated him. Incidentally, the PHISH lover’s parents hated me too and were quite vocal about it. But I never had any idea of my father’s feelings. It was only through my Mom that I discovered my Dad’s words about the break up – “Good, now that nice young man who’s been hanging around will have a shot.” I loved that my Dad respected all of my choices, even the ones he didn’t agree with.

So on this day, when everyone is buying the men in their life lawn mowers and power saws, I hope each of you are lucky enough to have a person like my Dad. I’m a stronger, more confident person for having him as a parent. After the men in your lives open their cement mixer or running shoes, make sure to tell them why they’re special because there’s nothing in this world quite like a Dad.

 

Dad, in case you missed the hint in the last paragraph, I didn’t buy you a gift. I got my thriftiness from your mother. This post is your gift. It won’t keep you quite as warm as a portable space heater but last I checked; your furnace is working fine. What can I say? You’re lucky to have me. But not quite as lucky as I am to have you.

Knockdown Brawling Walker Rugby and Grandma’s Spanx

While cleaning out my grandmother’s room, I found the most bizarre garment I’d ever seen in my life. It was like a cross between bike shorts, underpants and football padding. “What is this?” I asked my aunt, holding up the object in question for her to see.

0001471_standard-hip-protector-male-medium_415

This image doesn’t capture how GIANT and thick the pads were. Also obviously my Grandma’s were for a lady. Photo Credit activemedicalsupplies.com.au

“Oh those” she laughed. “They’re hip protectors. I bought them for Mom when she got unsteady. Mom refused to wear them though.” I placed the hip protectors in the charity pile and continued sorting.

A little while later, my Dad was stuffing the charity pile into garbage bags and he came across the hip protectors. “What in the heck are these?” he asked, justifiably alarmed. Before I could answer, my aunt jumped in with her boring explanation. I was so disappointed; my father is trusting to a fault, making him the best person to prank.

He was the only person who believed me when I said that I sent out naked pictures of Tex in my Christmas card a couple of years ago. However, my favourite joke was when my mother came home with a fake belly button ring. My Dad blew up like a puffer fish, opening and closing his mouth in angry indignation “How could you? What kind of example does this set for the girls?” At that moment his face was the reddest I’d ever seen it. That is until my Mom took the ring out and Dad realized that he’d been had.

All the Outlandish Stories I Would Have Told My Dad Instead of the Truth

  1. They’re Grandma’s Spanx

On occasion she’d put them on to impress the church ladies. Paired with her support hose, she’d have all the male church elders hollering. But obviously Grandma only wore them once in a while out of deference to Jesus.

  1. Thursdays the old folk’s home hosts walker rugby

It’s exactly like normal rugby only the players have fewer teeth to lose. Also the nursing home mandates that the elderly players protect all their fragile parts hence the hip padding. Grandma’s rugby nickname was ironically “Ruthless”; she had the most knockouts of anyone on the floor.

  1. The Turkish baths downstairs are nude but require a flotation device

Grandma could have worn a lifejacket but she liked the feeling of letting the girls loose in the water. Also it was a better spot to receive all those cat calls. The pads on the sides are buoyant.

  1. New technology incontinence pants

Standard incontinence pants bulk up in an obvious way. These skintight ones have special wicking technology that moves the liquid to the removable pads at the sides. NASA invented them for the Mars mission.

  1. Hockey top for my cousin

This was why Grandma didn’t sew much- she remembered the shoulder pads but forgot a hole for the neck.

 

I’m fairly certain I could have sold every story but the Turkish baths, and that one only because the nursing home didn’t have a pool.

This post is dedicated to my Aunt Camelia who follows in her mother’s kind and loving footsteps, whereas I tread in my mother’s impish and occasionally devious ones. You remind me to be nice Aunty Camelia- thank you.

Walking Through One of My Childhood Homes

I’ve been breaking into her house at night, wandering through the rooms, running my fingertips over the surfaces of the furniture. Just to remember. Just to be there. I walk in, and my route is always the same; tossing my jacket or sweater carelessly on the green leather chairs she recovered, stepping lightly onto the plastic walkway that protects the carpet from so many dirty footprints. I glance at the mail on the table in the entranceway, now the table that my TV sits on. Invariably there would be a letter from a charity. She loved supporting those organizations- if she wasn’t able to help someone directly, she’d offer money instead.

From there I walk straight into the kitchen. A couple years ago she painted the cupboards. It brightened up the space so much. The radio plays classical music because the radio always played classical music, that is until after dinner, at which point she’d retire to the den and watch the news before bed. When I was younger, before boyfriends and then husbands entered the picture, the kitchen table was the kid’s table. Our family was too large to sit altogether in one room, so us rowdy, cookie-loving cousins were relegated to the meal prep area. This was the table that I told the story of the gravy boat over. All the cousins went along with it, but only the youngest fell for the yarn- hook, line and sinker.

According to legend, gravy boats got their name because of the unmanned ships that pulled into each port every holiday, empty but for gallons upon gallons of gravy. Aunts, mothers and grandmothers would all arrives at the harbor with pails, buckets or even small bathtubs to be filled with that liquid goodness, the walk back to their houses becoming a waddle from the weight of the gravy. Sitting there as I told the story, each of the cousins pictured her, slowly but determinedly, hauling home the gravy for our holiday meals.

Throughout my teens, there were her classic cowboy chocolate chip oatmeal cookies in the cupboard next to the fridge. Later, when she stopped baking, there were still cookies in the cupboard but they were made by Dare. I remember the familiarity of the yellow cutlery tray; it contrasted the metal cutlery so forcefully, as though THIS cutlery tray would be recognized for its lifetime of service. From there, the view of the yard would be partially obscured by the plants sitting on the windowsill. She loved plants and gardening. Long after the winter, she would nourish her poinsettias; hers would be the last live one on the block.

To the left of the window was one of the kitchen chairs, which sat next to a table, upon which sat her telephone and address book. Past this table was the dining room. The center of so many gatherings. I never picture her here though- she was always a bundle of activity, bustling from one room to the next, one task to the next whenever the lot of us descended upon the house en mass. She is everywhere and nowhere; she’s in the kitchen checking on a dish in the oven, she’s clearing the table in the dining room. She’s sneaking up behind me to unsuspectingly to yank my left hand out from under my body and set me off balance, just to get a glimpse of the ring. She’s standing in the hallway, looking for bags to bundle together leftovers for guests, or in the den cross stitching. Or she might be downstairs, on her treadmill if footing is treacherous outside. God forbid she went outside, there’s no locating her- she’ll start in the backyard, weeding and watering, go to fetch something from the garage only to offer to help a neighbor. Could be someone next door or the woman two streets over who just had twins.

I pad quietly up the back hallway, looking at the pictures of my family; graduation photos, extended family, the picture of the whole family when half the cousins were still wishes for the future. Her bedroom is across from the den. As a little girl, I played here; lounging on the fur rug that I to this day don’t know whether was real or not. My last stop is always the bathroom. During family functions this was a haven of quiet. I’d hang out staring at the small blue tiles on the floor, the dated coloured bathtub that I remember being bathed in.

A year and a half ago, when the house was sold, I wasn’t upset. She declared that she no longer wanted to cook or care for a home. Quickly, her things were packed up and sent to the senior’s residence of her choice. At the time, it seemed to me like her logical next step. I wasn’t concerned or sad- she had told me that she would live to be 104 and I believed her. But now that she’s gone, I find myself returning to her gardens, her kitchen, all the rooms that contained, if only ever for brief minutes in her bustling life, her. Those walks through memory bring me comfort.

Killing Old People For Sport- Likely The Most Questionable Aspect of Student Life

I’m grieving my grandmother’s death but actually, for the past ten years, she’s been living on borrowed time. In reality Grandma should have died the day that we attempted to move the giant, white, lead elephant that was masquerading as a freezer in her basement.

That morning, my mother asked me to go to Grandma’s to help my sister. Mom phrased the demand like it was a reasonable request, being a respectful child, who was still in university and therefore living on her parents’ dime, I obliged. So off my sister and I went, supposedly to move a freezer, but actually to murder our grandmother.

We got there and discovered that the appliance in question was NOT in fact one of those charming, petite chest freezers meant for apartments but rather was a hulking, metal behemoth designed to house enough frozen food for a medium sized army. In “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape”, the children burned down the house because it would have required a crane to move their deceased and beloved but morbidly obese mother. As far as I’m concerned, my grandmother’s freezer deserved this kind of ending. Not surprisingly, me, my sister and my grandmother discovered that we were unable to lift it ourselves.

“Not to worry girls” my grandmother cheerfully told us. “We’ll get Tommy from down the street- he’s very strong”. My sister and I pictured Tommy as a strapping nineteen year old who has a chin up bar installed on his bedroom door, the kind of guy who wears t-shirts with protein shake logos and whose vocabulary consists primarily of the words: bro, dude and Yeeeeeah! No – Tommy was another octogenarian, although supposedly a freakishly strong one based on Grandma’s faith that he could assist us in moving this freezer. Not recognizing that his demise was imminent, Tommy chatted happily as we walked back to the house, strategizing that we’d use carpet ends that Grandma had kicking around to slide the enormous, metal freezer across the basement and up the stairs.

It bears mentioning the stairs. Specifically the fact that had it snowed in my Grandma’s basement, the pitch of the stairs was so steep that Olympians could have competed for downhill skiing gold on these steps. Later in my grandmother’s life, when she finally acquiesced to having one of those chairlifts installed, cousins would take turns scaring the bejesus out of themselves by taking a ride, moving sideways down the steep slope. One can only conclude that four children gave Grandma nerves of steel even into her 90’s because I would smell like a decaying antelope before I’d ride that chair twice a day to do laundry.

I digress- this was the treacherous path that the gigantic freezer was supposed to take up and out of the house. Suddenly burning the place down to escape moving the  gargantuan appliance wasn’t looking so crazy.  When the freezer slid backwards down the stairs on the carpet ends and foiled Tommy’s plans to ease the process, it was decided that we would each grab a corner and hoist the enormous metal beast ourselves. Diana and I offered to lift from the bottom of the stairs but Tommy and Grandma insisted that they would take that position, essentially sealing their dark, flattened fate. It was like some sort of elderly Hunger Games with my Grandma and her friend volunteering as tributes. Despite our best protests, they gave Diana and me no choice.

Up the freezer went; slowly, painfully. There were a couple of tense, harrowing moments when someone had to adjust their grasp on the smooth metal. But after every other step Tommy would call out “Up we go now girls, Everything is tickety boo” or “Almost there now, Bob’s your uncle” while Diana and I exchanged skeptical looks because everything was NOT tickety boo and we had many uncles but Bob was not one of them.

The whole experience was horrifying, but the worst part was when we reached the steepest point of the stairs, the shape of the house meant that the top of the freezer almost met the ceiling, so for what felt like thirty minutes but was probably only three or four, we lost sight of Grandma and Tommy. I gripped the freezer tightly with my flimsy, pipecleaner-like arms, stepping up when Tommy’s muffled voice instructed, because even though I was going to be party to his manslaughter, the least I could do was listen to him. Once or twice Diana and I glanced at each other to silently commiserate about our poor choices that had led us here, an act that we’d no doubt continue for many years in prison as we served out our sentence for double senilicide.

Perhaps there was a guardian angel helping us, one who had spent its heavenly days bench pressing Bibles or other weighty items in the afterlife, but we managed to get the freezer up those steep, steep steps. To be honest, I can’t remember how we moved the freezer out of the house, or even how it was hoisted up into the bed of our truck. All of that is overwhelmed by the memory of the relief I felt when we turned the corner away from the stairs and Grandma’s white haired head came back into view.

The freezer made its way to Diana’s house at the university, where it remains, I’m assuming to this day because she left it there when she moved out. As sad as I am today over my grandmother’s recent passing, I’m grateful that she and Tommy survived that day and for all the memories we made during the years afterward.

Recognizing That This Is The Last Time

When you’re little, there are birthdays and anniversaries and holidays, but then people grow up, drift, and move away. Suddenly, it’s been ten years since you’ve clapped eyes on them. That’s where the big celebrations like marriages and funerals come in.

I understood the concept of funerals getting everyone near and dear together to help the family grieve, but what I didn’t understand, prior to my grandmother’s death was that this is the last party that is just for her. It’s the last party where you can talk all about her without seeming like a crazy person or stuck in the past. It’s the last time that you can demand of everyone you know to share a memory.

My sister and I always joke that our Dad, Aunt and Uncles always give hour long speeches at every family function. But instead of preparing to grin and bear my way through pages upon pages of dry retold family stories and hokey Dad-jokes, on the day of, I found myself wishing for more. Because this was the last time; there would be no more birthday celebrations with Grandma holding court in a funny birthday hat while her children reminisced behind a podium, and her grandchildren not so patiently listened. This was the last of the protracted speeches about my grandmother’s thriftiness. As my oldest Uncle stepped down and finished his speech, I longed to hear more.

Luckily, my cousin had challenged her Dad to share some untold stories about our beloved matriarch. My Aunt did the same- I learned that my grandmother had been a secretary when she was younger. I grabbed hold of these small new pearls of information about my grandma and held them close, turning them over in my mind as they revealed previously unknown facets of the woman I loved and admired so much. My own story was deemed inappropriate for the funeral, so I sang instead.

It was a feat for me to perform- I’ve lived several lives since the time when I pretended to be a musician and aquamarine pleather pants were a staple of my wardrobe. It took all of my focus to stand up and follow along with the music. The song ended and I was swept away in a deluge of grief.

I was crying in earnest when I returned to my seat. My cousin Candy reached over and held me in a hug, from behind I felt another cousin squeeze my shoulder. In that moment, I was transported to all of the times that my little cousins and I crouched underneath my grandmother’s pool table, hiding during a family game of sardines. I thought about how magical it was that we had all those memories together, that Grandma was the linchpin of it all. In that brief group embrace was the love of decades.

My entire life, I have lived in a big family. And for my entire life, my Grandma loved and gathered all of us together, she accepted us for who we were and that in turn fostered a culture of tolerance and support in my family. As a weirdo who has always marched to the beat of my own drum, I have depended on this unconditional love for the confidence to be myself.

Through my sadness, I marveled at what an incredible achievement it is to have a person’s life be a legacy of love and acceptance. That no matter what, our family had this one last time together to appreciate what an incredible woman my grandmother was. Then I sat and listened to who my Grandma was to each of my cousins; sports fan, role model, drill sergeant. All the while, I wished for one more story, one more prayer, one more song to remember and celebrate her life, because this was the last time.

All of the Good Bits

Some of the last words that my grandmother uttered before she wasn’t able to talk anymore were “I’m not going”. The statement was in response to her family’s attempts to put her in the hospital where she would receive an increased standard of medical care. I love this so much. This anecdote is pure Grandma- a woman who knows her mind, has made up her decision and by God you are going to respect it. That’s the woman I lived with my entire life, the one who inspired me to show that same determination. And the one who strong armed me into celebrating my marriage with Tex.

Our wedding took place on Tex’s family’s farm two provinces away from my family. There were fifteen people there, including Tex and myself. A month later, a party was planned for Tex’s entire family. I’ve been married before. Tex hasn’t. So I wanted his family to be able to celebrate our nuptials, whereas my family had already done that. Admittedly with another man, but a party is a party right? My Grandmother, who wasn’t able to attend the ceremony because it was on top of a steep hill in the middle of nowhere, was having none of this. She hijacked her own 91st birthday party and ordered a three tiered wedding cake. I was not included in any of this. I was merely told after Grandma had picked out the cake and everyone had RVSPed. Classic Grandma.

The same trip to trip Hawaii when Grandma became a boozehound, she also was a mountain climber. Just for a point of reference, my grandmother was 81 at the time and Haleakalā is 3,055 m high or 10,023 ft. for my American readers. “Dad!” my sister, mother and I cried when he brought Grandma back from their hike up the mountain together, “I can’t believe you made Grandma do that!” Looking back, I realize, there was no making Grandma do anything. Ever. Somehow, she funneled all of her octogenarian determination and hiked for hours and hours to summit Haleakalā and take the triumphant, laughing photo of herself and my Dad that’s in our family’s scrapbook. I hope I’ve got half her fitness when I’m that age.

My grandmother has always been a wildcard. Once, she drove across country with four children and her husband, a chemical engineer. My late grandfather drove most of the way and he did so in the same manner that my own chemical engineering husband completes tasks- thoughtfully, at his own pace, so that it will be right the first time. At some point in the trip, my grandfather got tired which was fortunate because my grandmother was tired too- of watching the scenery plod past her. My Grandpa laid down in the backseat and Grandma took the wheel. When my grandfather awoke a couple hours later, he was astounded at how far Grandma had driven. With four children, there are four more sets of eyes to watch for cops and four more people to silently cheer as you set land speed records with an Oldsmobile.

Despite the fact that my grandfather made an excellent wage as an engineer, he gave Grandma very little to run their household, which meant that she frequently got creative. This was how my grandmother ended up being the only woman in a refinishing and reupholstering class. She would dumpster dive to get her materials and then spend her nights sanding the wood down and pulling the fabric taut to cover surfaces. My grandma was full of ingenuity and chutzpah. Many of the pieces she refinished and recovered live in our house. When the movers transferred her furniture from my Grandma’s house to mine, they commented about the nice quality of it, some forty years later.

My sister commented today that something she misses most now is the fact that when my sister asks Grandma how she is, she doesn’t hear the words “Oh, I’m fine” in response. In my whole entire life, I have never once heard my grandmother complain. I’m fairly certain that even after she bumped her head and needed stitches, when she awoke to the firefighters peering over her, she undoubtedly answered “I’m fine” when they inquired how she was feeling. I have this suspicion no matter her state, even if Grandma was dizzy, in a huge amount of pain, with blood from the cut dripping into her eye and she would always answer “I’m fine” with that same cheer and intonation. It wasn’t until I heard Diana say this that I remembered how much I loved this aspect of my grandmother. I’m sure in the coming days, weeks and months I’ll add to the list of everything I will miss about this wonderful woman.