Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Plumber and Meals on Wheels

I was acting out the ear visit blog for Himself. "Oh, by the way, I volunteered your services at Ma's."

He eyed me suspiciously.

"Their toilet's not flushing."

"What do you mean, 'not flushing'?"

"It doesn't flush. Something's wrong with the handle. I think the chain fell off."

"Did you lift the lid to the tank to check?"

I huffed deeply and looked to the heavens. "Looking inside the toilet tank is not a Little Princess job."

His turn to huff.

"I told Dad about the problem, but just in case it's more involved, I volunteered you. I'll bring meals on wheels, and we can go for a visit on Sunday, and you can fix the toilet," I said brightly. I spent Saturday making two poor man's lasagnas. One to take and one for the girls to heat up. I knew they would prefer to stay home with the Xbox, computer, and cable tv rather than a visit to Grandma's where they don't even have a toilet that flushes, let alone cable.

Sunday morning, I called, just in case the toilet had been fixed. Dad answered the phone. "Hi, it's me. Did you fix the toilet?" I knew what the answer was going to be. After I hung up, I grabbed Himself armed with his tools, and my lasagna, and we headed down the Pike. We stopped at the store, the nice, clean, modern, grocery store, two miles from the folks' house. We did not stop at Market Basket. I picked up a loaf of Italian bread, bag of salad, cherry tomatoes, soda, and a lemon meringue pie to top off dinner.

Ma was happy to see us, happier to see Himself as the toilet was not in flush condition for at least five days. I didn't want to think about what they had been doing in those five days.

Himself lifted the toilet lid and braved the inspection inside the tank. "It just needs a new handle," he informed us. "It's a five minute job."

I held my breath because I've heard five minute jobs before. I followed him out to the car.

"It's not going to take the two of us to go buy a toilet handle. You're running away!"

"Damn straight, I am. After you told her it was only a five minute job, I didn't want to stick around to hear another chorus of the "He's Stupid" song. By the way, did you bring the epoxy that you used to fix the crack in our toilet?"

"No, it just needs a handle. What?"

"I didn't say anything," I looked out the window.

We returned from the big hardware store with the toilet handle. I set the table, dumped salad into bowls, and held my breath waiting to hear the exclamation, "Horse's patoot!" Dad came in from church, pleasantries were exchanged, and we could hear the happy gurgle of a flushing toilet.

I was ready to serve the main course, and I was getting nervous. At least ten minutes had elapsed with Himself ensconced in the bathroom. I approached the closed bathroom door, and listened. There was the rush of water, but no "Horse's patoot!" I wasn't sure if that was a good thing or not. "Is everything ok in there?"

He opened the door. "Yeah."

"Good, let's eat."

We had a nice lunch and stayed for a short visit as Himself had to work on a project for a text book publisher.

Dad walked us to the door, and we all eyed the crumbling stairs. "I have some bricks and when it gets a little warmer, I'll fix the stairs."

While starting the engine, Himself was mumbling. He backed the car out of the driveway and we waved goodbye to Dad.

"What are you mumbling about?"

"He won't even lift the lid to the toilet tank to see what's wrong, and he's going to fix the stairs!"

I laughed. I didn't even breathe that maybe lifting the lid to the toilet tank wasn't a Little Prince's job either. "Hey, what took you so long in there. I thought you said it was a five minute job."

"It was less than five minutes. I was trying to stall so he wouldn't catch hell all afternoon."

"Yeah, she's going to be singing the "You're Stupid" song like the anvil chorus all afternoon.

"Course, I don't blame him. When I'm 88, I don't want to be bothered with home maintenace."

"I hope we get one good son-in-law out of the deal to do the work."

"The hell with that! I have no attachment to the house. We're going to move into a condo where I don't have to worry about maintenace, shoveling, mowing."

"Sounds good to me, though I'll miss the sunroom."

"Maybe we can find you a patio with a southern exposure."

NB: No tomatoes were injured, maimed or murdered during this production.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Can You Hear Me Now?

Ma had an appointment with the ear doctor. She was to have her ears flushed out and then we would all have to mind our p's and q's.

I thought I'd arrive early, have a bit of a visit, and score some brownie points. I rang the bell several times and waited as bolts and locks were turned.

"What? Still in your pajamas?"

"I knew I didn't have to rush today."

"Where's Dad?"

"He went to the library."

She finished getting dressed and then came into the living room with her shoes. "Put my shoes on for me."

Ma had told me her father used to tease her, call her Donna Fifi, The Lady Fifi. I had an odd feeling as to whether I was lady in waiting or parent. "These aren't your new shoes? Why aren't you wearing your new shoes?"

"I don't like them, they hurt my feet."

"Why didn't you tell the doctor?"

"He got awful angry with me last year when I sent the shoes back because he ordered the wrong size. Put the kettle on for tea."

We sat in the kitchen, sipping tea. I had an odd sense of deja vu as I sat at my place. We were woven into a fabric of tea and gossip. Ma used to invite Himself's mother over for tea and I was always included. Even as a young teen, Ma never excluded me. How sad that most of the people that we talked about were gone. Grandma, Auntie, her daughter, Himself's mother. Still it was a pleasant ritual of chatting bits of nothing, and it was peaceful. A momentary stab of guilt sliced through me as I thought how pleasant it is spending time with only one parent at a time. How different they are when they are not with each other.

I glanced at the clock. "Will Dad be coming to the doctor's with you?"

"I don't know."

I looked at the clock again, still time, but I only knew the location of the office, date and time of the appointment, not which doctor she had to see. "Do you know which doctor you're supposed to see?"

"No, HE knows, but HE doesn't tell me." I'm a little irritated. Dad has a habit of not keeping Ma in the loop, and there are some two hundred doctors at the medical building. I wondered what percentage of them are ENTs. No, matter. I decided I could call the doctor's office that gave her the referral. I went upstairs to Dad's office to hunt for a telephone directory. As luck would have it, on the keyboard of the dusty computer, is a scrap of paper with the ear doctor's name, suit number, phone number, time and date of the appointment. Thank you, Jesus!

We finished tea and moved the gossip session to the livingroom. Ma had the curtains pulled back and was watching out the window for Dad.

He came into the house and sank into a nearby chair. He was breathing heavily. "I..I...ran...all...the...way...up...the....hill."

"Ya dumbass! What did you do that for?" I should have been more sympathetic, but I was alarmed and the worry came out as a smartass remark.

"I completely forgot she had an appointment today. I didn't remember until I was halfway up the hill."

Ma sat down with me standing behind her. "If you're starting to forget things," she said, "I'm going to put you in the home!"

I chuckled and held up two fingers.

"What?" he asked.

"You go as a two-fer."


"A BOGO. By one, get one free," I winked.

"I'm not going to the nursing home with him!" shouted Ma.

Somehow the conversation turned to final wishes.

"And you're not going to bury me in this town! For 63 years, I've been buried up here..." Ma was a city girl born and bred and the town isn't on the subway line. It's been a sore point as long as I could remember. Though according to Dad when they found the house some 56 years ago, this was the dream house, the one Ma had to have.

"Alright, Ma, where do you want to be buried? Do you want to be buried in the cemetary where your parents are?"

"Oh, no! That's too hard to get into. Besides, no one will come to visit. IF I have to be buried in the ground, I want to be buried where your Uncle Chick is buried."

We've had this conversation before. Ma has some sort of problem about being buried in the ground. She wanted to be buried in a vault or mausoleum. I actually think it's more of a case of sibling rivalry as her sister is buried in a vault. I had once related this information to Dad. His answer was "We'll burn her!" I never figured out whether that was to be considered an economical alternative or a funeral for a witch. I also refrained from telling Ma that since Uncle Chick is buried near the NH border, chances are no one would want to make the Memorial Day trip. Like most New Englanders, we barely drive an hour from our home area.

It was time to drop the morbid subject and head to the doctor's office. There was a moment of tension in the elevator as Ma yelled at Dad to get out all the insurance cards she would need. He had been fishing in her pocketbook for the wallet and she snatched it out of his hands and it fell to the floor.

"Knock it off!" I roared. "We can take care of this in the doctor's office."

I approached the secretary's cage, handed her the Donna Fifi's insurance cards, and sat down with my book in the waiting room. The doctor was writing notes on a patient's chart on the far side of the secretary's cage.

Ma had thought this was the first time she would be seeing this doctor and then remembered she had seen him once before. "Oh, I don't like this doctor. He's not as good as the one your girlfriend sent me to." I try very hard not to laugh. Ma is as subtle as a rash, and she does not whisper.

The doctor came to call Ma into his office. Dad picked up a magazine and I settled in with my book. We could hear the doctor admonish Ma about the use of Q-tips. The doctor stands before Dad and I.

"Are you with Mary?"

I go back to reading my book.

"When you get home. Take the Q-tips and throw them away! She has impacted the wax against her ear drum. The Q-tips are not necessary and are bad to use." The doctor returned to Ma with a huff.

I leaned over to Dad and whispered, "Good luck." As if Ma will throw away the Q-tips or allow them to be tossed out.

On the ride home, I noticed Ma has her hand against her left ear as if she's an old time radio announcer.

"Are you okay? What are you doing?"

"I'm trying to see if I can hear out of this ear."

"It would probably help if people were talking. Can you hear me now?"

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Big Boy

Monday was a planned shopping expedition. Ma had asked me to come early so I arrived at 9am. She wasn't dressed so I puttered with Dad's computer trying to explain to him the need to turn it on for more than a minute every month. The poor machine nearly choked with all the Windows updates. After twenty minutes, Ma shouted impatiently, "I'm ready." We whirled into the usual flurry of looking for the check book, getting her coat, her walker, and the soda bottles for return.

The ride up was pleasant. Ma nodded off, and I left Dad to enjoy the peace and quiet of his own thoughts. Since we were shopping on the fifth of the month, there were quite a few handicap spots available. Social Security checks were deposited on the first and funds available to seniors on the 3rd. I helped Ma across to the sidewalk. Dad came tooling out on a scooter for her. As I was taking the walker back to the car and hoping I could spend time reading my book, Ma shouted, "You come back and help me." Deep sigh.

From the entrance, I could see people jumping out of the way and I knew Ma is in that direction. I passed Dad at the bottle return machines, slowly and carefully feeding the cans and bottles in.

I caught up with Ma and she shoutedthe orders: Get 2 dozen of the medium eggs. I turned to put them in the scooter basket and she roared down the dairy aisle shouting more items: 2 gallons of milk, a gallon of orange juice, two cartons of cottage cheese - make sure it's the one with the pineapple in it. I ran after her occasionally lobbing an item into the basket. She also grumbled about the prices. Seems things have gone up, and Ma is not happy.

At the deli, she told me she wanted a pound of bologna and some provolone. "You like provolone. I'll buy you some provolone." Now, I don't eat raw cheese. Ever. She's only known this for some 50 years. "I'll get you some roast beef for lunch too even though I'm not supposed to have it."

"Ma, don't worry about the roast beef, bologna is fine. And remember I don't eat cheese so if you want provolone for yourselves get it." I take a deli ticket, number 52 and the deli is now serving 48.

"Let your father stand in line." With that she careened toward the meat case.

I headed back to the front of the store in search for Dad. He hadjust finished feeding a few cans into the return machine and is standing in line at the courtesy desk to get cash for his chit. Somewhere in the back of my head an alarm bell began ringing, but I ignored it. "Ma wants you to stand in line at the deli for bologna and provolone."

He looked at the deli ticket. "What number are they on?"


"I'll never make it."

"Then get another ticket." I sprinted toward the meat cases and nearly lost my lunch as I rounded the corner by the fish case. I smelled rotten fish. Even though I don't do the shopping, I know fish is not supposed to smell rotten. As an aside, I hate this store. It's not very clean. Packages are always dented and I question the freshness of the meat and produce.

Ma had stopped at the meat counter and was in deep contemplation. She pointed to a package and as the acolyte I handed her the first package to have the blessing. We continued down the miles of the meat case. Lift the meat, bless it and put it back.

There was a sale case with Stella D'Oro goodies. Ma put a package of anisette toasts in the cart. One of my favorites. A treat for me to go with lunch. Not a bad reward.

Dad finally caught up with us. "I have to go find the men's room." Vanished. We have been in the store close to an hour and have only progressed to meat. Produce, frozen foods and the aisle territory still needed to be explored. The alarm bell clanged.

In produce, Ma is delighted to have found Big Boy tomatoes at a good price. She prodded, poked and thumped looking for the best candidates. Another sign caught for plum tomatoes caught her eye. I heard a plop and there between my shoes was a Big Boy, murdered at the height of freshness with tomato guts oozing from its split skin. Ma was no where to be seen and I'm suddenly on the receiving end of disapproving stares from other shoppers. I slinked away, branded a tomato murderer.

Dad made another cameo, announced they needed salt, and vanished. The dawn broke. The three or four hour shopping expeditions aren't necessarily blamed on Ma, not with Houdini looking for items.

While inspecting celery Ma found another weeble lady to lament the rising cost of store items. The weeble lady tried to include me in the conversation. Since I don't grocery shop, I wouldn't know the cost between a carrot or a yam. I shrugged and smiled politely.

Dad caught up with us by the ice cream case. Another debate about flavors and Dad critiquing Ma's scooter manoeuver ability. Ma had gotten the scooter wheel wedged under the kick space of the freezers. We had to offload Ma and pull the scooter out.

"Do we have everything we need?

"We don't need to do the big shopping," she informed me. "You come back in two weeks to take us shopping again."

Oh, joy.

"Where's the list?"

"In my pocket."

A fine place for the list to reside. Ma decided the last item needed was paper towels, but another store had the item for a dollar less so she decided we had to go to this store. I wasn't happy but bit my tongue. She was happy because they were saving a dollar. In the mean time, I had to burn another gallon of gas to get to the other store. We have now been on this expedition for 3 hours. We have come close to the time I must leave in order to pick the Young One up at school.

We drove to the second store. "You have 10 minutes," I said to Dad.

We got back to their house at 10 minutes before 1pm. Dad and I unloaded the car. Ma was frantically looking for the lunch items.

"You're staying for lunch." More of a command than a statement

"I can't. I have to leave."

"You never stay to visit."

Oh, cheeze! "I could if you didn't use up all my time. I was here at 9am, but you're dancing around and we don't leave for another 20 minutes. You take 3 hours at the grocery store and then we have to go get one item at another store. That was my visiting time."

I left. No lunch and no anisette toast.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

The Day the Checks Stood Still

I had a nice chat with the postal inspector, and though he couldn't help, he was sympathetic. He's been chasing after the scammer that sent Ma the $250 check. According to him, "the guy is a big player." He chuckled when I told him I hoped Ma got burned. Some people just need to learn lessons the hard way. He also told me if I wanted to tell her a story, to frighten her into stopping the lottery nonsense, he would back me up. Anything I told her. Even if I told her she was on the postal inspector wanted list for passing bad checks. As I said, there wasn't much he could do, but I felt better after talking to him.

I had a dream that Ma finally got the message about the checks. My dream was like watching a movie. The Day the Checks Stood Still. Michael Rennie reprieved his role as Klaatu, galactic ambassador along with his robot side-kick, Gort.

With Ma in front of him, Klaatu gave her a stern warning. "It doesn't mean you have to give up any freedoms, except the freedome to act irresponsibly. It is no concern of ours how you run your own finances, but if you threaten to extend your nonsense by trying to cash illegal scam checks, we will have no choice but to reduce your house to a burned out cinder."

Ma had several checks in her hand, and asked Klaatu to give Dad a ride to the bank so the old man could deposit the checks.

Klaatu looked at Gort. "Gort, barringe."

The visor on Gort's helmet slowly raised, his laser flickered and began to burn to full power.

I didn't get to see the end of the movie as I woke up.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Juggling Monkeys

I thought I would have a free and clear day. There was nothing marked on the calendar on the fridge. I'd get the Young One to school, the Eldest to work, and then I'd be able to settle in and work on the book project. Maybe even have it finished by the end of the week.

As the Young One got ready for school, I took my morning tea and booted up my square headed spouse. The hum of the disk drive spinning up was meditative. The desktop widgets blinked to life. The Heath birthday countdown calender. Big Bopper's cheery "Helloooo, Baby!", the day's weather, monthly calendar, and the day planner. My eyes popped out of my head. It couldn't be. A 10:30 Weeble doctor's appointment? We were just there a week ago! It must be a mistake! Yes, that's it! A mistake. I marked the wrong date.

Before I left to take the Eldest to work, I made the mistake of calling the Weebles. Ma answered the phone.

"Do you have a doctor's appointment today?"

"Yes, at 10:30."

My heart sank at the loss of productive me time. At least I'm good at juggling monkeys.

Ma must have been in a good mood because she was yelling at Dad when I got to the house. She went to get dressed and Dad and I had a few minutes alone.
"Did that check clear?"
"No, the bank is still holding it."
"Do you still have the letter from the postal inspector?"
"What for?"
"Because I want to give him a call."
Dad gave the letter to me, one spy making a drop to another.
Ma's good mood held as we left the house. She yelled at Dad as she tried to maneuver around the metal folding chair that was on one side of the stairs. The bricks had come loose so she wanted to make sure no one would kill themselves on the loose bricks. Course, I don't know what she'll put out so people won't kill themselves on the metal folding chair. I helped Ma down the stairs. She took another breath in the car and began singing the "Your Stupid" song to Dad. I looked in the rearview mirror, and he was feverishly making the sign against evil. She sang repeated choruses from the parking lot to the lobby to the doctor's waiting room.

"Enough!" I yelled at her. "This is not the time or the place for that! Sit over here!" I'm not sure whether I'm their parent or the referee. The waiting room was fairly quiet so I wandered back to say hello to the lab tech and to hold an OPD Support Group meeting.
"Weren't you here last weeek?"
"Yeah, that was to see the middle toe doctor. This week they're here to see the big toe doctor."
"How are they today?"
I took a cautious peek around the corner. Ma was nodding off in her chair, and Dad was flipping through the pages of a magazine. "Good. Today, they're being good. How's your mother?"
"Oh, she's just wonderful! She had an operation, and it's like she's a new woman."
I wondered if the procedure was similar to what happens to the pod people in The Body Snatchers, but as I was about to ask, patients came in so I went to sit down in the waiting room.
As I was just getting engrossed into the latest happenings of the characters in the book I'm reading, another weeble lady sat down next to me. She was terribly concerned with the goings on of the trial for the body of Anna Nicole Smith. I refrained from rolling my eyes, smiled politely and turned back to my book. She didn't seem to notice, but happily kept on chattering.
A half an hour had drifted by, but the doctor hadn't sailed in. Rather frosts my fanny the office books appointments at 10:30 but the doctor doesn't show up for another half an hour or so.
Finally the doctor arrives and calls them into the exam room. My waiting room weeble neighbor asks me what time my appointment is.
"Oh, I don't have an appointment, I'm just the chauffeur."
The Weebles are in an out before I've finished my sentence. Ma had fallen earlier in the week. This now being a weekly occurence. She handed the doctor's prescription to me. He had written a prescription for Advil and Ben Gay. "We can go to the Stop and Shop to get these," I told her.
Dad decided to come in to the store with me to get the "prescription filled." "Would she mind the generic Advil and Ben Gay because it would save you a few dollars?"
"No! You better get the real stuff, because they'll be hell to pay if it's not exactly what the doctor ordered." I rolled my eyes, but got the items. We headed to the check out. "Do you need anything while we're here? Bread, milk, juice? The bank?"
He shook his head.
I dropped them off at the house and was on my way home in hopes of salvaging some of my work day.
"Before you go, give your father a ride downtown to the bank?"
"To the bank? We were just there!" I roared. "Why does he need to go to the bank downtown?"
"I got another check for $2000 and he needs to deposit it."
I silently borrowed a phrase from Himself. No, not horse's patoot! Help me, Lord! All morning Ma and I had been dancing around the issue of the check. Both of us desperately wanted to tell each other "I told you so!" but the jury was still out for both of us.
Dad turned me toward the door as I was still sputtering. "You go on. I can walk. I need to get a haircut."
Yes, a walk would do him good. It would get him away from her for a couple of hours. He didn't need to hear the "Your Stupid" song being hammered out like "The Anvil Chorus." I was going back to the Stop and Shop to pick up a bottle of baby aspirin to eat on the ride home.