Monday, April 28, 2008

Bethlehem Street

As long as I can remember Ma has complained about the location of the house I grew up in and where the Weebles still live some 56 years later. The house is on a dead end street. A quiet neighborhood while I was growing up, punctuated with the shouts and laughter of the neighborhood kids playing kick the can on summer nights, or baseball in the vacant lot next door to where Himself lived.

Ma didn’t mind the noise of the kids. She hated “the roar of the highway”. Next to the “Stupid Song”, it’s another favorite hymn.

The highway parallels their street and the back yard is separated from it by another backyard and house. Route 9 was a scenic highway and was the major thoroughfare into Boston before the Mass Pike was put in. When I was little, the median was lined with maple trees. During the early 60’s, a hurricane roared through and what trees the hurricane didn’t take down the highway department did. The tree-lined median was replaced with tar, concrete and metal barriers. So much for scenic.

The traffic on Route 9 has increased in the 56 years the Weebles have lived in their house. I don’t really see where there is a roar. The traffic sounds to me are white noise, easily tuned out. Most of the time, Route 9 is gridlocked so the traffic doesn’t move at all. I don’t know where Ma hears the roar.

“I’m up at all hours of the night because of the roar of the highway.”

“You can’t sit outside and enjoy the yard because of the roar of the highway.”

Dad echoes her sentiment and agrees with Ma, though I think it’s more agreement to go along to get along. He has told me when Ma whines that she hates the house and wants to move, she was the one who insisted he buy the house for her. Ma gave him an ultimatum. The house or else. I sometimes wonder if Dad is sorry he didn’t wait to see what was behind The Or Else Curtain instead of going for The Grand House Prize.

Recently in a fit of dark humor, I was telling Himself I knew of a place Ma might like. It was peaceful, quiet, and far away from the roar of the highway on the other side of town.

“Maybe she’d like to have a lot on Bethlehem St.,” I said.

“Bethlehem St?” Himself ask. “Where’s that?”

“Maybe they could find a nice spot at the corner of Bethlehem St. and St. Joseph Ave.”

“But that’s the cemetery!”

“She couldn’t complain about the roar of the highway.”

“That’s true.” Himself snickered along with me.

“Though she might not be too happy about the geese. ‘I’m up at all hours of the night because of the honking of the geese.’ I mimicked Ma. “‘You can’t enjoy the peace and quiet of the outdoors because of the geese.’ Then again, Ma not only hates the house they live in, but she hates the town. She wants to move, but I don't know where she would go. Ma doesn't want to be buried in the Catholic cemetery in town. I'm sure she would nix the burial in the Protestant and Jewish cemeteries, too. She’s told me she doesn’t want to be buried in the ground, but in a mausoleum. Where? Your guess is as good as mine.

Himself flipped through several channels while the ballgame was in commercial.

“I sure hope Auntie Rose comes through with that big check in two weeks,” Himself said.


Saturday, April 12, 2008

Contracts 101

The loss of her friend was weighing heavily on Ma. While tying her shoes she told me second hand, about Comater’s last moments. Comater was unresponsive all weekend.

“She opened her eyes and looked at Cee. Then she said, ‘Maybe I’ll find your father.’ She closed her eyes, and she was gone.”

I think the death story brought some measure of peace to Ma.

While waiting for Ma to finish breakfast, Dad told us his interpretation of the story.

“Your mother was telling me, if I go first, when it’s her turn, she’ll come looking for me.” Dad grimaced.

“What’s wrong with that?”

“What’s wrong? Just like I told your mother, I signed a contract.”

Ever the lawyer.

“It says ‘Til death do us part.’”

Just as if he was explaining a point of law to a client, he enunciated the words slowly and clearly so they would sink in.

“I told your mother, after that we call it quits.”

Friday, April 11, 2008

The Funeral

In Italian families, the theory of relativity can be confusing. People are often referred to as aunt or uncle even though there are no blood ties.

A week ago, a “cousin” called to tell me her mother, my Godmother or Comare as she is known in Italian (though in the dialect my parents speak she is known as Comater. Ma worked with Comater when they were young women, and was a bridesmaid in Comater’s wedding.) was very ill and not expected to live out the week. Comater has been in a nursing home for three years, suffering from dementia. Cousin Cee wasn’t sure how to tell my parents so that became my monkey.

I called hoping to get Dad on the phone. I should have just told Ma I was calling to say hello or to check on them. Instead, I told her about Comater. Ma got very emotional. Went through a litany of how no one does anything for her, takes her any place. She had wanted to visit with Comater, but my father wouldn’t take her.

Hello? How was he going to get you there? Push you on your walker?

I was reminded of the joke where a friend is taking care of another friend’s cat. The cat climbed onto the roof of the house, fell off and died. The cat’s owner was upset his friend didn’t tell him gently and in degrees to prepare him for the news. Sometime later, the friend is taking care of his friend’s mother. The mother’s son called his friend to find out how his mom wasdoing. The friend replied, “Your mother is on the roof.”

I should have been more mindful how emotional Ma would be. She’s only three years younger than Comater, so this must have really hit her hard.

Monday, Ma called to tell me Cousin Cee had called her to say Cumater had passed away.

“Cumater didn’t want a wake so everything will be done all in one day. The funeral will be on Thursday.”

I’ve been down the funeral preparation road before and thoroughly learned my lesson. The following day, I went on line and found Cumater’s obit in the paper along with the funeral arrangements. Calling hours would be from 8:30 to 10:30 am on Thursday morning. There would be a Mass at 11am and internment at the cemetery.

I called Ma to tell her Himself and I would get her to the funeral, but we wouldn’t be able to attend the graveside service as we wouldn’t be back in time to pick The Young One up from school. Ma wasn’t too happy, about not being able to attend the entire funeral, but there wasn’t much I could do about that.

Later, I relayed the arrangements to Himself.

“Who told you the funeral is on Thursday?”

“Ma, but…”

He gave me the look that said he wasn’t going to a funeral just on Ma’s say so. Once bitten , twice shy.

“I have the obit and directions to the funeral parlor and church from the newspaper.

He breathed a sigh of relief.

In another phone call, I had told Ma, we wouldn’t be able to get to the funeral parlor at 8:30 am, but we’d make it for the calling hours and the Mass. I reminded her we wouldn’t be going to the graveside service.

Thursday morning after dropping The Young One off at school, we headed to Ma’s, and arrived at 8:30am.

Dad greeted us at the door dressed in a suit and tie.

“She’s in the shower!” He was upset with the delay because he wanted to get the show on the road.

We hunkered down for a wait.

Ma shuffled out of the bathroom and went to get dressed.

We waited some more.

Dad was fuming.

“She thinks they will wait for her!”

I laughed. “Well, she’ll get a rude awakening.”

Dad went upstairs to his office and we heard shuffling and banging around, and animal noises. A few minutes later, Dad came downstairs.

“What’s the matter?” I asked.


“Had to be something. You made the Grrr face. I heard you.”

Dad gave me a sheepish grin. When he gets frustrated or angry, he has the habit of rolling his tongue under and biting it while making grrrr noises.

“I live with a fisherman or rather a fisherwoman.”

“Your mother goes fishing through things that she has no business touching. I had some papers I wanted to give you. I put them away, and now I can’t find them.”

It’s true that Ma goes fishing. It’s how The Brother got caught with cigarettes, though I suspected that Dad just couldn’t remember where he had put the papers in safe keeping.

“I’m sure they’ll turn up.” I went into Ma’s bedroom to help her get dressed to hurry her along a little bit. She loved the attention of having me put her socks and shoes on.

Ma shuffled out of her bedroom and went into the kitchen. I helped Ma get settled to have a bowl of cereal and a cup of diesel oil, er, coffee. I don’t drink coffee so I thought black was a figurative expression for how coffee looks when first poured into a cup. When milk is added, the coffee turns a deep, warm shade of brown. I was glad I wasn’t drinking this sludge.

I went back to the living room and sat down.

“Now, what’s she doing?” Dad hissed.

“She’s having breakfast.”

He started to make the grrr face.

“She’s a diabetic. She can’t go without breakfast,” Himself said smoothly.

“She should have been ready.”

Ma had probably spent the morning going over her papers from Auntie Rose. Business comes first.

Finally, after showering, dressing,and breakfast, we got the Weebles loaded and went to the funeral parlor with a half hour to spare. The funeral director and his assistants were very attentive to Ma. They had Himself bring Ma around to the side door where there was a handicap ramp.

Dad was quite pleased that we were positioned behind the family car in the funeral procession.

“Boy, Cee is treating us just like family.”

Himself and I didn’t want to disabuse Dad of the notion. We knew the funeral director was catering to the handicap.

Sadly, I have to report that Ma and Dad were on their best behavior. Disappointing from a blog fodder standpoint. I was very tempted to instigate trouble at the funeral parlor. There were a couple of dozen people in the room. It would have been so very easy to start a riot.

“Too bad, Dad never took you to visit Cumater while she was in the nursing home.”

Ma would have started singing the “He’s Stupid” song, and I would have had a more interesting blog.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Tug of War

As we came out of the doctor’s office, Ma informed me the doctor would call in her prescriptions for refill. She wanted to go to the pharmacy right then and there. The old OPD control issue. I explained to her if the doctor called the prescription in right away, it would take the pharmacy a couple of hours before the prescription would be ready for pickup. It was also close to lunch time by the time we got out of the office, and Ma hadn’t eaten all morning. Not good for a diabetic, but the doctor wanted a fasting blood sugar.

The Young One and I had brought lunch with us before we picked up the Weebles.
I suggested we go home and have lunch.

I didn’t want to head to the pharmacy right then and there because with gas prices as high as they are, I don’t like making trips that are out of the way. The pharmacy is close to where I have to pick up the Pike for the trip home. I told Ma, I would swing by, pick up the prescription, and since she had enough pills to last her a few days, I would have Himself drop the prescription off the following morning. He passes by the Weebles house on his way to work. Perfectly logical.

Ma frowned, and she got into the car.

We had a nice visit over lunch. When it was time to leave, I told Ma I’d go get her prescription. We had an argument over payment. Actually, she had the argument over payment. Seems Ma has a charge card, and the last time she needed a prescription refilled, she sent her next door neighbor. The pharmacy wouldn’t accept the charge card so the man had to pay out of his pocket. Ma had to write him a check when he came back. Ma didn’t want to give me the charge card because she was afraid of the hassle I would get. I offered to pay for the prescription, and she could pay me back the next time I saw her. I saw Auntie Rose smiling at me, and knew Ma had next to nothing in her checking account.

We went back and forth a few times, and Ma finally said she would have a friend of Dad’s take him to the pharmacy. Fine.

On the way home, the Young One squirmed in the seat.

“What’s the matter with you?”

“It’s something Grandma said, but I probably shouldn’t tell you.”

“What did she say?” My curiosity was piqued.

“Well, you guys were arguing about the pharmacy. You left the room to go to the bathroom, and she said…”


“She said to me, ‘Your mother is so thick headed.’ I almost answered her back, but didn’t.”

My heart swelled with pride to think the Young One would come to my defense.

“What were you going to say?”

“I almost said, ‘I wonder where she gets that from?’”


Thursday, April 03, 2008

Auntie Rose

Every family has a skeleton or two in their closets or up in the attic. The skeleton in my family is Auntie Rose. Oh, she’s not my real aunt. She’s not even a real person. Auntie Rose isn’t kept locked up in the attic. She’s right out in plain view. Her picture is in a frame on the wall where Ma displays family pictures. Sandwiched in between pictures of the grandchildren, Ma’s wedding photographs, a picture of her youngest brother as an infant, is this woman. Ma knows her. The woman is a stranger to the rest of us. The Nephew christened her Auntie Rose.

I have wanted to blog about Auntie Rose for some time now. I’d forget to bring the camera when I went to the Weebles, and of course, the picture had to be taken without the Weebles knowledge. So I was insufferably pleased with myself this morning when I remembered to take the camera, and I was able to snap off this quick shot before either Weeble caught me snapping pictures.

Auntie Rose is a psychic. Auntie Rose sent Ma a letter telling her she would receive millions of dollars. All Ma had to do was to send Auntie Rose a small sum, $5 or $10, and Auntie Rose would send Ma a list of lucky numbers. Ma would be rich within two weeks.

I can’t remember when I first saw Auntie Rose’s picture on the Wall of Shame, but she’s been hanging up there for quite some time. I think that was part of the deal, too. Ma had to hang this woman’s picture up and within two weeks, Ma would be a wealthy woman. Seems Auntie Rose never told Ma which two weeks, or what year this would happen in.

Auntie Rose has a gaze that follows you around the room. I see you. Doesn’t she look sweet with her smarmy grin? Can you just hear Auntie Rose singing The Stupid Song to Ma? Stupid, you keep sending me $5 every other day. You think you’re going to get rich. Honey, I just bought a private resort in Jamaica. Give me a call there, and I’ll send you a list of winning numbers. Trust me!

As you gaze at Auntie Rose, you just have to ask yourself one thing. Whose picture did Ma take out of the frame to put Auntie Rose’s picture in?