Reading: George Ritzer, The McDonaldization of Society; Flann O'Brien, At Swim-Two-Birds; Antonia Fraser, Faith and Treason; Antonia Fraser, Marie Antoinette: A Journey

Moving: not much, then more


mid January 2003

Okay. In medea res, today I called RDC to say "Good news, good news, and good news": I forgot to cancel a medical appointment for last Friday but I will not be charged for it; I rescheduled the appointment for next month; and my Pap smear results are within normal limits.

Two weeks ago today I had my annual gynecological examination. After three hideous experiences, I finally bothered to schedule an appointment far enough in advance that I got a woman, a woman who was female and also lacked a penis and, most important of all, didn't smoke. Yes. Three years ago I had my first male gynecologist, and not only was he a man, he also was over 70, or if he wasn't over 70, he certainly looked it because it was a smoker.

I've never even kissed a smoker.

Then for two years running I had another man, the first time out of similar denial-y procrastination and the second time because I decided damn it, I would fork over the cash for the weight loss program he had told me about previously, which included a prescription for the non-lethal half of the phen-fen cocktail--non-lethal but still sicko because a) it's an amphetamine and b) I am too lazy for words.

I also discussed tubal ligation with him. He told me he specialized in reversing ligations. In that case, I wondered, how invested was he in making sure they were effective to begin with? Also I just didn't like him. Also I was having Doubts about the whole sterilization thing anyway. For years we had planned that RDC would be the snippèd one, and now it would be me. Doubts because of a deep-seated and heretofore denied reproductive urge? or the usual socialized "no longer a woman" reaction? or lingering resentment about ligation rather than the much less dangerous (both for me and overall) vasectomy? Anyway I didn't go through with it. Then this summer I got a letter from him advertising his new Botox service.

Christ on a cracker, was he a gynecologist or a dermatologist? Also, botulism. Wheee.

So this year I went to a nurse pratictioner in the U of Colorado women's clinic. And, what a novelty, she touched here and there before introducing the speculum, a nicety neither male bothered with. They must be lousy in bed. As soon as it was in she announced I had a cyst on my cervix. Whatever. One, she said it looked like nothing; two, I wouldn't know for two weeks whether it was nothing. For those two weeks, it would be nothing. Was it really two weeks ago? The results were "within normal limits." Yea me.

Oh yeah. January. What happened there? We got back from Florida on Saturday the fourth; RDC left for Boston and then London on Sunday the fifth. No, I wasn't going to London. I had somehow used up all my vacation time at my mother-in-law's. Yeah. So. Monday I did, for me, a shitload of bookkeeping. One of the items I accomplished was to make an appointment for Thursday evening at Three Cutters on Pearl. Tuesday RDC called, saying he wasn't going to London but would be home Friday. Good. Wednesday nothing momentous managed to happen.

No, it occurs to me that something momentous did happen: it was 65 degrees on Wednesday 8 January, and Lou and I went rollerblading over lunch. It was the first time I'd been on my blades since I fell. We were out for quite a while, considering it was lunch and my first time in over three years. She taught me how to brake, something I understand in principle if not practice now. I fell once, stepping down a grassy slope (instead of rolling down a paved slope) to a crosswalk, but that almost didn't matter.

So everything was coasting along fine in my little world.

Thursday morning as I braided my hair, tired from waking up at 4:00 a.m. so planning to be late, the phone rang.

Granny died.

My mother dreaded telling me, especially over the phone. My sister was sure she had RDC's cell number, but she couldn't find it. While CLH looked for that, my mother called her first cousin, so this woman could go to her own mother, my great-aunt, and break it to her in person, because my great-uncle-in-law just died in December--husband and sister in one month. Then she called me.

Granny died just a little after six o'clock. So I'm not surprised I woke up when I did. She didn't want to tell me when I was alone, but I had Blake and Booboo and Cat Stevens, and by some grace Haitch was still in Denver after the holidays. I spent the morning cleaning the house, which is what I do, listening to Cat Stevens, which is the other thing I do. I was afraid of silence.

By mid-afternoon, having progressed from Mona Bone Jakon to Teaser and the Firecat to Tea for the Tillerman and thence to less doleful but still singable music, and having progressed from the back of the house to the front, cleaning-wise, I declared myself hungry. And pathetic, because I couldn't think of a place with wait service and that faced west so I could eat a quiet lunch in the sun. I found the Wash Park Grille, though, and there sat and read Nobody's Fool (which I had just replaced).

Haitch came over ready to soothe, but having chased out my thoughts with cleaning and music I wasn't going to face them yet. Instead Haitch declared the rug fine, showed me pictures of her nieces, admired pictures of my broods, and later accompanied me to my haircut. I know I decided to cut it before, without this impetus, but at this point I was no longer thinking of wigs. I was thinking of marking the day. So I marked it.

The haircut provided excellent distraction on Friday. I was sitting at my desk when Egg arrived and from a few feet away she began, "I'm so sorry about your grandmother--holy shit you cut your hair!" which is rather how I wanted it to go. Because I didn't want to talk about it. She gave me a hug, which I appreciated, and then the day went on.

By Friday evening my mother had made arrangements with the minister of my childhood faith, the minister of the church Granny attended when she lived with my mother in Old Lyme, and not, let me emphasize, the bellwether of my mother's new flock. After the debacle following my grandfather's death, when "Pastor" Miami Vice solicited converts to his religion over the man's very grave, I had asked my grandmother please to put everything she wanted in writing. I would help her, her church would help her, whatever, but she should write it down. My sister and I dealt with "Pastor" Miami Vice's flagrant, tacky inconsiderateness with nothing more at the time than my ripping my sunglasses off my face to deliver unto him my best basilisk glare, but, we knew, should he be allowed to preside over our grandmother's services there to attempt the same offenses, ugliness would ensue and there would be blood. I booked a flight.

This was a little difficult because I would return on a holiday weekend, ever such a popular black-out time for award travel especially to Colorado in the winter. Also it was a little difficult because either genuine or affected grief made my mother incapable of understanding the concept of frequent flyer miles at all, let alone why it might be a challenge to book a flight on the 10th of a month for the 19th of that month.

When Tex asked me about it all when I got back, somehow I mentioned the minister's tenure--he's served Old Lyme since 1975. Tex was struck by this because Catholic priests get shifted around a lot. Like every six years on average, he said. Tex, being a devout Catholic, spoke of priests becoming too powerful within their communities. I, being a cynic, didn't suggest my reason for shuffling priests.

After the graveside service, our cousin MWC stayed overnight, to attend the memorial service the next day. We haven't spent much time together--my mother's wedding, my birthday party, Grampy's funeral--since we were children, when we didn't get along. Now that we're all old, the difference in our ages--she's only a year or two younger than I--doesn't make any difference. We had lunch in the--shocking!--new restaurant in town, Anne's Bistro; it's sadly stuck in the middle of a shopping center but anywhere else wouldn't get any traffic. She showed a considerable amount of ovary by suggesting we knock on the door of our grandparents' former house. She did this, speaking briefly to the woman inside while CLH and I stood about on the lawn looking as little like stalkers as we could manage, and was refused. She told us we were glad we hadn't seen as much of the house as she had, because it was filthy, the woman rude, the children unkempt. Later, when we mentioned the attempt to BJWL and she said the family belonged to her church, the three of us cast significant glances at each other: That explained everything. Oh, we got on very well.

Having been gone for as much of the afternoon as we had been, we were required for dinner--quite reasonably, I guess, that BJWL wanted some time with her niece during her short visit. BJWL served pot roast. I really wish we'd gone out to eat again, as planned. The three of us played parcheesi after dinner, and MWC beat CLH! She must be related to us.

At the graveside on Wednesday, I was unprepared for the minister to ask if anyone wanted to say a few words. I could not. None of us could. My mother's husband did, and my second cousin once removed. By the next day I was a little stronger, as well as prepared. "I couldn't speak yesterday and I'm not sure I can today," my cousin grasped my hand, which made me stronger still, "but I want to say. I loved my grandmother. I loved how each of her cats had its own spot in the kitchen to eat. I loved the scent of her cellar, musty with damp yet imbued with the perfume of African violets. I love having her artwork on my walls, and I hope some of you have some of her pieces." My voice caught, but a smile from an old friend of my mother's, whom I, at the front, hadn't noticed until I stood up, bolstered it. "My sister and I were trying to remember some--less irreverent--things to say about Granny, but the irreverent things are her as well. We got our senses of humor from her--sly and disparaging--though CLH got all the card-sharkiness." I hadn't planned how to shut up. "Anyway. thank you all for coming."

The organist played "In the Garden," Granny's choice, and we sang another hymn whose melody was stolen from the "Ode to Joy." I really wanted to belt out the Doxology, but I'm nothing if not nostalgic and that was only because I remembered Palm Sundays, recessing through the vestibule, acquiring a palm leaf, and congregating on the front lawn in the spring sunshine. Plus Secret Garden and East of Eden. I know that part of my sense of Right came from nostalgia and another part from knowing that this had gone according to Granny's wishes, and I'm not proud that another part came from contrasting these services to Grampy's, but so it was.

I was glad for my cousin to see the church, so beautiful in its stark simplicity, with the shallowly domed ceiling I imagined as a child to be the eye of God. I was glad to see the minister again. He sounds like James Earl Jones and his eyes are immeasurably kind. His name and his beard complete the image of a fisher of men. I'm not a fish, but he helped. I asked him to remember me to his wife, who was a regular patron at the library long after I stopped going to church. He embraced CLH and me and probably our mother if she wanted.

The reception at the house was okay. Still comparing, I noticed disdainfully how much worse a speaker "Pastor" Miami Vice (who did attend, which I grant him was kind) is. As at Grampy's, he blessed the food; this time by the time I realized what was afoot, I delayed scarpering as I mentally plotted a course through the folks in the hall, and too late: a relation clasped my hand. Whatever. However many graces he's uttered, he still hasn't learned to keep the um's and uh's out. Plus, again with the not knowing the deceased's name. Also, it's a funeral! Wear a tie!

Several of my mother's flockmembers came, which I thought very kind. After hearing the eulogy Wedneday, in which the minister mentioned Granny's award-winning African violets, one flockmember brought a flowering African violet to the house on Thursday: really thoughtful. BDL's brother and sister-in-law are pleasant to chat with. I spent a lot of time looking at my great-aunt, because she looks like Granny minus ten years, and CLH told her she had to be our grandmother now. I also spoke, probably for the last time, to my great-aunt-in-law, who was diagnosed in October with ALS and given months. She spoke with cheer and determination of attending her diamond wedding anniversary, "and then God will tell me what's next." I am glad to know her faith gives her comfort and certainty. (I would be glad to know the same of my mother, but I still think, I still saw, that hers is more about being better than about being good.)

After driving our cousin to the ferry, CLH and I spent the evening at her, and now that I'm not the bratty younger sister, our friend RCL's house. We ate Chinese food, and I fell on the steamed vegetables with a will; and played with her 19-month-old son, whom I met for the first time though I'd admired his photographs since his birth; and lay around and talked with her enormous, beautiful cats, Linus and Lucy, in our laps. We never got around to playing Cranium, malheuresment. Still, a good evening.

Friday CLH had to go back to work and I went for a walk. Before the Thursday service I had walked the mile to the turnpike and back, and why would anyone build a house within sight and extra sound of the highway when lots exist on the same road without the traffic? I still think of Peter Keating. Friday's walk was rather longer. I hadn't walked to the Indian Shelters since 1991. This was my first time without a dog. No, I went once post-Shadow with a friend. My first time alone. Also I hate to feel buggy, so I haven't walked back there since I moved in any of my summer visits. This was my first Connecticut January since 1995. There was snow on the ground even. No mosquitoes, no ticks.

I hied me to the Indian shelters first and then on to the "caves" (more a jumble of huge boulders). I walked on. I followed one ridge, then another, and another. I found a path someone blazed from a few roads farther along, a path that crossed over yet another brook by a little bridge. This was Change, and as had become the all-too-true Chorus in the day with my sister and cousin, Change Is Bad. But whoever built the bridge had done so minimally, and, as I chose to believe by the footprints in the newfallen snow, out of love. An instance of change being not bad, for once.

After three lovely, cold, sunshiney hours, I went home, looking forward to the English muffin and orange and pear I'd taken out of the freezer and refrigerator that morning. When I got to the house it was locked. Bugger all. Who the fuck has a houseguest and doesn't give her a key when the knob is a self-locking one? If my mother's office were any farther away than it was, I would have spent the afternoon at Phoebe, where it would be warm, and eating dustmites, since I didn't particularly have any money on me, but at least surrounded by books. But my mother's office is less than two miles away and thither I walked.

I would have been a lot more enthusiastic about it if I hadn't already walked about four miles or had any breakfast. The first time in those woods in over a decade; also the first time I plied the familiar roads of my town by means slower than a car in about as long. The Bee and Thistle, the Florence Griswold, and here I cut off a corner by trespassing on the museum grounds by the river. Beautiful. The Lieutenant is a splendid little river--fresh enough to freeze quickly but tidal, so great shelves of ice projected from the banks at the highwater mark, over the rapidly ebbing current.

My mother has no clue about houseguests. You don't make them feel guilty about hygiene by asking if they shower at night or in the morning, or if they need two towels instead of one, as she did with my cousin. Also, you make up their beds before they arrive (I made up my cousin's lickedy-split Wednesday morning, before she arrived). Also, you don't keep all your fruit in the fridge when normal people like room-temperature fruit in the wintertime, nor all your cereals and breads in the freezer such that no one can make herself breakfast. Also, you don't lock them out of the house. Also, when they arrive at your office in want of a housekey and hungry as a hunter, you give it to them instead of dithering about other solutions.

"But how will I get into the house?" she wondered.
"Mom, I'll be there when you get there."
Sheesh. Anyway, I got back and made myself the butteriest peanut butter English muffin ever. And devoured my fruit. And took a nap.

Saturday I had planned to see RPR, but my mother had pouted about not having any time with me of a non-funereal nature such that I canceled. Instead her day with me entailed inviting me to accompany them to another funeral Saturday morning (uh, no) and then sleeping the greater part of the afternoon on the couch.

By Saturday night I had finished Faith and Treason and At Swim-Two-Birds and a 50th anniversary issue of Life magazine I found among the Woman's Day, Modern Maturity, and various Christian rags in the living room. I had perused the bookshelf, singular, and found Christian texts, Prodigal Summer, Angela's Ashes, The Red Tent, and Coming Home. The other thing I'd done on Friday was dig into the garret and get my 1980-1985 yearbooks and some other books. I might have saved out Julie of the Wolves or From Anna or The Iceberg Hermit before I boxed everything up (in the box I'd sent their Christmas gifts in) and sealed it as best I could with masking tape. But I didn't.

So Sunday morning, I was glad to find a puny little store open at the airport with yet another Antonia Fraser, Marie Antoinette: the Journey. And so I returned to Denver. We went to the gym in the afternoon, which is another story, and I had a session with a personal trainer on Monday after work, and then it was the 21st, which you'll notice is the date of the entry.

Go to previous or next, the Journal Index, Words, or the Lisa Index

Last modified 23 January 2003

Speak your mind: lisawherepenguindustdashcom

Copyright © 2003 LJH