Sunday, August 14, 2005

I Me Mine I Me Mine I Me Mine

I return triumphant from the wilds of Cape Cod, where strip malls are replacing pine forests, beaches act as a beautiful bone of contention and tourists issue gunpoint demands of natives being displaced by the wealthy. It's a lot like New Jersey, except with better manners and no room for garbage dumps. This trip was educational; I learned a few things.

1. I am an idiot, but I doubt the wisdom of throwing a surprise party for a 93-year-old. Your opinion may vary.

Grandpa is one of two surviving charter members of the Hyannis VFW, and though road construction and re-engineering is a fact of modern life, my nearly blind grandfather knows every street on the Upper Cape. He corrects cab drivers and scolds Mom for second-guessing his directions. He likes things just-so and Mom ruffles his feathers constantly with detours, luxurious time-wasting and gifts of stuff he swears he neither needs nor wants.

It's his birthday. He thinks we're going to a fish fry at the Moose Lodge.
It's her father's birthday. She's conspired with his friends and they've all told him lies that will result in cake.

Oh dear. He won't be pleased.

Though we've stalled and walked around in circles in a drug store, when Mom, Grandpa and I arrive at the VFW hall Daria's family is still filing into the building. Mom parks and makes an MGM production of applying lipstick. Grandpa and I, cut from the same cloth, leap out, slam doors and wonder where she is before we realize she's fluffing her hair.

Grandpa: Lucy! The kids are waiting!
Tata: Mom! Christmas is coming!

I'm anxious to get the inevitable shouting, back-slapping, and meeting of the paramedics out of the way. Mom hasn't thought this plan through. Before we picked up Grandpa and went shopping, Mom and I stopped at the VFW and the celebrants were already bellied up to the bar and mildly over-happy. Two hours later, over-happiness spills out into huggy drunken I-Love-You-Ness, and there's a vet with an electric organ. Damn it, we're gonna hear old guy karaoke of White Cliffs of Dover. And then we do.

See, when this happens at my local bar, they're my friends; I know what to expect and what to laugh off. My family doesn't have to know that much about me until well after I'm dead. When Grandpa's friends put balloons down their bras - yes, women served in the Great Wars - and play not-at-all-hard-to-get I stare at my mother and hope I'm hallucinating.

It does not occur to us until later that perhaps this part of his life is private, and we are intruding, but it's too late because Mom's joined the Ladies' Auxilliary, Tyler joined the post as a Marine who served in Africa during the first Gulf War, and Tyler Two has figured out how to win at Keno between kindergarten and first grade just by coloring inside the lines.

2. Weirdness in the present invariably hints at a weirder past.

Mom: What's your friend with the French last name?
Tata: Johnny.
Mom: Are you still in touch with him?
Tata: Nearly every day. He's moved to Santa Fe and learned the tango.
Mom: Is he related to Marguerite of the same last name?
Tata: That's his mother.
Mom: Really? That's exciting! How long have you known each other?
Tata: Since the summer I was 14 and saw him painting a giant metal box green.
Mom: My goodness, that's quite a while! Is he married? Children?
Tata: He's got a hot veterinarian wife, a houseful of pets and a new tattoo.
Mom: Isn't that interesting! I met her in radiation. Did you know she was in treatment?
Tata: After 28 years of living an eighth of a mile apart you meet her in a waiting room in the next town?

3. Around the family, peace of mind is gonna cost ya.

I don't have small children but Daria has three, and three is the magic number at which the noise is too much for me. By lunchtime, I've had enough and sit outside with my cup of coffee. Each member of the family is spinning like a top inside the house in his or her own special way and talking the whole time, not necessarily to anyone else. There's no time to do a whole yoga practice before we go kidnap Grandpa, though the exercise would calm my anxiety. This is the moment when my obsessive-compulsive nature miraculously works for me: the garden my late grandmother tended daily is inches from going to seed. I stand up. I fold in half. I weed in self-defense.

At first, I pull up weeds. As I relax into the stretch, my toes in the dirt feel strong. Upside down, I have always been fine and happy and wildly alive. I gather the weeds into a pile, tear them into shreds and pile them around the roots of larger shrubs against the house. Then I see hollow, woodier stems that once used to be favored plants or flowers and pull them up. Then I pull up grasses and shoots, tear them and place the shreds around the older shrubs. Time passes. The ground is clear and even. I give the house its due, the past its place, and muscles the bloom muscles want and love. You'd think this would quiet the mind. Nope.

Daria: What's wrong with you? Where are your shoes?
Mom: I have gloves. You can use my gloves. Do you want gloves?
Tom: Can you stay for a week?
Tyler: Are you dressed for this? Should I get power tools? What will this do to property values?
Tyler Two: Mommy says you're allowed to get dirty - just this once.

Daria, who was a barefoot commune kid with me, can't stand to touch dirt. We grew vegetables. We spent summers touching the ground. Daria gets hysterical when her kids use their Tonka earthmovers to move earth. Personally, I don't get it but I haven't figured out why people care about Britney Spears either so the universe remains mysterious. And hey, what's a brother-in-law for?

Tata: Tyler! You bastard! Do you know what song is stuck in my head?
Tyler: (Weary) No, Ta. What song is stuck in your head?
Tata: God damn it, it's Sister Christian and it's all your fault!
Tyler: (Perking right up) That's a shame! "Motoring..."

I'm going to make him move my couch after I stick weights between the cushions. Yup, love stinks!

4. Luggage: on wheels, period.

Life is short. Run through the terminal and nap so you can see America from the bus or train. It's wonderful, you know. There is so much of it and only so much of you.


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