It was not often we, a family of eight, six kids ranging from six months to fourteen years old (Eric was not yet born), were invited out to dinner at a friend’s house. A large number of chairs were required, for one thing. Sometimes two or three tables were necessary, too, depending on how many kids the hosts had. Forks, knives, spoons, plates, glasses, FOOD enough for an army were required; and then there were all the other considerations: ages, left handed vs. right handed orientation, who would be forced to sit by whom and behave the entire time.
A lot of practice went into learning how to dine politely. First, all boys and men had to have on dress shirts; not t-shirts, nor sweatshirts. No hats. Clean hands and faces. No tipping in our chairs, no leaning on the table. Napkins on our laps, not tucked in our shirts. No slouching. Wait with hands in our laps until all the food was on the table, and, at last, Mom (or hostess) sat down, and placed her napkin on her lap. Someone would be assigned to say Grace. Then, we could begin passing the serving dishes – always to the right after filling your plate.
Only after everyone had a chance to fill their plate, and, maybe, a toast was made, Mom would pick up her fork, and everyone could begin eating, and make conversation punctuated by please pass the biscuits, or butter, or gravy.
No one left the table without permission. You could ask to be excused if you cleaned your plate,
“May I be excused?”
“No, you can sit here with all of us for a while.”
“But, I have a lot of homework (read, I have a new comic book).”
“You should have done your homework earlier. Just fold your hands and sit here with us.”
And, of course, you did.
Ted and Steve, “the boys,” could sometimes, no matter how smoothly ironed their blue buttoned-down collared shirts, be gross to the point of making me sick. If sitting directly across from me, they would wait until I happened to look up. Then, as soon as my eyes met theirs, they would smile with big pieces of broccoli stuck in their teeth, or would quickly stick out their tongues with chewed up meat on them (“see food”), or would pretend to flick a booger across the table onto my plate; all while smiling sweetly at Mom and Dad who were chatting away at the other end of the table, oblivious to the growing torment.
Mom and Dad would look down the table with raised eyebrows. The boys would give wide eyed grins, shrug, and focus on their plates, and for a minute all was nice. But once I took the bait, I was had. The effort to drive me nuts would slowly, and surely, escalate. Disgusting burps would be followed by, “Oh, excuse me,” with polite hands across the offending mouths. The burps grew louder and more frequent until I couldn’t stand it anymore;
“MOM! They are bothering me!” <whining>
“Well, don’t look at them. Pay attention to your own plate.”
“But they’re bothering me!”
“Boys! Leave your sister alone!”
“Sorry, Mom, we were just eating our dinner. We didn’t know we were bothering her.”
The quiet torment would continue; soft, swinging kicks under the table, crossed eyes when I looked up to glare at them, them passing the salt back and forth between the two of them when I asked them to “please pass the salt.”
Finally, I would begin complaining loudly and crying, and Mom would say,
“Roxanne! You are excused from the table. Finish your dinner in your bedroom!”
I would take my plate, and eat at my desk, furious and humiliated. Sure that I was the most abused girl in the world. I didn’t learn until I was well into my 30’s that my brothers ate most of their dinners in their room, too, for tormenting me. HA! Justice!
But, back to the story about all of us being invited out to dinner.
The Gugliemettis were friends of Mom and Dad. I am told Mom and Dad’s favorite Italian sausage recipe, with which they would make pounds of spicy sausage while drinking wine with their friends and neighbors, was actually the Gugliemetti’s recipe. They might have been older, more the age of grandparents. They had no kids at home that I recall. They may have lived out by Mather AFB, where Dad was stationed. We had to drive to get to their house, so they were not near neighbors.
One day, when I was about seven years old, the Gugliemettis invited Mom, Dad, and all of us kids to come over to their house for dinner – a big Italian dinner with special spaghetti sauce, and, no doubt, a relish tray, and cheese and cracker hor d’oerves. I imagined there would be a green salad, and Kool-Aid, too, if not soda pop, which was a real treat (not a treatment, Mom would say). Mrs. G and Mom had most likely planned it all out. The grown-ups and big kids would sit at the main table, and we smaller kids would sit at the smaller, shorter table. There would even be a high chair for Ruth, who was just a baby.
I remember it was intriguing to think about having dinner at someone else’s house. I was a little worried it might not taste good. I mean, if it had Italian sausage in the spaghetti sauce, it could be pretty spicy, and I did not like spicy food. I hoped they would have garlic bread with lots of butter… mmm. I did like buttery garlic bread.
Most likely, because there were so many little kids, Mrs. G and Mom decided we would have dinner early. We all put on our clean, starched shirts and dresses, pulled on bright white socks and dress shoes, and light cardigan sweaters. All our hair was brushed and combed, shining and smooth. Those who were ready first waited on the couch, while Mom finished getting the little kids ready.
Finally, Dad came into the living room, clapped his hands and rubbed them together, looked around at all of us, excited. “Everyone ready?” Mom came in all decked out, and smelling good. Dad gave her a wolf whistle and a wink, squeezed her shoulders, then said, “Okay, everyone in the car!”
We all filed out, and climbed in the car. Mom and Dad sat up front, with Ruth, the baby, on Mom’s lap, and Bobby sat in the middle of the bench seat between them (this was before the laws requiring kids to be in car seats in the back). I sat in the back by the left window. I had to sit by the window, because I got car sick, and because I didn’t want anyone touching me. Mag sat next to me. Ted and Steve were squeezed on the right side of the back seat.
Off we went, Mom reminding us of the rules for visiting people’s houses: no running, no interrupting adult conversations, no making pigs of ourselves, pass to the right, wait for Mrs. Gugliemetti to start eating before we began, clear our plates from the table when excused. We had them down, all the rules. We were ready. And believe me, no one wanted to see Mom shoot a warning look to Dad, or to hear her snap her fingers. THAT would be then end of a lovely evening.
We must have made a pretty picture to anyone passing us. A jolly family, all clean and shining in a clean, shiny car with dazzling white walls, which the boys had, no doubt, spiffed up that afternoon before we left. A handsome Dad and a beautiful Mom singing along with each other…smiling kids. It promised to be a great dinner.
But then, without warning, catastrophe struck! It happened so quickly, there was not time to open a window, or for Dad to stop the car.
Ruth, the sweet baby girl sitting on Mom’s lap, gave a small whimper, then threw up all over Mom and the dash board. Bobby, sitting next to Mom, saw and heard Ruth throw up, and he vomited all over Dad, Mom, and Ruth in the front seat. Mag sitting next to me, tried to hold her nose, but it did not help. Mag threw up all over her pretty dress, and I threw up all over Mag, and the back seat. I do not know if Steve and Ted threw up, but it was a miracle, if they did not.
I am sure there was a lot of wailing going on in the car. Dad pulled the car over, and Mom and Dad helped us all out to line up close to the car, while they tried to soak up the puke with baby blankets and cloth diapers. Nothing could clear out the smell.
We were closer to the Gugliemetti’s house, than we were to our house, so there was nothing to do but to get back in the car, and keep going to the Gugliemetti’s. Dad stopped the car in front of their house, Mom picked up the baby, and Dad and she led our sour smelling, bedraggled group to the front door.
Mrs. Gugliemetti threw open the door with a big smile that quickly changed to dismay as she realized what had happened. I imagine Mom was just mortified, and probably wanted to just cry. Without delay, Mrs. G gave Mom and Dad quick hugs, took the baby from Mom, then rounded us all into their house. She brought us clean t-shirts, and soft sweatpants to wear while she piled all our ruined finery into her washer and dryer. Probably Dad and Mr. G went outside to clean and air out the car.
We were all encouraged to “have a seat, have a seat!” I have no doubt big glasses of wine were poured for Mom and Dad. Just as I had imagined, there were two tables with cheese and cracker hor d’oerves, pickles and olives and cheese on something called an antipasta tray… who was anti-pasta? A huge pot of spaghetti and sauce with grated cheese was produced. Most of us kids were still feeling too sick to our stomachs to really enjoy the great dinner. But we did relax, and felt at home, and our own clothes, warm from the dryer felt great.
We stopped for 7-Up on the way home, to soothe our sick stomachs, and I must admit I do not remember too many invitations for all of us to come for dinner after that….but I have never forgotten that great name, Gugliemetti, nor the great adventure of all of us trying to have dinner out.
oh Ma —
it’s been one hundred seventy seven days today since I last spoke to him —
one hundred seventy seven days since he —
gotta go, Ma –
There once was a princess named Reese,
Who pulled on her coat made of fleece
pulled on her gloves, and her bright yellow boots,
then wiggled and giggled, shouting out great hoots,
as Great Aunt, Roxanna, tried to hug her great niece.
What privileged robins live in my back yard…
racing through the sprinkler, barely giving me any notice…
but WHO, may I ask, tipped over the big blue pot under the umbrella?
Emil Catt, was it you?
If you have seen it, you know.
Life does not end. It does not. No, it does not.
It peels away and moves beyond this body, those once treasured plans, these sweet, dear beloveds. Often not easily, nor willingly; sometimes not even completely, but eventually -when exhaustion prevails, organs fail, when all is ready, enough is said- the anchor lifts. And the soul’s strong sails spread on the wind, sailing, sailing with sad, exquisite relief.
Brandon took sail Monday, March 27, 2017. Wishing him a good journey…
Excuse me, what are you saying?
he is not a candidate for hospice?
he is not in enough pain?
he is not sick enough?
did not someone tell him yesterday there was no hope?
that he will not live out the month?
and that is why you called hospice?
do you not see that is why he said to leave him alone?
refused to eat?
asked that his children not be allowed in?
do you not recall his brain injury causes him to misinterpret what you say?
did we not leave requests to call his wife if you have something to tell him?
did you forget that he will forget?
Excuse me, what?
you called for a consult for the liver transplant?
did you not do that last week?
and what else?
you are immediately transferring him to the transplant hospital?
so there is some hope?
or are you simply concerned we have finally had enough?
that we shall begin to question every word said?
every thing done?
will you even remember he and we were here?
Today she meets with hospice,
my darling heartbroken daughter,
to discuss how best to establish care
for her darling dying husband.
It is not the dead part I hate so much,
it is the impossibly hard work of dying.
This is the truth I have come to know:
people are not dead until they are dead,
and maybe not then.
You cannot talk over them, pretend they are not there.
You cannot plan without them, assume they don’t care.
They are here! They are here, and fully aware.
So quiet the panic as best as you can,
sit down, shut up, take hold of their hand.
Just at this moment it is not about you.
Cry if you must, wail and weep,
but sit there, and listen, and live in the moment,
while they are here living with you.
How can it be?
How can it be
that that thin, thin body
can hold four liters of fluid?
Four liters of fluid!
There is no room!
Certainly there is no room…
how ridiculous to think the lovely, miserable music scratching out of this fifty year old Janis Ian lp would somehow lift my sinking, self pitying, weeping- into- my -morning-coffee spirits above perceived injustices and aged indignation, humiliation, worthlessness…
or that reading MIDNIGHT WATCH by David Dyer, sitting in the anguished heads of those on the Californian thinking they should have, could have done something, anything, to save the Titanic because they saw her rockets, failed to find any bodies, would inspire me to renew some thirty year old belief that my life would be the one to inspire all of mankind to perfection… not the corrupt, other worldy lives of Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump…
or that reviewing all decisions made in my life all these many, many years and believing I made the best decisions to be made, given all the variables, would change the gut slashing pain from your sigh of forced tolerance, your slight roll of your eyes, your barely hidden disgust when we talk…
you, the one person who hangs my moon…
oh, how my mother disgusted me at one point in my life, with all her cold, deliberate moves away from all of us while never letting go…her looks, her style, her men, her incredible survival tactics… how I cried each time she visited, then left again…Dad died, she left again, and again, trying to keep it together… life is so rude
oh, and my self-assurance that I was so smart, so worldly, so advanced beyond her…that I understood what she did not…I, who am now the disgusting, old,the pain- in- the -neck mother who fucked up royally, but who wants some of your time, who wants an occasional, spontaneous, surprise visit, an invitation to dinner on your patio with you and the kids, who imagines we have such laughs and remember such good times… and that you and my grands love being with me…(and who knows by writing this that I come off like some cliched Jewish mother, damn it…)
they weren’t all bad, were they, the days of our lives? or has your perfect, long suffering mother-in-law convinced you that it would have been better if I had learned to sacrifice, to live with your father no matter how many slaps or put downs? are her answers better because she stayed with her asshole (I can hear you sigh at that)? I hated leaving you with him, but how can you know (and I, now, imagine) how cowed I was by him? I believed I had to leave to save us both… I believed that with all the idiocy of a twenty eight year old battered wife.
is one good memory that makes you smile and glad I was/am your Mom?
Maybe not…not today, anyway, as I wait for you to call to say “let’s go to the fair!” ( you told me Wednesday we would go today, but it’s eleven already).
I s’pose they may come later, the good memories, when I have no more memory, as when my mom had no more memory, and it was up to me to remember the good stuff…
and I did…
and while I was writing this oozing mess, you were texting me to meet you all at 2 PM to see the last big events and awards…and I can’t wait to get there and see you! and life is good and happy again…and I put on American Woman by the Who loud to celebrate, all the while thinking what a stupid thing to do…HAA