Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Back at Home with Mom September 2011

 Dear readers: I apologize for the long absence here is the continuation of our vacation blog

I once read a scathing story about how poorly Martha Stewart treated her mother during the filming of one of her holiday specials. Apparently she was serving up some sort of stew to her TV guests in a hollowed out squash bowls and her 80 plus mother wasn’t properly dishing it into the squashes. She asked the cameras to stop and she gave her mother what for right there in front of the cast and crew. She hurled a few invectives and pointed out her mother’s incompetence repeatedly and made her do it again until she got it right. When she was relatively satisfied with the old ladies performance she asked the cameras to roll to catch it and her mother somewhat shaken carried on trying not to look too ruffled. Apparently Martha’s Mom was used to being spoken to like this. When I read that I was horrified-really I was. Now in retrospect, I am not entirely sure the tale had a shred of truth to it. After all- Martha got rich and successful by being fairly uncompromising and expecting a lot out of others. That sort of thing can come back and bite you in the ass. ( Or so I have heard)  I always figured when I became rich and famous I would go the “Liberace route” and treat MY Mom very well giving her the best and spoiling her something fierce. She always did well by me so it seemed it only natural to return the favor. Unfortunately I didn’t have Liberace’s  or Martha’s Money, I only had my common sense which I felt gave me a very good idea as to what’s best for my mother. Unfortunately, she always had trouble coming around to my way of thinking.

After our pizza dinner we bid Momma good night and Orlando and I settled into the 30 year old twin mattresses, in my mother's guest room. My nasal passages were irritated. My mother is a smoker. She is hardcore about it too. Growing up I was immune to it, but after a year of living away from home I found coming home to be unpleasant on the ole nostrils. After being away for 4 or 5 years and returning I began to notice just how MUCH my mother smoked and how BADLY she required her cigarettes. When she lit up in her tiny kitchen it drove me three rooms away, because there was no ventilation. My last summertime visit to my home was cloyingly humid and I arrived only to give her a brief hug and start begging my brother to help me remove the storm windows and pull the ancient rusted screens down. "THIS is what you should do Mother if you are going to CONTINUE to smoke-always always have the windows open so the SMOKE HAS SOMEWHERE TO GO." She'd fidget and look somewhere between embarrassed and angry-but mostly angry. Her favorite sitting spots became apparent as the little yellowy brown nicotine stains formed above on the ceiling. The irony  was that at all the while I was admonishing her during my visits to Vermont, I'd fly back to San Francisco and attend a party, have a few cocktails and inevitably bum a cigarette from a friend. I am 47 now and have learned the damage that even one cigarette can do to me. My sedentary lifestyle and high blood pressure and family history of heart disease are the perfect ingredients to add to a cigarette to give me a heart attack. No kidding folks. It also helps that Orlando is a reformed smoker. He is just like any other addict and says there are many days when he craves a smoke but neither of us wants to "kiss an ashtray." The Cigarette is an enormous sense of comfort to my Mother and a major discomfort to the rest of her family. It wasn't always that way. As little Cooley boys, perfume and cigarettes made us think of Mommy. My brother Peter had a real problem forever trying to break the cycle of dating women who smoked. Thank God he finally did. We all did. Particularly me lol.  I never could tolerate kissing a smoker unless I was blind drunk.

 Mom has since downsized and sold the home I grew up in and moved to an apartment which –oddly enough-is about as big as the 200 year old Farmhouse she raised me in. Tomorrow was my Mother's true 80th Birthday even though we were celebrating it with family on Saturday. Orlando and I had arranged for dinner out at a restaurant in Montpelier with just her and my father. It was always iffy when Dad spent time with my Mother. They had been divorced since I was 19 years old. He lived a half an hour away from her in the town of Randolph. Since the divorce, Mother had a pattern of "wearing down" after spending more than say 2 hours with my Dad. This could happen sooner if my father chose to engage in a teasing session, which was never handled with good humor.If I caught it in time I'd squash it before it went too far, but sometimes he didn't just tease her.  He would do simple thoughtless things -like arrive to her home and expect the family pattern to resume of her waiting on him. He might sit in her seat where she always sits, and then she wouldn't say anything about it and stifle her irritation only to have it erupt at a bizarre moment during a quiet family conversation. Or she would go outside and smoke. I was always at the ready like a fireman with my water hose to put out the potential flame. Lando sensed my tension and frequently rubbed my shoulders and hands through out our stay but he also thought I was over reacting a tad. Remember he comes from a Puerto Rican Family. They raise their voices. My family just raises their eyebrows…in disapproval at people who raise their voices.                                          

We arrived the next night in at the restaurant in a timely manner. I sniffed my favorite cashmere sweater and wrinkled my nose at the scent of tobacco. I looked over at Lando and he gave a knowing sympathetic look back which honestly I didn't expect. Earlier that afternoon I had just gotten a lecture about how maybe I had expected too much out of my 80 year old mother. After all, (he pointed out)  didn't I work in a place where many were under 80, but were in such bad shape they had to live in a skilled nursing facility? Wasn't it remarkable that my mother was so mobile and doing so much with her life?  I thought about it and yes. Perhaps I was taking her for granted. He had witnessed me suggesting how she organize her freezer, organize her time, explore her creative side, etc etc etc. I had TONS of suggestions for my Mother for how she could make her life better but I didn't seem to have anything to say how well she had DONE. Being the sensitive lady she was she frequently had more cigarettes on the porch the more suggestions I made.


Dad said that he and  Mom should split their dinner once he saw the prices on the menu. Orlando and I reminded him he wasn't paying for dinner and he frowned disapprovingly and continued to badger my mother with his idea of splitting the filet mignon. There was logic to it considering they both ate like birds but hey -it was her 80th birthday for cryin out loud. I could see he was getting the best of her hearing her vaguely controlled yet frustrated protests that she wanted her own dinner. I calmly reminded her it was her night and Dad didn't have any say in the evening. She just sat there and looked like she wanted a cigarette. "How about a cocktail?", I suggested. Our sweet 12 year old waitress wasn't as fast or as savvy as I would've liked, but this was Vermont and she looked apple cheeked and wholesome and endearing instead. The margarita arrived which helped and the talk came to appetizers, and O & I suggested the fried calamari. I was thinking she would love it because she was a huge fan of deep fried clam strips and well hey -"la meme chose" -in my opinion. I really didn't get far because she knew calimari was squid and recoiled at the thought. I made the mistake of persisting. I even told the waitress that we would like a platter. My mother snapped at the poor child, " Aren't you going to ask ME what I WANT??" before she she even had a chance to. "Well of course Mam" the flustered little girl said. There was confusion. Mom thought we were EACH getting a plate of calimari. Most folks over 80 can't handle an appetizer -let alone finish an entire entree. I mentioned as much in a very domineering tone. That's another thing my family is good at. Tones. As the waitress walked away mother burst out that SHE REALLY DIDN'T WANT THE CALIMARI, SHE WANTED THE CHEESE NACHOS INSTEAD!! I stared at her as a parent would a willful out-of-control child. Orlando pressed his hand against mine and said in a low insistent tone that meant business "honey-go get the waitress and change our order NOW." I knew to the very CORE of my soul that my mother would LOVE the calimari and that she was behaving badly due to too much Charlie (my Dad) exposure but arguing the point right now was clearly going to be to my detriment. I rushed after the child waitress and smiled as sweetly as I could but she still looked frightened. I spoke gently. "sweetheart, would you be so kind as to change that appetizer order to the nachos please?" She bobbed her head vigorously and dashed off. For a second I thought that maybe I had scared her. Before I returned to my seat I stopped the bartender and pointed out our table. I told him to never let the lady's Margarita's run dry. He said he'd do his best.  I returned to the table and my mother carefully avoided my gaze but I brought about this false bright tone to try to brush off the calimari/nacho outburst. Orlando was good at being his jovial self as per usual and my Dad really loves chatting with him. When her second cocktail came out, I brought my phone up to take a picture of her enjoying it but my camera wasn't focusing properly and I was chiding my phone for improperly working-but Mother mistook that as criticism directed at her. She fidgeted & turned to my father and said, "see? he's doing it again!" and Orlando piped up with " His Phone Lois !!! He's yelling at his phone -not you!" That seemed to calm her.
The rest of the meal went without incident. The waitress came back and took some mediocre pictures of all of us with Dad's very expensive Nikon. We tipped her well. Birthday wishes were granted. Dad drove home and Orlando and I watched a little TV on her little TV while she headed up to bed. Before she went upstairs she stuck her head into the TV from and said, " You might want to start thinking of all the good things I've done in my life." I raised my eyebrows at her and said in an even tone. " I might?" "Yes" she said, "You might. ...Good night."  I smiled. "  Okay….I will...Night Mom"

I was prepared that I would want some "vacation time" in Vermont as well. I had a visit with my Aunties scheduled and then I had booked a couple nights at a bed and breakfast where no smoking was allowed.

You should know that my mother sent me an email a few days later when I returned to Oakland. She said, " My friends said I should've tried the Calimari."