Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Patron Saint of superstitious people

Many years ago in England, I gave my daughter a St. Christopher’s medal, a very small one on a fine golden chain. To my surprise, she wore it. She always wore it. Soon after that, we began to travel, or rather move lock stock and barrel to the United States. Subsequently, as she became an adult, she traveled even further a field, to China, Tibet, Mozambique. I had forgotten about that little medal. I had no idea that it traveled with her.

My son cycles through his current favourite scripts. Because they are scripts, they are word perfect with no detectable speech delay. Because they are acquired from here and there, they demonstrate a wide range of accents and emphasies. He voices his scripts as he plays a Wii game with enraptured, high energy joy, oblivious to everyone and everything around him. Whilst he plays I go about my evening chores, a combination of laundry and cookery when my daughter appears, “I’ll do that for you mum.”
“I think I got some flour on those dark jeans.”
“Ah, it’ll brush off.”
“Don’t try this at home!” he chants.
“It’s so easy to sort and fold the laundry now.”
“Oh that’s very kind of you dear, but you don’t need to bother, I’ll do it in a minute. Don’t you need to finish your packing?”
“Batteries not included!” he shouts.
“Nope. The back packs full. I’m happy to help, especially now that it’s so much easier?”
“French Fries! Get your French Fries here!”
“Yes, everything of yours is sludge coloured and everything of hers is pink.”
“Hmm yes, it is a worrying trend.”
“Be a man no more, be an ape.”
“The sludge? Got to be expected at your age.”
“Actually I meant the pink.”
“Got to be expected at her age.”
“Whacked out on Vicodin!”

I reflect upon this conversation the next day, in the utility room. I empty the washing machine after dropping her at San Francisco airport for her flight to Australia. I lift out the little medal and turn to see Nonna hovering, “ooo gawd!” she flutters, as I hold it out for her to see in the palm of my hand. She steps back into the kitchen to grab the cruet, “ere, throw some salt over your shoulder, quick! I won’t tell anyone! Ave another Vicodin and stop it wiv your worrying.”

Saturday, October 11, 2008

My Grandmother's Chest

* I read my email as my girls prepare for their respective sleepovers. I read one note from a chum, a round robin about ovarian cancer. It also lists the main symptoms. The one that catches my eye is the term ‘persistent lethargy or over tiredness.’ This seems to be a symptom common to so many diseases. How should I be able to distinguish between general fatigue and sickly fatigue I wonder? I yawn as my daughter drags a sack two thirds the size of her own body mass into the kitchen.
“Got everything dear?”
“Er…..yes I think so.”
“Ooo look! You’ve forgotten your toothbrush, over there.”
“Did you pack some toothpaste?”
“What about your pyjamas?”
“Cuddly blankie?”
“Clothes for tomorrow?”
“Wash cloth, soap, toiletries.”
“Toilet? They have a toilet.”
“Nevermind, I’ll put some bits and pieces together for you. So what do you have in there?”
“Three blankets, my Webkinz, my toys and some snacks.”
“Maybe you should take a sleeping bag instead.”
“No they make up a bed for me.”
“Then why do you need so many blankets?”
“Er….I just need em.”
“Are the snacks a gift? Shall we wrap them?”
“No, they’re to eat.”
“But you’re having supper there.”
“Still gotta eat.” I give up and head off to fill in the missing blanks when I bump into my older daughter with her sketch book under one arm, “all set dear.”
“I think you left the tent in the garage.”
“I don’t need the tent.”
“No tent? Is there a cabin?”
“Nope, sleep under the stars in my sleeping bag.”
“No backpack?”
“It’s only one night mum!” I leave the minimalist at the bottom of the stairs and whip up to gather supplies for the maximalist.

I nip downstairs again when Nonna is saying her goodbyes at the door. We watch her together as she hurtles off on her bike, care free and devoid of possessions. I shut the door and we totter through to the family room where my youngest daughter attempts to stuff additional Pokemon into a sack all ready to burst.
"Careful, you will split dah bag!" warns Nonna.
"This dumb bag. It's pathetic."
"Tell you what, you can borrow dah suitcase dat I brought from home."
"That's ain't big enough either! It's only a little diddy English suitcase." She flounces from the room, temporarily defeated. Nonna turns to me, "how long is she go for? How long are dey both go for?"
"One night. She'll be back at 8:30 tomorrow morning.......her sister......any time in the next few days, assuming she doesn't get too many punctures."
"I wonder ow long it will take?"
"To whittle her down to just a sketch pad?"

Friday, October 10, 2008

Chomping at the bit[e]

I rush around the kitchen, chopping and chiding.
“Will you still eat the coleslaw if I leave the sultanas out?”
“Of course Mother dearest. You know me, I’ll eat anything.”
“The goat’s cheese has herbs and garlic in it. Will that still be o.k. for you?”
“Of course.”
“Well I didn’t want to overload the garlic in case you were going out or something.”
“You know. Meeting your chums. I wouldn’t want you to gas them with garlic breath.”
“My friends aren’t that picky.”
“It’s so tricky to take account of everyone’s needs and yet still keep pushing the healthy diets.”
“Just as well some of us are easy to accommodate.”
“I’m hoping that I’ll be able to persuade them to eat the flan if I pile enough caramelized onions on top.”
“Well if not, I’m always here.”
“I’m not sure if the Rosemary glaze will be too over powering for the carrots……or rather…..the children?”
“No problem, all the more for me.”
“I’ve cheated a bit.”
“If they won’t eat the goat’s cheese I’ve put Parmesan on the Bruschetta. Nonna likes the Bruschetta, so I’ve made extra. I’m trying new tricks to get cheese into them. Do you mind?”
“Coronary please!”
“I slipped some finely chopped olives into the mixture. I hope they don’t notice.”
“Chunks Mother, I love chunks.”
“Yes, but chunks are much easier to pick out. Their finger tips are surgeon’s scalpels.”
“No progress on the knives and forks then, what a surprise.”
“I also need to ease up on the puddings. Too many diabetics around here. The fruit campaign is going to suffer.”
“Well there’ll be a few more diabetics in the future if you don’t get a grip.”
“Quinine’s supposed to be good for leg cramps, but I’m not having much luck selling that one either.”
“Nonna doesn’t strike me as a gin and tonic kindofa woman.”
“Hmm….the butter and olive oil consumption as doubled.”
“Very slick. All this effort! Why do you bother?”
“Well I have to keep trying or they might fade away completely.”
“Do you really think he’ll have a go?”
“Him? Oh no, he won’t eat any of this, not one scrap. It’s all for everyone else.”
“Oh……so what will he eat whilst we’re scoffing this down?”
“Ritz crackers.”
“Ritz. That’s it?”
“What do you mean ‘that’s it?’ It’s a hellavan advance on Goldfish Crackers missy!”

Friday, October 3, 2008

Woe Betide you

I have always been a very quick learner.

Back in the 70’s when money was tight, my mother would spend an entire weekend cooking and baking. Sumptuous smells would waft up our three story, narrow Victorian terrace. It was so familiar and deliciously enticing.

It meant that my mother would be harassed. It meant that the kitchen would be an impassable road block full of dirty pans and dishes. It meant sandwiches for two days running. Sandwiches with margarine because all the butter had been cooked. Sandwiches with crusty jam of some obscure flavour that had grown fur at the back of the cupboard, like gooseberry or damson. A wicked combination of sensual torture. By the middle of the first day we would recognize the look. We would peek around the kitchen door, “when’s lunch mum?” A harried woman would look up, brush a lock of flour powdered hair behind her ear, pursed lips and furrowed brow, “food! You’ve only just had breakfast!”
“That was ages ago. I’m starving!”
“If you’re hungry…….eat some fruit.” She might just as well have said ‘eat a house brick.’ Any further protest would be met with ‘if you don’t want fruit you can’t be very hungry then.’ It was a scripted exchanged that soon fizzled out. We’d be reduced to searching the sofas and chairs for half eaten sweets and other fluffy rejects.

The oven took precedence. To save money on gas, the tiny oven had to be permanently full, fed with tray after tray, sheet after sheet, casserole after casserole in a never ending conveyor belt of food. The oxygen content of the fetid atmosphere would fall as the squirts of lemon fought with tomato juice, onion breath and hot air.

By Sunday evening, order and cleanliness would have been restored. Whilst my mother soaked in a bath of steamy Skin so Soft, we would sneak into the kitchen to steal. The counter would be laden with boxes, tins and Tupperware, each neatly labeled with indecipherable handwriting, code and dates. Miraculous. The condensation on the black window panes contained more nutritious molecules than anything less accessible. Should anyone be brave enough to lift a lid they would be rewarded with a vision of symmetry. Everything would be 24 or 12 with the occasional six. We were all thieves but none of us were conjurers. It was an impossible pattern to defeat.

I have time to remember these things as I finish up the fourth load of washing up. Remember, as I tidy away the pen and labels with different codes. Reflect, as I push all the boxes that cool to the back of the counter and reach for a carton of Goldfish Crackers to feed my own starving. Maybe I can squeeze in a quick shower in the next 24 hours? But first I have to find the child that hides from the stench of cooking.