Sunday, January 10, 2010

Fiendishly cunning

I decide that I can cope no longer – the woman is driving me completely barmy – me and my shadow, Nonna. There is nothing else for it but to find something constructive for her to do with her time – but what? I’m generally against manual labor for elders and in any case the potato peeling debacle was less than successful – potatoes the size of peas – novel but ultimately mush rather than mash.

It is as I’m listening to the BBC radio 4 on my ipod as I fold laundry that I hit upon a cunning plan. I hear about Margaret Drabble and her fondness of jigsaw puzzles, just like my own mum. I’ve always been dead against jigsaw puzzles, on principal, could there be anything more wasteful in the time department. Fortunately I’m a woman without principals or convictions - easily swayed by any half persuasive argument – a turn coat. After listening a little further I believe all the handicrafts that one might do of an evening, the knitting, the sewing, the embroidery and so forth, all result in a physical item being created. All too often the crafter gives their work away – whether kindly or otherwise – so it’s still just as much of a waste of time. Why waste physical resources when you can just waste time instead? I’m sure Mother Nature would prefer the latter and jigsaws can be done over and over again by different people.

I dash upstairs and dig around the cupboards until I find it – an Escher jigsaw puzzle printed upon card rather than wood, cellophane still in tact so I know that every piece, all 1000 of them, will be there – it is a stunning study in light grey, mid grey and slightly darker grey – fiendish. I’m pretty confident that Nonna will be unable to resist. Margaret Drabble explained the psychologically - we need to complete things, to make order out of chaos – but I have my doubts.

My doubts stem from a little known fact, but I’m not sure how good you are at keeping secrets? Nonna is older now, so she chooses not to tidy nor clean, which suits her just fine. However, even when Nonna was younger than she is now, she also choose not to tidy nor clean, because it suited her. Now me, I come from a formidable lineage of compulsive cleaners and tidiers, my mother did it, as did hers, and hers; it’s genetic, something I can’t fight. That said, Nonna’s attitude – ‘it’s too boring and there are lots of other things that I’d rather be doing with my time and since we’re on the subject who decided that it was my job anyway, do I have to do all that in addition to the mothering thing?’ It’s a compelling argument.

So that’s why I’m a little doubtful. If you don’t have the neat and tidy gene do you also skip the ‘must complete compulsion?’ Are the two related? They seem as if they might be.

I find the biggest board available in the garage, remove cobwebs, dry and place in the middle of the dining room table while the children are at school. I lie in wait to capture my prey. Nonna appears on cue to hover at my shoulder as I pretend to be deeply absorbed with puzzle pieces.
“Wot you got dere den?”
“It’s a jigsaw puzzle.”
“I can see dat. Wot you do?”
“I’m matching the pieces.”
“I can see dat. You are always too busy to be sitting down in dah middle of the day.”
“Indeed I am, I’ll just go and rinse the rice.” I skip into the kitchen secure in the knowledge that before too long Nonna will be entrapped. “Dis is an orrible ting you ave ere!” she calls as she edges herself into a more comfortable puzzle matching position.
“Don’t finish it all at once!” I reply as I whiz to the compost heap, alone. I continue to complete all my many boring household chores for some considerable period of time without any physical interruptions. Communication regarding puzzle progress is easy as I frolic and flit about whilst Nonna remains static, glued to her dining room chair.
“I tink maybe some pieces are missing?”
“No, no, no, rest assured every single piece is there, definitely.”
“You didn’t take one den?”
“No, of course not. Why would I take one piece?”
“To hide it of course.”
“Hide it? Why would I want to hide one piece?”
“The last piece.”
“No. That would be too cruel.”
“Oh good. I just hope I can remember den.”
“Remember what?”
“Where I hid it.”

Sunday, January 3, 2010

And Always Keep Ahold of Nurse, For Fear of Finding Something Worse

It’s cookie and pastry day before the holidays - an attempt to get ahead of the permanent food shortage. Not only must we produce enough items for our own consumption but also sufficient for neighborly gifts. In addition, each child must have a turn in the kitchen, one on one with mum.

Although we’ve been in the States 15 years, I still have a hard time rolling ‘a rebel without a cause’ in dough – it’s a tall order - but Jimmy Dean is the number one brand of sausagemeat out here, and sausage rolls are a must on the menu. Nonna observes our doings from the safety of the dining room table as she paws over a library book.
“Ooo look at dat,” she says turning the page of ‘Snakes and Reptiles, the scariest cold-blooded creatures on earth.’ “I’ve seen that somewhere today.”
“Yes, now where was it?”
“It must have been something else. It can’t have been a Fer-de-Lance, not here, not in California.”
“No, no, I’m sure I saw it.”
“Maybe you remember seeing it in the book, perhaps earlier today?”
“No, no, no. It’s the first time I see dis book ere.”

My youngest son recently decided that he has Ophidiophobia, although whether he has a real fear of snakes or merely warms to all those syllables is still unclear – an affectation or an affection for all things Indiana Jones? Who knows?
I step over for a closer look, hands air born and flour covered, “no, look at the map, in the corner, they’re in Central America and Brazil…..Mexico……they don’t live this far north, none in California.” I make sure the last phrase goes over my shoulder, back to the kitchen so my youngest son gets the message, the fact, indisputable, from a text book. He, the chef, is busy squeezing dough through his fists – it squirts through the gaps in his fingers just like a fidget ball but less calming. I nip back to salvage warm pastry, oily from over handling, on the turn, grey and lifeless, a sticky mass.
“Now where did I see dat ting?” she continues.
“Can’t have seen a snake as it was too cold to go out today – remember?”
“No, I tink I saw it somewhere around ere…….in dah house.”
“I don’t think so.”
“Hmm ere somewhere,” she repeats as her hand circles the air, close by and about to materialize, charmed out of the ether. I am ready for this conversation to cease, but only the cookery is terminal as her grandson keeps a beady eye upon her, just in case. She stands gingerly, fingertips braced against the table for balance as they begin to tap, semaphore over the surface, searching like heat seeking missiles until the inevitable collision.

“See!” she beams. “Ha ha!” she chortles as she lifts the volume in my direction, the evidence in black and white, so I am red all over, “it’s yours isn’t it? Dis is what you are reading!” She doesn’t say ‘stupid girl!’ out loud; she doesn’t need to.