Monday, January 25, 2010

From Soup to Nuts, and Back...

That's a pork hock. I'm making pea soup.

Cooking and baking are big in my family. My mother used to make everything from scratch. Now, she can't remember what "scratch" means.

My mother's arrival in Kookytown was pretty well-timed. She'd been living independently in her own condo, quite nicely thank-you-very-much, for 15 years, in
Winnipeg. Then, at 86, a particularly bad bout of angina sent her to the ER. She endured an angiogram, revealing clogged arteries. After angioplasty failed to clear one passage, doctors placed a stent.

She was never the same, physically or mentally. By the time she washed up on my doorstep, at age 89, things were pretty bad. She couldn't cook for herself anymore, memories were fragmented, strangely twisted out-of-shape, and she acted in many ways more like a small child than the person I used to know.

In the years between the stent and her move to Kookytown, she'd refused to budge from her condo, either into a retirement residence in Winnipeg, or here in Kookytown. It was dithering of the highest order. Gradually, she wore down, getting stranger and stranger.

She called ambulances on a regular basis to whisk herself off to hospital, where she'd lie on a cot in a hallway for a week. They'd dutifully check her out, pronounce her as fit as could be expected, and send her home. A month later, she'd be back.

Then the crying started. She'd call, trapping me in endless conversations, always dissolving in tears. Finally, she agreed to come live with us in Kookytown, hinting darkly that she had cancer. She didn't.

In the weeks preceding the move, she phoned at least twice daily, asking the same questions over and over.

"I'm going to list all my books and I want you to tell me which ones I should bring." I knew she had hundreds of books.

"We already did this mom. A dozen times. I don't want to do it again. Check your list."


"Do you have the list?"

"I must have misplaced it. I'll make a new one. Which books do you...?"

I'd cut her off, tell her I was busy, refuse to go through the books again. But nothing dissuaded her, and every day, the calls came. If it wasn't the books, it was the dishes in her kitchen. She'd list every single one, as if I'd remember them, wanting to know which she should bring. The Corning Ware casserole? Dad's old tea cup?

In the end, she brought nothing of what I asked for, and a lot of things I specifically told her to leave behind.

Today, she tries to offer help in the soup-making. But she gets confused so easily, it becomes an exercise in frustration for both of us.

"If only they'd packed my pressure-cooker," she harps bitterly.

The "thieving" movers have been a sore spot since she arrived. Of course, the movers actually stole nothing. I checked the manifest myself when the huge van rumbled up curbside just over a year ago. Every single item that went on the moving truck in Winnipeg came off in Kookytown, as witnessed by my neat ticks on the document as lamps, tables, endless clothing and the assorted detritus of a long, winding-down life sailed through my entranceway and into various rooms.

Despite the hard evidence presented by that manifest and my row of ticks, she remains convinced that all sorts of things were stolen.

I look at this wildly bushy- eye-browed, shaky remnant of woman tottering before me, her hands knocking together repetitively as she laments the loss of the pressure-cooker. Who is she?

My soup stock has been bubbling all afternoon. I'll fish out the hock for the composter, then add dried split peas soaked overnight, some chopped onion, celery and ham, and just for fun, a butternut squash that's been perched on the counter since last grocery-day.

"I never put squash in my pea-soup," she tosses out at me.

I don't answer.

"If only I had the darn pressure-cooker." She finally wanders into another room, and I heave a sigh of relief, turning my mind from nuts to soup.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Would You Like Mayo With That?

So I call myself Sandwitch. All the names in this blog are made up. But we are real people, a fact you might have trouble believing as you read on (It’s not all my fault. Especially the “hotel/hooker” incident. But I digress)

People around my age are the "sandwich generation." I wish I were a Hero, but I’m more the shape and temperament of a Submarine, with the social attributes of a Club, I think; unfortunately it’s definitely a case of not wanting to belong to any club that would have me. I love the people in my family, I do. I’m just not quite as fuzzy-wuzzy about our present configuration.

“You’re not embracing the extended-family ethos,” Anthony chides.

“Easy for you to say,” I shoot back. “Your extended family is enjoying the ethos of the other side of town. You lucky dog.”

Besides, I beg to differ. I accept the extended family (embrace is a strong word). Acceptance does not preclude complaining, however.

Since we’re defining generations here, let it be known I’m also a baby-boomer with Gen X tendencies because I rode the last ripple of the huge boomer bulge and feel much more Douglas Coupland and Billy Idol than Jack Kerouac or MoTown.

“Sandwich” generation is perfectly fitting: not only am I sandwiched snugly between generational classifications, but also between the physical manifestations of the generations that respectively preceded and followed mine: my mother and children.

Sally Martin: born 1919, in between (sandwiched again) World Wars. Grew up in the Depression, made it through WWII with husband and baby intact, lived, aged, sent kids out the door, buried my father, and now…she’s ba-ack, shuffling like a dusty walking matriarchal memory through my house.

Alex and Kathleen Martin: born 1996 and 1998, the last gasps of the 20th Century, Generation Y-ers, Gen Next, whatever you call them, they are the top slice of bread on the sandwich that squeezes me and my husband into flattened, beaten, whimpering 2-dimensional versions of our formerly roundish, tanned, toned selves — the selves we were back when busy meant “juggling” (I actually had the nerve to apply that word in describing my former life of ease) demanding careers, rent payments and a crushing vacation schedule.

Now, my pasty-white body hasn’t seen a tropical beach in years and cardio exercise means the pounding of my heart as I race from one event to another, none having to do with dinner out, shopping for myself or God forbid, the spa.

“Looks like the underbelly of a fish,” my husband said the other day, eyeing with mild alarm my pale, oddly translucent flesh.

“You’re no bronzed God yourself,” I responded, fondly (really) slapping his buttocks, then abruptly recoiling at the resulting tremors.

“How do they shake like that?” I mumbled, not wanting to look out of respect for the dead, but incapable of turning away from the scene of the accident.

“That's rhetorical, right?"

My husband makes me laugh, and thank God for that. Since it's not exactly a funny situation we're in.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Barking Up the Family Tree

I live with my two kids for most of the time, and for all of the time with my third husband, my mother, and a few limp plants. Thank God we have no pets.

It sounds almost neat and tidy, said plain and simple like that.

Of course, it’s anything but. And that’s just from my perspective. For a school project, my son recently described his family tree like this:

“I am 14 years old and currently reside in Kookytown. I live with my mother Delia Martin, my step-father Anthony Coldrey, and my sister, Kathleen Martin part time. The rest of the time I live with my father Peter Dickey, step-mother Ali Wernon, my half sister, Ray Dickey and our dog, Lulu. I have no grandfathers, two grandmothers, two step-grandmothers, two step-grandfathers, and some woman whom I really have no idea how to describe.”

That would be his step-step-grandmother. I think.

How we all ended up here, in this situation, is one story. The ongoing series of crises that defines our lives is another, of course; it’s our future slowly unfurling before our eyes. I guess I’ll tell you both stories, gradually.

As my hubby says, “It’s like watching a train wreck in slow motion.”

He also includes his mother and brother in that statement. Although they don’t live with us, they do live with each other, and more than near enough for me, just a 15-minute drive away in Kookytown.

The brother-in-law’s a single 50-year old unemployed bum with issues beyond the obvious, who lives with his and Anthony’s 78-year-old mother, who has Alzheimer’s disease, but refuses to admit it. You can probably see how the “train wreck” comment applies equally to them.

My own mother, who moved in with us a year ago, is 90. She doesn’t have Alzheimer’s. She just can’t remember anything.

Anyway, that’s us. We add up to a train-wreck, one that crashed in Kookytown, the place- name I use to describe not so much our actual physical location, but our state of being.

We are the modern family; welcome to our lives.