Friday, August 27, 2010

Supersize Us

We all gained weight over the summer.

Anthony and I got plump with good eating, rest and relaxation. Not to mention quite a bit of fine wine, and the odd G&T. Which reminds me, I've started reading a blog about Martinis for breakfast.

But, once again, I digress.

Alex and Kathleen only gained slightly, and that's because they also grew in height.

I got a lecture from my son last week about all the imbibing we've been doing over the holidays.

"You and Anthony drink a lot," he said loudly to me, teen aged-boy-brain undoubtedly twitching with glee over his calculating observation, while watching closely to see my reaction.

Of course, my response is always the same in such circumstance, which is to immediately make fun of my son.

"Jealous?" I shot back. He smirked and skulked away.

But I take his point, and this week, Anthony and I are on the wagon, both food and alcohol-wise. Also, I've been hauling my big fat bum around on my bike all week, and taking long, fast walks with hubby in the evenings. We'll continue in this vein until we can see our toes again.

But the biggest gainer was my mother.

Sally is vast.

Now, she's always been a fat woman, ever since I could remember her. And I do mean fat. Not pleasantly plump, "round" or whatever avoidant euphemism you may wish to tag it.

Fat. Sometimes verging on morbidly obese. She can't resist her chocolate and pastries and ice cream.

Since moving to Kookytown, she'd lost weight. She eats very well here, noshing heartily on the healthy and ample meals I provide. I also do separate chocolate runs just for her, and she accepts the bags of goodies I present with moist-eyed excitement , grabbing them and heading immediately for her room, where she stashes the bars and bags and boxes of assorted yummies here-and-there through her drawers and on the bed-side table-top, so, presumably, to be available wherever her fingers may happen to roam.

She has started drinking a glass of wine every night here, as well. Before she was strictly a tea-teetotaler. Of course, even without the desserts and wine, she out-eats everyone else here. Her plate is piled high with food every night, making Anthony's dinner seems disappointingly slight, when placed side-by-side with hers.

Despite her massive consumption rates, she lost weight after moving in with us, which gives you a pretty good idea of how unbridled her appetite must have been for the last thirty years, when she lived alone in Winnipeg, with no one else around to observe, and thus inhibit, her habits.

"I gained weight at the seniors' residence," she moaned to me upon her return this past week.

I said nothing, as what I thought really didn't make appropriate conversation.

"It's hard, though, you know," she continued. I knew an excuse was inevitable.

"They feed you three big meals a day. And there's always fruit and muffins available."

"There's always food available here, too, mom," I countered.

She mulled that for a second. Then:

"Yes, but there, I was paying for it."

I waited.

"And so I had to eat everything, even if I wasn't hungry."

Ah, Sally.


Monday, August 23, 2010

She Becomes Me

I picked Sally up from the retirement residence today, where she'd been so-called retiring since the end of June. That retirement was not at her behest, of course, but mine, although I will say in my own defense that I tried damn hard to get her to visit her other daughter (yes, alright already, my sister) and/or several friends in Winnipeg instead of spending her summer in old-folks-land exile as she did.

But, my sister wouldn't have her and she wouldn't go to her friends, though they insisted they wanted her to visit.

In any event, I picked her up after six weeks of motherless bliss, and thank God I had the ute, because her luggage is always voluminous and mysteriously heavy whenever she travels, even for short times.

It takes a lot of stuff to keep her looking like the style she's become accustomed to. Heh.

Within a minute or two into the drive home, the kookiness began.

She informed me she had an "opinion" (pronounced in melodramatic, overdrawn tones) about the husband of a close friend of mine.

"Do tell," I inquired jovially enough, trying hard to maintain the Zen.

"Oh, I won't tell you. I'll show you when we get home," she announced primly, coy as a kook can get.

After a moment's pause, wherein I contemplated just leaving it at that, I plunged ahead.

"Surely you can just tell me, now," I laughed, a little sickly.

"Well, we were at a party a few years back, and Jim came up behind me and..." Here she paused, building up suspense for her grand finale.

"...and he grasped both of my buttocks."

She held her hands in the air before her nose, as if she were testing two huge invisible mangoes for ripeness. Squeeze, squeeze.

"With both his hands," she finished, in case I wasn't getting a clear mental image, which unfortunately, I definitely was.

I felt quite a confluence of emotion at this display, as you may well imagine.

A huge urge to laugh, a strident sense of creepiness, incredulity and disgust all welled up inside me, and if I hadn't been so well-prepared for her general kookiness, I may have had trouble staying on the road. I suppressed my laughter, with difficulty.

I immediately knew which dinner party she recalled.

I also knew, for an absolute fact, that no such thing had happened to her at the party.

But, if I've learned one thing with Sally in the past few months, it's to not cross her delusions.

I couldn't just accept her story, though, so I thought I'd try to make her consider its oddities a bit.

"Gee, mom, why do you think he'd do something like that?"

"I have no idea," she shot back in frost-laden diction .

"Seems so strange, for a younger man to do something like that to such an elderly woman. And the mother of his wife's good friend, no less." I looked sideways at her as I said this.

She would have been around 84 when we'd attended the dinner party. Jim would have been perhaps 55, and his wife, my friend, around 50.

But in Sally's vanity, she'd never considered that the image she painted, of Jim squeezing the quivering withered ass of an old, old woman, was possibly strange, or weird, or out-of-place, never-mind just about inconceivable. Sally remains convinced of her ability to conquer all men, no matter their age, or hers.

"Well," she tossed her head as her nose rose higher in the air. "I've always thought he'd had a few too many drinks."

Yes, enough to blind him, apparently, I thought to myself. Out loud, I said not a word. Then changed the subject.

The really odd part about Sally's story, is not that she made it up out of the blue.

The really odd, almost scary thing about it, is that I believe she's taken an experience that happened to me, and changed it slightly here and there, and then completely appropriated the memory for herself.

Because at the dinner party she talked about, I actually had one of the male guests accost my buttocks, so to speak, by placing his hand (just one) on my behind (just one cheek). There was no squeezing of ripe mangoes. Just an inappropriately low placement of the hand, very discreetly, and obviously to test the waters of my interest. Which was nil, as the guy's wife was sitting across the room from where we stood.

And that wife was not my very good friend. The guy who hankered after me that evening was not Jim, but someone else completely, someone we'd just met that evening at the party, someone whom neither my mother nor I have ever laid eyes on again.

I'd told my mother about the incident a couple of years after it happened. And somehow since that telling, the twisted neurons in Sally's shriveled mind have awarded Jim the dubious award for being the cad who grabbed her mangoes.

So it's come to this: Sally has been completely confused about many things lately, including dates and names and times and places. And she has made up memories that are false, memories of things that never happened, but of which she may have dreamed, at best.

But before this chilling little mango memory, she'd never ever stolen an entire experience that someone else has related to her, and made it all her own.

This frankly terrifies me, because if Sally is becoming me, just how far off might the time be when I become her?

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Ad Nauseum...

We just got back from a week of vacation on a beautiful lake about an hour and fifteen from Kookytown.

I've rented this same cottage for five years now. It feels like home each time we arrive. And it hurts a bit more each year, when I clean up and drive off, leaving the place for the next set of renters. I do get attached.

We four really relaxed out there. Swimming, eating, drinking, reading and watching movies comprised our menu of activities. Not to mention the day-long Monopoly marathons. There was one lunch comprised of pizza slices from the nearby town's pizzeria, and that visit extended into the traditional sojourn to the town groceteria for the obligatory junk food, cheap magazines and sweet, sweet corn, grown locally.

By week's end, you finally start to feel in tune with what life might actually have been about, in another time and place.

But, inevitably, reality jars you back to the little niggle of stress in your stomach.

We drove back to Kookytown, listening to the fading, garbled strains of the the radio station that doesn't quite make it from cottage country to big city frazzle.

Then: unpack, make dinner, confront piles of laundry, view more piles of mail to open, consign luggage to the basement, unwind, regain sense of space....and, oh no: the phone messages.

CLICK: "Hello? Can you please tell John I found my purse, and I can lend him the money he needs now?"

I'm getting a bigger lump in my stomach as I listen.

"Hello? So, anyway, tell John...I mean, tell Anthony, I found my purse. If he needs money, I can give it to him."

Long silence. "Will you tell him that?" Loud click.

That was Doris, continuing her kooky story line. Anthony needs money. He was trying to steal it out of her account. She got angry. He told her he didn't need money. Now, she's calmed down, and wants to give him some money.

Since he needs it.

Right.

I replace the phone with resignation. Holidays are over. Doris wants to lend Anthony money.

And I'm picking my mother up from the retirement residence in two days.

She's been there since the end of June, and I've gotten quite used to having my life back, thank-you very much.

But Sally's coming home. I dread it, and I'm not 100% sure why.

I need to think about this very carefully. What to do, what to do?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Why I Sometimes Screen My Calls

The phone rang a couple of days ago, and, unfortunately, I chose to answer it.

Unsuspecting Me: "Hello?"

Caller: Long pause accompanied by heavy breathing. "Who is this?"

After hearing the first two panting breaths, I already knew it was Doris. Her inquiry as to my identity completely confirmed hers.

Me: (very jovial tone) "Why, it's Delia!"

Doris was surprised, then contrite, then put-out by turns. She eventually got to the reason for calling.

Doris: "The girl at the bank said Anthony's been trying to get money from my account! She said he ordered a whole bunch of cards to get into my account!"

Me: "Really?"

Doris: (indignant, really hurt tones) "If he needs money, all he has to do is ask me!"

Now, if you understood our financial situation, and knew exactly how many times Anthony had actually lent or out-right given money to his siblings when they were flat broke or in trouble or for any number of reasons, none of which was very good, but none-the-less caused them to ask, you'd laugh.

Anthony has managed his mother's money since his father died many years ago. He's invested it very profitably for her, and calculates and files her income tax for her, gratis, every year. He set up automatic bill payment for her utilities so she could continue to live in her house (she couldn't keep the bills straight.) He pays her property taxes when she forgets, and when she started leaving the stove turned on at inappropriate times, he made sure her house was properly insured and coverage was up-to-date, all things she had difficulty with, or never even understood at all.

Anthony is the only one in his family, his deceased father and sister included, who has lived a straight-and-narrow life of responsibility, hard work and strategic monetary investiture of the highest order.

I fall more-or-less into that description as well. Although I think I've had more fun down the line than Anthony. I digress. We have no money issues is what I'm getting at.

Anthony's brother, on the other hand, is a louse. He's perennially broke and mooching off Doris, or outright filching cash from her purse when she looks away. If anyone were trying to get into Doris' account, it would be John, not Anthony.

But of course, Doris, in her paranoid, hostile, delusional state, immediately suspects the one person on earth she can actually trust.

It's incredibly hurtful behavior. But when dealing with Alzheimer's disease, all you can do is suck it up.

Me: "Doris, I really don't think Anthony tried to get money. I think the girl at the bank was probably trying to tell you about all the bank cards Anthony applied for on your behalf."

Doris has lost her purse, wallet and/or bank card at least half-a-dozen times in the past year. Anthony's been kept hopping, what with having to fetch her down to the bank each time in order for her to cancel the old card(s), apply for new ones, and then reset all the automatic bill payments to the new cards. It's a time-consuming, annoying task, but he does it for her.

I knew my explanation would fly over her head, but I had to try.

Doris: "Er...gurgle...huh?"

Me: "Anthony mentioned to me you'd lost your purse. Right?"

Doris: "Huh?"

Me: "A few months ago, you lost your purse. And so he applied for a new bank card for you. He's had to do that a few times, hasn't he?"

Silence. No heavy breathing, no mumbling. Just frosty silence. Doris doesn't like logical explanations that get in the way of her delusions.

Me: "Anyway, no one can get into your account but you Doris. The bank would never issue a card to anyone else, not for your account."

Doris: "Well...."

I've taken the wind out of her sails. She wanted to have a good long rant about her untrustworthy son Anthony. And I wouldn't accommodate her.

It's on the tip of my tongue to suggest that if any money is actually missing from her account (which of course isn't the case), perhaps she should look to her other son.

But I don't say anything.

We bid each other goodbye, and I quickly email Anthony to warn him that his phone will be ringing momentarily. And it will be his mother, and she will want to know about the bank cards, and his blood pressure will probably start to rise and he should stay Zen and.........

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Blue Skies Music Festival

The four of us -- Anthony, Alexander, Kathleen and I -- spent the August long weekend camping in a farmer's field near Clarendon in Ontario.

We do this almost every year, while attending a little-known music festival called Blue Skies. The weekend amounts to a trip back in time when flower children roamed the world and it was (supposedly) a kinder, gentler place.

The music is eclectic, and few really well-known talents take the stage. But the entertainment is for the most part first-rate, ranging from performances from young Canadian artists poised on the edge of stardom, to hill-billy acts perhaps more well-known in the province but not elsewhere (except in certain learned musical circles I suppose), to foreign entertainers who are beginning to carve a niche in the Canadian market.

Almost without exception the musicians are brilliantly skilled, beautiful and very approachable. The may camp right next to you in High Meadow, or Magooville, as certain parts of the property are named, pausing to chat as they scrub dishes side-by-side with you at the pump, which dispenses ice-cold well-water. Not great for cutting grease, but most of the bigger food chunks are removed.

Or they will offer afternoon work-shops over the weekend, where you can rub shoulders with your friends as you sit in the grass, awestruck by the talent on display. These are always good times to half-doze in the afternoon heat, while dragon-flies flit through the air overhead, sometimes pausing to land, delicate and glistening, on one's knee or head. You can cat-nap while listening, a skill that helps get you through the weekend, because sleeping after dark is not always easy.

The night air rings with music, laughter and later, loud snoring. Your tent is cramped into fields full of similar tents, which are full of musicians of both the amateur and professional variety, most of whom want to stay up until the wee hours, hovering near sparking camp-fires, jamming
their hearts out with anyone willing to play along.

Blue Skies organizers make a truly incredible effort to program the most fantabulous activities, workshops and fun for children on site. The place turns into a magical world that entrances all ages, full of tie-dyed hippies, costumed kids running amok amongst flurries of bubbles, and everywhere, music in so much variety.

The first year we attended, Kathleen and Alexander were completely and absolutely hooked. I barely saw them all weekend. They ran here-and-there, making friends, tossing frisbees, exploring every inch of the place while gnawing on cobs of corn (boiled on site), or hopping onto various stages to dance or sing on a whim.

Blue Skies is the most unique music festival I've ever attended. It also seems to be a pretty well-guarded secret. There is no official web-site (check out this "unofficial" one for more information on Blue Skies), no radio, newspaper or television ads, no corporate sponsorship. Blue Skies is run by volunteers, you have to win the right to camp over the weekend by gaining tickets in a lottery, and the only way you find out about it is by word-of-mouth.

Seems to work; Blue Skies is in its 37th year, and there are never any empty camping spots, only people left wishing they, too, had won tickets this year.

At the end of every Blue Skies weekend, I am completely exhausted, wrung-out. It's a marathon of hard work, lack-of-sleep and discomfort due to the many travails of camping. The week preceding is spent cooking and planning all the necessary meals, packing gear into every square inch of the car, arising at dawn on Friday morning to make the long trek to Clarendon, then setting up camp, a monumental task in the bustle and cramped confusion of the often over-heated fields.

The next three days are all adrenalin as we race from workshop to event to meal-making, to playing our instruments around the campfires, to finally falling almost blindly into our barely-adequate sleeping-bags while stuffing our ears with plugs, hoping vainly for a few hours of rest before beginning the cycle anew the next morning.

By Monday evening, when we pull tiredly into the driveway of our home in Kookytown, it's not hard to believe that there will never be ANYTHING in the world that feels better than the shower and soft mattress that await.

Some years, we've vowed never to return.

But we always do, and it's worth it, as long as it doesn't kill us!