talking down my mother
Friday, July 5 2013
I'm going to Virginia next week, and, though it's not intended as a trip to visit my mother Hoagie, I should probably stop in and see her. But I've been dreading the phone call necessary to warn her of my impending approach. The last two times I talked to her, she accused me of stealing stuff during my last visits, although most of the things she said were stolen were books that I had bought as a kid and that my father had used as field guides when he took to compiling ecological inventories. Since her house and the one across the street are disorganized hoards, she tends to misplace things and it's possible she was accusing me of stealing things that she'd simply buried. Not wishing to deal with this, I hadn't talked to her since at least February. (I think my brother Don called me on my birthday.)
This morning, though, Gretchen finally convinced me to call her, and the experience was everything I'd been dreading. It began with Hoagie's weak, suspicious voice asking "Hello?" She immediately launched into a story about how yesterday she'd somehow run a 5K race and that a young reporter had been interested in her participation and written a glowing article about in the Staunton Daily News Leader. That seemed like a source of happiness and pride in her life, though she admitted she's been depressed of late. She lives alone in a cluttered hovel with her crazy son, so that isn't too surprising. When I mentioned that I coming down to Virginia next week, she immediately launched into her weird obsession with the possibility that I had stolen things from her. She specifically mentioned the field guides, which she referred to as "the turtle book" and "a mushroom book." Then she wondered if perhaps I had filched extra copies of Marathon, the republished autobiography written by her father. "The only copy of that that I own," I explained, "is one signed by your mother specifically for me." She was also suspicious that I had perhaps stolen tile cutting tools and other things she had almost certainly lost in her hoard. She was so angry about these perceived thefts that she said she didn't want to meet me at the house and that I couldn't stay there. She went on to accuse me of having "sticky fingers" and being a "klepto." Somehow, though, I managed to talk her down from her resentment. I told her that a few stupid books weren't worth having "this" between us and that I would look at the books I'd taken and see if any of them were actually hers. I also said that in the future I would be sure to ask before taking anything. Finally, I told her how I'm getting better at welding and that we should do a welding project when I come to visit. By the end she'd relented on her rule that I not come to the house, and it probably did something to remove a fraction of her depression. I mean, it must have been unpleasant spending the last year or more stewing about her one functional son.
In other news, I learned that Sarah, the neighbor across the road who has been down on her luck for years and is fighting both insolvency and cancer, recently won a million dollars by playing the Virginia lottery. There are only two paths out of redneck hell: one is by winning the lottery and the other is by suing a doctor. Unfortunately for most rednecks, both paths are statistically unlikely. But Sarah defeated the odds and suddenly could, among other things, repay Hoagie the thousands of dollars she has borrowed through the years. She also immediately bought two brand new cars (which is part of why winning the lottery is never a permanent solution), though she remains in her crappy little trailer.
A few minutes after our call had ended, the phone rang again and I could see that it was my mother (well, according to caller ID it was actually my dead father). I answered it with dread, fearing my mother had had a change of heart. But no, she was actually proud and excited because she'd just seen the morning newspaper and it featured yet another picture of her, this time crossing the finish line in yesterday's 5K race.
Mosquitoes have gotten pretty bad over the last week or two, so I've been gradually doing what I can to eliminate the habitats where they spend their childhoods. Today I finally got around to doing something I should have done years ago: I put screens over the two rain barrels that collect water from the rooves of the house and the woodshed.
Meanwhile Sarah the Korean (who is not Korean but had spent the night in our large basement guest room) had gotten up late and Gretchen had prepared a breakfast of waffles and vegan sausage. (I'd also contributed some Black Raspberries that I'd collected from the canes northeast and south of the house.) Sarah said that a cat had spent the slept with her, but had been so aggressively friendly that she'd had to kick it out. At first her description sounded like Clarence the Cat, though the neediness she was describing didn't sound like him. Later, though, she saw our new cat Keira, and positively identified her as the cat. That seemed odd; Keira has mostly kept to the laundry room and east deck since moving in with us; the basement guest room is rather far from both those places.
Later in the morning, Sarah the Korean spent a surprisingly long time cleaning out a bunch of nasty jars and bottles of stuff that had gone bad in a refrigerator. I'd dug her a hole adjacent to the garden into which she could put all that nasty stuff, and I'd also provided a hose fed with rain barrel water so she could wash the jars. To me, it seemed like maybe a ten minute job, but I think it took Sarah over two hours, and in the process she also made that part of the yard very swampy. However, according to Gretchen (with agreement from Sarah), her pace for this project was typical. She's not the sort of person who does things quickly.
Shortly after Sarah concluded her nasty jar project, I set up a makeshift shower in the yard using that rain-barrel-fed hose she had been using. I attached an actual shower head to it and hung it from one of the bean poles at the corner of the garden. The pressure wasn't very good, but it was possible to take a shower, shave my face, and even wash my hair. Since I wanted to spare Sarah the vision of me standing naked in the yard, I waited until after she was gone to take the actual shower.
After Sarah drove off, Gretchen went to the bus station to pick up our friend Robert, who we both know from when he was a student in the Bard Prison Initiative. Robert recently got off parole, and so he's feeling free for the first time in, well, nearly two decades. Tonight was sort of a repeat of last night, but with Robert the former prisoner instead of Sarah the cancer patient. We sat out on the east deck and drank beers and ate spaghetti with red sauce and vegan meatballs. The weather was perfect, if a little hot. There were some mosquitoes and perhaps other biting insects attacking us, but never enough to drive us indoors.
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