Another Mother’s Day

Another Mother’s Day, and another pause in the march of time to remember the birth of the child who made me a mother for the first time. I learned two amazing things that day. The first one was that they actually let you take this helpless infant home without any instructions.

My husband and I were equally amazed and terrified when they rolled me and the baby out the hospital’s front door and up to our pickup truck. (At the time, that was our only three-passenger vehicle. I still owned a two-seater sports car that I naively thought I could keep indefinitely.) He picked up our newborn and laid her gently in the car seat while I struggled with the high step into the truck a mere 12 hours after giving birth. I needed a running start but could only manage a wobble. When I finally collapsed into the seat I noticed my husband valiantly struggling to connect straps and clips without disturbing our tiny daughter.

“She’s too small for it,” he observed.

“Maybe if we stuff her blanket behind her?” I suggested.

Our daughter had to be wondering who the heck let these two clowns assume responsibility for her. As if to confirm my suspicion, she started to wail.

“Did you poke her? You must have poked her!” I was experiencing either the first stages of Mama Bearness or the last stages of medication.

“No, I didn’t poke her. She probably picked up on the fact that we don’t know what we’re doing.”

“Shit. We’re in big trouble.”

Together we finally managed to get her in securely and headed for home. We took turns staring at this stranger between us and wondering what the heck to do with her.

Babies don’t come with instruction manuals, but they do come as teachers. Training new parents is certainly challenging, but there’s a timeworn and reasonably successful process. Parents learn signals quickly and begin to distinguish a hungry cry from a tired cry from an “it’s your turn to change the diaper” cry. (Not to be confused with the “running down the street with hands over ears” cry. That’s the parent cry, and that’s a whole ‘nother issue.) On rare occasions, when the parents do something right, they are rewarded with a smile. Most times the reward is simply a few moments of silence. It’s not unlike training puppies.

There’s also support from the community of experienced parents. They told us, for example, how to anchor the newborn when I confessed that the first time the two of us bathed her, handling her like surgeons, she slipped right out of my arms like a football and shot into the water. (Use a towel in the tub.) Or the patient mother-in-law who followed, without complaint, my rule to boil for three full minutes the pacifier that tipped onto the baby’s bib, and was nice enough not to point out three children later that I now wiped it on my shirt and stuck it back in the baby’s mouth, muttering something about the 4-second rule.

First time parents read a lot of books and measure their child’s progress like scientists. At what age she should be turning over. Sitting up. Crawling. “She skipped a stage! Is she a prodigy, or does that mean something’s wrong?” This is the same mother-me- who was not only surprised by slightly dismayed when my third child walked by. “He’s walking? Oh, no! Just what I need- another one mobile.” I may have pushed him down.

By the third child, parents are much more laid back. And more confident, since the first one survived. And was a good teacher.

I mentioned that I learned two amazing things. The second one? That is truly is possible to fall instantly in love forever.

Hair Raising

When I was eleven, my hair was the color of warm honey. Or maybe honey butter. Flaxen, golden. Even auricomous, not as well-known a term for blonde, but I’d read it in some obscure romantic novel and thought it sounded cool. I know my lovely blondness to be true because there are photographs. But I must have suffered some awful shock over that summer, because by the first day of junior high school my hair color had turned to mud. Dirty blond. Dishwater blonde. The only decent description I could come up with was ash blonde, but even that sounded like it had barely survived a fire. Along with other exciting body changes that included menstruation, acne and the coke-bottle glasses required for my suddenly awful eyesight, seventh grade was a bad trip without the acid.

So when the next summer rolled around-with the aid of one of my wilder friends- I became a Summer Blonde, a subtle blonding-in-a- bottle that worked its magic gradually. This served two purposes- it helped make people think my hair was naturally “sun-kissed” and the change escaped my mother’s eagle eye. My friend and I spent long summer days at the beach, encouraging our tans with iodine, baby oil and tinfoil reflectors, even though my skin allowed only two options- white and burnt to a crisp. At least I had my “beach” hair. But as surely as summer becomes fall, my summer blonde turned to brassy whore. At least that was my mother’s take on it. A few days before school started, she dragged me off to her hairdresser to get it dyed back to my natural color. After the inevitable curlers and a stint under the bonnet of the beauty parlor hair dryer (a long row of women torturing their hair for beauty’s sake), she unrolled the curlers, combed out my curls and spun the chair around so I could see my old yet improved self.

I was devastated. There was my dishwater-blonde hair, magnified by tight screwy curls. I looked like a sepia-toned Little Orphan Annie. With a peeling sunburn. My mother, however, was delighted.

“There!” she crowed. “Much more fitting for a young lady.” I wondered what I’d done to make her hate me so. I sat, stony-faced. She invoked the support of the hairdresser.

“Tell her how nice she looks! How appropriate for her age. How would you describe her hair color? Isn’t it lovely?!”

The poor woman had the decency to look uncomfortable. She waggled her head indistinctly and managed a negative nod. “Um…” she struggled for words. “Kind of blond. Ish. Ashy. Ish. Dirty. Blonde.“ There. It was out in the open. “Dirty blonde. But maybe it will lighten naturally!” She clearly didn’t believe that.

My mother glared at her and hustled me out the door. I don’t think she left a tip. “Hmph. What does she know about hair color, anyway?”

Right. After all, she was only a…hairdresser. It was only her job.

After that disaster and with a strong need to survive eighth grade, I became sneakier. I turned for help to my wild-child friend, whose bedroom was a cornucopia of beauty products. She was one of two children and the only girl. She was also a dancer, like her mother, so she had access to all kinds of stage makeup, which we decided looked as good at school as in did under stage lights. She also had her very own dressing table, with a lighted mirror. I had to settle for sharing the bathroom mirror with my four sisters.

She scrutinized my hair. “Maybe you could get a wig!” she offered, hopefully. She already owned two. I had watched her pin her own hair up and tug on the cap of plasticky hair. I shook my head. I already hated hats and, although I didn’t tell her, everyone knew that when she wore one of her wigs it was either because her roots were growing in or she hadn’t washed her hair. At our age, with the typical maturity of our male counterparts, it was inevitable that someday one of them would yank off the wig. (As it turned out, that didn’t happen until junior year in high school, but the point is, it did happen.)

We decided on streaks. We’d buy a box of extra light blonde hair color and, with her experience and skills, she would paint my hair with lemony streaks so subtle that it would seem as if the hairdresser’s prediction had come true and it had lightened naturally. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, for one thing, that thing about timing? It actually is important. Leave it on too long because you got distracted listening to the latest Beatle album and discussing who was cheating on who in our class and whether being tripped by a boy was a flirtatious move or a vindictive one, and it goes from lemony to bleached bones. Pure, blinding, white. I looked like a skunk crosses with a pre-teen. I caught our reflections in the lighted mirror. A bug-eyed pre-teen with acne, tortoise-shell glasses, a thick layer of stage makeup and muddy hair streaked with lightning bolts. And her equally bug-eyed friend. We screamed.

She was already up thinking up Plan B. I We did what seemed to us the most logical thing to do. I put on a hat and we convinced her mother to take us to the mall, where we bought a box of ash blonde hair color and hurried back to her house to fix my hair.

By dyeing it again.

You know what’s worse than dirty blonde hair? Than skunk-streaked hair? Green hair. Yeah, something about mixing hair colors and ash and blonde and, ultimately, it didn’t matter. We were as good as dead.

I could only hope my mother wouldn’t notice that I was going to be wearing my friend’s wig for several weeks. Because I was pretty sure that if she did, I’d be the only green-haired girl in the eighth grade.

Butter Up!

Anyone know how to get butter and chicken shit off shoes? If so, email me, I am running out of options. And shoes.

I found out the hard way that Pyrex measuring cups not only break, on special occasions, they explode. The special occasion in this case was precipitated by my laziness. I found this great recipe for a “really simple” apple dumpling that required only butter, crescent rolls, apples, sugar, cinnamon and ginger ale. Easy peezy. I thought that would go nicely with my famous apple squash soup (famous because it has been positively reviewed more than once by people not related to me on Allrecipes). I had the squash simmering, the onions sliced and frying. I peeled apples for the soup and the dumplings. Rolled them around in the sugar/cinnamon mix and wrapped them in roll mix. The next step was to melt a stick of butter in a pot and add the sugar/cinnamon mix- but it was already in the pot. Rather than get another pot dirty, I tossed a stick into a one-cup Pyrex measuring cup and then into the microwave. On high. One minute. Figured I’d get to the melted butter long before that, but the onions needed attention and before I knew it the timer buzzed.

Innocently, I opened the microwave door, triggering a joint butter and cup explosion. Butter and glass shards splashed everywhere- on me, the floor and entire surrounding area. Stunned, I simply stood there, until I realized that my two big black dogs were running towards the promise of butter heaven. But this butter was studded with sharp shards of exploded Pyrex, so I whirled in their direction, waving my arms frantically and yelling, “Back! No!” This was a poor decision on my part as the melted butter had turned the kitchen floor into a skating rink. My feet were flying in two different directions like a cartoon and I clawed at counter tops to stop myself from falling. When I came to a stop, the dogs were simply staring at me. They turned away and I could swear they sighed.

The mess was so huge I didn’t know where to start. The dumplings needed 45 minutes in the oven, and the onions were almost done, so I decided to finish the food prep and clean up later. I got another stick of butter and another, bigger Pyrex cup. Figured, what are the odds? And so I placed them both in the microwave and set the timer.

No, it didn’t happen again. Well, the part where the cup explodes didn’t happen again, but the part where the opening of the microwave door triggers a melted butter explosion? Yep. I stared at the inside of the microwave and the empty cup. Large icicles of butter dripped slowly from the ceiling.

I now had almost two sticks of melted butter covering just about everything in the kitchen, including myself. The dogs didn’t even bother coming. I started laughing so hard I was crying, and forgot I still had onion on my hands when I tried to wipe my eyes. Now I was crying, and blind, and trying to navigate a buttered floor. I couldn’t see the paper towels that I needed to wipe my glasses so I could see what the hell I was doing. Which obviously wasn’t anything good.

By the time my husband got home I had pretty much managed to finish the dinner and was in the process of stripping off my clothes and figuring out the best way to clean up the mess. Naked and buttery, in the kitchen. He shook his head. He offered to help, but one pair of buttered shoes is enough. He looked relieved and quickly disappeared.

Several mopping jobs later I had most of the mess cleaned. I was sure I would find spots I’d missed for the next several days. I Googled “head to toe butter removal”. No hits. Huh. Apparently you can’t Google absolutely anything. The best advice I got for the clothes was Lysol. They still sell that? And who knew it was once touted as a douche?

The next morning, my husband woke me before leaving for work to tell me a raccoon had slept with the chickens and was still hanging out in the coop and could I check later to see if he left and let the chickens back inside? I promptly forgot, figuring he was just messing with me. Sometimes when he babbles like that my brain just switches to puppies. Or sleep.

But when I got back from a trip to the store for Lysol, which it turned out should have been Lestoil, he called for a wildlife update. Great. Nothing like a cornered raccoon. I grabbed a flashlight and the dogs for backup. To my surprise, the gate was wide open. Apparently finding a raccoon in the hen house (and NO dead hens!) shook up my hubby more than I’d realized. He never leaves the gate open. I was surprised and most pleased that none of the chickens had escaped. I grabbed a hoe, opened the main door and stuck my head inside for a peek. From behind I heard a noise, turned and WTF…?! A crazed critter was headed straight for my head. The raccoon! I screamed and waved the hoe in crazy circles until I realized it was just a chicken. A pissed-off chicken who wanted back in her coop. I waved her away with the hoe and opened the inner door.

My husband had seen the raccoon hiding in a small space near a back door that he had propped open in hopes he would use the rear exit (the raccoon, not my husband). I wasn’t taking any chances on another surprise attack. I flashed the light above me, around me and iton every nest. Nothing. I moved slowly towards the back, banging the hoe and yelling “Huh! Huh!” in raccoon. Nothing, except maybe chicken laughter. I finally got to the door and confirmed that the intruder had gone. I went to close the door but the hook stuck. I jiggled it. Harder. Harder. BAM! It slammed down so hard it startled me and I fell to my knees. In chicken shit.

Cursing, I headed back outside to open the front coop door. That’s when I realized that six chickens were on the wrong side of the outside fence. Suddenly dogs as backup became dogs as chicken lovers. As in “yum”. I raced to get the dogs in the house with rash promises of rides and cookies. Lies, but it worked. Now I just had to herd six chickens.

Now chickens are really really really stupid. They will keep running into the fence wire, as if they can will themselves through to the other side. If you hold out something long, like a hoe, they think you are a super-wide big scary thing and will run where your hoe guides them. But six chickens never run in the same direction, so the guide for one causes another to run the opposite way (see: really really stupid). I chased them around the entire span of the coop, getting just one to run back inside each time. Four trips and I still had two loose. I was concerned that others might run back out while I was chasing those two, but I had no choice but to leave the gate open in order to herd the runners back in. At this point a big black hen decided to run for daylight instead of around in the big loop and headed into the woods. I silently wished for a fox to wander by and grab a quick lunch. The other outlier was still running all around the coop, trying to get in through the wire. I leaned on a tree and sighed. I turned slightly and noticed the poison ivy within inches of my face. I went after the runner.

It’s hard to sneak up on a chicken. It’s impossible to sneak up on a chicken in New England in October. I gave up and hoped the fox would appreciate the gift. I refocused on the stupider one, now banging her head against the wire. I hoed her towards the open gate, where she was greeted by about a half dozen of her coopmates, who had all wandered out to see what all the excitement was about. At that point I went kind of mental, waving the hoe like a crazed axe murderer. Wisely, the chickens opted to run back inside (or at least attempted to- there were a few banging away at the wire, but I scooped them in.)

Five down, one to go. I wandered nonchalantly deeper into the woods, deliberately making no eye contact with the runner. (Note: Making eye contact with a chicken is actually kinda hard to do.) I sauntered around behind her, whistling. Before she had time to make a further escape I ran at her, screaming and flailing the hoe. She practically passed out. Within seconds she was flying towards the door and into the coop. The others gathered around her, fussing and squawking. I wonder what they talk about at night.

Me, I was done. I headed back to the house., left my jeans and shoes in the laundry room and grabbed a cold bottle of wine from the fridge. I poured myself a nice big glass and crashed on a chair at the kitchen table. As I lifted the glass to drink, a blob of butter gave up its hold on the ceiling and splashed into the wine.

I Was So Much Older Then

Getting ready to meet a colleague some 40 years after we’d worked together, I wondered how to begin the conversation.

“So, what’s new with you?” 40 years of “new” is way more than one lunch.

I looked in the mirror and considered the fact that 40 years ago I would have been more obsessed with how I looked. I would have changed two or three times. Asked- did I have enough eye makeup on? My 20-year old self was convinced there was no such thing as too much eye makeup. 40 years ago I wouldn’t have gone out to the mailbox without full makeup, contact lenses and matching underwear. You never knew when that bus might strike…you wind up in the ER with, gasp, mismatches! Oh, the shame. The headlines. My 59-and-some-months self put on the jeans that fit and touched up a few age spots, decided that was good enough.

As for glasses, I was as blind as a bat and wore Coke bottles. I starting saving for corrective surgery when I was 12, but once I had a husband, house and kids, there were plenty of other uses for the rare extra money. One day, somewhere in my 50s, after another day of juggling lenses, reading glasses and distance glasses, I wore my utterly, completely, totally useful, no-line, thin and light-as-a-feather bifocals to facilitate a class. To my surprise and joy, no one ran screaming from the room. My evaluations were fine. I never wore my contact lenses again.

I wondered what else I’ve gained and lost in 40 years.

The same ten pounds, that’s for sure. They’re as familiar as an old friend, and I’ve developed a sixth sense for when they’re coming. There are sure signs. I start to run into chocolate more often than usual, and Bugles appear in my grocery cart. Ah, salty sweet! Dinners with friends take on a strong Italian flavor, and apple pie seems incomplete without vanilla ice cream. Normally I’m neutral towards ice cream. (I know, right?) Coincidentally, I’m sure, my stress level rises and my sleep hours decrease at about the same time. Running into a 7-11 for potato chips and a Chunky bar is a bad, bad sign.

I also know the first sign that indicates those ten pounds are on their way out. The exit route appears about 10 minutes after I realize I’m at the top of my black pants size range. Hasta la vista, baby! Yoga pants shouldn’t hurt.

I used to pride myself on my multitasking skills. I could be mentally reviewing an item from the work day while making dinner, with one ear on what my kids were watching on TV and the other on “who started it”. I handily stored “to-dos” and appointments in the lockbox that was my brain.

But lately I’ve been finding myself in rooms with no idea why I’m there; the only option to return to where I started and hope for enlightenment. Soon I’ll need a breadcrumb trail to find my way back. If someone now interrupts me in the middle of an activity I’m liable to stop, hand in midair, frozen, unable to finish whatever it was I was doing, yet equally unable to handle whatever interrupted me.

I have the attention span of a moth.  Just trying to wend my way from the kitchen to the car, I start the dishwasher, refill the dog’s water bowl, throw in a load of clothes, let the dogs out and check my email, eventually wondering why I have my coat on. It isn’t until I get to the post office that I realize I forgot what I meant to mail. Two days later I find it on the dryer.

I am heartened to learn that recent studies prove that multitasking doesn’t even work. We just bounce from one thing to another, splitting 100% of our brains multiple ways. That explains the recipe that only tastes 30% good or the kid 20% dressed. Multitasking sounds good; semi-tasking not so much. I’ve let go of multitasking and gained better quality meals, and almost always go out fully dressed.

I didn’t lose any friends worth keeping and am at peace with the loss of the others. Just as well for all concerned. The 20-year old in me thought she had all the answers. The longer I live the more I realize how little I truly know. And I forgot the rest.

I probably won’t tell my old friend all of this. At least not at the first lunch. Maybe I will tell him that in my 40s, I gained a tattoo. I guess it was my mid-life crisis, but it worked out well. My husband liked it and was just glad I didn’t run off with Dennis Rodman. Me, too, now that’s he managed to offend even the North Koreans.

Which reminds me. Since I last saw my old friend, I divorced a boy and married a man. My colleague knew my first husband, and thanks to Facebook, he’s seen pictures of me, my last husband and our kids. I’m sure he sees the difference in my expression. I’m so much younger now.

Now why do I have my coat on?

Cronut Wars

My daughter lives in Vegas, which everyone knows isn’t real. It’s the pretend facade of the town in Blazing Saddles. Living there is like living in Disney World, but with more alcohol, drugs and sex, and they don’t turn off the lights. Ever. Oh, and gambling, unless you count betting on which line is the better option for the early-bird entry to the Park. The most popular ride or the ride farthest from the entrance? You bet wrong, you’re gonna pay a high price in screaming, crying, whining. And that’s just your husband. The kids are even worse. So when my daughter announced that she’d gotten a hot tip from her foodie hair stylist on the newest culinary treat, the Cronut™, I had to step in and tell her they weren’t real. Not in Vegas. Not unless they’re importing them from the Dominique Ansel Bakery in New York City, where they’re a trademarked product. (I am so excited that I have learned how to make the ™ sign and the © sign from my keyboard, but I digress. So just one- or -two more times…™™©©…)

New York stuff is always getting touted beyond the borders of New York, but it important to be able to distinguish between the genuine stuff, the pale imitations and the downright knockoffs. One clue? Avoid if it’s got the word “style” in the title. As in “New York “style” pizza. It’s like American cheese “product”. It’s not really cheese, people! For example, you are very unlikely to get genuine New York pizza in New Hampshire. They may even use ketchup! And there is absolutely no way you’re getting freshly-baked seeded rye bread outside of the tri-state area. (You can get a lot of genuine New York stuff in parts of NJ and CT. But that’s the absolute limit, geographically.) Now Vegas is the city of illusions, so they try harder. They have New York, New York, the hotel/casino (I think in Vegas that’s one word. Castel? Hosino?) with the roller coaster on top for thrill seekers. In NYC- aka “The City” (NOTE:  it’s the only capital-C City), the thrill of a near-death experience is accomplished every day merely by crossing Broadway on foot. They don’t need no stinkin’ roller coasters. This is a rendition of a New York, New York “Style” Hosino:cronut

Not really, but you thought it might be for a second, didn’t you? Today, however,  we are talking about the Cronut™. Since the spring of 2013, waiting in line in NYC for a Cronut™ has become the stuff of bragging. How long did you wait? How did to manage to avoid the line? Rumor has it that tough, seasoned New Yorkers simply bypass the line and walk in the front door. Their response to accusations of line cutting? “I’m not getting a Cronut™, you fool from O-freakin-hio. They sell other stuff.” (They do. Chef Ansel wants everyone to know it’s a French bakery with many other wonderful treats.) Or they just flip them off. Once inside, of course, they get a Cronut™. Hey, they’re New Yorkers. On a freezing day in January, with temps below zero, over a hundred people were in line by 6:30AM for the 8AM opening. Chef makes a limited amount of- damn, I’m getting tired of the ™ sign. You get that it’s tradmarked, right?- so, he makes a limited amount of Cronuts each day and when they’re gone they’re gone. (See “imported” above. Not likely.) They’re also available at the Shake Shack in Madison Square Park, with comparable lines. Two-hour waits with lines snaking two City blocks. People paying $40 for one Cronut on the booming black market. Industrious New Yorkers brave the line, buying two and selling one to someone at the back of the line for an outrageous markup. Handling fee.

Wait, what IS a Cronut? It’s a croissant-ish doughnut-ish fatty-fat thing. Kind of like a French paczki. (A paczki being a Polish doughnut designed to use up all the lard before Lent. Suffice to say it’s leaden. Good for giving you more weight in your car trunk. Any trunk, actually. Including yours. ) The first Cronut filling was rose and vanilla. Chef only makes one type of filling per month. Unlike the paczki, the Cronut is calorie- and fat-free. Just kidding! There are, of course, many others who claim to have invented their own cronuts long before Chef Ansel. Unfortunately for them, he was the one who thought to trademark it, so they have to call their creations something else. Fauxnuts? One strong contender is Chef Alina Eisenhauer of Sweet Kitchen and Bar in Worcester (“Wustah”) Massachusetts. If you know anything about the Red Sox and Yankees you can see this has all the makings of another ugly rivalry. Word in Massachusetts is that Babe Ruth’s descendents ate their first small-c cronuts at Sweet K&B. (Then sold the recipe to Chef Ansel?)

The Cronut had a baby, enticingly named “Cronut Hole Concrete”, a mix of frozen custard and cinnamon-sugar cronut holes. At it’s first public appearance, Cronut Hole Concrete (™again) was pronounced “better than sex” by a local attorney, on camera. He is now “single and looking for a long-term relationship” with something or someone other than a concrete doughnut hole, I hope.

So if you really want a genuine Cronut, you have to get it in New York City, and not in Chinatown, either. If you find them there it’s a knockoff, or really stale. Same for the $40 Cronut.  I’m giving you insider tips here. And beware of Cronut-like abominations, like the Canadian Cronut Burger that resulted in widespread food poisoning, although they blame the Bacon Jam. Either way I say, you deserve food poisoning if you are dumb enough to eat stuff called Cronut Burgers or Bacon Jam.

If you’re in the area, get in line early. IN the City. Or stop by Eddie’s Bakery in Ansonia, CT on Fat Tuesday to watch the paczki-eating contest, and try one yourself. They’re filling, but at least they’re not concrete. And they’re genuine.

Driving Miss Edna

Miss Edna’s kids got her a cell phone. They were concerned about her driving without one. She pooh-poohed the idea.
“I’ve been driving for almost 70 years and never needed a car phone. If I need to make a call I can always use a pay phone. All I need’s a quarter.”
“When was the last time you saw a pay phone, Mom?” her son asked. It was his turn to handle Mom. “They took them all out.”
“Who did? They should put them back. What if I need to make an emergency call?”
He bought one of those pre-paid phones designed for seniors that flip open and have gigantic buttons. A phone truly designed for seniors would have a handset, rotary dial and a curly cord. Voice messages would announce the caller for pre-screening, like the answering machines  in many seniors’ kitchens. Miss Edna certainly thought that’s how they worked. Her kids regularly got messages like “Hello? Are you there? Pick up? It’s me. Mom. Pick up! I know you’re there.” When no one answered, she’d go on to leave a message that did not truly require another person to be a sort of dialogue.
“All right, don’t answer, but I’m calling to tell you that someone named Nancy Pelosi is out to get me. I got a warning today in the mail. It said ‘Nancy Pelosi is out to get you!” written right across the envelope. In Magic Marker! Do you think she moved into that house that was for sale for so long? Or maybe she’s a squatter. No one in their right mind would buy that house. Maybe that’s why she’s crazy. Good thing someone in my neighborhood warned me. Or maybe the mailman warned me. Do you call a mail girl a mailman? She’s not a man. Why is she a mailman, then? If I call you and I’m dead, you’ll know who did it. I’m afraid to walk my dog. Did you get me more dog food? I don’t know why I call you- you weren’t much help. I’m going to call your sister, who’s always too busy with her job. Even when she’s home.”
He showed her how to use the cell phone and insisted she keep it with her whenever she was driving. She promised. The next day she left a message on his cell phone. “You there? Pick up! It’s me. Mom. Why did you get me a phone that only calls a few people? I can’t afford a phone that lets me call my neighbor? Your sister won’t pick up either. I swear you’re all shunning me. This is Mom. Hello? Hello?”
He waited until after he poured himself a Scotch to call her back. “I put our numbers on speed dial. Like I showed you. That’s so you can call us quickly without having to dial our complete phone numbers. It’s easier and faster.”
“How is it faster? If I need help my neighbor can get here quicker than you. We’re on a neighborhood watch to look out for that Nancy Pelosi. No one’s seen her yet. You don’t even pick up, even thought I know you’re there. I guess if I’m dead I’ll just have to call 1-1-9.”
He blew out a sigh and sipped his drink, followed by a gulp. “Nancy Pelosi is a member of Congress and is not out to kill you. If you have an emergency when you’re home, you can use the home phone, like you always do.”
“Who elected a crazy squatter to Congress? No wonder they’re in such a mess. So why’d you spend money on a stupid phone that only calls a few people?”
“For when you’re driving, Ma, for when you’re driving.” He downed the rest of the Scotch and started sucking on the ice cubes.
Miss Edna took pride in her driving ability. She always drove with her sister, Vera, as navigator. Since Miss Edna’s eyesight wasn’t so good, Vera watched for the hard-to-see things like traffic lights and stop signs and called out a warning. Yelled out, actually, as Miss Edna’s hearing wasn’t so good either. To allow for some reduction in reaction time she drove in the middle of the road, very slowly. She prided herself on not texting while driving, since she had no idea what that was anyway, and how would she have any extra hands, what’s with the steering wheel and her ever-present cigarette?
On their way to the Senior Center, she hit a stop sign. She blamed Vera for not giving her ample warning. Vera blamed Edna for ignoring her warning because she was lighting a cigarette.
“As if that were the problem,” she sniffed as she told her son the story that evening. “I’ve been smoking for 70 years and never hit a stop sign before. She wasn’t paying attention. I think she’s losing it, son.”
He son sighed as quietly as possible. “Are you OK? Was anyone hurt? What did the police say?”
“Took their sweet time getting there, that’s for sure. We missed Scrabble. They only have Scrabble on Thursdays. We waited so long we had to eat our emergency rations.” He knew how many snacks they carted around in their giant pocketbooks and speculated they could have survived for several weeks. The artificial sweetener alone would have tided them over. He kept those thoughts to himself.
“Thank God you had your cell phone to call them,” he observed.
“What?! Speak up, I can’t hear you when you mumble.”
“Maybe if you turned down the TV…” he yelled.
“Then I can’t hear it. You need to speak up better. Don’t yell.” She aimed the remote at the TV and held down the sound button. It got louder.
“There. Is that better?” He shrugged.
So, how long did it take the police to get there after you called them?”
“What? Weren’t you listening? I was driving. In my car. The phone was at home. I guess someone else saw us and called them. Or they just happened to wander by.”
He felt his left eye twitch. “Mom, that was the whole purpose of the phone! Where is the damn phone?”
“Over there. On the counter. Don’t get huffy. You make such a big deal out of it. I didn’t want to carry it with me in case it got stolen. And it doesn’t work anyway.”
“Mom, people have called you on that phone. You don’t answer it. Don’t you listen to their voice mails?”
“Nope, phone doesn’t make a peep.” He opened the phone and checked. There were 18 new voice mails.
“Maybe you can’t hear it over the TV?” he said. She glared at him. “I can hear fine with the TV on. Lately though, there’s been some kind of annoying music that plays every once in awhile. Even when the people on TV are talking.”
“All right, Mom, let’s practice with the phone. I’m going to go into the kitchen and call you. When the phone rings, answer it.” He went into the next room and dialed her cell phone number. He listened to it ring. And ring. And ring.
“Mom!” he yelled. “It’s ringing! Answer it!”
“It is NOT ringing, Mr. Know-it-All. But there’s that damn music again!”
He walked back into the living room. Sighed out loud. “Mom, that ‘music’ is your phone. That’s your ringtone.”
“Boy, you got a bad phone. It only calls a few people and now it doesn’t even ring right. What kind of stupid ring is that? Whatever happened to dingalingaling? Don’t sigh at me.”
He hit himself in the forehead with his phone. “Ma, I am going back in the kitchen. When you hear the ‘music”, answer the phone.” He walked into the next room and called her phone. Listened to it ring. And ring. And ring.
“Hello? Hello? HELLO?!” she yelled. He stuck his head around the corner. She was holding the phone out at arm’s length, yelling at it.
“Ma! You gotta flip it open! Like this!” He demonstrated. “Then you can hear me. Let’s try this one more time.” He shut her phone, retreated to the kitchen and called again. After the first ring, he heard the sound of the phone being flipped open. From a distance, he could hear her calling. “Hello? Hello”?
He popped his head around again. She had flipped the phone open, and was calling hello. Still holding the phone at arm’s length.
He walked over, pulled her arm in and held the phone next to her ear. He said hello into his phone. “See?”
She rolled her eyes back so far the irises almost disappeared. “How stupid is that? You need a phone to speak to me? You’re standing right here. That’s the problem with people today. No face-to-face conversation.”
He returned the phone to the store the next day. Within a few months Miss Edna had rear-ended a Caddy, setting off her airbag. Vera had not been with her, having reached the point where she no longer felt comfortable risking her life. Miss Edna said she’d only looked down for a moment to light her cigarette from the car’s lighter, then to pick it up off the floor. Her car was totaled. At least that’s what her kids told her. Her son made sure he was last in rotation for Driving Miss Edna.

We’e Not Anywhere Anymore

I travel a lot. Since it’s for work, not pleasure, the destinations aren’t necessarily places I would have chosen on purpose. They’re more ordinary places, places where people live and work, and where work sometimes makes them attend seminars. As a result, I have found myself in such hot spots as Houlton ME, Greenville MS, Grand Rapids MI, Birmingham AL and Archbold OH (motto: Our Town is So Small We Couldn’t Fit the “I” on the Sign. Much less the motto.). Some of these trips involved multiple travel modes- a two-stop plane trip followed by a long, lonely ride in a rental car, with the occasional pack mule, kayak or Sherpa thrown in. GPS directions for Houlton were available for either car or snowmobile. There was one trip to a section of Alaska so remote that the last part of the trip involved the kayak, but I passed on that one.

On one of my first trips to the deep South, I struggled to find something in common with my home state of Connecticut, other than that all our manufacturing businesses had moved there. I know, because I recognized them on my drive from the airport. I decided to use a guessing game as an ice breaker- first to guess what state I’m from wins. (A nifty fridge magnet in the shape of the Constitution State. Connecticut, in case you didn’t know, either.) Fifteen Southern bankers eyed me up and down, as if they could tell by looking.

“Well, you are surely a Northerner,” one finally drawled. I figured I’d given that bit away as soon as I’d opened my mouth. I nodded.

“Indiana!” he proclaimed triumphantly.

“Indiana? Huh? Didn’t we just agree that I’m a Northerner?”

“Ma’am, you’re in Mississippi. Everything is north of here.”

Point taken. They went on to call out various random states until they’d used up all 49, including Mississippi. All but Connecticut. No winner. When I revealed the answer, they shrugged as if my little state was so insignificant as to not even enter their minds.

Day 2, different class, same results. Started again with Indiana, but ended when they moved up into Canada. No winner again.

By the third group I’d decided to narrow down the options.

“Where I’m from, there’s a nor’easter going on right now.” I shrugged my head up and to the right for added emphasis. “And even though you’re all in shorts and flip flops-which by the way, takes ‘business casual’ to a whole new level- it’s still March and there’s snow there.”

One person flew out of her chair in excitement. “Indiana!”

I sighed. “Nor’easter! North. East. East.” I bobbed my head. They peered at me apprehensively. Finally someone’s high school geography brain clicked in.

“New England,” he stated confidently. Apparently many of my fellow Americans harbor a belief that those six little states up there should just join up into one big one. They obviously don’t know New Englanders. And don’t tell Maine it’s little. I waited.

“…Maine? New Hampshire? Vermont. Massachusetts. Rhode Island? No? New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland…”

“Whoa, you missed one. OK, my state is south of Massachusetts, west of Rhode Island, and east of New York.” One banker’s eyes lit up triumphantly. “Long Island!” he crowed.

I tried not to roll my eyes, but decided I was taking my damn magnets back home with me. “ I am a Connecticut Yankee. Connecticut,” I told my deep South bankers.

“Oh, ma’am, don’t you be callin’ yourself a Yankee.”

“Why not?”

“Because we kinda like you, and we don’t like Yankees!”

My husband’s suggestion for an ice breaker had been “We won, you lost. Get over it.” I was beginning to seriously consider it.

“When I was a kid, I thought Connecticut was an island.” I asked why.

“Cuz when you looked at it on a map, the word was way out in the Atlantic Ocean!” True. The word was usually too big to fit on the tiny state. “So, what would we know about Connecticut, anyway?”

I thought about our relocated manufacturing base, but went with where Bill Clinton and George Bush attended college. Where Bush was born. No, NOT Texas.The submarine base. First state with a constitution, Yeah, no one there knew that either. Just outside of New York City. Famous people lived there.

“Like who?”

Kevin Bacon, David Letterman, Meryl Streep, Michael J. Fox, Dustin Hoffman, Martha Stewart…

“YOU KNOW MARTHA STEWART??!!” The class sighed reverentially.

Of course I do, because everyone in Connecticut lives on the same street. I decided to keep her pending move to New Jersey to myself.

“She knows Martha Stewart,” they smiled to each other.

I was in.