These excerpts are from the journal of the Miss Edna’s daughter. (Note to my husband and siblings: any resemblance to people you may or may not be related is purely coincidental.)
Today is the first day of our summer vacation at the lake- my husband and I, our kids, elderly sisters Vera and Edna. We take separate vehicles- my husband, Vera and the dog in the truck, towing the boat. Edna and I in the convertible, top down. The kids wisely opt to travel separately in our daughter’s Jeep. Before we leave, I hand Edna a scarf and sunscreen. She tosses them dismissively into the back seat, snorting that she always tans. By the time we arrive at the lake she is a cooked lobster, enhanced by blistering, cracked lips. Our first stop is the local ER, where she tells everyone it is all my fault for driving with the top down.
At the cabin, the sisters share a room. Twin beds, one shared dresser. They bicker over who gets which drawers. Edna discovers the light over her bed is out and requests an immediate replacement. My husband points out that it’s four in the afternoon and suggests unpacking first, promising a replacement by dark. Vera, meanwhile, is distressed by a lack of hangers on her side of the closet. I send in our extras, but based on her hissing exhalation, I infer they are insufficient in number and go off in search of more.
Ten minutes later, as hubby is hauling in suitcases and groceries, Edna intercepts him and reminds him about the light bulb. He glowers at me. I remind him I’m on an Emergency Hanger Mission.
Edna is almost a month into being smoke-free. As a substitute, she “smokes” a straw. Continuously. She continues to follow my husband around, smoking her straw and pestering him about the light bulb. I go off to find the manager and explain the hanger situation. She works with seniors. She quickly loads me up with supplies. I head back to the cabin and deliver about forty hangers to Vera, who observes that she doesn’t need “that many”.
I head off to the kitchen to put away the groceries. Not for the first time, I lament that the tiny kitchen lies in the path to Vera and Edna’s bedroom. It is too narrow for two people to pass, yet has an uncanny ability to attract wandering seniors. Vera shuffles into the tiny space and stops.
“Did you need something?” I asked.
“No, no, I don’t want to be a fuss.” She doesn’t move, just looks around. I sigh and try to work around her while she figures out what she came for. The dog joins us and Vera accommodatingly begins to pet her. I decide to go unpack my suitcase. My husband stomps past, light bulb in hand, trailed by a triumphant Edna puffing away on her straw.
Vera can’t find her purple pantsuit; Edna her white sweatshirt. They are both tearing apart their room. Edna is insulted when Vera looks under her- Edna’s- pillow. Vera explains that she didn’t mean to imply anything- she just thought that the pillow looked too high. Edna snorts and takes a long, hard drag on her straw. I assure them we will find the missing clothing. After searching every nook and cranny with a flashlight the pantsuit turns up in the bottom drawer, Edna’s drawer. Although it is clear that Vera put in there herself by accident, she acts as if her suspicions of thievery are confirmed.
We do not find the white sweatshirt until much later, when Edna finds that it is at home where she left it.
To accommodate the needs and wants of our diverse age group, we establish a 10/10 rule. Kids can’t make noise near the cabin after 10PM, when the sisters are asleep. The sisters can’t have conversation outside the kids’ window until after 10AM. Kids working out fine. Sisters, not so much. Constant attempts to initiate a conversation with me. A whispered response or head nod, instead of serving as a broad hint, causes one of them to shout: “WHAT? I can’t hear you!”
“I know. I’m whispering.”
“The kids are still asleep.”
The ladies are certain someone tried to break into their room during the night to kidnap them, or worse. I suspect one thing and am sure of another.
I suspect my husband may have hired someone. I am sure that if anyone was dumb enough to kidnap them, they would pay us handsomely to take them back.
We let Vera cook the bacon because she’s been mad for days that “no matter what I do, it’s wrong”. Edna complains that the bacon is burnt. Vera asks my husband one time too many if he’s going to eat the bacon that she went to all the trouble to make. He suddenly remembers a need to drive into town. For the day.
Later, same day:
Vera pets the dogs whenever she’s sitting at the kitchen table. That, plus the occasional miss when she’s eating are sufficient incentive for the dogs to permanently park themselves along the same narrow pathway the sisters like to occupy. Attempting to explain the cause and effect process is unsuccessful. Vera thinks the dogs should know better.
Did I mention their headgear? When forced to ride in the open convertible (the other option being to not come), they have come up with distinctive head coverings. Vera has her plastic, fold-up rain hat in a plastic sleeve, the kind that banks used to give away as promotions in like, the 50s. Edna buys herself a fur-trimmed red and black plaid trapper hat, complete with price tag, since she plans to return it at the end of the trip. She thinks it’s hysterically funny and kept poking the back of my seat to get me to turn around and admire it. “What do you think?” she asks. What I think is- James Bond’s ejector button. What I say is noncommital.
From the front seat, with the wind blowing and the hats flapping, it sounds as if we’re being followed by kites.
One Afternoon That Lasted a Week
Our last day, we decide to head over to the boardwalk for some Mexican food. Our kids promptly hop in the Jeep and take off in the opposite direction.
It’s a hot, sunny July day, 90 degrees and no breeze. The top is down. (New Englanders have to take their convertible weather when they can get it.) The ladies eye the car with mutually arched brows. It takes several trips in and out of the cabin before they’re satisfied with the amount of items they might need for a possible sudden frost.
It takes them twenty minutes to get into the car. It takes them two seconds to start complaining about how windy it is.
I turn around to assess the situation. Vera has already donned a sweater and is fanning out the folds of her rain hat. Edna has on a pink Red Sox hat, with her hoodie pulled tightly over the cap, swollen lips pursed. They are huddled and shivering.
“Is the air conditioning on?” Vera yells into the wind. “There’s an awful draft.”
My husband sighs and raises the windows.
“No, it’s not on. Is that better?” Silence. Only the sound of flapping hats.
“Do you want me to put the top up?”
“Well, I don’t know,” replies Vera, “how are you doing, Edna?”, trying to draw support. Ever contrary, Edna opines that she’s just fine and immediately ceases shivering.
“Oh. Well, maybe it would be better…” Vera’s voice fades off.
“You want it up or not?!”
“Put it up,” I say. “Concede.” We had traveled one mile. We pull over and put the top up. Thirty seconds later: “Can you put your window further up? It’s blowing in my eyes.” He raises it three quarters up.
Thirty seconds later: “Could you put it up more?” He closes it. “Well, I didn’t mean you had to close it.”
Meanwhile Edna is maintaining a non-stop conversation with herself. “Do you think a baby born by Caesarian section can live if the mother dies during the operation? Probably not. Or it depends when she dies. I didn’t mind the window down, but then, I like to be agreeable.”
Vera hisses. It’s a very long ride. When we finally arrive we do the elaborate ritual again, backwards, twenty minutes to get out of the car. Vera is sure she left her pocketbook behind but it turns out Edna has it. “I was just helping you, dear,” she says sweetly. Hiss, replies Vera.
They walk slowly up the street. Edna stops for a straw break. Vera points out a parking space that is at least two cars closer than ours. My husband and I speed up and try to lose them, but they show up anyway.
Vera opens the menu- at the Mexican restaurant- and reads it intently before asking, “Do they have anything to eat here that’s not Western?”
Edna pipes up. “Do they have any food here that won’t burn my lips?”
I suggest she avoid the jalapenos. She grabs a chip and spoons salsa on it. Takes a bit and spits out the chip. “Like that,” I observed. She promptly takes another one.
Meanwhile Vera observes that the music is too loud. Me, I don’t think it’s loud enough. I can still hear Vera and Edna.
We plan to skip dessert, since Vera is both a diabetic and a chocaholic. Edna orders the Death by Chocolate.
Several hours later, the meal is finally over, except for Edna, who’s nursing her dessert, raving about its deliciousness and offering bites to everyone. I suggest they when they finish they start the twenty-mile walk to the car while my husband and I scoot down the boardwalk to grab a t-shirt for a neighbor.
We bolt out the door and race down the street.
They are right behind us. Apparently they can move fast when inspired.
Next year we’re staying home and re-reading this to remind ourselves why.