What I Did on My Summer Vacation

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.

Day 2

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.

Day 3

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.”
“What, again?”

Day 4

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.

Day 5

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.


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 qualify as 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 “liberated” from restaurants 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.