A glimpse inside Santa’s satchel (or why I need to go back to a small purse)

I started to write something maudlin and then noticed I have a mini etch-a-sketch in my purse. I don’t think anyone carrying toys in their purse should be writing mopey posts. Yes, toys, as in plural. If I were jailed today and released in 6 months or what have you, the clerk could rattle off the following: 

One brown leather purse. Keys. Tiny rubber baseball mitt and ball. Half a tube of rose scented hand cream. An expired set of coupons good (or more to the point not good) for Auntie Anne’s Pretzels. A boogie board.

 

(right now you are thinking whoa, this must be a satchel! But it’s not that kind of boogie board. It’s an electronic toy you write on and then push a button and voila! the screen wipes clean and you get to start a new game of tic-tac-toe or what have you.)

 

A set of 0.3mm pens and small sketch book. One page has a colored pencil drawing of a shirtless Viking I tried to recreate from memory based on a photograph I once found between the pages of a dictionary when I was just a child but lost somewhere along the way and will clearly never forgive myself.

 

Small and empty bottle of ibuprofen. Hair brush. Head band. Three tubes of lipstick (and some feminine hygiene products which I am embarrassed to even list, like I’m 13 or something). Wallet packed fat with fun (but no cash). Battered Metlife dental card not secured in wallet like rest of membership cards for some reason but floating loose like a renegade.

 

Forgotten “organic” fruit strip that I just checked and you will be happy to know the sell-by date is not until April! Packet of Captain’s Wafers, Cream Cheese & Chives flavor (blech). A ticket stub for Miss Peregrine’s Home for Pecuiliar Children. One participation medal from a children’s race. Portable charger and several cords which match up to specific devices but look just similar enough to trick me every time. Unopened air freshener for car in Christmas Cookie™ scent.

No wonder I can never find my keys. I make an effort to put them in one of the side pockets, or the wings of the purse, if you will, but still I can never find them quickly. A long time ago I made a decision to carry a small purse, but I guess I forgot and this one was a gift from my husband, who once observed that I crammed too much into my small purse and needed more room.

A mere sampling


 

 

Piece of cake

Recently I had a real hankering for cake. I’d be sitting at work, staring at spreadsheets and billings but dreaming about a firm, moist yellow cake with the kind of crispy white icing that melts in your mouth. No one ever told me I’d fantasize about cake the way I used to fantasize about boys, but let’s get back to that cake.

This was this cake of my dreams. I always knew it as 7-minute cake.

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I haven’t had it in about 25 years. My dad’s mother used to make it every year for my birthday. She knew her way around the kitchen and died many years ago and before I thought to show interest in her skills. She was tricky to get close to, but her cooking and baking was pure love.

Who knows why that cake started to call to me all these years later. Work has been busy and stressful and I have been self-medicating something fierce with sugar. I’m none too pleased with myself, and more on that in a bit. But I wonder sometimes at the seemingly random resurfacing of memories. Maybe it was literally the 25th anniversary of the last time I had that cake and my brain figured this is it, we get it again or lose it forever. Maybe my brain was embarrassed to realize I’d never made a cake before. Like ever.

Now, I always liked to cook, especially before I got sober, and lately I’ve felt the urge to get back to it again. But baking isn’t cooking, and while I have baked plenty of things from scratch, I somehow never made a layer cake. The idea of needing perfectly matching layers intimidated me, plus I only had one cake pan. This was easy enough to fix, and after hunting around the internet and asking my mom what she knew about the cake, I finally remembered the old wooden recipe box at the back of one of our kitchen cabinets.

 

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I can’t remember when or how I got it, but this old recipe box used to belong to my mother, who died many years ago. It’s filled with clipped recipes that were hot stuff in the early 70s, like Boeuf Bourguignon, but it also has a cache of family treasures like the shrimp dip we serve at literally every gathering and Aunt Helen’s punch. Index cards are neatly filled with my mother’s script, many credited to Mom D., a woman I know was not easy to impress. I wonder if my mom was trying to bond with her mother-in-law over something she knew she loved. I found a recipe for boiled icing and another one for 1-2-3 cake and figured they were my best shot.

With the recent long weekend and colder weather settled in, it felt like the perfect time to attempt my first layer cake and recreate an old favorite. My girls were happy to help and hopefully they learned baking a cake isn’t hard at all. All you really need is two good cake pans ($9 for a set at Wegmans), a 20 year-old electric mixer that smells like it might burst into flames at any minute, and patience from those trying to watch TV in the other room while you run it on high for the next 20 minutes. Baking a cake isn’t a piece of cake, but it turns into one, so it’s a satisfying endeavor.

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This was the finished product. We were really pleased with ourselves. Unfortunately, the icing is nothing like what I remember from my grandmother’s cake. While delicious, this icing was goopy and thick like marshmallow cream. My grandmother’s icing was thinner and had a slightly crispy outer shell that melted in your mouth. I did some research online because apparently I’m not the only one searching for childhood in recipe forums, and I think the trick is leaving the cake out overnight. And I’m certain this is just what my grandmother did. I can picture it on a crystal pedestal on the sideboard in her dining room and, unlike us, they didn’t have nosy pets to take a lick or twenty.

The 1-2-3 cake itself turned out nothing like I remember, but it was still old fashioned and good. I have an email in to my aunt to see if she can help me with my grandmother’s cake recipe. My aunt also used to make a lovely chocolate cake with buttercream icing, and it dawned on me how reckless that I never thought to ask her for that either.

The thing about this recent obsession with cake and recreating family recipes is it’s poorly timed. Or maybe not. Lately I’ve come to the re-conclusion that I have a serious sugar habit and I need to do something about it. I’m still noodling through what that will look like,  but I’m pretty sure it won’t involve fat slices of cake under the guise of taste-testing old family recipes. I’m hoping it doesn’t involve sitting at my desk fantasizing about cake.

Most of the fun of baking is doing it with my girls. They love helping out, especially when it comes time to lick the beaters. Cooking seems more like an adult hobby, while baking feels special and like a place to reconnect with not only old recipes but the people who breathed them into life.

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Leftover icing

Aunt Millie – a writing prompt from Christy Anna Beguins

The piece below is something I wrote for Christy Anna Beguin’s November writing prompt. Anyone is free to join and you can find the prompts for this month and how to submit here. Any excuse to write, you know?


“She could start an argument in an empty house,” goes one Southern expression, and that about describes Aunt Millie to a tee. Once, she even wore pajamas to dinner because she couldn’t admit she had incorrectly mistaken them for a silky pantsuit. Earl and I could tell right away when we arrived to pick her up for her big birthday dinner.

“Why on earth aren’t you dressed yet?” I asked. Earl examined an invisible spot on the rug.

“This is what I’m wearing,” Millie said. “Frank sent me this beautiful silk set all the way from San Franciso.” She twirled around like that would fool anyone.

“Lands sake, Millie,” I said.  “Those are pajamas!”

Millie stopped twirling and stuck out her chin and said “You’re a fool, Dottie. Now let’s get to dinner.”

The pajamas were right pretty, cloudy pink satin with silk rosebuds at the collar. They were pajamas just the same. Millie held her head high at the Chinese restaurant and ignored stares or pretended everyone was admiring her high fashion. The embarrassment at having to eat with someone in their pajamas was almost unbearable, but at least I  had a story to tell. Millie may have been the most difficult person I knew, but she was always entertaining.

Last summer a bus filled with mental patients coming back from heaven knows where tipped right over on Millie’s front lawn. Her neighbor said one of the patients attacked the driver and he lost control, but I heard he fell asleep and given the hour, it seems more likely. When Earl and I turned on the late news, the last thing we expected to see was Millie in the background, arms waving and hair curlers askew and, come to think of it, in a familiar pink satin bathrobe her brother Frank sent over last birthday. If you’d seen the news, you might have guessed Millie tipped the bus over herself, but it turned out she was giving the officer an earful because the bus happened to crush one of her flower beds. Thank goodness no one was seriously hurt, but can you imagine her making all that fuss over flowers? Oh Millie.

Thanksgiving sure will be quiet this year without her. Her daughter, Sandra, found her the day after Halloween splayed face down near the sugar maple, a fallen ladder and rake. Mind you, all the leaves weren’t down yet, so we could only guess Millie climbed up to shake them down herself. She broke her neck and would have gone quick, the doctor said. Sandra just said “Huh” and looked at the doctor and then at Earl and me like she knew it was too soon to appear relieved.

In another lifetime, Millie was married to a sweet man named Hank who was so young then, he was really more a boy. Millie and Hank, they were quite a pair. I have a distinct memory of them walking arm in arm at the Clay County Fair, Millie’s head thrown back and her laughter not quite as braying as usual. Hank was the only one who softened Millie, but then he went off to war months before Sandra was born and never came back. I was closer to Millie’s age than Sandra’s, so I remember Millie’s heartbreak and how we hoped she’d find someone else, and then how Millie it was of her that she didn’t even try.

After Millie’s funeral, Sandra found a stack of letters from Hank while we were going through her personal belongings to see who wanted what. I joked we should burn them, that Millie would never want us reading those, but Sandra and Earl thought different and insisted I take them home for safekeeping.

I couldn’t help myself, drawn like a bug to the porch light, and that night I sat at the kitchen table and read and cried well past midnight. Hank was still doting at the start, but his last couple letters mentioned some English woman he’d met wherever he was. He was in love, apparently. His last note, dated a week before his ship went down, made reference to Millie’s “hard head and even harder heart” which is an apt description as any, but in the closing paragraph he asked her to please send more candy and gum. And I guess that’s how it was with Millie. You could never please her, but she never expected you to. All those years and we never realized it was really her putting up with us.

I told Earl about Hank’s letters and his mouth dropped but he didn’t say a word. Tomorrow we’ll use Millie’s good turkey platter and set a place for her at the table. I asked Sandra to bring a salad and not dessert since last time she brought some awful gelatin mess. Millie jabbed it with her finger so that it wobbled and shook and said “Oh look, even dessert can’t stop laughing at how ridiculous it looks.” Sandra was crestfallen but it perked me right up. Earl better not be his mopey, lost self he’s been lately. This is a holiday and no time to feel sorry for ourselves. Millie wouldn’t have wanted that.

 

The Urn

Dear Sylvester Westerlutz,

I hope I have the right person. Your last name is a bit unusual and I found you on google. I’m trying to locate the owner of an urn I stumbled upon while fly fishing in Saddlebag Creek this week. The trout are real specimens this spring…I can’t remember them this big and feisty before. But anyway I noticed something shiny near the edge of the creek and dug out what appears to be an urn with your last name on it. And so I’m wondering if maybe you lost an urn?

Yours truly,
Frank Everhart


Dear Frank

Thank you for your letter. I’m glad to hear fishing is going well this spring. You are correct that it is my urn, though incorrect that I “lost” it. I don’t know how it wound up in Saddlebag Creek as my wife and I last saw it pretty far upstream at Sawbill Creek and that was five winters ago. First we’d meant to sprinkle the ashes in the creek, but I only brought a swiss army tool that proved useless. (Urns are very hard to open.) Then we tried to bury the urn, but the ground was pretty frozen and we hadn’t brought a shovel. I guess we weren’t thinking too clearly. Finally, in a fit of what I now recognize to be temper, I chucked my mother’s urn in the creek. It made a satisfying splash I can still hear in my head. I’m sorry you found her and have to deal with her now. She always was a difficult person. She never could just let things be.

Best,
Sylvester Westerlutz


Dear Sylvester,

I see, or at least I think I do. My own mother is still alive but I don’t think I’ll share this story with her. Or maybe I will. In any event, what shall I do with your mother? Would you like her back?

Frank


Frank,

Throwing Mom in Sawbill Creek was one of the most liberating moments of my life. Prior to that, we’d tried burying her in the backyard next to the birdbath but then the window blind flapped up in the middle of the night and scared the living daylights out of my wife. She insisted it was Mom’s way of telling us she wasn’t happy with her placement, so we moved her over by the hemlock and then it died within the year. It was such a beautiful tree too, such a shame. Then we dug her up and polished the urn and put her on the mantel and that winter the woodstove caught fire and we lost pretty much everything. You might not be able to tell, but even the urn got pretty scorched. We had finally settled with the insurance company and closed on a new place to live when we took the urn down to Sawbill. It was meant to be a final act of closure and honestly, I hadn’t thought of that moment in years. I am not at all sure what to tell you do with Mom. I wonder if you might be able to put her back. I am sorry you have to deal with this.

Sylvester


Dear Sylvester,

I decided to do what you suggested and return your mother to Saddlebag Creek. I brought along my fishing gear and did notice the trout weren’t biting quite like they were last time, though that was probably just coincidence. I dug a pocket in the mud and rocks and sunk your mother’s urn in real good. I don’t think she’ll be going anywhere. The sky had been gray but right at that moment the sun poked through and I thought that was a good sign. It started raining on the way home and I did get a flat tire, but no worries, I had a spare and anyway, it had been awhile since I’d had the practice. I should get cleaned up because it’s Purse Night at bingo and Mother doesn’t like to be kept waiting. I wish you and the wife all the best.

Yours truly,

Frank Everhart

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A presidential proposal 

What if, instead of doing away with the Electoral College – which, for some of us anyway, lies just beyond the grasp of understanding and, twice already in my limited time as a voter, has elected an entirely different President than the one chosen by the people – we instead make the losing candidate Vice President? Hear me out. No one pays much attention to Vice Presidential candidates anyway (exception: Sarah Palin), and it should force both major parties to work together. Win-win.

In order for this to work properly, President and Vice-President should probably be handcuffed together, at least for the first 100 days of office. President would still get to choose the country’s agenda and announce bathroom breaks and pick the bedtime story for the presidential turndown service, but Vice President would have the immediate right to veto each decision. So I think both parties would learn pretty quick how to work together to pick the best bedtime stories and policy decisions to lead our nation. 

Maybe handcuffs are too chafing and instead we go with an oversized, two-headed sweater (or pantsuit, bathing suit, etc. depending on season and occasion). At least twice a day, and then once a week for conjugal visits, the President and Vice President would be allowed to leave one another’s side, though should be monitored closely as you would any flight risk.

Who knows what love might blossom, Stockholm Syndrome-style, in such close quarters. There would be no more secrets, though admittedly forced closeness does not seem the cure for acrimonious marriages. There might be murder plots, but at least they’d be the first to know. The idea is more to benefit the American people anyway by allowing both sides to have a voice on every issue so we don’t have this aggravating pendulum swing every 4-8 years, which inevitably results in one very unhappy party. If two people must sacrifice their freedom and mental well being in order for this to happen, why shouldn’t it be the two who took up so much of our own time and precious life force over the last 1.5 years/forever?

90 years young

That dream I had about tiny delicious sandwiches at my grandmother’s birthday party did not come true, though I did get many compliments on my kugelis. 

Kugelis is a dish that involves peeling and grating five pounds of potatoes with the nubbiest, most painful side of the grater. As such, each batch contains a little bit of human flesh as well as a pound of bacon with the fat undrained, a stick of butter, and several other, less horrifying ingredients. Once it bakes for about an hour, you serve it warm with a dollop of sour cream and are fortified to work the fields for many hours. That’s what my ancestors did anyway, so years ago I had my grandmother show me how to make kugelis, and even though I wrote each step down on a sheet of yellow lined paper and managed not to lose it, something got lost in translation and I had to go to the internet for my current recipe.

Throughout my grandmother’s 90th birthday party, she kept speaking to me in Lithuanian, a language I do not understand. She does this more and more lately, especially when she’s flustered, and it reminds me of her own mother, who lived to 94 and reverted to her native language steadily so that by the very end she never spoke English. When my great-grandmother used to speak to me in Lithuanian, I would smile and nod and usually this worked, although if my grandmother caught us she admonished with a “Mama, speak English!” Now that my grandmother speaks to me in a language I don’t understand, the smiles and nods don’t work as well and I have to say, as gently as possible, “In English?” I can see the corrections embarrass her.

My grandmother hit her party stride around the Happy Birthday Song, which the mixed crowd sang in English and Lithuanian. The Lithuanian version had a lot more verses, with long gaps in between, and at one point I made eye contact with my sister and felt laughter start to bubble up and decided it best not to look at her anymore. You may remember how I fussed over a music playlist last week, and that worked out fine and all, but the surprise hit was a guest who showed up with an accordion and tambourine. I dreamt about tiny delicious sandwiches that don’t even exist and then a living dream walked through the front door!

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The accordion player led the birthday songs and played some more while my grandmother sat and sang alongside him. The song was not in English, but it sounded sad or maybe just sincere. My grandmother sang beautifully in a high, confident voice and I remembered how much I love listening to her.

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There was plenty of music and too much food and as the last guests left, I said goodbye to my husband and felt loneliness like an itch I never seem to be able to scratch. But just like ten years ago and her 80th birthday party, the after-party was maybe the best part. My grandmother changed into pajamas and rejoined us while my daughters played some Lord of the Flies game with balloons and we listened to more music. My husband had put away most of the food and washed dishes and other relatives helped too, so cleanup was not too bad. 

The next morning, we reconvened and I put records on her old stereo console that still works, though I’ll admit reservations shoving the bent two-pronged plug in the wall and again when the speakers whimpered and crackled like a dying man’s cough.

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My grandmother handed me the official album for the 1984 Summer Olympics and told me to play it and my youngest rocked out to Loverboy because she is still in pajamas and buzzed on room temperature ginger ale. My grandmother said “How come you didn’t play music like this yesterday?” and I don’t know if she means music kids go nuts to or Loverboy or if she just wishes the party was still happening. She instructed us to leave the streamers up and the balloons get corralled in a corner, though they will shrink by the day.

My grandmother tells my girls that the next time we have a party at her house, she will not be there and my youngest asks where she’ll be. She tells them when my great-grandmother was very old, they had a party and she came downstairs and danced awhile and then retired to her room. My little sister went upstairs to find her and my great-grandmother told her the same thing about not being at the next party, and sure enough she died within the year. I remind my grandmother that she’s been planning her own funeral for the last 10 years and she laughs.

Before my girls and I leave, my grandmother pulls flowers from various bouquets and fastens them with a piece of ribbon and tells me to stop at the cemetery and leave them on my mother’s grave. I can hardly refuse this request, though before we pull out of her driveway she also tells me “Please do not vote for that Hillary.” So you don’t always get what you wish for, even at 90. Maybe we get very few wishes over a lifetime and foolishly use them up when we’re young. I know I love watching my youngest daughter’s face before she blows out candles or flips a coin in a fountain, her face earnest with concentration and belief. I can’t remember the last time I’ve blown out candles or thrown a coin in a fountain.

After we back out of my grandmother’s driveway and pull away, I honk and watch as she gets smaller and smaller in the rear view mirror. Once we round a corner, I look back and my daughters turn around even though we know she won’t be there.

Heading into the Eye of the Storm

Patsy Cline, Taylor Swift and Michael Jackson stand awkwardly in separate corners for the first 15 minutes of the party. Then the Alan Parsons Project and Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass show up and there aren’t  enough corners so I guess you could say that’s when things got cooking. Oh, and Sam Cooke was there too, of course. 



When planning a party for a 90 year-old grandmother or anyone, really, music is key. I could fill a playlist with standards from the 40s, but I don’t remember her listening to what I think of as old people music. When my brother and I were kids, she took us to Montgomery Ward’s on a Friday night to help her pick out records. It had a music and electronics department upstairs with moody lighting and sonorous acoustics. We flipped through albums but generally picked whichever one was hottest and spent the rest of the weekend listening to it over and over again on her walnut record console, a swanky piece of furniture. 

My grandmother’s living room is where I first heard the Thriller album in its entirety. It’s where we pushed her glass covered coffee table to the side so we could dance to Eddie Rabbit’s I Love A Rainy Night and ABBA’s Super Trooper. (I’m a little embarrassed to admit these things but not really.) Maybe I wasn’t a fan of Kenny Rogers or Dolly Parton, but Islands in the Stream won me over. My brother played his new Fat Boys album for her and she kept an open mind, but she didn’t buy that one for herself. 

Actually, she wasn’t buying any music for herself. We binge-listened to an album over the course of a weekend and then she packed it carefully into a box, along with Levis jeans and whatever else worked as currency in the early 80s Eastern Bloc, and then shipped it off to distant relatives I never met and never will.

I finally sat down yesterday and combed through apple music playlists to cull a party mix worthy of my grandmother’s eclectic and open-minded musical tastes. And because a party isn’t just about the birthday girl, I included hits I know other family members will enjoy. She still comments appreciatively on some of my daughters’ favorite songs when we listen in the car. That’s where I’ve been testing out this party list in shuffle mode and find I love it all. 

This has been the surprise hit for me, a sweet little oasis in the angst of party planning, the calm before the storm. I could have listened to any of these songs at any time, but they had no context individually or even as part of another more generic playlist. Only in this more personal playlist do I feel each song so deeply I crank it up to feel it deeper. I catch myself thinking how much better music was in the 60s and 70s, how much more effort they put into each song, how rich and satisfying the sound. Sometimes it feels good to get good and old. 

The party isn’t for a few more days, and who knows if the ipad and wireless speaker setup will work as planned. It isn’t necessarily easier than the good old days of playing a record and flipping it over. My grandmother still has the record player console and a few albums that will work in a pinch. It’s not really about the music anyway but who we’re with when it plays. 

It’s going to be awkward when these guys show up because we’ll all basically be wearing the same outfit.

Synchronicity

In the dream I hear there’s an urgent recall on all scarab bracelets purchased 15 years ago and rush to my jewelry box to find mine, not worn in many years, with one of its plastic scarabs cracked in the center. I see a tiny winged insect climb out. It is too flat and its tail bends up like a coat hook. When it starts flying around the room, I have the mind to take a picture and fumble with my phone just like in real life. I can see on screen how fantastical the bug looks, how shaggy its coat and cartoonishly big its eyes are (oh how I would love access to the camera roll from my dreams). I’m afraid to let it outside because it’s too cold. Later, the rest of the scarabs on my bracelet hatch regular bugs, all mismatched, plain and thus horrible. My husband flings the bracelet out the door. 

Dreams about scarab beetles can signify metamorphosis. Jung once had an overly controlled, rational patient who shared a dream she’d had the night before about a golden scarab and then they both heard a tapping sound at the window. It was a real golden scarab beetle and Jung opened the window and said to his patient “Here is your scarab.” The patient had a spiritual breakthrough and Jung had one too. He spent much of his practice marveling at synchronicity, or meaningful coincidence, and applied it to his therapeutic techniques.

Once I decided I was going to write about the scarab dream, I went to my jewelry box to see if I still had the bracelet and was surprised to find it was a watch. The subconscious can forget things too. I remember now it was a birthday or Christmas gift from my husband. The vague watch face tells me the battery died at either 9:20 or 10:20, offering a clue as to why I may have stopped wearing it. The undersides of the scarabs are curved and hollow, unscathed. They have not nor will they ever hatch bugs, exotic or plain.

 

scarab-watch


 

At lunch yesterday, I checked email in my car and found one about an unexpected refund. When I went to turn on my car, it only made a clicking sound and I spent almost the same amount of money on an auto club membership and new battery, both things I needed but had been putting off. I missed a couple hours of work and will use leave I’ve known will not roll over if I don’t use it by the end of the year. When I texted my husband about the unexpected refund and costs he wrote back “easy come, easy go.” I wrote back “karma”.

Last week I bought tickets online for a Roger Waters concert and paid what I  knew had to be a mistake. It turns out the price was missing a whole digit, so it’s safe to say someone lost their job over that one. Once the ticketing company noticed the error, they charged the difference to our credit cards and now, a week later, sent an email around saying “you know, that wasn’t really fair, was it?” They refunded the difference. They even threw in free parking to really make us feel horrible or happy, depending on how guilty our conscience.

Easy come, easy go, Karma.

I’m excited to go to this concert with my husband, even though it’s not until next summer. We’ve only recently started making time to see shows or concerts together and Pink Floyd is my desert island band. I never got to see them when they toured in the late 80s without Roger Waters. If you wait long enough, it all fits together like a puzzle, but you have to keep track of the pieces, taking time to put them away in the right box so it’s all there when you need it.

 

 

 

 

7 Spins on 7 Sins: a Greed filled guest blog on Buzzkill Pod

I’m super excited to share something I wrote on Greed for 7 Spins on 7 Sins over at Paul’s Buzzkill PodThis is the first installment, so be sure and subscribe so you don’t miss a single sin by a different writer each week. You can also listen to Paul’s always insightful and funny recovery podcast here.

To read the first installment of 7 Spins on 7 Sins, click on the image below or here.

90 year old napkins

My grandmother turns 90 soon and to celebrate, we’re throwing a party that will send her to an early grave. Just kidding, 60 would have been an early grave. This party might send me to one, and that would be early but also deserved. 

When my grandmother turned 80, we threw her a big catered affair, attended by a great number of friends who are not invited this time because they are dead. It was quite a party, I’m telling you. 

A lot changes in a decade, especially once you make past 80. She said to me the other day on the phone while we were in an actual fight over this party “You don’t know what it’s like to be 90.” What could I say?

I forget sometimes that she’s not 80 anymore. She got all worked up before that party too. She’s a perfectionist and a worrier and a real force to be reckoned with. I remember spending a day driving around with her to shop for party supplies and how tiny the glass of wine seemed at dinner, how ordering another seemed pointless because that wasn’t going to do it either.

And then an hour before her party started, a kitchen cabinet fell off its hinge and smacked her in the head. She was okay – just a little shaken up – but another family member remarked later it had been like a Wizard of Oz moment. Before the head bonk, her party loomed like a terrorizing tornado. After the head bonk, the air felt oddly tranquil, my grandmother sedate in silver sequined slippers.

The fight her and I got in about this party, like most fights, wasn’t really about the party. It was about something that will be hard to remember 10 years from now. Already it seems silly and sad that I chose to get upset and react. Usually when I talk to her, I keep my emotions in a separate box, locked from the inside, and they understand well enough to lay low. This time Hurt Feelings heard me on the phone and said “I’m hungry.” Righteous Indignation heard and said “Yeah me too…let’s go ask for a snack.” 

Probably my lowest point in the argument with my 90 year old grandmother was when I told her we probably shouldn’t be planning this party in the first place. We should have just taken her somewhere nice for dinner instead. She never asked for a party in the first place, but it was already too late to call off and cruel of me to say, even though we both knew it was true. 

I had a dream about the party the other night. It was something about tiny, delicious sandwiches and I hadn’t ordered enough. Good lord, I am not a party planner. I don’t even like parties when all I have to do is show up. But I said to a friend a few weeks ago, before things got so crazy, that the difference between this party and her 80th is I’m sober now. Theoretically I have more energy and focus, though much less free time. I just wanted my gift to my grandmother to be a nice party. I am not giving up. 

Yesterday I called to go over some details with her. She told me she picked up napkins specifically for a 90th birthday party. I asked where on earth she found those and half-jokingly she said “I don’t even want to talk about it..this is all your fault.” She then talked about wanting to make this special cranberry cake she used to make all the time and last made for her 80th birthday party. I told her not to buy any more anything for the party and to skip the cake and put her feet up instead.

The difference between 80 years old and 90 years old seems to be less physical and mental stamina to do all the things you still think you should be able to do. I told her about my dream and the tiny, delicious sandwiches being just out of reach and she laughed and said “See, you worry too much too.”

Before we got off the phone, she got in a quick reminder that I shouldn’t vote for the candidate I’ve known I’d vote for since I was a little girl. Righteous Indignation paced behind the closed door but did not come out. (Hurt Feelings was stuffing her face with tiny, delicious sandwiches.)

My grandmother’s party is just before the election. Some moments I don’t know how we’re going to make it, how it’s possibly going to work out that either side will be happy with the outcome. The divide between perspectives is so vast it’s like we’re looking at two completely different landscapes.

If I think back to her 80th party and the days leading up to it, it felt the same then. And that party turned out wonderful overall. Because, my god, nothing is ever perfect, but we have to look at the big picture and remember it’s about the people at the party. When my grandmother complained about the state of her yard, I said no one is coming to this party for the view or the food or decorations. They’re coming to see and spend time with you, to offer congratulations and well wishes on turning 90 years old.