Tag Archives: Holidays

Of Hats and Flasks and Hearts Tied Up with String

I heard them before I saw them. A murmured, “Dad, there’s Denise.” It didn’t register. I continued to stare blankly at a rack of men’s crewneck sweatshirts. I was in Target, and my youngest son was shopping. He’d been trying on knitted hats in there for the better part of two decades, maybe three, I don’t know. I’d lost track of time. So. Many. Hats. I felt desolate, saw only darkness. Would’ve shot off a flare if I’d had one handy. It was a bleak and humorless existence. I had to pee, and my feet had swelled from standing so long. I was cursing myself for having never gotten into the habit of sporting a hip flask. Every hat looked the same; I could’ve sworn he was fucking with me. Just as I felt myself slip further into the maw of boredom, I heard them calling my name. Repeatedly. Pulling me back from the point of no return. Dazed, I looked up.

There they were, CAF’s family. It was a shock, and I gasped. Loudly. Embarrassingly. The kind of gasp you see a heroine in a shitty movie do. Oh, why don’t I carry a flask? CAF’s widower and her eldest child were smiling broadly at me. It felt like old times, kind of… Yet, what was this? There, hidden just slightly out of view, was her youngest. There was the boy who was too young to remember the catastrophic Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection in CAF – the event that began the end of her life. This had not been my first time seeing the family. At the end of August, CAF’s widower and her eldest son showed up at a memorial service for a family member of my husband’s. It was kind of them to come, but as I hadn’t expected them nor seen them in years, and as I was at a memorial service, it became too much. I burst into tears and ran outside. My sons were quickly behind me, making sure all was well. It wasn’t, and I felt fragile, like my heart, badly tied up with string, just had its knot come undone.

This time was different. It was friendlier, happier, and because her youngest boy was there. He didn’t remember me, and most likely no longer remembers his mother – but oh! how darling he was! His face, so like hers – only in miniature. I asked if I could hug him. His father said yes; the boy remained quiet but gave me a gentle squeeze back – more out of politeness than anything else. He was painfully shy, as anyone would be who’s lived through what he has. He didn’t look at me accusatorially, none of them did. I suppose it’s just me. All I felt was guilt; the self-whispers of “murderer” and “killer” going round in my head. Her children never denounced me – never pointed at me and asked, “WHY DID YOU KILL OUR MOTHER?! WHY?!”

I’m sure it was later explained to the wee one that I was his mother’s closest friend. That I was the there the day she passed, the one who held her hand as she died. Hopefully it was not explained that I had to be the one to convince his father to pull life support…

Seeing CAF’s husband is getting easier, and I’m glad her eldest boy remembered me. I still haven’t seen her daughter, who supposedly looks and acts just like CAF. I don’t know whether she’d remember me. They are a beautiful family, and I’m glad to see them happy. I hope at some point to put this all behind me, but for now, it’s just pain and self-recrimination. Whether my part in this all was “merciful” or not, it left its mark – one I’ll never heal from.

Last night as I decorated the interior of my house for the holidays, I came across several Christmas pieces CAF had given me over the years. Strangely, 3 of them are angels. I cry every year…

Ho, ho, fucking ho.

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And Then the Damn Bird Blew Up!

It was the first (and only) time my older sister and her children came for Thanksgiving. It was November 2001. This date is ingrained in my head for a reason that will soon become obvious.

In any event, I’d planned on being a perfect hostess, as you do. I cleaned as well as I could with two young children, and had guest beds and linens all prepared. The menu was done in advance, as well. Everything was good to go.

Isn’t it funny how at these times when you really need something to turn out well the most bizarre things happen?

My sister and her two daughters arrived the day before Thanksgiving. I can’t really remember what we did, maybe we went to the beach. This is hardly a salient point. So, Thanksgiving morning arrived, as it does when you fall asleep the night before… I began the day, as I do every Thanksgiving, with the typical sobbing over the dead bird as I rinse it out in the kitchen sink. As a vegetarian, this is a heinous task. There is a lot of “I’m sorrys” said to the bird and plenty of retching on my part. My sister walked in to experience this floor show of mine first hand. My husband and sons are well-versed in this annual exercise and remain as far away as possible during my penitential process.

She found me hunched over the sink with a bottle of beer beside me. It was 9:00 AM. I was whimpering and gagging. She pushed me aside and rinsed the bird, while making tutting sounds amounting to what an idiot I am, or thoughts to that effect. I continued to sniffle and snuff as she removed the bag of innards and the neck. UGH! Eventually the carcass was stuffed in its pan and I began the preparations for its descent into our ancient (and burnt-sienna-colored!) oven.

I should digress for a moment and give some background. Our house is old. It was built in the late ’60s. There have been no significant updates to the structure in all that time other than a new roof. This was years ago and at that time, the kitchen hadn’t been kitted out with new appliances.

Anyhow, into the hideously colored oven the bird went. I breathed a sigh of relief. The hard part was over and I didn’t look like too big a failure in front of my older sister. An hour later, she went down the hall to shower. I finished my beer and ruminated on my many faults.

Soon, as she was blow-drying her hair, we were treated to a colossal series of explosions, not unlike the 4th of July or a missile attack. I ran up the hall with visions of the Taliban standing inĀ  my dining room. Had they been driven so far out of Afghanistan they sought to create havocĀ  in a small San Diego coastal village on Thanksgiving Day? As I ran in, many cats and a dog were running out with that wild-eyed, “WHAT THE -?” look animals in distress have. The explosions continued.

I looked into the kitchen and there was burnt sienna Old Faithful, smoking and banging away. The oven, which had lasted decades, had picked TODAY, THANKSGIVING DAY, the day my always-makes-me-feel-like-I’m-an-idiot older sister was visiting. This couldn’t have happened a few days before Thanksgiving, or a few days after, no. The Goddamn oven needed to pick Thanksgiving Day to explode with my bloody bird in it!

At this point, the husband lumbered in. He may have come due to my hysterical shrieking, I’m not really sure. Behind him, still holding her hairdryer, came my sister. Behind her, a combination of children, all equally dumbfounded and scared. The husband eventually realized he should unplug Old Smokey before all smoke detectors picked up on this event and contributed their own shrill voices to this Thanksgiving Day extravaganza. I watched him hunch over the beast and attempt to pull it from the wall. I would have offered assistance but if one of us has to die…

Once it was disarmed, we all gaped at the brown behemoth, billowing smoke and making odd crackling death sounds.

“I thought the hairdryer did it.” My sister said, brandishing the appliance as if it were evidence in a Conair trial.

I couldn’t have been more mortified if I tried. “What do we do with the bird?” I wailed. “It’s only been cooking for an hour!” After a series of back-and-forths, and a hasty phone call, I bundled the bird and the husband in the car and sent them away to finish the cooking process at the in-laws.

We strapped the bird in using a seat belt…

When they returned, everything was fine. The meal passed in an uneventful fashion, meaning nothing else exploded and I hadn’t poisoned anyone. Success!

Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures of Old Smokey for your entertainment, so these excellent examples of 1960’s and 1970’s wallpaper taken just now from areas around my house will have to suffice:

This wonderful assortment of Brady-Bunch-on-Acid fruits and vegetables is in a corner of my garage.
Entire walls & shelves in the house were once covered with this. I call it "tequila vomit."

I wish you all a happy and stress-free Thanksgiving with your loved ones. I, once again, will be hunched over the sink, sobbing and apologizing with a beer beside me. Happy Holidays!