Life Goes On: May

May

And on and on and on.

 

I dropped Gail off at work and returned home. The phone was ringing when I came in. I hate the phone ringing, but especially in the morning. There’s a line in a song by the Cowboy Junkies that goes `The phone rings, but I don’t answer it, good news always sleeps til noon.’

I considered not answering it, but it sounded exceptionally shrill. I plunked down, “Hello?”

“Promise me you will not leave the house until I get there.” Gail’s voice was intense and tortured.

“Ohmigod, what’s happened?”

“Your Dad called me, asking where you were. I told him you were on your way home. I asked him what was wrong, ’cause he sounded upset.”

“What’s wrong?”

“You have to call him. I told him I’d get you to call if I could find you first.”

“I went to the laundromat. What’s wrong, tell me,” I said frantically.

“Your mother died.” Gail’s voice was reluctant and about to break.

“What! You can’t be right!”

“Your Dad just called me, asking where you were. I told him I would call you.”

“It can’t be right.” My brain went numb, all I could think of was Dad waking up beside a corpse. It was too much, too outlandish. It absolutely could not be true. I would not even entertain the idea.

“My Dad is coming to get me. I want you to stay where you are. Promise me.”

“Yeah, okay, I promise. I need to speak to my Dad.”

We hung up and I dialed my parents. My Dad answered.

“Hello?”

“What happened?”

“They think a blood clot entered her lungs and she died at 6:30 this morning.”

“Mom?” my mind blanked, I could not believe it. Would not.

“What are you talking about?”

“Gail said you called and told her that Mom died.”

“No, your grandmother died this morning.”

I could hear Mom crying in the background. I was instantly flooded with relief, but began crying for Gramma. I didn’t get to see her; and it didn’t matter that it was my fault, it wasn’t fair.

“I don’t understand,’ I cried.

“She was complaining about chest pain, it was very quick. They had her on blood thinners, but they’re a catch-22. Thinners prevent clots from forming, but they can loosen any clots you have already.”

“How is Grandpa?”

“He’s devastated.”

“At least he got back up there before.”

We cried together on the phone for several minutes. My Mom was barely able to speak to me when Dad gave her the phone. Mostly we just cried.

Gail came in, pale and tear stained.

“I’ll be out as soon as I can,” I promised Mom. I hung up.

Gail sat beside me, holding me.

“It’s okay,” I stroked her hair. “It was Gramma, not my Mom.”

“Your Dad said `Her Mother’,” Gail looked at me, confused. Gail and my Mom got along quite well, but my Dad has a hard time being comfortable around people in social settings, he does not have a problem in work settings oddly enough.

“My Dad said `her mother’, but the `her’ he meant was my Mom, or maybe his voice broke on `grand’, I dunno. But my Mom’s okay.”

Gail’s body slumped inward a bit and she just sobbed. The strain of constant death and tragedy was wearing. I was starting to wonder if we’d get through this alive or together.

I was getting to the point where I wanted more tragedy to happen just to see how much I could take or what, after all this, would make me snap and become the next on the list.

We sat for a while on the couch.

“I..they’re going to Kelowna. They are not going to wait this time. I think I should go with them.”

“No, I don’t think that’s a good idea. You’re too upset. They should wait. Everyone is going to be absolutely crazy with grief.”

“But…,” I thought about how I never coped with my own grief when there was other people grieving around me. Gail was right, I had to let myself feel and not caretake for others. “Okay, I won’t go now, but let’s get out to Surrey and see my parents off.”

“I’m glad.” Gail kissed my eyes, the tears off my cheeks, then my lips.

“Besides, it’s not like anyone listened to my suggestions about Dan. I’m just a kid, so it’s going to be whatever they arrange. I couldn’t sleep without you.”

“Stop babbling and get your shoes back on.” Gail rumpled my hair.

 

We dropped Beast off at Gail’s parents. Her Mom was beside herself.

“Your Mom is quite young.” Gail’s Mom was upset and worried. “She wasn’t sick, was she?”

“No,” I said, fighting tears, “It wasn’t my Mom, my…”

“Her Grandmother died, a blood clot entered her lungs,” Gail finished for me. “We need to go out to Surrey for a couple of hours, could you watch Beast for me?”

“Of course,” her Mom said, “Why don’t you come over for supper, later?”

 

I stayed in the slow lane, I didn’t trust myself to pass anyone. I only moved over for the merge lane to get on the freeway easily.

My parents were fast packers.

“Where’s your suitcase?”

“Is Gail coming, too?”

“No, neither of us are, I just wanted to see you guys off.”

I hugged my Mom really hard. I thought of how I felt before I found out it was Gramma, I didn’t want to imagine how Mom was feeling about losing her Mom.

Gail and my Dad hugged, then we traded.

“Be careful, and call us as soon as you get there. We’ll be at our house.”

“Okay, you drive carefully, too.” My Dad’s hugs are brief but intense.

Then, they were gone.

Sherry was sitting on the couch, holding Katie.

“What’s matter, Mommy?” Katie touched Sherry’s tears. “Gamma!” Katie had not realized they’d left.

“Hey Rugrat!” I scooped Katie from Sherry. I sat beside her on the couch, Katie between us. Gail sat in Mom’s chair.

“I can’t believe it,” Sherry monotoned. “i can’t believe we have no grandmothers.” Sherry burst into tears.

“Mommy! Look! Look at me!” Katie made a face, when it failed to elite a smile or even get Sherry to stop crying, Katie slid off of the couch and hit me on the leg. “You make Mommy cry!”

I laughed.

“No, Katie,” Sherry snapped, “We don’t hit people!” Sherry pulled Katie back onto her lap.

“I feel the worse for you,” Sherry continued.

“Me?” I was shocked.

“You didn’t get a chance to see Gramma.”

“It was my choice, I didn’t want her in the hospital to be my last image of her. I wanted to have a nice last memory.” I was starting to cry. “Besides,” I added sort of fliply, “Someone had to stay here to see Grandpa everyday.”

“There was enough of us doing rotation.”

“You never went,” I said.

“Yeah, but Grandpa looked bad, his face was smashed. Gramma…”

“Was on a respirator and a body brace,” Gail said gently.

“Not by the time I was there, most of the machines had come off.” Sherry had a deep seated fear of hospitals. They still were the place you went into and never walked out of.

“Don’t cry because of my decisions. I was preparing for this news all along. I was just beginning to think that she would make it. I’m just glad Grandpa got there in time and I’m glad everyone who wanted it have the extra time with her and especially glad that she didn’t die on the roadside.”

The image broke out three sets of tears. Katie slipped off the couch. She wasn’t sure what was wrong with the big people. She ran to the kitchen calling for the one who makes everything all right.

“Gamma! Gamma!”

When there was no answer, she came back to the living room and crawled into Sherry’s lap. She cried, too.

 

By 10 pm, my parents had not called. I was worried and terrified that they’d had an accident. I called Sherry.

She said that they had arrived around 6 pm and that they’d called her. She apologized for not calling us.

We called Kelowna, I chatted with Aunt Patsy, then teasingly berated my Mom for not calling.

The funeral was going to be on the thirteenth, the day before Mother’s Day.

They wanted us to bring Dad’s computer and printer so they could do the program. Sherry was to bring her stereo for the reception afterwards. I was to make a tape of appropriate music, and in particular, Elaine, June and Mom had decided that Elvis’ `Mamma Liked the Roses’ would play as everyone filed out.

I objected because it was a song I liked. I can’t listen to `Wind Beneath my Wings’ anymore because it was sung at Gus’ funeral. Gail was the same with `Say You Say Me’ by Lionel Ritchie because it had played at her brother’s.

“We all like the song, that’s why we want it.” Mom was actually short with me.

“Yeah, but I’m the Elvis fan.” I protested, but was overruled. I was not about to add to the stress by `forgetting’ to tape the song.

It was funny to me how life works in circles. As I sat on the couch transferring songs from my Elvis gospel CD and a few cuts by Patsy Cline, I recalled myself at age twelve, sitting on the floor in my parent’s bedroom taping Icelandic music from my portable record player onto a tape in a portable tapedeck for Amma’s funeral.

I had acquired Amma’s funeral music tape in 1992, when Gus died. He had kept it, and it was one of the few things I claimed from among his possessions for myself.

After Gramma’s funeral, I would give the tape to Elaine. I had all the songs on CD, and she was religious and only listened to gospel music now, so I knew she’d like the tape.

There was one other touchy subject Mom asked me if I wanted the stuffed cat back.

“No,” I said, “Why?”

“Margaret wants the cat go be cremated with Mum.” my Mom said hesitantly.

“Okay,” I said. I didn’t want it back. “There is something I do want though, it’s the Dwarf cookie jar.”

Gramma had a ceramic cookie jar, shaped like a tree stump. On top was a Dwarf sleeping on it’s tummy, butt in the air. Along the side of the trunk were little squirrels and raccoons and such. For me, it meant Gramma more than anything in her house.

“I’ll have to ask Margaret,” Mom said, “She made it for Mum, and she may want it back, but I’ll see if you can have it in exchange for the cat.”

“Okay, but the cat can..oh I see,” I said, “Thanks, Mom. There wouldn’t happen to be any cookies left in it?”

“I dunno, people have been munching on everything. No one has the energy to make a proper meal. I think I saw a bag of cookies in the freezer, I’ll try to save you a couple.”

“Thanks.” I couldn’t believe they’d be the last oatmeal cookies from Gramma.

 

We headed for Kelowna on Friday afternoon. My Dad had given me his Nissan Pick-up as sort of a Christmas present, Sherry got their Oldsmobile Royal. We followed her to Kelowna.

I had told her up front, I would not be speeding at all, it was important to get there in one piece. And since I had no clue how to get there myself, Dad hadn’t let me drive, and I hadn’t paid attention to the exits much. Besides, it was a good way to make sure that Sherry drove carefully.

Despite Sherry’s car being loaded with a computer, a laser printer, Katie and clothes for both, they easily left us behind on the hills that our little Nissan was unable to climb faster than 60 km/h in a 120 km/h zone.

We made one stop for lunch and we reached Kelowna around suppertime. We came into the house, there was no roast smell this time; but there was hugs all around and fresh tears.

Elaine had made her salad and there was some cold chicken. All the kids where there, except Dan. John, the eldest, then my Mom, Patsy, Margaret, June and Elaine. Dan had been between June and Elaine.

It hurt to see the kitchen, but the backyard garden was worse. I could picture Gramma weeding and planting. Stretching towards the sun, revealing the tanned stripe just above her pants waistband but below where her shirt would ride up when she bent to weed.

 

I remembered one summer I was staying with her, we were in the garden. I was playing with the kittens when she called me. I ran to find her under some cherry trees. She handed me a leaf she’d rolled into a tube with both ends pinched off.

“Take this to the chickens,” she said, holding the leaf out to me. I reached for it in the middle, wondering why the chickens would want a leaf.

“No,” she said,”Take it like I have, at the ends.”

I shifted my grip and my fingers brushed hers. The nicks in the whorls of her fingerprints from her cutting knife, the warmth of her hands coming back stronger in memory.

I turned to go to the chickens, when, because of my less firm grip, a huge black beetle partially emerged from the leaf. I dropped it and screamed. The sudden appearance of insects still frighten me.

Gramma thought I was being silly being scared by a harmless beetle, but she didn’t get mad at more for loosing the chicken’s snack.

 

I leaned on Gail. My mind was racing, it was a mistake to come here. I didn’t think I could cope. The grief was too tangible, everyone was eating, drinking, watching tv or sitting in a stupor.

I was glad were we staying at a hotel. More relatives would be arriving tomorrow, Gramma’s siblings, friends, and ex-neighbours. I didn’t want the scrutiny of probably being the first lesbian they’d ever met, and certainly the only one they were related to.

I was worried about Gail, too. At least I knew most of the people who were going to be at the funeral. She didn’t like crowds at the best of time, but a drinking and grieving bunch were going to be positively intimidating.

We left for the hotel as soon as we got directions. It was a relief to get away to somewhere quite.

We decided to drag our suitcase and bag into the lobby rather than return for it.

“Good Evening,” the male clerk greeted us.

“Hi,” I said, “We have a reservation for a room with a queen, my Aunt Margaret Garden reserved it.”

The clerk’s face registered some shock as he noticed we were both women. He turned a little pink as he punched up the information on the computer.

“We have a lovely twin for you,” he stammered.

“You can’t have just twins left, we have a reservation,” I said, my voice getting as shrill as I felt.

Gail touched my arm and gave me a let me handle this look.

“No, you don’t have a twin, you have a queen, we want one room, one bed and one shower. We just drove from North Vancouver this morning and we’re here for a funeral tomorrow morning. We want our reserved room with the queen sized bed and we want it right now.” Gail smiled, “Please and Thank You.”

The clerk look fearfully back and forth between us. The older couple in the lobby sort of stepped back to enjoy the unexpected and free floor show.

He searched the computer for a room.

“We, umm, have a King Size Room that we um, can give you for the Queen rate. Sorry for the inconvenience.” He handed us a key, the number engraved on the key ring tag.

“Thank you,” Gail said, taking the key. “Ready, dear?”

I picked up the luggage and we headed for the elevator.

The room was nice, if only a little bigger than the bed. We had about a two foot corridor on all three sides. We cranked the air conditioning, unpacked, and headed for the MacDonald’s we saw on the way into town.

We brought the food back to our room. The room was nice and cool and the burgers were lukewarm. The bed was comfortable at least.

There’s nothing quite like slipping into fresh sheets after a vigorous shower. I cuddled into Gail.

“I just can’t believe what’s going on this year,” I mumbled. “I’m just so tired of picking up the phone and hearing about someone else dying.”

Gail squeezed me hard.

“I’m afraid of what’s left to come,” Gail said, her voice catching.

“Your Mom, you mean,” I said.

“You have a wonderful grasp of the obvious,” Gail kissed me on the top of the head.

“You never know,” I said, “She’s pulled off a number of miracle recoveries, she just may outlive all of us.”

“No,” Gail said sadly, “I think you only get so many miracles in your life, the Law of Averages is bound to catch up with you at some point.”

“I don’t know if it’s miracles so much as strength of will,” I said, “She’s a very determined woman.”

“Sometimes,” Gail said, “I forget that you don’t believe in God.”

“Sometimes I wish I did,” I answered, “Does it make a difference? Does believing give you any comfort? I see people who believe in god, but they cry as much as I do. Shouldn’t they be happy that their loved one is with god?”

“That’s a little simplistic, but it doesn’t mean you miss them any less. It doesn’t mean that knowing you can’t ever talk to them or share important events with them is easier.”

I yawned. “I guess, I’m too tired to argue my lack of faith tonight.”

“I didn’t mean to get into that either, it’s been a long day for me, too,” Gail kissed me on the forehead, “It’s really not an issue of whether or not you believe.”

Gail let me go only long enough to turn out the lamp. I cuddled into her and we nestled down to sleep.

As I was difting off, I wasn’t sure, but I thought I heard her say, “I can believe enough for both of us.”

 

There was to be a body viewing before the service. It really upset me because it was not what Gramma wanted. After Dan died she talked a lot about what she wanted for herself — and a body viewing was not it.

Sherry was going to go. I really didn’t think it was a good idea, but she wasn’t letting me talk her out of it. However, she did let me talk her into brunch.

On the way to the restaurant, I told Gail I wanted to linger so that we’d miss the viewing. Sherry was torn about going, and I really believed that she didn’t need to see such a barbaric ritual. She seemed really fragile to me, and she needed to stay functional.

When our Uncle Gus died, she took to her bed, determined to never get up again. She avoided all the contact with the family as she could, and I think it drove her grief deep inside her. It’s better to grieve communally, with people who understand the depth and share the pain. I knew that I could not cope with seeing the body, and I could not believe that my sister could either.

The restaurant wasn’t too crowded. Katie was off her schedule and was being noisy and fidgeting. Sherry couldn’t get her calmed down. Gail took her and gently rocked her.

We placed our orders, and before the food arrived, Katie was asleep on Gail.

“You really got her settled,” I said softly. When Gail didn’t answer I realized that she’d put herself asleep, too. It really was a sweet image.

I woke her very gently when our pancakes arrived. We ate slowly and talked about everything except where we were headed. Sherry wasn’t upset when she realized that we’d missed the viewing.

We arrived at the funeral home with fifteen minutes to spare. We saw Dan’s ex, Evelyn standing in the parking lot, the girls trying to pull her towards the funeral home.

“We saw you, you have to come now!” I called out cheerfully. I was surprised at the deer in the headlights look in her eyes.

“Hey,” I hugged her briefly, “Gramma would have wanted you to be here.”

“It’s everyone else, I’m afraid everyone blames me for Dan dying.”

“Why?, You weren’t there. You didn’t crank up the propane heater.” Gail nudged me and looked pointedly at the girls. They really didn’t need to hear that.

“She just meant that it can’t be your fault, Evelyn,” Gail said. “No one can reasonably blame you.”

“Like anyone is being reasonable at this time.”

“We’ll walk in with you,” Sherry added.

 

My Dad met us at the door, everyone was hugging and crying. Grandpa was tiny in his wheelchair. He’d popped the pin out of his hip and the hospital staff would have to try to massage it back into place. If they weren’t able to, it would mean surgery and a setback in his therapy.

Mom came over and hugged me and Gail together.

“They are closing the casket,” Mom said.

“That’s okay,” I said.

“We’re lining the family up in the antechamber and we’ll file in through the front.”

“What do you mean? Come in after everyone is seated? Why?”

“It’s just what they do, to identify the family.” Dad said.

“I think it’s disgusting.” I almost recoiled with revulsion. “Everyone here knows who the family is, everyone’s grieving, we don’t need to grab for more pity.”

I was losing it. Gail put her arm around my shoulder to calm me down.

“We’ll just take a seat,” Gail said calmly.

We should have left, the service went down from there. The pastor’s lapel mic had not been hooked properly to his lapel so every time he moved, it crackled. I was going to show him the trick of looping the cord once and clipping it looped to the lapel so you didn’t get the static, but I found his speaking voice so irritating that the static was preferable.

The service was far too religious for my tastes and tolerance. Gramma had not been that religious, but Elaine and June had become so in the last five years.

I had asked Gramma once if she believed in god. She explained that, yes she did because if she believed and died and went to heaven, everything would be okay, but if she believed and died and there was no heaven, then it hadn’t hurt anyone for her to have believed.

It was a beautifully simple and eloquent folky sort of logic, but how many people have died, and continue to die in wars because people in power believe? Almost every war has been religiously motivated.

But what can you expect a Pastor to talk about? I know I was being unreasonable, what is the atheist funeral ceremony anyways?

The service felt like it would never end. I began to feel really resentful that this strange man was talking about Gramma like he was a life long friend. I really hated the way he kept drawing parallels to his own life.

Elaine and June had written the eulogy and they talked about everyone scamming cookie dough. So the Pastor breaks from reading and tells his own anecdote about licking beaters. When did Gramma’s funeral get to be about him?

I sat there seething, feeling like I was going to explode. Any minute, my hair would burst into flame, my eyes would pop out and my blood would boil out of my ears, then Ka-Blam! Bits of me strewn everywhere.

The service was finally winding down. Everyone stood to file past the coffin and to take a flower. I headed out before the tape could start. I didn’t want to associate music I liked with anything as horrible as this.

I was really torn about going to the reception, but I knew I couldn’t withstand the guilt trips if I didn’t.

 

Sherry played the gospel tape I’d made, people milled about, munching on sandwiches and cookies. I managed to choke down a coffee.

Uncle John came over and hugged me. He looked at Gail.

“We’ve met before,” John said.

Gail squirmed a bit, then smiled, “I served strike notice on you about seven years ago.”

John smiled, “When I worked as dispatcher for the taxi company.”

“This is weird,” I said. “Uncle John, this is my partner Gail. We seem to have a lot of near misses. One time she repossessed a car from an ex-uncle on Dad’s side. We also had..have some friends in common. We finally met because we were working in the same building.”

“Ex-uncle?” John asked.

“My Aunt’s ex-husband, so I guess that makes him an ex-Uncle.”

John got teary eyed, which is hard for me to watch in a big man. It’s taken me a long time to realize that crying isn’t weak, that it makes you stronger for not hiding your feelings, and that crying strengthens your feelings by purging and cleansing them. It’s not good to let yourself be twisted in knots, it hampers your ability to think clearly and to accomplish tasks because you constantly dwell in the past.

But I think it’s harder for men, because they are taught crying is bad, that emotions are bad, so it’s harder for them to let go and cry. In this one area, women have it easier; but it doesn’t compensate for the other areas.

Crying for men seems to be more a break through, whereas, for women, it is a cleansing and a beginning to healing.

We didn’t stay long at the reception, the whirl of people, and the noise was too much. I wasn’t ready to celebrate Gramma’s life yet, I just wanted to curl up and cry and feel bad for myself.

I found my Mom and told her we were gong back to the hotel. She was stricken, as if I’d hit her. I realized I was being somewhat petulant, I was doing what Sherry usually did and cutting myself off from those who grieved with me. Of course, this time Sherry didn’t have a choice, she was staying at Gramma’s house and that’s where the immediate family was heading.

 

Drinking was moderate, everyone milled through the house. June’s three dogs posed and begged to be petted. The blonde sheltie that Patsy had sent as a surprise for Gramma and Grandpa was hiding. Large numbers of noisy people made her nervous.

Pasty didn’t want her back, and since no one else was offering to take her, my parents ended up agreeing to have her.

It struck me as funny. When I was growing up, we had a malamute named Moysha and two cats, Suzy, a male tabby and Anna, a Siamese-Persian. Now my parents had a Sheltie, a tabby they got from my sister and a persian they were also taking from Gramma’s menagerie. They had sworn no more pets after the original three had passed away. It was hard to watch pets grow old and die.

I find myself getting partial to large sea turtles.

 

Gail and I didn’t drink, we are quite pleasant and funny on the occasions when we drank, but I find that alcohol just amplifies whatever I’m feeling rather than numbing. Besides, I prefered not to drink when I knew I had still had the drive back to the hotel. Gail, who does not have her license, prefers not to drink with people she doesn’t know well. She has a bit of a history of dancing topless on tables and telling really rude jokes.

We ended up on the back porch with Sherry and Patsy.

None of Patsy’s three kids had come. Paul was watching the family farm, Donna had given birth to her third child just that morning and Carly was watching over Donna’s first two.

Sherry was playing some really good country-pop and Patsy was singing along. Pretty soon, the stereo was off and we were singing all the tunes we could remember the words to.

Everly Brothers, Patsy Cline, Peter Paul and Mary, a right weird mix. My Mom and Elaine drifted out and joined in. Patsy crack everyone up when she snatched up Katie’s stuffed pig and began singing to the tune of `Bye Bye Baby’, “Bye bye piggie, goodbye, bye bye piggie, you die! You’ll be my bacon, you’ll be my chops!”

It’s easiest to cry through laughter.

Patsy wanted to sing the bird song, and it took a while to figure out which one it was. I think it is by Peter Paul and Mary. We sang:

There’s a little bird that lives on the wind

it flies so high, it touches the sky

and is sleeps on the wind

and the only time it touches the ground

is when that little bird

is when that little bird

dies

 

It was too much, tears flowed, and the party got less rowdy. Gail and I made our goodbyes. I told Mom we’d be stopping by briefly in the morning, but that we had to get back to North Vancouver for Mother’s Day dinner with Gail’s Mom.

I thought Mom was going to cry, she wanted us to stay, but with Gail’s Mom so sick, I wasn’t going to let her miss what could be the last Mother’s Day for her. Not that she was going to miss it either, she was prepared to hitchhike or take the Greyhound of she had to.

 

Checking out in the morning was funny. We got the same clerk that checked us in.

“We really enjoyed our stay,” Gail purred at him.

“Th-hank you,” he stammered, and was so flustered he forgot to invite us to come back.

 

When we stopped by Gramma’s house, my Mom tried to get us to stay for lunch, but that was three hours away. We hugged fiercely, and I gave her the card that Gail had cross stitched and the crystal mouse we had carefully transported. For Christmas, we’d given her three crystal mice and this one was easily bigger than all of them put together.

We left with my cookie jar packed with the last of Gramma’s oatmeal cookies and some bits of cakes and pastries from the reception.

We stopped in Hope for lunch and Gail called her Mom to let her know we were enroute. We considered calling her ex-sister-in-law to arrange to see her two nephews, but we didn’t have the number and we couldn’t remember her new married name. Besides, we really needed to get to North Vancouver.

Gail normally spent every moment of Mother’s Day with her Mom, planting the new plants that she and her brothers bought and making lunch, then finally going to a nice restaurant for dinner. It was early afternoon and we were still on the road.

It was around 3 pm when we pulled into our parking spot. Gail’s Dad had gone out and got a load of mushroom manure in the bed of his pick-up for the new flower boxes he’d spent the morning building.

Edward and Albert were supposed to help him put the flower boxes together, but they’d driven to the paint store, three blocks away and had taken some four hours to find just the right green stain.

Albert’s wife, Joanne, was spending the day with her Mom, but Alma was scooting around the apartment, cleaning and grumbling about Edward taking off every time there was work to do.

The boys were watching their Dad spray the strain on the finished boxes.

Gail didn’t even take the time for a break, she headed out to the truck with a shovel. She and hauled the old dirt and rotted flower boxes down to the dumpster at the end of the block. Then Gail and her Dad placed the new boxes and Gail shovelled the dirt from the truck into the boxes, while the boys retired to the indoors for cool drinks and shade.

“Do you know when we’re going to dinner?” I asked Gail.

“After the plants go in.”

“I’m hungry, how about I go to Subway get pick up five or six subs?”

“Yeah, this is going to take awhile.”

I went in to get everyone’s orders and Alma decided to go with me because she couldn’t decide what she wanted.

It was hard to get the Sub staff to understand I needed them to wash the cutting knife before they cut our subs. Gail has a fatal allergy to all seafoods, and the woman ahead of us had ordered a tuna sub and the seafood sub.

It’s strange, given how many people I know with serious food allergies, that the restaurant business is so unknowledgeable and unresponsive. A friend of mine has to continually ask servers to make sure there are no onions or seafood, and they generally don’t take her questions seriously until she explains that her death would result in a lawsuit that would leave their grandchildren destitute. It’s generally then that she gets a serious answer. Peanut products are also quite a common allergy, yet peanut oil is frequently used for deep frying.

The worst is probably the places that deep fry French Fries in the same oil as fish. Even when you ask, servers don’t usually consider this possible exposure. It gets so that you can’t eat out in many places.

We returned with our sandwich bounty, after making the clerk remake Gail’s sub. Everyone seemed rather grim.

“You have to call your parents in Kelowna,” Albert said.

I looked at Gail, the blood draining from my face.

“Their house has been robbed. They just called,” Gail said, “Your cousin who was staying at the house called them and they called here. They want you to go to their house.”

I grabbed the phone and dialed my Grandpa’s house. Elaine answered.

“Where’s my Mom and Dad?”

“They just left, when they didn’t get you, they headed for home.”

“Did they leave carefully or just tear out?” I was frantic, all I needed was for them to get into an accident. “If they call you to check in, tell them I’m headed for their house, and I’ll call you with a report when I get there.”

I looked at Gail, I could see that she wanted to go with me, and suddenly it occurred to me that something else had happened while I was gone.

Gail took me to the front door, away from her family.

“Albert answered the phone and talked to your Mom, he told her that you weren’t where you could be reached.”

“What?” I was shocked, I was only gone ten minutes.

“He didn’t give me the phone because your Mom didn’t ask for me.”

“She probably thought we were together.” I was absolutely livid. It was one thing to drive to my parents, imagining how bad it was, now I had to drive there wanting to hit Albert. “I don’t suppose you could…”

Gail looked back to the living room, “No, I said I would and Mom hit the roof. The dinner reservation is in two hours, do you remember that chinese-western smorgasbord place?”

“The one with the seafood?”

“Yeah, Albert booked the reservation there?”

“Could I just maim him a little?”

“You have to stand in line.” Gail kissed me. “Call me when you get there.”

I kissed her back. I shook my head, words totally failed me and I left.

I was getting really familiar with the bumps and dips of the slow lane of the freeway between North Vancouver and Surrey.

 

A police car was sitting outside the house when I arrived. My cousin and his girlfriend came out to greet me. The woman cop walked past, didn’t give me a glance, got into her car and left.

I hurried into the house, fearing the worst. Nothing was amiss in the living room. Stereo, tv, china cabinet, ornaments all there. Nothing was tossed, broken or anything.

“What’s missing?”

“Your Dad’s computer and Sherry’s stereo,” the girlfriend said.

I laughed, relief flooding my soul.

“We took those with us. We needed the computer to do the Memorial Folder and Sherry’s Stereo for the reception. I gotta call Gail.”

I dialed North Vancouver.

“Hello?” Gail’s voice was worried.

“Hey, it’s me, everything’s okay. I haven’t got the full story yet, but the missing items are the computer and stereo that were taken to Kelowna. I’m going to be on my way back in a few minutes. I love you. How are things there?”

“Mom’s ripped a strip off of Albert for not giving me the phone. She said it would be his fault if your parents got into an accident.”

“Yeah, well partly, it’s still my Dad driving.” Now that I knew everything was okay, I was inclined to be a little more charitable to the asshole. “But he should have at least told them I would be back in a few minutes. It’d woulda been faster for them to wait until I got here to call them with a report than for them to come back. I’ve got to call Elaine and tell her so she’s not worried, and if they call her, she can tell them. I love you.”

“I love you too. See you at the restaurant?”

“Yeah.”

I dialed Elaine and told her nothing was missing. It was funny, but it would have been funnier if my parents weren’t trying to get home quickly.

I asked my cousin what happened, but his girlfriend kept cutting him off. It bothered me, she hadn’t been there when he thought he had stumbled into a robbery.  I only had to tell her three times to shut her mouth and let my cousin tell me what happened.

My cousin had been staying at the house while everyone was away. He’d come home and opened the door to Sherry’s livingroom. It was the first time that he’d been in that room since we’d al left. The stereo cabinet was a mass of tangled wires. He went upstairs and saw that the computer was gone. He heard a noise in other room, and, thinking it was robbers, ran downstairs and out the back door; locking himself out.

He went to the neighbours and called the police. His girlfriend arrived home with her key, so they got back in and called Kelowna. Unfortunately, they didn’t get anyone and just said on the answering machine that the house had been robbed, without listing which items were missing.

When my parents called there, they didn’t get an answer because my cousin was outside with the police officer. Keystones had nothing on this routine.

“Okay, everything’s okay,” I said. “I’ve got a dinner to get to.”

“You’re not leaving me alone when your Dad gets here?” My cousin was white as a sheet. “He’ll kill me!”

“Look, they’ll be so relieved that it was a false alarm that it won’t be a problem.”

My cousin wasn’t convinced.

“Okay,” I said, “Sherry was stopping in Chilliwack and she left a little while after me and Gail, so she should be there, I’ll call her.”

Sherry was hard to convince to come home. But I pointed out to her that Dad could be intimidating and I had to get back to North Vancouver. I was more worried about Sherry yelling at our cousin than Dad.

My parents had driven home fairly calmly after burning rubber out of Grandpa’s driveway. Death has a way of putting mere material objects into perspective. There wasn’t much in the house that couldn’t be replaced. They stopped for dinner, but they didn’t call anyone. Dad was so happy to find out the robbery was a false alarm that all my cousin got was teased.

 

Dinner was a whole other nightmare. Gail was the only one with the seafood allergy, and I couldn’t help but think Albert chose the restaurant maliciously.

Everyone except Gail and I had the smorgasbord. Gail ordered a Chinese dinner off the menu and I ordered lamb chops. I enjoyed snubbing Albert by not eating Chinese food, but to be honest, I wasn’t in the mood for the cuisine and, I had never enjoyed the offerings of this particular restaurant.

Until the lamb chops, they were wonderful.

Gail and I returned home after the tense dinner. It was disappointing for her Mom, but Gail was exhausted from the long driving, shoveling a pick-up truck worth of mushroom manure, and planting the whole balcony with the riot of colours. I had the Kelowna drive and the frantic race to Surrey, I was emotionally drained and would have gladly killed Bambi for a shower.

My parents arrived safely home, and this time, they called us. We were out to dinner, of course.

“Thanks for swinging by,” my Mom’s voice sounded tinny on the answering machine, “Hope it didn’t ruin your dinner too much. We’re going to bed, so I’ll call you in the morning. Just remember, life goes on….”

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5 Responses to Life Goes On: May

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