Situation Normal. Atmosphere Breathable. Brainstem Injected. Dialogue Engaged.
Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Family Ties

My mother told me at least three times. Nana was coming to Illinois to visit for two weeks at the end of June. Every time she mentioned my incoming grandmother, the information was accompanied by a plaintive request for approval.

"That's okay, right? You don't mind?"

Each time, I mumbled noncommittal non-responses. My mother is far too accommodating. In her place, I wouldn't give my son any option to object. Mom is so easygoing, in fact, that she let me live with her for two years. I was a bum on a couch. At the outset, I told her six months, maximum. Just enough time to get my shit together. That turned into two years.

I'm straying from the story. I want to tell you about Shirley Lindquist, my grandmother. I imagine I met her as a wee baby. Obviously, this occurred before my memory began recording. One of the earliest memories I possess is Papa Lindquist, her second husband, tickling the soles of my feet for several consecutive excruciating minutes. I hated him for that.

I visited her in Tucson, Arizona early in the 1990s. She had cable, which meant MTV, which meant Michael Jackson and Nirvana. That was alright. Outside, there were scampering lizards and cactii. Inside, she had sourdough bread in the refrigerator. Can't tell you much more than that.

In the present, I was ambivalent about her arrival. Every year at Christmas, I dutifully spent two minutes on the telephone with her. During each call, inevitably I'd be asked whether I'd met a girl, impregnated a girl, or was getting married. I realize now that it was childish of me to resent these harmless questions. When you get old, clocks ticks loudly, and legacy is the only straw to grasp. Thankfully my big sister produced a great-grandchild, the eventual impetus for the visit. I was off the hook.

A little background: Nana is an alcoholic, the kind that leaves bathtub faucets running until the house floods, the kind that yells at malevolent apparitions, the kind that falls and fractures both her hip and leg. This may shock you, but she isn't related to my father by blood. She's my maternal grandmother. I know, right? I totally won the genetic lottery. (That sounds resentful and sarcastic, but I actually love my ascendants, I just can't resist a decent asshole line.)

Despite the similarities, she was always highly critical of dear old Tyler, my father, and damn the similarities between them. Her on high judgement and acerbic tongue are legendary in my family. Hence my fear.

I made a point of being absent when she arrived, and I didn't show my face for two days. When I finally did, I bit the bullet, sat down before her, and engaged her in a long conversation.

I learned a lot. A lot. She told me things about my dad that I never knew. She told me about her husbands dying. She told me about strength, weakness, time, and the humiliation of old age. It was wonderful and sad.

A day later, it got weird. I sat silent, shocked, as an 86 year old woman with eleven active prescriptions and a history of severe alcoholism asked me to hook her up with an eighth of high grade cannabis.

I had been warned. Both of my sisters and my little brother had whispered these tidings to me. Although I didn't call bullshit on them, I certainly didn't take them seriously. I mean, come on. Absolutely ridiculous. I could 't even imagine dear old Shirley giving me the old "Psst..., say, where's the reefer?"

She did.

My mom stood behind her, eyes bug wide. Gentle and quiet as she is, Mom actually used the old throat slash gesture combined with a clenched jaw and shaking head to let me know that even she would disown me if I made the marijuana happen. I was proud of Mom for her vehemence.

I gave a speech wrought with honesty.

"Nana, I forced pot on Anita and Carolyn when they were teenagers. What happened wasn't pretty. They became extremely anxious and insecure. To put it simply, they freaked the fuck out.  They barely touched it afterwards. I inoculated them, unintentionally.

"My experience was different. At first, it was euphoria.  I loved it. But eventually I reached the same social anxiety and discomfort they did. Until then, it made me lazy, both physically and intellectually, and I let it ruin my academic career. It's not an awful drug, but it sure as hell isn't a good one. Can I ask why you've gravitated towards it recently?"

As it turned out, she'd seen a cutesy portrayal of pot in movie titled "It's Complicated." It was me against Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin. I won.

After I had her safely away from the ledge, I proceeded to cook her various specialties of mine. These recipes involved fennel seeds, cream cheese, parsley, and a variety of other delectable ingredients. I did my best to impress her. We built a couple of easy jigsaw puzzles together. Maybe it was late in the game, but I realized I loved my Nana, and I wanted her to love me.

We discussed literature. She eventually sent me books when she got home. I convinced her to abandon the xenophobia of Republicanism and embrace the Democratic Party. As she's a current Medicaid and Medicare recipient, this wasn't all that difficult once I provided actual factual information. Fuck yeah, go me.

She wants me to be a politician now. I think not. In my favor, words are my friends, and I can spit them out with persuasive clarity. On the fly, no less. Public speaking is my forte. Don't debate me.

The day before Nana left, my mother's landlord provided bad news: they wanted mom out by the end of July. Their granddaughter had gotten a divorce, and they needed to give her a place to live.Two weeks notice equals shock and awe in my book.

We were at a family lunch at a Greek restaurant when I got the bad news. I freaked out silently for a split second, regained my composure, and decided that I could handle this. I was ready. Within four days, I found myself a new apartment in Mount Prospect. I have finally ventured back out into the world on my own. Mom found herself a place in Roselle. We dual moved last Saturday. I've been unpacking and decorating my new solo joint ever since.

Features of my new apartment: African tribal folk sculptures, HO scale model trains in the window sills, high school yearbooks from the 1920's, multiple antique chess sets, awful amateur paintings stolen from a retirement home, UK subway posters hung askew and sometimes upside down, and enough books to crush a human being if dropped upon him all at once. I like it here.

Shirley had to return home to Arizona. I must admit I dreaded her departure almost as much as my mother did. Let's face it: this was her farewell tour. Eighty-six years old. But that's life. She got to watch her great grandson laugh. I think she won at life.

The world is a good place sometimes.

3:31 AM - Bottle Rocket Fire Alarm


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