Monday, July 30, 2018
[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published August 1, 2018] ©2018
It’s really interesting what kids form sentimental attachments to.
My parents moved from suburban New York City to Princeton, New Jersey when I was in college. Olof’s parents, meanwhile, had their East Bay home eminent domained to make room for an interchange between the 680 and 24 freeways. In both cases, our mothers asked their young-adult children what items they particularly wanted saved in the moves.
Both mothers claimed to be astonished by the kids’ choices. Where had they gone wrong?
In Olof’s case, he and his two sisters engaged in ardent verbal combat over who was going to get custody of the pollywog pan. It was actually an old canning pan from their grandmother’s home in Salem, Oregon, that had been used for canning applesauce. But Olof and sisters used it in the creek behind their house to capture pollywogs, who perished by the thousands, the few survivors becoming toads in the family’s garden. Olof had better hope that on Judgment Day, pollywogs don’t get a say as to what happens to you.
In my house there were several hotly contested items. One was the Kool-Aid pitcher, a hand-painted ceramic vessel of dubious origins that probably leached lead. In the summer months, that pitcher was refilled continuously with artificially-colored powdered dye and diabetes-producing quantities of sugar. When I look back on how much of that stuff we consumed, I can’t imagine why our own kids weren’t born with two heads. But my sibs and I were deeply, emotionally attached to that pitcher. I think it symbolized a carefree time in our lives when summers were unscheduled and the neighborhood kids just went out and played all day, wandering en masse from one house to another to empty that home’s Kool-Aid pitcher before heading back out again.
My sister and I also fought vigorously over the First Holy Communion veil that our Catholic (as opposed to our Protestant) grandparents had given us. At the time, there was a standard issue veil that girls received as part of their First Holy Communion package but my grandparents, deciding that we were already at enough of a disadvantage having a Protestant mother, bought us a veil that both my sister and I thought was the most beautiful creation ever made. It had seed pearls on the top and lots of tulle. I wore it first, then my sister wore it for her First Holy Communion the next year.
My sister would later contend that since she wore it last, it was hers and by all rights, she should have it for her future daughter. I contended it had been given to me first and I only loaned it to her because I was a really nice person. My future daughter was entitled to it. (For some reason, sharing was never considered.)
The third item I coveted was a cheap plastic reindeer ornament that had come from the set of the GE-sponsored Fred Waring Show, one of the first musical-variety shows on TV. My father’s first job out of business school after the war was in television advertising. Dad would regale us in later years with stories of live ads – all ads were live then - that went totally wrong: opening the freezer of the Mr. Frosty refrigerator to demonstrate how cold it kept the ice cubes only to find that the hot studio lights had melted them. Or the time that someone stole the GE iron right before show time and the single store open on a Sunday afternoon only had a Westinghouse model which, in desperation, they used. When the show disbanded, ornaments from the show’s Christmas tree were distributed to employees. I always made sure the reindeer was hanging near my presents.
So, here’s how it all came out. Olof and I are, in fact, in possession of the pollywog pan. We recently updated our wills and trusts and I told Olof that it would be a nice thing that if in the list of bequests, he leaves the pollywog pan to his sisters. Maybe they can start fighting about it all over again.
As for the Kool-Aid pitcher, my mother maintained she didn’t know its whereabouts but I think the real answer is that it had been relegated to the Salvation Army bin years earlier and was now shortening the lifespans and damaging the brains of a whole new generation of children.
As for the First Holy Communion veil: I am guessing that it had become irretrievably devoured by mildew in our damp Westchester basement and had long since been turfed. Not that it mattered. Neither my sister nor I married Catholics and we only had sons. God works in mysterious ways.
As for that cheap plastic reindeer, it’s still got a special place on my Christmas tree. I guess one out of three ain’t bad. And sorry, sibs: I am NOT sharing.
Inga wearing the First Holy Communion veil, 1955
The pollywog pan
Monday, July 23, 2018
[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published July 25, 2018] ©2018
I was thrilled to see my cousin Sandy’s email address pop up in my In-Box. What’s Sandy up to? I wondered.
Turns out, not much. The email was sent to everyone in Sandy’s address book from a friend of hers announcing the date and time of Sandy’s funeral.
From this, I could only conclude she died.
To say that my relatives on my mother’s side are the worst communicators on the planet would be an understatement. What’s sad is that I always adored these people. Some of my happiest childhood memories involve them. But trying to maintain any sort of contact with them is an exercise in futility. When they want something, you hear from them. If you want something, like an answer to an invitation to a family event: crickets.
With way more effort than I would normally expend, I finally managed to contact one of Sandy’s siblings. It turned out that Sandy had been diagnosed with a terminal cancer and had opted for hospice. So why didn’t anyone – including and especially Sandy – let me know this? There was silence on the other end of the phone as my cousin pondered this genuinely baffling (to him) question. He just thought someone else would tell me, he maintained. It never occurred to him that he might be that person.
When my uncle (their father) was alive, he acted as organizer and communicator for all family get-togethers. But since his death 18 years ago, the cousins have all gone incommunicado – even with each other. They don’t answer email. Or texts. Or cell phones. Or land lines. Or even snail mail. Unless it suits them.
When I invited them all to Rory’s wedding I sent each of them a personal “save the date” card seven months in advance, followed by another every month thereafter then an invitation. A week before the wedding, the bride called me and said she hadn’t heard from any of them. Hunting them down, I got the same response from all four: When is that wedding again?
My own kids have many happy memories of these cousins when they visited us over the years (again, organized by my uncle) and always want me to invite them for Thanksgiving. We’ve had some really fun Thanksgivings with them.
More often than not, they just never respond to the invitation. Radio silence. Should you be so lucky as to reach them, you’ll get the genuinely puzzled reply, “Did you need an answer?” As fond as I think they are of me, they regard people who require RSVPs for major holidays or weddings to be a little too tightly wound.
Actually, inviting them doesn’t really matter one way or another. If they want to come, they’ll call me the night before and say they’d love to come for Thanksgiving, if it’s not too late. One year they accepted but didn’t show up. (“Too tired.”)
There is definitely a part of me that has vowed to tell them if they call me the night before Thanksgiving that it is, alas, too late. I’m not running around borrowing chairs from neighbors and upping food orders on such short notice. But that would only make me the villain of the piece. “The cousins want to come for Thanksgiving and you told them no?” Lots of grumpy faces. “But we hardly ever see them!” They’re really fun people. I get it.
These cousins, and a few other relatives, have had me pondering the whole concept of “family is everything.” I’d definitely apply that to my sons, their wives, and the grandchildren. There is nothing I wouldn’t do for them.
But how much more slack should you cut family than other folks? If these people weren’t relatives, I’d never put up with this crap. But should I, even if they are? Nobody is THAT much fun.
So, do you just have to accept family members for the thoughtless idiots that they are? I’m fairly clear that these folks aren’t going to change. The cousins are in their late 50s and early 60’s at this point.
Four months ago, one of the cousins called me at 4 p.m. telling me he was in town for a one-day meeting (which he’d known about for weeks) and wanted to come for dinner that night, or take us out. It was the first time we’d heard from him, never mind seen him, in eight years. (They all live in California.)
“Sure,” I said, “come on over.” Once here, he apologized for the abysmal communication over the years. He promised it would be better in the future. Just not his strong suit, he said.
We had a lovely evening but haven’t heard from him since, even a thank you for dinner.
Sadly, I never got to talk to or go visit my cousin Sandy before she died. Alas, I’m not noticing much difference in communication.
Monday, July 16, 2018
[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published July 18, 2018] ©2018
A friend sent this email: “Ethan totally disgraced me in the Easter play at nursery school. He refused to be a raindrop, didn’t sing any of the songs or play his musical instrument or participate in it any way – all of which I could easily accept. What mortified me was that he sat on the stage and picked his nose – and ATE it – all through the play! Afterward he demanded chocolate to celebrate having been in a play! Who’d be a mother?”
Who indeed? It’s probably a really good thing we can’t see into the future. Otherwise, we’d probably never have children if we knew we’d have moments like this:
Leaving a 75% tip after your toddler throws up in the antipasti plate at the upscale Italian restaurant.
Buying an entire display of out-of-season organic tomatoes after your five-year-old pokes holes in them with a caramel apple stick.
Going to the school open house and noticing that your son’s contribution to the display of illustrated alliterative sentences is “Paco the pimp pestered the picky prostitutes.”
Taking an entire afternoon off work to sort through several hundred totally disgusting lunch bags in the dumpster at your child’s elementary school to find the $200 retainer he accidentally threw out that you, as a single mom, cannot afford to replace.
After his first day at his seemingly wonderful new school, your child responds to the friendly greeting of the supermarket checkout clerk with “Shine it, bitch!”
Going to your friends’ home for dinner and one of your kids says, “Look, Henry! Real plates! And it’s not even Christmas!”
You go to brush your teeth and find the toothpaste, minus the top, floating in the toilet.
Your three-year-old, who has serious speech problems secondary to hearing issues, tells people that when he grows up, he wants to be a “f—k diver” (truck driver).
Your 4-year-old announces he wants to be pregnant for Halloween.
Your five-year-old spray paints every inch of his three-year-old brother silver. Pediatrician recommends soaking child in bathtub in “several gallons” of baby oil (which come in 15-ounce containers). You buy out the entire baby oil stock of five drug stores, silver three-year-old in tow.
Your pre-teen sons and their two tweener cousins draw pubic hair on female cousin’s Barbie doll sparking International Incident.
Your non-athletic child is playing goal in youth soccer. When the other team comes charging down the field with the ball, he has his back to the field and his fingers hopelessly entangled in the net. Goal is scored, game is lost, other parents query loudly why “some kids” are on the team.
Your kids get you an extra-large wine glass engraved with “Mom” for Christmas.
You don’t want to confess to your college-bound son that Mom’s “secret” chocolate chip cookie recipe all those years was Pillsbury Slice n’ Bake.
During final exam week at college, your son ignores an oil leak under his car which ultimately ignites in the unseasonably hot weather, burning his car and the one next to it in the parking lot to the ground. It also melts the asphalt underneath. It never occurred to you to buy asphalt insurance.
My friends, of course, have their own stories they’ve shared over the years:
From a friend, potty-training her two-year-old: “I was sure Laura was right beside me in the bathroom fixtures display room only to turn and see her proudly pooping in one of the display toilets. I will never leave home without a full packet of tissues again!”
From my neighbor: “Another mother and I were summoned to the counselor’s office at Muirlands (Middle School) after our sons were caught writing an obscene note. The counselor showed us the note, pointing to a word beginning with “k”. ‘Geesh,’ she said, shaking her head, “Don’t these kids even know how to spell ‘c--t’?’”
Another neighbor, whose son was a kindergartener at Evans School, was called to pick him up for the third time that week after misbehavior on the playground. Seeing that Mom was totally at her wits end with him, he patted her arm and advised, “You should draw a palm tree.”
Another friend tells the story of her extended family renting a large passenger van to take them up to a weekend retreat in the mountains. On the way up the steep road, they went over a large bump. From the back of the van came the voice of her five-year-old addressing her father who was driving. “Jesus Christ, Perry! You almost made me spill my drink!”
From my daughter-in-law’s mother: “The kids wanted pets when they were little and since both parents worked, we got each of them a male hamster for Christmas. Except that a week later, one of the “male” hamsters gave birth to 12 baby hamsters. Which the other male hamster ate. In front of the kids.”
Yes, who would be a mother indeed?
Monday, July 2, 2018
[“Let Inga Tell You, La Jolla Light, published July 4, 2018] ©2018
Olof and I are compatible in so many ways, but not in books and movies. Or more specifically, movies made out of books. Olof loves fantasy stuff – Harry Potter (he’s read all of them twice), Lord of the Rings, Star Wars. Me, I can’t figure out how the actors keep a straight face while filming them; they just seem so hokey. For years, it always seemed like there was a Christmas release of one of the above series, and as a demonstration of my love for Olof, I always bought two tickets for him for Christmas.
Unfortunately, I could never find anyone to use the other one. So I was forced to go. I always paired it with a nice dinner afterwards with suitable liquid refreshment as an inducement not to gnaw off a limb during the movie.
Olof was pretty clear that fantasy wasn’t my favorite genre. But there were unspoken rules that I would behave. No laughing out loud. No snarky comments. No eye rolling.
For his part, Olof has equally disparaging things to say about my taste in movies which he describes as “talking heads.” And just as I have been willing to see all those gag-able fantasy flicks that he so adores, he has dutifully endured movies that I wanted to see.
Talking heads movies, at least, tend to be two hours. Fantasy movies generally run three. Or more. I guess once they filmed all those scenes, they felt compelled to use them. So the torture-per-minute ratio is waaaaay less for Olof than it is for me. I would like this noted.
The Harry Potter movies were, in my view, the least bad. But did they have to make FIVE of them? I mean, we got the point after two.
As for the EIGHT Star Wars movies, I could never figure out the plot (was there one?) other than that good was fighting evil, the bad guys wore black and the good guys wore white (thank you), the sound track was deafeningly loud, and they were basically vehicles for a lot of special effects. Oh, and usually somebody was trying to resolve a traumatic event of their formative years, generally involving a parent. (They always blame the parents.)
But the three Tolkien movies – released on three consecutive Christmas days – were the ultimate torture. Our younger son Henry, home from college, went to the first two with us. He turned out not to be a big Tolkien fan either. Twelve minutes into the first one, he leaned over and whispered, “How much longer?” My sentiments exactly.
Recently, in cleaning out my files (nobody should have this many filing cabinets), I came across a folder full of email correspondence with the kids, this one about the final Tolkien movie.
Sent: Wednesday, December 31, 2003 5:32
Subject: I’m free! I’m free!
Hi Henry –
Olof and I just saw the last of the Lord of the Ring movies today. Thank GOD Tolkien is dead and can’t write any more of these. I thought Frodo would never throw the damn ring into the volcano. Even after he fiiiiiiinnnnaaaaallly did, the movie went on for another FORTY-FIVE MINUTES. Frodo and Sam had to be rescued, then Aragon had to be crowned king and then get married to the Liv Tyler character, then they all had to make their very slow way back to Hobbit Land (did these folks have a no-cut contract?), then Sam had to fall in love and get married and have two children, and then Frodo had to decide to write his memoirs and then he had to go away on a ship for more adventures which necessitated long mawkish weepy goodbyes with the other midgets, then we watched the ship sail ENDLESSLY off into the sunset and then we had to go back to Sam’s hobbit house and see how happy the fam was and then…I almost stood up in the theater and started screaming STOP ALREADY! NOBODY CARES! HE THREW THE EFFING RING IN THE VOLCANO FORTY-FIVE MINUTES AGO! IT’S OVER! LET US GET OUT OF HERE!
Worse, there were a full half-hour of previews ahead of the movie – all of them weird Lord of the Ring-type movies, so it was three and a half hours imprisoned in the theater.
How utterly clever of you not to be home for Christmas this year and thereby be paroled from any obligation to watch another two hours and 59 minutes of Tolkien. (Why are they all exactly that length?) Is this why you went to Australia instead? (It’s OK to say so.)
That I have now seen all three Lord of the Rings movies is a testament to how much I love Olof. As the screen credits rolled today, he happily exclaimed, “Was that the greatest movie you ever saw or what!”