Family – a committee designed by a camel

camelI saw a sign in a gift shop the other day, which read,”If he said he’d do it, he’ll do it. Don’t keep nagging him every six months.”

This summed up my relationship to my husband when I was married. It remains a bit of a problem even now. Yes, I can rely on my children’s father — eventually.

I’ve led a selfish life for years now. At least three. At 75, I stopped volunteering. For 10 years prior to that I headed the shipping committee for a charitable organization. We shipped books and t-shirts around the world, making a good deal of money for the club. My committee worked well; I left the other 4 alone to do their jobs. Trouble was the committee that managed the club didn’t extend the courtesy. I knew what we needed to cover orders, but I wasn’t allowed to order goods. That meant I ended up taking the flak when the club in Sydney or Warsaw didn’t get what they ordered. So I figured 10 years is enough and quit. As it turned out supplying instruction books wasn’t that important and trade died off. Recently, I got an email from the management asking if I could remember how many books we last had printed and by whom. I ventured that all relevant invoices had been filed. By me. Of course. But I had not committed that information to memory.

My trouble with committees is the only good ones are run by me.

As the mother of young children I ran the committee. My husband made decisions about gardening, the pool, the sailboat and the cars, but I made all the important ones. Mostly, things worked well, although my adult children seem to remember my style as autocratic. Well, what working mother’s isn’t? My son was once asked by a friend whether I denied him dessert if he didn’t eat his vegetables. He said, “No, she just threatened to kill me.” Nonsense. I never said that. He misinterpreted my look.

As they grew up, I had to back off the dirty look and bring my at-home leadership  style into line with the more laisez-faire one I used supervising the teachers who worked in my department. Vegetables were the least of my concerns. One of my teenagers was driving. They went off to an alternative school. It was the late 70’s – what drugs were they taking? Etc. But Blake and I soldiered on, trustfully in that laisez-faire way and nothing terrible happened.

Just when I had settled down to living for myself, I was suddenly drafted back to family duty.

How surprising! I had made it through the helpful grandmother stage, relatively unscathed. True I had to fly across the continent to do that, 2 or 3 times a year over a period of 25, but I read  bedtime stories and babysat and helped boys learn to swim and drove them to school and went camping with them. Now they were both adults. I was complacent. All future trips would be recreational.

Not. Illness struck and serious illness at that.

As soon as daily hospital visits ended, it began to be clear that 3 people really can’t live in 950 sq. ft. with 1 bathroom. Then the family grew, exponentially for a while and then shrunk back down to 4. Mother-in-law had come to live in the mountain village too. So that is how we 2 mothers came to live at the Reality Hotel – see previous posts- and later in the house she bought.

I learned pretty darn quick that my habit of declaring absolute opinions didn’t go over well. There were serious medical decisions to be made and apparently, the principals had to be given equal voice. Apparently, I had to back off and take a lesson from Marshall McCluhan, “I don’t necessarily believe everything I say.”

Meanwhile my new best friend was my son-in-law’s mother, Clara, who has a style all her own. She packed up to move by first pulling everything out of closets, cupboards and drawers and only then did she begin to put things in boxes. We heard daily reports of the chaos. When the house deal finally closed 7 weeks later and things began to arrive, Clara unpacked in exactly the same way. She emptied box after box and sat things everywhere. At a modest estimate, she has 2000 decorative objects, and she can tell at which thrift shop she bought each one. My room was the only sanctuary, since all I had fitted in one 23 K. suitcase.

Organization is my middle name, so I had to keep a tight rein on myself. I let myself wash each piece of china and re-stack it in categories. When Clara put a couple of mugs in one cabinet, I allowed myself to put the rest in there -at least 60 of them. Gritting my teeth in impatience, I awaited further clues. The plates, the pans, the glassware and the pantry have now been allocated.

Meanwhile I have taken it upon myself to initiate floor care. The highlight of my day today. That laminate shines up really well. I know pathetic. But there’s still no television in the house and the night life here consists of Madd Bailey’s Bar, live music Fri to Sun. Food can be ordered up from Mommy’s Roadhouse.

Or you can sit on the porch and watch the moon rise over the mountain.

So much for growing rigid with age.

The title makes no sense unless you are familiar with the saying, “A camel is a horse designed by committee” and maybe not even then.





Life after the Reality Hotel (just when I thought it was over)

view from Kodiak #4One summer when Blake and I were still married, we visited my Nanny on her hilly farm in the Eastern Townships of Quebec. Hay season is late there and the fields get only one crop. Now it was ripe, but rain was forecast. My grandmother’s hay was already in a neighbour’s barn. She rented the land out now that my grandfather had passed -at the advanced age of 78. Would Blake, she asked, go up the hill and help her sister Eva with her crop. He set off immediately and didn’t return for many hours. When he did, he was very excited.

“You wouldn’t believe it,” he said. “There was an 88-year-old woman driving the stripped- down model T that served as a tractor. An 84-year-old woman was on the wagon packing down the hay and a 78-year-old man was pitching it up.”

We stared at him. He waited for our response. Well, yes, Blake. What else did you expect? That’s who lives there, Aunt Eva, Aunt Betsy and her younger husband, Ralph. They were no doubt happy to have help, but they would have managed on their own.

These were my people. My grandmother lived alone on the farm, out of sight of all her neighbours until she was 93, hauling in sticks of wood for the stove as necessary.

So I should not have been all that surprised when duty called just after my 78th birthday and given the stock I come from, I shouldn’t have doubted that I was up to the task.

I contemplated this as I flew home on the golf cart in the semi-dark, high desert cold, last night, barely able to see the other unlit golf carts who had also outstayed the light. I thought about it as I wrestled one plug out of the battery charger and forced the right one in. And I’m the old girl with such weak wrists that I have to waylay strange men in the street to open my wine bottle.

I also find myself driving mountain roads like a budding James Hunt. They call the part of the road just outside the village the S curves. This is misleading. The entire road is comprised of S curves, all the way down to the Mount Pinos turn. Until you get to know it, you don’t actually know whether the loop with go right or left. The road is narrow, but well marked and there are lots of turnouts, but after 3 months, I seldom need to let the cars behind me pass. Then the road opens out into a straight stretch down through Cuddy Valley. Do you remember the Waltons? This is where they lived, here in Kern County, California, not in the Carolina after all. Lately, my country driving skills have kicked in there and I have a problem sticking at 60 mph.

One quibble: should 78-year-olds sleep on the floor? Fine, I like a firm mattress, but getting up at 3 a.m.? First, you have to think about it. Turn on your knees. Plant the tops of your feet on the floor as you kneel on the mat. Push up with your hands and feet. Stand still until you get your balance. Find the flashlight. Follow its beam.

the podFor we have left the Reality Hotel, Clara and I. We have moved into her house. At last! The first 2 nights, we had a sofa, its matching chair and a mat on the floor. We borrowed sheets and blankets. Yesterday, 4 chairs fell out of the furniture pod when we unlocked it and behold there is a kind of  breakfast bar just like a table built into the kitchen island. Now I can stop eating breakfast while watching Clara sleep on the couch. If I am very lucky, or possibly, very good, I will find a bed in my room when I get back tonight. Various teenaged guys are willing to give up Saturday of Labour Day weekend to unload the pod, piano and all. Then perhaps on Monday or Tuesday, pans and dishes may materialize. At present, I make my porridge in the aforementioned hotpot eat it from a styro-foam bowl with a plastic spoon.

view #2 from Kodiak