I looked in the owner’s manual of my 2011 Honda Odyssey to see what a golden “TPMS” on my dashboard meant. The Tire Pressure Monitoring System was protesting. Did my new knowledge inspire me to get it serviced? Nope, with an imminent 3-day trip to Philly, I didn’t bother. Steel and I went to Philly for the weekend to hang out with old friends. We were picking up a puppy on the way home. (Only a Philly-based puppy rescue would give someone like me a puppy.) Cat vaccinations must be up-to-date for puppy adoptions, so the morning before the big trip, Nola, the cat, and I got into the car to get her shot. Vaccination appointments are hard to come by these days because of Covid. Careening down the driveway, I hear “flop flop flop” …flat tire. It was 10:23. The appointment was at 10:46, 15 minutes away. I limped Schloka, the Honda Odyssey, down to the local garage. Dave put on my spare for free, and told me who to call for a new set of tires. We were on time for vet appointment. Living in Manchester allows me to be an irresponsible, entitled baby. My son left his $400 bike, unlocked, in front of Dunkin Donuts for 6 hours. It was still there after dark when he needed it to get to a scout meeting. My middle daughter, who would not walk 1.5 blocks to CVS on her own in Philadelphia is blithely flitting out at all hours to meet friends and go to parties. Toby is simultaneously seduced and repulsed by the gated feeling of this wee hamlet, probably because she’s missing Philly and is more conscious of inequity in the world.
On my way back home from the vet I stopped to renew an audiobook that Toby and I listen to during our ballet commute. People in Manchester are completely dumbfounded that we drive 35 minutes to Marblehead 4 days a week. It’s as if we fly her to Paris for ballet. They warned us about the horrors of driving through Salem during the month of October. Halloween and the Salem witch trials are the basis for most of the town’s income. You can’t get to Marblehead without going through Salem. It was a bummer, but we survived. I write while sitting in my car outside of dance studios or I walk around the Marblehead neck. It’s kind of fun, and it’s definitely cutting into my wine time, so that’s good thing. While I waited for the audiobook renewal, the librarians asked about my screenplay progress. Researching “how to write a screenplay” for me was fun for them. I got a handwritten list of all the screenplays in New England that I could access through their lending program. It feels like I’m back at my posh grammar school and everyone is cheering me on. Even the mailboxes in New England welcome my tug by opening wide for my letters and bills. They’ve not been rigged to a stingy half inch, like the ones in the urban world. That regular thwarting of my momentum by fearful thin-lipped mailboxes has enraged me for YEARS.
I’m delivering Meals on Wheels. Upon hearing this a friend told me I was now a “Manchester Mom.” Manchester moms have a lot of time on their hands. I bristled at the accusation and died my hair blue. I’m edgy! I don’t belong to the country club! He started to point out that the ability to dye my hair blue indicates that I don’t need to go to a serious job every day, but he edited himself. I’ve been wearing my mom’s jewelry. It’s not my style, but it was all given to her by someone who loved her and frankly, I like knowing it touched her skin. In response to compliments, I always say it was my mom’s. What I’m really saying is, “I would never have picked this out at Kay jewelers! I’m way too cool for mall jewelry!” But I am not too cool for anything. My hip, creative, progress-driven persona is in hibernation. Initially, purging mom’s house felt like progress. I scoffed at warnings to take my time with her things. I regret being hasty with some stuff, but I’m baffled by the pockets of resistance that remain. Mom’s mountains of vintage sewing and knitting patterns lurk in a laundry basket under the piano, I culled her make-up drawer, but kept way more than I can use in a lifetime. Sticky tubes of orange and pink lipstick and green eyeshadow from the 70’s beckon to me from the drawer in the bathroom-sometimes when I’m just going out for a run,. Mom’s shower cap still hangs on a hook in our bathroom. I hate everything about shower caps, but that one is telling Marie Kondo to fuck off. As guests stay in other parts of the house, our bedroom and bathroom are low down on the priority list when cleaning happens. I finally snapped and tried unsuccessfully to clean the stain from a coffee tsunami on the wall behind mom’s bedside table and bed. I even took on the spiders in her bathroom. As I spritzed Mrs. Myers Clean Day Honeysuckle Multi-Surface Everyday Cleaner, all over the place, I thought of elephants annually visiting and caressing the bones of their ancestors. I know dust is mostly comprised of skin. Has my cleaning procrastination been avoiding saying good bye to her skin?
My mom always had multiples of any given tool, most of them crappy, but she usually had one good one squirreled away. I found an old set of black-handled scissors in the basement that can cut through fine fabric or a finger, but there are 37 pairs of Dollar Store scissors in the kitchen that can’t cut a sheet of paper. There are ineffective nail clippers throughout the house, but there’s one old, ivory-handled manicure set that has out-lived its brown leather case. It lives in the second drawer of my mom’s bureau. I covet the remaining tools from that kit. Whenever my mom would visit, she would ask that one of my kids clip and paint her toenails. Steel usually ended up with the job. It was not easy; mom’s toes were gnarled with arthritis, and the nails were thick with fungus. Two days after my mom died, we went on a 2-week family vacation with another family. The Utah trip had been cancelled once because of Covid, and my mom would have been livid if we’d cancelled again. It was a blur of teenage angst and drama articulated by incredible hikes. We decided to encourage the kids’ sulking in group pictures. Every shot looks like a surly album cover. I remember thinking about my mom in Bryce Canyon. We hiked in those limestone spires, the hoodoos. I kept wondering what they reminded me of…oh!!! my mom’s toes.
I recently discovered in my mom’s laundry cabinet a red-lidded Tupperware filled with powder. The post-it on top, advertised, in my brother’s child-like writing, “Jana-approved dishwasher soap for laundry challenges.” I made a paste out of the powder and some liquid laundry soap and rubbed it into grease stains on a pair of Steel’s hot pink sweat pants. Those sweatpants are back to their greaseless glory. Is everyone on earth sharing these laundry secrets on post-its and laughing at my grubby family? I suspect that everyone is also sneaking out and bowling without me. How could I be such a bad bowler and how could everyone else be decent at it?
My flawless sister in law, the laundry whisperer, came in July with my brother and kids for the initial purge of mom’s house. Gillian and Owen are my niece and nephew. GIllian’s boyfriend, Tyler, came up as well. Family friends appeared periodically to offer condolences during those first two weeks. My kids and their cousins would sit looking at their screens or their food, barely acknowledging that someone new had entered the house. Tyler, however, would spring up from his chair, hand out, jovially announcing, “Hi!! My name isTyler!” I got so frustrated with the Kinder/McDonald posse, that I finally said, “I don’t care WHO you’re meeting or WHO you are!!! From now on, when someone new comes across your path, I want you to say, “HI, MY NAME IS TYLER!!!!”
The house had vomited clothes, furniture, books and rugs for a week straight. Tyler mused, “You guys keep talking about how Susie was a hoarder; I really wish I’d gotten to see the house when it was all packed with stuff!” Jana and I looked at each other and she said, “You did! When we first got here!” Tyler was unimpressed by my mom’s adolescent level of hoarding. I wonder what his house looks like. My favorite thing about the whole scenario is knowing that Jana had encouraged Gillian to tell her father that she was sexually active. Gillian decided to mention it to my brother casually while brushing her teeth. Hearing the news from his little girl’s frothy-toothpaste-filled mouth lacked the decorum he’d anticipated, but he handled it.
Steel was bitter about Tyler’s ubiquity. She’d been hoping for some girl time with Gillian. As a little kid, Steel had worshipped Gillian. Then there was the summer Gillian, at 13, was saddled for two weeks with Steel and Toby in her bedroom and wasn’t happy about it. 13 is a time for friends-not baby cousins, but Steel has held a grudge ever since. Jana, meanwhile, told me that Gillian feels that Steel is “too cool” to want to hang out with her. I hope all of this unravels at some point, and they can be friends. Like Gillian, I have always suspected that Steel is a bit of a “Heather.” If you’ve not seen the movie, Heather’s, it’s a campy classic. Christian Slater and Winona Ryder engineer the deaths of the popular kids at school. I’m starting to think that Steel is more of a diabolical Christian Slater than just a mean girl, Heather. This theory evolved on Toby’s birthday a couple of weeks ago. First Steel encouraged Toby to reject our big present and say, “I’d rather have a dog.” I told Toby that the dog was a separate issue, but I was definitely going to return the present if she didn’t love it. This put Toby in tears because she wanted the present but was feeling that she’d not been properly grateful. Next JP got a bad haircut while Toby was at ballet, and Steel and I were thrifting. Tim texted to warn us to be nice. I spent 20 minutes talking to Steel about how fragile JP had been recently and how she needed to be kind. Upon seeing him, Steel puckered her face and said, “It’s not THAT bad.” Tim went berserk. We’d all made amends over sushi, but at cake-cutting time, Steel said, “Toby, you take the big one. You’ve always been BIG!” Toby shrieked and ran to her room in tears. All of my confidence that Toby does not have body issues, despite being a ballet dancer, went down the toilet. Toby has since assured us that she knows she’s a perfect weight and size. She said she’d just had it with Steel and that it felt great to scream and run away from her. I get it. My dad recently retold a story about a girl saying, “You’d better watch out for the hefty one!” at one of my field hockey games. The punch line is that I was the hefty one. I didn’t scream and run away from him. I merely responded, “It was good advice; watch out for the hefty one.”
This is the only pic I have of Steel from Halloween/her birthday. She and her friend Gracie had a last minute change of heart. They went from slutty witches to Barbie and Raquel.
Speaking of the hefty one….I just got the following text from the guy who accused me of being a Manch mom, Hey-I am going to try and return some ground pork to Tendercrop…unless you want it. What????? As if he’d ever have the balls to return a bag of pork to a family-owned local farm. My mom is the only person who would try and pull that off. I just brought Philly style bagels to this guy; he only wanted sesame bagels because apparently, no good Jew would want anything but sesame bagels. I had no idea my penchant for salt bagels makes me a bad Jew! Now he wants me to take his cast off pork? I told him to make a goddamned meatloaf and fedex it to our mutual friend.
I was complaining earlier in this blog about mailboxes thwarting my momentum. I have very little momentum to thwart right now, but Leo, the new puppy is impossibly adorable, so all writing, soap making, gardening, potting, exercising and putting on too much old make up is coming to a grinding halt. I will instead be employing much of the army of mom’s cleaning products to remove piddle stains from all of my Home Goods rugs. I will be waking at 5 to take him out to pee and heartily congratulating him for doing so. I will be recording his every hiccup and sending these boring videos to everyone in my contacts list. I will be googling topics like "houseplants that are toxic to puppies," and “teaching a cattle dog puppy not to nip.” Then I will be administering multiple conflicting training methods to an increasingly baffled hound. I will also be nagging my children about not doing their parts. I hope to be trying to seduce the cat, who is on a hunger strike, into eating delicious pork meatloaf.
These images are so aspirational. All 21 McDonalds got together for nan's 80th and posed for beachy photos in light blue attire. They prompted a facebook post that read:
Our life is perfect. All three kids confide in us about everything that's going on in their lives. It doesn't come up often, but we have excellent modes of conflict resolution in our house. The kids independently told me they don't want any Christmas presents; they'd rather the money go to charity. We've all given up eating meat, wearing leather, sugar and alcohol. In the evenings we sit by the fire and play music, tell stories and darn socks. My son's room smells like dew, and I never find big clumps of wet hair festering on the edge of the girls' tub with a trash can 14 inches away.