All of the adults in the family are embarrassed – except for Buffy, who is bemused. But Buffy was born bemused. And he, in turn, bemuses me as I watch him sail – single and centered – through life. My eldest daughter Melissa – who over the years has taken on the role of “keeper of what-should-be” – was incensed.
“Writing bodice rippers, mother? You, of all people. They’re worse than what you see on the soaps,” her voice ringing to the second floor where Buffy and Gilly play computer games and shout “Right on” at every victory.
The soaps comment is a low blow as Melissa – and her siblings – hold the soaps in low esteem. They are, as Teresa notes, “beyond the pale,” although I would venture to guess that they, like I, have never deigned to actually view a soap. Tom and I raised them in a rarified atmosphere in which books are the only vessels trusted to carry the water of knowledge. More fool I.
“We have to live in this town,” adds Teresa, suggesting I don’t. Which for financial reasons and my long-term relationship with husband Tom, I do.
Truth be known, I would be happier to live in another town – a more interesting town – holed up in the Quartier Latin in Paris or closeted in some small village in the north of Italy. From time to time, I’d appear on the street as a strange “Canadian tourist” allowed to be older, exotic and with the advantage of not being able to communicate un mot.
“Get a life,” I say triumphantly cloaking myself in the phrase like a supermom. The expression, inflicted on the family by granddaughter Gilly one summer years ago, is one that everyone but Gilly despairs of. It means, as I understand, “Get out of my face” (another delightful Gilly response that graphically describes how people venture too close and lord it over you).
Not that anyone actually bosses me around like we do poor Gilly. Since I left home at 19, no one ever says “Wipe your feet” or “Are you wearing that?” or roughly barks out commands as my mother so eloquently did. But there are many ways of controlling folks, and I feel bossed at every turn. What I do, the way I live, seems to be dictated by innumerable guidelines, many in small print.
Point of fact: I write a column in the local rag (for rag, read newspaper if you are feeling generous) about nutrition. Over the years-it has changed or as the editor says, “adapted to the times,” which suggests the newspaper wants to be like the cockroach, not like the dinosaur, and consequently adapts. I point out that the dinosaur, which did not adapt, gets much better press and the editor – Lilly Pincher – the name tells it all – smiles thinly at this remark. She would rather be a cockroach than an extinct dinosaur. But nutrition is nutrition, and we still haven’t moved to calling it “All about Food” or “Good Grub” or something friendly and nonmedical sounding.
And, on the surface at least, all was well with me and my family – husband Tom the only one home and Theresa, Melissa, and Buffy home for holidays or special occasions. That is, all went well until one night-following a thunderstorm or a late late movie – I progressed, to the chagrin of my family, from “Ten tips to eating on not enough money to feed a weevil while following the Canadian food guidelines” to romance with a handsome guy in 1,000 words or less.
So from nutrition to romance, but the “so” is perhaps misleading because it didn’t follow from the food column but from a glass – or several – of rum late at night or more accurately early morning. The haunting hours when time gapes open and you are pulled back to a finer, younger you.
Hubby Tom had drifted up to bed early because the next day was the amateur golf championship at the local course, and I had arrived home late and peckish. I’d missed supper but was too lazy to whip something up and there was a bottle of rum from Christmas and a couple of cans of cola. So I made myself a stiff one and floated upstairs to play on the computer, and in an off moment (brain drifting in and out of service) and in one fell swoop, I wrote a romance story. It just peeled off my fingers like silly putty. And when I finished I went down and got another glass of rum-it was then almost 2 a.m.-returned to the machine and I rolled off another bodice ripper.
What the heck, in for a penny, in for a pound. After some editing and spell checking, I sent my late night efforts off to a local magazine and forgot about it.
Back on track the next day, I visited my neighbor, an elderly lady who constantly battles unseen villains intent on stealing her “undies”; popped over to my daughters to provide an underappreciated, crisis-babysitting service; commiserated with Tom’s disappointing golf score; and regurgitated another nutrition column. And then months later (a day like any other) I received a letter from “Lady Fair” saying “Yes” to the story I forgot I had written.
“Mother,” said Melissa, ”I’m not trying to stifle your creative impulses. If it were a novel – even stream of consciousness – poetry, a play, we would be right behind you. But writing romance is an insult to your intelligence. Romance is an example of everything you ever fought against.”
“And what about us?” Teresa wails, “You’re making life impossible. I’m trying to make a name at the board. And think of father – he looks a fool.” In response, I ask why cleaning the toilet bowl or scrubbing the kitchen floor is not an insult to my intelligence, which incites some serious eye-rolling. Then I speculate about “everything I ever fought against” which I somehow imagined were things like the rich taking too much money from poor folk or people blowing other people up real good. Would I really waste my few short years on this troubled planet fighting romance fiction? Rather like killing a fawn when alligators are biting your legs. So I repeat, like a drinker knocking back another shot, “Get a life.”
Granddaughter Gilly rolls her eyes in the way youth do (as I did too in my day with equal finesse) and whispers to my bewildered partner about this turn of events. They conclude I am going through a difficult time, I am not getting any younger (which comes as no surprise to me but concerns me that it comes as news to them), and I am drinking rum.
When I was young – a university student – and I will be the first to admit one who ignored the Latin root of the word student meaning “given to study” – I drank rum when funds were available. Cheap dark rum and coke or, on special occasions, a zombie with seven kinds• of rum. Rum puts a whole new slant on life. After two or three such drinks, I remember, as through a glass darkly, dancing on a nightclub floor the size of our dining room table. But what is beyond recall is how I got home those nights and why I was so blithe in knowing I would or not caring if I did. No ten tips columns in those days. Nutrition? Not on your life.
As the talk about “Is this a stage?” or “Is she going through menopause?” continues, Teresa stirs the gravy, for I, who have taken control of the gravy, and the turkey, and the toilet bowl, and the social calendar since time immemorial, retreat to the backyard to jump on the trampoline with Gilly and Buffy.
“I never saw you on the trampoline,” mutters Teresa incredulously from the back door. “You don’t like jumping. It makes you nauseous.”
And maybe that’s what does it. Who knows what makes me nauseous? Maybe I should go away, take a bus, a plane, a train to some town where they don’t even know my name, are unaware I don’t know how to tally bridge or who the Manitoba Moose are, what makes me nauseous or who can see the wind.
Out in the backyard that “needs some work,” the three of us: me, Gilly squealing like a tied hog and clapping her hands, “Don’t worry, grandma, they’re just making a fuss,” and son Buffy, suddenly solicitous in the extreme, although he is far from able to survive in this world himself.
So the three outcasts take turns jumping – take turns because as Gilly advises wisely, if we all jump at once, we’d shoot up as high as the hydro wires. “And then heads would roll,” Buffy nods sagely. And I am tempted to ask, “Do you mean heads would actually roll or would they only burn from the electric shock?” but refrain from doing so, because they are, after all, on my team.
Soaring to the sky, I think, I was sensible for Tom because he was making his way at the company, and for the girls and Buffy so they could have a future, and for my many worthy causes because I wanted the world livable. Must I now be sensible for Gilly?
“I hope this isn’t upsetting you,” I shout, puffing as I jump up and down and nod my head to Tom and Theresa arguing in the kitchen about what to do next.
“No way,” says Gilly. “I hate stuff about vegetables, if you want to write about sex, why not, you’re a big person.”
“Get a life,” shouts Buffy, left on the sidelines for safety’s sake. Buffy, who has been matching me drink for drink from my bottle of rum. Then he scrambles onto the trampoline, finger to his lips in a cautionary motion, and the three of us risk leaping ensemble, lightly but with great finesse.
My daughter glances at us furtively through the kitchen curtain, then turns to confer with my longtime cohort. As I soar into the air in a graceful bound, I catch a whiff of burning turkey. Happily, not my worry.
~ Melodie Corrigall
Originally published in: Still Crazy