Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Metaphor on the Floor

What do you think about coming? We haven't been out, so no idea how the roads are. We got 8-10 inches with drifts a lot deeper. Better not try. Another day?

In the spirit of not putting off 'till another day what I could laugh about today, I messaged my Mom I was leaving and hit the road to the Northern Neck.

Listening to and getting lost in a Christmas gift from a good friend (Art of Noise's 1999 concept album, "The Seduction of Claude Debussy" which I'd never heard before), I passed the bucolic - woolly sheep eating through snow to grass in a field - and the banal - yet another Tea Party sign, this one about draining the King William swamp while Trump drains the DC one - as I motored over perfectly dry, safe roads.

Fortunately for those of of us who enjoy an unusual sight, no one had drained the actual swamp I passed on Route 360, which was now unevenly covered in snow giving it a sturdier, more solid look than the usual soggy depths I can make out from a moving vehicle.

Job one at my parents' house was schlepping all remnants of the holidays to the third floor for storage, squeezing the dying Christmas tree through the front door to dispose of it and finally rearranging the living room because, well, because my Dad likes to rearrange furniture.

Always has. Growing up, my five sisters and I could count on the fact that our bedrooms would never stay the same for more than a year before he'd rearrange and sometimes, reassign roommates. These days, I just help him move the big stuff.

Along the way my Dad pointed out a lumpy bed in one guest room and bemoaned Sister #4's bed-making skills (he expects a quarter to bounce off the bed when made properly and is planning to school her next time on Remedial Bed-making 101) at the end of her last visit, while the mother who drilled in us in not calling people names jokingly (maybe?) called me a tattletale when I repeated something funny she'd said about Dad to him.

In other words, my parents are hysterical.

Dad decided he wanted a round grilled cheese for lunch, a sandwich we clamored for as kids, but since the stove-top contraption that makes them only makes one at a time, it's a lengthy process when you're making them for a brood.

Just as I'm putting the last round grilled cheese on the table, he announces with urgency, "We must have gherkins!" I don't disagree - gherkins really do complement grilled cheese beautifully - but pickles also require another family tradition: the pickle fork.

And not just any pickle fork, but the one from my mother's sterling silver flatware which is what we grew up using. As children, we were fascinated by its diminutive size and three curved prongs, not to mention how it really did snag a pickle better than a regular fork.

Now it feels like a relic from a bygone era, a gentler time when people took the time to fork a pickle instead of using their fat fingers.

Over lunch, we watched birds in the two feeders just outside the breakfast room jockeying for space and eating like it was their last meal and that's when it hit me: feed the birds.

We'd just put the Christmas tree out front, still wedged so tightly in its stand that Dad was going to wait for male help to separate the two and it was just standing there bare in front of the wide front steps. What if I put bird-friendly treats all over it to give it renewed purpose until it meets its maker at the wood yard?

Come on, I could practically hear an acoustic guitar strumming as someone murmured, "Groovy, man."

When I mention needing pine cones, Dad tells me where on the third floor I can find an entire bag of pine cones (near the crib we all slept in and next to the rattan tiki bar) for my project. Soon I'm tying a piece of twine on each, slathering them with Crisco and peanut butter and rolling them in birdseed.

Mom, the least nature-inclined of human beings, tells me this tree project better not attract raccoons. I remind her she lives in the country, on the water and she's surrounded by snakes and rodents. "That's why I stay in here or on my screened porch," she wisecracks.

I ask her to make popcorn, taking a needle and thread and making garlands of what we don't eat to string on the tree between all the seeded pine cones, tedious work since popcorn isn't the sturdiest material to put a needle through.

"It's going to leave bird poop all over the walkway when they come to eat from it," she warns me with a smart-alecky grin. You already have bird poop under the other two feeders, so what's the big deal?

Meanwhile, Dad is in love with the idea. He's the one who fills the feeders twice a day, shooing away the doves when they scare off the chickadees, sparrows and finches, recognizing which cardinal family is which. It was his "The Complete Audubon," a book that seemed importantly thick to us as kids, that spurred us to wonder how there could possibly be so many kinds of birds.

As I walk by with my last popcorn garlands, he smiles widely and says, "You'll have to come back every week or two and replenish the tree!" I know Mom will never let that tree stay there for that long, so it's a moot point.

It was almost sunset by the time I left, meaning Mom had to state for the record her concern about me driving at night, which she apparently thinks I never do (how cute is that?). Fortunately, I made it home alive, so I can't  imagine what she's worrying about now. Unless there's a basketball game on.

With Lloyd Cole blasting, a friend came by to scoop me up for some quality non-family time, with the end result being we parked near Kuba Kuba and walked to Garnett's for dinner only to find that we were the sole occupants, but the music was good and loud, so we took the window table to make the place look as lively as it felt to us.

A music friend soon walked in to eat and then some people showed up to collect their to-go orders, my friend finished up and before you know it, it was just us again. I have to assume the snow and ice are still scaring off the weather wimps.

We finished with Garnett's newest dessert, banana pudding, a dessert that comes straight out of my childhood and while theirs was a far more refined version, it hit enough familiar notes to satisfy, especially on a day spent with the most eccentric parents I know.

"Apple doesn't fall far from the tree," Mom says under her breath when I call her on it.

Another day, pshaw. Always better to try. No telling what I'll miss if I don't.


  1. I always enjoy reading about your family. Is there a Great American Novel in the offing?

  2. I can't imagine why not! The characters have already written themselves. When a friend recently asked the same thing, I told him I was waiting to see how the story resolved itself and he insisted that the ending is where I am now. Seems very post-modern to me.

    Nice to hear that a long-time reader such as yourself still enjoys the family bits!