Sunday, January 23, 2011

Is It Spring Yet?

Every year it seems to get worse. Once the holidays are over, I have to steel myself to maintain mental equilibrium through the remaining weeks of winter. The older I get, the harder it becomes and the less tolerant I am of the Pollyannas among us. 
Pollyanna says, "The freshly fallen snow is so beautiful."
Yeah, but after two hours of shoveling, the white stuff kinda loses its glamor. Then, it turns from white to crusty, malevolent gray like the young beauty in a horror flick morphing into an old hag.
"Don't you just love cozy nights by the fire?"
Sure, except it plays havoc with the thermostat. Frankly, I prefer summer campfires where it doesn't matter if marshmallows fall into the flames because the fire is where it should be--OUTSIDE the house.
"Hot chocolate?" Polly asks.
Yes, please. And bring on the cakes and cookies, too. Lots of carbs to keep us warm. Lots of carbs to build another layer of fat. I need that.
Then there's my favorite Pollyanna line of all time. The thermometer reads 5 degrees above zero (that's 50 below zero with a Lake breeze), there's a three-inch layer of ice on all roads, sidewalks, and cars, I write checks for my gas bill using scientific notation, and someone has the audacity to say, "At least it's sunny outside."
Anyone got an ice pick?

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Mothers & Daughters

It's not happenstance that so many of my stories depict the tempestuous relationship between mothers and daughters. (An editor, who ultimately proved herself a complete fool, once told me that the mother/daughter conflict was overplayed. Yeah, duh. So are love stories and murder mysteries.)
My mother was not very good at the mommy thing. From the day I was born, she had no clue what to do, other than put me in the hands of a nanny.
Mom left her childhood home at seventeen. She arrived in Chicago in 1944, and promptly got a job as a free-lance commercial artist. She was quite successful with her career, eventually working for all three of the major advertising agencies. It was at J.Walter Thompson that she met my father. In the early 1950s, most women succumbed to social pressures to marry, move to the suburbs, and produce two children. Mom followed that path, but I guess parenthood was not quite what she imagined. Enter the nanny. A few years later, after my brother was born, she decided to work from home. The loss of Nanny Kelly was something of a disaster for all of us, and I ended up spending a great deal of time at my grandmother's house.
Once I started school, however, the real trouble began. I went to a private school, which meant no bus service, and my mother never learned to drive. That alone put me in the "freak" category. Mom was never a room mother, Brownie leader, tennis player, or even friends with my friends' mothers. Super freak. When I was nine, my beloved grandmother moved away, and I had a particularly vicious 4th grade teacher. The double whammy made my life hell. Mom either didn't understand or didn't care. She'd never gotten along with her mother-in-law, and she refused to come to my defense at school.
Mostly, I remember her sitting at her drawing table for hours on end, oblivious to anything my brother and I did, unless it involved copious amounts of blood. When she did step away from the drawing board, it was to party. Mad Men? She and my dad were the real deal.
The "Greatest Generation" was certainly great when it came to booze, and Mom could knock back beer, wine, and scotch with the best of 'em. Unfortunately, she often didn't know when to quit.
I rarely saw her do housework, laundry was sent out, and while she eventually became a very good cook, my childhood dinners were rife with Velveeta and Chef Boy-Ar-Dee.
Today, I went to visit Mother in the nursing home. She's a pathetic shell of her former self. The woman who could recall entire guest lists and all items of apparel from every party she'd ever attended is no longer able to tell you the color of the nail polish on her gnarled, arthritic hands. In the past four years, I've spent more time caring for her than she ever did for me, but that's okay, because she's given me something she never intended to impart: a lifetime's worth of stories.