Mr. Demonic Gives Up the Ghost

Actually, Mr. Demonic’s car finally breathed its last, and it’s about freaking time.

When last we left Mr. D, he was nursing along a very old Malibu with over 250,000 miles on it. It’s a car that’s seen a lot of action, first with a multitude of teenagers who invariably aim straight for curbs.

At 80,000 miles, he coopted the car and started driving it himself. At that point, it was still a reasonably nice ride. Leather seats, nice stereo. Luckily he took off the stickers and the dual brake. Such items are a dead giveaway as to the perilous nature of the operator.

Fast forward a hundred thousand miles, four years and several pots of coffee later: the car is beginning to show its age. It shakes, it shimmies, and the worst part of all, it smells like rotting caffeine. Hint: you don’t want to set your purse on the floor.

Nonetheless, Mr. D decides to take it on numerous cross country journeys. He motors to the Twin Cities, to Kansas City, and to Nashville, in addition to driving it back and forth across our Rust Belt state several times a week. I held my breath every time he backed the car out of the driveway.

This was two years ago.

After that, it was a matter of principle. It was pride. It was a matter of tenacity. Plus, he’s a tightwad. Mix all of these wonderful characteristics together and you have a person taking his driving life into his own hands. He wasn’t going to get rid of the car until it died and he was darned ready to give up the car. He was going to see clear to the end of the relationship.

Three months ago, as the odometer edged nearer to the 250K mark, Mr. D’s Malibu began to run even rougher than before. It smelled of burning fluids. I was afraid to get in it to go for a quick run to the grocery store. Then he started to run out of gas on a regular basis. Like three or four times a week.

For those who know Mr. D, he has run out of gas with amazing regularity. He times it so that just as the last fumes are circulating through the engine, he rolls right up to a gas pump. It’s something of a joke. On those other unlucky occasions when he’s stranded, he calls other people to come and get him out of his fix. That’s because even though I’m the wife, I think it’s ridiculous in the modern age to run out of gas. Gas stations are like fast food joints, there’s one on every street corner.

I ran out of gas once. I was on southbound I-35 north of Minneapolis. I was 20. It was 1976.

For me, walking two miles to a gas station that one time cured me. My gas gauge never goes below 1/4.

Mr. D’s car appeared to suffer from a malfunctioning catalytic converter, which was replaced. Twice. However, he still continued to run out of gas. This is because the gas gauge hasn’t worked in six months, and with the catalytic converter gone awry, his miles per gallon fluctuated. Wildly. Most of the time he was getting right around ten miles to the gallon. Or less.

Cash for Clunkers came in the news, and I told Mr. D (no, I begged. I implored. I nagged.) please, oh please, could you maybe see fit to get a new car? Something with a working gas gauge maybe?

He was resistant to my idea. He still had hope. (!) He wanted to see the odometer hit 300K.

Last week, his car bit the proverbial dust. Mr. D called around and learned that since the car was titled in the business name, he couldn’t take advantage of the Cash for Clunkers program. (What? Businesses don’t have clunkers?)

But it’s over for good, so let’s get out a requiem, or a pitcher of margaritas. He cleaned out the car over the weekend. I’m embarrassed to say we’ve pulled up to valet parking at ritzy restaurants in that sad ride.

He’s not sure what the next car will be. It’s the end of summer and they all come back to roost, so he’ll choose one out of the fleet and probably drive it until it drops.

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I Take Thee, House, Back into Possession

I just came back from dropping Ms. MiniD off at the airport, and I am giddy with excitement. Please sing after me: She’s going back to college! She’s going back to college!

Now I don’t dislike my daughter, but let’s face it, she’s high maintenance, moody, negative, and a slob. She’s the perfect model for one of the characters in my next book. I won’ t even have to fluff anything up, because the real Ms. MiniD is quite the character and seems to have quite the adventures.

Did we cry at the airport? She didn’t, but I could have when I paid for her checked luggage. $165! And for three bags that weren’t particularly heavy. Airlines are getting rather adept at nickel and diming a person out of their money. You’re lucky if you get free soft drinks these days. I can remember past trips on other carriers where a hot lunch or honest to goodness Subway sandwiches were served. Alcoholic beverages were actually worthwhile. Now they cost as much as the ones in the airport bar. Me, I’d rather sit in the airport bar and get tanked in comfort, rather than drink a $6 glass of wine on a crowded plane.

I’ve yet to go back to the house, because I’m supposed to be working all weekend. (Don’t worry, Little Cat, I’m not visiting the dreaded monster time-sucking Facebook.) I’ll have to clean out the bedroom she was using, and that should take a couple of days. Thank goodness it wasn’t her old bedroom, because Mr. D has that room completed gutted for his long-term painting and wood moulding project. No, we put Ms. MiniD in the microscopic bedroom slash sewing room, where her mess could be contained.

I’m not looking forward to cleaning her bathroom, but I am looking forward to soaking in the bubble tub.

In the meantime, I’m trying to steer Ms. MiniD toward a path of staying on the Left Coast for summer break. That’s because I will likely kill her if she comes back here. You don’t know how close I came in the last week. I love Ms. MiniD dearly, but I told her if she decides to come back, we would be laying down some ground rules first. Like, one, you can’t sleep until 1 p.m. every day. And two, you have to load the dishwasher and clean up the kitchen after you make two boxes of Kraft macaroni and cheese.

It’s funny, but I don’t feel like a bad mom for taking my house back. I feel like a conquering warrior. I feel like Cortez, the explorer. I feel like the peace and quiet and lack of drama will be curiously Utopian.

How to Be a Bad Mother-in-Law

My recent trip to San Francisco to visit my son had me thinking about motherhood and mother-in-law-hood. Actually, something else had me thinking of mother-in-law-hood, and it was something that happened a week before. I related the entire thing to my Internet Boyfriend/Friend, because I was quite upset. It’s nice to have friends to bounce stuff off of. He was very comforting, in that he provided some calm insights.

A couple of weeks ago, I started cleaning out my office here at the office. It’s where I do my work that is not associated with our business, but instead with business I started doing out of my home several years ago. I don’t make much money from that business, but it involves using the computer to design things. When I had my office at home, it was rather messy. When we moved to our current home, my husband said it was too nice of a place for me to have a home office which tended to be messy. (At the time, the nature of design was somewhat cut and paste. That’s why it could be very messy. Nowadays, everything is digital. No mess.) My husband decided to give me office space in our building, which is how I got a private office.

Anyway, I started throwing things away, and at a bottom of a box of very old cell phones, I found an envelope I had not seen before. It was addressed to Mr. Demonic, and in it was a copy of a letter I had written to his mother back in 1998.

My mother-in-law wasn’t a bad person, but she didn’t like me. My own mother died not long after I got married, and I needed a mother figure. She was exceptionally nice to both my children, her only grandchildren. The purpose of my letter was to express my opinion, as I am apt to do. Perhaps I should not have written it at all, except at the time I was up to my eyeballs in personal crap, and my children were very young (8 and 11). Life was coming at me from a hundred directions. It was a very stressful time.

My mother-in-law used to send my children gifts for the major holidays. She lived in another Tundra city about 700 miles away. She would wrap up the gifts and send them individually. My children, being small and extremely competitive, often wondered why one package would arrive, and the other would take sometimes days to get here. They, being of small minds, thought she was doing this on purpose. If I saw any small packages coming, I would secrete one if the other hadn’t arrived.

One day she called and my daughter answered the phone. They had a long conversation, which I didn’t mind. When my daughter hung up, she asked me where her package was. (?) I didn’t feign ignorance, because I knew nothing of a package. My son’s package hadn’t even arrived yet. Then she said, “Grandma said you have my package and won’t give it to me.” Then she went on to tell me I missed her aunt’s birthday and she was sad.

I was not amused. After all, why didn’t my mother-in-law say your father has the package and won’t give it to you? Why didn’t her father (Mr. Demonic) remember his own sister’s birthday? At the time, I could barely remember six hours into the past. I felt that I was being made the bad guy, when I was the one who regularly sent cards and photos and did all the Christmas shopping for both sides of the family.

In my anger and frustration, I penned a note to my mother-in-law. It began “I love you like a mother, but…” Because I did love her like a mother, and I couldn’t believe that she would try to make me look evil in front of my own daughter. In the note, I explained that I had no idea what my sister-in-law’s birthday was. I said that I was so busy, I had not yet sent my own two sisters their birthday cards (one being two months before, and the other a month before) and that they were still sitting on my desk. I said that side of the family didn’t send me birthday cards, nor would I expect them to. Then I admonished her to speak with her son about such things, especially about parenting if she didn’t like the way I did mine. I also told her that it was ME-the Mother and Wife- who made the plans to visit them. Mr. Demonic did not like going “home” as he didn’t see it as his home anymore.

Though I was angry, I thought my note was reasonable and concise. I didn’t refer to her in any hostile tones, I certainly didn’t call her names (and I wanted to), and closed by asking her to be considerate of my feelings.

She rarely spoke to me after that. And obviously sent a copy to Mr. D, who never once mentioned it to me. Perhaps wisely.

Though I was hurt, I got over it. Eventually, my mother-in-law passed away, and then my sister-in-law.

Seeing the note recently as I did jolted me into the same panic-stricken mode of ten years ago. It’s funny how many things lie just below the surface.

After I discussed this with MIB, I felt much better. I couldn’t change the way my mother-in-law was, and probably was looking for her love and approval when I should not have expected her to provide it. After all, I took away her baby. In the end, the only person I could change is myself.

That’s why I’m not going to be a bad mother-in-law.

The Great Bell Pepper Debate of 1986

This recent post by our illustrious mandolin playing, freelance writing, golfing, bona fide medical doctor (Dr. Bibey) about his proposed shopping trip today with his wife caused me to remember the reason why I do not go shopping with my own husband.

Now my Dear Mr. Demonic is a wonderful man. He’s smart, funny, and a fine, upstanding citizen. He’s been a good husband and a loving father. He has provided for us in ways that most men cannot. But for all his wonderful qualities, there is one thing we cannot do together.

SHOP.

As I indicated in my response to Dr. B’s post, with the exception of Christmas shopping for the kids (pre-Internet, now you can buy anything online), I don’t go shopping with Mr. D.

The reason: I would like to stay married.

Oh, sure, I said the same thing about working with Mr. D. I tried it about 25 years ago, when we were just dating. I was filling in for his regular girl while she was on vacation. The end result was the longest two days of my life, we ended up in a horrendous fight, and almost broke up. After that, I thought it best to give him some room. A man likes to feel his workplace is his kingdom, and my Dear Mr. D. is a king among business owners.

Ten years ago, due to some touchy circumstances that I won’t relate here, I took the bull by the horns and forced my way into his business. It was the best thing I ever did. It was hard at first, since what I was doing amounted to little more than a hostile takeover. In the end, it was good for both of us. I could see his world from his eyes, and he abdicated his role as scary, mean boss to me. That left him being the good guy, and he likes it.

But the better thing was to keep my desk with the office girls and his office down the hall. There are days when I don’t even see him. There are times when he’s there, but we email each other instead of getting on the intercom. In addition, he goes out of town a lot. We’re like two ships that pass through the workday, with an occasional quickie in the conference room before people show up. It’s been so successful, now he’s going to transfer the entire thing to my name. I think it has something to do with taxes, and likely more to do with the fact he would like to hit the golf course more often.

But, back to shopping. I can’t shop with him, or for him.

Our temperaments are different. I tend to swoop down into the sales racks and leave if I don’t find anything 75% off. He doesn’t care what things cost, and he also likes to finger things. Unlike my previous boyfriends and husband, I don’t buy his clothes, not even his underwear. That’s because he’s incredibly fussy. He likes to match the smallest, minutest threads on a pair of pants to another on a tie.

We used to shop for groceries together when first married. We’d make a date of it on Saturday afternoons, after his half day at work and before going out for dinner to a corner eatery with Ms. Pac Man in the lobby. There was a local store we liked, and I liked to go with him mostly because there was a check out girl there that had the hots for him. “Oh, no,” Mr. D. professed, “She’s just friendly…” My woman’s intuition kicked in the first time I saw Miss Hottie.

She was more than friendly, she was predatory. I promptly found a new store. (That was the Young Me. The Old Me is so tired out, she would likely say, “Honey, if you really want him you can have him.”)

One Saturday, as we were shopping together, Mr. D went to find something in the liquor aisle and told me to pick up some bell peppers in the produce section. We were making spaghetti that night. (Mr. D’s spaghetti sauce kicks butt, if you must know.) When we rendevouzed back at the cart, he took one look at my pepper choice and chastised me. That’s because one of my peppers had a small, almost indistinguishable wrinkle in it.

I’ve never lived that one down. He still looks over my produce.

Grocery shopping together came to a screeching halt when my son, Mr. D Jr., came into the picture. At first, it was because I would take the opportunity to go shopping while he watched D. Jr. as a baby. I came to enjoy those long moments alone, just me and my cart in Meijer Thrifty Acres. When the kids were a little bigger, they actually liked going to the store. They were fairly well-behaved and never clamored for sugary cereal or candy. They didn’t have much exposure to commercial TV, and besides, those things were considered treats in our house. Or, vacation food.

Now that it’s just Mr. D. and me in the house, we still go shopping alone. Instead of once a week splurges at Meijers, we go every day and pick up a few items, just like the Europeans do. Stocking up the fridge is only okay when there is a houseful of people. I don’t want to cultivate any more mystery food than I can take care of in a 15 minute period. We usually visit the same store within a half hour of each other.

I guess I could blame the entire shopping habits of the Demonic Family on a couple of bell peppers, but that would be a stretch, now wouldn’t it?

Thunderous Kitchen

I’ve written in other places about going home, and the things that happen when we all get together. There are six of us siblings, and we’ve always been loud, rambunctious and overwhelming. When one of us who lives far away comes home to visit, the rest get together and prepare a large dinner at my dad’s house.

Nowadays of course, there aren’t just the six of us. There are the grandchildren, and now a great-grandchild. The house isn’t very large, and the kitchen is a basic 10′ x 12′ 1970s model with very few amenities. (In fact, my father never seemed to have a decent set of knives ever, so I took to buying him good knives that were reasonably sharp.) All of us are pretty good cooks, if I do say so. My brother, now a computer programmer and law school student, worked his way through college as a chef, starting out in small eateries and ending up in a classy Denver area restaurant. He’s an excellent trained chef, but the rest of us have our moments, too.

The other thing we share is a dry sense of humor. We tend to pick at newcomers in the fold (new boyfriends, new husbands, new friends). We call this behavior “grilling” the person, like you would a steak. The intention is to make sure that person is worthy of inclusion into this very special circle. The outsider has to have a special sense of humor too. One such person is my best friend from high school. She endured my father calling her Suzie Q 35 years ago, and still shows up occasionally for a family dinner.

Last night we had one of those dinners at my dad’s house. The kitchen is always full of action, and it’s amazing that we can get anything done in there. My own daughter dislikes these get-togethers, because we ARE loud. Come to think of it, my husband never cared for them either. You have to be able to get into the action and hold your own.

My dad takes a beer and retreats into the sun room in the back of the house. He built it especially for these family reunions. The room is the entire length of the house, about 40 feet, with a table just as long in the center of it, and so can easily accommodate 30 people or more.

I ended the evening by arm wrestling my 12 year old nephew and throwing him to the floor. He got into my face after I teased him about his girlfriend. (You love her, you lurv her, lurv her, lurv her!) I think he was in shock that an old lady like me could do something like that.

Actually, so was I.

🙂

The Circle of Life: Not a Disney Movie

(Reposted from somewhere else, sometime else. I guess I’m thinking of her because it’s almost the anniversary of her death. I’m also sick and can’t think straight enough to write a new post. )

On a cold day in April, my daughter and I traveled by car to Minnesota to visit my ailing sister-in-law, Lesley, my daughter’s aunt and my husband’s only sister. Lesley learned just two months before that she had a brain tumor. By the time they got her into surgery, it was worse than the doctors had originally suspected. The tumor was removed, all right, but when she awoke, Lesley had lost the feeling on her right side and was also blind on that side. The prognosis wasn’t good; chemo was scheduled, but it wasn’t to cure her, only to prolong her life.

My husband and daughter had made a trip back in February to see her right after the surgery. It was not a fun time. Lesley was 51, only a few months older than I am. She was possibly one of the most vibrant and hyperactive people you’d ever want to meet. Whirling dervish comes to mind as a description. She would talk a mile a minute, and always had too many things to do. She had her own business, managed her husband’s business, tended to three Dobermans and two homes. To see her reduced to the remnants of cancer wasn’t pleasant for anyone.

My daughter did not want to make the car trip again. First of all, she was bemoaning the fact that it was technically her spring break and all her friends were in sunny Florida. She also was extremely close to her aunt, as they shared a godparent-godchild relationship. She cried a lot during the February visit and didn’t want to be that sad again. Being sixteen, she also flat out told me that she didn’t think she could endure eleven hours in the car with me.

Before I started working in my husband’s business, I would take the kids on long road trips every summer. We’d be gone for three or four weeks, traveling the western US in the minivan. I thought they both enjoyed it, and tried to make things interesting and educational. So when she said she didn’t want to travel with me, I was a little apprehensive as well. Besides that, she was teen-aged and was in the full throes of “I hate mom” mode.

We started out a little late that morning and met with rush hour traffic. My daughter hadn’t slept the night before and was cranky. She tried to bait me into an argument with snide comments on my driving. Being 16, she knew all the rules that I was breaking. Wisely, I didn’t take the bait. By the time we reached Ann Arbor, she decided to do a 180 and spent the next two and a half hours going over the events of the previous summer’s band trip to Europe. This was in blow-by-blow detail, including the intimate flirtations between the band members, her conductor’s inappropriate and bipolar behavior, French cheese and how it stinks, her sometimes-dysfunctional host families, and getting drunk in Luxembourg with people she didn’t know. I can’t believe it even now, but she managed to survive.

To be polite, I would interject with a question here and there, trying to sound like I was interested. (I was interested, but I had already heard this story back in July, when she related the gory details on the return trip home from Chicago.) Eventually, she tired of her summertime recollections and started to sing, and continued to sing for another four hours, non-stop.

This would not be so bad if she was singing ballads or something vaguely harmonic, but she spent those four hours rapping to Ludicris and Fergie. The sad thing is that my daughter really can sing; she’d been taking voice lessons and when she really lets go, she’s as good as any professional out there. She started to dance in her seat as well, doing the “pop, rock and roll,” and started gyrating and waving her hands about, as well as she could do in the confines of a Toyota Prius.

In between all this commotion, and just on the north side of Chicago, I received a phone call from my husband telling me that his sister had taken a turn for the worse. They didn’t think she would last the day. Should I turn around and come home? I was already almost half way there. I tried to hurry without getting a ticket for speeding. My daughter, who had been listening to my side of the conversation, fell silent during the call but not for long. She acquiesced and started putting in CDs from the 70s and 80s-ones she had stolen from me! These included ABBA and Cyndi Lauper. Then she tried to get me to sing with her.

I was not in the singing mood. I was thinking of more serious stuff, like dying too young.

Eventually, I fell under her spell and started to sing along to Cyndi. Back in the day of our three-week road trips, I would make my kids listen to MY music, which back then was oldies and Shania Twain, and sang at the top of my lungs to all the songs. These days, I listen to classical music or talk radio. I haven’t karaoked in years. My singing voice is way out of whack. It was good to sing. Singing kept our minds off of our inevitable destination.

Finally, our destination came into sight. It had been many years since I had last driven toward St. Paul on I-94, and the city looked bigger. By this time, we were in the midst the evening rush hour, and the Spaghetti Bowl was choked with traffic. We drove straight to the house as soon as we arrived in town.

When we entered the house, the scene was worse than I expected. The living room was made into a makeshift hospital room. Lesley had begun to fall into a coma only the previous afternoon. Before that, she had been lucid and speaking. It was amazing how quickly her condition deteriorated. There she was in her hospital bed, her once tall and lanky body now crumpled in a half fetal position. She was struggling to breathe, bald, much thinner than usual, and her eyes were wide open and darting about. All of her life, she had been plagued with psoriasis, but for some strange reason, her skin was perfect, clear and translucent. It seemed soft and fragile, like the leaves of phyllo dough.

We entered the room respectfully and spoke in hushed tones to my brother-in-law, whose eyes were red from too much crying. On the other hand, there was something weirdly polarizing about my 16-year-old, a young girl so obviously full of life, who just hours before was be-bopping in the car, and now she was here in this solemn room, visiting her aunt, who was on the cusp of death.

Though in a coma, I was sure Lesley could still feel and hear. Isn’t that what the doctors tell you? That they can still see and hear? I took her hand, which was blazing hot with fever, and calmly told her we were there. I positioned my face close to hers and stroked her arm as I spoke. My daughter could not bring herself to come close. She started to sob and could only sit in a nearby chair, tissues in hand.

I didn’t really fault my daughter for her resistance to say a final goodbye to her aunt, although I wish she had said something to her, at the very least. I’ve seen death close up several times, and it’s no prettier with each occurrence. As for myself, I am kicking myself all over because I was unable to make the first trip back to Minnesota in February. I could have seen her then, when she still had some of her faculties. I could have had a serious heart to heart with her when she could still understand me. Now I could only tell the shell of her body what I felt and hoped that she was listening.

(Just after writing this paragraph, I received a call from my brother-in-law. Lesley’s struggle was over.)

The Case of My Missing Mother-In-Law, or a Tale of Wandering Cremains

Many years ago, right after I was sucked into the Beanie Baby craze, my husband purchased a beautiful curio cabinet for me. Once it became apparent that Beanie Babies were an incurable addiction (by the sheer number of the little bean-bagged critters) I moved the “collection” into plastic tubs. A few thousand Beanie Babies now take up space in a room in my basement. One good thing about plastic tubs, is that they stack up very easily.

In the meantime, I put my other collection into the curio cabinet, which is located in my living room. When I was a teenager, I was very much into collecting elephants. (I’ll still pick up an elephant now and then, if it strikes my fancy.) There are also some fancy knickknacks which I’ve inherited from different sources. When my dear Mr. Demonic started collecting wines, he also started collecting vintage and unusual corkscrews, so we keep them there as well. The cabinet has a key, but we haven’t locked it since my son lost the original key and I had to go back to the furniture store to get another. Besides, most of the items are sentimental in value and aren’t worth a ton of money. Truth be told, not much in the house is worth anything, except maybe the piano.

When my mother-in-law passed away about nine years ago, the family had her cremated. The ashes were divided three ways among the three surviving children. In Mr. Demonic’s case, the funeral director put his share of the ashes into three mini-urns, one for him, and one for each of my children. I guess these urns were sample urns that were given to the home from the salesperson selling them the urns. I imagine that it’s much like they used to do in the real olden days when traveling salesmen would show miniature stoves to their customers and they would order from the cute little model. The urns were made of a green jade and came in a crushed purple velvet-lined box of three. It was quite attractive.

When we came home from the funeral, I put my mother-in-law’s cremains into my curio cabinet, along with some antique toys of hers which we inherited. It was kind of weird to have her there, but hey, what the heck? It’s my living room, but we don’t actually live in it. Most of our action occurs in the combination kitchen-breakfast nook-family room, not in the formal living room. It’s not like Mr. Demonic and I were having sex in there with his mother watching.

The other day, I happened to look into the cabinet, and noticed a bare spot. This is highly unusual because the cabinet was jammed full of the artifacts that is our life. I couldn’t figure out what was missing. Two shelves are devoted to elephants and two devoted to corkscrews. The rest is arranged by grouping. (For example, I have some small statuary from Greece together, and antique toys from my childhood that my sister bought me to replace ones that had become lost, along with photos taken of me with those toys.)

This huge space was somewhat annoying to me. I couldn’t figure out what wasn’t there.

That is, until yesterday. I realized that that rectangular shape was where the box containing my mother-in-law’s ashes were. It’s completely gone!

My husband denies moving them, and I believe him. He never goes into the living room at all. I don’t think he could name any of the furniture in there. My daughter thought it was weird that the urns were gone. She travels through the living room to the sun room where her computer is, but doesn’t stop (thankfully) long enough to make a mess in the living room. My son definitely didn’t do it, since he’s in San Francisco.

I’ve had other items disappear from the house, including five swords, a canvas I had painted in 1978 and a book of my poetry. I want to believe it’s not the person who is cleaning my house, or the bug-man. These are the two people with keys to the house.

To have three small urns full of human remains disappear, well, that just takes the cake.

I don’t know. I’m still shaking my head.