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"I just want to finish my coffee."

Once weekly I have breakfast at a restaurant, and my family is invited. It's my way of keeping in touch, and it's very informal. I never know who's gonna show up. I'm there at 9AM, and sometimes eat breakfast alone, but usually there are 2-3 Hollands. Sometimes more. Most times, it's good times, and it's nice being with my family again. But… not always.

At our weekly breakfast on Saturday, my brother Dick was the first to arrive, and after hello and a hug, he asked what I had planned for after breakfast. "Nothing much," I said. That's how I spend all my free time, doing nothing much, and I like it.

He said was going to visit our sister Hazel after breakfast, and if I'd like to come along and visit her, he'd drop me at my house afterwards.

Hmmm. I always come to our breakfasts by bus, everyone knows it, and sometimes people want to rescue me from the hell of public transit. Usually I decline rides, because (a) I like the bus, and (b) I prefer being in charge of where I'm going. In someone else's car, you're never in charge, and there are people in my family who've never once gone from Point A to Point B without stops at Point C and Point D and "Let's drop in on the pastor." Taking the bus can actually be quicker, and safer for my sanity, than getting a lift.

But this was also a chance to see Hazel. She lives in a nursing home, and she's… a difficult visit. She can't walk, can barely speak, and it's hard to understand what she says when she does speak. Visiting her is not loads of fun, but I really wouldn't know. I haven't seen her in years, and despite being back in Seattle for two and a half months now, hadn't yet visited her, or even made plans to. Yeah, I'm a shitty brother.

Dick's invitation sounded perfect, though. He's an outgoing guy, an easy talker, so there wouldn't be any uncomfortable silences, and he visits Hazel fairly often, so maybe he'd understand what she says better than I could. So I said yeah, thanks, and let's do it.

In my head, I calculated that the ride and visit might take an hour and a half, but I'd get to see Hazel, and that's worth the time.

Then my mom arrived at the restaurant, we all said good morning, and almost immediately the plan changed. She said she needed a ride home after breakfast, and Dick said he'd drive her.

And then during breakfast, Mom had the bright idea that since we'd all be riding in Dick's car afterward, and my nephew lives only a few miles away, we should stop by his house, too. I balked at this, because I barely know that nephew, and anyway, it's rude to drop in uninvited. Mom and Dick negotiated a compromise — we'd simply drive to the nephew's house and they'd point out the house to me, but we wouldn't knock on the door.

"Why on earth would I even want to see the guy's house?" I asked, but Dick laughed like the question was a joke, and Mom had already started her next story.

Then Mom remembered that she was almost out of kitty litter, and there's a big grocery near the nephew's house, so stopping and shopping with Mom was now on our agenda, too.

It's not Dick's fault, but accepting his invitation had put my mother in charge of me and my time. Taking Mom home — by way of Nephew-House and the grocery store — the hour and a half I'd estimated for seeing Hazel was going to be two and a half hours instead. Maybe three.

Mom said she had company coming at her house, so she couldn't come along to see Hazel — and she really wanted to. With Mom's amazing ability to talk and dawdle and find new side trips, if she'd come along to Hazel's nursing home it would've eaten up most of the afternoon. So actually, I'd lucked out.

♦ ♦ ♦

But then came a Mom-dawdle I hadn't seen coming. We'd all finished our breakfasts, the plates had been taken and the bills paid, and it certainly seemed that we were about to leave. I excused myself to the men's room, and drained my three cups of coffee into the urinal.

When I returned to the table, though, another round of coffee had been poured, so breakfast wasn't over. Dick and Mom sipped coffee, and Mom talked about church stuff, and told stories about people she knows but I don't, and about a recently-deceased family friend, and about some woman from church who's gotten herself "in a family way" without a husband (oh my).

Eventually Dick and I stood up to go, but Mom said, "I just want to finish my coffee," and she remained seated, and continued talking. She told us two stories she often tells, and asked about my recliner while Dick and I stood.

After another story while we stood, Dick said, "I'd really like to get going, Mom."

She smiled and said again, "I just want to finish my coffee." There was an inch of it in her cup, and had been for five minutes. She took a sip, and put the cup down, and it still looked like an inch of coffee.

She told us about what had happened on the latest episode of Doubling Down with the Derricos, and about how much she'd love it if I came back to her living room and slept in her recliner again some night soon, and about some woman from church who's gotten herself "in a family way" without a husband (oh my), and about some blueberry bread she'd bought but didn't like...

Dick and I had been standing, waiting to go, for at least ten minutes. It felt longer than that, maybe lots longer, but time is slippery and I'm trying not to exaggerate, so lets say ten minutes.

Then the waitress came by and offered more coffee, and Dick and I said no but Mom said, "Just one more cup," and the waitress poured.

Dick sighed and sat down again. I remained standing and began fuming, but I didn't say anything.

I'm too patient, especially with my mom. I often suspect she wants me to lose my temper, so the more frustrating she gets, the more I try to keep my cool. It's the only way to 'win' — and also I frickin' hate myself when I get mad and say something mean to her. So it wasn't easy but I stayed calm and quiet as Mom's stories continued, and continued, and occasionally she took a sip of her coffee. It was a morning in purgatory.

Eventually Dick stood again, and said, "Mom, we need to get going." I'd glanced at my watch while peeing after breakfast, and I glanced at my watch again, to see that half an hour had passed.

"I just want to finish my coffee," she said to Dick, again, and thanks to the refill, her cup was fuller than the last time she'd said it. She began another story, and I interrupted.

"You're gonna keep us here all day if you can, right?"

With a huge smile, happy as heck, she said, "I just love having two of my sons with me, and I don't want it to end. Is that so bad?"

"It's pretty bad," I said, angrier at myself than at her, but unable not to say it. "It's rude, it feels like a hostage situation, and it's pissing me off."

"Oh, sometimes you're so silly," she said, still smiling, and resumed her story.

I interrupted again. "I wanted to be gone half an hour ago, but I'm stuck here because Dick offered me a ride home, and we're going to see Hazel." To Dick I said, "We need to leave now, OK? Else I'm crossing the street and taking the next bus home."

They both replied at the same time. Dick said, "Yeah, let's go," and Mom said, "I just want to finish my coffee."

♦ ♦ ♦

We left the restaurant, though. Finally we were on the long and winding road to visiting Hazel, and then to my house.

First stop on the tour: Dick drove to my nephew's house, which is a house like every other house for miles around, and of no interest to me. It's blue. And while the car idled in front of the house, Mom told us a story of something uninteresting that had happened when she'd visited there once.

Then Dick drove to the grocery store, where of course Mom remembered many things she needed besides kitty litter. She is 90-something and moves slowly, but didn't want to sit in one of the store's electric wheelchair-carts, and she didn't want to send either Dick or me down the aisles to find mayonnaise or shampoo, because the point of it all was to tell us stories, not to shop, and she couldn't tell us stories if we were in another aisle.

When we came out of the store an hour had passed. I was carrying two heavy bags of stuff she'd purchased, Dick was toting two boxes of cat litter, and Mom was telling us about doing the laundry on Thursday.

Then Dick drove Mom to her house, while Mom told stories on the way, all of which were stories she'd told us already that morning.

At her house we carried everything inside, and she invited us to stay for coffee. More coffee? Really? Dick said no, but I said no first, and louder.

Mom was already at the percolator, though. She popped the plastic lid off a can of MJB and said, "Just one cup and then you can go," and I kinda lost it again.

"No, we can go now," I said. "No more coffee. And also — no offense, Dick, but — no more surprise invitations at these once-weekly breakfasts. When I can't just hop on a bus and go, it's too easy to be captured, like Mom's captured me this morning."

She beamed with her hugest, happiest smile — the one she flashes whenever she's gotten the best of me and I've lost my temper — and I said, "Bye, Mom. Love you!" and I was out the door.

Dick followed, and drove us to the nursing home. We said almost nothing during the 20-minute trip. I needed that time for Mom decompression, and I think Dick did, too.

♦ ♦ ♦

Hazel has gotten worse since the last time I saw her. She can't walk, but she used to get around OK in a wheelchair. Now even the wheelchair is uncomfortable for her, and she spends most of her time in bed. The staff says she's been refusing to do physical therapy.

It's also gotten harder to understand what she says. I hadn't seen Hazel in years, but even Dick, who sees her monthly, was struggling to make sense of her fractured speech. Mostly Dick and I talked, and Hazel made sounds, which we tried to decipher.

Her mind is still sharp, though. At one point she said something, but Dick and I were baffled, and after asking her twice to repeat it, we still couldn't understand. Dick suggested giving her a pen and a piece of paper to write down what she was trying to say. She had a very difficult time holding the pen, and her handwriting was unstable, like a little kid first learning words and letters, but when she'd written her words we could read them, and it was a joke. She'd made a quick-witted joke about something we'd mentioned, but by the time she'd written it down, the moment had passed and it wasn't funny any more. We laughed anyway, of course.

We sat and sort-of talked in the nursing home's industrial but not unpleasant living room, and I'm glad we saw Hazel, but it was heartbreaking.

She has all her cognitive ability, yet she's almost unable to communicate. I miss my sister, and can't imagine the isolation of her world. Too quickly she started squirming, uncomfortable in her wheelchair, so we hugged her, she waved goodbye to us, an attendant wheeled her back to bed, and then we were gone.

Dick and I didn't have much to say to each other as he drove to my boarding house. You don't visit Hazel and come away chipper and chatty.

♦ ♦ ♦

When my brother dropped me off, I came into the house, sat in this chair, and reflected on the morning and early afternoon — awkward and frustrating time with Mom, followed by awkward, frustrating time with my sister. At least with Hazel, though, the frustration was accidental.

I checked my messages, and there were four new texts from Mom, none of which was an apology for the coffee incident, or for taking what I'd 'budgeted' as an hour-and-a-half for visiting Hazel, and making it more than four hours.

Effective immediately, there's a new rule for our once-weekly breakfasts:

I'll be at the restaurant at 9AM every Saturday, and my family is invited, but never again will I accept an invitation to do something with anyone after breakfast. No exceptions. When we're done eating, I take the next bus home.

6/14/2022  

itsdougholland.com
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13 comments:

  1. Doug, I notice you've yet to review "Virgin Cheerleaders in Chains" featuring Dominique Davalos of the bands The Delphines and The BlueBonnets (yeah, she's also a bassist). I have no idea of her acting ability, but she rocks when she plays the bass. As The Bear from Canned Heat used to say, "If you're gonna have a band, you gotta have a bottom."

    I'm not saying that this is a priority 1 deal. I'm just sayin' . . .

    John

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    Replies
    1. Virgin Cheerleaders in Chains... I had to google it, sounds like fun, so I'm downloading it now.

      Made in 2018? I never would've found it or seen it without your nudge, thanks. Recent movies almost always stink like an un-hosed chicken coop, so I limit myself to 1999 or earlier unless someone I respect tells me something's somehow not shit.

      Delete
    2. In the interest of full disclosure, I came to listen to Ms Davalos because she was in two bands with Kathy Valentine, whose work in a half dozen bands, including the Go-Gos, I admire. Ms Valentine, whose Go-Go writing and playing is underappreciated, is one of the only musicians (or people of note in any field) for whom I had a little thing when I was younger. She (Kathy) got drafted into the band the night before the Go-Gos had their first significant paying gig. The bass player got sick and Kathy, who had virtually never played bass, was recruited. She rocked and was a good songwriter, so she stayed for most of the next 40 years. I think she mostly didn't have a good time, so her side projects have always been important to her, thus Dominique Davalos, thus "Virgin Cheerleaders in Chains". I assume they had the title before they had the first word of the script.

      John

      Delete
    3. > Virgin Cheerleaders in Chains.

      Perhaps you can ascertain this from the movie, but, without putting myself through an hour and a half of pain, how was their virginity established? For that matter, anybody can pick up a pair of pom-poms; how do we know they were really cheerleaders? And were the chains the cheap tire chains Western Auto used to sell or the real biblical stuff?

      Hell, I guess I'm gonna have to watch the damn movie.

      jtb

      Delete
    4. Wait, you haven't seen the movie? Thought you were sort of recommending it. Now it's more dicey, but hey, dicey can be fun. It's on my list, and more tangibly on a thumb drive, so I'll definitely be getting to it.

      To my surprise, the version of "Sedated" I'd heard and kinda liked was the Ramones original. Nothing wrong with the Go-Go's remake, though. And I'd boink anyone in the Go-Go's more enthusiastically than I'd boink Joey or Johnny Ramone, possibly cuz they're both dead.

      Western Auto's HQ is or used to be in Kansas City, where I lived 20 years ago. There's still a giant sign downtownish, though I think the building with the sign is abandoned, like my heart.

      Delete
    5. Nicely written. Having an amorous fling with a Go-Go vs a Ramone is a no brainer whatever your gender and whatever their condition. The Go-Gos don't have fleas. Also, the Go-Gos were talented musicians; at least four of them were. The Ramones played loud. Both groups changed the direction of music, if only slightly, which is more than most people accomplish in our brief visit here. And Kathy Valentine stole something I valued, like my heart.

      John

      Delete
    6. For me it's Belinda Carlisle, but I wouldn't say no to Kathy Valentine nearly as quick as she's sy no to me and call the cops.

      Delete
    7. I was hoping for credit for my parallel construction at the conclusion of my remarks, but maybe it was too obvious for kudos. I'm just an obvious guy.

      jtb

      Delete
    8. I noticed it for barely long enough to remember noticing it. I think I thunk it was probably a happy accident. Belated kudos are better than prompt judos.

      Delete
  2. Douglas, you made reference to "I Wanna Be Sedated" the other day. I'm not sure if you were referring to the original Ramones tune or the cover by the Go-Go's. Here, for your enjoyment are live versions of both. For some reason, the Ramones' version is an extended version.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x09XSa1X1eU

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cjlKjZy2Qi8

    johnthebasket

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Can't listen in the library (no headphones) but downloading and will listen at home.

      I'm guessing it was the Go-Go's version I'd heard, because the Ramones were punk, right? The version I heard, the band was carrying a tune.

      Delete
  3. After the last "one more cup, when she had already two or three times said, "I just want to finish my coffee," I'd have been gone.

    You're a stronger man than I.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Staying and being quiet like I usually do isn't 'strong', just stupid.

      I'd booked a ride with Dick, though, so leaving would've been rude to him...

      Delete

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