(Published in the November 2009 issue)
Last year was the first Thanksgiving since my dad had died, so I was curious to see how my mom was coping. It was worth the drive up to NorCal to find out.
Mom had been promising a turducken, the perverted animal three-way that features a hen stuffed inside a duck stuffed inside a turkey-think San Diego Chicken inside Daffy Duck inside Al Sharpton.
This was a special day for Mom, because Dad never embraced holidays. His favorite saying on Christmas had been “Bah, humbug!” and every Thanksgiving he wheeled the TV into the dining room so we could eat while watching the Detroit Lions receive their traditional ass-whoopin’.
Left to her own devices for the first time since the Truman administration, Mom invited three elderly friends to dinner: a gay couple and a one-time Hollywood actress. They were all volunteers at the local historical museum, where, surprisingly, some of the artifacts were actually older than they were.
Longtime companions Philip and Corwin had seized on the 2008 window of opportunity that allowed gays to legally marry in California. Husband Philip is a former mechanical engineer who made a fortune manufacturing post-WWII aircraft, while husband Corwin is a highly decorated veteran of the local dinner theater. Their magnificent garden wedding at the historical mansion set the state record for most Birkenstocks, Democrats and oxygen tanks all in one place at one time (Carol Channing at Lilith Fair set the world mark).
The former actress, Pauline, had one screen role to her credit: in 1933 she was the lady on the 78th fl oor who shrieked during King Kong’s free fall. She just about stole the movie in that split-second performance. “Clark Gable had his agent call my agent to arrange a rendezvous, but I was predisposed with Errol Flynn in San Simeon at the time,” she warbled.
Mom timed everything perfectly. The turducken was delicious. The conversation was lively. The gays regaled us with tales of their recent tour of Napa Valley colonic parlors, and after three glasses of pinot grigio, Pauline nodded off into the cranberry sauce...just like the Norman Rockwell painting.
After the guests left, Mom and I cleaned up, and it was time for me to inflate the Aerobed mattress on the living room floor, since my childhood bedroom had been converted to a combination office/toxic waste dump decades earlier.
Uh-oh, where is it? Check the car. Not there. Oh, well, I’ll sleep on the couch.
Like so many of her so-called Greatest Generation, my mom is very practical.
“Oh, honey, you’re not going to sleep on the couch-I insist you sleep in the master bedroom. You see, when your father got sick I moved into your sister’s room and I’ve just gone ahead and stayed there, so take the master bed.”
Seriously, Mom, the couch is good.
“I cleaned the sheets and everything. Gosh he must have been 280 to 285 at the end, and those paramedics had a heckuva time lifting him out of there.”
Ah, there it was, the same old 1973 Craft-O-Matic with the four position settings: flat, sit-up, missionary, canine.
Hey, Mom, is this a new quilt or did hospice leave it by accident?
Couldn’t wait to dive right in.
“I also cleared out the dresser so you won’t have your clothes strewn all over the floor like last time. Go ahead and unpack, I’ll let you be.”
I open one of the drawers and sure enough, it’s empty... except for this plastic sandbag over to the right. Hey, Mom, you expecting a flood? Upon closer inspection I noticed a stamp with my dad’s name on it next to the logo of the cremation facility.
Some people find Babe Ruth autographed baseballs in their dad’s sock drawer. I found my dad. I went ahead and smacked myself in the back of my head with it just for old time sake. Dad would have wanted it that way, me thinking these smartass thoughts and all.
I’ve slept in a variety of places in my time: cars, bars and under the stars, but never in a dead bed that I knew of (although a couple of roadside motels had that crime-scene feel).
Obedient son that I am, I slept in the bed after all, staring up at that popcorn ceiling Mom must have memorized spore by spore back in the 60s, just waiting for my father to finish. That’s right. The worst possible word-picture a child could ever imagine about his or her parents, and there I was, wallowing in it.
Hey, Mom, did you wash these sheets in EXTRA hot water?
The important thing was that Mom is doing great. She’s revitalized, has nice friends and still roots for her Sacramento Kings. But, lest we forget the moral of this story...
Let the word go forth, for this and every future holiday visit to your child-hood home-don’t ever forget your inflatable mattress. Ever.