Most of us anticipate holidays — any holiday — with some degree of joy. Not me; I get to spend holidays with the in-bred, I mean, the in-laws. Witness this Easter, just past.
It began not with a bang, but with a gratuitous use of gasoline. My better half had neglected to purchase an Easter gift for his mother, a faux pas akin, to my in-laws, to forgetting to courtesy in the presence of royalty. Through three towns we tore in search of something unique, something other than “the usual Easter flowers,” something expensive. In my husband’s family, it’s not the thought that counts!
Upon discovering that the closest Simon mall was closed as tightly as Fort Knox, curses poured like April showers from the hubby’s mouth. (Me, I applauded this public devotion to Jesus’ resurrection, particularly since Simon is a Jewish name.) The cussing got viler as it became clear that gift shops in the strip malls were also closed. In desperation, my husband bought an $11 bath set for his mom at K-Mart. Armed with this, cough, cough, unique and expensive present, we hit the road, Jack.
Although we came from out of State, we still arrived a good hour before my husband’s two siblings, including the sister who lives in the apartment above my mother-in-law.
In case you’re wondering about this lousy and, by the way, eternal p*** poor timing, I lay the blame at my mother-in-law’s feet. According to Freud’s theory of personal timing, she must have potty trained her daughters by waiting until they’d already soiled their nappies before plopping them on the pot. Thus imprinted, the sense of “Hey, this can wait” followed them evermore.
And yet, my mother-in-law is notoriously and ridiculously early for each and every family event. Down through the years, numerous funeral homes and wedding halls have closed their doors against her because business hours had yet to start. Rained upon, sun burned, or chilled to the bone for hours as she waits with her nose against the door, it never sinks in. Her motive is to get a good seat, you see. If it’s a wedding, it’s an assigned seat, and if it’s a wake or a funeral, there’s nothing good about the seat.
Shake this family tree ever so gently and nuts will roll off. And not just the nuts related by blood.
One of my brothers-in-law has a loud mouth, and that’s a gross understatement. To him, silence is not golden. He loves noise and is, in fact, quite gifted in creating it. Walk into his house on any given day and you’ll find TV blasting, the computer rat-a-tatting with a video game, and the stereo playing — all at once. It matters not that no one is watching, playing, or listening to the music. When this brother-in-law speaks at decibels meant for the hard of hearing, the teeth rattle in my head. For the purpose of this article, we’ll call him Ed.
Sure as God made little green apples, around the large table this past Easter, Ed decided to sit next to me. By then, all the other seats had been claimed. But, history has taught me something; I came prepared. I reached into my handbag and whipped out a small white plastic vial. “Got a headache, Karen?” Ed bellowed, assuming I was about to self-medicate. “No,” I grinned tightly, “and I aim to avoid one.” From the vial I pulled two soft foam earplugs and quick like a bunny, screwed them into my ear canals. Ed fell over laughing and for good reason. The plugs only reduce noise by 32%. I still got 68% of Ed’s roaring. Villagers in Africa should hire him to keep the resident lion populations at bay.
Across the table, my other brother-in-law was so soft spoken, I learned how to read lips in one easy lesson!
After the second course had been gobbled, I watched the sister-in-law who lives one flight above my mother-in-law conk out on the couch. Let’s call her Susan. Napping has been Susan’s modus operandi ever since I first met her; in fact, it’s more like a calling with her.
Upon graduation from high school, she remained at home for more than a year. College was way too much work, and the thought of seeking employment was too taxing (and this was during the prosperous 80s, when jobs were rampant). When Susan finally landed a job, it was through no fault of her own, but the auspices of her sister-in-law. The minute Sue got pregnant, she quit her part-time job and remained unemployed for approximately twenty years, until she finagled another part time position … while her husband held down three jobs (gee, I wonder why). But still, Susan is always pooped.
As for all family gatherings past, this Easter, she retired to the couch in the middle of the day. She must have learned recently to sleep like a cat, for she roused herself from her stupor when she heard her daughter talking about her.
I must preface this by telling you that, last year, after an illness and surgery, my mother-in-law went through a debilitating treatment program. She still doesn’t seem quite right to me. Susan, living one floor above, purports to be her mother’s guardian angel. But words are such flimsy things. In preparation for the holiday, my mother-in-law was vacuuming her stairs and lost control of the vacuum. The machine went tumbling down the steps with a horrible clatter that rose to the second floor.
Immediately, Susan grabbed her head and moaned pitifully. The way my niece mimed it, she resembled the tortured soul in Edvard Munch’s painting, “The Scream.” Instead of tearing down the stairs to see if her mother needed medical attention or at least assistance, Susan ordered her daughter to check things out. The odd thing about this is that her daughter passes out if you happen to nick your finger in her presence (no lie). I mumbled something about the blind leading the blind, but nobody heard it over Ed’s raucous howling.
Mother’s Day is fast approaching and with it, another in-law encounter. Instead of the earplugs, I think I’ll pack a flask to deal with my husband’s relations. As to its contents, here’s a hint. It won’t contain sweet tea or lemonade!