Wednesday night I spent alone in the kitchen, awake till nearly midnight, perfecting my Italian Crème Cake. Mom was having another one of her strange vomiting episodes and had locked herself in the bedroom, Ray was out hunting, and my daughter and sister were spending the night in the city at The Grandmother’s. It should have, by all accounts, been a relaxing night, but I think my trip to the grocery store started it off on a sour note.
I used to hate going to the grocery store, but I realized that the reason for that wasn’t necessarily the place, but the person I went there with. My mom is a terrible shopper. She’ll spend hours upon hours wandering up and down every single aisle, sometimes more than once, even though she has a list of very specific items. We call it “scratching and sniffing” – she has to examine everything. Not only that, but like a willful toddler, the minute you turn your back she’s disappeared down another aisle and you’re left hunting for her until it’s time to check out.
Now I love going to the grocery store – provided I’m alone. But Wednesday night was another matter entirely. I’d been at the makeup store finalizing my jewelry party business and decided to pop over to the local Publix as I heard they had good sales on some of the things on my list. (Yes, I just typed that sentence. Alert the media: I’m a loser.) It was the night before Thanksgiving so of course I knew it would be busy, but I’d been up since 4:30 that morning and I simply wasn’t prepared for the adrenaline fueled Mario Kart experience.
Feeling rather lucky because I’d swiped a front row parking space, I sauntered through the sliding glass doors. There were only two carts left in the rack and after a stare down worthy of an old Clint Eastwood film, I ended up pushing the token noisy cart toward the bakery while a Mrs. Doubtfire look-a-like whooshed away to the opposite end with the coveted, silent Lincoln Town Car of grocery carts. Mine was completely lopsided and the wheels were all at funny angles. I walked slowly and it went “BANG, clack, BANG, clack, BANG, clack”. Then I walked faster just in case it made a difference. “BANG CLACK BANG CLACK BANG CLACK”. It didn’t – slow, it sounded like a metallic rocking chair; fast, it sounded like a moderately impressive fireworks display.
Despite the fact that the entire store could hear me coming long before they saw me, I still had to shove and shoulder my way through every aisle. What, at any other time, would have been a 10 minute trip turned into a 45 minute bloodbath. By the time I was down to the last item on my list I’d made three circles of the entire store because I wasn’t very familiar with its layout, shouted at four people, had my foot rolled over twice, and bumped the heels of an unsuspecting, yet entirely deserving, Mrs. Doubtfire.
I was looking for the blocks of Velveeta, but couldn’t find them anywhere. I’d been up and down every aisle and asked two employees - one directed me to aisle 10 and the other was either very dim or didn’t understand English. Finally, on the verge of a near meltdown, I saw a boy of about 16 coming out of the back with a cart of boxes. “You”, I shouted as I hurtled toward him in my busted cart. BANG CLACK BANG CLACK BANG CLACK. He looked like he might be about to piss himself, no doubt I looked crazed. “For the love of Christ, please TAKE me to the motherfucking Velveeta! If one more person sends me to aisle 10 again and I come up empty handed, I’m going to have a conniption!”
He edged his hip against his trolley of boxes, nudging it out of the aisle. “Y-yes ma’am”, he muttered and took off with his head down, with me hot on his heels. BANG CLACK BANG CLACK BANG CLACK. We were back on aisle 10 again and I could feel my neck turning red. Coming to a halt in front of the tiniest display of cheese known to man, on the very top shelf, he looked at me and said, “Here you go ma’am. What kind did you need?”
I glared at him, told him what I needed, he handed it over, and with a parting “thank you”, I began to walk away. “You’re welcome ma’a”, he started to call, but stopped when I whipped around and said, “STOP calling me that!” He went scurrying in the opposite direction and I, completely worn out and irritated with myself for behaving like a shrew, shuffled to the checkout.
While I was unloading my 20 or so items onto the conveyor belt, another teen came rocketing around the corner and started helping me, tossing my things toward the checker like it was a marathon race. They really want me out of here, I thought without amusement. As soon as the girl handed me the receipt, the blonde, floppy haired teenager took off with my cart. Bewildered, I hurried after him. BLANG CLACK BANG CLACK BANG CLACK. “Where are you going with my cart”, I shouted at him.
“I’m helping you to your car”, he shouted back over the din.
Irritated once again, I caught up and yanked the cart to a stop. “I don’t need help out! I only have five bags!”
“Are you sure”, he asked suspiciously, seeming reluctant to let go of the handle. What the hell is the problem here, I wondered. Do I look old and incapable? Have I a sign on my back that says “secret shopper – don’t piss me off"?
“I’m 25, not 50. I think I can handle it, thank you.”
He shrugged as if to say, Fine, have it your way, grouchy old lady, and with a wave and a sarcastic “have a Happy Thanksgiving ma’am!” he was gone. I ground my teeth together and stalked out the door. BANG CLACK BANG CLACK BANG CLACK. I hate being called ma’am by anyone over the age of seven, unless it’s done so in a funny sort of way.
Arriving home 45 minutes later, I immediately attacked the kitchen. Flour, powdered sugar, and dripping utensils littered every surface and the electric mixer was whirling, like my hips, to Shakira and other random “hot hits”. The mixer is one of those giant ones with a spinning bottom that requires nothing more than an occasional push when things get a little heavy and a swish round the edges. The longer I worked – separating eggs, measuring, hip shaking – the more exhausted I became. I blame that, and not the fact that I’m an occasional idiot, for the wooden spoon incident.
One minute I was running it along the edges, knocking the sugar and such back into the batter, and the next I let go of the handle, thinking, for some reason, that it wouldn’t get caught in the insanely fast moving mixing blades. But, of course, it did. With a huge bang and a lot of grinding it got sucked in and stopped the mixer. I screamed, tugging on the handle and trying to dislodge it, but the grinding only got louder. Then our mastiff puppy, Tank, started to howl because I was screaming. Being a complete genius, it took me another 20 seconds of tugging, screaming, and shouting at the dog to “fuck off” before I thought to unplug the damn thing.
The rest of the night was spent cleaning up huge piles of dishes, attempting to bang the kinks out of the bent mixer parts, and digging powered sugar out of my nostrils from my messy attempt at cream cheese frosting. It was not one of my best days, yet against all odds, the cake turned out brilliant. Sans sugary boogers, of course.
Thursday morning was a whirlwind – packing things to take to the city, getting ready, and finally arriving at 11am to find The Grandmother bitching about the amount of work Thanksgiving meant for her. I rolled up my sleeves and dove into the kitchen, ignoring her as much as possible and sneaking pieces of food off the platters. I was not feeling at all thankful by the time we sat down to dinner two and a half hours later.
Dinner at The Grandmother’s is a great deal more formal than at my Papa’s, which we had to be at by 5:30 that evening. At TG’s the good china and silver get laid out, there are flowers on the table, and everyone has an assigned place. Over the years I’ve managed to bully my way into having a seat at either the head or the foot of the table, mostly by complaints of being left handed. That means that I not only have more elbow room that everyone else, but I can also get out quickly and to the last of the dressing before anyone else, which is crucial.
Though the atmosphere tends to be more staid and the conversation tends to lean more toward the political, I can usually point it in a cruder direction. But with my Aunt Donna bursting into tears because she’s off her meds again, my Uncle Bruce lecturing my 18 year old sister on decorum, mom still suffering from her night of stress induced vomiting, and my Aunt Christie off to New York with her boy wonder, there was no one to laugh with me and I just didn’t feel up to it. I didn’t even say the word “vagina” once, which is simply unheard of.
Unusual too, there was only one shouting match. Everyone was eating dessert, except for me because I was stuffed to the gills with dressing, when mom said, “Do you want to go help The Grandmother clean up the kitchen or do you want me to do it?”
She laid out the bait and waited to see if I’d take it. Rather than go for the whole bite, I just nibbled a bit. “Well, I know what you’d like me to say”, I replied sleepily, stretching out further on the couch.
While everyone else laughed she glared at me, then shoved herself out of the chair and stalked to the kitchen. Even though I knew I’d likely pay for it later, I was so tired from cooking and cleaning already that I couldn’t bear to get up.
Unfortunately a short time later she conveniently forgot our previous conversation and came stomping back in, appearing to address the room at large, but most definitely directing it toward me. “Are any of you going to come in here and help her wash these dishes”, she shouted. The men looked at each other, confused. Surely she wasn't speaking to them? Aunt Donna stared off into space and my sister and I stared at each other, both urging the other to go without a word.
Mom started shouting some more and, grumbling, I shoved myself off the couch and plodded to the kitchen. “Isn’t fucking fair, I’ve been slaving away all last night and this morning and what have you done. Shit, that’s what.”
Not really addressing her, but definitely getting the point across that I was grumbling about her, mom started shouting even louder. We yelled at each other across the kitchen while The Grandmother flapped her towel in the air and tried to outdo us with cries of, “Honestly!” And, “You shoo on out of here! Girls! Girls!”
In the end I washed all 70 million of the dishes, stubbornly refusing to put a single fork in the dishwasher and relishing every muscle ache, sighing loudly every few minutes in martyrdom. I barked orders at my sister and once all was finished, The Grandmother praised my help but not my temper. “Patience is golden”, she said to me, as she always does.
“I’m more of a rusty bronze”, I replied, as I usually do.
But the day wasn’t yet over. I still had one more family and one more dinner to attend to. I was relatively sure, however, that there wouldn’t be any cleaning involved and for that I was infinitely grateful.
Still, a family gathering of alcoholics, foreigners, drug addicts fresh out of rehab, and shamed whore cousins was bound to turn up some kind of drama. Surely?