Prelude: On December 26, 2004, shortly after 10 a.m., the Webers – Eddie, Carol and their almost three-year-old son James – loaded up the dark-blue Ford Explorer with suitcases, toys, and enough provisions for a shipwreck on Gilligan’s Island, and took off. Eddie and Carol took turns driving across the country, south from Washington, through Oregon and California, then east toward Spring Hill, Florida, through Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. At Spring Hill, they tidied up the remains of Eddie’s late parents’ estate, a one-story, three-bedroom, two bath house with pool and two-car garage, re-painted, re-carpeted, re-air-conditioned, before putting said house on the market. Currently, the house is undergoing a facelift while the Webers are in Barefoot Bay, on the east coast of Florida, at Eddie’s cousin’s and her husband’s manufactured home, relaxing until time for a) James’ third-year birthday outing at Disney World on January 21, b) the house has been face-lifted, and c) it’s February 5, time to drive back across the country toward Long Beach, California, where they will board a Princess Cruise ship destined for parts in Mexico. The Princess Cruise gig, set to sail the evening of February 12 and return a week later, will take Eddie all of three hours tops, then he can spend the rest of his time making a baby with Carol and eating until his heart explodes at the midnight buffets. After the cruise, the Webers drive back up north to Washington, estimated date of arrival, February 22, 2005.
Spaghetti with meat sauce.
That’s what rids a home of chain-smoking residue. Not Febreeze, Lysol or a week of gaseous farts (I tried all three) after a chili marathon.
For the first two travelogues in cubbyhole[s ic], I did nothing but complain, whine, worry and kvetch like the middle-aging neurotic chip off my own mom I swore I’d never be. But this third one’s gonna be a little chipper, a lot more hopeful and maybe headed toward rested.
An FM radio station I earlier in the week kidded should be called “The Morgue,” and played during funerals, played nothing but golden oldies from the ‘50s through the 20th century – as if I never left the dentist’s chair back in Kalihi, my eight-year-old scabby knees knocking nervously before each drill rush – in the kitchen while our almost-three-year-old son James and I splashed on the first downward step of the pool, lanai windows burst wide open to let the sun and the air in.
The 81-degree heat felt nourishing against my skin as the 51-degree waters braced every pore awake, an equal balance of nature, my son cuddling against my bosom, my nurture overflowing in the afternoon ebb and glow. We pointed out lizards on screen doors, joked about the frog he saw his last visit in June, ate PB&J and roast turkey & tomato sandwiches, sippee cup of apple juice, my bottle of Coke, splashing each other… I vaguely remembered being his age, nowhere near as content in my haphazard surroundings.
I hated the pool and the beach. They only represented littered cancer sticks, other people’s spit and phlegm under (bare)foot, maneuvering the land mines until I reached the pool’s or shore’s edge, then maneuvering around the sticky, sweaty, sunscreeny bodies secretly urinating in a corner or letting out fart bubbles at their leisure. Princess and the Pee, for about 13 years straight before I let go of the expectation of smooth, clean perfection.
Later, with James helping his dad fix his dad’s dad’s old stereo with a disco compilation sample, I prepared our first dinner at my in-laws’ home, a feat they could never persuade me to do while alive.
The timing couldn’t have been more perfect. Usually, I overcook the pasta, forget the garlic bread, some dish is off by five minutes. But as if Eddie’s mother Jean were guiding me in spirit – she ruled that kitchen like Julia Child – for the first time in my life, my movements in mellow synchronicity to the radio station WDUV, “the Dove,” alternating with childhood memories of my own mother cooking spaghetti while I lounged around with the Sears-Roebuck catalog and the radio on… I finished cooking dinner in perfect time.
Eddie and I had spaghetti with meat sauce (chicken broth is the key) and garlic bread, James, his Mac ‘n Cheese, and some Oreos. We gathered around the dining room table like a Norman Rockwell family, caught up on the day’s events – “I got some boxes for the stuff we’re keeping from Home Depot, but I forgot paper towels.” “James was shivering from being cold after the pool but wouldn’t admit he was done, so we walked outside in the sun to warm up.” “Different grandma’s house? Not Connie? Used to be grandma’s house.” – and cleaned up later. James conked out on his grandfather Kurt’s favorite lounge sofa, Eddie sorting through his father’s computer things, then a little in the garage, me… amazed I kept this radio station on without smirking once.
“To Sir, With Love.” “That’s What Friends Are For.”
Paul Anka’s “The Time Of Your Life” had come on just as we were getting ready to eat, and I couldn’t help but pause to gaze at the dinner table my mother-in-law so many times before me had laden with much fuss and consternation. Did she know she would die only a handful of years later, struggling for her last breath, her face stuck in a hideous inhale, leaving behind tightly wound plastic Ziplocs of Swedish meatballs and pea soup in duo portion control, and three cabinets full of every spice and herb known to man? Did she pause, too, and gaze about the rooms, stopping at a clock with fake spring flowers pasted on the bottom, remember where she bought it, wonder what it would be like to have to tell her husband it’s time to go to the hospital, and that she wouldn’t return?
I thought about Aiea High School, junior year, when we as a student body had to choose theme songs and Paul Anka’s anthem for the young came on. I rolled my eyes then, how hokey, how clique-ish… and now, I’m tearing up, because I never listened to his words. I never paid attention to a lot when I was younger.
“You know you’re old when you know all these songs,” Eddie interjects, passing by, pausing to kiss me in thanks for the dinner.
That’s it. That’s probably why “the Dove” doesn’t bother me when it should, when it would have 20 years ago. Twenty years ago, I’d have changed the channel the second the old folks home medleys warbled out, to something Spice Girls or Guns ‘n Roses, making sure everybody noticed how hip I was.
Now, I don’t recognize anybody on the Top 40, nor do I care to.
I even felt comfortable amongst the retirement community grocery shopping at a Winn-Dixie. I took way too long and way too much pleasure in squeezing the over-ripe, moldy Roma tomatoes (did you know the way-too-young check-out girl had no idea what they were, and she thought my parsley was cilantro? Kids!), picking out just the right thinly sliced half a pound of roast turkey, beaming as the elderly seafood lady referred to me as “You guys” in explaining where to find the half-sliced filets of salmon in case she’s not around out front.
Driving to and from the supermarket, old people were driving past me.
Tomorrow, I crank up WDUV, “the Dove” again while I take the entire day to prepare a poached salmon with soy and hot oil, buttered cauliflower and Uncle Ben’s instant rice for dinner. I might even hum along to Olivia Newton-John’s “Have You Never Been Mellow?,” while mentally drifting back to Ft. Shafter’s Laurel Hill, pushing 12, walking across the backyards, pretending I had lived enough lifetimes to be able to give such advice: “There was a time when I was in a hurry as you are, and there was a time when I had to tell my point of view…”
This is how aging happens. One day you start listening to elevator music and it’s entertaining.
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