Saturday, July 15, 2017

Ch 6 Primo likes to have his pears cut up for him, which is pathetic - I need to remind him that I am not his mother

Primo: Would you cut up a pear for me?

Me: Can't you do it?

Primo: No! You always do it for me.

Me: No I don't!

Primo: Well sometimes you do it for me.

Me: Very. Occasionally.

Primo: Please?

Me: Oh for pete's sake. Regardez and learn (as I cut the darn pear).

Primo: Why do I need to know how to cut a pear?

Me: What happens if I die before you?

Primo: I won't eat fruit.

Ch 6 Sly asks Primo to fly 2,000 miles to attend a funeral because Ted, who lives a one-hour train ride from the funeral, is not really family

Primo: My dad called me.

Me: Oh no! Is everything OK?

Primo: Sort of.

Me: They never call you.

Primo: I know.

Me: You are supposed to call them. That’s how it works. They never call you.

Primo: I know.

Me: What’s going on?

Primo: My uncle Bob died –

Me: Who?

Primo: My dad’s sister’s husband.

Me: Oh. I don’t think you have ever mentioned him by name before. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever heard you talk about your aunts and uncles at all.

Primo: I don’t think I’ve seen him since I was in high school.

Me: That’s a long time.

Primo: He lives in Connecticut.

Me: So?

Primo: So that’s a long way to go from Pittsburgh.

Me: So what?

Primo: So it’s not like it was easy to visit them when I was a kid!

Me: Really? When we lived in the States, we drove from Texas to Wisconsin every summer to visit family. And sometimes, we would go to Colorado or New Mexico for Christmas because we have other family there.

Primo: Well, we never spent time with them when I was a kid. I don’t think I ever saw them more than once or twice.

Me: Your dad didn’t want to see his sisters? He didn’t want you to know your cousins?

Primo: No, I don’t think he wanted to see his sisters. He is pretty bitter about his childhood.

Me: But his sisters are not the ones who abandoned him.

Primo: I know. My dad isn’t necessarily rational. Anyhow, my uncle died and my dad wants me to go to the funeral.

Me: Why?

Primo: Because my dad has a hard time traveling and can’t go himself.

Me: That’s part of it, but if he’s bitter about his sisters, why would he go to his brother in law’s funeral?

Primo: I don’t know. But he wants me to go.

Me: Why?

Primo: To represent the family.

Me: But you just said you hadn’t seen him in decades. Have you at least been in touch with him? Or your aunts? Or your cousins?

Primo: No! I have not even spoken to any of them since I was in high school.

Me: So why are you supposed to go to the funeral?

Primo: Because my dad wants someone from our family there.

Me: Has your dad even visited them?

Primo: I don’t know.

Me: Where is it?

Primo: Connecticut. Not near an airport. Connecting flights.

Me: So not an easy trip.

Primo: No. I would have to take a day to fly there, a day to attend the funeral, and a day to fly back. And I would have to rent a car and stay at a hotel two nights.

Me: Why can’t Ted go? He lives two hours by train from Connecticut. He could go there and back in a day. Plus, it’s not like he has a job. He wouldn’t need to take vacation do attend the funeral of someone he has seen twice in thirty years.

Primo: Yeah, I asked my dad that and he said that Ted says he can’t afford it.

Me: Yet – you are supposed to come up with the cash for a flight to the east coast, a hotel, and a rental car? Why can’t he just send Ted $100 for the train?

Primo: My dad also says that Ted isn't really part of our family. He wants me to represent them.

Me: What does he mean, “Ted isn't part of this family?” Isn't Bob Ted's uncle as much as he is yours?

Primo: Yes.

Me: Wow. I mean – wow. Your dad is a jerk.

Primo: Yes. He already told his sister I would go.

Me: Before asking you?

Primo: Yes.

This is how we save money at our house

Apparently, we buy huge bags of charcoal at Costco so we can refill smaller bags. Who knew?

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Friday, July 14, 2017

Ch 6 Primo doesn’t like how I do cereal IN MY OWN HOUSE and we start arguing about how we will raise children if we have them

Primo: You opened a new box of cereal!

Me: So?

Primo: But you’re supposed to finish the other boxes that are already open first. And you’re not supposed to eat cereal for supper.

Me: Says who?

Primo: It’s the right thing to do. Didn’t your mother teach you?

Me: I don’t care. I wanted this cereal. And this is my house and my cereal, so I win.

Primo: If we have kids, will you let them open the new boxes before finishing the old ones?

Me: Nope.

Primo: Will you open the new box?

Me: Yes.

Primo: What if the kid says, “How come you get to open it and I don’t?”

Me: I’ll say, “When you’re paying the mortgage and buying the groceries, you can open whatever you want.”

Primo: But that’s different rules for kids and for grownups.

Me: So what?

Ch 6 Doris asks Primo if he has put the custom puzzle together yet

Primo: My mom asked if I have put together that puzzle yet.

Me: The one she gave you at Christmas?

Primo: Yes.

Me: Did you tell her?

Primo: Did I tell her that it is unopened on a pile of boxes somewhere?

Me: Yeah.

Primo:  No.

Me: Did you tell her that you will never open it?

Primo: No

Me: Did you tell her that I am trying to convince you to donate it to Goodwill?

Primo: No. I don’t need that drama.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Ch 6 A stranger sends Primo a manatee, a sea turtle, and a jaguar for his birthday, which of course is just what he has been wanting (although at least it’s not a custom-made puzzle, but it’s still not returnable)

Tomorrow is Primo’s birthday. Yes, I am making him those creamed onions again.

Today, three large envelopes – 11”x17" - came in his mail.

He opens envelope number one. He does it very carefully, using one of his three letter openers, because he wants the opening to be flawless (he keeps his bills inside the envelopes they come in, even after they’ve been paid), and slides out the contents.

Which are

·         An 11”x17" photo of a sea turtle
·         A certificate of adoption
·         A calendar. For this year. Even though it’s May so the year is almost half over.

Me: Just what you’ve always wanted. More stuff that serves no purpose whatsoever except to signal the virtue of the gift giver.

He opens the second envelope.

It contains

·         An 11”x17" photo of a wolf
·         A certificate of adoption
·         A calendar

He opens the third envelope.

It contains

·         An 11”x17" photo of a panther
·         A certificate of adoption
·         A calendar

Me: Well. That is something else. Not one, but three adopted animals.

Primo: Uh huh.

Me: Why can't your parents just send normal gifts? Why can't they just send a check? Or something you want?

Primo: We don't know that it's from them.

Me: It is a random gift from someone you don’t know? I guess it could be that.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Chapter 6 Post-visit drama

Sly and Doris did not like the concert, which I should have anticipated because they don’t like anything

Me: Did your mom and dad like the concert?

Primo: No.

Me: Oh. I thought they would like it. You helped me choose it.

Primo: They said that the musicians were amateurs and just not up to par.

Me: Oh. Well, yeah, it was an amateur group, but you’re an amateur and you sing really well.

Primo: My parents don’t like anything.

Me: Do I get credit for trying?

Primo: Probably not.

Stephanie says I should stay with her and Primo laughs because that would start WWIII

Me: Stephanie says we should stay with her when we visit. She says she has more room than your mom and dad.

Primo: Plus she is a lot nicer than they are.

Me: I wasn’t going to say that part.

Primo: My mom and dad would be really insulted.

Me: But – they don’t want me around.

Primo: Yeah, but they want to be the ones to decide that. They would see it as a rejection of them if we stayed at Stephanie's.

Me: I could stay there by myself and you could stay at your mom and dad’s.

Primo: Oh yeah. That would go over well.

Sly sends a copy of their will to Primo and even though I am not a lawyer, I can read and I see that he is not in it         

Primo: My dad sent me a copy of their will.

Me: Why did he send it to you?

Primo: I’m not sure. I am supposed to be the executor.

Me: Whoa. That’s going to be a pain in the neck.

Primo: What do you mean? My dad says it’s an honor.

Me: Are you kidding? It’s a huge hassle. My friend’s parents paid her law school tuition and said that she could pay them back by being their executor. Her dad is a lawyer and a judge, so he knows what’s involved. May I read it?

Primo: Sure.

Me: Hey! Did you know you are not in the will?

Primo: What do you mean, I’m not in the will?

Me: I mean you are not in the will. All the money goes to the grandkids. The only way you get money is if the grandkids die before you do. It’s their money. They get to decide. If that’s what they want to do, it’s their decision. But it’s kind of weird that you would be the executor for a will where you do not benefit, don’t you think?

Primo: What? No, you must be wrong.

Me: I could be. I had a semester of business law in college and a semester of business law in grad school. I have just enough knowledge to be dangerous. But I am probably wrong.

Primo: I guess I need to talk to them.

Me: Yeah, I think so.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Ch 5 Day after Christmas I go to the mission with Stephanie and her dad and he is nice to me, which makes me think that maybe I am not the problem with Sly and Doris

Stephanie: My dad and I are going to the lighthouse museum. I’m a volunteer there, so we can get in for free. Do you and Primo want to go with us? The kids don’t want to go.

Me: Yes! I love lighthouses. Primo and I have wanted to see this one and just haven’t gone yet. We’ve been too busy doing Sly and Doris’ chores. Primo, do you want to go?

Primo: Are you kidding? I need to spend time with my mom and dad. If I leave them to see Stephanie's dad, I’ll never hear the end of it.

Me: How about if I go? Then they can have you all to themselves.

Primo: You know they’re going to complain that you’re avoiding them.

Me: And so? They’ll complain if I stay, too.

Primo: Go. We don’t both have to be miserable.

Stephanie and her dad ring the doorbell half an hour later.

Stephanie'sDad hugs Doris: I had to say “hi” to you. How are you, dear?

Doris smiles and hugs back.

Stephanie'sDad barely makes eye contact with Sly as he shakes his hand.

Ha. Stephanie'sDad knows.

Stephanie turns on the car radio: Oh, Frank Sinatra! I love Frank Sinatra!

Stephanie'sDad : Wonderful voice.

Stephanie: Do you know what Sly said to me once? He said that Sinatra had no talent! None! That he was crap!

Me: He told Primo that Paul McCartney can’t sing. And that Olivia Newton-John has a pleasant enough voice but she is too “breathy.” He can’t bear for someone else to be recognized.

Stephanie: He is envious of everyone. He has to be the big cheese.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Ch 5 Christmas day Primo and I argue about visiting his parents and I learn about the power of co-dependency

Me: Why do you even visit them? It’s nothing but drama. All they do is fight and all you do is their chores. It’s not unreasonable of them to want to see you, but it is unreasonable of them to save all their chores for you and to make your visits so miserable.

Primo: I feel sorry for my mother. My dad can be a real jerk. She doesn’t have any friends – she doesn’t even have Joan anymore. She’s old, she’s broken down, she’s worn out. She has nothing in her life. Nancy took everything out of her. She’s had a really hard life. My dad doesn’t ever want to go anywhere and he doesn’t want her to go out without him.

Me: But your mom can be really nasty. That whole thing with Joan? Wanting to ram a stick up her ass? That was vicious.

Primo: I know. I promise you that is not what my mom used to be like. My dad has made her so mean. And she is scared of my dad. She has nowhere to go – she has to stay in his good graces. Before Nancy died, she was the nicest person in the world. But Nancy's death and my dad’s meanness have turned her vicious. She is so angry at everything.

Me: Yeah, that’s pretty clear.

Primo: I feel guilty that I didn’t help when Nancy was alive. I feel like I owe them something now.

Ch 5 Christmas day Primo repairs the garbage disposal and Sly wants to test it on Christmas day, which is an easy day to get a plumber

Remember that broken garbage disposal? Primo repaired it, spending half the morning on his back underneath the sink.

My advice to everyone: Date an engineer. They can fix things.

The disposal has not been tested yet. After dinner, I start to scrape the dishes into the trash can. There is a lot of wasted food – My People Do Not Waste – and it kills me to throw food away, but I am learning that people who drink a lot of alcohol do not have big appetites.

Sly: Goldie! Put that food down the disposal.

Me: I don’t think I should. The disposal hasn't been working.

Besides, who scrapes leftovers into the disposal? We didn’t have one when I was a kid, so I don’t know all the rules, but should meat and possibly bones go down the disposal? Bones shouldn’t for sure. They should be used to make soup.

Sly: Do it!

Me: What if it breaks again? It will cost an arm and a leg to get a plumber to make an emergency visit on a holiday and that’s if you can find someone who will do it.

Sly looks at me as if I'd sprouted horns. Who would do something so wacky as to call a plumber?

Sly: Primo can fix it.

Me: Oh that's just how I want Primo to spend his vacation.

Muttered to myself, of course. I am going to be the agreeable girlfriend who does not cause drama.

Ch 5 Christmas day I get more of the Joan/Doris story from Primo

Me: I found the letter your mom and dad wrote to the editor – the one that made the neighbor so angry.

Primo: I never read it. Let me see.

Me: Here. What do you think?

Primo: Oh man. Yeah, I can see why Joan would be bothered. My mom told me that after the letter was printed, she saw Joan at the mailbox. Joan told my mom, “Doris, you know that I’m a conservative! I’m not ignorant! I’m not pig-headed! You and I have been friends for years! How can you say these things?”

Me: And?

Primo: My mom says she told Joan that she didn’t mean Joan, of course, but Joan is still upset.

Me: Um. Yeah. I can see that. Personal attacks tend to make people feel personally attacked.

Ch 5 Christmas day Doris alienates the only neighbor they know and we can't borrow a turkey baster after theirs gives up the ghost and there is nowhere to buy one on Christmas day

We start cooking supper mid-afternoon and it doesn’t take long before there is Drama.

As in, the turkey baster bites the dust.

How does that happen, you ask? I am guessing it has something to do with the quality of the product in the first place. Buy nice or buy twice is what I say and I am the original skinflint. Buying poor quality goods is a false economy. You always spend good money on shoes and mattresses. Apparently, you also always spend good money on turkey basters.

Doris opens the oven, reaches in with the baster, aspirates the liquid, and squeezes it over the turkey.

The baster melts. The half with the tip suddenly flops over at a 90 degree angle. A droopy, floppy baster. Not a pretty sight.[1]

Sly: Where’s the phone book, SB?

Me (whispering to Primo): Who’s “SB?”

Primo: It’s one of my dad’s nicknames for my mom.

Me: What does it mean?

Primo: “Shit bird.”

Me: What?

Primo: Yeah. Shit bird.

Me: Your father calls your mother “shit?”

Primo: I think he means it affectionately.

Me: No! By definition, the word “shit” cannot be used to indicate affection. Never ever call me anything like that, please.

And then I wonder about the other Big Issue here – who keeps a phone book anymore? Do you have a phone book? As soon as I get mine, I put it straight into the recycling. I hate the waste and wish there were a way to tell the phone company not to give me one. I never use it. I look information up online.

The only people who have phone books are parents. BlessHerHeart, I’m sure my mom has a phone book. My grandmother does, not that she needs it: After more than 90 years of living in the same community, she knows everyone’s phone numbers by heart.

Sly and Doris have a phone book. Doris finds it after searching through stacks of magazines and papers stuffed between the piano and the wall.

Sly calls Target – they are closed – and then Walmart, the store he loves to hate. He and Doris are big union supporters and think Walmart is a horrible place. Sly belonged to a union when he was a college professor and is a staunch union man.

In word.

In deed, not so much.

Primo: My parents hate Walmart. They say they boycott it, but they still shop there.

Me: Why do they hate it?

Primo: The employees aren’t unionized.

Me: Neither is Target. Do they fake boycott Target?

Primo: I don’t think so.

Me: Why don’t they shop somewhere else? There are a ton of stores around here that aren’t Walmart or Target.

Primo: Walmart has the best prices.

Me: Clearly, your mom and dad are willing to suffer for the cause.

It doesn’t matter. Neither store is open. Can you believe it? A store not open on Christmas? Me neither. You would have thought they would have stayed open for all those last-minute baster emergencies.

Me: Can’t we just borrow one from your neighbors?

I don’t know why we didn’t try this option first.

Sly: We don’t know any of them.

Me: You don’t know any of your neighbors? Haven’t you been here for four years?

I met my immediate neighbors within a week of moving into my house.

Doris: There is Joan next door, but we can’t ask her.

Me: Why not?

Doris: Because she’s a total shit who won’t even look me in the eye anymore just because I wrote a letter to the editor[2] about something she didn’t like. What a bitch.

Me: What did you write?

Doris: It was just something about a local issue. She’s absolutely wrong, of course. How anyone can hold her views, I don’t know. When the letter was printed, she saw me outside and turned around and went back into her garage without saying a word. She hasn’t spoken to me since.

Me: That seems kind of harsh.

Maybe Joan overreacted. Maybe she took that one letter against months – years? – of knowing Doris. Maybe that wasn't fair. Can’t people just get along, even when they disagree on politics? You can disagree without being disagreeable. I have heard.

I am resolved not to argue with Sly or Doris. Keep this visit pleasant. No arguing. No tension. I will do my part and more to eliminate the stress. My response to everything has been, "Hmmm" or "Well" or “I see.”[3] Neutral, non-agreeing responses. If that doesn’t work, I will hide in the bathroom.

Doris: I just want to ram a pole up her ass!

Maybe Joan wasn’t over-reacting.

Me: Oh. Well. Excuse me. I'm going to the bathroom.

While I am in the bathroom, Doris calls Stephanie, who drives over with her baster.

[1] And this is where I should insert a joke about Sly’s Viagra.
[2] From another letter Doris wrote to the editor – [redacted]
[3] Except just now when I asked why they didn’t know any of their neighbors after four years.

Ch 5 Christmas day I am hungry but there is nothing for lunch except for the snacks I bought at the store the other day and have tucked inside my suitcase

Merry Christmas to you, too! Are you hungry? I AM! I should stuff myself at breakfast, but honestly, there is only so much a person can eat in one meal.

The Y, shockingly, is not open on Christmas. There are no plans for lunch in the house and I am guessing that even if I can think of an excuse to leave, I will not find an open restaurant or grocery store.

I should eat the supper leftovers. Dinner last night was not terrible – it was marinated flank steak that we ate after I got back from church. I don’t even think Sly and Doris noticed I was gone. Primo grilled it, so it was done properly. I could eat cold steak on crackers and that would be OK.

Forbidden food should have a sign on it.

And then in a few months, Sly and Doris will complain to Primo about Ted’sWife eating all the herring and my eating all the flank steak. But I won’t care because I won’t be there and I won’t be hungry.

But my defense, if I could make one, would be something along the lines of, "What? That wasn't lunch? But I was hungry from being at the gym and I needed to eat something before spending three hours clearing out all the weeds in the back yard/cleaning the mildew off the front door/cleaning out the garage/cleaning out the fridge, etc., etc., etc."

Yes, I know I am not going to the Y or doing the big chores on Christmas, but the principle is the same – I am their guest and I have done chores for them that make me hungry and they need to feed me.

Ch 5 Christmas day We exchange our Christmas gifts, which is torture for me because 1. I have to smile and be nice to Sly and Doris and 2. My family is not big into gifts of stuff – we consider being together the gift

Doris gets me everything on the list I made of gift ideas. Everything. Every single thing.

Doris 1, Goldie 0. Or Goldie negative one for apparent greed.

Me: You told her that was just ideas, right? You didn’t tell her I expected everything on it. I expected just one of these things. One. Actually, I didn’t want anything at all.

Primo: Of course I didn’t tell her to get everything. She just goes overboard. She’s like that.

Try to look at it as a generous gesture, I tell myself. See the good in it.

Doris gives Primo a custom jigsaw puzzle of a map of his neighborhood.

Primo: Um…. Thanks, Mom.

He shoots me a confused look.

Doris sees the look: You got one for me for my birthday a few years ago.

Primo: Yes. Dad told me that’s what you wanted.  

Doris: And then you helped me put it together. I thought you liked putting it together. I thought you would like one of your own.

Just what everyone wants: a custom gift that he didn’t want that cannot be exchanged.

I have a small gift for Sly and Doris - tickets for a classical music choral concert. Sly and Doris listen to nothing but classical music. I consulted Primo to make sure his mom and dad would like the music. I got aisle seats so it would be easier for them to get in and out.

Primo didn’t hear pop music until he went to college, where he went a little overboard and bought everything he liked. He says that Britney Spears actually is a good singer and that his collection of Britney Spears CDs has nothing to do with his childhood deprivation and the inability to learn good judgment at a young age.

Indeed, Primo so threw himself into pop music – including music from before we were in college – that his superpower now is that he has to hear only one song on the Sunday morning re-broadcast of Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 to know which year the show aired.

That, my friends, is the impressive result of listening to a lot of pop music.

Parents, your children will rebel if you deny them things. Look at what happened to me with TV. We didn’t have TV when I was a kid – partly because we lived abroad but mostly because my parents were concerned we wouldn’t read enough if we had one.

Once I had a chance, I watched nothing but trash. Ask me anything about Three’s Company. Anything at all. I have watched it. And The Ropers. I had not learned to be discriminating. Better to inoculate your kids with small doses of pop culture and junk food so they won’t feel deprived and go overboard later.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Ch 5 Monday Christmas Eve I go to church because it’s Christmas Eve and I go alone because Primo does not want to incur The Wrath of the Drunken Atheist Sly, who is not a Live and Let Live Atheist like all of my atheist friends, including my friend Jessica, the atheist UU pastor, but is a, “Anyone who doesn’t agree with me is stupid” atheist (and everything else)

Me: It’s Christmas Eve. We need to go to Midnight Mass.

Primo: You want to go at midnight? You hate staying up late.

Me: Let me see what’s here. Oh. No, the church near here only has an evening service. No Midnight Mass. They are not doing it right.

Primo: So are you going to skip it?

Me: No! I guess we can just go to the evening service. It’s at 6:00, so we have an hour.

Primo: I don’t think it’s a good idea if I go with you. Right now, I just need to keep my dad from blowing up at my mom. He doesn’t need any ammunition.

Me: Oh right. They’ve been drinking for an hour.

Primo: Yeah, and my dad is in a bad mood and he lashes out at my mom when he is in a bad mood. I don’t want to leave her alone with him and I sure don’t want to give him a trigger.

Me: Going to church with me would be a trigger?

Primo: You know what my dad thinks about people who believe in God. He thinks they are stupid and deluded.

Me: I haven’t heard him call anyone “stupid.”

Primo: He doesn’t use that word, but he manages to get his point across.

Me: He’s just so – tolerant.

Primo: I know. Would you mind going without me? It’s just not worth the risk.

Me: He won’t get mad that even I am going?

Primo: I think I can distract him. Just take the car – just sneak out and don’t say anything.


Ch 5 Monday Christmas Eve I ask Stephanie who will raise Michael and Maria if she dies and she is bewildered that I would ask such a stupid question to which there is such an obvious answer

Me: Who will take the kids if you die before they are grown?

Stephanie: That’s a weird thing to ask!

Me: I know, but it came up in conversation the last time I was here and I just had to know. Sly is very concerned that he and Doris would be raising your children.

Stephanie: What? Jack would have them! He’s their FATHER!

Me: And if Jack dies, too?

Stephanie: No. No. My brother. I made sure about that. Those two will never get my children. Never. Why would they even think that? 

Ch 5 Monday Christmas Eve Stephanie and I compare notes about Sly and Doris and discover we are in agreement that they are not very nice to their grandchildren

Stephanie: Sly and Doris are nagging the kids about how they are paying for college.

Me: What do you mean?

Stephanie: They want to send them these emails telling them what to do. I am glad they want to help, but they can be nasty.

Me: Yes I am indeed aware.

Stephanie: Let me show you the email Sly and Doris wanted to send to Maria and Michael. Doris sent it to me first to get my permission.

Me: She sent it to you first?

Stephanie: Yeah, I know. Weird, but at least this way, some of the worst emails never make it to the kids. And they blind copy everyone on everything. Anyhow, look at this. They wanted to send this to Maria and Michael.

Dear Maria and Michael,

I'm glad we talked today about the issues surrounding your college education.  You probably know that "going to college" was always a given when talking about your futures. Your parents and grandparents assumed that college was where you belonged because you were good students and seemed to have the attitude that schoolwork was important.

I realize that you might have been surprised when grandpop asked if you had put any money away toward college.  For years now you have been given money as gifts from several sources (lately gifts were more likely to be gift cards to stores). He simply thought that you might have put some money aside for the future.

You have always enjoyed the relative leisure of getting and having your needs generously supplied by family/friends.  You haven't learned the necessary discipline of contributing to your own acquisition of luxury items. As I have observed, you always have had more than enough clothes, all the electronic gadgetry that was available, unlimited movies/videos and gaming programs. This was true despite the fact that your Dad couldn't meet the monetary needs of his family and that your Mom lost her employment as thousands of others have during this serious economic downturn. When people can't afford things, they have to understand they can't and act accordingly. You have to face the facts that there is no magic moneytree to underwrite your expenses in life.

Me: Wow. That’s kind of harsh. You told her no, right?

Stephanie: Well duh.

Me: I don’t get it, though. Have the kids been asking them for money?

Stephanie: No! They both work! They both have jobs! They have never asked Sly and Doris for money and have never expected money from them.

Me: And when Sly and Doris gave them these gifts, did they say, “Don’t spend this – you need to save it for college?”

Stephanie: Nope.

Me: Have you and Jack ever talked to Sly and Doris about their funding the kids’ college education?

Stephanie: No! Why would we? They are our children, not Sly and Doris’. We do not expect them to pay for our children.

Me: This is just out of nowhere?

Stephanie: Yep.

Me: I don’t know what to say. My grandparents were always nothing but nice to me. And they never interrogated me about my finances. My grandma used to send me $25 on my birthday and I wouldn’t cash the check because I had a job and they were on a very small, fixed income. All I ever did with them is bake and play cards and hang out.

Stephanie: That’s how my dad is with them. He thinks they are great kids and he loves to be around them and they love to be around him.

Me: He doesn’t take them to lectures about global warming?

Stephanie: Umm. No. My dad takes them bowling.

Me: That sounds like a lot more fun.

Stephanie: It’s like they don’t know how to be nice. I call Sly and Doris every week to see if they need anything. Last month, they told me that there was a problem under the sink – that there was a loose screw. I told them I would come over and fix it. They told me no, they would just wait until Primo gets there.

Me: But you could fix it. It's not that hard. They would rather wait a month for Primo to get here?

Stephanie: That’s what I said! But they said I was too busy and they didn't want to bother me.

Me: But Primo is not busy? It's not OK for you to drive 15 minutes but it's OK for Primo to fly 1,000 miles and use his limited vacation time to do their chores? I mean, it’s not OK for you to be bothered with it, either, of course, but you offered. And you go there to help them anyhow. Which is way, way nicer than I would ever be. You are a saint.

Stephanie: They only want Primo. Drives me nuts. They won't even ask Jack, who lives 45 minutes away and is here once a week to have dinner with the kids to do anything. Only Primo.

Me: I do not get them.

Stephanie: Me, neither.

Me: Hey what’s the deal with your not being able to load a dishwasher? They spend a lot of time on that one.

Stephanie: Ted’sWife and I loaded it one time that it got clogged. It wasn’t because of how we loaded it but because it's a crappy dishwasher. I know how to load a dishwasher. I use my dishwasher all the time and there is never a problem. Ted’sWife knows how to load a dishwasher. They have crappy appliances is the problem. Honestly, they will complain about anything. You know what, though? I don’t care anymore. They need me more than I need them. I’m not letting them get to me.

Me: Why do you even call them? They are your ex in laws.

Stephanie: I feel sorry for Doris. She used to be different. She has no friends and she is stuck with Sly all day long. She can’t drive anymore and he won’t drive her anywhere. He is abusive. She was so nice when Nancy was alive, but after Nancy died, Doris gave up. She doesn’t have it in her to fight Sly anymore.

Me: OK. This is starting to make some sense. But man, Nancy sounded like a nightmare.

Stephanie:  I loved Nancy. She had problems, but she was fun. She was super smart and super funny. We would hang out, do our nails. But she hated Sly. She was awful to him. She wouldn’t even leave her room when he was around. She would ask, “Is That Man downstairs?” I felt sorry for him.

Me: Really?

Stephanie: Well. In those moments. But now –

Me: He is kind of a jerk, I think.

Stephanie: He is not a nice person.

Ch 5 Monday Christmas Eve I meet Stepahnie's dad, who is the anti-Sly – if they were in the same room together, there would be an explosion and perhaps life on earth would cease to exist

 Me: I’m starving!

I spot a bag of bakery pretzels on the counter.

Me: May I?

Stephanie: They’re old. Really old. They’re getting stale. But help yourself. My dad brought them from Philly.

Me: Your dad’s here?

I grab a pretzel twist out of the bag. It is a little hard, but not too hard to eat. I grab another as I follow Stephanie into the living room.

Stephanie: He drove down three days ago. He just went upstairs to get something. Oh – there he is. Dad, this is Goldie, Primo's girlfriend. Goldie, this is my dad, Stephanie’sDad Last Name.

Me: Nice to meet you, Mr. Stephanie’sDad’s Last Name.

Stephanie’s dad: Goldie! Stephanie has told me about you! It’s a pleasure to meet you at last. Please, call me Stephanie’sDad. I heard you say you’re hungry. Stephanie, let’s feed this woman. You want a drink? What do you want to drink? A pop? Water? What can I get for you?

(NB Stephanie and her dad are from South Philly. There is an accent specific to that area that I cannot capture so I am not even going to try. But if you know the South Philly accent, imagine anything from Stephanie’s mouth and from Stephanie’sDad’s mouth with the accent.)

Me: Water would be fine. But I can get it.

Stephanie’s dad: No, no, no. Let me. Stephanie, let’s warm up some of that gravy I brought. I’m hungry, too. Let’s have some lunch. Goldie, I made the gravy last week and put it in the freezer to bring it down with me.

Me: Gravy?

Stephanie: You know. Gravy.

Me: Your dad froze gravy to bring with him?

Stephanie: Oh! No! Not like gravy from meat. For spaghetti. Tomato sauce.

Me: I’ve never heard it called that.

Stephanie: But that’s what everyone calls it!

Me: Not in Texas!

Stephanie: Well, now you know the right way to call it. And you’ll get to taste what it should taste like. My dad makes the best gravy.

We sit at the kitchen counter and eat. It is delicious. It is delicious gravy.

(I feel so cool that I can refer to “gravy.”)

Stephanie: Goldie has been finding out what life is like with Sly and Doris.

Stephanie’s dad: That Doris. She was something else. She was a looker. When Stephanie married Jack, I tell you. That woman was something. A nice, nice lady.

I raise my eyebrows in doubt.

Stephanie’s dad: Yes. She is a special lady. She’s changed – she’s had some rough times. Don’t judge her by how she is now. That husband of hers – he does not treat her right. I ignore him, but she is a nice lady. She has had very bad times, but before – she is a lovely lady.

Me: Stephanie’sDad, I don’t want to be impertinent, but how old are you?

Stephanie’sDad: How old do you think I am?

I study him carefully. Stephanie is my age, so he can’t be much younger than his mid-60s unless he got an early start on fatherhood.

Me: Early 70s?

Stephanie’sDad: I’m 84 years old.

Me: Eighty four! You’re much older than Sly and Doris.

Stephanie’sDad: You have to stay young up here. You can’t give up on life. And I’m lucky that I don’t have anything wrong with me physically. I play golf every day. I volunteer at the rehab center and teach golf to some of the patients. I have old people I visit. I take them lunch. I have things to do. I don’t have time to act old.