33. Saturday Morning Crazy

33. Saturday Morning Crazy

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Family Matters


Saturday Morning Crazy

The family—that dear octopus from whose tentacles we never quite escape, nor, in our inmost hearts, ever quite wish to.

~Dodie Smith

The phone rang for the first time that Saturday morning when my brother called at ten o’clock. “I’m very upset,” he began. I’d heard that before. I cradled the phone between my ear and my shoulder, reached for the dust rag, and started polishing furniture. I sensed this was going to be a long conversation. Certainly, I could console him and get some housework done at the same time. Twenty minutes later, my job was done. I had sparkling woodwork, and my brother was no longer “very upset.”

In the meantime, a dull ache had started at my temples, so I sat down to finish my morning coffee, which was by this time, of course, cold. I placed the cup in the microwave and set the timer. Then the phone rang. Again. This time it was my father.

“Yeah,” he started out, “I called the place, and they didn’t get the thing for the thing.”

Now, I’m usually pretty good at deciphering my father’s cryptic speech. After all, I’ve had over forty years of experience. Yet, this remark was beyond even my level of comprehension. “What?” I asked.

“You know. The thing for the thing. The one we talked about the other day.”

For a moment I felt like I was in a scene from the movie, Goodfellas, where several of the characters communicate in code just in case the Feds have placed a tap on their phones. “I can’t understand you,” I explained. “You’ll have to give me a little more information.”

“The thing that goes to the bank every month.” He clucked his tongue. “You know. The thing.”

The ache in my temples spread across the crown of my head. I closed my eyes in concentration. “The thing… the thing… for insurance.” Suddenly, I got it. “Do you mean the automatic deduction for your health insurance premium?”

“Yes,” my father huffed at my denseness, “finally.”

“Did you call the insurance company to find out why?”

“No.”

I’d better handle this, I decided. No customer representative, however well-trained, would ever understand an eighty-four-year-old man calling for information about “the thing for the thing.” I ended our conversation and dialed his insurance carrier. A cheery recorded voice advised me that business hours were Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., so I disconnected and dialed Dad.

“What am I going to do now? What if I get sick over the weekend? Or have an accident?” he asked. “I won’t have any insurance.”

“Well, stay put and don’t make any dangerous maneuvers,” I responded in an attempt at humor.

Dad clucked his tongue again. “Everything is a big joke with you.”

“Wait a second,” I remarked. “What’s today’s date?”

“The third.”

“And what day of the month does the deduction usually take place?”

“The sixth.”

“There’s your answer,” I said.

“Oh… heh, heh. I just got the dates mixed up again.”

Yep, you did, I thought, as I hung up the phone. I placed my cup in the microwave once more; maybe now I could finish my coffee. I sat down and took a few long sips of the warm liquid. Really, I thought, was I the only one in this family who could think clearly? Then the phone rang. Again. This time it was my cousin.

“Uh, hi, how you doin’?” he started shyly. “Umm, what are you doing for Christmas this year?”

“Same as always. Cooking for the family.”

“Can I come to your house, too?”

“Of course,” I answered.

“And could I bring a friend?”

“Sure.”

“And could you make that rigatoni I like?”

“Yes, I’ll make it.”

I reached for my ever-expanding to-do list. Two more guests and one more entrée. Sure, no problem. No problem at all. I really wasn’t counting on any additional work so close to the holiday, yet it came as no surprise; my cousin always did like my cooking best.

My stomach groaned, and my head throbbed. I checked the clock: 12:30. Breakfast had been a wipe-out. Maybe I’d have better luck with lunch. I spilled my stale coffee down the drain, grabbed a can of soup from the cabinet, popped the top, and poured its contents into a bowl. I set the microwave timer, and after its chirp, I sat and spooned the first comforting taste to my lips.

“What did you do with the sooooap?” my husband howled from the shower. “I need a new bar of sooooap!”

My spoon dropped with a clang, sending bits of vegetables and alphabets across the kitchen table. Oh, for goodness sake. I took a deep breath. I’m not going to react, I promised myself. I’m going to stay calm. I breathed again. Then, to use strictly clinical terms, I lost it.

“That’s it!” I screamed as I pounded into the bathroom. I yanked open the cabinet door, grabbed a new bar of soap, and threw it into the bathtub. “I’ve had it with this family!” I cried. “I’m moving to a place where there is no family.”

My husband peeked around the shower curtain. “Oh, yeah? And where would that be?”

“Over in no-family-land. Where I can eat and drink in peace, and the phone doesn’t ring, and I don’t have to cook at Christmas, and people like you can just find their own soap.”

My head spun, and I could feel my blood pressure rising. I stumbled into the bedroom, turned on the radio, and lay down on the bed. After a few minutes, my husband tip-toed in and dressed quietly at the foot of the bed. Just as quietly, he left the room and returned holding my coat in his hand.

“C’mon,” he said as he extended the coat toward me, “I’ll take you out for lunch. Afterward, I’ll drop you off at the airport. I’m pretty sure there’s a flight to no-family-land leaving later tonight.” He shot me a sly smile, “That is, if you really want to go.”

No, I didn’t really want to go. I didn’t hate my family. I loved them. And I had to admit that their neediness was, in part, my own fault. In a way, be it rational or mad, I liked how they needed me. It made me feel useful, important. Whenever they asked for help or advice, I felt valued. And more importantly, when they gathered around my table, I felt loved, even if sometimes that love was overwhelming.

I shrugged into my coat and headed for the door. Then the phone rang. I grabbed my purse and stepped across the threshold. Whoever was calling would just have to wait until later to love me.

~Monica A. Andermann

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