25. Busted

25. Busted

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Family Matters


Nature abhors a vacuum. And so do I.

~Anne Gibbons

“Okay, now I am nervous,” my boyfriend Jesse said, steering his Corolla onto the street where I lived as a child. It was the first time I was taking him home to meet my parents.

“Don’t be nervous. I am not worried about them meeting you,” I assured him. “I am worried about what you will think when you meet them.”

My innermost thoughts were a little different. “Please, God, don’t let him think we are a bunch of Froot Loops.”

I loved my family, but their nutty characteristics, especially those of my mother, challenged my own sanity. Even I, who had been subjected to their eccentricities for thirty years, considered taking up drinking for family get-togethers.

In the past, I had a strict rule for myself—keep any potential mate away from the family as long as possible. But this guy was special, and against my better judgment, I broke my rule and took him to my mom’s autumn dinner—the one she had every year to “welcome fall.” I know. How could I not see it coming?

As we pulled into my parents’ driveway I breathed a sigh of relief because we had dodged the first landmine. When one of my college roommates came home with me for a visit once, my jaw dropped when we drove up to a yard full of lumpy sheets. When I explained that my mom hated losing her flowers to fall’s homicidal freezes, my friend said, “Does she tuck them in and tell them a goodnight story, too?” Taking guests home during the summer wouldn’t alleviate the problem. The fruit trees would be covered with aluminum pie pans to scare away the birds.

That day, I looked at the bright red front door and took a deep breath. Beyond the threshold lay a minefield of idiosyncrasies waiting to be triggered.

I cringed to think of the sticky notes lying around willy-nilly. Mom is a little forgetful, so she leaves herself notes. One time, one of my friends pointed out a sticky note on the refrigerator that simply said, “Satan 7 p.m.” PBS was airing an educational documentary on dangers of the occult, and Mom didn’t want to miss it, so she left herself a reminder note. You can’t fault her for a lack of brevity.

Then there were Mom’s decorations. She has a special place in her heart for silk flowers, artificial plants, and a host of fake woodland creatures. She could run a Hallmark store out of her house. The fireplace mantel in the living room is her special showcase, elaborately decorated each holiday. Thank goodness it wasn’t February. With all the heart-shaped lights, the living room looks more like a Vegas wedding chapel. Rightfully, that would have made my boyfriend of a month run pell-mell from the house, never to be seen again.

The dinner itself would involve everyone sitting down and starting to eat, only for my mother to suddenly yell out, “Oh, I forgot the salt!” Or, “Oh, I forgot the butter!” Years ago, I began putting the salt and butter right in front of her plate before dinner, but Mom is a creature of habit and yells anyway. Then there was the worst-case scenario. She could burst out with “Oh, I forgot my Beano!”

Then my younger sister, who might drop in for dinner, could display her conversational finesse. At one Christmas gathering, she described target practice with her new gun in one breath, and then in the next declared herself legally blind.

She and my mom would probably get into a colorful “discussion.” My dad, who has complained for years about his hearing loss, would sit and watch, eyes volleying between wife and daughter like he was at a tennis match. Then he would leave the room and “not hear” anyone for an hour or longer, depending on the escalation of the debate. I’m tempted to tell him that no one would blame him if he were faking. Really, it’s a coping mechanism. My brother realizes we are a normal-challenged family. He wouldn’t be able to make it that day.

I took another deep breath, took Jesse’s hand, and we walked to the door. My dad let us in and explained that my mom was downstairs finishing a few tasks.

At first, she had her back to us, rag in hand when we stepped off the basement stairs’ landing. Then she turned around. I stared in horror. She was wearing a filtration mask on the lower quadrant of her face.

“Oh, hello,” Mom said, cheerful voice muffled by the mask. She said it unabashedly as if she welcomed first-time guests into her home every day wearing a face mask. Who knows, I hadn’t lived there in a while, so maybe this was her new thing. She finally put the dust rag down and slid off the mask.

“I have to wear this mask while I clean,” she explained. “You know how my allergies act up if I get dust up my nose.” No, I didn’t know. And no, I didn’t want to know. But when you live in a family like mine, you find out regardless.

We made it through the introductions and the dinner, and other than the business with the mask, we made it through the night without incident. Almost… until I picked up the family calico and rubbed her head while she purred. When I put her down, there was cat hair all over my red sweater. I asked Mom if she had a lint roller I could use.

“No, but wait just a minute,” she said. She disappeared for a few seconds and returned with her hand vacuum. I froze. No, she wouldn’t. But, yes, she would. She flicked the on switch and came toward me. Panicked, I sprinted down the hall like she was Leatherface with a chain saw. She caught me and started running the Dustbuster over my sweater. All the while, I was flailing and wailing, “No, no! It’s okay!” But the damage was done. I had been Dustbusted by my mother in front of my boyfriend. When most people I know tell stories of being “busted” by their parents, it has a whole other connotation.

It was clear that I had found the right man when, despite the fact that my mother hand-vacuumed me the first time he met her at that fall dinner, Jesse continued to date me. One day a few years later, we even said “I do” while my whole family watched, admittedly looking and faking normal effectively. And amid the shiny white wrappings on the church gift table was a present from my mother that still graces our home today: a Dustbuster.

Don’t worry. I don’t have any plans of “busting” my own kids. At least not the way my mother “busted” me!

~Janeen Lewis

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