Eugene Buchanan: Mom for the holidays
December 29, 2011
Steamboat Springs — She's gone. There, I said it. While we all have moms and other relatives who visit for the holidays, staying in tight quarters can often be taxing. Especially if your mom's more eccentric than most.
It started when we arrived home at 6 p.m. Christmas Eve to find her car parked in our driveway and her sitting on the couch inside in pitch darkness. "There you are…I couldn't find a light switch!" she exclaimed after I opened the front door and flipped on the switch, right where it was supposed to be.
We were more than happy to have her for a few days over the holidays. Then the bombshell hit. "Oh, I'm staying until Thursday!" she enthused, doubling her expected stay.
That's not to say we didn't welcome her or she didn't contribute. Among her food items: a half-full packet of wild rice that would feed two kindergarteners. My wife quickly noticed the expiration date of March 2010. "Rice doesn't expire," mom countered.
She controlled the pace of the next day's present-opening as much as she did foodstuffs. "Don't open that yet," she admonished our youngest as she reached for her stocking.
Her own presents came straight from the heart. I got a complete John McPhee collection of eight books, well-used with other people's markings in the margins. The highlight was a full-sized globe, which she ended up taking back to return for a cheaper model. It also led to an hour-long diatribe on Middle East history and policy. The crux came when she gave our oldest daughter an ankle-length Buchanan plaid skirt she made in the 1970s (a recipient since childhood of Buchanan plaid boxers and scarves, I was thankfully spared). Forget that it's the ugliest plaid imaginable, a cacophony of yellow, greens and reds that matched our daughter's puke from Christmas Eve. The mothball smell trumped all. "You can't marry into plaid," my wife said, holding her nose to both odor and design.
On night three she made salad and French Onion soup – just the bellyful I craved after playing in a hockey tournament all day – washed down with a bottle of "expensive" wine. Ever the suspect, earlier my wife noticed that she had put a Zip-lock bag of moldy bacon in the fridge. As she took her last bite, she whispered, "Is this that bacon?" Sure enough, at the bottom of her bowl lay three small strips of the Grinch-colored flesh.
It was coincidence, of course, that our nine-year-old hurled her guts out two nights earlier on Christmas Eve, desecrating four comforters. But when my wife felt post-pork nausea, we connected the dots as if playing my daughter's Dollar Store stocking stuffer.
My mom, you see, has a garbage disposal for a stomach that's less particular than most other digestive systems. I came home for lunch one day, ate an apple and threw the core in the trash, and she fished it out, wiped the coffee grinds off and chomped in – all in front of my wide-mouthed daughter. Despite her intestinal toughness, she is allergic to cats, which might be why we have two — maybe next year our kids will find another one under the tree.
And like cats, at restaurants she feels a compelling need to lick everyone's plate clean before the server can collect them. "She's not done yet!" she exclaimed when our waiter tried to remove our daughter's plate, a lone pea wobbling near the rim. I could only slink in my chair hoping I didn't know him. And even when she treats, you have to sneak back to add in more of a tip.
Toward the end of her stay she actually received an invitation from someone else of the elderly persuasion to go to gathering. But she missed the opportunity because she couldn't figure out how to answer our phone, fumbling with the TV remote instead.
While that might have gotten her out of our hair for a spell, she got back into it the final night when, in a moment of weakness, I agreed to let my 12-year-old play barber on me. It wouldn't have been so bad were it not for my mom swooping in like the cavalry. "Oh, I can fix it!" she exclaimed. Soon both were doting around my head with scissors as I sat resigned to my fate (notice that there's no mugshot with this column?). "Looks a little longer on skier's left," said a friend shortly afterward.
On the bright side, she didn't get lost up on Emerald Mountain or slurp tomato juice off the counter like she has before, and she only forced us to watch one of her avant-garde DVDs. She might have micro-analyzed my investment portfolio, parked with her bumper overlapping our front step, and called a mem-stick of photos a joy-stick, but she also brought that same joy to our holidays. Despite her quirks, we love her tons and look forward to every visit. And next time, we'll leave the light on…