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Archive for the ‘Autobiography’ Category

The Candy Man

“What was the last piece of candy that you gave someone else?”

Candy isn’t something I give to other people.  I rarely buy it for myself, so it would never occur to me to give it to other people.  Not even Easter candy – we never actually did the Easter-Bunny thing in our house.  When you have the sumptuousness of a Russian Orthodox paschal meal – the kielbasa! the kulich! the pascha! – who needs candy?!  (For the uninitiated, “kulich” is a sweet bread baked in a high cylindrical form, and “pascha” is a very rich cheese concoction made of farmer cheese, heavy cream, butter, and almonds, among other things.)

But I did once work with a man who would distribute mini-candy bars at break time, and he was a character.

When I started out with this company, they had just expanded from twelve workers to thirty-six.  We all sat around long tables, ten or twelve of us to a table, and we read compositions written by fourth-, eighth- and eleventh-graders.  Or we reviewed their efforts in Math, Reading, and Arts and Humanities.  Yes, I worked for one of those firms that does standardized educational testing for a variety of states, and I can tell you, that work is both entertaining and phenomenally boring at the same time.

There was the Best Friend of the Year Award prompt:  “Nominate your best friend for the Best Friend of the Year Award.  Be specific.”  The goal was to make sure they could put together a coherent composition in standard English.  After awhile, “She brings me up when I’m feeling down” and “He’s always there for me” become so routine that you find yourself dreaming about them, and well-written but unimaginative compositions begin to look like they were written by William Faulkner.

We had three breaks:  two 15-minute breaks, and half an hour for lunch.  Half an hour for lunch isn’t much, but you would not have wanted to combine all the breaks into a one-hour lunch break; your mind really needed to relax from so much mediocrity.  Coffee worked for the 10:00 a.m. break, but by 2:00, you were at the climbing-walls stage.  This is when George would bring out his bags of candy, and distribute miniature Snickers or Three Musketeers bars to each of the scorers.

George was a short, very thin man; over time I learned that he had picked up celiac sprue in his travels around the globe for an Unspecified Government Agency, and was unable to eat anything with wheat.  He spoke a number of foreign languages, including Arabic and Farsi, and was very well read in all the languages he spoke.  It’s tempting to ask what on earth such a man was doing at a job like ours, but the thing about this job was that it wasn’t steady work, and if you were unable to show up for a project, you had the freedom to turn it down – or to leave in the middle of it, as George did during the Gulf War of 1991.  Hmmmm.

He had Sources for any number of things; many of us bought stamps from him in rolls of 100, for example.  Hey, it saved us a trip to the post office.  If we’d been working in Russia, I’d have suspected him of being a black marketeer.  But his specialty was candy.  I don’t know where he got those bags of candy from; it can’t have been the supermarket, or he’d have gone bankrupt.  I mean, every afternoon there was a candy bar at each place, and you’d see him wandering around, distributing it.  We’d make pro-forma protests, for the sake of our Girlish Figures (!); but we knew, and he knew, how desperately a sugar burst was needed to get us through that last ninety minutes till the end of the work day.

George passed on some time ago; I guess all his adventures caught up with him, and he is now beyond needing to read empty-headed compositions written by children who would rather be doing anything else.  I picture him standing at the pearly gates, bag of candy in hand, scanning entrants for small, bewildered children and handing them a treat instantly recognizable as the one guaranteed consoler of small, bewildered children:  candy.

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Talk about a memory tied to a certain candy, especially if it involves another person or a place.”

Oops, looks like I pre-empted today’s prompt yesterday.  I guess that’s what happens when you take things day to day, as I tend to do now that I’m retired.

But, especially now that I’m halfway through my seventh decade of life (did I just write that?!), I do enjoy sharing memories of a time increasingly distant, and since part of this prompt mentions memories tied to another person or a place, I’d like to run with that.  It does mean getting off the Sweet topic, but sweets really never were a big part of my life.

It’s August now, hot and humid, and every year around this time the memory of my grandmother’s yard surfaces.  As I’ve mentioned, my stepfather was Polish, and his mother was a farm girl from the Old Country; she never did learn to read or write, but there wasn’t much she didn’t know about growing things.  The part of her yard that fronted the street was a riot of flowers, a plot at least 10 x 20, and things grew there all summer long.  I don’t know what they were; I doubt she knew their names in English, and since she was the only gardener I knew, there wasn’t a hope of my knowing what they were, either.  Nor was her garden laid out in tidy beds, so that you could point to a flower and ask, “What’s that?”  Grandma’s flower garden looked like she had taken packets of seeds and broadcast them into fresh-dug earth, and then she tended whatever came up.  It certainly flourished.

In the back of the yard (which was really the size of a house plot) was where she kept her vegetable garden.  Those beds were tidier, and it was easier to recognize what she was growing there.  She had peppers, onions, beets, potatoes, carrots, parsnips, peas, green beans, and she must have grown her own horseradish, too, because she certainly made her own horseradish every Easter.  I don’t know how she did it.  It was the best stuff to eat, but grating it must have cleared out her throat and lungs for the rest of the year.

Early in my childhood, she also kept chickens, but two of her sons lived in the same house as she did, and as their families grew, I guess she felt that the chickens weren’t safe among so many little savages, because they disappeared by the time I was ten.  One of my uncles had six kids, the other had nine, and then there were the grandchildren who didn’t live there but visited regularly; we probably terrified the chickens by our sheer numbers.  The rest of the yard, and this is why I refer to it as a “yard” and not a “garden,” was given over to play equipment for the hordes of savages:  swing sets, slides, eventually a huge above-ground pool where my cousins disported themselves all summer long.

I guess I was 20 or 21 when I paid my grandmother a visit one hot August afternoon.  I’m not sure where the cousins were, but I do remember that it was uncharacteristically quiet that day.  My grandmother was watching soap operas, but she turned the TV off so we could visit, and we spent a bit of time chatting in the cool of her basement apartment.

“Come out into the backyard,” she said suddenly, and rose, shuffling the length of the house from front to back; she had terrible arthritis.  She made her way up the steps from the cellar into the yard with a pot in her hand; I assumed she was planning to dig up some vegetables for her supper.  Instead, she began pulling up grass by the handful, long stalks that grew next to the fence that bordered her vegetable garden.  I offered to help, but she was content with her grass-pulling, so I just sat and watched her.

When she had filled the pot in her hand, she hobbled back into the kitchen of her apartment, rinsed off the grass, chopped it, filled the pot with water, and began to cook it.  To say I was floored is an understatement.  It would never have occurred to me that my grandmother might be senile, especially since we had just been conversing lucidly, but – cooking grass?!  Where was she going with that one?!  After half an hour or so, she turned the flame off and ladled the grass soup into two bowls, and set one before me.  Yikes.  But what could I do?  She was the only grandmother I had, and I loved her and didn’t want to offend her.  So I picked up my spoon and ate.

It was delicious.  I’ve never tasted anything like it, before or since.  I couldn’t wait to get home and tell Dad about this wonderful stuff his mother had made.  “Oh, yeah, schav,” he said, when I told him.  “Do you make it from just any grass?” I asked.  “No, you need sorrel grass,” he said.

I’ve never eaten it since that summer.  Never found sorrel grass to grow, and frankly, I’m not sure it would grow for me; I have the blackest thumb in the neighborhood, if not in the entire Northeast.  Once I looked it up online and found that a couple of Jewish food companies actually sell it prepared, as they do borscht; but it doesn’t appear to be for sale anywhere but in the New York City area, and even though I’m from there, I haven’t been back home in over twenty years.  I’ve long since lost my taste for city living.

My grandmother has been on my mind a lot lately, probably because lately I find myself hobbling more and more the way she did, as her arthritis progressed.  It’s a little strange to think of myself as being as old as my grandmother, especially since she had so many skills I’ll never acquire.  Like making schav from scratch.

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“What candy did you eat once that you wish you could get again?” is the prompt from NaBloPoMo, and in the meantime, WordPress’s Daily Post has issued a challenge:  Going from Mundane to Meaningful.  Goodness, two tasks.

As strange as it sounds to me – I can’t think of a single candy I would wish to eat again.  Not even the handmade chocolate bunnies that my mother used to buy at Easter, from a candy shop owned by an in-law of her father’s.  I’m sure it was excellent candy, but like pearls cast before swine, we little piglets just wolfed it down (so to speak), and I can’t even remember what it tasted like anymore.

Not even the fruit bonbons that my grandmother kept in a dish on her coffee table, desirably mainly because if we had touched them, we would probably have lost a hand – my mother somehow had this idea that Other People’s Candy was out for show only.  Maybe it was.  But over the decades, the appeal of hardened sugar water, or whatever candy consists of, has waned.

No, wait a minute.  Come to think of it…I actually do have a good candidate.  The year I was fifteen, my grandfather came to New Hampshire to visit his son, and I was spending the summer with that same son, who happened to be my godfather.  My grandfather, a great lover of walks, invited me for a walk with him, and as I also loved a good long walk (before arthritis caught up with me, anyway), I accepted gladly.  We ambled down Central Avenue together until we came to a candy shop – not one of those places where they sold candy like Snickers and Three Musketeers, but the kind of place just like where my mother used to get those Easter bunnies.  All their candy was home-made.  He bought a couple of pounds of good milk chocolate, then said to me, “How about some white barque?”  I expressed my ignorance on the subject, and was I surprised to learn that it was white chocolate.  White chocolate?!  Who ever heard of such a thing?  But he bought a pound, and I had a sample, and – yeah, I was hooked.  It was really good.  It had almonds in it, and even though it was high summer, that chocolate hardly melted at all.

For years and years afterward, I lusted after the memory of that chocolate.  Shortly after that visit, the candy shop closed for good; it’s now a bar.  How things change…I mean, the juxtaposition of the innocence of candy versus the kinds of things that go on in bars just seems to smack me in the face, as I’m thinking about it.  And to top it all off, the Food Police have us all convinced that Candy is Bad, and they’re strangely silent on the subject of booze.  The FPI – Food Police Investigators – do give a grudging nod to dark chocolate for its reputed Health Benefits, but I think they’d be just as happy if it too disappeared off the planet.  People tend to feel too darn good after chocolate.

Recently, I’ve discovered that there are producers of candy who offer white chocolate.  These tend to be either smaller manufacturers of “organic chocolate,” or manufacturers of high-end chocolates, like Lindt; in any case, the chocolate is mass-produced, and it doesn’t include almonds (from what I can tell, nuts are what set barque apart from plain ol’ white chocolate).  I’ve tried it; it’s good.  But it’s not homemade.

And it’s not the gift of a grandfather who wasn’t all that affectionate and not at all good with words, but who understood very well what children, even teenagers, like.

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Back to the prompts.  Thank goodness – I’ve had enough of Depth for one week, anyway.

“What was the first candy you ever tried?”

Now that takes some mental exercise.  After all, we’re talking over sixty years of candy-sampling.  But I think I’ve got it.

As I know I have mentioned more than once, my mother was widowed very young – I was two – but as it turned out, she met her life partner at a cousin’s wedding, a month before my father was killed in a car crash.  He must have started coming around almost as soon as my father died, and because, to be frank, my mother had already begun to regret her first choice for a husband, and because she had a young child to support, she didn’t discourage the attentions of this second suitor.  In fact, they were married less than a year after my own father’s death, and that marriage lasted just over fifty years, ending with my mother’s death.

Dad – my stepfather – was nothing if not conservative and traditional, as most working-class folks are.  Flowers and candy were a de rigeur component of this courtship, and the candy came in boxes, with each piece wrapped in its own individual little piece of paper.  Each piece was chocolate, but each piece came with a different-flavor filling – I know there were caramels, and I suspect that a few of them were filled with brandy or another liqueur, because I was forbidden to touch the box on my own – my mother shared her candy willingly, but she got to choose which pieces I got to eat.  On rare occasion, she would give me my favorite:  chocolate-covered cherries, filled with a cherry liqueur.

In those days, before the Nanny State, it was perfectly permissible for children and alcohol to interact, to a limited extent.  At the numerous gatherings of my stepfather’s large Polish family, kids were always cadging “sips” of beer from the adults.  However, it was incumbent on the adults present to keep a close watch on who was giving in to the cadging, so I never actually got drunk, nor did my cousins.  Nor, for that matter, did the adults; although they might have gotten pleasantly snockered, I never once in my childhood saw an adult who was, as we used to say, “falling-down drunk.”  (That’s not to say there weren’t any, as I learned in adulthood, just to say that most of the family was careful not to let the children see them in that state.)  The purpose of a beer, on a hot summer afternoon, was to cool off, not to get drunk.  And although there was hard liquor, it wasn’t in plentiful supply; it was kept for special occasions, like toasting the announcement of an impending new baby.  (“Let’s drink to the baby.  Let’s drink to the crib.  Let’s drink to the carriage.  Let’s drink to the high chair.”  Etc.  Sometimes I think about that research relating adult drinking to fetal-alcohol syndrome, and I wonder if any of those researchers was remotely Slavic.  I’m betting not.)

Back to the candy.  I really loved those cherry-flavored candies, but usually got stuck – in more ways than one – with the caramels.  Hey, candy is candy.  My next-favorite part of the candy box, though, was bizarre, to say the least:  When all the candy had been eaten, I got the empty box of little papers.  I have no idea why the papers were returned to the box as the candy was eaten, but at the end of a week or so, I had a box full of empty papers, and I would shake it to listen to the rustle.  I called it my “pigeons.”  For some reason, a lot of men in post-war Brooklyn and Queens kept pigeons, Dad and his friend Steve among them, so from the time my mother began dating my stepfather, I was familiar with the rustle of caged pigeons in the back yard.  I should add that my mother hated the pigeons – in the early years, she and my stepfather had more arguments about those pigeons than about anything else – but Dad kept his pigeons until I was a teenager.  And when I was a very little girl, it was understood that those empty boxes of candy were my turf, a little girl’s “pigeons.”  It’s amazing how creative you can get when you’re poor.

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Really, when you look at the strange twists and turns that life takes, I don’t know how people can conclude that there is no God.  If, for example, my godfather and uncle hadn’t met and married a woman from New Hampshire when they were both in the Army, my family would never have dreamed of visiting them here.  I would never have concluded that New Hampshire was an infinitely better place to raise a family than New York City, where my family is from.  If my husband and I hadn’t moved here, I would never have gotten a job at one of those firms that develops and scores standardized educational exams.  And neither would my daughter.  And if she hadn’t worked there, she would never have met the man who became her husband, and they would never have had their two sons.  Two people now exist in this world who would never have come into being, if my uncle had not met and married this woman – who subsequently divorced him, anyway.  I have no idea why; I only know my family’s side of the story.

That’s about to change, I think.  This past April, my uncle’s son killed himself.  We weren’t close, but since he was family, I went to his wake, and there met his mother, whom I have not seen in over fifty years, this same native New Hampshirite whose brief marriage to my uncle brought us all here.  She was ecstatic, after so many years – and to be honest, I was happy to see her at last, too.  I really, really liked her when I knew her, and always grieved for the breakup.

Today, I took myself out to lunch.  I take myself out to lunch as often as I can, actually, mostly because I really hate making lunch.  I mean, once you’ve exhausted cold cuts, tuna salad, and peanut-butter-and-jelly (which I can’t eat anyway – I’m allergic to peanuts), what else is there?!  Not last night’s leftovers, not with my husband home all day and routinely saying, “What happened to…?”

(We once had a conversation about my odd lunch-out habit.  When he learned that I had always eaten lunch out, he was floored:  “Didn’t you ever pack a lunch?”  I thought about that for a bit – it isn’t as if my family was as rich as, say, the Kennedys, but then, who is – before I realized why:  Anything I had brought into the house to pack for lunch the next day would have disappeared overnight, down the gullets of any or all of my three younger brothers.  Nothing was safe in that house.)

So, I take myself out to lunch as often as I can.  I bring a book, and enjoy my own company and somebody else’s sandwich-making skills.  I had just sat myself down and was reaching for my book, when an older woman came up to my table and addressed me by my first name.  Now, not too many people in this town know me by my first name, which I loathe; many more know me by my middle name, and that’s how I like it.  So there was only one way a woman of a Certain Age could have known me by my first name.

It was her, my long-lost aunt.  I probably would have invited her to have lunch with me, but she was already engaged with one of her daughters, so she contented herself with giving me her telephone number and exclamations of Let’s-get-together-soon.  I said we would – I really would like to – she went back to her daughter, and I returned to my book.

And then I went to pay my check.

And the waitress told me that the Ladies Behind Me had paid it for me.

“What is the sweetest thing someone did for you today?” is today’s prompt.  I know I covered this in the post I wrote this morning, but – that was yesterday.  This is today.  I am still floored, that getting together with me means so much to this woman.  After all, she’s from here, she has family here and a long, long history in this town.  She could have lunch with any one of a couple dozen people.  But she has just ensured that I will be getting together with her.

Don’t tell me there is no God.  He keeps breaking into my life in the most unexpected ways.

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As in, “Planet of the Onlies” and “Planet of the Apes.”

I was cutting up some leftovers to augment tonight’s supper of Shepherd’s Pie, and was reminded of recent conversations between me and my husband, having to do with meals and meal preparations.  I’d known, because he mentioned it many times, that his super-thrifty mother had a habit of purchasing a five-pound pot roast for Sunday dinner (for three people) because it was Cheaper to Buy in Bulk – then serving pot roast for dinner every single night until Friday, when, as good Catholics, they’d have fish.  MIL-zilla didn’t like to cook, so pot-roast-every-night killed two birds with one stone.

But recently, the subject of our own leftovers came up.  Often, my husband won’t finish an entire meal, so saves the scraps until they’re almost at the point of rancidity, then cooks up a stir fry or soup out of them.  This is something I cannot get my own head around – when he was working, I used to eat the leftovers for lunch, but now that he’s home, he wants them saved for his own concoctions.  I was commenting on the difficulty I have with the concept of leftovers when he innocently asked, “What did your mother used to do with leftovers?  Didn’t she make soup?”  And it dawned on me:  At our house, “leftovers” was an alien concept.  Five kids, three of them boys?!  If you weren’t careful, food would disappear off your plate while you were still eating it!

This isn’t the first time the differences between only children and a posse has come up.  Another time, I was talking about what I used to get for lunch when working as a secretary before our marriage:  “Usually a hamburger, or some kind of fish.”  And again the question, “Didn’t you used to pack a lunch?”  Well, no.  And that was a good question, because money was always tight at our house, and a packed lunch would have been much thriftier.  I thought about it for a minute before it hit me:  “Anything I had brought into that house to make for lunch the next day, would have disappeared by morning.”  Well, maybe not liver, and even I draw the line at liver.

Only children just don’t grasp this.  In the house of an only child, you put something down, it’s still there when you return for it.  Nobody else comes along and says, “Oh, hey, I was looking for a pen/a dish/five bucks,” and that’s the last you see of it.  Let alone food.  The first time we had this conversation was one evening when visiting the in-laws.  We had eaten dinner and put the baby down for the night, and that was when my father-in-law brought out his Ultra Special Crunchy Chocolate Chip Cookies (I like chewy better), and gave my husband and me two each.  As I was crunching mine down the hatch, DH put his at his place.  “We’re going for a walk,” he announced, “and I’ll have mind when I come back.”  This was too good an opportunity to miss.  “Boy, you can tell Jim’s an only child,” I remarked.  “He’s going to leave those cookies there, and he actually expects them still to be there when he gets back.”

MIL-zilla also having been an only child, she and DH exchanged puzzled glances:  Why wouldn’t they still be there?  My father-in-law, who not only had had a sister and a stepbrother but also had worked as a fireman, burst out laughing.  He knew!

Then there are the “luxuries” you can afford yourself, when you only have one child, not all of them material.  I’ve mentioned MIL-zilla’s super-thriftiness.  The odd thing about it was:  She and her husband only had the one child.  The house they lived in had been MIL-zilla’s parents’ – she grew up in that house.  She was employed as a nurse by the City of NY, and her husband, as I’ve mentioned, was FDNY.  As City employees, they had benefits the rest of New York could only dream about.  Yet – DH was convinced that they lived on the thin edge of poverty, because of all the cost-cutting measures she took.  The one that sticks in my mind was the washing machine, an old-fashioned wringer-washer that involved a lot of manual labor.  She hung onto it because It Still Worked, and her motto was, “Use it up, wear it out, make it last.”  You can afford luxuries like that with only one child.  If she’d had half a dozen, that washer would have been replaced by an automatic in record time.

And she would have had to be a lot more creative with dinner.  We never knew what pot roast was when we were growing up.  We ate a lot of meatloaf.  (A lot of meatloaf.)  We ate a lot of stuffed cabbage.  We went through a ten-pound bag of potatoes a week.  And vegetables, which were a staple on the “Zilla” table, were for rabbits at our house.  Who could afford them?!  DH used to talk fondly of the German frankfurters his mother would buy from time to time.  At our house, we bought the A&P Special – heaven alone knows what went into them, but Thursday night was Hot Dog Night at our house, and we were grateful for that one hot dog on a bun – now that was luxury!  (Eight hot dogs to a package, so one was “left over” – it always disappeared by morning, first come first serve.  I didn’t know food got moldy until after I was married.)

And the bathroom.  The “Zilla” household was unusual, in that it had two bathrooms, and for MIL-zilla, this was a necessity.  She could never fathom how seven people could live in a house with only one bathroom.  Of course – in the Zilla household, they could take their time shaving and brushing their teeth.  At our house, you used the bathroom for only the very basic necessities, and even bathing was something you rushed through; somebody was bound to Need the room before too long.  (When I’d had it up to here with MIL-zilla, I used to torment her with tales of when my uncle’s family lived with us for five months during the closure of the Brooklyn Navy Yard.  Four adults.  Seven children.  (Eight, actually, but one was still in diapers.)  One bathroom.  She’d turn white at the very thought.)

See – these are the things you don’t even think about when you get married.  You’re so wrapped up in a haze of Love and Happiness and Fulfillment, that it doesn’t even occur to you that such trivia exists.  Over time, it can be the stuff that drives a wedge between you, or it can be the kind of thing you shake your head over in wonderment that your Dearly Beloved actually came from a different planet – the Planet of the Onlies.  Or the Planet of the Apes.  When my nephew got married this past summer, our son asked, “Does Katherine [the bride] have any idea what kind of family she’s marrying into?”  “Nobody knows,” I said, thinking of the Zillas, but then added, “Just ask Dad.”  My husband guffawed.  Maybe he knew I was thinking of his parents, or maybe he was just agreeing that my background was hopelessly chaotic.

But this May, we will have been together for 43 years.  Obviously the planets found a way to align.

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My Funniest Valentine

Mother-in-law horror stories abound, I know.  And in the annals of MIL-zilla, there are worse than mine was.  That said, mine operated on the rules of commandos:  Slip in under cover of darkness, strike fast, and slip back out, all in record time.

Mind you, there was no way on earth to see it coming.  She had a way of getting people to talk about themselves, their secret hopes and dreams, even their deepest wounds.  Then, when you least expected it, she would pop up with a completely warped version of what you’d said, a bomb that she would drop in a setting where you couldn’t possibly defend yourself, and then slip away, leaving you feeling sandbagged and looking like the worst kind of liar.  I wasn’t the only one it happened to, although I was a favorite target, being not exactly what she’d had in mind for her only son.

I would have had no inkling of what I was in for, except that even commandos need to study the enemy territory thoroughly, and my mother-in-law had one fatal flaw (one I share, although I do my best never to be malicious):  It never occurred to her that people Know Other People.  She used to slip around the corner to the office of her best friend, who owned a monument company (Middle Village being in the middle of three large cemeteries, there was a lot of call for monuments), and she would complain bitterly about That Girlfriend of Jimmy’s, for hours on end.  The best friend had a secretary, a very efficient treasure whom she would never have dreamed of parting with.  What neither of them knew was that the Very Efficient Treasure was best friends with my aunt.  One day my aunt happened to say something about Mrs. L., and the Very Efficient Treasure gasped.  “Is your niece the one who’s dating Jimmy?  Oh, tell her to look out for Mrs. L.!”

Say what??   I thought it was an odd comment; I thought my future mother-in-law was one of the nicest people on the planet.  What I could not possibly have known was that MIL-zilla had someone else in mind for Her Jimmy, a fellow nurse whose father and brother were both doctors, and German, to boot (MIL was German).  And she was Catholic – so was I, but I was “Polish” (my stepfather’s being Polish was enough to consign me to the Untermensch category).  And she sang in the choir (so did I, but I was still “Polish”).

So when it got serious between Jimmy and me, MIL-zilla went into action.  There was the time she offered me the last Very Special Cookie – and when I took it, informed me with glee that whoever took the last of anything was doomed to be an Old Maid.  “Better hope that’s not true,” I said, “because the only way that’s gonna happen is if Jimmy dies.”  That was not a welcome thought!  There was the way she kept confusing my first name with the name of a young person she knew with a totally messed-up life – that lapsis linguae lasted till after the wedding.

And then there were the flowers.

My husband and I had the kind of courtship that’s supposed to end in disaster:  He was stationed overseas shortly after we met, and we conducted our romance almost completely by mail.  I flew to Germany one Christmas to visit him, and returned with an engagement ring on my finger; we planned our wedding for May, his favorite month.  Due to my family’s straitened circumstances, we planned to have only a small immediate-family reception, so the need to wait for A Hall and A Caterer was eliminated; we ended up having cold cuts and salads, the obligatory cake, and wine for drinks.  It was an offbeat and nerdy reception, but a completely traditional wedding, but not nearly the gala affair MIL-zilla had been hoping for (probably hoping for more chances to throw a monkey wrench into the works).

Valentine’s Day came in the middle of all this wedding prep.  With the prospective groom 5,000 miles away, the best he could do was to order flowers and write to me to be on the lookout for a Very Special Present for Valentine’s Day.  When the big day came, there was…nothing.  A card, yes, but no present whatsoever.  In the evening I got a telephone call from MIL-zilla, inviting my mother and me over to see her flowers.  And what a bouquet it was:  huge by any standards, with carnations and lilies and daisies and I don’t know what-all else.  We looked, we admired, and went back home, bewildered.  “Maybe the florist never got the order,” I said to my mother, but she thought it was tasteless of my fiancé not even to send a small present.

The wedding took place as scheduled, and we flew off to a new life in a foreign country.  I’ve blogged about that elsewhere, and in retrospect, I’m glad we planned our wedding the way we did; given MIL-zilla’s propensities for mischief-making, I’m not sure our marriage would have survived the first year if we hadn’t been 5,000 miles away.

It wasn’t until four or five years ago that I mentioned those flowers to my husband, and how odd it seemed to be invited over to admire his mother’s flowers.  “What about your flowers?” he said.  MY flowers?  That was when I learned that he had ordered a dozen roses to be sent to his mother’s house, and had written to her of the breakdown:  six for me, three for his mother, and three for my mother.  The bouquet that came was not roses by any stretch of the imagination, but there were plenty of flowers to go around three ways.

He was mortified.  He was horrified.  And I…burst out laughing.  MIL-zilla had struck again!

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