Dining Etiquette

When I first began learning the French language, during one of the few times my first teacher broke into English to speak so her glassy-eyed class could actually understand what she was saying (Madame P was fond of the throw ’em in the water and see if they figure out how to swim approach), we were told that it was so difficult picking up a second language because our ears don’t pick up on what doesn’t sound right. Most of us don’t know what the heck a subjunctive is or even if it’s bigger than a breadbox…but we know, sure as shooting, if a statement streams from a person’s tongue like fingernails on a chalkboard.

Much the same, we’re a people of rudimentary manners in our love-match world of junk food and television. Yet, innately, there are certain eating utensils I use for certain foods…many rules that I know I break because right feels oh so wrong. I’ll hold off from allowing Freud to determine why it is that I require the long-tined poke of the bigger fork for my salad consumption. Smaller spoon for hot cereal, stews; larger for cold cereal, broths. I have no use for the small forks. I use big forks for everything, and often think of that one Seinfeld episode as I strive to eat way more than one pea at a time.

I know that solids, such as bread, are placed at the left while liquids, such as water, are at the right. I know that once a utensil touches food, it isn’t supposed to touch anything but the china from then on out—but that just seems cumbersome…a ceramic crab with flatware legs. I know that you should always pass to the right and if something is situated in front of you, you should serve yourself only after it has made a complete pass around the table—seems illogical. I know it’s poor manners to push your plate away once you’ve finished your meal, and also to stack your dinnerware for the server to remove—I still do it. Seems like a helpful thing to do.

Now, I know I make plenty of blunders with the English language…but Emily Dickinson got away with it—so hey, why not? Likewise, I make plenty of dining etiquette blunders…and worse, I know exactly when I’m doing them, but the proper way just seems wayward…highly destructive to a person run by logic. Is it so bad that I ignore the small forks until we’ve worked through the big ones? Is it so wrong that I butter my bread straight from the butter dish instead of placing the pat on my bread plate first? Can I use my teaspoon for thick soups? I’m floundering.

Oh God! And how does one eat flounder!?

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Nick and I are joining a gym. I’m quiet, gentle-seeming…but there’s power there, oh yes, there’s power. Though, after last week, when Nick went out of his way to irritate me during one of my first runs post surgery, I questioned the wisdom in instituting a workout routine with this man…

…And the circumstances by which a court would rule a homicide justifiable.

I’ve been very upbeat as of late…it’s as though I’ve turned a corner, a crucial corner. I’m sure the endorphins don’t hurt either, but it’s more than that. My husband left last Autumn, not even a year ago, yet it seems like a lifetime away. I realized today that it was just that, the world spun differently then. I’ve also delighted in the advent of the American Quilt Days, as I call them. There’s something homey and welcoming about a quilt, an article made by loving hands to keep you warm. It reminds me of an email Mom once sent when she wanted to send me a comforter for my bed. She said against my protests, “Nonsense – I want to do this for you – then, when you snuggle in at night, I am keeping you warm.” As much as I love Summer, the Fall is the my favorite season…the crispness in the air, the warm, vibrant hues in the tapestry of our days—oh, I just love it all. Mom did too.

And it is one of my haunting conversations that I had with her one late October day in 2005, as she languidly navigated her car down an echoing avenue, the curled tawny leaves scuttling to and fro. She sighed romantically—we both had a tendency to paint the world pretty…only way to live—, “Oh, how I love the Fall!”

I sat shotgun, feeling the lowest I’ve ever felt…unwanted, unsure, struggling in vain. I mumbled, “I’ll never love the Fall again,” permanently putting a damper on her airy optimism. I remember it so clearly, for it is a statement I will always regret having made. I was my mother’s cheerleader, and yet for a few weeks, I was a self-focused ninny. I know it was a statement that haunted her as well…and as the life began to leave her body in those final days, I wet her pillow with my tears and whispered, “What can I give you now?”

She opened her eyes, in her maze of being lucid and then not, and said with perfect clarity, “Love the Fall.” It meant more than loving the time of year, it meant loving the fight in spite of the blows…it meant loving life. My brother has often struggled with depression, suicidal thoughts. They stopped when, early in my mother’s diagnosis, he told her how much he wanted to die…she replied, “Hmm. And here I am wanting so much to live.”

I noted this morning that three years ago today, September twenty-second, 2003, I flew in to surprise my mother before her surgery on the twenty-ninth, a week later. What came to follow was a difficult recovery and the opportunity to grow closer than ever to the woman who gave me life. I said in my words to her during the funeral that I didn’t know real love until our roles were reversed, and I was her guardian, her caretaker, and her protector. I cannot share with you the beauty of such a responsibility…I can only tell you that we’re not given more than we can handle, but we’re often shielded from the breadth of our strength.

Tomorrow, if the rain stays away, I want to go to the Farmer’s Market…I am craving squash and sweet potatoes—by the way, The States are confused. We have SWEET POTATOES here. Yams are seldom grown in the United States, and are mostly available in Latin America—and apples. Ah, Fall produce! Love it. As we had dinner the other night, Nick pushed the Brussels sprouts around his plate and relayed, “See, when I was young, our Brussels sprouts were coated in oil…” To which I apologized and reminded that I was a vegetable purest. Nick corrected on a near-snort, “You’re a vegetable snob.”

I can’t take it too seriously. The man smells, head to toe, like pretzels. Pretzels are his after work snack. He shyly admitted only days ago that he attaches the pretzel sack like a feedbag to his face and gorges. Oh, Nicky…still has me laughing. It was a tender, cuddling moment when I noticed the scent behind his ears and, curious, began sniffing further. I was impressed with this pretzely presence.

I sit here and sigh, at a place of perfect contentedness in the face of recent upheaval. I guess it leads me to one conclusion:

I do love the Fall, I really do. Time to get back to me.

It’s been such a painful day.

I don’t give into it often—not much at all really, all things considered—but the woe has settled firmly over my heart this day. I don’t know why, really, why today of all days. Last year at this time I wasn’t doing much but accompanying my family to Amish-country to buy goodies for our “Up North” excursion, and nursing a concussion, of course.

Yes, there’s the ache of on-going recovery still, but I’m adjusted to it. I know there will be good days and bad days. That’s not it, I learned the incomprehension of pain while caring for my mother. I’ve lately been going through boxes packed during another life, and while I’m keenly aware that my life is better now than it was then, it’s hard looking at the proposed future of something long-dead. I found a different Laura in those boxes, with different dreams…there are parts of her that I miss.

I have been letting my father bend my ear as of late. It makes me feel glad to be a strength for him, to feel like I’m benefiting someone just by existing and giving my time. I had a couple of beers with him at The Firehouse Thursday night…he was tickled pink. His daughter. Drinking beer. He finally sees a bit of himself in me. We shared another one just tonight, at his house. The man doesn’t heal from things. He still hurts from events of three years ago.

I wish I could share with him the glory of forgetting.

He isn’t a willing student.

I awoke last night, Nick tells me, crying. I remember only dreaming of my mother’s face. Today, I picked up her driver’s licence, the license we once had an argument over in the winter of 2004. We were morning over bad DMV photos when she muttered that luckily she didn’t need to worry about another bad driver’s licence mug, her licence expiring in 2012. I remember glaring her way and stating none too nicely that she would still be alive in 2012, and that I didn’t want to hear any arguments on the subject.

I’m the hopeful sort.

Though, I don’t think her picture is bad at all. She looks healthy…a full head of hair and skin unpainted from jaundice. She was a truly beautiful woman. I also picked up two scraps of paper she carried with her always, two scraps of paper that have a sort of importance to me because I knew what they were to her. It was the appointment reminder to her CT Scan and her Oncological follow-up on June 2, 2005. What a shitty day, excuse my French.

Off topic, but whenever I speak rapid French around my father, he scolds, “Don’t use that kind of language around me!” I find it funny, though I’m forced to roll my eyes and groan so that I don’t let on that his humor, well, humors me. He can’t ever know. Ever. I’m fairly sure the world would end, pigs would fly, and Christine Bellport would stop trying to be funny.

While dealing with my insomnia last night, and granted the sleeplessness is likely a large part to blame for my altogether bleak outlook on things, I saw a commercial for a prescription sleep aid. It began, “Not all insomnia is the same. Some people just can’t fall asleep…some people can fall asleep but they can’t stay asleep. Some people suffer from both.” All the while, I was nodding my head. I won’t get it, naturally. “May be habit forming” is a warning bell in my ears. I’m OCD-prone…heck, in my world, candy corn is habit forming.

While visiting with Dad, I saw the pastel yarn Mom bought to start knitting a baby blanket. She so desperately wanted a grandchild before she died…and I did all that I could to make it happen, but in the end I wasn’t well enough equipped…I deserved a merit badge for my dedication to the project, I’m pretty sure. I also have the wooden ornament she bought me to hang in a nursery, the stuffed animals she began collecting, and the baptism dress I wore as an infant, in which she wished me dress my child on that most holy day.

Heavy-hearted, I looked over my surgeon’s notes on my chart, the notes I received just today. I looked at all that ails, stated so plainly, and I felt so cold. I’m just a fact or figure—that’s unfair, actually: I’m a statistic of note. I asked for the notes to submit to my insurance company who covered my surgery/hospital stay, but denied a claim with anesthesiology. So basically, they were okay-ed to cut me open but I wasn’t allowed to be knocked out for the exercise. A shame, too…because the notes suggest that I had several rectal exams during my surgery’s nap time. I rather enjoyed not being conscience for this, as you might imagine.

Dad says he still hurts, he’s confused and trying to figure it all out. He doesn’t like other people poking their opinions into his life, and I can’t say that I blame him. He says he can’t bring himself to clean out the rest of Mom’s clothing, shoes, just yet. He says he can’t bring himself to change the voice mail greeting on his home phone from Mom’s voice. I personally always call his cell because it’s haunting to hear her speaking again. He says people ask him, “Is that your daughter’s voice on you phone?” Dad replies no, unwilling to tell them who it is. “…sounds just like her.” And secretly, I’m flattered. Do I sound like my mother? It is her voice that I hear when I am weary, when I need comfort most…her voice so sweet that I’ve built a fairy tale around its soft splendor. Dad says yes, that I sound like Mom, like his Liela.

I am so tired.

Be Careful What You Say…

So it was last month that I went camping with Nick and crew at the Kickapoo River. Jeff snapped the above-left picture, which led me to accept two fundamental truths about myself:

  1. I must be part-Osmond, and…
  2. …I have scary teeth.

Now, while neither truth struck me pleasantly—I mean, after all, what good is it being part Osmond if I don’t have my share of the family royalties? It was kind of like when my mother told me that I was a dead ringer for this one shot of Ashley Olsen…yeah, well if the Olsen twins were really triplets, I was seriously gypped. It’s the eye, isn’t it? Stupid “mucked up” eye!—it was the “I eat small children spread with orange marmalade at Afternoon Tea” aspect of my smile that disturbed me most.

And, though I wouldn’t have believed it if you had told me then, the teeth have ears. Soon thereafter, my diva wisdom tooth demanded less cramped conditions or else, an ultimatum my fully grown mouth was unable to meet. I asked my dentist last May to sign a note saying that indeed, I did not have a big mouth at all—a note I would then staple to my forehead and proceed to hold court with every person I have ever known. She promised she would and then escaped without my notice. It was sort of like when my surgeon told me she could give me an estimate of how many more weeks my dressings would require daily changings, and then stole away before so-doing. All talk…pft.

So, anyway, the wisdom tooth was evicted yesterday. I had squash and ice cream for lunch, after tiring of three consecutive meals of oatmeal. You know, they just may be scary teeth, but they’re my scary teeth…and, I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the decadence of marmalade-urchins without them. I will not be so verbally abusive towards them in the coming days. Hear that guys? I LOVE YOU. Stay put. My neck looks more natural white than it ever would red.

A World Gone Horribly Wrong.

I get a lot of mail…like a LOT, a lot. It isn’t friendly mail, per se…mainly medical professionals relaying that while I’m still messed up, they did the best they could with what they had to work with and why don’t I come back for a follow up because there’s a living room set that really caught their eye the other day.

When it isn’t one of them, it’s some whatnot from my lovely insurance company saying that since the promised first-born is probably a no-go, payback for all of the butt-covering has now become MY SOUL.

Nonetheless, whatever the tone of my mail, it is still greater in volume than Nick’s. I am sure this is a point of contention, but believe me when I say that I would rather get Shopper Stoppers! Ads from Charter Communications! Cat calls from Citibank, trying to line my pockets with make believe money!

Junk mail is wonderful because you can open it…

…Or not.

You can gnaw on it disapprovingly while watching Rachael Ray attempt to go low-carb…or use it to pick up that mushy purple goop that paraded around as a yellow onion last May.

You can even use it as a buffer between a singularly unattractive insect and the bottom of your shoe. One should be able to squeeze the life out of a bug without having antennae and legs caught in the tread of the orangest shoes ever. You know what I’m saying?

Junk mail from people who don’t know you and have no interest in knowing you?…not so bad! The Grim Reaper HMO looking to collect on its share of the pie?…not so good!

But today was a kick in the teeth, seriously. And for a chick who’s got a wisdom tooth extraction scheduled for Friday, it’s even more hardcore. I pulled the catalogues from the box and walked slowly back to the house. We’re both leafers…we fan through printed materials and after we’ve looked at the pictures we toss them. Mmm. Pictures. Words ruin the karma.

One catalogue is addressed to me, the other to Nick. With interest I note that Nick is on an Eddie Bauer mailing list…God I love dating a metrosexual! With anticipation, I turn the catalogue addressed to myself. Something from New Balance? The Baker’s Catalogue? No, don’t be silly. I, the prissy, self-proclaimed princess and the all-out froufrou girly-girl, received the Highland Woodworking catalogue. My father would be so proud. I’m a pair of bib overalls and couple of pig tails shy (and a few teeth too many) of having a “Mae” after my name and several extra syllables stuffed in the middle.

Please, my dear health maintenance organization, anybody, didn’t you want my soul today? It’s largely unused? Still in its original packing?