Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Months ago I got a set of stickers that I thought might make a gift for a child. I wanted them this afternoon, and I hunted high and low; but the safe place in which I had put the stickers was extraordinarily safe, and I could not find them.
Given that logic and reasoning and looking in all the normal places had not worked, I decided to ask my mother.
"Do you," I asked, "know where the stickers are?"
Thousands of miles away, Mater hummed a bit, and thought a bit.
"Do you even know what stickers I'm searching for?"
"Shush," Mater said. "I'm looking."
"They are on a shelf," she said slowly.
"A shelf? What sort of a shelf?"
"A shelf with a lot of books," she said.
"We have a few hundred books. Be a trifle more specific, if you don't mind."
"I see a blue book."
"A blue book. Good, good. That helps to narrow it down."
"A blue children's book. Hardback. There you will find the stickers."
I thanked her, and scampered off to have a look see.
I tore out every blue, hardbacked children's book on the shelves. I did not find the stickers.
Sometimes mothers bluff, and sometimes we daughters know that they bluff, but in the meantime, it never does a bit of harm to double check, in case bluff and luck should cross paths and the stickers emerge from the depths of wherever they have been hidden.
In any case, I can always ask again tomorrow.
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 6:21 PM
Monday, February 22, 2010
We were at the checkout with a small package of bagels and a gallon of drain-cleaning liquid.
The assistant turned to us with a happy grin.
"Looks like you guys are stocking up for the Big Game."
We possess next to no knowledge about sports. We were not even aware there was a Big Game, and we found out later that the event in question was a little something known as Superbowl Sunday.
Spouse and I glanced quickly at the bagels, and the cleaning fluid, and wondered what sort of stocking up he thought we might be doing.
Spouse nodded, simply, one must understand, to be polite.
We only knew this much about the Game: it was Big, and people ate bagels and cleaned their bathrooms in the midst of it. Our embarrassed silence, along with our inability to look him in the eyes, ought to have been a clue.
The fellow, unfortunately, did not take the hint offered to him, and he proceeded to delve into conversation with us about the mysterious Game.
"So, who are you rooting for this time?" And he named two teams, both of which I have since forgotten.
Spouse, not sure whether it was football or baseball or miniature golf or swimming being discussed, promptly concluded the chat by suggesting that it did not really matter who won, as long as great fun would be had while watching it.
The fellow behind the counter was, to say the least, a trifle stunned, until it dawned on him that we probably were making it up as we went along, and that he ought to let us hurry on our way with our bagels and our cleaning supplies.
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 5:42 PM
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
I volunteer in a lace museum. I handle lace. I catalogue lace. And nowadays, it seems, I dream about lace.
I dreamed I went into the museum as usual: I was wearing my everyday shoes- but in a peculiar twist, there were additional pieces of lace flapping over the toes. I believe they were glued on.
I asked the other ladies for their opinions. I expected compliments and awe, and that I, a relatively recent arrival to the museum, would be welcomed into the fold on account of my innovative style. A trendsetter. Somebody who could take lace in new directions; somebody who knew how to wear it.
As I glanced down at my feet, I was alarmed to notice how yellow and fragile and grubby the lace really was, and it appeared to be getting yellower and grubbier by the second. It was not attractive.
The others, understandably, were not impressed by my lace-shoes, not a bit. I was mortified and considered running home to change. It dawned on me that I had committed a dreadful error, using lace in a way that was thoroughly tactless.
Fortunately I had the luxury of waking from the scene, donning my regular shoes, and starting over without any remnants of embarrassment.
If only all mistakes, great and small, could be shaken off as easily.
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 5:36 PM
Thursday, February 11, 2010
My mother spent the week with family in an Irish-speaking part of the country, taking in some salt air and brisk winds and staggering cliff tops, and she was cut off from all modern elements.
No, not entirely isolated.
Her friend and neighbour sent a text message, in typically brief text message language, about the glorious weather back at the old homestead, with a remark about how 'even bna was out and about.'
Mater had no inkling of what bna might be, but a quick guess told her that the friend was incorporating Irish words because of Mater's proximity to the Irish-speaking folk. Despite the years in which my brother and I became educated in the ways of Irish grammar, none of it made an impression on Mater, and she emerged from our schooldays knowing only the words for milk and shopping, and an affectionate term for a fool- all of which she uses intermittently to this day.
Mater thought and thought. Bna. What might it be? It was out, whatever it was, because the weather was fine.
It might well be the moon.
She asked her young nephew, as he sat doing his homework, if bna meant the moon.
It was not the moon, he assured her, with a shake of his head.
Worse, he had never heard of a bna.
Mater was lost after that. Her grasp of the Irish language had reached its limits, and her main resource- the nephew- had turned up no answers.
She got another text message a while after the first, with a correction from the friend, whose only mistake was typing while tired.
She had not at all been throwing around Irish words- had not, in fact, made the connection between Mater's visit and the language of the region.
She meant to say Bob.
Bob, a neighbour who had not been out in a while, had gone for a walk because the weather was delightful.
That was all she wanted to say, but it sent Mater off looking for the moon.
There we have it. Bna's your uncle.
*'Bob's your uncle' is a catchphrase used commonly in Britain and Ireland to punctuate an explanation or instruction, usually meaning, 'there you go.'
"You take this road, and then take a left, then a right, and another left- and Bob's your uncle."
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 4:41 PM
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
Mater told me there is a new priest in the village. I call it a village: it consists of a single street, a post office, a school, the church, and two grim, dimly lit, melancholy, dusty pubs.
No matter where one stands in the Street, one can see the doorstep of every house and institution.
It being such a speck of a place, Mater has met the priest once or twice. His presence has offered, so far, little to report.
A group of twenty or so ladies cleans and polishes the church regularly. Their hard work keeps it sparkling, and they were due for a Thank You, which usually, in the best case, means a bus trip to the sea, or, at worst, a fancy meal in a Big City.
The new priest, so Mater informed me, wanted to demonstrate his gratitude, and so he took them Out.
"Where's Out?" I was curious.
"You don't," said Mater, "want to know."
I said that I did want to know, truly. Mater asked me to suggest the one place in the world I could not guess.
I named two upscale restaurants in the nearby city that I used to work in. It turned out to be neither of those.
"A really, really cheap place," trilled Mater.
I lowered my expectations. A fast food restaurant, mayhap?
It was not a fast food restaurant.
"Cheese sandwiches on a river cruise?"
It was not that.
"Could it be his own house?" I was half-joking.
"Getting warmer," Mater said.
I was struck with a thunderbolt of a notion.
"No," I said.
"Yes," Mater said.
"Absolutely not!" I said.
"You got it," said Mater.
"Say that he's not taking them across the road to the pub. Please say that."
Mater was sorry, but she could not say that.
The pub to which they went Out carries not a lick of food, and not a note of music. Nothing ever stirs there, not even the light. What went through the fellow's head when he decided to take the ladies to the pub next door is anybody's guess. In all likelihood, they probably haunt the pub every Friday night anyway. In any case, they see the pub from the church windows while they are cleaning.
I just hope the poor ladies knew the venue when they got dressed and ready that evening.
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 4:26 PM
Tuesday, February 9, 2010
My mother was given two copies of the same book for Christmas. She was in fortunate possession of the receipt, and decided to return one of the gifts and exchange it for something else.
Mater told me she would return to Easons' Bookstore as soon as possible. Asked for my supposedly apt suggestions about the Something Else, I told Mater the name of a novel I had particularly enjoyed. A little research told me there was a copy in Eason's; I passed the news to Mater, who set off to find the volume.
Mater made an early-bird trip to the city; the sky had a thunderous look about it, and everything, everywhere, was grey drizzle.
Into Eason's she went, the sole customer of the morning, and her rain-slick shoes gave the game away.
Squeak. Squeak. Squeak. Squeak. Squeak. Squeak.
Mater sloshed and squeaked across the shiny floor, to the customer service desk at the very back, to where two idle assistants were watching the approach with interest.
Squeak. Squeak. Squeak.
Mater reached the desk eventually, and wanted to know if they carried the title she was looking for. They did. And could she make an exchange? Of course. They just needed the receipt.
Mater rustled around in her handbag for a bit, hoping she had not faced the rainy day for nothing.
At last, the crumpled paper.
One of the assistants gently told Mater that she was terribly sorry, but the receipt was for the other chain bookstore in the city, a street or two away, and not for Eason's at all.
It turned out that, contrary to Mater's assumption, the book had come from the other store. There was no arguing with that.
Mater returned the receipt to her handbag, stuck the duplicate novel under her arm, glanced at the pair and said, with a wry grin, "I suppose I'll just have to squeak away then."
Squeak. Squeak. Squeak.
The assistants were most amused by the curious encounter- and Mater got her book in the end, after an amount of puddle-hopping.
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 4:06 PM
Monday, February 8, 2010
A friend gave us a boxed gift set of two mugs, a canister of loose tea, and a jar of marmalade. The mugs went right into the cupboard. The tea I sampled once and found strangely lacking.
It being English, strong, black tea reminiscent of the brand I drank all my life in Ireland, I expected to find it to my taste. Surprised, I shrugged, fished out my Irish teabags, scraped the new marmalade onto some crisp toast, and forgot all about the loose tea. Spouse and I grew to adore the marmalade, although it possessed less of an orange shade than usual, and, as Spouse said on more than one occasion, a subtle whiskey flavour lingered underneath.
The tea, anyhow, sat on the kitchen table for about a month, until this morning. I picked it up while I waited for my kettle to clatter to tell me that the water had boiled.
I was tempted to give the loose tea another chance. I might, I reasoned, not have been in the appropriate mood that day.
I wavered. The water bubbled and thundered inside the kettle, but, all of a sudden, I was unable to move. I was staring at the label underneath the can, making great efforts to decipher the numbers because, after all, they could not mean what they seemed to mean. The digits swam and swirled before my eyes.
It appeared that the tea had expired in November of 1999, in the decade before last. I had been a teenager; I was in high school. The list was infinite, and my mind was whirling.
No wonder, I said, no wonder I thoroughly disliked the taste.
I carried on making the breakfast. Though startled, I was not so flabbergasted that I had lost my appetite or anything untoward.
And yet. Something, some minor detail was lurking at the back of my mind, bothering me, but it was not until I was pouring the water that the truth wafted to me through the steam. The tea had not been alone in the gift box. There was the set of mugs. No problem there: I had not used them, and they were made of porcelain, hardly a prime candidate for expiration.
But then, oh, then, oh, then, there was the marmalade.
I went to the fridge like a streak of lightning.
My fingers closed around the marmalade jar, the all-too familiar container, now disturbingly half-empty, that we had been using for nigh-on two weeks, daily, slathered thick and brown on our toast.
I wanted to know, did not want to know, but I steeled my nerves and had a glimpse anyway.
There, in tiny, almost-smirking gold letters, was the worst of inscriptions.
I squeezed my eyes shut but all I saw, emblazoned cruelly inside my eyelids, was a number so dreadfully, awfully out of place that I shuddered:
Well, then, no wonder it had an undercurrent of whiskey to it; no wonder it was less than orange: the marmalade was more than twelve years old- and that was just to calculate by the expiration date. Goodness knows when it had been packed and set onto the supermarket shelf. If I were to hazard a guess, I was probably fifteen years old when the marmalade was actually made.
Being a discreet distance from fifteen, I put the jar right back into the fridge and slammed the door on it as though I had trapped a venomous snake in a cupboard.
It is in there yet. One must dispose of such elements with extreme caution. I called Spouse and confessed to him the truth, that we had been consuming marmalade older than a high-school student.
To tell the truth, the new knowledge came as a terrible pity- because for a while there, the marmalade was rather delicious.
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 5:26 PM