Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, July 15, 2011


Things got away from us yesterday because of all the pandemonium at Casa Casa.  It wasn't until late in the day that I realized it was Bastille Day, which also happens to be the birthday of my mother-in-law.  She would have been 88.

     She didn't have the easiest life.  Her parents were well-to-do, but her father died of a heart attack back in the days when high cholesterol counts were a sign of success.  Her mother, bereft, commited suicide when Eileen was nine.  After some squabbling among the families, during which time I understand she was placed in the New England Home for Little Wanderers, she was went to live with an maternal aunt and her kindly and rougish husband.  Frank had an interesting past; he had been in vaudeville, had owned a used car lot, had run a restaurant and served as its cook, and seemed to be familiar with a number of unsavory people (a kind term for gangsters).  And Frank was a gambler.  Eileen spent her growing years in an uncertain economic environment.

     My father-in-law caught Eileen on the rebound -- her fiance had been killed in World War II.  Eileen agreed to marry my father-in-law "once the war is over", not realizing that the war would end in only few weeks.  A few years later found her living in a trailer in Georgia with two kids as her husband attended Georgia Tech and made a little extra money by selling newspapers.  (He had a chance to make much more money by running moonshine, but Eileen nixed that idea.)

     With an engineer for a husband, she moved up and down the East Coast, going wherever the work would take them.  Often, she would not even bother to unpack most of the boxes, knowing the family would move again in a few months.  Basically unsecure, she became a socialphobe and would bring Kitty with her as a buffer to any functions or meetings she had to attend.  (From age nine or so, Kitty learned by necessity how to carry on an adult conversation.)  Due to the economic ups and downs she had as a child, Eileen had also become parsimonious, making Scrooge McDuck look like an amateur.  Toward the end of her life, when Eileen had a number of medical issues, my daughter had to explained to a nurse that Eileen could be difficult in the best of times and that these were not the best of times.

     But, behind her hard shell, Eileen had an inner sense of decency that she would sometimes show unexpectedly.  When she learned that one of her sons' teenage friends didn't even have enough money for decent underwear, she talked my father into giving the boy a job.  During the last ten years of her life, she was finally able to reach out and make good friends, sharing joys and supporting them during sorrows. She even told Kitty that I was a good man -- something she would never say to my face.  Eileen passed away early on a Monday morning.  (We had bought a house that would provide easy access for her and gave her the ground floor so that we could take care of her for the last three years of her life.)  By eight o'clock that morning, the hospice housekeeper had arrived and I had to tell her that Eileen had died.  The woman broke down in tears.  Eileen had been her favorite client and had spent the three mornings a week talking with her, listening, and sharing -- something that did not often happen with the housekeeper's clients.

     Once Eileen decided to take us out to dinner at a Chinese restaurant.  She had seen a special advertised n the newspaper that intrigued her.  So off we went to a Chinese restaurant, Eileen bringing the advertisement in tow.  Naturally, the restaurant was not the one that had placed the advertisement but that didn't phase Eileen.  While we crawled under the table in embarrassment, Eileen showed our waiter the advertisement and told him that's what she wanted and at that price.  When the waiter told her that they didn't serve that particular specialty, Eileen pointed to the newspaper.  "But it's advertised," she said.  Eileen ended up with the meal she wanted and at the price she wanted and the waiter and the kitchen staff ended up with severe headaches.  So it is that each year we celebrate Eileen's birthday with Chinese food.

     However, we usually order from the correct menu.

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