Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The annoying itch of true love

Her birthday is exactly a week after mine, and during the week between them sits Valentine's Day---a day I might have ruined for her thirty years ago, with the aftershocks of childbirth, if my father were any kind of romantic, but he's not. He's more practical than that. He's so practical, he's impractical---a problem rooted in the question: "Why have someone else do it if I can do it myself?"

Mom can think of a lot of answers, including "because you won't" and "because other people do it faster" or "because it is dangerous", but she usually just answers by growling his name. Dad's a doer, a practical man, and he knows by now that it is impractical to try to justify his ideas to her, so he just goes to the garage and gets started.

She is, by contrast, a disgruntled romantic, a quasi-religious, cigarette-smoking, big-picture pessimist so accustomed to her own morbid world-view, that she doesn't consider it depressing, after watching a black-and-white movie, to comment not on the classic charm of the old film, but rather on the probability that the actors are all dead by now. My father, of course, only watches TV when it is already on, from the doorway, so as not to be outed as a time-waster. He's got a lot to do after all.

Sometimes, I wonder how my parents stayed together, despite their love. Perhaps they've driven each other to the same insanity, and are content in
that they finally have something in common.

For their honeymoon, he drove her two provinces eastward to visit his parents. Thirty-odd years later, she's still waiting for her real honeymoon, she says, but is willing to accept a new sofa in its place. It was an ineffective bargaining chip, though, and five years since she first played it, she's still waiting for the sofa. The old brown velour sofa, still in perfectly good condition according to Dad, I suspect will soon come to a brutal end at the hands of my mother and perhaps some lighter fluid.

My father claims he'd be more than happy to get her a new one, it's just that he has no idea what she wants, and suspects that neither does she. While he has a point, my mother's interest drifts back to the Silver Screen before he can get to it, so it's moot.

He's tried buying her things before. It never works out for him. When microwaves were first on the market, he bought her one for Christmas. She plugged it in, pressed some buttons and it caught on fire. He returned it the next day. When she was pregnant with me, and at risk of miscarrying, he bought her a TV, the same one she watched until I was already living on my own. She called one day to tell me it had caught on fire, too, and, more importantly, that she could finally get a new one. For their anniversary one year, he got her a sewing machine. She hates sewing even more than she hated him that day.

Ever practical, my father
put it to good use, taught himself to sew and custom-designed coveralls to wear while working on his many projects, and a few wide-brimmed hats for good measure. Scrutinized by my mother, she concluded that not only were they ugly, but they would last forever. That's when Mom unofficially changed Dad's name to "Your Father", and resigned from trying to influence his actions any further.

I've been around for most of their marriage and during that time my father, according to my mother, has messed up quite a bit, especially on anniversaries. For her birthday this year, though, he got it right with jewelery. When I called to wish her a happy day, she specified that he'd clearly not wrapped the gift himself, and the earrings could have been a little bigger, but they're beautiful. With my mother, that's as good as getting it right.


Bob Stein said...

I remember relishing this when you wrote it. My gosh, that picture. Your article itself is like the second thousand words, and makes it even more adorable.

There's a distinct style of writing, call it Worship By Flaws. Ani DiFranco's song As Is is an example. Pardon my reductive, but it's mostly something a girl does. Not always: Shaara's book "Killer Angels" describes Chamberlain's awkwardness with great affection.

Mystique never makes a hero. It's the admiration of those close enough to know them complexly. When told to strangers, the deeds and quirks together paint a riveting picture. I only hope my kids write about me someday half as lovingly.

Kate Savage said...

And that was certainly the sweetest, most well-written comment ever. Thank you. I'm moved.

I am so glad you could see, in this entry, how much I adore my parents, and thank them for working it all out.

Bob Stein said...

Oh, they inspired me! I feel like buying a sewing machine and a bunch of lighter fluid. There's so much to be built. And so much to be torched.