No one told me when I got older, how much I would miss the old ones. Oh, don't get me wrong, I was a depressed (and depressing) child and lord knows that I mourned my grandmother 30 years before she died.
But I'm not talking about that. Tonight I am missing the old and all that goes with them. Somehow, the last ten years, my family has flattened out. If you were to graph our ages on a spreadsheet, there's big a flat, broad clump of 40 to 60 year old's with a measly few spikes up to the 70's and 80's and a scattering of entries from 10 to 25.
My family has leveled out. Suddenly my sisters and I and our families are the bulk of it and at the holidays, we can count on one hand the ladies with permanents and navy blue patent leather shoes.
Where are the old ones? Where are the aunts who crocheted anything that stood still, who knitted baby sweaters with arms as long as orangutans? What happened to the uncles who stood at attention in salute whenever the national anthem played - in their living rooms. Where are the Elk members and the church ushers in green blazers and the women who owned house dresses with zippers that had shiny pink plastic toggles and stockings rolled down around their knees?
We are all so pleasantly alike, my existing family. We have nice, pleasantly decorated homes. We have pleasant gardens and decks and two pleasant cars in the driveways.
How is it that among all 5 of us daughters, there isn't a one with a plaster garden gnome, iron deer, or madonna statue in the front yard? Why don't at least one of us have flowers planted in a painted tire? Or how about at leat one kitchen windowsill that holds a lineup of mismatched pots filled with scraggly houseplants that never seem to grow or die?
If I pop in on one of my sisters, I know for sure several things:
- none of them will have a plastic tablecloth on the table
- not a one will be wearing a housedress or apron
- and no one will have on slippers with no backs
What is this world coming to?
Of course, none of them will be home. They will either be at work; driving kids to and from activities; or at the gym. If I were to catch them in a rare midday hour in the their houses, no one will ask me to be quiet while they watch their "stories". If we're not home, you can be sure we aren't at a bridge or a fashion show or playing mah jong. We don't belong to clubs that require us to sell chances for church raffles or put together baskets of cheer for auction.
And I'm quite certain that their toilet paper is quietly stored under the sink rather than a pink crocheted "poodle" cover with googly eyes and pom pom tail that sits on the toilet bowl tank.
Worst of all, no one has an Italian accent. No one talks over our heads in Sicilian dialect as if we don't know they're talking about a) sex; b) money; c) divorce; d) cancer. No one pinches our cheeks, calls us "bella", hands us dollar bills, or keeps Chiclets in the dishtowel drawer. The best I do is give my nephew five bucks and a Kit Kat bar for walking the dogs on Saturday afternoons.
There are no old men with baggy pants and a five o'clock shadow making wine in the basement. I haven't seen a pair of polyester pants and one inch pumps that overflow with swollen ankles walk in my house in ... 7 years.
Who is using all the plastic flower totebags that held pilled sweaters, scuffed "house shoes", and their own rubber gloves case they should do the after dinner dishes? The landfills must be filled with them, along with hair rollers, pin curl clips, and mink stoles with heads and claws.
And I daresay that were I to open the purse of any of my sisters, or even my 84-year old mother, you would not find
- a plastic rainhat folded into a tiny plastic sleeve with the name of a bank on it;
- a clip to use to hang said purse off of a table
- a gold pillbox (maybe mom)
- a folding plastic drinking cup
- a handkerchief (ok, mom has that), or
- a tiny gold pen for keeping score at bridge
Estate sales must be stuffed with them.
Our dining room drawers do not contain 50 years of matchbooks inscribed with the names of brides and groom, or Canasta scorecards, plastic swizzle sticks, or sterling flatware. I've never seen a hatbox in the hall closet even at my own mother's house.
If we were to drop dead tomorrow, our children would not be finding wads of cash in the mattress, the coffee can under the sink, or the freezer in the basement. We use banks. We do not keep lists taped to the freezer door with an inventory of chicken legs and sausage and the dates when interred. We run to the store after work each day to buy dinner or take out.
We all own luncheon sets, given either as shower gifts or inherited. Sadly, they gather dust in our own dining room servers. We do not give crocheted afghans to cousins at baby showers. We do not refuse to drive or allow our husbands to drive after dark. We lack maiden daughters to cook meals and be our companions. We don't have stores of homemade cookies in giant plastic tubs in the basement. We don't have the neighbors over for dinner, go on cruises with the Jaycees, or put together tables for dinner dances.
None of us could dance at dinner dances.
I feel the sorriest for the younger generation. We're all they have. There are no "safe" houses for them to hang out in for the weekend where old ladies will make homemade pizza for them or teach them how to make taralla cookies or allow them to look through the basement for interesting family artifacts. We now own all those interesting artifacts.
The best they have is . . . us. The sisters who talk too much and too loudly and share the same expressions. The uncles who tease them or coach them at ballgames. Cousins who shuffled sleepovers like dealing a deck of cards each weekend. It's all they know so they think it's enough.
We're the ones who suffer, who yearn for one more gift of scratchy crocheted slippers (there was a lot of slipper-ness back in the day, no?), for a glimpse of a dyed black jet head of hair with widow's peak, or a the sound of a Cadillac as big as a boat pulling up in front of the house, the door opening with a delicious blast of air conditioning and cigar smoke.
Perhaps its just my refusal to relinquish middle age status. It's hard to be "middle" when the buffer between you and the grave is reduced to one. I don't want to roll up to the starting gate - or is it the finish line? I don't own a plastic totebag and if I were to wear a mink stole, the dogs would attack it. I hate polyester, but I have been thinking about crocheting some granny squares. Of course, mine would be done in vibrant, contemporary colors and they are all trendy now.
And my husband did give me a pair of slippers for Christmas, but they were bright green frogs. None of the brothers in law smoke cigars or make wine, but there is the crazy uncle who serves lobsters as big as tunas for Christmas Eve dinner.
Perhaps I can interest two older sisters in some plastic totebags and an old mink stole?