Operation Scare the Woodchuck

A refresher for those of you just tuning in: Ciocia means Auntie in Polish. It’s pronounced Chuh-Chuh. My sister-in-law, in the family for 18 years, was so dreadfully afraid she was mispronouncing it like Spanish swear word that she refrained from using it. She just mastered it a few years ago. So don’t worry, you still have time to practice.

 

This is the view outside the kitchen table window where my parents and Ciocia Felicia (she lives with them by the way) enjoy the backyard view. The window also serves as an observation tower from which they strategically plot against two enemies: the squirrels and the woodchucks.

My family members are live and let live people but when the squirrels started eating the bird seed in the winter and the woodchucks decimated Ciocia’s tomato plants in the summer, lines were drawn. Mom and Ciocia began their daily surveillance. This involved mid-sweep pauses as they cleaned the kitchen to watch for movement outside the window. If they had access to infrared goggles, there would have been a night shift.

not their actual woodchuck

During the day, Mom kept one eye out over the sink window while she washed dishes. If she noticed a woodchuck she’d plunk the dish down and start muttering things that shouldn’t be repeated. Felicia would already be slipping on her flip flops to run outside. I think she was hoping for some hand to hand combat to settle this once and for all. After all, they ate all her tomatoes that year.

When Mom and Ciocia realized that the woodchucks had an acute sense of hearing, they started banging on the windows. It saved them from running outside each time they appeared. That got old pretty fast. When the banging stopped scaring the woodchucks off, Mom and Ciocia started making their own sounds to make things louder.

To an outsider, it may have looked like my mom and Ciocia were trying to be let out of their own house.

The woodchucks started multiplying. Started getting bolder. One blatantly sunned itself on the stone wall. It was all my mom could take.
They started going back outside to scare them.

And then…

My mom started barking.

Let me just say, that pretending to bark in Polish sounds different than in English. If you don’t believe me make your bark sound right now and then tap the next foreign person you meet and ask them to bark for you. I’m just saying. It is its own translation. My mother’s sounds something like a cross between a lonely wolf and someone walking on hot coals.

Her barking had no effect on our pudgy brown woodchucks at first. So she persisted barking in the back yard louder and louder. Until the next door neighbor who had been sitting on his back deck, stood up and looked over the tall hedge separating the yard and said,
“Everything okay Halina?”

My mother laughed so hard when she told us, she moved herself into a coughing fit.

“Oh my god Mom, did you tell him why you were out there?” I asked, wondering if I should start wearing a hat and dark sunglasses when I drove onto their street.

“I tell him. We havin’ good laugh.”

The barking stopped because the have-a-heart-traps came in…and eventually foxes.

When winter came and the squirrels moved in on the bird feeder, that’s when Brigadier General Ciocia Felicia really started proving her mettle.
To be Continued…

Food and the Freezer: Revisited

I spy five rye breads and eight bags of freshly frozen blueberries. I can barely make out the bag of Pierogi on the left hand side. Has my mother gone vegetarian? This is the not the pork chop stocked freezer I used to know as a kid, where if the family pak yellow Styrofoam slid out over the round of a bread, my toes would get hammered. Things are looking tidy in my parents’ freezer these days. And healthy! Look at all those frozen anti-oxidants. It’s a good thing because it reminds of my mom’s trip to the hospital several years ago.

It started with a mid-day phone call to my sister-in-law Martha.

Mom: “I feel screwdriver in my chest.”
Martha: “Oh my God! Halina, call an ambulance!”
Mom: “No ambulance. Some kinda pain in my chest. “

Martha had the good sense to already have one foot out the door since Ciocia Felicia made a similar call to her several years before that and said, “Feel like elephant on my chest, but I okay.” Felicia’s story ended in quadruple by-pass surgery. Martha knew if my mom was complaining, the situation was already a code Red. My mom did not call an ambulance to head to the Emergency Room as instructed. Instead she waited for Martha who lived one town over to pick her up in the Jeep.

Blocked arteries. “Somebody call Jannett.”

I raced down in my car from Maine and was in the hospital room by the time the Nutritionist showed up. My mother was only able to lie on one side after the catheterization into a groin artery. She half way turned her upper torso to face the Nutritionist.

“HALINA, I’M GOING TO ASK YOU SOME QUESTIONS ABOUT YOUR EATING HABITS.” announced the Nutritionist who evidently thought that by being foreign, my mother might also be deaf.

“DO YOU EAT ANY SALADS?”
My mom in a torso twist, answered, “Yes. Every day.”
“DO YOU EAT CANNED SOUPS?
“Oh No,” my mom said, “I make my own soup.”
“YOU PUT EXTRA SALT INTO YOUR SOUP, HALINA?”
“No.No.No,” assured my mom.
“YOU PUT A HAM BONE IN THE SOUP, HALINA?”
“Yessss, sometimes.”
“OKAY HALINA, NO MORE HAM BONES IN THE SOUP, OKaaaaay? YOU HAVE TO WATCH YOUR SODIUM.”

My mom turned away from the Nutritionist, back toward the curtain that split the room in half and said, “You ask too much of me.”

Home Is Where the Objects Are

Yes, home is where the heart is but more so, home is where the objects are. Take any one of these items out of my parents’ house and put them and me in the jungle in Borneo and I would cry ‘Home!’

Exhibit A

The Glass Percolator: It replaced the other glass percolator that cracked when Ciocia Felicia left it on the burner and got distracted in the cellar. The broken one had been a replacement for the two other burned out metal tea kettles before it.
      *I have burned through one tea pot so far. Is this genetic?    

 

Exhibit B

Dad’s Mug – Perhaps the most sacred dishware in the house. No one can say exactly when Dad starting using it, only that it has surpassed 30 years for certain, if not more. Many have let out a gasp letting it slip from their hands into the sink and sometimes the floor, yet it remains whole. I fear that my Dad will give up drinking coffee and tea altogether if it breaks.
He claims this one holds the heat.

 

Exhibit C

The Stray Paper Towel – A gently used paper towel left on the counter for second use. This used to drive me crazy, until I found myself doing it recently too. Just like freezing bread and burning through tea pots, I am genetically programmed to saving a stray paper towel. Said paper towel is usuallysharing counter space near an apple, tomato or onion.

 

Exhibit D     

THE TV

 
Either on loud or not at all

• Home Shopping Network- My mother and Ciocia Fela cannot get enough of the jewelry. Hours of it. If Home Shopping Network is crack then Mom and Ciocia like to free-base.

• The Spanish Channel- watched most by Ciocia who speaks the least English in the house. When I pointed out that she doesn’t speak Spanish she shrugged and said, “They sing nice.”
     *I watched a little bit of Bourne Identity on the Telemundo channel the other day and thought her.

 

 

Exhibit E


The Thermometer- So vital to the house’s bio dome operations, we have two of them, one outside and one inside. I don’t know why, but like wanting to have our clocks set to Greenwich Mean Time, my father needs to know the temperature.

 When I visit my parents, I expect to see these things. Though I wonder if the percolator’s days are numbered. While it’s my family I come home to visit, these objects let me know I’m home.

Special Thanks to my brother Adam who went on a mission to my parents house yesterday morning to take some photos for me. It was good for me that it was a too windy fishing day for him.

“Ma, sit down!”

If it wasn't so late I would photoshop my mother and Ciocia Felicia's faces over Laurel and Hardy.

My mother would coal mine if you gave her a pickaxe. Actually, she owns a pickaxe. Probably, the only thing stopping her from coal mining is not having an elevator shaft to bring her a mile below the kitchen floor. My mom is not afraid of hard work and she has the hands to show for it.

In my imaginary mineshaft, I picture her doing a little vacuuming and bringing the miners some ham sandwiches before she picks a good spot in the solid earth and chips away. Black lung, be damned.

I have seen her in action with the pickaxe. Not coal mining, but digging up a gigantic tree root and stump in the backyard with Ciocia Felicia. Did I mention that they both have heart conditions and at the time were in their 60s and 70’s respectively? Snow shoveling is also high on their list of fun and relaxing activities. There is particular tell all excitement in the house afterward if the snow was wet and heavy. Even when my brother hired a snowplow to come and take care of the driveway, my mother grew impatient waiting one morning and shoveled anyway.

I’m always trying to get my mom to relax.

“Do you always have to work so hard?” I ask.
“Yes.” She nods.

We have tried to pamper her, usually against her will. Like the time we brought her in for a French manicure for my brother’s wedding: our great idea.

“How people work like this?” she said, tapping the acrylic white tips of her fingers on the counter. She grabbed things like she didn’t have opposable thumbs. So much for future manicures for Christmas.

“Ma, you need to relax.” I say.
“Relax?” she repeats, as if I just spoke in Mandarin.
“I take nap.”
“A NAP! You need a vacation. A massage. Go out to a restaurant!” I plead.
“I am not that kind of people.” She replies.

And I realize I am that kind of people. Stress? Rewards. Working hard? Rewards. Things go my way? Rewards. Things go badly? Rewards. This seems like a fine way to live if you ask me. After all, life can be long and more so, too short.

Lawrence Welk: My Baby Aspirin, My Sedation

I watched The Lawrence Welk Show with my parents when TV’s still had legs and a knob to walk up to. (Insert loud Godzilla sounds and gnashing teeth here.) My brothers and I used to annoy my father by twisting the channel dial as if we were trying to spin a top. Tickticktick. Tickticktick. I’m not so sure what we were hoping to accomplish with the speed of the rotation with only three channels at our disposal, but we made it our job.I think this may have increased my father’s smoking at the time. His Marlboro’s were on the maroon velvet arm rest, with the orange plastic ashtray balanced carefully on the wooden edge extension. When I was 6th grade and he was in the midst of quitting, my mother often came down stairs in her nightgown and stood at the living room door sniffing, eyes in a squint.

But I digress. The Lawrence Welk Show was quiet time. Just out of the bath time. Family time without vocabulary to define it as such. The Johnson and Johnson’s baby shampoo scent sprang from my brushed-out hair like the potted lilies we had in the kitchen at Easter. When I wasn’t getting my hair coiled in pin curls, I was lying on the scratchy carpet and letting out a once a year scream when I saw a silver millipede scuttle across the room. “It came from the cellar!” I would scream and felt even more reasons to love my footie pajamas.

By the time I was in high school, my parents would be in the kitchen instead of in front of the TV. Pots slid over the electric burners, tea cups hit saucers and spoons caressed the edges of porcelain cups. Their voices were a quiet murmur. I would fall asleep on the sofa. Lawrence Welk on the TV. I feigned indifference to dinner, to the TV as I felt the blanket over the back of the couch get pulled over on me.

I can’t ever remember a time when Lawrence Welk was not on my parents TV. It has been on forever. Even now in 2011, I can still walk into their house and watch an old episode. It’s usually part of some PBS telethon and my mother will take a moment to shush me when I’m in the middle of talking over a Lennon Sisters number. She still says’ Champagne Lady’ in a tone like she’s referring to someone from the Royal Family. She can tell me which Welk Show artists are dead, divorced, remarried, and whose off-spring has gone into the business. All with a little sigh like she’s telling me- look what time did. I can hardly keep track. I only remember Lawrence, Joe Feeney, Myron the accordion guy, the Lennon Sisters, the Champagne Lady and the guy who inspired me to take Tap Dance. Who can forget the mustard polyester, powder blue floor length gowns and Geritol?

I realized when I had the bubonic plague last year, and lay dying on my couch alone, I stumbled across The Lawrence Welk Show. I said Ohmygod out loud and put the volume at the perfect level for someone suffering and fell deep into a comforting sleep.

It’s like I could still hear the dishes, the spoons swirling. The murmuring.

(special thanks to tvcollector71 on youtube from whom I borrowed this link. Check out his other great LWS clips.)