Chick Wit: Mother Mary, why so contrary?

Posted: July 10, 2011

Mother Mary makes everything an adventure, even a trip to the food store.

And by adventure, I mean fistfight.

We begin in the produce aisle, where she's looking for bean salad. There's a counter that contains all sorts of prepared salads, including a five-bean salad, but Mother Mary eyes it with disdain.

"No," she says simply.

"What's the matter with it? It has five beans. That's two more than anybody needs."

"It doesn't have pinto."

"What difference does that make?" I have no idea what a pinto bean even looks like. I thought a pinto was a car.

"I like pinto. I want pinto."

"Then add some," I say.

Mother Mary throws up her hands. "If I wanted to cook, I wouldn't come to the food store."

Fine. I always thought that people who go to food stores then go home to cook, but what do I know?

We move on to the tubs of chicken salad, and there's another problem. "No," she says again.

"Why?"

"Too busy."

I don't understand. Chicken salad isn't busy unless it's wearing plaid pants with a polka-dot shirt. "It has celery and mayonnaise. What's busy?"

"Forget it." She looks around, her white head swiveling neatly as a snowy owl's. "We need broccoli and cauliflower."

"I'm on it. You stay here." I leave her with the cart, run to the broccoli and bag it, then run to the cauliflower and bag it, and come back.

"No good."

"What?"

"I want broccoli and cauliflower together."

"I got it together." I hold up both bags, one in each hand. "See?"

"No, they have to be together. In Florida, they have broccoli and cauliflower in the same bag."

"No problem." I take the bag of cauliflower and stuff it in the bag of broccoli. "Welcome to Pennsylvania."

Mother Mary shakes her head. "At home, they have it in the same bag, cut up, and you cook it that way."

"Well, this is your home, too, and we can take it, cut it up, and cook it together."

She blinks. "This isn't my home."

"Yes, it is. You have your house here, and your house in Florida."

"Only one is home."

"We'll see about that." I sense we're not fighting about vegetables anymore, as I'm astute that way, and in the Scottoline household, almost anything can turn into a power struggle, including vegetables.

Even the cruciferous become crucibles, if you follow.

So we move on to a fight in the next aisle, where they don't carry Ensure, and to a fight in the aisle after that, where they don't carry Dial soap.

I don't see her problem. "Ma, what's the big deal with Dial?"

"It's laid, spelled backwards."

Oh.

I hurry her through the checkout counter, where I try to stuff her in a recyclable bag, but they stop me.

Just kidding.

We go home and have dinner together, and I put the broccoli and cauliflower in the same pot, overcooking them so that the broccoli turns a cadaverous white and the cauliflower takes on a gangrenous hue.

"Delicious," Mother Mary says with a smile.

"Pennsylvania's not so bad, eh?"

"Shut up," is all she says.

Later, we clean up the dishes and she tells me that she misses our old cat Smoochie, who passed away.

"I have his ashes upstairs," I say, and she lifts a sparse gray eyebrow.

"Really?"

"Sure." I keep the ashes from all of my pets, for the last 30 years, in my office. The dogs Bear, Rosie, Bertie, Lucy, and Angie. Smoochie is the only cat, and I even have a chest of ashes from Francesca's horse, Joy. In case you were wondering, a chest of horse ashes is roughly the size of a footlocker, and now you know why I work in the kitchen.

So I tell her all of this, then add, "I want to be cremated, too. Put me in a little cedar chest and stick me on the shelf in my office."

"I don't want to be cremated."

"No?" I ask her, which is when I see her expression darken and realize that the conversation just took a serious turn. So I twist off the faucet and ask gently, "What do you want?"

"I want a mausoleum." She starts to smile, and so do I.

"Really?"

"Absolutely. At the food store, you said I have a house in Florida and a house in Pennsylvania. Well, I want another house. In Holy Cross."

I laugh. "You're not going out cheap, are you, Ma?"

"Hell, no," she answers, with a wink.


Lisa Scottoline's new novel, "Save Me," is on sale now. Lisa Scottoline and Francesca Serritella's essays have been published in "My Nest Isn't Empty, It Just Has More Closet Space" and "Why My Third Husband Will Be a Dog." Visit Lisa at www.scottoline.com.

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