Sunday, April 26, 2015

Funereal humor

My 102-year-old mother, Ruby, who died yesterday, would kill me for telling this story but, for the first time in 63 years, I don’t have to worry about her reaction.  So here goes.

Mom lived in an Assisted Living facility in Columbia, Mo. She despised everything about it, and found it particularly annoying to be surrounded by fellow residents who, unlike her, were in various stages of dementia. One was Justine, a ninety-something farm wife who sat at mom’s assigned table during meals who, mom said, always got things wrong. Almost every time we talked mom would tell me the latest piece of misinformation from Justine, who spends her day parked in front of the TV.

At every meal Justine would announce disastrous news she had just seen on TV  -- “a tornado killed 10 people” or “there was a terrible fire.” When mom pressed for details – where/when/how – Justine would reply, “I’m not sure” or provide information that was clearly wrong.

Let me digress for those of you unfamiliar with mid-Missouri geography. Columbia is in Boone County. Rural Audrain (pronounced Awe-drain) County borders to the northeast. Last summer, during the Russian/Ukrainian conflict, a Malaysian Air 777 was shot down over Ukraine, killing nearly 300. That day Justine announced she had seen on TV that an airliner was shot down.

“Where?” Mom asked.

“Audrain,” Justine replied.

Yesterday, when my sister and I went to the Assisted Living facility to retrieve a dress for the funeral director (or, as mom would have called him, the “undertaker,”), lunch was being served. We stopped by mom’s table to tell her table mates mom had died. They said they were sorry.

“A thousand people have been killed in Naples,” Justine announced. “Naples, Florida?” I asked, horrified. “That’s right next to where I live.”

“I don’t know, they didn’t say,” she replied, shaking her head sadly.

Checking my phone a few minutes later I learned about the earthquake that set off an avalanche in Nepal and killed more than a thousand people.

I know mom is glad she doesn’t have to listen to that kind of prattle any more. I’m glad she doesn’t, too.

But we sure would have had a good laugh over that one.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Dissing with Teddy

Teddy, our 12-month-old grandson, is visiting. Knowing my readers are always eager to hear whatever Teddy has to say, I sat him down for an interview on the beach yesterday.

TD: So Teddy, your mom said you were good on the airplane except you played with the armrests for two and a half hours straight. What else did you enjoy about your first flight?

Teddy (pointing): Dis?

TD: That’s a beach umbrella to keep the sun off Teddy so he won't get all wrinkly like grandpa.

Teddy (pointing): Dat?

TD: That’s called sand.

Teddy (pointing): Dis?

TD: Grandpa’s soda.

Teddy (pointing): Dat?

TD: That’s a Cessna 150 pulling an "Eat at Mel's Diner" banner. 

Teddy (pointing): Dat?

TD: That’s a sailboat. Can you say boat?

Teddy (pointing): Dis?

TD: Like I said, this is called a beach umbrella.

Teddy (pointing): Dat?

TD: Looks like a Slim Jim with blonde hair but it's a skinny old lady with skin like leather, wearing a bikini. She's here every day.

Teddy (pointing): Dis?

TD: Sand again.  Can you say sand?

Teddy (pointing): Dis?

TD: The boat -- we just talked about that. It has a red sail. Can you say ...

Teddy (pointing): Dat?

TD: Sand. Lots of sand. As far as you can see in both directions.

Teddy (pointing): Dis?

TD: This is a beach towel. It's purple  …and red  …and yellow and ...

Teddy (pointing): Dis?

TD: That's the tramp stamp on the skinny old lady with the leathery skin. She'd have been better off spending her money on something to eat instead of on a tattoo, don't you think?

Teddy (pointing): Dat?

TD: That’s grandpa’s nose. Where’s Teddy’s nose? Can you show me Teddy’s nose?

Teddy (pointing): Dis?

TD: No, that’s a man on a jet ski. Lookie, there it is! There’s Teddy’s nose! It's right between his eyes and his mouth! Can you say eyes?

Teddy: Dat?

TD: Sand again. I can, if you want me to, identify each and every grain of it on this beach but take my word -- it's all sand. Miles and miles of sand. 

Teddy: Dis?

TD: Ouch, that's my chest hair! Let go, it hurts!

Teddy (pointing): Dis?

TD: Sand. A billion, jillion, quadrillion grains of sand. I'd put you down and let you play in it but you'd eat it. "Sand"... can you say that?

Teddy (pointing): Dat?

TD: Smart boy Teddy, that's good talking! What else do you want to talk about about?

Teddy (pointing): Dis?

Thursday, April 9, 2015

An interview with a 14-year-old dachshund

I am blessed to be surrounded by long-lived females. Last week my mother turned 102. Today, our dachshund, Bonnie, turns 14.

This morning, following a steak and eggs breakfast (for her, coffee for me), Bonnie and I sat down for a birthday chat.

TD: What’s your secret to living this long?

Bonnie: Exercise. Specifically, chasing lizards around the lanai. And plenty of sleep – at least 23 hours a day.

TD: What is your proudest achievement?

Bonnie: Overcoming submissive urination. It was humiliating. For my first 10 years I couldn't help letting go whenever someone reached down to pet me. 

TD: How'd you do it?

Bonnie: Kegel exercises. I learned about them watching Dr. Oz.

TD: What’s your biggest regret?

Bonnie: That I tried to bite that sweet lady from Dachshund Rescue who drove all the way from Miami to see if you and mom would be suitable foster parents for homeless dogs. I was annoyed you were even considering it.

TD: Yeah, thanks to you we didn’t get the dachshund we had applied for.

Bonnie: I have always regretted what I did. That dachshund would have been lucky to wind up with you and mom. You’re pushovers.

TD: You fell into the pool yesterday. If I hadn’t been right there to fish you out you would have drowned. What happened?

Bonnie: I had been drinking.

TD: Yes, from your water bowl. It’s not like it was full of vodka.

Bonnie: Perhaps I’m losing my sight in my old age. Or my timing. Or my balance. Or, just maybe and I doubt this has occurred to you, I wanted to take a swim. It’s hot here in Florida, especially when you're wearing a coat 24/7.

TD: What are your goals for the next 14 years?

Bonnie: To see the rest of this marvelous country we call home. I’ve only been to 15 states, so I still have 34 to go.

TD: Bonnie, there are 50 states. You have 35 to go, not 34.

Bonnie: I’m on the TSA’s “no fly” list after that unfortunate incident on JetBlue in which I escaped from the carry-on you had crammed me into, ran up the aisle and jumped into the lap of an old lady just as the plane was taking off, so I’m resigned to the fact I’ll never make it to Hawaii unless, of course, we take a cruise.

TD: Speaking of states, you’ve lived in two – Connecticut and, for the last two years, full-time in Florida. Which is your favorite?

Bonnie: There are always stories on TV about dogs who move and miraculously find their way back to their previous homes. Have you ever seen one about a dog who attempted to go back to Connecticut? No, and you never will. Nobody in their right mind would want to go back to a place where packs of coyotes roam through the suburbs and deer ticks carry Lyme disease not to mention it has the worst winters north of the South Pole.

TD: What’s the one thing you couldn’t live without?

Bonnie: The Burberry leash mom brought me from London.

TD: You’ve seen lots of changes in 14 years. What stands out the most?

Bonnie: How the men in this family have aged. Ben had just graduated from high school the day you brought me home. Now he's a practicing lawyer – has been for seven years – with a kid of his own. Stuart was about to start his sophomore year of high school. He got his graduate degree in ‘09 and has been working ever since. He was – I'm sure you know this but we've never talked about it – the first man I ever slept with.

TD: Yeah, the boys have changed big-time.

Bonnie: Nobody in the family has changed more than you. You were in your forties and running your own business. Now you’re 63, retired, a grandpa, and interviewing a dachshund in a pathetic attempt to find something to occupy your time. 

TD: What about mom? Hasn't she has changed?

Bonnie: Not one bit. Like all the females in this family, she's ageless.

TD: You’ve had two dachshund brothers – Clyde, for your first two years, and Billy Ray for the last 12. What have you learned from them?

Bonnie: That females are smarter and more capable than males. No wonder Hillary has so much self-confidence. Bitches rule!

TD: Thanks for your time, Bonnie.

Bonnie: You’re welcome. Now leave me alone. I need my beauty rest.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

An interview with a 102-year-old woman

Ruby and her children, Tom, Judy and Jerry.
Summer 2012.
My mother, Ruby Marie Tate Dryden See, turns 102 tomorrow. I’ve written a lot about her over the years and whenever I have, many of my readers have written to say they wish they could meet her.

If you’re among them, today’s your lucky day because this afternoon I decided to call mom and interview her for this blog. She resisted, protesting that nobody cares about anything she has to say. I reminded her that I’ve never met a 102-year-old and doubt that any of my readers have either, so they’d most definitely be interested in hearing from her. After several minutes of back-and-forth, she reluctantly agreed.

(Words in parentheses and italics are mine, not hers.)


TD: To what do you attribute your longevity?

Ruby: I never smoked, for one thing. I ate exactly what I wanted but it was, for the most part, good wholesome food. And I’ve always found life interesting and something to look forward to.

TD: You’re incredibly sharp for someone my age (63) much less someone 102. What’s your secret?

Ruby: I’ve always been interested in the world around me. I’ve always read a lot. Haven’t watched much TV. I enjoy my iPad a great deal because it gives me a much bigger picture of what’s going on than TV does.

TD: What are you reading now?

RDS: I’m re-reading To Kill A Mockingbird.

TD: You’ve lived through 11 decades. I’ll name the decade, you tell me the first thing that comes to mind. Ready?

Ruby: OK.

TD: 1913-1920.

Ruby: My childhood in Mineola (a tiny town in east central Missouri). Sledding in winter. Swimming in Loutre Creek in summer. I was always active.

TD: The 1920s.

Ruby: That was the era of the flapper and I longed to be one though I was anything but. I was also fascinated by the Teapot Dome scandal (that almost brought down the Harding administration). I was only nine or ten and didn’t understand everything that was going on but I couldn’t wait to read about it in the paper every day.

TD: The 1930s.

Ruby: Graduating from high school (in 1931). Marrying Bud (my father, in 1933). And Jerry’s birth (in 1935).

TD: The 1940s.

Ruby: The war was on. We moved to Auxvasse (a small town in central Missouri, from an even smaller town in eastern Missouri in 1944) and bought the store (Dryden’s General Store & Drygoods).

TD: The 1950s.

Ruby: Those were good times. The war was over. America was prosperous. There were lots of new inventions like the automatic washing machine that made life easier.

TD: The 1960s.

Ruby: Kennedy was assassinated and I lost Bud (in 1966, to cancer).

TD: The 1970s.

Ruby: It was a time of readjustment. Widowhood. Traveling to other countries for the first time, which broadened my perspective greatly. And I moved to Columbia (in 1976).

TD: The 1980s.

Ruby:  I enjoyed living in a big town. I took a creative writing class. Ellen (her oldest grandchild) was with me a lot (attending the University of Missouri). Judy’s children (her daughter’s children) were small and I enjoyed being near them. And I married for the second time (a high school classmate, Bill See). He only lived four years after that but I enjoyed him and his family enormously. Be sure you mention that because it’s true. I love Bill’s family, they’ve been good to me.

TD: The 1990s.

Ruby: I had my first serious illness (open heart surgery in 1998), played a lot of bridge, traveled to visit my family and enjoyed my home.

TD: The 2000s.

Ruby: I couldn’t have many goals for myself, I was too old by then. So it was a time of focusing on the achievements of my family.

TD: 2011 to the present.

Ruby: The robbery (in November, 2011) – a man pushed his way into my house. I thought he was going to kill me. I testified at his trial (at which he was convicted and sentenced to 70 years as a repeat offender) -- I'd never been in a courtroom before. And I moved to this place (an assisted living facility that I don’t think mom will mind if I say she detests everything about it but is realistic that it’s the right place for her at this point in time).

TD: If you could go back and do one thing differently, what would it be?

Ruby: I’d be a better mother and wife.

TD: I thought you were a pretty good one.

Ruby: I could have done better. I could have encouraged you all to study more. I could have been more mature. I never really grew up until Bud died.

TD: What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned over the last 102 years?

Ruby: That the world is a great deal bigger than me and my concerns.

TD:  If a genie appeared and said he could turn back time and allow you to re-live one specific day, what day would you choose?  

Ruby: The day Jerry was born. He’s been a wonderful son. I didn’t realize at the time what a great gift a child is.

TD: What has been your greatest pleasure?

Ruby: My children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Did you see that Marilyn (her granddaughter) posted on Facebook that the play Tatum (Marilyn’s daughter, her great-granddaughter) wrote is going to be produced next month at Xavier (Tatum’s college) 

TD: Yeah, I saw that. Who’s the one person, other than a family member, you admired most?

Ruby: Mildred Domann (her best friend during the Auxvasse years). She was so organized. I always admired women I thought were better mothers and managers than I was.

TD: What’s your biggest regret?

Ruby: That I never had a profession other than raising children. I would liked to have been a writer and to write about small towns – stuff that gets glossed over.

TD: If you could go back and relive any period in your lifetime, what would it be?

Ruby: I’d go back to life in Auxvasse with Bud and we’d have the store.

TD: What advice do you have for anyone who wants to be 102?

Ruby (laughing): I don’t really have any. Just do the best you can, that’s all I can say.

TD: Thanks, mom. This is exactly what I was looking for. My readers will enjoy this.

Ruby: You are prejudiced. You and I are so close because I raised you by myself after Bud died. I don’t think anyone other than our family is going to give a shit about anything I have to say.


Five minutes after our called ended, mom called back.

Ruby: (firmly): I am not giving you permission to print anything we just discussed unless you write that I told you that nobody would care about anything I had to say.

TD Mom, you said it very eloquently as we were finishing up. I wrote it down verbatim and plan to print exactly what you said, the exact way you said it.

Ruby: OK, then. Jerry (her first baby, whose birth was the most memorable event of her 102 years, and who will be 80 in July) just called from Kansas City. He and Nancy will be here in time for dinner. Talk to you later.