Thursday, December 6, 2012

Nurse the Hate: The Italian Mother Story

She was a stereotypical Italian mother.  Four feet tall and four feet wide.  Always offering to feed you.  “You hungry Dolly?”  No ma’am.  “How about a doughnut?”  No, that’s OK.  I’m really not hungry.  “You want me to make you some choo-choo wheels?”  The onslaught would continue until you relented and ate something.  She would then sit at the table to hold court while you ate, her husband silently at the other end of the table. 

As far as I could tell, the husband had not spoken a full sentence since 1956.  She wouldn’t let him.  The mother was so dominant in the household that he had been relegated to communicating by a series of grunts and nonverbal cues like a family dog.  She was always dressed in slippers and a housecoat and may not have ever left the bungalow house.  The husband was dispatched for all the errands, and then preyed upon the moment he walked in the door for a complete recap.  “Did you get the macaroni?”  Grunt.  “You forgot the macaroni last time!  You better not have forgotten it this time!”  Grunt.  He puts the macaroni away in the pantry.  “This one would forget his head if it wasn’t attached!”  He sheepishly moved around the kitchen.   

As I sat and ate the “choo-choo wheel” pasta, she began her usual refrain about how I needed to be careful.  To a woman that never leaves a 700 square foot house, the world is a very dangerous place.  “You better be careful Dolly.  You go downtown; they will knock you out and steal your kidneys!”  What?  Where did you hear that?  “I read it in the paper!”  The “paper” would generally turn out to be the Weekly World News; a publication she believed had the same quality of journalism as the New York Times.  If it was in print, it was clearly true.  All news sources were held at the same value.   

This particular day she began to rail against the dangers the December roads presented.  It was cold and dry outside.  It was actually quite pleasant for that time of year.  “The roads are slippery Dolly!”  I poked my head up from the enormous bowl of pasta and asked, “Why would you think the roads are slippery?  The roads are fine.  It’s not even cloudy.  You don’t even drive, how would you know if the roads are slippery?”.  I figured I could get a rise out of her, and I did. 

“I drive!  What do you mean I don’t drive!  I know how to drive!!!  I just don’t drive any more!!!  Not after what HE DID!!!” she said while pointing to her long suffering husband of fifty years. 

I was stunned.  I couldn’t confirm that she had even been a passenger in a car in the last decade much less drove.  She then started in on the tale about why she wasn’t currently driving, maintaining she could roar off in any of the cars parked outside if she so chose.  As she started, I could see her husband slump slightly, as if readying himself to absorb some sort of verbal storm.  Clearly, this wasn’t the first time he had heard her tell this story.  He had probably been forced as an act of penance to be present as she told this story to anyone that would listen since whenever the incident had happened.  His face was tired and forlorn.   

“We were at the Rec Center at the church.  I went to the bathroom and was gone for maybe five minutes.  When I came out, Jenny Puscatello was sitting in his lap and he was just smiling away!”  The husband shifted uncomfortably in his chair.  “I came over there and pulled him out of there!  We are going home I said!  I started to drive us back home, and I was yelling at him for what he did!  He made me so upset that I wasn’t watching the road and drove right into the fence of Father Dan’s house!  And that’s why I don’t drive no more!  Because of him!”  Her finger pointed accusatorily at the husband. 

She told the story with such urgency and vivid detail.  By all appearances this event had just happened within the last few weeks.  Her husband looked down at the table like a whipped dog.  I figured older folks went to church social events all the time, everyone had a few beers, and Jenny Puscatello decided to be a little more amorous than normal.  Who knows?  Maybe she had a crush on him for forty years.

Wow…  So you stopped driving after that, huh?  So when did this happen? 


I was silent.  1946?  She was this worked up about something relatively harmless from 1946?  She thinks she can drive when she last got behind the wheel when she was probably driving a Packard?  What is going on here?  I looked to the husband.  He tapped his right hand on the table and looked away out the window to his left.    

The husband had been taking this beating for the last fifty years.  For FIFTY YEARS he had been looking down at his shoes as she recounted his crime that night shortly after he returned from WWII.  For FIFTY YEARS he had been forced to drive her everywhere she wanted to go.  If only he had gone to get a beer when she went to the women’s room…  If he had just not let Jenny Puscatello sit in his lap at that very moment…  If…  If…   

It’s all in the details.  That Buddha fella had it right.  The little things are the big things.         




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