It started out as a simple plan.
The Olds, tired of Jack-in-the-Box salads and McDonald’s apple turnovers decided they would make a night of it.
Yes, they would go to Olive Garden for the unlimited soup/salad/breadstick special and God knows what else.
The only problem? My 85 year-old mother and her 85 year-old friend, Ernie, are in my opinion, unfit to drive.
In fact barely a month ago, my mom hit the gas, instead of the brakes, in the fast food drive-thru line at McDonald’s and shocked the shit out of a guy trying to grab hold of his Big Mac while being rammed from behind by an old woman in a 1988 silver Taurus.
To add insult to injury, she refused to offer him her information and instead tried to hand him 50 bucks to cover the damage before climbing back into her car, and leaving the scene of the crime.
And Ernie was no better.
He had just rented a car at his daughter’s house in Phoenix, drove home without our knowledge, missed the turn-off to the 91 freeway that would have brought him straight to our house and confused, had driven two more hours out of his way, ending up in Santa Monica where finally, road-weary and frustrated, he exited the off-ramp and slammed into a car that had a small child in the back seat.
No, I wasn’t really into either of them driving but unfortunately: I had no idea of their “big” plan until after they both flew the coop.
“Where’s Nana?” I asked Dylan, my son, when I saw that the blue recliner in the living room was empty, and the house was blissfully silent without Two And A Half Men, her all-time favorite show, blasting from the television.
“They went to Olive Garden,” he said.
I made a face.
If they were heading to Olive Garden, they were going all the way to Cerritos. Not a big deal for us but for the Olds, that was like taking a trip to China.
Dylan sensed my discomfort and quickly added, “Yeah, they’ve been gone like a really long time. Like almost three hours. I’m getting pretty worried.”
I was a bit concerned but not overly so.
I know how my mom eats.
She really likes to take her time and make it a full-on event and not in a fun way.
It’s painful going out to dinner or lunch with her these days.
She’s grown quite defiant in her eating: she knows you’re waiting on her and she likes it.
She can swirl a small piece of steak around on her plate a good four or five minutes and reposition it ten times before actually even lifting it towards her mouth and don’t even get me started on the chewing.
Yeah, if they had gone to Olive Garden and if they were drinking wine and if they were partying with the unlimited breadbasket, who knew when they would be home?
I smiled at Dylan, told him not to worry, and went back to my writing until just a few minutes later, I heard a loud commotion in the kitchen.
Dylan came back into my office with his eyes big and round.
“There’s been an incident,” he said in a hushed voice.
“Is everyone okay?” I asked. “What kind of incident?”
Dylan went on to explain that apparently his “Nana” and Ernie had gotten lost on the way to Olive Garden and instead of coming home, drove around for over two-and-a-half hours looking for it.
“Yeah,” Dylan said. “And I guess Nana had to go to the bathroom the entire time and Ernie yelled at her, and now they are fighting in the kitchen.”
Oh God, I thought to myself, Please don’t make me go out there and for once, he seemed to answer my prayers because that’s when Stephen rolled through the front door.
My dude and all-around good guy.
Everyone loves Stephen.
He is the anchor.
The cool one.
He always brings the action down and thank God, that was when he walked in.
He corralled Ernie and put him out on the front swing, where I heard them speaking in hushed voices.
I took the opportunity to act casual, and head out to the kitchen for a glass of water so that I could check on my mom.
She was stomping about near the bathroom, her cane thump reminiscent of Poe’s Tell-Tale Heart and for a moment, I almost turned and ran away to leave Stephen and Dylan to deal with the mess but I waited and played dumb.
“Hey mom,” I said calmly as I pretended to rinse off a plate in the sink. “How was Olive Garden?”
She thumped closer.
“We didn’t make it there,” she said. “We couldn’t find it.”
I heard silence from the front porch and saw Ernie and Stephen nestled together, listening to her response through the kitchen window, fearful of another angry tangent.
“Well, let’s just get you some food here,” I said.
“No,” she snapped. “I want to go to Hof’s Hut.”
I looked at the clock.
It was almost 9 pm.
“It’s a bit late,” I said. “How about…”
“Well that doesn’t mean I’m not hungry!” she yelled.
I heard Ernie and Stephen scurry away from the window, and their voices dropped to excited hushed whispers again.
I turned around to face my mom and smiled sweetly, “Well that’s why I was going to make you some…”
“No.” She said firmly. “We’re going to Hof’s Hut.”
I was about to concede, figuring Hof’s was close, an easy drive for my mom, and that if I just gave in, we could all go to bed at a decent time when she said, “Where is Hof’s Hut? I can’t remember? Can you tell me how to get there?”
This was the moment I realized my mom might actually be losing it. I put my hand up, asked her to wait, and walked out to the porch to speak to Ernie, a tall thin man with large eyes, who looked like one of those sad-eyed Mexican children in those black velvet 70’s paintings I still loved. He was leaning into Stephen’s crook, as if he was seeking protection.
“She wouldn’t let me get her home,” he said sadly. “I finally had to yell at her.”
I thought he was going to cry.
He put his hands together and continued, “She wouldn’t turn right I tell you. She wouldn’t turn right. Maybe I should just buy my plane ticket back to New Zealand and go home.”
He put his head down and looked at his feet. I watched as he wiggled his toes as if acting “natural” about the whole thing would make it go away.
I felt a profound sadness in the moment.
I didn’t want Ernie to go home.
The Olds were a pain in the ass.
The Olds really knew how to fuck up a good time.
The Olds were 99% of each day out of their Goddamn minds.
But they were my Olds and this might be the last time I would ever see Ernie.
He had already spent most of his trip telling everyone, “I just came to say goodbye before I head back to New Zealand to die.”
I looked at Stephen and sighed.
Stephen patted Ernie’s shoulder as I walked back into the house to get this thing figured out.
“I do love that woman,” I heard Ernie say as I shut the front door.
And I knew it was true.
My mom and Ernie had been friends for many years, since my father’s death, and I knew that what seemed like a “dinner incident” to us was much more to them in the grand scheme of their relationship.
I knew what I was going to have to do and I had to do it quickly and panic set in at the idea of it.
If I couldn’t negotiate a deal with Dylan to drive the Olds to dinner and act as a mediator throughout the entire event, I was going to have to do it myself.
Oh God, I prayed, I’ll give him anything . . . anything . . . if he just takes them.
I grabbed the cell and called Dylan who was upstairs.
“Yeah?” he said, obviously preoccupied with something.
“I need you to take the Olds to Hof’s Hut.”
“Nooooo!” He whined.
“You’re the baby,” I said. “They love you. You have to take them.”
“Make them eat here,” he said defiantly.
“They won’t,” I said. “You have to take them. You have to save their relationship.”
There was a long pause before Dylan quietly gave in and said, “Okay.”
Just a few minutes later, Dylan was acting as mediator to the Olds, escorting Nana to the car, her arm linked to his. Ernie, a few steps behind—fearful but like a scared animal—trusting in Dylan’s calm presence.
I watched as they made it into the car, pulled out of the drive, and headed off to the restaurant.
Stephen stood next to me and said, “I can’t end up like that . . .” He turned and looked at me, “I just can’t do it.”
Many caretakers, I’m sure, have made this statement, but coming from someone always so sound and calm . . . it was disturbing.
I gave Stephen a big hug before he headed home to walk the dogs.
Fifteen minutes later, I was back to writing when a text message came through from Dylan:
This is getting pretty intense.
I could only imagine the scene.
Dylan, my big curly haired, bearded bear smiling between the two Olds as Mom tried to bash Ernie’s brains in with her cane. Ernie, tired of her bullshit, holding a plate full of Snicker’s cheesecake, her favorite, in his hand, refusing to give it to her, laughing and brandishing his fork with glee each time he gulped down another big bite at the distress to my mother while he shouted, “Are you gonna turn right next time Old Woman? Are you gonna turn right?”
Of course, the true dinner scene was nothing of the sort. Dylan told me later it was eaten in almost total silence as he made small talk and wiggled uncomfortably.
I gave him a big hug, when he returned and held him tight. “Will you take me and Stephen out when we are Old?” I asked, referring to the fact that both of us preferred a date with death in Oregon, where it was legal, over a painful meal at Hof’s Hut.
“As long as we don’t have to go to Hof’s Hut,” he said, oblivious to my dark humor.
I paused for a minute and beamed at him.
“What?” He asked a small quizzical smile on his face.
“Nothing,” I said. “Doesn’t matter.”
And then I went back to my writing, Dylan went back upstairs, and I spent the last few minutes before bed listening to the soothing bickering of the Olds in the living room; everyone back on task.
From THE WILD WORLD OF MRS. WOOD — “Saturday Stories” about life, love, music and punk rock trouble: from the mean streets of Long Beach, California.