A “Breather,” So To Speak

I don’t know how I passed eighth grade math. I guess it was because my teacher, Mrs. Baril, saw that I was a bright kid who deserved to graduate middle school and move on like all the other kids. Honestly though, I think I bombed (as in FAILED) most of the math tests that I took during my second semester in that class. Fractions were annoying enough, but good God, memorizing the number of ounces in a pint and how many pints in a gallon and how many ounces in one-third cup…forget it. One night while struggling to do my nightly math assignment, I said to myself, “Ya know, I have never purposely not done my homework. I think I’ll give it a try.” Alas, and yet, much to my advantage, the assignment wasn’t collected. Thus, my teacher went along thinking that I was a hard working student who had absolutely pitiful test taking skills. She gave me a “B” out of pity.


Yes. I admitted to the internet that I can’t do fractions for shit. I’m not ashamed. I think it’s kind of interesting that a moment of adolescent defiance has now evolved in to a legitimate deficiency. As we all know, however, life is often ass backwards, and today, my mathematical shortcomings helped transform what could have been an upsetting experience in to a damn good one.

Today my grandmother turned ninety-four years-old. That’s rather impressive as it is, but when I consider the amount of death bed scenes she has had in the past four years, I have to wonder how the Hell she’s still alive. It sure ain’t because she’s astoundingly healthy — she’s just been in survival mode since the Great Depression. She believes in things like never telling your husband how much money you have in your savings account and hiding the rest of your cash either under your mattress or pinned inside your bra. Ya know. Practical things.

My poor mother has been taking care of her ailing mother for four years now. There have been countless trips to the doctor for numerous ailments (back pain, skin cancer, LEUKEMIA), late night emergency visits prompted by desperate phone calls, botched MRI’s, terrifying hallucinations involving dead babies and a demon named Carlos (it’s nothing to laugh about, but…), and thousands of other upsetting daily occurrences. Grandma can no longer walk, she can barely hear, and she can’t really keep up in a conversation. Interestingly enough, she can still cut people down with great precision. Unfortunately, this means that my mother, on top of all the other things she’s had to deal with for the last several years, has also had to endure a staggering amount of criticism. Throughout the mad saga that these last four years have been, my mother has somehow managed to survive with her sanity in tact. Sane as she may be, however, my mother would rather not have to throw my grandmother birthday parties every year when September 29th arrives.

Mom has been to several of these birthday parties, and based on what I’ve seen in pictures, I assume that the parties in the past have been somewhat depressing. The guest list consists of whoever in my family is willing to go (IE: mom), Riza, grandma’s live-in caretaker, and Diane and Roxanne, my grandmother’s hospice care nurses. Previously I could never make it to these birthday parties because I was in Santa Cruz, but since I’m back in Agoura I decided to support my mom and accompany her to the festivities. When I told her I would be joining her, she said, “Well in that case, ya know what I think would be fun? If we brought Lemon Drops for all the girls.”

Now, my mom is not a big drinker. She doesn’t drink wine because it gives her Rosacea, and when it comes to beer she’s happy with having a Coronita (that’s the seven ounce bottle of Corona) when we invite people over for a barbeque. Otherwise, she only touches booze when she’s on vacation or when she’s out to dinner on a sweltering hot summer night. What does she order? Rum and Coke “with mostly Coke,” or a friggin’ Lemon Drop Martini. Proposing that we make Lemon Drops at grandma’s ninety-fourth birthday was her way of telling me, “I really need a Goddamn drink.” It was my assignment to find a Lemon Drop recipe, get the necessary ingredients, and assemble the drinks when we got to grandma’s condo.

When we showed up, my grandma was sitting in her chair watching television. I hugged her and wished her happy birthday. She asked me if I had a job yet. Typically I try to paint a rosy picture for her when she asks me this question, but today I just said, “Nope.” As usual, she told me that I should go work for my father so that one day I can “take over the business.” My father is a CPA. You really can’t just inherit that title. I would have to go study business. I would have to do MATH. I said, “Grandma, I can’t just have dad’s business. I would have to go to school for that.” “Well, you can go to school at night. Ya may as well. Ya gotta do somethin’.” I said, “I can do whatever I want.” Now, I did not say that to be bratty. I said it because it’s one of her favorite phrases. My grandma may have missed out on the feminist movement, but she has always believed in women taking over the world and showing everyone what’s what. If she had organized a regime to help carry out this plan, the world would be a very different place. Did I mention she believes she can kill people with her mind?

I was essentially telling her that I can do “anything I want” because I’m a strong, modern woman who has the world at her fingertips. I thought I would receive a nod of approval. Instead, this ninety-four year-old woman who can’t walk, can barely hear, and struggles to speak smirked at me and said, “Oh yeah? Which is what?” I looked at her, and she snickered as if to say, “Gotcha there.” I said, “Don’t look so damn pleased with yourself.”

Some may find it shocking that I said that to my grandmother. The truth is, I can say “whatever I want” to her. Sure, she may not hear me, but I know damn well that she loves when people go toe-to-toe with her, mainly because she loves having the last word. I have seen on more than one occasion that I have inherited my grandmother’s appreciation for such things. The difference is that I, Stephanie Callas, have learned to reserve my caustic comments for people who really deserve them, like men, for instance. Also, I know where to draw the line, while Grandma has no idea what “the line” is. The fact that she has maintained her ability (and her love) to remind people who’s boss when she can barely leave her bed is just plain eerie. I was there to celebrate her birthday with her, for God’s sake. Rather than get too upset, because, truth be told, I’m used to such moments, I decided to be pro-active. It was time for the Lemon Drops.

The guests arrived. I went to the kitchen to start makin’ the drinks. I finished the first one, poured it in to a glass, and brought it to Diane, my grandmother’s hospice care nurse. The recipe calls for six ounces of vodka, four ounces of triple sec, four tablespoons of lemon juice, and two teaspoons of simple syrup to make four servings. Somehow, the contents of the entire martini shaker ended up in Diane’s glass. You see, we do not own many martini glasses — I think we own one — so my mother brought champagne flutes instead. BIG champagne flutes. At no point while I was assembling this first drink did I think, “I better add x amount of juice to this mix, because a typical martini glass holds four ounces and these champagne flutes hold at least eight ounces and the recipe for four drinks asks for eight ounces of booze and only a few tablespoons of lemon juice.” No. I have literally managed to turn off that part of my brain. When I see cookie recipes that yield four dozen cookies, I make all four dozen. Why? I have no idea how to cut the recipe down and still have it all make sense. Why? I didn’t pay attention in Mrs. Baril’s Goddamn math class.

I brought Diane the drink. I said, “Taste it and let me know how it is. I will not be offended at all if I need to go add more juice.” Apparently it was delicious just the way it was. When I made the other four drinks, I managed to make them somewhat less boozey. Don’t ask me how I did it — I’m betting it was divine intervention. Still, they were powerful. There we all were — Diane, Roxanne, Riza, my mom, and me, sittin’ in my grandma’s living room drinking atomic Lemon Drop Martinis on Annie’s ninety-fourth birthday. It wasn’t long before the giggling started. I noticed that Diane, the loudest, was only about a third of the way done with her drink. It was only at that moment that I remembered the recipe was supposed to prepare multiple drinks, and, therefore, Diane had multiple martinis in her glass. I thought, “What the fuck have I done? This wonderful woman, who has done so much for my mother, is going to end up passing out on my grandma’s floor.” For a second I considered walking over to Diane and kindly telling her what I had done and taking the glass away, but when I noticed how much fun everyone was having, I decided to just hope for the best.

I have to say, I had a great time at my grandma’s ninety-fourth birthday party. I hate to say it, but I know that there hasn’t been very much laughter in that condo for a long, long time, and frankly, it was nice to hear. It was great to sit in my grandma’s living room and know, for a change, that I was having a great time being there. There was no need to fight back tears for my own stupid pride, or to be strong for my mother. In fact, I didn’t feel sad at all. More importantly, when I looked at my mother, I wasn’t looking at an emotionally and physically exhausted woman who just wished she had the power to take away her mother’s pain — I was looking at a happy person who was having a surprisingly great evening.

Diane didn’t end up falling asleep on the floor. I eventually told her that her drink was quite a bit more potent than the average libation, but she had no problem with it. This only made my mom giggle even more.

When it was time to go, everyone gave each other big hugs. We had all had a great time. I’m sure it sounds like we all had so much fun because we were all tanked, but that really wasn’t the case. Instead, I think it was because we were all so happy for a day off, so to speak. I’m sure I wasn’t the only person at the party who noticed that my grandma’s place is not often considered a particularly merry location. This was a nice change of pace.

As my mom and I walked to the car, we both started giggling uncontrollably. My mom said, “I feel like we’re the two mischievous ones sneaking away with our booze.” That’s exactly what we were, but I knew what she meant. When we got home, she thanked me for coming with her to the party. She said I made the party fun. I apologized for being such a total dumb ass and for getting poor Diane tipsy. We laughed, and then mom sighed. She shook her head, and said, “I know, but I’m tellin’ you, those grandma birthday parties can be tough.” I could tell by the look in her eyes that she was beyond grateful that today was exceptional. It really was.

Happy birthday, grandma. Happy Wednesday, mom. God bless you, Mrs. Baril. Cheers.

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3 thoughts on “A “Breather,” So To Speak

  1. Nina says:

    >Great entry, Steff!

  2. delfibureau says:

    >What a fantastic recap of your day. Great storytelling. If I haven't told you about lunch with your mom and TWO lemon drops, remind me at our next outting.

  3. Linda says:

    >Ok you rock! I totally could visualize this scene. You and your mom were able to turn a not so pleasant day into a great memory!Still think you should submit this to AARP or some women's mag!

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