Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The life and times of Roy


"You're both wrong."
     LUNCH.
     So I went over to the house for lunch today, and, eventually, Annie joined us, but Pa was at the rental in Orange. We had lunch without him.
     Ma started telling us about some woman, Joanne, and the possibility that Joanne’s daughter, Anna, might move into the rental. Eventually, I caught on that Joanne is the woman who, along with her husband, has leased the old house in Orange—my folks always refer to it as “the rental in Orange”—for about a dozen years. Evidently, they were “good renters. Now, they’ve vacated the Orange residence and they’re moving out-of-state.
A look of consternation
     Pa's been fixing up the house for the new renters, whoever they may be. (At first it bothered me that he worked so hard at his age, but then I remembered: he lives for this shit.)
     OK, so Ma mentions that Anna’s boyfriend (Ma at times spoke as though he were the husband, but I do think she said at first that he was just the boyfriend) owns a cement truck. Well, that’s interesting, says Ma, since Joanne’s husband (we’ll call him Joe) also owns a cement truck.
     Guess so.
     I usually try not to listen to this kind of conversation ‘cause I don’t know any of these people and because I’m not a fan of the kind of interest some people take in other people’s lives. On the other hand, one does not want to seem to be ignoring the conversation when there’re only three people at the table, and so I listened, kind of.
     Ma starts talking about Anna’s “father-in-law,” Joe.

     WAIT, I SAY.
     “Wait,” I say. “If Anna is Joanne’s daughter, and Joanne is married to Joe, then wouldn’t Joe be Anna’s father—or maybe her stepfather?
     Well, no, said Ma. To be nice, you wouldn’t call him your stepfather; you’d call him your father.
     "Yeah," said Annie, "but from our point of view, that doesn't matter."
     "Yes," I said. "But you (I was addressing Ma) just said that Joe is Anna’s father-in-law. And you also said that Joanne is Anna’s mother. So that would make Joe Anna’s father or step-father. He can’t be her father-in-law.
     Why not? asked Ma. “It’s exactly like Kathie. When you and Kathie were married, Pa was Kathie’s father-in-law.”
     “Well, yes,” I said. “But Pa wasn’t my father-in-law. He was (and is) my father.”
     “Yes, it's exactly the same,” said Ma.
     “Huh? No, just like Pa is my father not my father-in-law, Joe is Anna’s father, not Anna’s father-in-law.”
     Annie indicated agreement with me.

     LOOK IT UP.
     “You’re both wrong," said Ma. "You should go and look it up,” she added, with great confidence and a minor flourish of the hand.
     “What?" I gasped, now fully consternated. "Look, this is a simple matter of English. Joe is Anna’s step-father.” 
     —In the course of the conversation, that Joe was not Anna's real father became clear, or at least as clear as things get around here. He is certainly not Anna’s father-in-law. "Anna would become Joe’s father-in-law," I said, "if Anna were to marry Joe’s son. That’s how it works.”
     No, said Ma. Anna and this cement truck guy are married (or about to be married?). And so their relationship to Joe is through marriage. And so Joe is Anna’s father-in-law.
     “No, no, no,” I say. “When Joanne married Joe, Joe became Anna’s step-father. That’s the nature of Anna's relationship to Joe. Her getting married to this cement guy doesn’t change that. It only changes things for the cement guy, who thereby becomes Joe’s son-in-law.”

     THAT'S WHAT I SAID, SHE SAYS.
     “Well, that’s what I said,” says Ma.
     No, that’s not what you said.
     I turn to Annie: is that what she said? (Annie stares into the distance, motionless. She’s not taking sides.)
     It became clear that this conversation, if it were to continue, had no future except a terrible one. We've been at this point—and beyond it—so many times before.
     It did sputter forth a bit longer. At some point, I must have reiterated, “Look, Joe is not Anna’s father-in-law; rather, Joe is Anna’s stepfather.” –To which Ma replied, “Well, yes, that’s what I’ve been saying.”
     I was stunned anew.

     I GO NOW.
     I asked Annie: Is that what she’s been saying? Annie got up to get ready for work.
     It was the end of the conversation. Annie walked through the door to the outside.
     Such wisdom!
     (Later, I checked: sure enough, hell had froze over.)

The "rental in Orange," c. 1965
The rental today
Steve Martin's "King Tut" - Um, cuz I like the term "Babble-onia"

See also On Parental Units. Note: I do not believe that Mom's curious take on the term "father-in-law" has anything to do with dementia. The original title of this little piece was, "It has always been thus." My folks are German immigrants (by way of Canada).

I think of this as a self-portrait—except that I didn't draw or write it.
For a terrific interview of James Thurber, see interview

4 comments:

I fear no fish said...

It sounds to me as though you were looking for logic in this conversation, you silly person.

Roy Bauer said...

No, I wasn't looking for logic. I just get snippy when people start calling a horse a shoe, or a comma a potato gun.

Rebel Girl said...

You are a good son. I bought my friend's son a potato gun once.

Anonymous said...

I support potato gun control. Everybody knows that a father-in-law is a legal father, as opposed to the illegal ones, who would be fathers against the law. Like Ted Nugent, say. I am pretty sure that your law-abiding mother meant this. Except maybe for the Ted Nugent part.

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