Until now I’ve been focusing on Mom’s many platitudes and words of wisdom in the face of raising a budding young terrorist – but Dad was actually not far behind when it came to producing (theoretically) calming words of wisdom.
One of his favorites was: “What’s the fuss???”
In true Italian style (…even though he was Romanian), this was spoken with both hands outspread in a position of entreaty with a puzzled and yearning look on one’s face (…in this case,the yearning part likely evolved from an apparent and ongoing need for A LITTLE PEACE AND QUIET, with commentary on this desire following the painful “what’s the fuss??” moan….)
Early on in our lives Mom let it be known that Dad was away all day working hard (the ‘drinking hard’ part after work was NOT part of the version of reality we received whilst at home!).
Ideally, therefore, he deserved a little peace and quiet when he returned home at 4PM, having got off to work at 4AM to work his own retail butcher shop.
Well, that sounded boring to me. I strongly suspected that after a hard day’s work away from his family, what Dad REALLY needed was a little quality bonding time with his family. And I suspect Mom felt the same, from her constant “JUST WAIT until Dad gets home….” admonitions.
Subsequently, the sound of an automatic garage door rising like the moon prompted a virtual stampede of greeting down the basement stairs:
1. Ever desirous of telling MY SIDE FIRST, I usually led the race.
2. Ever desirous of mimicking my every move and clinging to me like a leech, Sis followed a mere stair tread behind. Even before she could speak and whilst barely able to walk, the gal learned to race down a flight of steps as though Hell Itself were right on her heels. In a manner of speaking it WAS, ‘cause behind Sis came:
3. Mom. Hellbent on giving HER SIDE before Dad’s ‘pet girl’ got to him and filled him with “all kinds of lies”. (I beg to differ. Oh sure; MY SIDE of the story just happened to be very different from hers. But you had to admit: MINE was MUCH more exciting, spiced with a flair for drama and Italian hand gestures, re-enactments, and overall fun – and supported by Sis’s “YEAH, that’s how it happened, all right!” […a supportive phrase I had admittedly drummed into her using elementary behavior modification techniques involving cookie deprivation, threats and psychological torture]).
4. Muffin. Yup, the dog wanted ‘in’ too, but usually the sheer downward momentum threatened an inadvertent stomping; so wise Muffin waited ‘till last and then, like any good soldier, brought up the rear, yapping and growing at any invisible enemy (such as Squeako) who may have raced behind the troops planning a hostile takeover.
Barely one foot out of the car with four females (countin’ the dog, ohyeah) yammering for his attention, I am certain Dad contemplated getting back in and driving back to the bar where at least he could drown more sorrows in a soothing pint and speak with The Guys about the insanity that was Home. I am certain I saw him cast more than one covetous glance at the now-closed garage door.
“What’s the fuss??” at this point would evoke a series of shrieked stories from different perspectives – kind of like singing a round, only less organized. Each of us was certain Dad would listen to OUR side FIRST, with Muffin punctuating the entire explosion with well-timed yips and barks of joy.
After 5 minutes Dad would ungraciously interrupt, ask sarcastically (a strategy totally lost on us kids and the dog, which apparently only the more-savvy Mom got) if it was “ok if he could go upstairs to his favorite chair”, and would summarily be DRAGGED up the back stairs, stories continuing, one kid pulling on each arm and Mom taking up the position of rear guard lest the shear momentum force Dad backwards down the stairs (which actually happened once, creating Diane’s original algebraic formula 2xK + ?B = F (where K = Kids, ?B = unknown amount of Booze consumed prior to homecoming, and F = Falldowndastairs.)
Actually sitting down evoked another plethora of tattling, lies, and stories. (Well, from MY perspective, I told the true story with ONLY a few embellishments, while Mom and Sis tattled and lied about whatever experience was being narrated…)
I am certain Dad nonetheless had evolved the finer art of listening to all 3 versions simultaneously because he’d ALWAYS eventually interrupt with a frustrated “So, what’s the fuss???” and rudely turn on the TV set mid-saga. Like something more vibrant and important was happening on Death Valley Days than was taking place in his own living room under his very nose.
But, the ruse worked. Having learned long ago that Quality Time With Dad occurred during Westerns, I would curl up at his feet beside the couch with the dog (…both of us having learned our place at an early age: the couch position was left open for Mom) and settle in for hours of cheery family programming, from Death Valley Days to Tombstone Territory, Branded, Maverick and many more.
Unable to absorb anything more complicated than Looney Tunes, Sis would thoughtfully retire to our bedroom to scream and pound things.
Mom would mysteriously slam into the kitchen to “get dinner ready” after a somewhat-threatening hiss to Dad that “we’ll talk about this later.” (Left unspoken: “after the kids are in bed and I can tell my side without interruption.”)
As we contentedly watched Tombstone Territory to the accompaniment of crashing cutlery and pan lids in the kitchen and screams from the bedroom, I can recall no more peaceful a conclusion to Dad’s “what’s the fuss?” request for a peaceful homecoming.
The moment of quality family time and intimacy was furthered by my whispered revelation to Dad about Mom’s inexplicably hostile kitchen actions (“…she’s just jealous ‘cause we both like Westerns”).
And Dad’s whispered acknowledgment (“I know…..”)
Ultimately, there was no fuss.
Just periods of high drama diffused by a leetle Tube and the promised reward of a Quiet Dinner at a satisfyingly-busy day’s end.
Not exactly Norman Rockwell, perhaps … but close.