Cheap Cheer in Tough Times

It’s not that I’ve given up blogging, Dear Readers. It’s just that the last ten days have been a grim period of death and dying, spending money we don’t have, far away in Marquette, Michigan. My 91 year old father in law, Joe Rovai, decided to go off dialysis a week or so ago.

My sister-in-law Patty (A saint and a beauty) and her husband John (A saint and the financial guy in the fam — thank you John) were in Marquette already and phoned us the bad news. We asked the neighbors to watch the cats, stuffed the Trader Joe’s insulated bag with on sale Evian water, store brand cream cheese, Pepperidge Farms mini-bagels, a jug of pre-mixed martinis and headed north.

The expressway through Milwaukee was awe-inspiring, if you like church architecture. Vatican-sized churches of every style, at least a hundred years old, every five hundred yards. I gave up counting at nineteen, because I couldn’t keep up with the steeplechase. Then the long stretch to Green Bay, over the long bridge, and onto Essential Wisconsin — big red barns and cattle nibbling in snow-splotched pastures. Cheese and moccasin shops. On to Menominee and Marinette for gas and a pit stop. It was a good thing we stopped: in the sixty miles through the forest and tiny marginal towns before we reached Marquette there was exactly one gas station.

Seeing the huge frozen waves of Lake Superior made me consider an X sport combining surfing and snowboarding. We made our way through a strange town along Route 41 to our destination: The Cedar Motor Inn. “Family Owned” for sure, non-smoking (groan) a Waxing Room for skiers, a pool, sauna and spa. And Continental Breakfast, about which we split our sides: a fruit bowl, Power Bars, and (commercial) Rice Krispie Bars.

But here’s the cheap part. We stayed in an outbuilding that looked like a huge converted garage — two units inhabited by us and our Family Unit. Um, decoration was minimal, but for 45 bucks a night we got a living room, with a television and cable, a table and chairs, a kitchenette supplied with a toaster oven, microwave, tiny fridge and the jumble of cutlery, plates and coffee mugs you laid out at your last yard sale. The bedroom had a phone (no message service) a good bed, and a  stern notice NOT to use the pillows with the shams, and to roll down the bedspread. Because Patty and John had been there longer, they got Housekeeping Rates of 37 dollars a day. We could rap on the wall between us to signal coming events.

All four of us knew that we had to be there for Joe: emotionally, practically, morally. Talks with the Hospice people. Cleaning out the safety deposit box at the Munising State Bank. Trying to get into his house in the Hiawatha National Forest and failing, because , damn, we don’t travel with snowshoes. Seeing a once powerful , intellectually engaged man shrivel, his ankles seeping with edema, his mental state dissolving in confusion. The best thing you can say about death by  renal failure is that it’s painless.

I bet you’re wondering about the  Cheap Cheerful part, and there was one. To the surprise of no one, it was about family and food. All four of us were, to put it delicately, broke. We could snatch a meal in the assisted living place, but we needed to get out of there. A day later, we just fell into a better routine. Patty and John would pick up the lunch tab — we made a ceremonial trip to the casino in Christmas, where Joe spent his monthly allowance at the slots, and ate good sandwiches and — of course — free beverages. We did breakfast for lunch at Jeffrey’s down the road on 41 .

And we made dinner at our place.  Dinner might be Johnsonville Brats on cheap hot dog rolls, canned German Potato salad heated in the microwave. We bought the Family Pack at Lawry’s Pasties — five pasties and a tub of coleslaw. The rice Krispie Treats were dessert, and a bag of chips Patty and John brought over were starters .

John had his premixed Sauza Margaritas, we had martinis, Patty drank ginger ale, and we got through the rotten days with laid-back evenings, shoes off, confiding all the stuff in person you can’t do with email or the phone, apologizing for twenty-year-old business misunderstandings.Telling naughty jokes memorized from the Friars Club anthologies, howling at old family stories. Reconnecting.  And laughing.



Filed under Born in Chicago, Food, Into the Mystic, Worth it anyway

14 responses to “Cheap Cheer in Tough Times

  1. Charolette

    I love the way you write…..I felt it.

  2. Lloyd

    Thanks for, in the end, an uplifting report on a terribly sad business.
    I so look forward to reconnecting later in the spring.

  3. We went through a similar episode in December, Maggie, and my heart goes out to you. But you’re right, there’s compensation in postponed reconciliation and the overdue dismantling of familial barriers.

    And there’s nothing at all wrong with Johnsonville brats.

  4. freakyfrites

    Beautiful! And I think you have something there with the snowboarding/surfing thing. Just be sure to wear a wetsuit.

  5. And a gun, I think. That always livens up a winter event.

  6. Maggie, Macushla,

    I’ve been meaning to stop whaddahwasdoin and write you about this—been RAT THAR and done that, on several occasions, albeit without the handy martinis. Like two faithful St. Bernards, you braved the long cold trek to give comfort and aid.

    And you told the story from an Everyman’s perspective—we all have the Journey, our own or to ease the path of another, and the sharing is a kind of passage in itself.

    How many folks have grabbed up a toothbrush, a cake and a spare pair of shoes, and rushed to a bedside, a wake, a memorial—I call our own preparations THE BAG.

    It’s not always the same one, but a BAG hangs in the closet, with his best suit, pressed and ready, a nice shirt, ditto, my ONE good dress, which I’ve worn to the funerals of both my parents and his Dad, despite its dated, incongruous-over-a-black-dress jacket which I wore several times before getting a good look at it in a mirror. It had seemed to have a pattern of black blobs on a white background—just the lapel part, and I suddenly realized, “I’ve worn COW-PRINT to a funeral!”

    When I went for my Mother’s last days, I left the bag in our closet, all ready, with our dress shoes dropped in the bottom and my one pair of earrings clipped onto the dress lapel.

    We gather up, we go and hug, we wipe a kitchen counter, clean a bathroom, straighten out a lifetime of memories stored in closets, put together a sweet booklet to pass out like party favors at the funeral.

    And always, we arrive with SOMETHING to eat, as if the opening of the door requires a cuisinical key. And we don’t grieve every minute. “They wudna wanted us to.”

    We find ourselves collapsing with laughter at the silliest things—at the wit of folks too long absent and parting again, and at nothing in particular. It’s always seemed to me that we’re most soothed after tears and most shriven after laughter.

    My very dearest thoughts to you both, and quick surcease to your grief.

  7. I missed including that I went ahead, and Chris drove down later with the bag—along with my pillow and a white cotton blanket I’d laundered just before I left.

    When we headed home the day after the funeral, we ate a bite of breakfast in Memphis; I went to the far back seat of the van with blanket and pillow, and woke up three states later in Effingham, IL.

    That kinda thing tires you out like swimming miles in the ocean, or running for your life. And I guess you kinda are.

  8. Patty

    Oh Margaret, you made me cry…and laugh. You got us through the terrible time. I will always want you by my side in times like this, you made all the difference in the world.

  9. Kim Shook

    Maggie, thank you for sharing that with us. Nothing is all good or all bad as you showed so beautifully.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s