Carolyn White: Living the Good Life 6-6-11
Last month I spent an evening with a gal pal whom I hadn’t seen in nearly a year. Kicking back in her living room, we spent nearly nine hours catching up on each other’s lives while munching on chips and salsa. My spouse, who is a basic “yup” and “nope” type of personality, couldn’t believe it. “What all did you talk about?” he asked after I’d gotten home.
“Oh, lots of things,” I responded, “vacations, family, favorite books and restaurants, work, cranky customers, pets … and husbands. You know, the usual.” I raised my eyebrows teasingly. He didn’t get it. I’ll bet that other people do, though.
Back in the 1960s, Lori Millburn, who lived across the street, was the first to introduce me to the joys of gabbing while eating. For hours on end we would chatter about Sesame Street; our favorite cartoon characters; what we were going to be when we grew up; or which one of us was going to marry Davy Jones of the Monkees, all while devouring Captain Crunch cereal or Campbell’s soup. During the 70s, within my tightly-knit group of riding buddies, the main topics were horses, movies, teachers, homework and eventually, boys, while we munched on popcorn, brownies, grilled cheese sandwiches, potato chips or Oreos, washing them down with Diet Rite, Dr. Pepper, or Fresca. While in college in the early 80s, my dorm mates and I groaned about midterms and finals, cranky professors, or the campus Laundromat while consuming M&M’s, red licorice, pretzels, or whatever else our mothers had sent inside care packages. And during the 20 years when I lived in the high mountains of central Idaho, my friends and I compared thoughts on everything from ice sculpture to ice skating to cross-country skiing, all while sharing stuff like herbal tea, raw vegetables, fruit and nuts, or wheat crackers.
With my older sister it’s anything organic, and we’re usually cooking as well as sampling together in her kitchen while we talk. We tend to focus on our marriages and our childhoods … and more and more often, our concerns about our aging mother. “She’s gotten hard of hearing, you know,” Nancy warned me during my most recent trip. “You have to speak very loudly and clearly, and make sure that she’s looking at you so that she understands.” Sometimes, though, that didn’t work, but when I moved in with her for the second half of my vacation we quickly resolved the problem. The solution was sign language.
Considering that we’d never used it before, it was surprising how quickly Mom picked up on my primitive gestures and how thoroughly she translated them. For example, when I rubbed my tummy and announced, “I’m hungry,” she flew into a flurry of activity setting out bread, lunchmeat, condiments, fruit cups, milk, grape juice, yogurt, three-bean salad, cottage cheese, home-made vegetable soup and turkey patties. Later, after holding one lightly-clenched hand up to my mouth and moving it rapidly up and down to indicate the need for toothpaste, I ended up with not only a large tube of it but a washcloth, towel, a roll of dental floss and some face cream. And when I put both hands up alongside my cheek to indicate that I was sleepy, she followed me into the guest room and got settled in a rocking chair, where she began prattling away about the upcoming royal wedding; an article that she’d been reading about Bogart and Bacall; what was happening in the neighborhood; and the correct way to care for wool clothing. It was better than a bedtime story.
It was often more interesting to simply listen than to try and add to our conversations and besides, signaling turned out to be a lot more fun. “Mom. Phone.” I’d hold the thumb of my right hand to my right ear with the pinkie to my mouth. (She’d stop in mid-sentence and take off at a trot.) “Klondike bar?” I’d pretend to peel paper back and take a bite of something. She’d instruct me on which flavor to grab. And one memorable night after we’d had true heartfelt, face to face session at the kitchen table over ice cream – and were headed off to bed – I tapped her on the shoulder held my arms out wide, mouthing, “Hug?” She responded with a delighted little giggle and we snuggled in each other’s arms for a long, blissful minute.
Sometimes, words aren’t really needed and love is the best kind of food.