Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Chloe at Christmas: Some Pig

 Meet Chloe the pig.  I took the photo on a digital camera my roommate was discarding after an upgrade, and to my astonished delight, I was able to download (or is it upload?) the photos I took to my computer.  Then I was able to put it on blogger.  I am positively giddy at my new-found recording and displaying skills.  Yes, the rest of the world has moved on to making short movies online, but let me enjoy my achievements for a bit.  

Christmas is a hard time of year for my mother.  Mostly this is due to her upbringing as a Quaker Iowa farm girl, believing that wretched excess was wasteful, perhaps even sinful, and too many possessions meant you were taking more than your share.  Then she met and married my father, who grew up dirt poor, and has celebrated his liberation from that by buying presents for loved ones on any occasion he can think of.  My sister once summed things up by saying "In my head, Dad's voice says 'get a dozen, just in case;' Mom's voice says 'we'll eat the rest tomorrow." I think they've been a good balance to one another over the years this way.  Mom made sure they had a spotless credit rating, retirement funds and happy home, Dad made sure they had a good time, occasionally getting Mom a little drunk if necessary.  This is not to say the balance is serene and steady.  There is a constant jockeying and debating, usually pretty noisy, but they even seem to enjoy that.  It's all good.  Mary, James and I take after Dad more than Mom though when it comes to gift giving and holidays.  We love getting things, we love giving things, and we ignore Mom's regular pleas that we not get her anything, or that we get her nothing but stamps (boy, does she love stamps).  We try to tone things down for her a bit, but when push comes to shove, we suit ourselves and ignore her Scrooge-ocity.  The pile of loot has only gotten bigger since Tony joined the family.  In fact he and Mary might even give Dad a run for his money in the over-doing sweepstakes.  (As a side-note, did you know the word 'galore' comes from the Irish go lour, which simply means 'enough'?  I think that says it all; what the Irish considered sufficient, the Anglo-Saxons considered extravagance.)  I think Mom's distress at all this conspicuous consumption is genuine, not feigned, and while she's gotten more adept at rolling with it over the years, being seriously outnumbered, I think she would still prefer that Christmas morning didn't always end up with a pile of wrapping paper bigger than a buick sitting in the middle of the floor with Fang and Cleo romping in it.  

Which brings me to Chloe.  You see, one day Mom, Dad, Mary and James were out somewhere together (I was living in Seattle at the time), possibly visiting one of the 'antique' (junk) shops the next town over, when Mom saw this giant cement pig.  We knew she loved pigs (farm girl, remember) and was always happy to get calendars, cards and such with them, but nothing prepared anyone for Mom deciding she wanted to buy this pig.  Having her spontaneously ask for something, for no reason, was behavior we all want to reinforce enthusiastically, so the four of them loaded up all 160 lbs of cement pig into the car, then placed her at the front door, where she has stood cheerful sentry ever since.  

But that isn't the only reason she represents unusual behavior on Mom's part.  You might have noticed that Chloe is wearing a hat.  A Santa hat, to be specific.  This is not her only festival garb, either.  And those fuzzy ears?  Those were not her original ones.  At some point, for reasons we can't quite fathom, someone broke off and stole her cement ears.  Dad was still teaching at the time, so maybe they represented some kind of dare trophy for some of his students.  In any case, Mom rose to the occasion by cracking out Chloe's Easter wear -a set of bunny ears-  and bending them down for what we all agree is a pretty good approximation of her previous look.  

Not living there year 'round, I'm not sure I've seen all of her ensembles.  I know she wears a scarf when it's cold, she has a pair of shamrock deely-bobbers for St. Patrick's Day, and I'm pretty sure she has a new set of bunny ears for Easter, though they may have been replaced by a bonnet.  There may be a Puritan bonnet for Thanksgiving, I can't quite remember.  I'll have to ask Mom.  

This is not the sort of thing Mom normally does.  This portrait of her may make you think she's a whimsical, cutesy little person, given to covering the house with china kitties and portraits of children with big eyes, but such a picture would be wildly inaccurate.  She's as funny and silly as the rest of us, but I feel like this pig is something else.  It's hard to sum up any single person, and probably harder still when it's one's mother, but if I had to choose one adjective to describe her, it would be 'scrappy.'  Mom, at 71, is spry, fit, still climbing on the roof to clean the gutters, still doing most of the easy plumbing in the house, still walking six miles a day with the dog, still cooking three meals a day for anywhere from two to six people.  As a wedding present, she and James replaced the roof of Mary's and Tony's garage porch.  She is a voracious reader and news hound, sharp and better informed on current events than I am, and, like Dad, she is always trying new things just 'cause.  I think that's part of what keeps both of them so vibrant.  

She is also the first to say she can be a bit cranky.  She calls herself Scrooge at this time of year.  "I hate people," she'll casually mention in a conversation at dinner, usually when we're talking about somebody's inanity.  It's not true, only it sort of is.  Family members and some friends all have free passes of course, as does almost any dog, cat, or, apparently, pig, but most people only get one chance to piss her off.  We're not really worried that she might become a shut-in, but it's fair to say Mom is a no nonsense kinda gal.  

Which makes the costuming of a giant cement pig in front of her house all the more wonderful.  Not even the loss of Chloe's ears (and seriously, what the hell?) has deterred her.  Outside observers may disagree, but I'd say none of the Laceys are big on whimsy, or cute, and if any of us were, the last person would be Mom, but here is Chloe, representing some silly, playful,joyful impulse.  We all really love this pig, her outfits and what they represent.  

I'm not sure where I'm going with this, what I'm trying to say about Chloe and her place in Mom's life.  I don't mean to suggest Mom is a humorless misanthrope (whatever she might claim); that portrait would be just as inaccurate as the precious Midwestern housefrau.  Bottom line is, I'm always delighted when I see Chloe (and yes, Mom named her); each time I walk up to my parents' front door, I greet her, and chect to see what she's wearing that day.   


Will said...

Hi, Patrick--best wishes for a healthy, happy, great 2008.

Sooo-this-is-me said...

I just always find people so interesting when they do something out of their routine character, it I think is their way of saying "don't place me in a box, you don't know all of who I am". Everyone needs some outlet of fun in their life.

All the best in 2008 Patrick!


Java said...

I love this story about your mom. I, like her, don't feel comfortable receiving an extravagance of gifts. Unlike her, however, I really like to be silly and quirky. There's a cement statue sales lot (for lack of a better description) not to far north of our town. They have displayed prominently in the center of the lot a very large cement chicken. The thing is at least 10, maybe 12 feet tall. It was the advertising icon of a small chain of fast food chicken restaurants that went bust. I want that chicken. Anytime we pass the place I say "there's my chicken." Superman said "over my dead body." Then he corrected himself, saying if I get the thing after he dies, he'll come back and haunt me.

Cooper said...

I love your Mom. Oh, and your Dad. And your sister. And your friend, Kate. And Chloe. And Fang and Cleo. And, of course, you! Seriously. Some Family, Patrick!

What the world needs now are more Laceys or lovely Lacey-likes.

Anonymous said...

I absolutely love the description of your Mother, she sounds quite charming and full or surprises when they're least expected. This is as it should be!

Actually, I've grown to love hearing about people and their families; especially when they want to claim it's a dysfunctional family. Odd thing about each dysfunctional family I've heard about... they all function! What a great opportunity to function dysfunctionally... Happy Functional New Year!


somewhere joe said...

Those ears were meant for Chloe.

I like a man who appreciates his mother. I like her too. I may start sending her Christmas cards. Is there a mother alive who doesn't want stamps? I suspect a good many of those stamps are stuck on envelopes with your name and address on them, Patrick.

Patrick said...

Will: happy new year to you too. I look forward to you taking residence in the new house this year.

Steven: that's exactly it, it's always wonderful when people we think we know surprise us, and all the more wonderful when it's one of our parents. It's too easy to fall into believing we've got them all figured out.

Java: I hope you're able to negotiate some deal with Superman for the chicken. What if you kept it in the backyard? Bought a plot somewhere just for it? Good luck.

I love you too Cooper, and all your wonderful family. I'd say the world is already a better place for your fathering of Dario and Matteo.

Joe: right you are, as usual, on all counts. In fact Mom is the only person who routinely writes me real letters these days, since she refuses to use a computer. It's awfully nice to have something to look forward to in the snail mail though. I need to be better at returning the favor; as it is now, Dad, and sometimes Mary, print out my emails for her to read, but she never gets a letter just for her.