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In years past, Gill’s holiday visit home has been frantic. During the space of a little over two weeks, she tries to visit her best girlfriends who are now busy with their own families, visit friends in Toronto, go on family outings with us, do some shopping, and most of all, rest and swim. It never works. There is always someone pissed off that she didn’t see them, spend enough time with them, do fun things with them — aka, me. So this year, Gill came up with the brilliant idea of stating beforehand the specific things she wanted to do and making a list to cross things off. Each of her family members also had to make a list. And now, with the holiday over and Gill back in the UK, I thought it would be an excellent idea to revisit the list and see how it worked out.

The review is mixed. She did get to visit most of her friends, she swam, she ate lots of corn and peaches (just up to the point where her Crohn’s would rebel), and we did visit our property/swamp in the country. We did not, unfortunately, have time to visit her version of Canada’s Wonderland, the Supercentre, we did not make it to the Toronto zoo to see the pandas (we sent our regrets to them but received no reply), and we did not go on a family road trip to Point Pelee to do some serious birdwatching. Although, with the addition of two new ‘Squirrel Buster’ bird feeders in my yard, we probably saw (or at least appreciated) more birds in our crabapple tree than we would have after being cooped up with each other for hours in a car with The Pig  breathing heavily and threatening to vomit. That tends to put a damper on one’s spirits. So, avoiding the whole Coals to Newcastle phenomenon, we sat drinking gin and tonics on the deck and watched as the cardinals and jays outwitted the squirrels.

We did the easy things on the list first — the low-hanging fruit, as it were. Since Crazy D only had a week when Gill was here before he took off on the great Continental Divide Bike trek, we had to cram things in. One of the things that has been a constant since the kids were small was the family picnic or, as Gill calls it, the Salami Pigout at our local duck pond. The luncheon menu always includes a baguette, cheese, fresh veggies, fruit and SALAMI. Two packages of salami — one for Gill, myself and L’il Sis to share. (When L’il Sis turned to the dark side and became vegan, Gill and I got more.) One entire package for Crazy D. Even as a toddler, Crazy D had a thing for salami. Before I realized this quirk, I would buy one package for everyone. Then, as Crazy D sat on the California beach in his wool coat, hat and cowboy boots (while everyone else had shorts and t-shirts . . . a man doing his own thing even at age 3), he stuffed his face, slice after slice, looking for all the world like he was a prisoner afraid his last meal would be taken away. Crazy D loves his salami. Even Mr. Pants (his puppy) didn’t have a prayer of stealing any during our latest picnic.

Things undone: Gill’s sense of permanence in this house. Bad enough that L’il Sis has taken over her room, changed her curtains, and filled the bathroom with her cosmetics, she and Crazy D have also overhauled the kitchen and pushed Gill’s Cheerios and favorite brand of coffee to the back of the cupboard. Hey, she’s lucky. I don’t even HAVE a tiny spot on any of the shelves for MY stuff. I have hidden my stash of chocolate behind my vitamins. Gill also lost her sense of dominance as the older child and the one who ‘got to be in charge first’. She realizes she’s been undone, demoted, stripped of her authority. I pretend that this sibling rivalry is different from their childhood tussles over riding shotgun in the car, but I’m just old, not delusional. Same shit; different pile.

And we almost broke The Pig on our swampy acreage. The weeds were so tall she couldn’t see where she was going. She was covered in burs, oozing with black swamp muck and, just to finish it off with a flourish, she was the first one into the roadside ditch where the dead, decaying sheep was lying. I don’t think I need to explain what happened next. I will say, though, that I don’t think I have seen a dog that happy, self-satisfied or pleased with herself in a long time. We all drove home with our heads sticking out the window — except The Pig who was intent on preserving the day’s goodness for as long as possible. She wasn’t taking a chance that she’d lose any of the stink.

All in all, it was a good visit. Gill was reassured that our shitshow is just as ridiculous as ever and, although she was sad to return to London, was also extremely relieved to be able to escape. And of course, there’s always Christmas — which will still be a shitshow but on ice!