On Friday, November 29th, Marie McCumber telephoned 3 out of her 4 children to tell them that she would like to visit with each one of them during the ensuing week on matter of some importance to her. She would be happy to have them over to her house, or she could come to their house, or they could meet in a restaurant.
Mrs. McCumber, age 63 and a widow, would only tell them that she was planning on getting remarried on Christmas Day and that she would explain all the details to them when they met. She would not discuss anything more with them, not even the gentleman's name who would be standing beside her on December 25th. Mrs. McCumber knew from her long experience that the telephone usually bode bad news to the listener most of the time and she contemplated that the announcement of her engagement would be interpreted as bad news by her children.
She started with her toughest nut, who was the oldest of her children, 38-year-old Denise, married to a very successful stock-broker. Denise had, to say the least, a mindset cast in cement and upon hearing the news, as expected, promptly went ballistic. Marie moved quickly on to 36-year-old Donald, a very successful real estate agent, who was very busy at the moment but would certainly call her right back for any more details that would be forthcoming. Next came 33-year-old Deborah, who was rendered absolutely speechless as she sat at her desk at the insurance company computer room, and Mrs. McCumber knew that Deborah, following her usual pattern, was trying to buy time until she could talk with her oldest sister. Finally came Douglas, or 'Dougie', age 21, single and an aspiring golf pro, who was not at home because he usually worked every day of the week delivering pizza inasmuch as aspiring golf pros in the upper Midwest who did not have the money to go South in the winter did things like deliver pizza.
By the time Mrs. McCumber had given up on trying to reach Dougie, her telephone rang, as expected, with a call from Denise who, befitting her ability as a brilliant strategist, had already set up Sunday dinner for all of the family at her 5 bedroom house. Denise explained, with that undeniable edge in her voice, that since her mother had mysteriously disappeared on Thanksgiving, Sunday would be a wonderful time for the entire family to get together and perhaps "talk over a few things." Marie McCumber acquiesced and conceded the fact that a pitched battle would be forthcoming on Sunday and wondered why mothers just didn't move 5,000 miles away from their children. Denise said that she would make sure that Dougie would be in attendance and Mrs. McCumber had no reason to disbelieve the battlefield tactics of Denise.
The day of atonement arrived and Marie McCumber tried to be as late as possible for dinner having put into her purse a full bottle of Mylanta. Nonetheless, dinner was waiting when she got to the house of Denise. The entire clan had gathered and was at the ready. The cast of combatants was as follows:
Denise, who was smiling through her migraine, and her husband Stephen and their two proper teenage daughters. Donald, and his quintessential Stepford wife Emily, whose son was away attending prep school in Vermont, but Donald made up for the absence of their only child by the presence of his cell-phone. Deborah, her husband Darrell, and their 5 children also known as the 'no-neck monsters' who were at the moment,
playing Sylvester and Tweetie-Bird with the house parakeet. And, of course, Dougie, wearing his favorite ball cap which was his only ball cap. Upon the arrival of 'Mom,' she adjusted Dougie's ball cap by taking it off his head, throwing it to one of the 'no-necks' which immediately started a fight among the other four, who treasured anything from their Uncle Dougie, and then told Dougie that she was not expecting rain here at Valhalla which of course turned up the fire in Denise's eyes a bit further. Dougie offered to say grace, to the astonishment of all, and it was a classic in the annals of table grace:
"Bless this house, bless this food, bless us all who are about to be rude."
"THAT'S NOT FUNNY, DOUGIE," said Denise, as quietly as she could.
"Amen," said Dougie just as Donald's cell-phone went off.
Marie McCumber had decided on a strategy of her own. "My children," she said, "and my children's children, it would seem proper to first eat this lovely dinner prepared by Denise and then, over sherry, coffee, and cigars, I will make a carefully prepared statement after which time I will field your questions...for a limited time. Please endeavor to make your questions fair and sporting and above the belt."
"Gee, Mom," said Dougie, "just like a Presidential news conference, huh?"
"Oh, Dougie, I shall do much better than that."
The dinner must have set a record for consumptive speed as bowls of mashed potatoes and platters of turkey went around the table corners as if on a high-banked turn at a NASCAR race. The 'no-necks,' seated mercifully at another table with Denise's beseiged daughters, finished their dinner early and were trying to feed their table scraps to the parakeet.
"Children," Deborah pleaded, "please don't bother the bird."
"Thank you, Deborah," Denise said. "Children, did you listen to your mother? Did you hear what she said? You shouldn't bother the bird, you know, because if you do, you will all die an agonizing death."
"Denise," Deborah said, "please don't tell them that. It might scare them."
"Deborah," Denise returned, "you couldn't scare any of them with Aliens 3 but my parakeet will not live out the day."
The dinner was almost over before it had begun and dessert was an afterthought. "No pie for me, Denise," Donald said through his cell-phone but Darrell offered to take his piece. Darrell was into eating anything, anywhere.
As Marie McCumber watched the table being cleared and looked into the burning eyes of Denise and her husband, the successful and vigilant stock-broker, she sensed that her time was drawing nigh. Not a good time, there would be no good time, but here it was. Ready. Get set. Go.
"On December 25th, you are all cordially invited to the First Unitarian Church where I will be united in marriage to Mr. Hamilton Fish of this city. Hamilton, or 'Ham' as he is always called, has the following life experiences: he attended college, was called into the Armed Forces where he served with distinction in Korea, winning the Purple Heart and a Bronze Star. He later married, was divorced, and has two children, not of this city. He had a third child who was killed in an automobile accident when he was in high school. Ham is retired, but still works part-time behind the counter at one of our local golf courses, and has other assorted jobs through the winter."
Marie paused for a breath as her heart was beating quite rapidly. Stephen and Donald had been jotting notes
as she talked as if they were preparing for cross-examination.
Marie denied Denise's first thrust and continued. "As you will note when you meet him, Ham is of solid character, has a great sense of humor, is in decent shape, with only the minor complications of health befitting a man of his age..."
"Ok, my press conference seems to be over, so I will now start by answering questions, and in all fairness, I will take your questions, one at a time, in order of your age, which would be you Denise..."
"MOT..her, just old is this Mr. Fish?"
"He is 70, Denise." As worried glances were exchanged around the room, Marie McCumber measured the impact of age to anyone under 40. To them, 70 would seem to be in an age where the world was never in color, just in black and white.
"Ham has had open heart surgery, a triple by-pass to be exact, and has to monitor that with a good and healthy life style."
Marie was looking at Darrell when she said this, but Darrell was busy eating Spanish peanuts.
"That doesn't seem to be minor to me, Mother."
"Oh, it is these days, Denise. They are doing some wonderful things in this area you know."
Stephen leaned in to put a buzz in his wife's ear, but Denise waved him away. She knew where she was going and she didn't need any help from her husband, the stock-broker.
"Mother, why is he still working? I mean, he IS 70 after all."
"Because he wants to, Denise, and because he has to. Ham is not anywhere near well-to-do as we would define it." Ah, we were getting to the nut of it now, Marie thought. Donald was fighting to get the floor and Marie shifted her attention to her oldest son just to get relief from Denise, but Donald, she knew, would be little better.
"Mom..." His cell-phone went off. "Pardon me, Mom."
"Donald, put the goddam cell-phone away if you want to talk to me."
"Yes, ma'am." Which he did. "Mom, just what did this...ah, Ham...do in his power earning years, if I may ask."
"Donald, he did many things. He sold insurance, he worked at Hargrove's Department Store, he was a security guard, many things. I should mention that Ham was shot up pretty badly in Korea and you will note, when you meet him, that he walks with a limp." Marie noticed that Donald was writing down 'Hargrove's' on a piece of paper.
Marie desperately shifted the focus away from Denise and Donald. "Deborah, do you have any pertinent questions at this time?"
"No, Mom, I guess not."
"Deborah," Marie said, "it would seem to me that any woman with 5 children would have a question or two. Now, Dougie, it's your turn."
"Is he hot, Mom?"
"DOUGIE...." yelled Denise.
Ah, sweet relief, Marie thought. "Yes, Dougie, he is hot. Really hot. But then again, so am I."
"Is this a sex-thing, Mother, or what?" Denise wanted to know.
"Denise, good sex is always part of the equation. But he is also a caring, compassionate, and concerned man who has figured out the questions to life. Not the answers, just the questions. Also part of the equation, Denise, if you will remember."
Denise was on a
fast smolder. "Yes, Mother, I also remember that I was the only girl graduating from high school who had a mother that was pregnant. But that was Dad, that was natural enough, I guess."
Marie caught fire. "You guess? God, woman, don't you know? Yes, Denise, Dad was hot, I was hot, and Ham is hot, and that's the way life goes, Denise. That is what helps turn the fern. And no, I'm not comparing Dad to Ham, to get it out in the open. Dad was a wonderful person, a great person, and if he could communicate with me now, he would have wanted to know why I took so long to get remarried. That is what Dad would have said to me, Denise. And he would have liked Ham, yes, he would have. Two different people, but yet, ever so similar....Denise."
"Ok, Mother, I do have a question." Marie thought, 'Deborah has a question?' Almost a family first. She nodded at Deborah.
"Mother, my work with computers at the insurance company indicates that more and more...ah, elderly people...are living together without a marriage contract and given the probable differences in your assets, might that not be advisable...Mother?"
Marie though about that. "You mean that we should live in sin, Deborah, and forever taint the house of Denise among other things? Well, you know the old joke about elderly people 'living in sin.' They would be the first to say, "Not the way we do it!" Oh, lighten up everbody. I guess you have to be over 60 understand that one. Dear me."
"Mother," Denise was on the prowl again, "Deborah is right. You ARE worth a bit of money." Stephen and Donald exchanged glances. "Why should you get married?"
"Denise, I am your mother but I am also a woman. I have a life. Now, more than ever. I'm over 60 perhaps, but I am still a woman. Now, Denise, I know that what you would really like to ask me is why I have to fool around with anybody? Why not just spend the rest of my life in a casino or doing volunteer work? That would make the world very complete for you, wouldn't it Denise? It would be the safe play...for you, Denise. Only for you. But not for me, not for anyone who has a life to live."
"Hold it right there, Denise. YOU DO NOT, I MEAN NEVER, DO YOU SPEAK TO ME IN THAT TONE OF VOICE! I am marrying Hamilton Fish because it is the natural order of things. It is what people do, or should do. He is going to become part of this family, God help him. So I want all of you to meet him next week. At a neutral site, let's say Shaver's Restaurant Friday night at 7. Be there, my children, be there and be square. Now, enough of this. If you will excuse me, I have some wedding announcements to mail out." And with that, Marie McCumber walked out of her daughter's 5 bedroom house.
As she was about to get into her car, she heard Dougie's voice behind her. "Mom...do you love him?"
"Ah, Dougie, my romantic. I am so glad you came along later to develop a different philosophy of life. Yes, Dougie, I do love him. With all of my heart. And Dougie, thank you for being the only person to ask that question."
"Great, that works for me, Mom."
"Dougie, it has always occurred to me that every woman with a large family should have a safety valve with one her children. You are my safety valve, Dougie."
"Always glad to be of service, Mom. Is that your way of asking me never to get married?"
"No, Dougie, you can get married anytime you wish. Still, it would be nice if you could postpone it for awhile until your mother returns from what prom
ises to be a rather long honeymoon."
"I can do that, Mom." Dougie had tears in his eyes. "Anyway, where would I find anybody that comes close to you?"
"I don't have a patent on myself, Dougie. You will find someone very special. Especially you."
Dougie opened the door to his mother's car, they embraced, and he watched her drive away, then he turned to go back into the house of Denise.
"HEY, DENISE,' Dougie yelled, "DO YOU KNOW THAT MOM'S PREGNANT? ISN'T THAT AMAZING FOR A WOMAN OF HER AGE?"