A Celebration of Peeve
This week was my mother’s 89th birthday.
Buying her a present is easy. She likes everything. She likes clothes and jewelry and makeup and getting her hair done and going out to dinner. And books and magazines. And movies and television and free concerts in the park. And McDonald’s McDoubles. And a nice cup of tea. And a danish once in a while.
I bought her two of my current favorite cosmetics: Primer, which we’ve had several discussions about, since she is looking for one that really dissolves 89-year-old wrinkles. And a coral blush, which I rather hated when the saleslady foisted it on me – but it has since become my favorite blush. And to top off my presents, I bought Mom some of my beloved knock-off cologne – which I happen to think smells better than the expensive version. My mother appreciates a good deal.
And although I said that she likes everything – in truth, she does not.
Mom – a born worrier but basically an extremely happy woman (she likes to worry) – has a few pet peeves.
So in celebration of Mom’s birthday, I am celebrating her peeves.
1. Beet greens.
I’m sure you recognize how dangerous it can be to send your husband to the supermarket alone. Just this week I ended up with dried hot wasabi peas. Well, my father was known to bring home beet greens. My mother hates beet greens. I don’t think she cares very much for the taste. But what she really detests is the sand. No matter how thoroughly she rinsed the beet greens, they were still sandy. I’m with her. Eating gritty stuff is wrong.
My mother has an extraordinary sense of fair play. She cannot stand to see someone being treated unfairly. Or someone cheating. She can’t even watch a TV show where a guy gets framed. I remember a few years back, I told her that I had been blamed at work for someone else’s mistake. Holy crap. She was incensed. She was ready to go over to the office and give them a piece of her mind. It was all I could do to make her put down her pocketbook and car keys. I felt much better though, knowing Mom would still fight for her little girl.
3. and 4. Jo Stafford and Peggy Lee.
Jo Stafford was a singer in the forties and fifties. Or so I’m told. I never heard of her. But Mom hated her. I don’t think she ever said why. I knew Peggy Lee. And I knew Mom’s reason for detesting her. She was “Hard”. Every time Peggy Lee came on the Ed Sullivan show, Mom would point out how hard she was. Peggy became our standard for hardness – from baseball bats to boiled eggs. I would complain that my homework was hard, and my sisters would say “Is it as hard as Peggy Lee?”
5. Mel Torme.
The Velvet Fog. My mother hated Mel Torme even more than she hated Peggy Lee. He was our other family measurement standard. A standard of how much you couldn’t stand something. “I hate these potatoes,” my brother would say. “I hate them more than Mel Torme.” And we all knew exactly how bad those potatoes were.
6. “Sentimental Journey.”
Mom hated that song. But it was as much of a mystery as Jo Stafford. Perhaps Jo Stafford sang “Sentimental Journey” while she was framing my father for some heinous crime. But my aunt gave us a bunch of old sheet music when she moved away, and so we inherited “Sentimental Journey”. Both my sister Claudia and I like to play that song on the piano. It had a cool rhythmic arrangement for the left hand. My mother must have heard “Sentimental Journey” played both terrifically (Claudia) and terribly (me) a thousand times between 1960 and 1965. Sorry, Mom.
7. Plot Holes.
Illogical plots drive my mother crazy. (I am proud to say I have inherited this from her.) It was “Barnaby Jones” back in my mother’s day. “No way he could know that,” she’d sneer at the TV. “How convenient that the car was right there.” “Boy, his clothes dried fast.” “Wait! You didn’t pay for that dinner.” And worst of all possible plots: Amnesia.
When my mother was a little girl, there was a glider-type swing in their backyard. I never understood how this could be: my mother grew up in a cold-water, toilet-down-the-hall six-family tenement. But this was her story. Her sister tried to get the neighborhood cat to sit on her lap in the glider. And the cat panicked and bit my aunt in the face. My mother was traumatized. She hated cats from that moment. But her sister – the actual bite victim – was not traumatized. She had cats all her life – I think they were all named “Mittens.” But my mother never softened in her opinion of cats. She insists they are all evil. I have four cats. I keep waiting for her to like them, or at least sit in the same room. I’ve had cats for twenty-three years, and I am still waiting.
9. Playing Dumb.
I remember sitting in the kitchen having a coke with my first real boyfriend, Kenny. My mother was in the den, watching TV. When Kenny left, my mother came into to kitchen and gave me an intense lecture. She had heard me trying to be flirty and cutesy to impress Kenny. “Don’t you EVER play dumb to attract a boy!” she said. “You are a smart girl. If he is going to be intimidated by your brains, you’ve got the WRONG BOY!” At the time, I interpreted this as her way of saying that my brains was ALL I had going for me. And I despaired of ever finding a boy who wanted someone smart and not pretty. But she was right. Smart IS pretty. And my husband likes my brains almost as much as he likes my ass.
Happy Birthday, Mom. I hate bad plot-lines, and Mel Torme, and Jo Stafford (whoever she is) and playing dumb. Sorry about the cats.