“What’s that?” asked Mom, pointing at something moist and forbidding reclining on the front lawn.
“A turd,” sighed my brother, Donald.
Earlier that day, my husband, Tracy and I met up with Donald at Mom’s vacation house in Wildwood Crest, New Jersey, for a community yard sale. You had to own a house to participate. After signing up, homeowners would put sale items out on their front lawns, driveways, or porches.
Donald was helping her set up her stuff. My brother lives in Sterling, Virginia, but enjoys spending time at Mom’s shore place. Tracy and I had our own pile of things to sell.
Later in the morning, Donald took a few moments during a lull in the yard sale action to sit on the front steps. Mom quickly found him and began chattering at him about what she wanted to accomplish. I ambled over to lend what help I could. By 10 AM Donald already had the non-focused combat stare of shell-shocked war veterans.
He held his chin in his hands. He eyes were front and center, but they saw nothing. His hollow-eyed look resembled that of Boris Karloff in the old 1930’s Frankenstein movies when the monster was captured, chained, and tormented by angry villagers bearing torches—or, in this case, an over-excited mother waving a To-Do list.
Donald was in the Mom Zone.
The Mom Zone, for those not in the know, is not a physical place. It is a state of mind. It is the far-away mental place to which your brain retreats when it tries to process meandering phone calls that seem to have no point. Or when you receive mail filled with random articles about Frankie Avalon, stink bugs, or someone she assumes you must be interested in reading about because they graduated when you did in 1979–40 years ago.
Serving the same purpose as Grey Havens in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy when the mind has had enough of schlepping that damned ring, the Mom Zone provides a retreat when you hear the same story about your first-grade teacher again….and again.
When the sewer pipe vomited poo, my first thought was one of sympathy. My poor brother. He has to deal with this.
My second and less charitable thought was, I’m glad we’re heading home after dinner!
The Golden Child
You see, Donald is what my wickedly funny “older” sister, Debbie, calls the Golden Child. Nothing bad seemed to happen to him as a kid. Even as a gawky teen he had charm and a winning smile. When things threatened to turn nasty, he emerged smelling like a rose and looking like a million bucks.
For instance, sometime in the mid-1980s, Donald was driving a sporty Nissan two-door sedan Dad had bought. He rounded a corner a bit too quickly and rolled the car.
He wasn’t wearing a seat belt, but thankfully, and in true Golden Child fashion, he was uninjured. I would have woken up in the ER with plastic tubing snaking merrily from every bodily orifice.
I would have been SO grounded.
The car was pronounced dead and buried by our insurance carrier. Dad later bemoaned the loss of “that cute little red car I used to have” over supper conversation one evening, but he seemed to say it with a hint of pride in his voice, in a lighthearted manner.
I think he was glad he got a brand-new car for no out-of-pocket cost.
Our larger misdeeds—wrecking a car would be one of them–were generally discussed seriously and solemnly. To her credit, Mom noticed the Cheshire Cat tone in his voice, and took him to task, exclaiming his first name with exasperation,
Dad didn’t mind being fire-hosed by Mom, but then I chimed in.
Knowing full well the answer to this question, I asked, “What would have happened if I had wrecked the Nissan?”
The room got real quiet real fast.
“You would have been grounded,” he said firmly.
“But that’s unfair, nothing like that had happened to Donald!” I almost shouted.
“Very different things are expected from you,” said Dad. He harrumphed once, with finality, gazed downward, focused on his prey, and dove into supper.
Mom did her best, nailing her supper plate to the table with the tines of her fork with a resounding “THWACK!”
She gave him the side eye, glaring at him from beneath her blond curls.
But further discussion along those lines was useless. That subject was never mentioned again.
When my major wrongdoings were brought up in family conversation, tones were hushed. Conversations were clipped. Ghosts of the Spanish Inquisition shuffled ever closer, hoping to ply the tools of their trade yet again.
Losing His Luster
Well, the Golden Child might be losing a bit of his luster these days.
After the community yard sale was over, we had cleaned ourselves up and were preparing to venture out for a nice dinner when someone noticed the sidewalk.
“The sidewalk is wet,” said Donald.
“It hasn’t rained, has it?” asked Mom.
“No,” said Donald.
“The grass is wet, too. It must have rained,” said Mom.
“No, it didn’t rain. Everything else is dry,” said Donald.
Mom and Donald wandered over to the wet spot to solve this little mystery.
I remained where I was, near our car. I was hungry and ready to eat. I thought I heard a bubbling sound. Whatever was issuing forth from the ground was neither Black Gold nor Texas Tea. It was something far more aromatic and infinitely less valuable on the commodities market.
My brother stood gazing with disbelief into the gusher of noxious brown excrement bubbling up from the front lawn. “That’s nasty.”
The shore house was built in the 1920s, and the pipes are out of date. The sewer system occasionally backs up. When this happens, the pipe from the house to the mains overflows, pops the venting lid, and – “Eureka!”
Because Donald is spending more time at the shore house, he is likewise doing a lot to help keep the place running. He is immersed in the hustle-and-bustle whirlpool of activity that is Mom’s life. Even now, she stuffs her calendar to bursting. When you stray too close to the vortex, you might get sucked in.
Knowing Mom’s penchant for assigning blame, I figured she would order DNA tests to determine where the errant excreta came from. Best leave town before the swabs come out.