I'm looking forward to visiting my parents during the holidays. There's nothing like a visit with the folks to remember why you live 600 miles away from them, and how fortunate you really are.
Don't get me wrong - I love Mom and Dad,. It's just that I'm kind of glad they live where they do. They retired to a nice community near Myrtle Beach, and our last visit was quite interesting. It shed some light on retired life, for one thing. With the holiday's approaching, and the inevitable get-together soon, I recently contemplated our last visit.
One thing I noticed about my now-retired parents is that items like milk, or the lack thereof, take on the significance of foreign policy. Take for example, this conversation between my parents.
Mom: "I thought we had no milk."
Dad: "No, I just bought a gallon. Remember? I just went out yesterday."
Mom: "Why are we going through so much milk?" She searches in the refrigerator for the new gallon. "Where is it? I don't see it."
Dad: "I know it's there, I just put it in."
Mom: "Oh, here it is, all the way in the back." She peers in momentarily and closes the refrigerator door.
Dad: "We won't need any when I go shopping Saturday."
Mom: "Probably not."
Dad: "You better check. How much is left in the old container?"
Mom: "I don't know, I'll look."
Mom looks in the refrigerator.
Mom: "There's about half a container."
Dad: "I probably better get some today. I don't think we'll make it 'til Saturday. I'll have to stop at the store later."
Mom: "We could probably wait until Saturday."
Dad: "I better pick some up, better to be safe than sorry."
And on and on it goes. As Phil Rizzuto used to say, "Holy Cow!"
I decided right there, when I got home I would not drink milk anymore. Ever.
For my parents, going anywhere after 11 a.m. is akin to breaking one of the 10 Commandments.
For my daughter and me, getting out of the house before 2 p.m. is a completely foreign concept.
Dad: "It's noon already! The whole day is gone, and you two aren't even dressed yet!"
Were they always like this? I'm not sure. I didn't notice growing up. I just did what I was told and didn't think about it.
We were forced to rise by 10 a.m. My daughter had some trouble adjusting to this. After all, once school was out, she had been used to staying up until 5 a.m. and rising 12 hours later, while I was at work. But the drill sergeant, aka my father, straightened us out.
Breakfast is immediately followed by clean-up detail. Everything must be left exactly the way it was before eating. In my household, if breakfast dishes get done before I go to bed that night, I feel I have accomplished something.
Mom was always a good housekeeper, but now, as a retiree, she's become a little obsessive.
It didn't bother me that she followed us around with a bucket filled with disinfectant cleaner. Actually, I wanted to take her home with me for a week. (All right, a day.) But my poor cats would probably get disinfected too.
Mom was horrified at the state of her guest bathroom when we deposited a truckload of health and beauty aids around the sink area. She resigned herself to the hairs on the sink and floor, (my dad hasn't had hair since Kennedy was president and mom has short retiree locks), a toothpaste-stained mirror and towels hanging in precarious places.
After a few days she gave up on her routine of measuring the distance of the soap holder from the faucet and the exact angle of the brass toilet paper holder from the toilet bowl.
The stress on her face was visible, and I could see her intermittently taking nips from a "water" bottle throughout the day, while my father suddenly had assorted golf buddies to tee off with daily.
If shoes, bras, or nail-polish remover were left in spaces they "didn't belong," this crisis required immediate inspection, the calling of the National Guard and a jury to determine who was guilty of placing these offending items so carelessly.
See, in my apartment, everything belongs everywhere. There are no rules, just messes.
Which brings me to the advice portion of this essay. When visiting with family this holiday season, (particularly retired parents), be sure to look for these signs that indicate it is time for you to leave:
1. Your luggage and belongings are packed and in dad's car on Tuesday, but your flight back is not until Sunday.
2. A port-a-john, a pup tent and a cooler appear in the back yard with your luggage alongside.
3. Mom can be overheard on the phone calling airlines and bus companies and whispering, "It doesn't matter, when is the next one leaving?"
4. A "For Sale - Drastically Reduced" sign is visible on the front lawn upon waking.
5. Mom insists that the room you are staying in immediately needs to be painted, carpeted and the windows replaced.
6. Dad insists there is a severe hurricane forecast, and you must evacuate immediately. When you watch the Weather Channel, it forecasts beautiful weather.
7. Your parents suddenly leave for an out-of-town family emergency, and then you realize - you are their only family.
8. You get a call from a friend back home who tells you to come home immediately - your house has been robbed. On the kitchen counter you see a Western Union receipt for hundreds of dollars in your friend's name - from your parents.
9. Mom claims to be stricken with a sudden mysterious illness that is highly contagious, and for your safety, demands you leave at once.
10. The water, heat, phone and cable are suddenly disconnected, and Mom relates that, unfortunately, every hotel in the area is booked!
Note: This article was originally published in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review in 2001 or 2002. It was a Semi-Finalist in the October/November 2006 Humor Press Online Humor Writing Contest.