I have now been in this apartment for about 29 days. It’s hard to remember exact numbers because I was between bouts of near-vomiting when I moved, but that’s pretty close. Yet, I am still not completely unpacked and my bedroom looks like it belongs to someone on “Hoarders.” Does it bother me? No, because a hideous dachshund taught me a valuable lesson in my younger days that I’ve not forgotten. Of course, this story involves my mother.
Although my mom embarrassed me daily during my childhood with things like: unplanned girdle displays, picking dandelions in the front yard, and her thick Italian accent (to name a few) we almost never fought. I was more a mediator, like my dad. Actually, my father was a mediator poised for sainthood. His interactions with my mother left him at a level of martyrdom I couldn’t begin to approach. I learned to hide my eye-rolling and imitations of her until she was out of range, so I seemed like a good daughter. But I’ll never forget the one fight we did have.
I was home for the summer after my freshman year of college and decided that, on my only day off hard labor at the local Tastee Freeze, I would help my mother get organized. Did she ask for this? No.
I rationalized that I was doing it for her, but in retrospect it was clearly for me. I had the misfortune to be the only one in my family born with the cleaning and organization gene. People like me are now classified as obsessive compulsive. If I’d remained single, I’d be a librarian with color-coded hangers and alphabetical spice drawers. Luckily my family and friends keep my obsession under control by mocking me and being disorganized slobs.
The cleaning and organization gene goes nicely hand-in-hand with the “Suffering Mediterranean Woman Syndrome.” I didn’t even know I had it, until a few years ago when my kid’s sweet, Jewish pediatrician diagnosed it. He said he’d had plenty of experience with it, knew I was a sufferer, and wasn’t buying any of it. He took all the fun out of shameless, self-sacrifice.
So, there I was – on my only day off – in my mom’s kitchen, making the ultimate sacrifice and cleaning out her cupboards. (The Suffering Mediterranean Woman Syndrome begins innocently with phrases like that.)
I was nineteen and am certain it had been at least that many years since her cupboards had been cleaned out. My mother would cook until she dropped, but cleaning was never high on her priority list. “Honey,” she’d say, “Wenna you die, da howse a work willa stilla be dare. Da hell a witta da howse a work!”
So, I dove in, pulling things out of drawers that hadn’t seen the light of day in almost two decades. I cleaned crumbs from corners and scrubbed and cleaned everything I deemed salvageable. Old, broken items I hadn’t seen used in years I tossed into three large trash bags and put them in the back yard near the garbage cans. I knew my mother had so much junk in her cupboards that I could have taken out a plastic bag full of broken or unused items every couple of weeks and she would have never noticed. Or so I thought.
I was just about finished when, through the kitchen window, I noticed Mom in the back yard scavenging through the plastic bags to see what precious items I had thrown away. I strode outside to meet her, head high, indignant that she would have so little faith in my good judgment that she had to check the bags to see what I threw out.
And what made her the angriest?
It was a dark brown, glazed, ceramic dachshund that stood upright on his hind legs and had a perky gold bow-tie painted around his neck. Mr. Whiskey was a decanter with a head that twisted off and three hooks that ran down his back on both sides holding little, brown, pail-shaped shot glasses with dog faces on them. At one time he held six pails, but over the years pails were lost and broken, so he was down to one pathetic pail.
I’d placed him at the bottom of plastic bag number two, hoping she might not spot him there, but as I marched toward her I could see it was too late. She reached her heavy arm in and plucked him out with a look of fury on her scarlet face.
“Ha dare a you trow dis away!” she yelled. “Dis issa good a stoff, whad else a you gatta inna a here?”
“What do you mean good stuff, Ma? That dog’s ugly, he only has one pail left — and besides, I’ve never seen you use him,” I countered.
“I don’d geeve a damn Frenzy, I like it and I wanna keep it! Dis issa my howse and you’re notta gonna trow away everyting I like a.”
“But Ma, everything you like is old broken junk. If you want to keep it fine, but this is the last time I’m ever gonna try and help you out. I use my only day off work to try and help you clean and this is what I get? Clean your house yourself next time!” I screeched with excellent 19 year-old, novice suffering.
Then I stomped back into the house, livid that my mother cared more about a stupid, ugly, almost pail-less dachshund than she did her own daughter. (Notice, ease of slide right into perceived victimization.)
I grabbed the car keys, took off in the family car and headed to my best friend, Carolyn’s house. I ended up bursting into tears at the local gas station when I realized I was on empty and had no money. The attendant gave me two dollars worth because the poor kid didn’t know what to do with a sobbing teenage girl at his pumps.
Carolyn’s mom listened to my story, gave me a hug and said, “Now Frances, you know your mother loves you!” She voted for keeping Mr. Whiskey for the sake of family harmony and apologizing.
Later that night I returned home, but wouldn’t eat or speak to my mother; the Italian version of shunning. I went to my room and stayed there until my dad, the mediator/saint, came in. He sat on the bed and quietly said, “I hear you and your mother had a little disagreement today — what happened?” I dramatically recounted my great sacrifice and her ungrateful response as he sat and listened. When I was done, he said, “You and your mother have always gotten along and I hate to see you fight like this.”
I maturely replied, “We’re not fighting, I’m just not speaking to her.” He said, “Well, that’s no way to be. I know what she’s like, I know she can be tough, but I think you’re just gonna have to let it go. If she likes that junk, just let her keep it, we have enough room. This fighting’s not necessary. You know she cares a heck of a lot about you. Just drop it for now.”
When I think back on that day, it’s his conversation that I recall the most clearly and how he sat quietly and just listened to me. I guess after years of being married to my mom, pride wasn’t as much of a problem for him as it was for me. He always said, “You gotta give and take.”
After my talk with Dad, I realized I was going to have to give on this one. I remember coming into the kitchen from my room, crying and hugging my mom but have conveniently blanked on the apologizing part. We smoothed things over somehow and that was that. There was only room for one alpha female in that house and I knew who she was.
After that, when I couldn’t find things in my mom’s drawers and got disgusted, I thought about the day I’d be able to throw out anything I wanted. I knew, when that day came, I’d give anything to have her, her ugly whiskey decanter and her chaos back.
Mr. Whiskey now sits in my office, sporting that smug smile and holding his solitary shot glass. He sits in front of windows that need to be sanded and painted, surrounded by all my disorganized crap and unopened boxes, as a constant reminder that organization and perfection are highly overrated. And every so often, I swear I hear him say, “Hey, you need a pail of whiskey.”
Sandy BAugust 20, 2018 at 4:08 pm
I just ran across your story when I was searching for dachshund decanters. It was very touching. I have to say your little dachshund friend is gorgeous. I have three little dachshunds and they are my babies now since my daughter is grown and moved miles away for work. If ever you decide to part with him I would live to have him and promise to
cherish him as well and give him a good home.
Fran TunnoSeptember 9, 2018 at 3:10 pm
What a sweet note! And so sorry it’s taken me so long to respond. So glad you liked the story and it’s good to know that if I ever decide to part with Mr. Dachshund, you would give him a good home! Thank you so much for taking the time to write and I hope you enjoy the solo life. It takes some getting used to, but can be very rewarding. Best,
MaryApril 2, 2014 at 5:50 pm
I know & I hear ya. We all know she’s “gatta whada eatta tages,” which is got what it takes in my Mom’s vernacular, 😉 I just like giving the “sibling raspberries” sometimes. Our Mom is smiling down on her, I am sure.
donraymediaApril 1, 2014 at 10:14 am
Hey Mary. Fran pays me in “other” ways. No! No! No! Not what you’re thinking. Fran is a friend who is always there for me — even when she’s buried in motherhood and writing hood and living hood. I want to spread the word about her so that I can be one of the first persons to buy her book when it comes out. There will come a day when she’s so famous that she won’t have time for my petty calls for help.
Fran TunnoApril 1, 2014 at 9:45 pm
From your mouth Don, to anyone’s ears who happens to be listening!
MaryApril 1, 2014 at 8:11 am
Hmmm, Fran, so how much are you paying this “Donray” person, . . . .LOL! No, that was a nice comment Mr. Don, and yes, Fran DOES have a zany way with words.
Fran, I can’t believe you kept that funny looking dachshund decanter all these years after you fought with Mom to throw it away! Great book material.
Organized? I’ll say she’s organized! I’ll never forget the day maybe a couple years ago when Fran organized my Dad’s clothes closet with pants, shirts & plastic clothes hangers. Nice of course, and I wish I were more organized, but I couldn’t help thinking, yikes, it looks like a scene from that movie Julia Roberts was in, “Sleeping with the enemy!” LOL!! Sorry Fran, love ya, mean it 🙂 Had to give you “the lilla diggers.” Great recollection again of our childhood memories as only you can tell it.
Sheesh, you sure look a lot like Andy in that Tasty Freeze photo, or vice versa I guess I should say.
Fran TunnoApril 1, 2014 at 9:44 pm
Thanks Mare, I think. Well, at least you read my posts!
linda CappellaMarch 31, 2014 at 8:43 am
So true! Brought tears to my eyes………Glad you kept it!
Fran TunnoMarch 31, 2014 at 1:08 pm
Awww, thank you Linda. I’m glad you liked it.
Fran TunnoApril 1, 2014 at 9:44 pm
Awww, thank you Linda, so glad you read it and enjoyed it.
Colleen RudnickiMarch 30, 2014 at 6:28 pm
Fran, I soooo remember that decanter! And I remember that I (so ashamed to admit) broke one of the shot glasses. Aunt Mary made me pray-a da rosary, as penance. Such great memories. Hail-a Mardy, Fulla Graz! Love the precious memories you stir out of my old dusty brain.
Fran TunnoMarch 30, 2014 at 11:09 pm
Ah ha! One of the culprits. Well at least you admitted it AND did your penance. I can’t believe you remember it, how funny! (I probably broke a million of her shot glasses too, I just don’t remember.) Thank you so much for taking the time to comment. Please forward my blog to your friends (Italian or not). I can use all the followers I can get. I hope Linda and Gigi get to check it out as well.
skullwomanMarch 30, 2014 at 9:45 am
Fran, that was wonderful. Your writing is fantastic and so emotional. This one brought back memories of all the tchotchkes my mom had about the house when I was growing up. They embarrassed me so much as a teen, but now they sit proudly on my shelves and in my own kitchen
Fran TunnoMarch 30, 2014 at 11:05 pm
Skullwoman, we simply must meet. Thank you so much for your kind words. And I too am guilty. I have taken over my mom’s salt and pepper shaker collection, as well as her china cups. How silly we were when we were young, right?
Fran TunnoMarch 28, 2014 at 10:46 pm
Thanks Margaret! Did Sue work there too? God, what a place!
MargaretMarch 28, 2014 at 5:57 pm
Lovely story Fran. I could see the cast of characters evolve before my eyes including the adorable Sue Gorden in her matching Tastee Freeze uni!
burbankbob2014March 28, 2014 at 5:44 pm
Love it! Thanks for sharing those memories.
Fran TunnoMarch 28, 2014 at 10:45 pm
Thanks Bob! Glad you enjoyed it!
donraymediaMarch 28, 2014 at 4:32 pm
I couldn’t wait to re-post this on my own blogs. It’s the best writing I’ve seen in decades. What beautiful writing talent you have. It goes along with everything else that’s beautiful about you. Thanks so much.
Fran TunnoMarch 28, 2014 at 5:24 pm
You are the best Don!!!!!I’m blushing.
donraymediaMarch 28, 2014 at 4:28 pm
Reblogged this on Oral History Institute and commented:
Oral histories provide not only details, but emotions that remain with people the rest of their lives. This beautifully written, from-the-heart blog entry that my friend Fran Tunno wrote drives this message home. It’s some of the best writing I’ve ever encountered. I hope you’ll enjoy it.
Ann ZuckermanMarch 28, 2014 at 4:23 pm
Another gem, Franny. Thank you for making me remember a hideous whiskey bottle cover crocheted in the form of a pink poodle. Anyone remember these? Wish I still had that eyesore – I could bring it over to play with your dachshund!
Fran TunnoMarch 28, 2014 at 5:26 pm
YESSSSSSS!!!!! I do remember those and they are still floating around in western PA. I actually got a crocheted (not sure that’s how you spell it) toilet paper holder for a shower gift. I will never forget it, it was red. The things you can do with some yarn and a crochet needle. If I find a crochet whiskey bottle cover, I’m buying it for you!