you can’t take it with you

Coffin-300x228Today it was back to work as a maid and I brought Nora along. I figured it wouldn’t be so bad for her to see Mommy doing something other than dancing singing and being all glamour puss on stage. At one point I caught her watching me scrubbing the floors on my hands and knees. “You work pretty hard, Mommy. Are people fussy?”

“Not really. I just want to do a good job.”


“That way I’m proud of whatever I do. Whether it’s write a play, act a role, make a dinner or clean a floor, I know I’ve done my best.”

“Hm. That’s how I feel when I write songs.” she says. And as I continue to dust she sings one of her home grown Irish-long laments about flying and yet missing home where others can’t fly, but not being able to resist soaring through the sky and leaving them…and coming back from distant places with presents. Yes, I have given birth to Loreena McKennitt. Just when you were wondering whatever happened to her…

For a child so young she’s well acquainted with death. She comfortably speaks of Grampa Mile in heaven and baby Stella with Jesus. She is used to saying good-bye to people she misses. Her family is flung across the country and she’s back and forth from parent to parent every week. Sometimes this grieves me. But at the same time I know this knowledge that everything is temporal isn’t such a bad thing. I think it’s the heart of what makes her unusually grateful.

Speaking of generosity, it’s always interesting to predict who will leave the maid a little Merry Christmas present. Usually the middle class to upper will leave a little gift or tip and the super rich will completely avoid any nicety whatsoever. Sure enough. The frantic Mom with the two year old found time to buy me chocolates and had her child make a little card for me. The traveling suburban Texan that I only see once a month left me a twenty. The wealthy Oopah family, CEO of a major international corporation? Well…I come in on the 30th and while I’m standing there in the hallway with my supplies, the Oopahs ask me to come back on New Years Eve. I kindly do. Same pay, an hour extra driving and rearranging my own schedule, but okay. Then when I get there, there are a bunch of new little Oopahs staying, the place is very “used”, extra work. Okay. Then I am helping load in boxes of liquor for the party that night. Alright. Then I get a mini biography of said Oopah CEO: all the places he lives, all the countries he goes. As I corral his curlies off the white tile…and…

That’s it.

Once he left I thought of helping myself to a shot of his very fine whiskey to tip myself…mischief and all…but decided not to tarnish my integrity. Besides, he may just be the bottle measuring kind. And you know, I really don’t care. It truly just makes me laugh. I don’t need another box of chocolates, God knows. But you’d think that the Oopah would have the staff and cash to spread a little good will around. Not necessarily. I’m used to this sort of frugality existing among the rich. One of my relatives, worth millions, as he was driving me to my father’s funeral, I kid you not, said, “Never ask to borrow money.” And the next day, he and another relative (also worth millions) sat down my brother (a student) my sister (a musician) and me (a playwright) and told us we shouldn’t really get any of our Nonna’s inheritance when she goes because she was the one who paid for Dad’s funeral. We never have and never will ask any of them for money. It was a horrible and stupid thing to say to us.

I want to counter this by saying my Nonna and all my other relatives can be very generous and kind. I have a great family. Even those two boobs I love. But their miserly ways can be ugly.

But then there is my Dad: generous to the point of being hazardous. Lavish presents. Free drinks for the house. Have a leather coat, have a fur, have an exotic trip. Gold and diamonds. The best on the menu. Don’t even look at the price tag. Ignore the Visa bill….He died penniless, as you may have gathered.

In general, both sides of my family are very well balanced: something I aspire to be. Healthy. They know how to save and they spend when there’s an occasion to celebrate. And from the heart, which is most important, they give freely. My brother and sister and their spouses are particularly good I think, taking after my Mom and step Dad.

I can still err on the side of giving too much away…but if one has to err…that’s not the worst legacy. I’d rather be stupid than cheap. For the Christians out there, it’s a bit of the Mary and the Martha. Both are understandable. As everyone said at Dad’s funeral, “He’d give the shirt off his back…” and as my frugal relative would mutter under his breath, “The shirt he bought with the money he borrowed from me…”

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1 comment

  1. Leah

    “i’d rather be stupid than cheap.” love that line!

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