When we were kids, she’d siphon of a dollar here or there or keep the change from any money my father would give her to send us to the corner store or she’d maybe lift a buck or two now and again right from his wallet or after taking care of a paid bill which was rare. She had to be extra careful about daring to take from his wallet though since Georgie usually didn’t have much and she’d likely be caught. It was best that she do that after he came back from a successful visit with the bookie.
She called this money her “sneakies,” and kept it in squirreled away in a small red purse with a clasp that made a loud click when she’d shut it. Once in a while once of us would get a little of her stash as hush money when she didn’t want my father to find out about one of her furtive “stops” while running errands. I could sometimes even get her to cough up five bucks for a new hockey stick, but that was rare. Most times we’d get just enough to go to the corner store and get ourselves a “tonic” and a package of cupcakes for fifty cents that would further escalate the number of spreading cavities in our already rotting teeth.
She was on over ten medications ranging from baby aspirin to a psychotropic that in theory helped her manage her anxiety attacks. Her go to strategy, really her only strategy, throughout her life was to become “anxious” when faced with any situation that displeased her or to explain away what to all of us kids was her inexplicable and mind-numbing helplessness or her apathy when it came to our nurturing, well-being, and chiefly our vulnerability to Georgie’s threats and terror tactics.
Save for the Clozapine which was to be taken four times a day, all of the other medications were to be ingested once daily, say all at once in the morning. Easy. But oh no, not for Trudy, who turned what should have been a simple regimen for most people into a complex scheduling system that featured spacing out each of the medicines in bizarre intervals and tracking, to the minute, the time between each gulp of orange juice that she’d use to wash the medication down in exaggerated fashion. She kept dozens of clocks all over the house, any of which would bong or clang at the top or bottom of every hour signaling her that it was time. If she happened to be on the toilet and heard one of them go off, she’d clamor to her feet, pull up her diaper, and race to her pill cases and bottle of orange juice.
After swallowing the pill with an audible gulp, she’d dutifully write down the date and time in her chicken scratch into one of dozens of small, colorful spiral notebooks that littered the end table and the coffee table, and that were strewn on the floor all around her chair. There must have been at least five years’ worth of her useless scribbling. It was the same with the incessant and needless checking of her blood glucose levels. Each result was catalogued by date and time. Whenever anyone took her to her monthly doctor’s appointment, she’d be sure to bring along a couple of her latest log books to show the doctor with the pride of a three year old who’d drawn a picture all by herself. He’d always say to her without looking up as he made his notes, “That’s wonderful Gertrude, my, aren’t you organized?” Each visit to her house she’d give me her pill schedule run down for what would seem like the millionth time.
“Ma,” I’d say. “I get it. I know ALL of your pills and when you take them. You don’t need to explain it to me every time you see me.”
“I’m sorry,” she’d whimper. “I just wanted you to know how good I’m doing.”
As always, her dirty blonde wig sat to her right, pulled a bit askew down on to a foam mannequin head, both of which were well over forty years old. It was on an old end table that separated her chair from the battered Queen Anne chair where Henry always used to sit reading his paper and eating jelly beans in his pajamas. His tattered leather slippers were under the dilapidated footstool, right where he’d left them before he’d died. Her natural hair had always been thin and wispy, and now it was barely even thick enough to brush. I’m not sure when she started wearing the wig whenever she left the house, but she also wouldn’t be caught dead without it if company dropped by or any of us brought a friend home without warning which was rare. If caught by surprise, she’d shriek and run down the hall shouting “don’t bring them in until I put on my head!”
She was a huge country music fan when she was younger, and she’d sing along to Patsy Cline or Tammy Wynette as we listened to the AM radio when she’d drive us around on errands in the old Plymouth station wagon with the wood side panels and rotting floor boards. Her favorite song was Tammy’s “D-I-V-O-R-C-E.” That one or maybe Eddie Arnold’s “Please Release Me.” She seemed to favor those songs that spoke of someone trapped in a relationship with the wrong person and from which there was no way out, contributing to our belief that my father was someone from whom she should be rescued by us or by someone and whom we should also fear.
On rare occasions we’d go to places like Bradlees or Zayres department stores, both long out-of-business now, for the cheapest back to school or Easter clothes if we were getting any that year, but most times we’d go to visit relatives like Nana Bovaird, Aunty Kay, or some others on Calumet Street high up on Mission Hill with her wig always secure and in place. I always thought maybe she wore the wig, along with those omnipresent giant sunglasses, because we all knew she fancied herself a country music sexpot of some sort, and she thought it helped her resemble her idol Ms. Wynette. No matter where we went, she was always flirting with other men.
In one case it took us a while to figure out why she made so many stops at this one Sunoco gas station on Hyde Park Avenue, even when she didn’t need any gas, to talk to this Italian guy with an embroidered patch that said “Joe” sewn above the left pocket of his dark blue gas station attendant shirt. He’d lean in her window smiling, and the two of them would blow cigarette smoke at each other from the corners of their mouths talking and laughing in soft tones as we sat in the back seat bored.
To be continued…