It is a windy day, cold and biting, and between the bus and the two blocks home, I can feel the earache coming.
“Mom, I’m getting an earache!” I shout as I come through the door. I throw my coat on the chair, head toward the TV.
“That doesn’t go there,” my mother announces from the kitchen.
“But I have an earache!” I yell.
“Oh, earache my eye,” my mother says, coming into the living room.
Gilligan’s Island is on, and I haul myself indignantly off the cushions. I hang my coat up and return to my spot in front of the TV.
“But it really does hurt,” I mumble toward the set.
My mother positions herself between me and the Skipper and leans forward, looks into my eyes. She decides she believes me.
“Well, I’ll get the washrag then.” She turns and walks down the hall, toward the bathroom.
My mother, the woman who believes a bowel movement can cure all your ills, also believes in the restorative qualities inherent in the Hot Wet Washrag. According to my mother, your standard-issue washrag, held under the hottest water you can stand, squeezed dry, and then applied to any part of the body, has healing powers. Each application of the Hot Wet Washrag lasts 20, maybe 25 minutes, depending on how hot the rag is when you start and how long it is before your mom finally takes pity on you and takes it back to the bathroom for another shot of hot water.
Five or six applications can do wonders.
This particular earache, however, is unfolding into a screamer; and a dozen hot-and-wet washrags later, my mother has gotten some exercise and I am feeling no better.
My mother sits down on the couch where I now lay on my left side, the cooling washrag still pressed to my ear. She places her index finger thoughtfully on her chin.
“We’ve got some of the medicine left from last time still in the cabinet,” my mother says, thinking aloud. “Let’s try that.”
When she returns with the ear medicine, you can see the gleam in her eye. The woman who believes in the home remedy has an idea.
“You know,” she says to me, her head cocked to one side in that endearing, Cocker-Spaniel way she has, “I’ll bet this would feel better and work faster if we warmed it up a little, don’t you?”
I am not sure about this idea. I don’t really want anything around my ear right now, period, so my opinion on having a liquid poured into it, warm or cold, is unreliable. I shrug miserably.
“Let’s try it,” she says.
I follow her into the kitchen, where she pulls the sauce pan from the bottom cupboard and fills it with water. I hop up on the counter as she puts it on the stove. She turns the burner on and we stare at the pan.
She turns to me.
“You hungry for a little somethin’?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Let’s see what we got.”
Both of my parents are excellent cooks and know how to stock a fridge. Not that I appreciate this. While other children are enjoying frozen pot pies and beef stew from tin cans, my parents are forcing us to eat freshly prepared, home-made meals.
She speaks from inside the fridge, her voice muffled by potential snacks.
“We’ve got celery with olive-and-pimiento cream cheese or we got summer sausage and cheese. Which one?”
“Celery and cream cheese!”
We munch celery sticks, their ruts filled with pimiento cream cheese, as we wait. The water in the pan is now simmering.
“Let’s drop this baby in, warm 'er up.”
Five, six minutes later, my mother pronounces it “done”. She pulls the tiny bottle out of the pan of steaming water with a pair of tongs and transfers it to her oven-mitted left hand.
“OK, now tilt your head. Let’s see that ear.”
I tuck my hair behind my right ear and tilt my head to the left.
“Hold still now.”
There is the sound of the tiny ear dropper clinking against the sides of the little glass bottle. I tense, head cocked, waiting for the dropper-full of medicine to fall into my ear and down into my head.
And that moment arrives.
Like a bolt of lightning splitting the night sky, the heated medicine tears through my ear canal and deposits itself on my wrinkled and screaming brain.
“Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!” I bellow, my body bent in half. I grab my mother around the waist, burying my face in her chest. The pain is excruciating.
My mother laughs when she is nervous, and she is laughing now.
“Oh! Oh!” she fights to catch her breath. She knows how unseemly it appears, her apparent mirth. “Oh, dammit it anyway!”
I step away from her, clutching my head, as she presses a dish cloth into my hands. There is a moment's silence as I stare at the cloth, then at her. What am I supposed to do with this?
My mother is desparately trying to look serious.
“Oh, dammit it anyway, Pearl! I’m so sorry! I’m so –“ she cracks up again. “I’m sorry. It’s not funny. No, it’s not funny at all,” she says, wiping tears of laughter from her eyes and trying to look solemn.
The front door opens, followed by the sound of my father’s keys hitting the dining room table.
“Dad!" I call out, "Mom’s trying to kill me!”
“Again?” he says, walking into the kitchen. “I thought you guys had worked that out…” He trails off as he reaches around me and into the fridge, grabs himself a beer.
He pushes the refrigerator door shut and takes a step toward the saucepan still on the stove.
“So what’s for dinner?”
...In Which I Introduce The Adjective "Penish"
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