But recently I’ve had more than one moment that so channels my mother, it’s become a family joke. The family joke actually started long before my arrival in the ‘burbs. It started when I was a teenager living in Arizona and my father came home one day to find my mom proudly cleaning the house with a new product. She’s showing him how it can be used on tile and windows and even furniture and the entire time he’s following her going “where did you get that?”
After 10 minutes of my mom proving how fantastic this new cleaning product was, my dad finally took her by the shoulders and asked her again where she got it. He’s thinking the worst: my mother, left to her own devices while we were both in school and she wasn’t yet taking college classes, had become a shopping channel addict. It happens to good people, you know. There’s probably a 12-step program dedicated to it and I’m sure my father would have had it on speed dial before the intervention was over.
But, in fact, the truth was much worse. Under duress, my mother admitted how this beloved cleaning product came to be in our home. It was courtesy of a convict.
Allow me to set the scene. We lived at the base of a mountain, our nearest neighbor at least a city block away, our driveway so long you couldn’t see the end of it from any window in the house. The house is surrounded by cactus and the few trees that survive in Arizona. Any of you remember Neve Campbell’s house in Scream, how remote it was? Yeah that was ours.
Anyway, so the doorbell rings and my mother, alone in the house, swings it wide open and comes face to face with a man in a white button-down shirt and jeans. I wasn’t there, so naturally I picture the guy from Office Space, pretending to be a reformed crack addict, but really an unemployed IT worker. Only this dude was a legit convict: we know this because my mother tells us he presented her with a badge identifying him as such.
You have to understand two things: One, my mom is a nurse in addiction medicine and was ready to go back to school to get her degree in psych and she’s a big believer in second chances; and two, at the time we had a 100 pound yellow lab named Rudy.
Rudy was all bark and no bite, but I will confess when we first rescued him, he scared the crap out of me. Seeing 100 pounds of dog bare his teeth makes you not so much want to question whether he’s serious or not. So my mom figured nobody would mess with her and therefore she gladly let the reformed convict in to the house to demonstrate this wonderful product that would change a housewife’s life forever.
This is what she tries to explain over and over to my dad as he is shouting at her in disbelief “You ordered WHAT from WHO?” I think there may have been a few other choice words baked in there that weren’t suitable even for my teenage ears. But the bottom line was my dad was less than thrilled.
My dad could deal with the money spent on Boy Scout wreaths and Girl Scout cookies and gift wrap from elementary school drives. But this was too much for him to stomach: the fact that my mother opened the door to a solicitor over the age of 10 was bad enough, but the fact that said solicitor was traipsing through our house with his ex-convict badge and cleaning our couch cushions while potentially casing the joint was the last straw. My mother was forbidden from engaging with any door-to-door salesman ever again.
So, I’m a few months into this new house and I see my neighbor in the yard with her little daughter and I wave and go in the house. A few minutes later I hear my husband calling me outside, where in a vain attempt to throw the trash out, he’d been dragged into a neighborhood huddle. Those of you in the ‘burbs know what I am talking about. One neighbor asks how you are over the hedge and then suddenly five neighbors mill about to pet your dog or say hi to your kid and all of a sudden it’s like a pack of soccer mom football players all huddled trading gossip and apologizing about the one blade of grass that’s over an inch tall in their otherwise immaculate lawn.
Trapped, I walk over and meet the neighbors from two houses down, who have two adorable girls who are 10 and 7. Said adorable girls, who have been in school for maybe a week, are already selling Christmas wrapping and candy. I am so my mother’s daughter and can’t look in their little eyes without buying SOMETHING.
$50 of gift wrap later, I’ve apparently made a name for myself because suddenly our house is swarmed with kids carrying the same elementary school folders full of order forms. And guilt overtakes me and another $50 later, I’ve got more gift wrap than Hallmark.
So now a year later it’s September again and the doorbell rings and I seriously consider hiding because I trip over the rolls of wrapping paper I didn’t use last year every day and now I’m pregnant and hormonal and the sight of kids is just going to mean I have to call my mortgage company and try to explain that my check is late because an 8-year-old with cute blue eyes convinced me five rolls of penguin wrapping paper wasn’t enough.
I peek through the window and to my relief, it’s a college-aged kid with a clipboard. This part is easy! I can turn away the myriad “we will do your windows/roof/garden/whatever for super cheap, just hire us and help us with college tuition” salesmen out there. They don’t quite pull on the ‘ol heartstrings. So I open the door prepared to tell them “I purposely married a guy who’s handy so I don’t have to depend on randoms like you” when I was blindsided.
Apparently one of my neighbors has sent this young man my way armed with the knowledge that I’m pregnant (in fairness, it may have been obvious when I opened the door, but the fact that news of my impending motherhood had spread to solicitors was vaguely disturbing)and did he have a deal for me.
He begins by asking me about children’s books and I try to stop the spiel. In addition to being a soft-hearted second chancer, my mother is also a hoarder and had informed me more than once of her excitement at handing over all my baby books. So we were going to be more than stocked. Which is what I tell him.
Now I may have underestimated the value of a college education because this kid is good. He comes at me from a different approach. As part of his job, he’d like to know if there is anything in the children’s book world that I would like to see more of. I vaguely say that one thing we were considering is trying to find books that expose babies to Spanish because we were hoping to make our little one bilingual and we didn’t have any books that were for younger babies learning language.
Then all of a sudden he’s taking notes, we’re sitting together on the stoop and my husband is cooking dinner and wondering if he’s watching our baby’s future stepfather here as we huddle closely over a catalog.
My good friend Tage wasn’t interested in the goods or my kid, but boy did he have a deal for me! A package of, get this, bilingual Spanish/English books on first words, shapes, and numbers. He pulls out a set of 4 beautiful hardcover books and places them on my lap as I am sitting on the stoop. I caress them (those of you who know me well know my special relationship with books) and look up into the hopeful eyes of a man I am now convinced will own me and this country upon graduation and suddenly I am getting my checkbook and spending more on books than I spent on groceries.
When my father hears this story, I get the earful my mother got. How could I, pregnant and everything, sit on the stoop of my house with this college kid and get conned (that’s the word he uses repeatedly, despite the fact that I tried to point out that I paid money and got goods in return, some people call that shopping) into buying children’s books? How could it get worse? What were we thinking?
So this tirade is in my mind when a month later the doorbell rings again. At this point I confess I’ve already spent another $100 on wrapping paper and candy so I have satisfied all the little neighbor kids and quickly become a favorite sucker (if we have less than 50 kids this Halloween, I will be shocked. I am sure word has spread). Knowing there’s no way it’s kids, I send Scott down to tell whatever vendor it is to kindly go away.
Ten minutes later this man is in my entry way spreading out boxes of meat. You read that right…boxes…meat. There’s zero way to write this and not make it sound insane. It’s up there with a meat raffle…for those of you not lucky enough to have experienced THAT Midwest tradition, rural bars across the Midwest host meat raffle nights where you literally buy a raffle ticket and if you win, you get your choice of meat, which is laid out on a pool table for your perusal.
No raffle ticket necessary today, though! This man is a door-to-door meat salesman and he has charmed his way into our house through my dear husband. As he’s waxing poetic about prime cuts and marinated meat and less than $3 a pound, I’m watching Scott’s eyes light up and seeing his hand reach for his checkbook. Now, there’s a voice in my head going “don’t do it, don’t do it, don’t do it,” but who the hell am I to say no after I’ve spent a small country’s GNP on wrapping paper and wreaths? So he writes out the check and sets about filling our freezer with meat.
My dad heard this one and you could see in his face he was considering disowning all of us and running away. He's convinced there's some sort of signal on our house, like the hobo code in the olden days, there were symbols for houses where work or food could be had. He continues to dine out on the story of how we bought meat from a truck and my mother bought cleaner from a convict.
But I’ll tell you a secret: our house growing up was spotless and I just had a damn good steak. Viva la Solicitor!!