According to Fleas, everything I did was either bad, wrong, or a waste of time. That’s probably why I don’t remember what set her off whenever she exploded. We had a strict code of conduct, and I don’t think I ever provoked her on purpose, expressed an opinion on anything important, or otherwise set off the fireworks. If she knew some of the things the teenaged me did when she wasn’t around, I’d probably not be around to tell the tale.
It’s been only the last few years that I’ve come to appreciate how dramatic Fleas actually was. When you’re a kid and you live with the drama, it’s not drama—it’s a lifestyle. Another thing I learned about Fleas is that she made every meal seem like it took hours upon hours of preparation and was physically exhausting. Maybe that’s why she didn’t share her recipes…she didn’t want anyone else to suffer as she had. Oh, the humanitarian!
One typical Sunday, Fleas spent an inordinate time making lasagna, salad, bread, and whatever other goodies would accompany such a meal. And she did make a killer lasagna. She set the table in the small-but-formal, sunny dining room with a beautiful tablecloth, her fine china, and real silver (which I have in a suitcase in my basement; but, what, no crystal?). It was the kind of setting that Norman Rockwell captured so well. Sunday dinner, the exception to the weekly grind, was served at 2:00.
I don’t know what crime I had committed, but Fleas used her displeasure to stage a spectacular show. She called us to the table, set out the steaming dishes of delightful Italian food, served everyone including herself, then announced, “I can’t eat if I have to look at her,” threw her napkin down, and ran off to her bedroom. Wow! My transgression (I was the only other “her” in the room) must have been a doozy! After all that labor, she couldn’t even enjoy her dinner.
I never considered that she may have had that planned for hours or days. I was probably fifteen years old and I thought her performance was spontaneous. As a cynical old hag, I look back and think that she was probably munching all afternoon while cooking (can anyone resist mozzarella?), and/or had a box of Russell Stover chocolates in her room. Or both. I can picture her on the edge of her bed, chocolate box on her lap, watching Ted Mack’s Original Amateur Hour and feeling that she deserved an Oscar (it was a small role but filled with passion) and that she had successfully ruined our dinner.
I know she ruined dinner for at least one person that afternoon, but all ate like they were unaffected; we were used to dinner theater. I’m not really my mother’s daughter—I could never have pulled off that performance. For one thing, who am I to turn my back on a nice salad and fabulous lasagna? If I’d spent hours making it, I wouldn’t have stormed off. Wouldn’t it make more sense to send the offending kid to her room, with or without a plate? Another reason? When I do feign melodrama, I usually get the giggles.