Thursday, November 15, 2012
Grandpa's sausage and other distasteful things - White Trash in the Snow Chapter 57, 58, 59
Happy Friday friends! Three chapters of life inside the walls of the Strauss and Saplin homes and the governor's mansion. Christmas is closing in fast.
Thanks for stopping by.
WHITE TRASH IN THE SNOW
Jerrie Strauss’ first thoughts when she awoke were the same ones that kept her awake the night before. Something’s wrong. Wrangler’s been home for four days.
And Wrangler had been home. Home in the sense that he slept there, not spent the day there. During the day he was hanging with Dan and Carver.
Jerrie wasn’t one to pry, she was waiting for Wrangler to tell her, but, obviously there’d been some kind of lover’s spat. I hope they can make up. This Downs thing is a really big thing but Wrangler was so good about it. I wonder if Cristol is having trouble accepting it?
Jerrie had been shocked when Wrangler told her the news. He had reassured her with maturity that exceeded hers. “Our kid will look a little different, so what. And it’ll be hard for him to learn some stuff. But, so what? Life isn’t easy for anybody, Mom. Except maybe a millionaire.”
“Well your kid sure ain’t never gonna be a millionaire.”
“Nope, he won’t be rich, but he can be happy.”
“So, you and Cristol? You guys are still…” She couldn’t it.
“Gonna keep the baby? Of course.”
A tear slid down Jerrie’s cheek.
“Aw, Mom, don’t do that.”
“I know, I’m sorry.” She pushed her palms into her eyes and took a deep breath. “I’m okay. Really. I’m just so excited about becoming a grandma. Can’t wait to hold my grandbaby.”
Wrangler hugged her – an arm-around-shoulders hug.“Thanks, Mom, you are the best.”
“You know, I think I love him even more now that I know he isn’t perfect. It’s like he fits right in with us. You know what I mean?”
Wrangler smiled his lopsided smile, “Whatever you say, Ma.”
On this day, after Wrangler went out, and while Porsche was in school, Jerrie did some research. Her daughter was the one who made the most use of the computer, and mostly used it for MySpace postings, but Jerrie had enough rudimentary skill to find Google in and peck out d-o-w-n-s and s-i-n-d-r-0-m. The search engine made a correct assumption and asked: Do you mean Down Syndrome? It always impressed her when Google asked her a question.
What? No “s” after the “n”?
Over an hour later, she turned away from the monitor, shut down the computer, and sat at the kitchen table with a plate of cookies and some milk. This was how she cheered the kids up after a hard day at school and it seemed appropriate. After all, she had just had a long session of learning. And there was going to be a test. Could she pass? Could she overcome fear and sadness? Would she have patience and understanding?
She’d be tested in a couple more months.
The phone rang, interrupting her thoughts. Her stomach knotted when she saw caller ID. “Tad Saplin” it said.
The game plan was obsolete. Wrangler and Jerrie had been summoned to a meeting. This was the first time Wrangler had been back in the house in a while. He was uncomfortable and Cristol had been aloof since she let him and his mom in the front door. He sat on the end of the sofa and motioned for his mom to sit next to him. Cristol had then taken a seat at the other end.
He kept his head down, wishing he was out stalking a bear instead of sitting in the Saplin living room. Shifting his eyes to glance at his mom, he saw she was watching him. She smiled slightly but her blue eyes did not register mirth. Without a spoken word, she conveyed two messages – one, she was sorry he was in this mess, and two, she would stand by him. People said Wrangler had inherited his mother’s subtle communication style, and for both of them, a tendency toward acute caution was often mistaken for shyness.
Sitting between Wrangler and Cristol, Jerrie was nervous. Hands folded, she glanced around. The open floor plan allowed her to see much of the downstairs, including the kitchen with its long wall of windows. This was her first time inside the Saplin’s and she was trying to take it in without being rude.
Contractors who were awarded the largest city contract ever built Mayor Saplin’s new home in their spare time. Jerrie could see some high-end commercial grade materials that did, indeed, look suspiciously like those at the hockey rink Just as Wrangler said, the railing on the balcony running the length of the house looked exactly like the railing inside the Azzolla Sports Arena. Commercial stuff, not typical for a home. Wrangler said there were some other built-ins that were left over from the town’s million dollar project. Left over or stolen? I don’t trust these people. But, it must be nice for Wrangler. After the hundreds of hours he’s spent in that arena, he must feel right at home here, too.
Jerrie reminded herself that she must ask to use the bathroom so that she could check out the tiles, faucets and sink handles. Not that she was going to start any trouble for the Saplins or the builders, that would violate the “mind your own business” community code. Rumors about improprieties in the building of this house and the contract for the sports center will never be investigated. No one’s gonna risk paying the price for breaking our social code. Heck no, Saplins are Family with a capital F.
At Wrangler’s suggestion, she followed him into the kitchen. He got a glass and filled it with ice and water from dispensers built into the refrigerator door. “Pretty fancy,” she said, looking around.
Like most homes, there were personal nick-nacks on display, and a refrigerator door that served as a bulletin board for schedules, artwork, photos, and homework. Jerrie sipped slowly from a paper cup, trying to buy more time to take everything in. It struck her that evidence of Pride was everywhere. There was Pride dressed up like a princess, Pride wearing heels and carrying a designer purse, Pride holding a campaign sign as big as she was, and a five-year-old-looking Pride juggling a baby boy on her hip, the baby’s pacifier in Pride’s mouth. “Hmm, who’s the baby?” she asked Wrangler.
“One of the cousins, I guess.” He shrugged. “They got so many of ‘em, I don’t even try to remember names.”
Finger paintings, crayon drawings and pages of single-digit addition with gold star stickers were so thick on the freezer door that they overlapped. Jerrie looked, but couldn’t find any high school quizzes or basketball schedules, no junior class play program, no advanced homework projects in the making on the kitchen table or anywhere else in sight. Wow, she thought, Pride’s s stuff is everywhere but I don’t see evidence that Field, Cristol and Maple exist.
On the sill above the sink were two ceramic pieces made by little hands, and Jerrie couldn’t resist picking them up to admire them and to take a peek at the bottom to confirm her assumptions that yes, the initials belonged to the youngest Saplin. Indeed, ‘PS’ had been carved while the clay was still wet. As she surveyed the breadth of the kitchen, she found the only suggestion that there were other, older children in the house. By the door there was an enormous pile of shoes in many different sizes and styles.
“Come on in, let’s get started.” Rachael commanded. She was clearly in charge. “I made some cookies,– peanut butter and big, soft sugar cookies. We’ll have them when we’re done.”
As people settled into their places again, Rachael launched into an obviously planned monologue. First and foremost, everyone must understand what they could and could not do or say. Other than medical staff, the only people who knew about the DS diagnosis were right there in the room: Cristol and Wrangler, Tad, Rachael and Jerrie. It had to remain that way for now. Eventually, Helen would be brought into the small circle because she would be useful. Others would only be told if it became necessary, and even then, there would be very few of them. Perhaps Willow, Betty and Buck, eventually. But not Pride. Neither would there be any reason to tell Wrangler’s dad Kevin or sister Porsche.
Aunt Sally was not going to know unless it would be helpful at some point. As for Sparkler, Rachael made it clear that not only should that girl not be told, but she must be reminded often to forget what she already knew.
She acts like she’s giving orders to her staff or something, thought Wrangler.
Cristol caught each person looking at her stomach at one point or another. She was big, but she thought the sweatshirt was hiding it pretty well. This was her seventh month and the doctor said she was carrying a small baby. As she was thinking about him being small, the baby kicked forcefully. He may be small, but he’s strong. Instinctively her hand went to her tummy. It’s okay, Baby, Mommy’s here. While she sent telepathic reassurance to baby Strauss she added a thought for Wrangler. Daddy’s here, too. She wondered if her baby had missed Wrangler’s voice. Why had she sent him away? Why had she been such a bitch? He was the only one who really understood her. She needed him. She and the baby needed to hear Wrangler’s voice before falling asleep. To have him kiss her belly and say to his son “Good night. I love you” and then kiss say the same.thing to her and kiss her, too. Most of all, she missed having his arm draped over her when she fell asleep…
“Cristol!” Her mother screeched. “Did you hear me? I said, we want to hear from you first.”
“About what? What do you think? D’ you think this is a game ? Am I talking to myself? Have you heard anything I said?”
Jerrie hated seeing anyone belittled. Too often in her own life she was treated as a lesser person. Why did these elite types have to embarrass others? So what if Cristol didn’t hear her mother, the girl has a lot on her mind. Yet, Jerrie didn’t speak up. She was in no position to tell the governor how to treat her own daughter. Especially since that same daughter was pregnant by Jerrie’s son. So she nervously flipped her long hair behind her back and tried to be inconspicuous.
“You know,” Cristol began, “I don’t have to tell any of you anything. Dr. Barten-Curtain says I have rights. Doesn’t matter that I’m seventeen, I have rights. So if you want me to be part of this meeting, you better all be nice. Specially you, Mom.”
Wow, thought Jerrie. You go girl!
“Hey,” it was Tad. “Honor your mother and father, young lady.” He hadn’t memorized much scripture, but this was a verse he used because, with four kids, he wasn’t above using holy guilt to keep them in line in public and make a good impression in a situation where, otherwise, his kids were an embarrassment. Besides, Rachael liked it when he quoted the Bible. It supported her delusion that he was her partner in Christ and that theirs was a Christian home. Maybe he’d even try to sleep in the bedroom tonight.
Cristol’s reaction came swiftly. “Don’t give me that shit!”
“Shut up, Mom!”
Wrangler sat up a little taller. Was Cristol finally going to tell her parents what she really thought? According to what she’d told him, Mr. and Mrs. S were ruining her life. Ruined Field’s too. And they were on their way to ruining Maple’s. Heck, he’d heard it so many times he had parts of it memorized, and he knew that, once she began ranting about them the words flowed as easily as a recitation of the alphabet.
“Dad, you say I should honor you? Why? You two aren’t my parents.”
Rachael put her hands on her hips. “What? Now, what’s that supposed to mean?” She looked childishly .
“Parenting means your around, you know? Real parents ask what their kids are doing. Real parents notice when there’s something wrong. Where have you been since I was five? And in the last year – god, I’ve hardly seen you at all. Like last summer. Where were you when I was throwing up every morning? Oh, yeah, you were posing for fishing pictures with dad – phony publicity shots, and then you went to Los Angeles, and then Washington, and then to Kuwait! Here I was at home, barfing and you weren’t even in the country. Do you know how much that sucked?
“Did either of you notice that I had a sudden passion for jumping on the trampoline? No, you would have had to be here to see that. Maybe if you’d been here you would have gotten curious. Then I’d have said I was hoping that it would bring on my period. I was thinking that if I were pregnant I would lose the baby if I jumped enough.”
She started to cry. No one made a move.
“ I didn’t know what else to do. I wanted to talk to you, Mom”
“Now, Cristol, I was-“
“You weren’t home. And if you were, you were in your room watching TV.”
Clumsily, Cristol got up. She went to the kitchen and returned with a handful on paper napkins which she used to dry her tears.
Rachael tried to put an arm around her but Cristol shrugged it off.
“Cristol, Honey, “ Rachael said, “Don’t you remember the Governor’s picnic? You and I together.”
“Oh, yeah, right. I stood right there next to you serving up hot dogs and fighting the nausea. Hot dogs and pregnancy are a bad combination. If you’d looked at me, really looked at me, you would have seen how tight that big apron was around my waist. Actually, I didn’t have a waist! How could you miss that? Do you know what else I remember from that day? In the car to that picnic and again all the way home you and Dad talked about that guy you fired ‘cause you didn’t approve of who he was screwing. Dad was sayin’ how he was going to get him fired again, gonna call in a favor. And I was thinkin’ how you’d probably be tryin’ to screw with Wrangler’s life once you found out he and I were screwing. And I was glad that you were distracted by the sex life of some guy no longer working for you so that you didn’t notice what was going on with me.”
Her parents looked at each other, both red in the face, stung by the truth.
Now that Cristol had turned on the spigot, resentments continued flowing with full force. “Oh yeah, and is Uncle Ed really more important to you than me? In Hawaii I was terrified to take off my towel on the beach, but all you guys talked about was Uncle Ed this and Aunt Sally that. The whole vacation! Well, at least for the whole three days that Mom stayed. And one night after that – one of the few nights when you two were actually were home - I was going to talk to you but you both started calling people – yelling at people - about Uncle Ed working at the State Fair! Remember that?
“Okay, Cristol, your mother and I have heard enough. And Mrs. Strauss doesn’t want to hear –“
“I don’t give a fuck whether you want to hear this or not! I’m not done.”
Cristol saw that her mother was looking at the floor. “Hey, Mom. Are you listening? Do you think this is a game? Maybe it is a game! For ten points, answer this - Where were you when I put my hair under a cap and wore sunglasses to by maternity jeans and sweatshirts at WalMart?”
Cristol started humming the Jeopardy theme.
Oh my God, thought Rachael, Cristol has lost her marbles.
“Times up! What is your answer?”
“You were in New Orleans, Mom. Yupper!”
Cristol had a glacier of resentments built up inside her, and as it moved along, it picked up and laid back down everything that it encountered.“Did you hear me crying myself to sleep Dad? I don’t know how you could, it was your fishing season and you weren’t home. But in September you saw me. You didn’t notice my fat face and my big belly I was trying to hide in official Christmas family photos? At the time, you were thinking about Field, but really, wouldn’t most parents be able to notice their daughter had become bloated beyond recognition even if their son joins the army? If you can’t do that, maybe you shouldn’t have had four of us.”
The rant was cathartic in many ways, she didn’t want to stop. She decided to speak out for her siblings, too. “You know, Pride isn’t having a normal childhood, not at all. And Maple has to ask the house workers to get her to practices and give her lunch money.
“Here’s another question for you. Do you know how many days you spent at home this whole summer?”
“ Ten days Mom!”
“Cristol, your mother is the Governor, “ Tad started.
“ Shut up, Dad, you were only around for sixteen.”
Cristol walked over to Jerrie and said directly to her, “You know, he never asked once where I was going when Wrangler and I went out. Not once.”
Jerrie didn’t blink, she was too afraid.
Cristol continued addressing Jerrie. “My parents are the worst parents in the whole country!” She made a motion, spreading her hands apart to emphasize “whole” and “country”. It looked stupid and Wrangler made a little snorting sound.
Everyone turned to him. Wrangler avoided their eyes and turned to look out the distant kitchen windows. The lake was frozen. Cold, quiet and still. Wish I was out there right now practicing hockey.
Cristol took charge once again, without yelling this time. “I’ve done a lot of research. My baby has Down Syndrome but that doesn’t mean he’s retarded. I listened to this girl who has it. She works in a lawyer’s office. She lives in Hollywood and she’s an actress and she goes around the country speaking to groups. An interview with her was on Youtube. She says DS isn’t a disability, it’s a challenge. She said she is able, she just has to work hard. So you know, my baby can work hard, too. He could grow up to be an actor. He could grow up to work in a lawyer’s office.”
She took a deep breath and laid out her plan. She would continue the pregnancy, return to school after she delivered, and keep the baby. She wanted to marry Wranger, but not until they finished High School. They would live together in her parents’ house and the rest of the family could live in the governor’s mansion year round. “That’ll shut up those press people who’re so hung up on us bein’ out of town all the time, Mom.”
Wrangler could still compete on the hockey teams and maybe even get a college scholarship. In the summer after graduation, they would get married and get their own place. It was going to be hard, but completely manageable. She was sure of it.
Cristol and Wrangler made up, but he didn’t move back in. He was told that the First Family had many seasonal obligations to the public and a number of events they were hosting, and it wouldn’t look right if Wrangler were there all the time. Rachael suggested that Wrangler enjoy spending this time with his mom and sister.
There was one other reason Cristol gave– one that clinched it for Wrangler and made him agree that he would stay away until the new year. “Field’s coming home, also. And my parents want that week to be “family time.”
Wrangler didn’t want to see Field, not after what he’d done. Everybody knows there’s an unwritten rule that says you don’t do it with a friend’s sister. And everybody knows that rule’s going to get broken; which is why there’s another rule you never, ever, ever break. Rule number two: use a condom.
Wrangler had broken the rules and was expecting a good ass-kicking from the newly enlisted, basic-training-beefed-up-soldier. He planned to stay away from the Saplin place until January third, the day Field was due back in South Carolina.
On Saturday before the Governor’s Open House, Cristol took a late flight from Azzolla and arrived at the mansion at nearly midnight. Staff had been warned to avoid her because she had mononucleosis. She spent the daytime hours in hiding, feeling a bit like Anne Frank, coming out only when the work day was over and all non-family had gone home. It was depressing, and she could barely stand to hear Beryl Ives singing “Holly Jolly Christmas” or any of the other sappy, happy songs she had always. Santa songs were her favorites, even though Field sprung the truth on her when she was only five. In her room, she searched television listings and watched all the old cartoon specials that made the season magical. Sure, she could have played them on DVDs or recorded them with TiVo, but new technologies diminished the feelings of being a kid again. She had little control over her life, and in this one room, she ruled. She made herself a promise that she would find and watch the traditional holiday specials as they aired, commercials and all. Having started with the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving Special, she hadn’t missed any yet, and had seen both the Grinch cartoon version and the Grinch Jim Carrey version, Frosty the Snowman, and Frosty Returns.
Then politics spoiled it for her. A Charlie Brown Christmas was pre-empted for a Presidential address. Cristol and Pride shrieked when the change was announced.
“Now girls,” Rachael said, “President Bush is a good, Christian man, that wouldn’t therefore go interrupting Snoopy and Linus and the gang in their rendition of Silent Night unless there is a really, really good reason.”
“Like, maybe the war in Iraq, or that other war?“ Cristol had just finished a course on current events. “That’s not a good reason.”
“Cristol! I’m ashamed of you. Makin’ stuff up about our President. You are going to confuse Pride” Rachael turned to Pride. “Pay no attention to your sister. There’s only one war, and, also, too, don’t worry, because Field is not going there, either, in case anyone was wondering about that. Goodness, Cristol. Watch what you say.”
Cristol wasn’t listening, she was texting Wrangler.
“Do you have to listen to the President Mom?” asked Pride.
“Nah, I’m too busy,” Rachael said and she went to her room.
After that, there was one program left to catch, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. For Cristol, the classic was attached to a bad memory.
One week before Christmas, four year old Cristol was refusing to open up her mouth. Grandfather Heat hovered a fork of reindeer sausage in front of her lips, insisting she open up. Cristol didn’t like to looks or the smell of her grandfather’s meat.
Grandma coaxed, “Be a good girl, Cristol, taste Grandpa’s sausage.”
Traumatized, she wailed, “Grandpa killed Rudolph.”
Cristol had not touched reindeer meat since.
The night after the President pre-empted Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus, and Snoopy, Cristol asked Pride if she wanted to watch the last cartoon special of the year with her in her room. It was a generous offer, most of the time Pride was not allowed in Cristol's room. Cristol didn't want her messing with her stuff. She expected the offer would be met with delight, but it wasn't.
"Nah, I don't like Rudolph," Pride said. "It makes me think of grandpa's sausage and I don't like that."
Cristol didn't ask her sister to explain further, she really didn't want to know more.