UNITED STATES—”It seemed like you guys kept your marriage going, when everyone else’s was falling apart. Like when Homer got the job in Chicago, he was on his way to the airport and then decided to turn back, and come home to you. That’s a real love story.”

Sister Karen smiles. She holds a hand over the cup when the waitress offers more from a glass pot.

“I don’t know where we stand,” Karen says, “But it seems like it’s getting better. Homer won’t help me with any of this, though. He wants nothing to do with mom. He’s really angry at a person who’s not who she was.”

“We can’t help it, either,” Davy said. “Betty past superimposes on Betty present. Tatiana loves her in a way we never can. Tatiana and her boyfriend stare at her–it’s like I’m not even in the room. Only someone who didn’t live with mom, could adore her like that.”

“I know what you mean. With a parent it’s love and rage. We’re gonna be working this out the rest of our loves,” Karen says.

“I’ve told her if worse comes to worst, we’re going to get her to the ambulance to sign at the bank, so we’ll be able to handle to checks.”

“You didn’t.”

“I did. I’m losing my filters. Maybe it’s the dying of the light makes me impatient to get out, speak up, in view of the last years of life and health mom just pissed away in that back room. And that storage locker. Multiply the years by the rent that went out every month. All the trips they could have had, new cars…”

“We finally took charge,” Karen says. “Gave it that last push that mom or dad never had.”

“That’s right, Karen. I like how you keep it on the bright side…”

“Tatiana has been great for mom, getting her to eat fresh, and come to the table, but I think Tatiana has made her helpless in a way, doing things for her and taking away her ability to do it for herself.”

“I go nuts. What can you do for my leg? I put a towel under it, turn her to the right side, away from the leg with the broken hip. Can you bring me a cup of water? Can you tuck me in? I’ll tell you one thing. It’s easy to do service for strange people, I mean non-family: you know what I mean, Karen. It’s easy. To tell you the truth, with family it galls me, but I do it anyway…”

“Look, she’s deserves a little babying. Hey, she’s ninety. But she’s sure not like Grace Palmer or Homer’s grandma, who was always willing to say yes to new things, long after they’d moved her to the home: go see a new movie, go play bridge, or ball-bounce in the social room.”

“Look, you’re comparing Betty to other people, which was her modus operandi. She is who she is, like you are who you are. I realize, Christmas was so depressing because she was always talking about what other people were doing, and how we had no family, to speak of, in Watsonville while all these other big families were having a blast. And she’d start singing the Christmas blues until everyone else had it.”

“You can’t deny her presence…”

“It was weird sleeping alone in that house. It was scary. That house without that presence always calling from the corner room. Prattling away about the most trivial thing and with the gall to expect that, from afar, we hold up our end of the conversation.”

“That voice asking me to leave my career and sit at the foot of the bed in that dark room and listen,” Karen says.

“That voice making you do stuff. She talked me into taking the dog’s sweater off in the nursing home. ‘Isn’t it warm in here. Take it off so he’s comfortable in here.’ And after hearing that for four or five times, you just kind of give up. Now the dog’s sweater, which qualifies as a luxury, is nowhere nearby when I want to take the dog into the cold cold night. God damn her and her distractions.”

“Look, Davy, it’s a full moon out.”

To be continued…

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Hollywood humorist Grady grew up in the heart of Steinbeck Country on the Central California coast. More Bombeck than Steinbeck, Grady Miller has been compared to T.C. Boyle, Joel Stein, and Voltaire. He briefly attended Columbia University in New York and came to Los Angeles to study filmmaking, but discovered literature instead, in T.C. Boyle’s fiction writing workshop at USC. In addition to A Very Grady Christmas, he has written the humorous diet book, Lighten Up Now: The Grady Diet and the popular humor collection, Late Bloomer (both on Amazon) and its follow-up, Later Bloomer: Tales from Darkest Hollywood. (https://amzn.to/3bGBLB8) His humor column, Miller Time, appears weekly in The Canyon News (www.canyon-news.com)