Winter is often not our favorite time of year. The holidays withstanding (or maybe because of it), it is a cold, bleak time of year for most of the world. When the trees are free of their lush, green leaves, the rivers and lakes become frozen in time, and the sky often going dark and grey, it perhaps is too heavy of a reminder of the inevitable winter that awaits us all at the end. When our skin too loses its lush, when our joints too freeze, and our snowy white hair contrasts the final darkness in our eyes, how do we face–maybe even celebrate–this season of endings? Please enjoy,
Winter and Rough Weather
by Pamela Jameson
The cancer group he joined did not, Dad found, have much to offer him. There were only a very few, and temporary, people in the kidney cancer support group, because a year or two max seemed to be the most optimistic outlook for the so-called survivors.
So, he started driving ninety miles into Chicago for experimental treatments; drugs, mostly, with some chemo and radiation thrown in for good measure, all of it subject to change around once a month.
He was driving in at two-week intervals with his latest “lady friend,” as he always called them. This most recent lady friend had three kids who were still living with their dad, for the most part, as she was divorcing him but not quite done yet.
She had just moved in with our dad in the duplex, so-called his duplex, which was actually his mother’s duplex, as he got to live rent-free on one side in exchange for allegedly taking care of our grandmother on the other side. The lady friend’s kids soon moved in, too.
Char, short for Charlotte, I think, eventually became his fourth wife. She was around the same age as my older brother, who’s a year and a half older than me. I never got to know her too well. She seemed like a well-meaning sort, basically friendly, a bit overwhelmed at times; but who isn’t?
When she wasn’t talking, which wasn’t often, she looked sad. She was always busy, and she seemed rather lost when she wasn’t running around. She had a tension and a weariness about her.
She was a social worker and seemed warm and pleasant enough, but anxious. Not an entirely foreign combination in my family. In a way, she fit right in. Poor lady. We don’t win medals for being easy going, my people. Smart, yes. Bright, ok; no problem. But intense? You betcha! The milk of human kindness and the concomitant art of relaxation are not two highly defining characteristics, where I come from. A friend of mine once said to me, several decades ago, when I complained about somebody we worked with being haughty, “Well, you’re not exactly the farmer’s daughter, yourself.”
At any rate, I felt bad, later, that I hadn’t made more of an effort to reach out to Char in some way, been nicer to her, somehow. Under the circumstances, who wouldn’t? Feel bad later, I mean.
While Dad is going in for treatments, and sleeping a lot in between, we’re trying to keep all this from my elderly grandmother, his mother, who lives in the other half of the duplex, right there next to him, and for whom he is the main caregiver. It’s caregiver, now, for a while already, not caretaker, anymore. Because it’s better to give than to take? These ever-shifting nuances, these dreary refinements of expression, can drive me crazy.
Those who strive to be politically correct seem to be eternally correcting, and make me ache for plain, blunt language. Which happens, as a point of fact, to be how people actually talk, for the most part, especially in dire moments of extreme crisis, trauma, or joy. The same way that people will revert back to their first, original language, even forty, fifty or sixty years after the fact, when they’re toasted, fried, or ecstatic.
And the words we use to express our five primary and primitive human emotions – those would be rage, disgust, sadness, happiness, and fear, – telling, ‘eh? -how many of them are upbeat and cheerful?
But nary an undynamic one in the bunch, not one. At any rate, when we’re highly emotional, we speak in very short phrases. Succinct., simple, often single, words. “Help!” “Yes!”, “No!” “Save me!” “Damn you!” “Fuck you!” “Asshole!” We say, “I love you,” and “Sweetheart” or “Baby cakes,” not “You who stimulate my pheromones and elevate my endorphins.” Not “I would be interested in the mutual exploration of our psyches.”
Our grandmother, she who is living in the other half of the duplex, at this juncture of the game is in the early but rapidly advancing stages of Alzheimer’s. Which used to be just called senility, or even “old age” and be done with it.
Grandma is starting to lose it big time. She is seeing little green fairies in her daydreams, misplacing her jewelry, losing her false teeth routinely, leaving the stove on overnight – the usual. Hootie is supposedly being left in the dark about the grave condition of her only remaining relative, her eldest son. The youngest son having succumbed to cancer some quarter of a century hence, embracing Scientology on his way out, between divorce and remarriage to his nurse. And Hooty’s husband of almost seventy years, my grandfather, LL, having departed this world a few years earlier than all of these said, or alleged, events.
Hooty, despite her own fragile condition, has acute though sporadic moments of knife edged clarity. At these times, then being as sharp as a tack, she is quite lucid about her son’s condition. He is, she tells me when I come to stay with her and give him a break, not doing very well and she is quite concerned. Eventually, they will fight and bicker about which of them gets to, or perhaps should, go first. She wins, but more about that later, too.
While Hooty is busy losing it, next store Papa is drinking again, after a few years sabbatical, not that it makes much difference. He had been proactive in founding the local chapter of Rational Recovery, the 12-stepping branch for alcoholics who don’t believe in or won’t say God, one way or another.
To give him his due, he had stayed with it for a while, although now it’s become irrelevant since it’s all organically resolved with the fact that his cancer drugs preclude boozing and at any rate it no longer, he explains, has any effect.
Yes, the car is dented, and the garage door is out of whack.
* * * *
Winter and Rough Weather is a memoir about four months in a row when my family lost an important family member every month, from November through February.
Pamela Jameson has been an author and an actress for most of her life. She has written screenplays, plays, poetry and novels. She has been cast as nurses, students, and hookers on tv in soap operas, and played the lead in an obscure independent movie that showed at art houses and universities years ago. She is on leave from three acting unions, one of them defunct, and has worked as a voice over actress, a teacher of writing, speaking voice and acting, and has done theater and commercials.
Unlucky Star is historical fiction about the fall of the Hawaiian monarchy, told through the story of the life of the last Hawaiian Princess, Kaiulani, who fought all her short life for her country and her people, and died of a broken heart at the age of twenty-three.
A Barista Spills the Beans, a Dark Roasted Tale About My Time at Starbucks is a satire about being the oldest living barista at a Starbucks in Chanhassen, Minnesota. It is written under P.N.M.I. Jameson, because I changed my last name for acting many years ago, and now there are way too many Pamela Jamesons in the world, including one whose prescriptions I received from my local pharmacy. (Stef popping in to say: as a former barista–who often was the oldest working on the floor–God, I relate so hard to that)
Free Falling, which came out in September 2021 is about some of the things that happen to us as we age, and ways to frame them better for ourselves and others.