This was a line I read in my current book, American Gods by Neil Gaiman. I think it’s a quote of someone else, but it stuck with me. This is a book that has taken me by surprise in lots of ways, not least of which is its vulgarity. I love some of Gaiman’s other work (Stardust – the book and the movie, Anansi Boys, and Sandman – not to mention Good Omens), so I knew I’d enjoy it. But this book is like sticking your head in a blast furnace in its naughty surprises. So far I’m thoroughly enjoying the story, but not sure how heartily I’d recommend it yet.

This is compared, probably unfairly, to Terry Pratchett’s work. I’ve read most of his enormous catalog, and his stuff is universally well written, hilariously funny, brilliantly intelligent, with great characters and scenes. There may be one swear word per book, but it always fits delightfully with the story. On my trip to Michigan last weekend, I started and finished one of his in 2 days (one day on a plane, and one day every chance I had to sit alone). I brought American Gods as a backup, because I figured that would happen.

*****

Speaking of Michigan, this was an eventful weekend.

I go back about every month to visit family, and this time it converged perfectly with a few big events. My 88-year-old maternal Gramma was making her annual circuit from California to the family reunion in New York to family in Michigan. My mom has been in a nursing home for over 6 years, totally dependent because of MS, so Gramma and Aunt Patty come out twice a year to visit, gossip, and make sure the care she’s getting is up to snuff. Gramma is very insistent. Mom gets a haircut and the nurses and administrators know that everything had better be top-notch, or they’ll have a large bulldog of a little old lady in their faces.

My sister’s husband was also celebrating his 40th birthday this weekend. We used to play football, bloody murder, and capture the flag in the yards around our houses growing up. It took some getting used to at first, seeing this kid married to my sister. But it’s all good now.

The trip out was perfectly smooth (although my preferred airline’s rates were double Delta’s), and I arrived Friday morning in a strange airport. Normally I fly into Grand Rapids, but since the family was all converging in Lansing, that’s where I went. I got a hotel room down the hall from Gramma, and she even wrangled me a little discount because she’s in with the management. And she’s old as dirt, and visits twice a year. Hey, 30 bucks is $30.

On the first day, my dad picked me up at the airport, and I treated him to lunch. It was nice to hang out with him and catch up on the doings in his life. He shared in far too much detail what he has to go through since prostate cancer treatment. It’s something I never want, even though he’s in pretty good health for an old, overweight, diabetic cancer survivor. Let’s just leave it at ‘I never wear light colored pants anymore.’

Gramma and Aunt Patty arrived a few hours later, and we visited together with Mom at the nursing home. Mom is somewhat of a mystery, as her communication is pretty limited. On good days, she will laugh and smile and answer questions or statements with a word or two. On regular days, she’s nearly catatonic. She will look me in the eye, but won’t speak or respond. She makes faces often, usually of disgust or pain or sleepiness. This was a regular day, and the 3 of us visited while she napped or watched TV Land.

The next day was the Big Party in Grand Rapids, and after a morning visit with Mom, we made the 1 1/2 hour trip. My aunt drove, and while we got there safely, I was immensely grateful to have a book with me. If I looked out the windows, I would surely have been a wreck of nerves and hesitant politeness. Instead, I kept my nose buried between the pages and pretended we weren’t swerving suddenly from to to fro and back again. We stopped at Meijer, which is a superstore that easily kicks Mal Wart and Super Targets’ respective asses. Gramma napped in the car, I got beer and batteries for my BIL’s birthday present, and Aunt Patty got a card. I picked up a dozen items, got back to the car, and read a whole chapter before AP picked out her card.

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OK, THIS is why I couldn’t imagine writing a book. I left this post to simmer on the wayback burner for a whole fargin’ WEEK while I got back into life as I know it. Oh, and thanks ETW for prompting me to get back to it. So, where was I…

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Swan boats and some guy not related to me

Swan boats and some guy not related to me

Oh yeah, we arrived at the party which was staged at the park outside the zoo. It’s a nice, big place with lots of green space and a pavilion and a duck pond and lots of parking. Except for this day, which was the day of ‘Taste Of Grand Rapids,’ where scads of local restaurants show off their stuff to thousands of ticket-holding tasters. After 3 laps around the parking lot, we found a space within walking distance of the party site. My new frisbee was instantly tossed in the duck pond by a random nephew, and my sister was paddling around the pond in a swan boat with her son. Someone asked, “Which one is she in?” and my dad immediately answered, “The one that’s leaning over.”

My sister is not petite.

A good time was had by all, and especially me. I got to see some very special people, and it was a surprise to me. In the divorce proceedings, my 2 kids have decided that since their Mom and I have split up, someone has to be the bad guy. I’m it, so they have declined to see me at every opportunity for a long time. They showed up at the party, and it was delightful to catch up with them. I hope for more time like that.

I found out from my middle sister, after the party, that Gramma had a problem with the beer. She said, “I didn’t know he was bringing beer. I wouldn’t have approved.” Apparently, someone in the family was an alcoholic. Therefore, beer is evil (or so I suppose). Glad I didn’t ask permission then.

The next day, it was time to fly home. I got to visit with Mom again, and after a few minutes decided to trek across the street to McDonald’s for a shake. She seemed to be in a shake mood. When we were kids, the only kind of ice cream we got was Neapolitan, which Mom called Vanchocstraw. I tried to get that in a shake for her, but the machines are automatic now. So you only get one flavor at a time. Drat. I returned with a vanilla shake, and fed it to Mom in small sips. She was bright and cheery, and smiled a lot. When it was time to go, I asked if I could smootch her on the cheek – and got the biggest smile from her I’ve seen in 20 years.

Totally worth it.

*****

Gramma and Aunt Patty were supposed to return home on Wednesday, but Gramma had shortness of breath and chest pains on Tuesday morning. She was admitted to the local hospital (wrecking their airline tickets) until she stabilized. She’s been diagnosed with congestive heart failure, which I’m told can be lived with. They’re on their way home now, and all is well – but it was a tense couple of days.

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