This week’s writing challenge is about Christmas and Christmas Eve’s past and, well, Christmas is not a happy time for me. At all. And if I reflect on it I will depress you all terribly. Hell, it’s Christmas day 2013, and I had to cancel my vacation because I have the flu, and this is not the worst Christmas I’ve ever had. As an alternative to depressing you all with my life, I decided to compile a Top 10 List of my favorite Pokey stories in honor of my gran, who I just saw for the holidays, and who is about to pass onto the next world.
That this is less sad than if I reflected on past Christmases, which should give you a good idea of how bad those had been. Pokey dying is tragic in that all lives lost are tragic, but Pokey is quite old (eighty-six), quite frail, rather ill, and she has a reputation for being a mean, racist old sod. She is British and so 1) I am using British slang, and 2) You have to imagine all these things being said in a British accent.
Pokey’s awfulness and the stories that have come out of it have been a cornerstone of my comedic storytelling for years, and I will miss Pokey’s aggressive meanness because there will be no more Pokey stories soon. A few days ago I watched her struggle to lift a teacup to her be-dentured mouth, and I imagined her shaking with rage instead of with frail oldness because, for me, there is something comforting in that. Without further ado I present to you, the Top Ten Pokey Stories:
10) The Terrorist Letter – In college I relieved a long letter from Pokey informing me that the universities were full of terrorists who had come to America to learn from us, date our women, and then explode everything with bombs, etc. She cautioned me to only date non-foreigners that were white, because she mistrusts all non-white people. This is her forgetting that she is a British ex-pat whose hobbies include tanning and being in love with Tiger Woods (we never had the heart to tell her that he wasn’t a WASP).
9) Not Getting Any Fatter – For some reason, for years, Pokey decided to evaluate my looks when ever I saw her. She tanned and smoked so much that she spent the last 40 years of her life looking like a 90 year old raisin, but she still thought of herself as some kind of beauty authority. One year she pinched my arm really hard and asked why I didn’t go to the beach, then grabbed as much of my stomach fat as she could and yelled in my face “Not getting any fatter?!” I still do not know if this was a question or a comment.
8) Baby GAP – One time Mom and I took Pokey to the mall and I was tasked with “keeping track” of her so my Mom could, you know, actually go to the mall. Being a teenager I was like “forget that noise” and let her wander off. When Mom and I met up we realized that we had completely lost her. We finally found her when we heard her furiously yelling at a salesgirl in Baby GAP. Running inside the story we discovered the offense: “They’re selling mittens! In Florida!” she screamed, shaking tiny mittens at a stunned salesgirl, “Mittens! In FLORIDA!” Then we dragged her away.
7) Rickets – Pokey felt that nothing tastes as good as skinny feels so she is the thinnest person I have ever known. I suppose in the 20s anorexia was just considered being disciplined or something. Once she bragged that, when she was pregnant with my mom, she only gained 3 lbs. “But mom!” my mother yelled, “I was born with rickets! I was malnourished!” Pokey responded with something like, “‘Oh boo hoo I had rickets.’ Who cares?” then wistfully, “I bet I could have lost weight if I had tried harder.”
6) Smoking – Pokey loved smoking and all things that she felt made her thin. She kept smoking indoors long after the Clean Air Act was passed by pretending to be British and senile (more so than she truly was). A security guard would come up to her and say, “Ma’am I need you to put out the cigarette,” all business-like. “Oh!” she would say sounding surprised, old, confused, and British, “I’m from England! I don’t know what I’m allowed to do here!” as though she had just gotten off the plane less than 50 years ago, and also was on the verge of confusion-tears. “Sorry ma’am,” the security guard would say, taken aback by her loud accent, “just don’t let it happen again.” She would usually just make a British sound in response, like, “Mmmm,” which meant, “Maybe.”
5) Violent Tendencies – Pokey’s senility turned into a weird fixation on violence about ten years ago. First it started with her watching Animal Planet and enjoying watching the animals killing each other. Then she set up a bird feeder in the back yard, which we thought was innocent enough, until she confessed, “I love seeing the hawk swoop down – whoosh – and PLUCK! the little birds right out of the air! Oh ho ho ho ho!” (She laughed like Santa, ho ho ho, I am not exaggerating, each “ho” was distinctly pronounced.) This reached an apex either when she unleashed her Labrador on a bunny nest, for which I will never forgive her, or when mom overheard her laughing uncontrollably at the TV, only to realize she was watching “The Walking Dead.”
4) “Lost” – Related to #4 but a story in its own right. One day I was visiting Pokey and she was telling me about this amazing new reality TV show where people were trapped on an island together fighting to the death and there were polar bears and smoke monsters. I thought maybe she was hallucinating while watching “Survivor” until mom told me that she had been watching “Lost” and thought it was real. Pokey then told me how happy she was that some person she didn’t like had “finally died,” which was horrifying when I realized that she thought they had actually died for real. When I started to correct her my mom yelled at me: “Do NOT ruin it for her,” which still doesn’t make sense to me.
3) Sluts – A classic story from my teens when Pokey was still leaving the house on the regular. Mom and I took Pokey to a pizza parlor in a little complex across from a ballet studio. As we were sitting at the table waiting to order a huge gaggle of little girls around eight years old romped in dressed in pink leotards and tutus. Upon the sight of which Pokey screamed at top volume, “Why are those little girls dressed like SLUTS!?!” Mom and I tried to silence her as she shouted, “What?! They look like sluts! Who let them leave the house like that?!” and then apologized profusely to anyone who could hear us before giving up and leaving without getting any food or our dignity back.
2) Drowned at Birth – About four Christmases ago I was at mom’s house and Pokey had just moved to Florida to convalesce in peace. Pokey and mom got into a scrape about something that I don’t remember, upon which Pokey turned to me and said, “Never have children! I wish I had drowned your mother at birth!” to which I responded, “But Pokey, then I wouldn’t be alive.” She turned and looked me dead in the eyes and said, “Mmm hmm yes, drowned her at birth.”
1) The Knife – My favorite Pokey story of all time is the one about the knife. I had gone to visit mom and Pokey, but when I knocked on the door there was no response. Then from inside I heard scuffling and my mother yelling, “Give me the knife!” then Pokey shouting “No! No!” in alarm. “Oh God!” I thought, “it’s finally happening! One of them is going to stab the other!” I ran inside with my phone at the ready, I dialed 9 as the flash of a blade was seen over the kitchen sink. I ran toward them as they grappled over it, “Give me the knife!” my mother yelled, I dialed 1 as it plunged downward, “Ohhhhhhh!” a violent wail escaped Pokey. As I rounded the corner I could see blood pouring into the sink, being rinsed down the drain by running water; I dialed the final 1. As I was about to hit “call” the sink came into full view … and realized they were fighting over a raw chicken for some reason. “What the hell mother!?” I yelled, “I thought you stabbed Pokey!” She laughed and said, “Not today!” Oh mom.
There you have it, the Top 10 Pokey stories! I didn’t even have room for the time she said I looked like a stripper because of my haircut, or the time that she thought a statue of an elephant was real, or when she called me a tramp for having four boyfriends in 10 years, or the time she said that “[World War 2] was such a lovely war, too bad so many people had to die,” though that one tells itself. I will miss Pokey and her Pokey stories and her crazy laugh, “Ho ho ho!” indeed.
Bonus: At the top of this post is a photo of Pokey from 2013, and yes, that is a British flag she’s rocking on the back of her wheel chair. Don’t let it humanize her, though, rest assured she’s only smiling because she’s thinking about you falling down the stairs or something. Oh, I mean, Merry Christmas!