Come On, Ma

This entry is part 3 of 25 in the series Cruising With the Mothers

I wasn’t about to broach the subject of cruising with my own mother until the holiday season was well past – there are some things a son just knows not to do. But I couldn’t just sit around and think about the upcoming cruise, and being a devout CruiseCritic, I followed my natural tendency to go out on the Internet, find fellow cruisers and start talking up the trip.

I imagined that the large majority of those who jumped at the chance to go on this trip were probably first-time cruisers, and indeed, this proved to be the case. I also imagined that these people would do as I had done before my first cruise – scour the Internet and books for information, stumble (naturally) onto CruiseCritic or one of the other cruise boards, and become addicted. This assumption proved to be just slightly off…

On December 19, I started a roll call thread on CC. The silence was deafening. Nothing. No one. Not to be denied, I found that the APHC radio show hosted its own online forum. It made sense to me that first-time cruisers booked on the APHC cruise might turn to the show’s website first for information, so I started a new thread there under the simple heading “The Cruise.” Here I found a couple of regular contributors who had signed up for the cruise, and various other “locals” who weren’t going but who were curious about the whole thing.

For several days I made posts on the APHC board, adding as much useful information as I could muster. By New Year’s Eve, it was obvious that no one was interested in talking about the cruise, so I abandoned my online efforts for the time being. I assumed that all those first-time cruisers would eventually get curious about that they’d signed up for and stumble upon the resource list I’d left – pointers on tipping (Cruise Tip Calculator), formal dress, packing lists, CruiseClues, etc.

In mid-January, I figured that the holiday rush was a faint memory and that it was safe to approach my mother about the possibility of going on the cruise. A confession is appropriate here – I hate telephones. It’s hard to explain, but rest assured that I will be the last person on the planet to have a cell phone. Any call lasting more than 15 seconds is sheer torture. I’d much rather exchange email than direct my voice into a plastic mouthpiece and strain to hear a response.

My mother (Laura) has, in both the literal and figurative sense, kissed the Blarney Stone. Her gift of gab is legendary – something I did not inherit. Rather, I am like my father – reserved and introspective – and amused and amazed by my mother’s ability to carry on. To be clear, she is a great storyteller, is involved in all sorts of interesting things, knowledgeable about almost everything (except, in the view of me, her personal technical support department – computers) and helpful to a fault. For a phone-a-phobic like me, however, these qualities are best experienced in person. The average length of a phone call with mom is about 90 minutes – 360 times my personal call-length limit.

Maybe I should have just gotten in the car and driven to Connecticut, but I decided to call mom and as her if she’d like to come along on the cruise. In preparation, I did some deep-knee bends, made a drink and retrieved the “hands-free” telephone headset from my office. I’d purchased this miraculous device specifically for phone calls with mom. It helps prevent the wrist, elbow and shoulder from cramping during marathon phone sessions, and allows one to concurrently carry on other activities that are better done with two hands. I decided that I’d pay bills during this phone call, so with the wireless laptop and a stack of long-ignored mail, I settled into the most comfortable chair in the house and hit the speed dial.

“Hellooo,” came the greeting in my mother’s voice – more sung than spoken.

“Ma”

“Well hello, dear. How are you?”

“Fine – we’re all doing well. You?”

“Oh, I’m very busy. Went to New York last Saturday to see a show with my friend, Janice – you remember Janice, don’t you? And her daughter, Kathy, my piano student? Lovely girl, very talented. She’s living in California now…”

“Janice?” I learned to tease by watching my father.

“No, Kathy is living in California. Janice still lives over there off Connecticut Avenue. You remember where that is, don’t you? That big long road with stop signs every 50 feet? It drives me mad. I never go that way unless I have to. It takes forever…”

I twisted the microphone on my headset out of the way and took a gulp of my drink.

“…so anyway, Janice and I took the bus to Broadway…do you remember my friend Michael Feinstein? He’s been…”

I booted up the laptop and started opening bills.

“…it was a wonderful show. Pat was supposed to come with us, but she couldn’t make it. She and Ron are having another big party, and they had to roast the pig. They did that at the last party – what a production. Just unbelievable how much effort they put into cooking. But then, they certainly have the kitchen for it. They don’t roast the pig in the kitchen, they do that outside…”

“I know – we went to that party,” I injected. Pat (not Kris’s mother – another Pat) and Ron live in a converted church. It has a kitchen the size of my house, but for the family parties they throw, it is barely big enough. So, naturally, Ron built a pig-roasting pit in the back yard. It’s just for the appetizers, but I digress…

“Oh, that’s right. Wasn’t that a sight?”

“Sure was. Say, ma – how would you like to go on a cruise?”

She laughed. “Oh dear, I don’t even have time to think about such a thing. I’m so busy. You know how I said I’d given up doing the directory for the state music teachers’ association? Well, they begged me to do it. They’re a bunch of older ladies and none of them knows how to use a computer. Can you believe it? They think I’m a computer genius!”

“But we know better, don’t we?” I said.

“Oh, Chester. I owe it all to you. This is the last year I’m going to do it, I swear. Tomorrow I have a concert to go to. We arranged to have a very famous Russian couple come here to do a two-piano concert at the university. Charming couple – absolutely delightful. They’re staying with the president of the musical club, who has a beautiful house and plenty of room. We took them out to dinner last night…

Mortgage paid. Electric bill paid – outrageous! Note to self – switch to lower wattage light bulbs… Hmmm, I see here that the New Hampshire electric company is offering rebates on compact fluorescents…and, they’re on sale at Home Depot. I put a note in my calendar to stop there on the way home from work.

“…had a banquet last week – my lord, the food. You’ve never seen so much food.”

“Yes I have,” I said.

“Where?” asked mom.

“On a cruise,” I said.

“One of my students just got back from a cruise. From the way she talked, that’s all it was – one big eating orgy.”

“It can seem like that,” I said, “but this cruise is a bit different.” I laid out the details. “So, what do you think?”

“I’ve already been to all those places, and I’ve never heard that radio show. Sheesh, Chester – I don’t know. Ask me next month when things settle down a little bit,” she answered. “Your sister went on a cruise to Mexico and hated it.”

“She liked the cruise. She hated the port in Mexico because the men harassed Shannon and Coleen.” The girls are my nieces. They look like professional models and tend to attract unwanted attention. I can only imagine what they endured in Mexico…

“Why don’t you at least check your calendar to see if you’re already committed to something in late August?” I asked.

“Oh, OK,” she said. “Here, talk to you father.”

You might have assumed that neither Kris nor I had fathers to invite along on this trip. Unfortunately, Kris’s father has late stage Alzheimer’s disease. My father had more to do with my own aversion to vacations than did my mother. He wouldn’t go on a cruise in a million years. I would never be able to convince him that a ship was the perfect place to practice his two favorite pastimes – eating and reading. In addition, I know he enjoys some solitude now and then – just he and the cat in the peace of an otherwise empty house. Thus, our plan only included the mothers.

My father came on the line. “Hello.”

“Hey, dad. How’s it going?”

“OK.”

“How’s the lighted magnifier (a Christmas gift) working out for reading?” I asked.

“It’s nice,” he said.

“You can see better?”

“Oh, yes. Much better. Thank you very much.”

“You’re welcome.”

“OK – Here’s your mother. Bye.”

Time of conversation: 12 seconds. More to my style, but we usually go for the full 15 seconds, sometimes longer. He sounded frail to me. My mother’s voice returned.

“Well, I was going to see my cousins in Newfoundland this summer sometime. I haven’t made arrangements yet. You have to go with me one of these times – they won’t last forever. What a bunch of characters. You’d have a great time. I don’t think I could do two big trips in one summer.”

“I know. But we’re already booked for the cruise, so I’ll let you think about it,” I said. “And try to catch the show some Saturday night.” We signed off. Time of conversation: about 70 minutes. Obviously, I have radically shortened the account of this conversation. I don’t want to get carpal tunnel syndrome…

When I hung up the phone, my mother was “thinking about it”, my glass was empty, the bills were all paid and I had a plan to cut our electricity consumption by as much as 20%. All-in-all, a productive evening.

Kris came in to the room and asked, “So?”

“I made great progress,” I said. “She didn’t dismiss the idea outright.”

“What else did she have to say? What’s new down there?” Kris asked.

“Oh…nothing much,” I said.

I was pretty well convinced that I would eventually be able to talk mom in to going on the cruise. The feeling lasted for about two days. Late in the evening, long past Kris’s bedtime, the phone rang.

I looked at the Caller ID, seeking a reason not to answer. The readout said the name was “unavailable,” but the area code was the same as my parent’s. I took a chance and answered it.

“Hello,” I said warily.

“Dick?” said the voice on the other end of the line.

For those who don’t know, my name is not really Chester – it’s Richard. However, everyone – with one exception – calls me Chester, a nickname that has dogged me since childhood. The holdout is my mother’s friend, Pat, of the pig roasting duo.

“Yes,” I replied. “What’s up, Pat?”

“I’m sorry to bother you. Your mother said I shouldn’t call – please don’t tell her it was me – but I think you need to know what’s going on. She needs your help.”

Parents, as I’ve learned first-hand, dread late night calls involving their children. Later in life, children dread late night calls about their parents. The irony is cruel.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

“It’s you father…”

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