Scott and I just returned from a visit to Vancouver, BC, for his 50th high school graduation reunion. It was here that he lived, off and on, throughout his childhood with his spinster aunt and grandmother (may they rest in peace). Scott’s Aunt Eileen stories are legendary in our family. I recorded this one at the end of a visit in September, 2007.
I’ve done pretty well, I think, here with Eileen, but there’s no pleasing her unless you do it her way, step by step. She controls your every move—imperiously. I wonder what her past holds that keeps her so tightly wound up all the time?
There’s a union strike in the city here that has shut down garbage removal, parks, golf courses, and the library. So every scrap of paper, every piece of garbage has to be carefully and deliberately disposed of. She has a system for everything: five different places to store five different kinds of plastic bags—each for a different size and purpose. And woe betide the person who reaches for the wrong bag and uses it for a different purpose than her intention! And one is expected to keep the information all straight after the first instruction—which can change at times, by the way!
Bless her heart (to use a Southern catch-all phrase), she recognizes that she’s crotchety but doesn’t know how to change. [At a later visit, she admitted her regret that she was being so difficult.] Since we’ve been here, we’ve been told what to do and then instructed how in the following areas:
- Make my bed (how to align the stripes, when to wash the sheets)
- When to open the blinds in my bedroom (right after making the bed)
- How to wash the dishes (fill the sink, use the drainer)
- Prune the flowers, rake the garden (for this one I actually did need instructions)
- Where to drive, where to park (poor Scott)
- When to sightsee and where
- How to feed the cats and when
- How to polish the silver (which cloth, what direction, how wet, how much)
- Do a crossword puzzle (which one, when)
- Eat (what time, how much [i.e. minuscule] – again, poor Scott)
- How to dress (scarf worn a certain way, belt cinched just so)
- What books to read from her shelf (sorry, not my taste)
- Water the lawn (let out the hose inch by inch until it suits her)
- Prepare the corn on the cob (shuck top down, all at once, boil exactly 6 minutes)
- Eat corn on the cob (from left to right in rows. Seriously!)
Yesterday she asked me to sew a button on a coat that she’d altered (she was most proud of her sewing prowess). We almost came to blows over how to perform this simple task. I started to sew it on with double thread so as to save a knot on the underside, but she insisted it must be a single thread and never mind if it had a knot. (Scott says this is the closest he’s seen me to losing it!)
I’m reminded of Joyce Landorf’s books entitled Irregular People (1982) and Balcony People (1989). Balcony People are in the “balcony” of your life, cheering you on, energizing you with their affirmation. Irregular People are in your “basement” doing exactly the opposite—crushing your spirit with their emotional abuse.
[I must interject here that, in spite of Aunt Eileen’s “basement” responses, she was also legendary for her generosity, her extremely high IQ (she did the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzles in record time), and her ability to encourage her proteges on to excellence. She was an author and internationally-renowned social worker with blind children. The methods she developed many years ago are still in practice today.]
After that little altercation with the sewing, I determined to back off . . . to not be so bold in standing up to her. It’s just not worth it. Not for my sake, mind you. I would have no trouble standing up to her if I didn’t care about her. But why cause her undue stress or distress at this elderly stage in her life? She’s never going to change.
Bless my heart!
Who is your Irregular Person and how do you handle the situation?