My parents, a perpetually warring, domineering pair in their 80s — a retired Macy’s dress buyer and a dentist — begin wintering in Mexico, where they abandon their usual prudence to embrace adventure and a pair of shyster developers. Normally hypercritical, they are blithely indifferent to the disasters that ensue, leaving the mop-up to me, their permanently indentured only child. “Don’t Say a Word!”: A Daughter’s Reply recounts our hapless, screwball struggles: theirs with old age and mine with them. The surprising ways in which my parents come undone reveal just what they’d spent their lives trying to hide, thereby setting me free.
Following her sudden death, Part 2 focuses on my father’s attempt to maintain a facsimile of his former life with a string of loopy, live-in companions (with privileges, he hopes). Placing the want-ads feels like procuring for him, as he refuses anyone he can’t pass off as a date and hires the oddest of my rejects behind my back: a paranoid, Argentine doctor/dog-sitter, a sour widow he nurses through a face-lift, an incoherent drug addict with cats. When I finally secure a Mexican beauty he adores, the interest she arouses in other men drives him to the brink. The calamities mount to pulp fiction levels, but my advice falls on the deafest of deaf ears. Only when both my parents have died can I decipher their late-life metamorphosis, their 60-year marital battle, and their tangled relationship with me to discover I’d had them wrong all along. Finally, I grasp what underlay everything: a desperate struggle to deny their own vulnerability—and above all that which comes with love.
The new used-car turned out to be a huge white Chevy with bright red leather upholstery, circa 1970…In terms of shock value, the car’s appearance paled in comparison with its state of dysfunction. Just getting in was a challenge: only one rear door opened, and the front right inside handle fell off if you weren’t careful. Something was wrong with the front passenger seat, too; the back would not go up beyond an angle suitable for a tooth extraction. Consequently, the four of us squashed in the back had my mother virtually lying in our laps. As we pulled away from the curb, I noticed we were all sitting on towels. The red leather, my mother informed me, had a tendency to bleed.
and the world in the light of our lives
- Decoding Our Parents
- Memoir Writing
- Reverse Parenting
- Travel Lessons
the enduring popularity of pilgrimage
miraculous “small world” update
more on travel v. tourism
what is the jungle’s allure?
why children prefer a facsimile
the towers’ purpose?
the flat earth myth’s appeal
how basic knowledge gets lost
the origin of Romeo and Juliet?
why the Pisa tower leans?
you’re not like your parents? really?
whither the “generation gap”?
© COPYRIGHT 2014 ELIZABETH ROPER MARCUS