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My maternal grandmother could leave a room faster than anyone I’ve ever known. For her there were no pleasantries, no polite swaying to and fro in vestibules, or belaboured lingering and slow-motion doorknob-turning.
Her farewells were simple and perfunctory: “Okaybyebye!” issued forth from her lips at lightning speed, as if it were one word with no spaces in between. In defiance of all socially-acceptable norms on the matter of leaving, Mimi would grab her purse and be gone in a flash.
Mimi often wore a pained expression as she tore out the door, so I thought perhaps she was annoyed by all of us. The family could misbehave when we got together, especially if there was alcohol involved. But we were her kin, after all, and being embarrassed by us was no excuse to run away in a huff all the time.
“Where’s the fire?” we’d ask, rhetorically, whenever she’d fled the scene.
In the myopia of my youth, of course, it never occurred to me that her urgent goodnights might have been owing to something I didn’t understand, something stealthy and sinister, something beyond her control, perhaps.
I never thought it might have been... gas.
“Oh my God, we made it out of there just in time!” This is a popular post dinner-party exclamation that my husband and I share all too frequently these days. Unfortunately, middle-age has reduced us to beasts of burden: The colon is a touchy tube of disobedience that follows us wherever we go. The older I get, the less agreeably mine travels. There are days when I’m afraid I’ll be housebound by the time I’m 60—if I haven’t exploded before then.
The added complication, for me (and no doubt for my grandmother, too) is that girdles, control-top pantyhose and Spanx only add to the volatility, the sheer pound-force per square inch, of whatever mixture of carbon dioxide, hydrogen, methane and sulfur have built-up in my digestive tract while I’m out and about on the town.
As a result I find holidays challenging. I love my husband’s family and count myself one of them. I’ve taken his name and have engaged in a fair bit of behaviour modification through the years so that I can dwell peacefully among his people, but the Hausers are skilled practitioners of the long goodbye. When cauliflower or cabbage rolls have rendered me a menace to society, I find their Wagnerian Auf Wiedersehen’s especially distressing
. And, dignified as they are, I’m reasonably certain they wouldn’t appreciate the sound of my particular kind of music—howz about a special rendition of “Seventy-Six Trombones” to top off the evening, folks?
Easter weekend, for example, even as I look forward to a family gathering to celebrate Christ’s death and resurrection with a feast of ham, scalloped potatoes—and whatever gassy vegetable begs to be sautéed in bacon fat—I know that the innermost circle of abdominal hell awaits me in the front hall at the end of the night, and I dread it.
“Aren’t the flowers lovely?” my mother-in-law will say, pointing to the elegant vase on the credenza in the hallway. This will signal the first round of small-talk that will bring us into one of several parting conversations.
“So lovely,” I will squeak, short of breath from several hours of trying to control my distended abdomen in an attempt to stem the tide of gastric release that has been advocating for itself most of the night.
No one is allowed to leave until the whole gang is together. Any and all reluctant teenagers who’ve been hiding out in the basement must be corralled, too. This takes some time. For the next 30 to 40 minutes, I stare at my reflection in the oval mirror near the front door, studying the familiar pained expression, cursing the irritable bowel I inherited from my grandmother.
Anyway, I know it’s not her fault. I have earned this. This is my punishment for having been a haughty adolescent. Every unkind criticism I ever had of my grandmother has come back to bite me on the ass, quite literally.
And even though it does little good, I routinely pray for the continued capacity—which is at times miraculous—to contain whatever unholy alliance of gases longs to be released. It may be blasphemous to ask God for relief from undigested carbohydrates, but, my options are few and far between at this point.
In the end there is always, “Okaybyebye” to fall back on. It’s still classified as emergency plan Z, for now, but I can see the day, in the not-too-distant future, when it will be my fate, too.
“Where’s the fire?” my in-laws will ask. Trust me, you don’t want to know.