January, 1985

Sharon?! Where is the wrapper for this video tape? This is a Sony tape, and it’s in a Maxell wrapper. We have to get it back to Joe.”

I can’t believe this. Get a life Mother! Why on earth are you worried about something this trivial? Who cares whether the wrapper matches the video? The label is on the cassette, not the wrapper!

I don’t know where it is. Besides, we don’t need to get it back to Joe. When he gave it to me, he told me to keep it. He said he knew Robin would want to watch Daddy’s retirement party, and that all of us should have copies. And he said not to worry about returning it.”

That doesn’t matter. We have to take it back to him, and it’s got to be in the right wrapper! Your father is very upset about this.”

Excuse me? Who is upset? Mother is just short of the boiling point. Her face is red, her eyes are dilated, her voice is shaking. Daddy, on the other hand, is calmly reading the newspaper in my living room, seemingly oblivious to impending disaster.

Look, Russell was over this afternoon and he and George were looking through the videos. Russell had some with him. Maybe they got mixed up. I’ll check on it.”

Well, you’d better find it!”

Mother gives up in exasperation and goes back down to the basement where she is camping out for a few days. She moved over to their new house in Gig Harbor last summer, and has come back to Richland for Daddy’s retirement party. This weekend they’ll fill his pickup and her car with the stuff he’s had in his furnished apartment and he’ll follow her back to Gig Harbor to stay. This is obviously a high stress time for her. I’ll do what I can to humor her.

I check with George, and he calls Russell. Sure enough, Russell has a Maxell tape stashed in the missing Sony wrapper. In ten minutes George is back from Russell’s with the matching wrapper. All is well. Mother has the properly packed videotape securely in her possession, determined to do the right thing and return it to its creator, who will probably record over it in short order.

I finish fixing dinner, and after we eat, I leave for a meeting. Throughout the evening, memory fragments flash through my mind.

Your father said to tell you that you and Parvin are not to sit on the same section of the sofa in the future.

Your father said to tell you that he doesn’t want you staying out that late again.

Your father said to tell you. . . .

Your father was very upset when he heard. . . .

Why didn’t my father ever deliver his own messages? Other memories followed.

I’d like to go to Australia . . . yes, we could go on a military hop, but Ben would never want to sit in those seats.”

I’d like to go to the play this weekend, but Ben wouldn’t enjoy it. . . .”

Suddenly the images of Mother, fuming mad, and Daddy, calm, cool and collected, form an animated graphic, flashing back and forth with increasing speed until they fuse in a blinding flash of the obvious. There is more than a passing chance that Daddy never said any of those things – that Mother conveniently hid behind him to send her own messages. Even if he did say something, she may or may not have conveyed his meaning. She was assuming things at least part of the time, and I realized some time ago that her assumptions are often off-base. Whatever the case, it’s clearly time to break this cycle of intervention. From now on, Daddy can deliver his own messages!

I head down to her basement retreat with these words on the tip of my tongue: You tell Daddy that from now on, if he has anything to tell me, he can tell me himself!

As I reach for the knob on the door at the top of the stairs, a jolt of irony hits me. My very words will perpetuate the cycle I’m trying to break. My hand goes to my mouth instead of the doorknob and I double up with suppressed laughter. We are so co-dependent in our shared insanity. This game hangs before me now, like a deflated octopus stuck on a nail. Its purple tentacles hang limply, with no power to harm.

This is my family, crazy, sane, or otherwise. Feeling very connected to this eccentric family I love so much, I continue down the stairs, and we chat happily about her new life