Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Olive Kitteridge

The above is a Pulitzer Prize winning collection of short stories by Elizabeth Strout that I have been reading in the middle of the night. Some of these stories center around Olive directly; in others she is a peripheral character. She is an abrasive, judgemental, crabby school teacher living in a small coastal Maine town with her too- good for- her husband. He seems to accept all her considerable flaws although we learn in one of the short stories, he has his own secrets and escape from her over-bearingness.The main love in her life, besides doughnuts, is her son who distances himself perplexing her. She believes herself to be a loving mother who who do anything for her son but is she suffering some sort of self-delusion? Yes, as we learn gradually in snippets. One story tells of her son's first wedding to a NYC doctor. Olive hates this woman on the spot for being better educated and having big city airs. When she overhears her new daughter-in-law making fun of her mother-of-the-groom outfit, one that Olive was quite proud of, she is livid. She sneaks into her DIL's closet and sabotages her wardrobe hiding one of the perceived favorite shoes, magic marking some of the shirts, making little tears... Yet she is genuinely puzzled and heart-broken when the couple moves away shortly thereafter. Many years later, her up-to-that point distant son has a new wife and invites Olive to come and help in their household. Olive is ecstatic! Her son needs her! The new daughter-in-law is very welcoming but Olive, being Olive, finds fault with every little thing. She tells herself that she is happy that her son now considers her part of their family, she finally belongs but  this can not overcome her ingrained pettiness. The family goes out for ice cream; Olive loves her sweets. Upon returning home, Olive notices she had spilled carmel sauce all over herself yet both her son and DIL must have noticed and didn't have the consideration to tell her and they must consider her a dotty old lady..on and on. She lashes out at them and threatens to leave. She is hoping that they beg her to stay but no, the son lists all the reasons that he had  for excluding her in his life but he had given her one more chance as urged by his new wife but now he sees that was a big mistake. Furthermore the new wife agrees with him  and pointed out many of Olive's flaws as a mother. This further enrages Olive imagining the conversations behind her back. She wants to leave that second and fly home. No one will drive her. She takes car service to the airport and stands in a long security line. She is asked to remove her shoes but she doesn't want to expose her ratty nylons that she had no time to replace. I will not take off my shoes. I don't give a damn if the plane blows up, do you understand? I don't give one good goddamn if any of you are blown skyhigh.
This does not sit well with security.
The stories of these small lives made me cry in the middle of the night. How different are the perceptions one has of oneself differ from those of others? How hard is it to connect? How alone so many are? Does anyone truly ever understand us?

I attended the Annual Mothers of Josh's Neighborhood Friends tea yesterday although Josh does not remain friends with every single one of their sons. Josh shares with me many aspects of these sons' lives that the moms are probably blissfully unaware of.Some are quite troubling. I am under strict orders not to share these with the Mothers. There is a disconnect between what I hear from the mothers from what I hear from Josh. Josh had attended the wedding this summer of the son of our hostess. She gave me a picture of him and Julia from the reception. Some of the moms hadn't seen Josh in a while looked at it and said they would never had recognized him. The mom who was diagnosed with TNBC the same week as me was there happy and so far recurrence free. She has a grandchild now. These mothers knew of Naomi as an infant then toddler who came to the baseball games in tow. Now she is a mother, how things change! The mom of Josh's best friend hadn't attended for the past 5 years or so came to my delight. She came with me on one of the cross state bike rides but found it too difficult. Most of the moms are amazed by Josh as he figures prominently in their sons' lives (though sometimes they are not sure to what extent). Part of the insecure me assumes they are surprised because he had me as a mother. But I am no sanctimommy (I love that term; I was going to use it as this blog's title). They are what they are.

No comments:


Blog Archive