Thursday, December 07, 2006

The drunken pompom:a true Bronx tale

I zipped up to the Bronx to visit Larry's Mum (not the official Christmas visit where we eat traditional Puerto Rican Pernil) on the day New York officially banned transfats from our diets effective 2007. Predictably the restaurant lobby is up in arms, but tough S.H. One. T as my sister Siobhan the pragmatic social worker says on these occasions. (I love New York City when they do sensible things like this because restaurants can easily make the dietary changes without compromising taste and, as it's known widely that what New York and California do today, the rest of America does tomorrow; already it's happening because Boston and Chicago announced they plan to follow suit.)

His Mum always cooks fried plantains (they look a bit like hard bananas but are vegetables and must be served hot) for me regardless as to what she's prepared for lunch because she knows I LOVE them...amd I do to the point of transforming into a piglet at table. However, being well brought up and always wanting to be well thought of, I try to curb my gluttony in public so never wolf all of them down and, on this occasion, left one piece for her--usually I leave one-and-a-half or two, the dryish or more browned ones, which she sometimes munches on while Larry and I tuck into dessert.

Afterwards, she asked us to put up her Christmas tree. It's artificial, about three-feet tale, and she likes to place it on top of a waist-high wooden cabinet. Larry was anxious for us to get out of the city again early because of the Christmas traffic jams near the George Washington Bridge and I78, had forgotten she'd want her tree decorated, and was consequently a bit snarky as he pulled out her Christmas bits and bobs from the storage closet. But his mother is as strongwilled and Germanic as he and, try as he might to take shortcuts, she pulled him up on it. I helped decorate, but couldn't help laughing inwardly as she rattled off at him in Spanish (the family's been in Puerto Rico for centuries now) about what he was doing that she didn't like, which I partially understood as a result of being with him for years.

At last it came to topping the tree and she desired a life-sized white dove with real feathers--a gift given years ago from a now deceased son--to have the honor. Larry yelled it wasn't possible because the dove was too heavy and stuck it into the tree just beneath and then proceeded to spear a colored ball on the uppermost spike so that it looked like a pixie hat pompom. As I watched, the tree tip lurched then slowly swayed to one side as if the pompom were drunk.

'It's okay,' Larry said to his mother, who looked at me aghast.
'No, it's not,' I said. 'She wants the dove on top. I did it last year...very well, too, I hasten to add.'
'You did it wrong,' he said. 'It fell off twice before Christmas day.'
Determined to make a point, I glared at him before snatching the dove from its roost within the branches, pulled off the ball and bent the uppermost tree spike in three, and began to affix it to the remaining stump but the damned thing's right leg came unglued.
'Oh dear, its leg's come off,' I said. I was horrified. 'Can you fix it, Larry?'
'I told you it wasn't possible to put it up there,' he said smugly.
His mother went up to a box and began rummaging through it.
'Larry, don't you get it?' I whispered. 'What your Mum wants is what you have to give her in this case. It's not about the dove. It's about--'
'Give me that bird and let me see if I can fix it,' he said, an edge still in his voice to show I wasn't entirely forgiven.
'It's okay,' his mother said. 'Here's another one. Junior gave me two doves. Put this one on top.' She looked at Larry 'You can fix it another time, chikita'
'Ma, no crying,' he said.
(His mother visits his brother's grave almost every week and Larry is soft-hearted and can't bear to see her cry.)
With absolute determination, I placed the dove atop the tree and then tested it to make sure it would not fall as it did last year. And if I'd had a camera handy I'd have taken a pic to prove its sturdiness because this scene will play out next year again. Absolutely, it will.

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Anonymous said...

What a great piece, Damian. You have captured exactly so much of what being family is all about. Christmas brings out these elements of the "wonder child" in all of us, as John Bradshaw would say. Thanks for your wonderful writing.

Dorothea said...

What a wonderful Christmas story. Had a smile on my face the entire time while reading it.

Trevor said...

Hello Damian,
Still love to read your blog eventhough they've put me on lithium.
That said, forgive me for any untoward comments I might have made in the past while unmedicated. Remember I once said that I enquired after a" son called Gabriel" instead of a "boy called Gabriel" or was it the other way round? Either way I've ordered it over the internet this time. Take care of yourself

Damian McNicholl said...

Thanks Carol and Dorothea. I enjoyed writing it.

Yes, I remember you once inquiring, Trevor. Glad you enjoy he blog and all best.

Trevor said...

The untoward comment I made Damien was confusing Larry with the dog in the photograph, what I mean is that whenever you mentioned Larry I thought you were talking about your dog. But not to worry, I won't bother you further. all the best.