Saturday, May 13, 2017

Happy Mother's Day, Mom

Back when my beloved mother was still alive, I used to go over every Saturday morning for breakfast. Now that I think about it, I should have taken her out for breakfast, but that’s neither here nor there and is just something I’ll have to live with.
   During these times, she was fond of telling me the story of how, when she was but a wee lass of sixteen, she got a job. I won't tell you the year it happened, because that would be uncouth, but this was during a time when a grade school education had the weight of a high school education, a high school education had the weight of a college education, and her future husband was busy trying not to get killed by the Japanese in the Philippines.
   There, I can't be any more couth than that.
   Before she joined the workforce, my mother was enrolled in a catholic high school her father insisted she and her sisters go to. However, my mother wanted more out of life than that, so she quit school without telling her parents and got a job at the Kress Department Store downtown, not far from where the catholic high school was. Every morning, she'd catch the city bus with her sisters, but they would go their separate ways once they stepped off.
   Her father was very angry when the truth came out, as it always does. In this case, the nuns at the catholic school sent a note with one of my mom’s sisters, asking him why she wasn’t attending school.
    “What?” he yelled at his wife, who didn’t know a thing about it.
    “Why?” he yelled at his daughter when she got home that afternoon.
    “I want to buy myself nice things," she explained, and her father’s answer to this was...
    Well, he started crying.
    And then he began yelling and threatening.
    Still, no matter how much he yelled or threatened, my mother refused to quit her job.
   "I just want to buy myself nice things,”she kept trying to explain to him.
    Her father had no choice but to give in.
    Drying the tears in his eyes, he told her, “You’re the first girl in my family to ever work,” and, considering the time, it was probably true.
    Not surprisingly, my grandfather never got a rebate from the catholic school for the time my mother wasn’t attending classes.
    Still, that’s not the story I want to tell you.
    This is the story:
    One day, when she was at work, a man she had never seen before asked if she had ever thought about becoming a movie star. He was a bigwig from Hollywood, but, then, aren’t they all? Whether he was legitimate or not, my mother never found out, but he did have a business card, and he gave it to her with the instructions to, “Give me a call.”
    When my mother went home after work, she excitedly told her sisters what had happened. They all squealed like the young girls they were. Excitedly, they ran into the living room and told their mom and dad, who weren’t quite as excited. Her father took away that business card and told--make that, ordered--my mother not to ever contact that man and to immediately let them know if he tried to speak with her again.
    My mom was too innocent to know the evil that can happen to innocent young girls, so she was disappointed. Still, soon after that, she met my dad, had a family, so you could say her life perked up.
    “So you could have become an actress,” I would tell her, probably with a mouth full of fried egg.
    “I did become an actress,” she would insist.
    “You did?”
    “Yes,” she would say. “You see, when your father complains, I act like I’m listening.”
Raising My Father  American Chimpanzee

Monday, May 1, 2017

The Very Next Day

The very next day, neither my wife or I felt the need to replace the very delicious ice cream my elderly father had the wherewithal  to complain about the day before, and which I wrote about in last month’s column.
    I, however, had my concerns.
    “You know my father likes something sweet after dinner,” I reminded her.
    “I’ve got it covered,” she assured me.
    When I continued to persist, she said, “Isn’t there someplace else you need to be? I mean, besides here bothering me?”
    Actually, no. There wasn’t. So I sat down and waited for something dark and hot that comes in a liquidy form.
    Some people think I drink a lot of coffee.
    That's because I do.
    I don't have a lot of bad habits, but if drinking coffee is a bad habit, then that's one of them. I don't drink, I don't smoke, I don't take drugs, but put a cup of coffee in front of me and I'll make it disappear like a donut within reach of my mother-in-law.
    After dinner, my lovely wife was kind enough to serve me the cup of coffee I was anticipating. I sat at the table and waited for her. It was our usual routine to sit outside in the patio and unwind from the day, but, ever since we invited my elderly father to live with us, our routines have changed.
    I looked in the direction of the patio. I looked at my wife. She looked at my father. He looked at her, and she asked him, "Would you like some ice cream before we go outside?"
    "Uh..." he said.
    My wife cut him off at the pass.
    "It's from the PX," she said.
    I looked up from my cup. I didn't know my wife had gone out to buy any ice cream, much less from the PX.
    "It's from the PX."
    "What flavor?"
    Now, before you start to think my dad's gone senile, let me assure you, he hasn't. It just takes him awhile for something to sink in. It may be because of some hearing loss due to his advanced age. Or it may be that nothing we say is of any interest to him. Or he may just be yanking our chain.
    Personally, I think it’s because his brain has worked hard all of his life and now it's enjoying his retirement along with the rest of him. I’m sure, instead of being in our kitchen, his brain would rather be on some beach in Miami checking out the itsied-bitsied, teenied-weenied, yellow polka-dot bikinied babes.
    Or maybe that's something I'd rather be doing.
    I get confused.
    My dad, on the other hand, doesn't.
    Every month, when his financial statements come in, he goes over them line by line, looking for any kind of a discrepancy. All of his investments, all of his savings, all of his expenditures...  he's right on top of them. It drives the people at the bank nuts.
    “Those characters,” he calls them. “You can’t trust any of them.”
    On the other hand, his monthly trips to the bank does give my dad a social life.
    But I digress...
    "Sure," my Dad said, referring to my wife's offer of ice cream, "It can't be any worse than what you gave me yesterday."
    Lifting one eyebrow, my wife walked over to the freezer and took out the same container of ice cream from the day before.
    “Just a little,” my father insisted. “You always serve me too much.”
    My wife got his favorite bowl and served him...  just a little.
     He gingerly tasted a spoonful.
    "Hey!" he said, with enthusiasm, "now this is what I was talking about!"
    He held out his bowl for more. My wife looked at me, and our eyes met. We were both smiling. She took the bowl and served him a generous amount more.
    As she placed it in front of him, he asked, "From the PX, you say?  It's good."
    Smack, smack!
    "I like the flavor."
    Smack, smack!
    "Much better than yesterday's ice cream."
    "Your son bought it," my wife informed him.
    "Your son."
    "My son?"
    "Yes, your son. He went to the PX this morning.”
    “He went to the PX? How come?”
    “Because you said you didn't like the ice cream from Costco."
    "Yeah, that one from Costco wasn't very good," he remembered. Then his voice soften, and he shook his head a bit. "My son bought me this ice cream?"
    “Yes,” my wife said.
    I guess he couldn't believe it.
    "Yeah...  well… hmmm...  this one’s definitely better," my father said.
    Smack, smack!
    "I can tell the difference right away."
     Smack, smack!
    "Much better."
    "I'm glad you like it, dad," my wife told him, and put the container of Costco ice cream back in the freezer. That's why I love my wife. Because she's smart. She thinks on her feet.
    And she gives me all the credit.
    As my father finished up the last of his "much better" ice cream, he dropped the spoon into the bowl, and made a final smacking sound.
    "Can I have some more?" he asked.
You can find The Duchene Brothers bonding over a nice, hot cup of coffee over at, or, and even @JimDuchene. Come join us.
as featured in Desert Exposure Magazine
Raising My Father  American Chimpanzee

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

My Dad In The War (Part 24)

When my father was a soldier stationed in the jungles of the Philippines during the second World War, his buddy Bennett woke up one morning to discover a red bump on the inside of his upper thigh.
     "Hey, Duchene," he called out, "come here for a second."
     My father had already seen the interest Bennett had been showing to his crotch area, so he didn't even bother to look up from shining his boots.
     "You can go into town and get yourself a Pillow Boy for that," he told him.
     They decided the red bump was an insect bite of some kind.
     The next day, the bump was twice as big, twice as red, and twice as painful. There was no way it could get worse.
     The day after that, it got worse. 
     By the end of the week, Bennett couldn't take the irritation any more and decided to pop the  white head of the insect bite like it was a fermenting pimple ready to burst. He found a tiny worm wiggling around inside.
     "Be grateful it wasn't your penis," my father told him.
Raising My Father  American Chimpanzee

Saturday, April 1, 2017

How's The Ice Cream?

My much older and less attractive brother brought our elderly father over to my house for a visit, and then went out for a pack of cigarettes.
    “I didn’t know he smoked,” I told my dad.
    “He doesn’t,” my father answered.
    I haven’t seen my brother since.
    It didn’t happen exactly that way, but that’s the way I like to tell the story of how my father came to live with me. He’s in the later years of his life and has been widowed for some time now. He’s also been diagnosed pre-Alzheimer’s, but, really, aren’t we all pre-Alzheimer’s?
    My wife, to welcome him into our home, cooked him a 5-star dinner Tom Colicchio would be jealous of, and, to top it off, she served him a nice helping of vanilla ice cream. REAL ice cream, not the cheap stuff. I save that for my mother-in-law.
    Let me digress for a moment. I know some of you may have gotten the impression from my January column that I don’t like my mother-in-law, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, I’d like to take this opportunity to dedicate the rock & roll classic “Mother-In-Law” by the late, great Ernie K-Doe as an expression of my feelings for her. Meanwhile...
    "This ice cream's not very good," I heard my dad tell my wife.
    Let me stop right here and formally apologize to my mother for ever having been a kid. I can't begin to tell you the times my mom served me a perfectly good meal, sometimes even perfectly delicious, and it didn't meet the standards of a kid who used to eat dirt.
    Don't judge me for eating dirt.
    Then I had kids of my own. No matter what my wife cooked, they wanted to eat something else. I don't know about your kids, but my kids only wanted to eat food we had to pay for, preferably at a restaurant. If it was home-cooked, they’d hem and haw and complain.
    “You could always eat dirt,” I’d suggest, but, sadly, my humor was lost on them.
    So when my dad told my wife he didn't care for the ice cream she had just served him--and which he enthusiastically ate, judging by the speed with which he ate it--I figured he had the right not to like it. So I didn’t say anything.
    "Where'd you buy it?" he wanted to know.
    "Costco," my wife told him.
    "Yes, Costco," she repeated.
    Costco is one of those warehouse stores, along the lines of Sam’s and Price Club, where you have to buy a membership to shop there, and where you don't just buy something, you buy a LOT of something. But they do sell quality goods, and one of those quality goods is their ice cream. It's not just good, it's very good.
    My dad wasn't sure.
    "Oh, huh...  hmmm..." he clarified. "You said you bought it at Costco?"
    "They sell some of the best ice cream there," she said, trying to convince him.
    My dad still wasn't sure.
    "Costco..." he considered, and then considered again. "Hmmm...  Costco.  Huh, yeah...  well, I didn't like it.”
    “Why didn’t you like it?” my wife asked, humoring him.
    “I just didn’t,” he said. “The PX sells better ice cream."
    Because of the time he spent in the military, he was able to shop at the PX in the Army base. In fact, after he retired from the military, he even worked at their PX for a few years after that. If anybody would know the quality of the PX ice cream, it would be my father.
    I remember once asking him what the letters “PX” stood for.
    “I don’t know,” my father told me, in what was one of our longer conversations. Meanwhile...
     My wife patiently listened to him. She was even nodding her head and making eye contact.
    Big mistake.
    I've learned in life that if you make eye contact with someone it just encourages them to continue talking.
     Which he did.
     "Blah, blah, blah Costco. Blah, blah, blah ice cream. Blah, blah, blah coming back with those cigarettes?"
    Now he was starting to get on my nerves. I happen to like Costco. They have enough of my money to prove it. I also like to go there for the food samples they hand out to their customers. Many’s the time I was saved the cost of buying my father lunch by going there and letting him snack for free.
    “What did you eat?” my brother’s wife would ask when I’d drop him back off at his then home base.
    “Everything,” we’d say, chuckling together conspiratorially like two naughty first graders thinking they're getting away with something.
    "Yes, dad," my wife said, simmering. She likes Costco, too. "Next time we go to the PX, we'll get some for you."
    I thought she handled that rather smoothly, since we never shop at the PX. My dad may have been retired from the military, but I wasn't. I had to pay for MY exclusive shopping memberships.
    "Costco..." my dad kept repeating, gnawing at that name like he was a dog and it was a bone. He was shaking his head as he said it.  "Costco...  hmmm."
    I had to laugh.
    I was shaking my head, too.
Born in the southwest, Jim Duchene wonders if you've seen his brother, Henry. Check,, or @JimDuchene for him, would'ja?
as featured in Desert Exposure Magazine

Monday, March 27, 2017

In MY Day

"What are you doing, son?"
     My elderly father saw me being distracted by my phone and took his eyes off the baseball game we were both watching to ask me about it.
     "I'm just fiddling with a phone ap, dad," I explained.
     "Oh... a phone ap," my dad said, nodding his head. "Whatever that is."
     I decided to ignore that.
     "It's pretty cool,"  I told him. "If I want to know what the weather is like, I can just look at the ap and it will tell me."
     "In my day," my dad said, turning back to the TV, "we just looked outside."
Raising My Father  American Chimpanzee

Monday, March 20, 2017

Once And Once Again

I've come across a rare brandy called Pierre Duchene only twice in my life.
     The first time was when my aunt came back from a vacation and generously brought my father--her brother--a bottle.
     Sadly, that bottle was broken. The story of how it was broken depends on whether you heard my father's version of the events or my mother's.
     Back when she was still alive, that is.
     The next time I came across a bottle of that particular brandy was years later when my much older and less attractive brother found it when he, in an interesting coincidence, was also on vacation. Like our aunt, he, too, was generous enough to bring back a bottle for each of his siblings, as well as replacing our parent's broken one.
     Between you and I, it was probably his wife who actually bought the brandy, and the most my brother did was take credit for it.
     But you didn't hear that from me.
     Recently, I took my father to one of his many doctor visits, and, in a rare show of generosity himself, he  took the special bottle of Pierre Duchene as a thank-you gift for his doctor.
     "What's Henry going to do when he finds out you gave away the brandy he gave you?" I asked, teasing him.
     "Who's going to tell him?"
     "I am."
     My father considered that.
     "He'll just buy me another one," he concluded.
     When he offered the bottle to his doctor, my father told him, "I'd like you have this bottle of brandy. It's from my uncle's distillery in France. It has his name on it."
     That was a completely made-up story. I don't even know who Pierre Duchene is or if he ever actually existed. Telling such a fabrication is out of character for my father, one of the most honest individuals I've ever known.

     At least, he used to be.
      I don't know if the doctor bought the story or not. My father is in his upper nineties, so how old would that have made his uncle? Still, the doctor was appreciative.
     "Thank you, Mr. Duchene," he told my father. "I appreciate it, I really do, but it's probably better if the bottle stays with you. Besides the familial connection, the truth is, I'm not a brandy drinker. I tried it once, and I didn't like it."
     "Well, I'd like to get you something," my father insisted. "How about a box of cigars?"
     "I tried cigars once--Cubans, in fact--but I didn't like them either."
     Just then, there was a knock at the door and a younger doctor walked in.
     "Mr. Duchene, let me introduce you to my daughter. Some day, when I retire, she'll take over my practice."
     "Please to meet you," my father said, standing up to shake her hand. "I bet you're an only child."

Raising My Father  American Chimpanzee

Sunday, March 12, 2017

A Fortune Cookie Coincidence?

Many years ago, back when my lovely mother was still alive and my beautiful wife and I still considered ourselves newlyweds, we took both of our parents to a Chinese restaurant to give them the happy news that we were expecting our first baby.
     My wife and I were both nervous about surprising them with the revelation that they were about to become grandparents, so we made it all the way to the end of the meal without spilling the beans.
     The check came on a little black plastic tray that also held a fortune cookie for each of us. My father and father-in-law immediately began bickering over who would pay for the meal.
     "Hmm," I thought to myself, "I should invite them out to dinner more often."
     Grabbing one of the fortune cookies, I broke it open.
     Inside, my fortune read:
What you do in private will soon be public.
     Hmm... indeed.
Raising My Father  American Chimpanzee