05 November 2012


One of those treats you never think Pointy-capped Fate will actually allow you.

Let's call her Betty because I only confuse myself when I make up names.

I knew her name and history from over the 5 years, 9 months and 4 days that I served as my mother's care-giver. Wait! The first time maman mentioned Betty was after her theft of my daughters' heirloom jewels ~ otherwise I couldnt have matched Thievery with Racism. So let's say that when she called me over the weekend, I had been 'aware' of her as a gardenry friend of mum's for 4 years, 8 months, 14 days.

What made call so bizarre was that Betty kept saying how sorry we'd never met, how she'd met Pete and even stayed at Villa Thefti, how she'd heard so much about me from my mother

["Believe half," I told her. "Pure lip service. I monitored the calls so Mum wouldn't have wanted to put too many words wrong. But I know what you mean.")

On and on she churned, explaining herself and filling in the gaps when I felt I was already bursting with history from every time a letter arrived or my mother brought up her name.

I was constantly in danger of interrupting and asking after her "racist, spendthrift, wife-beating roué of a ne'er-do-well black son-in-law." When I finally replaced the receiver - ignoring all hints to invite her up to view the neglected paths and bloated corpse of the jungle previously known as 'garden'.

Actually, mustn't boast untruthfully: i have no idea WTF state the Land Beyond the Patio is in. It started that I didnt go down there, then I *couldn't* go down (for the usurping overgrowth and weeds and disintegrating paths.) Now I can hardly see down there and what I can isn't worth laying out tea and biscuits just to sadden a visitor.

Anyway, let me get on with the backstory so i can send it to my cherub girls.

  • Kitchen table, trapped over food, Maman droning on about usual gardenry stuff and people. Suddenly a new name pops up and interesting modulation in the maternal voice ...

  • "Betty ... mumble ... poor thing, sad story ... mumble .. daughter ... marriage ... black man ..."

    'Hang on, what's about black ... son-in-law wife-beater? Wastrel? Made off with family jewels? Embezzled fortune?'

    Mumble, sotto voce, head bowed in sadness ... "No, of course not - averted gaze - you know ... marrying a black man ... how would you like it if one of your girls came back with a ..."

    'With a black boyfriend? I'd need to know more before I formed any opinion ... wouldn't mind at all!'

    "Bet you would."

    'What from the colour of his skin? Of course not - my God, what a racist remark! I never expected that from you.'

    "Don't be so rude - how dare you call me a racist?"

    'Colourist, then, but I think you'll find the general view of that attitude is regarded as racist.'

    Oh la la! boot expression, twisted features, here we go ...

    "Why are you always so argumentative these days, always picking a quarrel."

    'Not always ... but i do have a quarrel with racism, as I do with theft.'

    You can imagine the rest: a bit of hurling, stomp from room, slamming of doors.

    Loipon, I finish my meal and think nothing of it. Usual usual for me, except in this case, rather un-usual.

    As is usual with her dementia oubliettia, Betty crops up again and - D.O-style - the exact same words, the same lowered voice as if death in the family ... but this time I am right there: "I know this one, she's the racist with the black son-in-law who beats his wife." Stir stir. More stamping and booting, 'There you go again, what's wrong with you? Always picking holes in everything.'

    "I don't call this 'everything' and yes, I do pick a hole with racism ... and filching. Don't forget, none of my family has received any explanation of why or where my jewels are.

    Honestly, it's more usual for people to be shouted down for racist tendencies - not pushed into them"

    . I say that I have no feelings about the colour of someone's skin, and you insist that I do. Most weird, and a bit troubling."

    Wait a few months, letter from Betty, her name on the back of the envelope.

    "Letter from a 'Betty' - is this 'racist' Betty, the unfortunate with the black in-law who stole his wife's jewels and refuses to return them?"

    Another year and Anna due over, as well as my brother and his wife. Local betting is that my gentle, innocenter, sis-in-law will be chosen to take A to one side and hand back the jewels with no more said. End of ruckus.

    One of our many disputes over my treatment as an automaton slave, this time over my announcement to one and all that, if they mention needing transport anywhere, and if my mother does her usual offhand 'Oh Chris will take you' - Bwarp! Error! Won't happen.

    "This is the way works:
    • You mention that you need a taxi, whatever; that you need to leave because the Lee-Hookers are leaving and can drop you orf.
    • My mother immediately says 'Oh no need to leave right now, Christopher can take you.'
    • You take your cue from the Gullands or Suzie, or Tom over there, who have shown manners and consideration in this situation, and you go, "Hold on. We haven't checked with Chris yet. It might not suit him."
    • Come to me with however sweet a smile and tell me that my mother has appointed me your driver. FUGGEDIT. Comprende?"

    Which is what i proceeded to say, loudly, to the assembled company.

    Rather like those signs in shops asking 'Please do not ask for change/to use our toilet. A refusal might offend'

    Please do not assume I will be your chauffeur on my mother's say-so alone. My refusal will be intended to cause maximum embarrassment and offence.

  • That had been our argument, with maman countering, 'Well, it's my car.' Duhh, so?

    Pumped by this offensive non sequitur, I said

    'You know what? I was about to ask Anna to send me a few photos of her with some of her black pals - just to ram home the racist argument - but you know what? I couldnt think of an explanation for why I was asking. It is so outside my daughters' thinking that it would make no sense.'

    All these memories were going thru my mind as Betty was rabbiting on down the phone, wishing we'd met, how odd it must be getting her call out of the blue, a complete stranger, yak drone gush.

  • Best guests ~ for her 14th birthday at the local youth club, Anna shocked Stephanie and me by warning us beforehand that she had invited some black pals and was this ok? Dude, Steph blew her top - what in any of our behaviour had we ever implied that we'd even notice the colour of her pals? We were shocked.

    After the party, i asked Anna if she'd noticed that it had been her 'black' pals who'd stayed behind to clean up.

    "Didnt see none yo' whitey homies offering to tidy."

    Steph: OK, Chris, that's enough.

    The next time I saw hr with her black pals, I asked Anna "Isnt that one of your birthday pals who had the manners and coolness to help clean up?"

    Yeh, dad, Malcolm, and Winston and Evon ...

    "I'm going to have a word with them - hey Malcolm. I'm Anna's dad, i want to thank you for being so cool about tidying up after that party ... that Winston there? He helped, too. Very grateful. Class act."

    Huge beam, manly black handshake - yo winstone, get your ass over here, listen to this, soo cool.'

    Later at home, Steph: 'Your younger daughter is Miss Congenial Popularity - I gather you thanked her friends who tidied up. Good move.'

    Anna: Dad! That was like soo nice of you. Winston was like 'omg, your dad is soo cool.'

    Me: So, have they invited you to join their gang? The Queen Anne Crips? You now an honorary sistah?

    Stephanie: See? Then you go and spoil it.

    When Anna was over, with P and C also in residence (and no, there was no handover of my girls' jewels), I told her the Racist Betty saga and she was (like) "Dad! I should of brought one of my black friends. Imagine what Ya-ya would have said!"

    "'Have' brought, darling. Have. Nai, there'd have been a few 'expressions.'

    When Betty and I finally meet, I shall tell her this tale - but this blog is read by many more than I realise, it will get back to her via 'family' by the time I've posted.

  • 1 comment :

    Anet said...

    Hi Aleko,
    just had to follow the link from the Corfu Grapevine. Had a quick glance through and got to say luv the blogs, Especially Betty, lol.