Thursday, May 11, 2017

Identity Theft

by Madeleine Kando

My mother-in-law, Yopie, is turning a hundred this year. She lives very very far away from her children, her grandchildren and her great grandchildren, of whom she has so many that she cannot remember most of their names.

Yopie has always been better at remembering faces. Voices as well, until she turned deaf, first in one ear, as a result of a severe ear infection, then in the other a few decades ago, give or take. Now that she is embarking on her second century of life, a name or a face is not even a guarantee for success, as you will soon find out.

On her hundredth birthday, she will receive a letter in the mail from the President, congratulating her on her long life. She insists on all of us being there when the letter arrives, her five children and their respective wives and husbands, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

So we pack our bags, my husband, the children and I, and resign ourselves to the prospect of spending our holiday in freezing Holland instead of beautiful Bali. With some effort we convince my husband’s older brother Sam, who has settled in Greece after a divorce from his English lawyer wife, to join us. He never leaves his goat farm, you see, not even for one day. He is a recluse and hates to travel, always using his goats as an excuse to stay away from family events.

Yopie has always been small and frail, but when she opens the door and we see her standing there, leaning on her cane, it takes us a while to recover. She has shrunk so much that it feels like we are hugging a midget. But her smile is still the same, her wrinkled face still youthful and radiant. Why is it that old people always look so happy? You would think that a hundred years on this wretched earth would leave some marks, but it is the opposite. Go figure..

After our embrace, stroking of hair, touching of faces and hands, Yopie says: 'Oh, Sam, I am so happy you are here! How are the goats?' 'No, it's me, John, the younger brother from America' says my husband. 'Ah', Yopie says with a smile and nods wisely.

The first day is taken up with a struggle with jetlag, trying to take in all the new impressions through a fog of exhaustion caused by a lack of sleep. Yopie’s apartment is comfortable and clean. She is well taken care of by a robust Dutch health care system that long ago decided that tax money spent on the care for the elderly was money well spent. The English are a practical people. They know they all will get old one day.

Yopie keeps asking: 'When is Johns going to get here?' 'It's me, mom, I am here' John keeps saying. Yopie smiles wisely and nods.

As the days go by, Yopie becomes more and more depressed. She is so saddened that John hasn’t arrived. She talks and shares the latest information and every half hour asks my children or me: 'When is John going to arrive?'

When my husband’s family gets together, John is the one that has an irrational need to make things ‘work’. Sam is far too impulsive and self-centered and the other brothers prefer to keep things simple, unemotional and businesslike.

But my husband is devastated by Yopie's sadness. He almost wishes he hadn't come. What's the point of spending thousands of dollars on airfare only to find out that you have never arrived? My daughter, always the diplomat, says Yopie will come to her senses once Sam shows up.

Sam calls. He says he cannot come because one of his does gave birth to a twin, but now has a vaginal prolapse, and needs attending to. We explain the situation, that his presence is vital to prevent Yopie from sliding into a depression... or worse.

Yopie, in the meantime, has taken it upon herself to make our stay miserable by blaming everyone present for John’ absence. ‘You never loved him. You always teased him and now he doesn't want to see me any more.’

We finally convince Sam to come, insisting that a two-hour flight will turn this nightmare scenario into a dream come true. The next day Sam arrives. He has also shrunk, but not as much as Yopie.

We all pile into Yopie's bedroom, Sam in the lead, excited to see Yopie's despair turn into joy. And sure enough, Yopie's face lights up as she gives Sam a big hug. ‘How big you are, Gus’ she says, mistaking Sam for one of her grand-children. Then her eyes wander off and she adds: 'If only John were here...'

And she strolls away down the hall, leaning on her walker, full of despair that John has not arrived. leave comment here