Friday, May 04, 2007

My Octopus

My Octopus

from Jacqueline
(written on Wednesday)

“The family, that dear octopus from whose tentacles we never quite escape, nor in our innermost hearts never quite wish to.” Dodie Smith

Some weeks are ordinary weeks, when we amble or scramble through our days according to whatever it is we’re supposed to be doing. Then there are times of worry, concern, or joy and expectation, and some weeks you get a little of everything, and your family will loom large in all that happens. I’ve been thinking of family a lot lately, about that many-limbed creature Dodie Smith (yes, the 101 Dalmatians creator) wrote about in her play, “Dear Octopus.” I come from a large extended family, due mainly to my mother’s mother, who had ten children. My people are all over the world now, cousins here, there and everywhere. Cousin John is publisher of a newspaper in Australia, and about a year ago didn’t even know his own paper had carried a review of one of my books – won’t let him forget that in a hurry. But back to my Octopus.

My parents arrive from the UK today. This is a big deal, because fifteen months ago my mother had a minor stroke – minor, but big enough to cause a heap of problems. (And would you believe, she emailed me because she didn’t want to wake me in the middle of the night. I flicked on my email in the morning and received a message that read, “Have had minor stroke. Don’t worry, am being taken to the hospital. Don’t leave a message on the machine, because your father always manages to erase them.”) Anyway, having hardly ever even taken an aspirin in her life, she was prescribed a cocktail of statins, blood-thinners and other heart-related thingummys, and she took it as a personal affront to her well-being and reputation for good health. Much to the chagrin of our family, she has argued with doctors for the past year, flashing any old newspaper report with a story along the lines of, “Statins kill – new research stymies doctors.” Or “Warfarin – the truth you should know.” And she was not allowed to fly, which is why I have been to the UK five times since she had her stroke. But she did laugh when I said something about confiscating the broomstick. Finally the doctors gave her the go-ahead to travel, so she and Dad arrive today. And I am beside myself with worry, even though I’ve made sure they upgraded to wider seats to avoid cramping, and she’s promised to walk up and down the aisles every twenty-five minutes. It’s an eleven hour flight – she will have lost ten pounds by the time they arrive.

And my brother was supposed to pick them up from the airport, because I’m leaving the house at 4:30am to travel to Washington on Thursday morning for Malice Domestic (see you there, Patty – mine’s a G&T, and I’ll need it!). But we know what happens to best laid plans. My brother’s dog was bitten by a black widow spider yesterday, and John spent six hours with Quincy at the vet’s office, sitting on the floor and stroking his dog’s head, while they gave the poor pooch antibiotics and anti-toxins and put him on an IV. I saw them both last night, and am not sure who looked worse – John or Quincy. That poor German Shepherd brings new meaning to the word, “Sick as a dog.” So, I’ll be at LAX to pick up my parents, late, and then will take them over to my brother’s house. Yes, some tentacles are close – he lives just around the corner from me. I’m sure he thinks it’s way too neighborly for comfort.

And then there was the good news this week, the lovely news, that my cousin, Fritha - who has known such sadness in her life, especially when her Mum passed away about eleven years ago at the age of 41, just after Fritha went away to university – had given birth to a baby girl. Ottalie May weighed in at 7lb 2oz, and gave us all a bit to worry about when mother and baby had to remain in the hospital for what were described as “a few problems.” But they are home now, safe and well, and Fritha and her partner, Richard, are overjoyed with their lovely daughter. The photo proves my thesis that all newborns have more than a passing resemblance to Winston Churchill – but we all think Ottalie's utterly gorgeous.

So, that’s my family this week. My dear octopus. We may moan about our octopus at times, we wonder what the younger ones are up to, and about the more senior tentacles, how they are faring. We weather our storms, pray through our losses and celebrate our joys, which may be as simple as seeing a son at a ballgame, or as grand as a daughter married (or the other way around). We visit hospitals and graduations, we welcome newborns, boyfriends, fiancées and fiancés (not necessarily in that order), and we go on, always attached, even when we wish we weren’t. And remember it’s also true, that family doesn’t always mean you have the same blood running through your veins. My best-friend’s daughter, my God-daughter, is like my own. I’ve just booked my flight to go to her wedding, and even though I do not really suit the color green, she has asked me to wear green because all the family are going for green in honor of her husband to be, who will be wearing his green kilt when they are married in August and he becomes part of their family. Oh, the things you do for your octopus.

Have a lovely weekend. Talk to your Octopus. Tickle a tentacle now and then, and remember that, for better or worse, you are joined.


  1. “Have had minor stroke. Don’t worry, am being taken to the hospital. Don’t leave a message on the machine, because your father always manages to erase them.”

    Gotta love the British.

  2. Thanks for the octopus update, Jacqueline. :-) I hope your mum really enjoys her hard-earned freedom in the USA with her own version of the familial octopus.

    Yep, gotta love the British. My mother in law is a London lass and has been held up going home to England for almost two years because of a series of minor medical problems. The last one is due for surgery late this month, then after that we want to get her home so she can sigh and sink her ten piggly-wigglies into English soil and be content. She's a 'little battler' - to use an Aussie term. And it seems that your mum is made of the same stuff. :-)

    Enjoy Malice Domestic! Wish I was there too. :-) I do so hope Quincy gets better soon - poor pooch. Even the biggest dogs are like puppies when they are hurt. And joyous welcome to Ottalie May - and wonderous happiness to Frith and her partner.

    Take some deep breaths, Jacqueline, and go enjoy the weekend. The octopus can twiddle its own tentacles for awhile until you get back.


  3. Lovely post, as usual, Jackie.

    I know we've talked about this before, but I can relate to your mother's "Have had minor stroke" email. When I was living in Paris, in the days long before email, I remember getting a letter from my mom that started: "By the time you read this I'm sure everything will be fine."

  4. Yes, jd, the Brits are masters of understatement. And Louise, your story made me laugh - I hate it when my mother starts a call with, "Now, I don't want you to worry, but ...." and my heart takes a great leap in my chest.

    Marianne - thanks for your good wishes for Quincy, sadly, the news is not good. It transpired that the reason the spider bite was so bad, was that he had a "mass" close to his spleen. Quincy passed away following an otherwise successful surgery at 1:30am this morning, with my brother stroking his head. He was a great dog, though we always used to laugh at his antics - if he were a person, he would have been a Jerry Lewis, or a Danny Kaye of a character. When I called to hear the latest news, my brother and his wife were taking a calming walk with my parents, and talking about Quincy, remembering him, and the part he played in our family - our octopus.

  5. Oh, I'm so sorry about Quincy. :-( My heartfelt condolences to your brother and his family.

    This so reminds me of an essay written by author Allen Steele about the life and passing of his dog Jake, entitled "Jake's Last Stand". It's very moving. The really odd thing is that I posted my review of that particular book on my Muse du Jour blog this week, and it mentions that essay. Seriously weird...

    Anyway, warmest regards to you and your family.


  6. Great post, Our J.

  7. Yes, the octopuses' tentacles wiggle with more than just the people of blood, relations, and family-by-choice friends. Dogs, horses, all the ones with lovely eyes who so easily can stare into our souls.

  8. Oh, you are so right, Alice, that family just expands with every living thing that it can encompass with those tentacles.

  9. Hi Jacqueline,

    I dare say I've had a sheltered life, but last Friday was the first time I'd come across this family=octopus metaphor.

    Then on Saturday we went to see Noel Coward's 'Hay Fever' at the theatre (we must be middle class or something!) and much of the programme was given over to an article focusing on exactly the same idea, complete with octopus pictures and everything!

    Small world. Very sorry about Quincy by the way. I'm still on my first dog, and I dread to think how I'll feel when the time comes...

  10. Robert - thanks for your comment - it's clearly the week for octopii. And first dog or fifth, that grief is the same when it's their time.