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  • Writer's pictureLizzy Shannon

Bumps in the Road

A bit of a rollercoaster of emotions going on, right now. Dad hasn’t had a vacation in several years, so we decided that I could accompany him on a 5 day trip to Enniskillen, to give him a bit of a break. At his age he needs someone with him to interpret when people mumble at him, and to take care of all the fiddly bits that involve travel, including the driving.

The Manor House Hotel is a place where he and Mum came frequently, taking one of the cottages so they could bring their two Labradors. This time he booked two single rooms in the hotel, and left poor Cooper at a kennels.

Our first impressions of the hotel were far from good, I’m afraid. When we approached the reception desk, one of the two, (let's call her 'N') greeted us. When I say ‘greet’ I mean that she demanded our names and shoved two pieces of paper across the desk for each of us to sign. Then she told us we’d need to book for dinner. Used to telling restaurants what time we require seating we decided on 7:30pm, only to be told that they might be able to squeeze us in at 8:30pm at the earliest. I asked if they had a short list for cancellations, and she grudgingly put me on that. Dad asked her why the dining room was so booked up and she informed us that they had a bus tour in and they took priority. She offered us a booking in their cellar bistro-type restaurant, but Dad had his heart set on what he’d seen displayed on the hotel’s menu in the lobby.

Then N told me my room wasn’t ready, even though it was almost 2:00pm. If she’d sounded regretful, it wouldn’t have mattered so much, but she said it with that ‘jobsworth’ attitude with unbridled glee in her eyes. It was the only time she looked anything other than completely bored out of her mind.

Then she told us to ‘sit!’ and wait for the porter, who would show Dad to his room. He arrived, assumed we were a couple rather than father and daughter, and started into his spiel. No matter that I tried to tell him we already knew about the cellar bistro, he took us out of our way to the foot of the bistro stairs to show us, and then said, “The dining room’s full because the old age pensioners on the bus can’t get down the stairs. Or they don’t want to,” and he chuckled. Is it me, or was that rather in bad taste?

He talked at us the whole way up to Dad’s room. His attitude was of that old-fashioned contemptuous snobbery that one might have expected in the days of DOWNTOWN ABBEY, or something, but in 2013? Laughable.

Rather than waiting around for my room to be ready, we abandoned the bags and went for a walk around the grounds, while Dad reminisced about the times he and Mum spent here. We had a very pleasant dinner, which was brought forward to 7:00pm, due to the pensioners having gone off on a boat dinner cruise. The waiting staff made up for any bad first impression. They were helpful, attentive, and funny.

Yesterday we went to the Ulster American Folk Museum in Omagh, and spent several hours touring round the ‘old world’ cottages and farms, ending up at the ‘new world’ imported cabins and houses from the east coast of the States. It was a fascinating experience, enhanced by the fact that Dad actually remembers his grandmother living in cottages like some of the ones we saw, and he talked at length with each curator. I could tell they were delighted and each visit took an average of twenty minutes, unlike the other attendees, who breezed in and out of the buildings in less than five.

Now, if you’ve read my blogs from the past, you know that Dad often cannot help himself and says whatever comes first to mind. I’ve been here almost four weeks, and he has restrained himself very well. But when we took a break between the old and new world exhibits to have some lunch, his resolve cracked.

“I don’t feel like very much,” he complained, looking at the hot meals behind the glass at the counter.

“How about those sandwiches?” I asked.

“Those might do.” He peered at them and I described what they were. “How do you know this?” he demanded.

“I’m looking at what’s between the bread.”

When the girl asked us what we wanted, he had her repeat what I’d already said, and selected a chicken salad sandwich.

“Are you having sandwiches?” he asked me.

I shook my head. “No. They don’t have any gluten free bread.”

“What are you having, then?” he demanded.

I looked along the counter. “I don’t think I have much choice.” The only thing that wasn’t battered in breadcrumbs or between wheat flour bread was a curry and rice.

I ordered that, and as the girl piled rice onto my plate and added the curry, Dad said loudly, “You’re a pig, eating all that. A pig. You’ll put on pounds eating that.”

“That’s enough, Dad,” I told him, resolving to talk to him later about respect and tact.

I ate a third of the curry; exactly how much I wanted to eat. Dad seems to think that you have to eat everything that’s put on your plate. He couldn’t get past that my plate had been piled high, and couldn’t appear to see that I’d left two thirds of it.

I brought the subject up when we were alone in a quiet place. I have to enunciate and speak loudly as he is pretty hard of hearing. The only way I could broach the subject without causing upset was to glomm onto something one of the curators had said at the exhibit we just left. She’d joked about Irish humor.

So I said, “Talking of Irish humor… it being different from American. I’d really appreciate it if you didn’t call me a pig in public again; it’s not exactly respectful.”

Dad laughed uproariously and I realized there was no point in pursuing it. In his mind he thinks he’s really funny.

Then at dinner last night he said, “I would only eat half of what you do.”

I almost choked on my starter-for-main-course salad. He consistently eats almost double of what I do, and has desserts and cookies after lunch and dinner every day, whereas I don’t or opt for fat-free yogurt. But he has this thing about Americans and our appetites.

He was harping back to the curry. “That lunch you had today was huge. I don’t know how you stuffed yourself with all that.”

I swallowed my ire. I knew he actually thought he was helping, and meant no malice. “Okay, Dad,” I said. “A) I cannot eat wheat or gluten and that was the *only* thing on the menu I could have. B) I’m over twenty-one, and C) I know what I’m doing. If you remember, I only ate a third of that curry.”

“But it’s hard to control your weight,” he insisted, looking concerned.

I dropped it. Yes, I’ve put on about 6 pounds since he last saw me, but big deal. When he last saw me I was burning up and out, my thyroid whittling all my body fat to nothing and pretty much killing me, a day at a time. I resent very much having to justify myself. It dragged me back to when I was fourteen and was told by my parents amongst other things that I was ‘putting on the beef’. Only then did I begin to have a weight problem, and fought it all through most of my adult life until a few years ago.

I changed the subject, but the matter nagged at the back of my mind all evening, and even this morning when I woke up. All I can do is ignore him and remember that he means well.

Dad had had the salmon the night before, and he phoned me before we were due to go down to breakfast this morning to tell me he’d had diarrhea all night and had been very ill. He thought the salmon was the culprit. I told him to stay in bed and try to get some sleep. At age 88, it’s not a good thing to have any form of food poisoning; it’s very hard on the body.

I went down to breakfast by myself, and just by chance the manager passed my table and said hello. The first time I have seen any management in the hotel at all. Unbidden he stopped and came close to the table. I told him what had happened to Dad.

His first reaction was, “I’ll have to ascertain the incubation period,” and he interrogated me about the time of the meal and when Dad got sick exactly. I felt he was more concerned about proving it wasn’t his salmon than about one of his elderly guests being ill. His evasive manner seemed very slithery and reptilian to me.

“I’ll have to check into it and get back to you,” he said. But at least he did ask if Dad needed anything. I told him not at that point, but I’d let him know.

I came up to my room to write this afterward, and just got a phone call from him, asking me to stop by reception and give him some more details.

I will. At my convenience.


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