XLVII. For Whom the Bottle Tolls

January 18, 2012 — My friend R, a movie buff, who can recite every line in Bette Davis’s Now Voyager – often using specific lines against any youthful age I might imagine myself to be –, emailed me that the late Anthony Minghella as a writer “lays in events” as precursors of things to come. He said Minghella used in his movies a transition technique, a “pre-lapping” of sound or image to move to almost every new scene. R gave the example of The Talented Mr. Ripley, where “with Tom Ripley looking on bells tolling – as the bells continue to toll, ringing into a new scene the following day with Ripley spying from a terrace onto an al fresco café … introducing a sense of the incoming scene before the outgoing scene ends. I love this: leading with sound,” said R.

Two days ago I downloaded a digitally recorded album, that my father led me into, of Oriental-sounding music of British composer Albert W. Ketèlbey (1875-1959) – picturesque, exotic pieces such as “In a Persian Market,” “In the Mystic Land of Egypt,” “In a Monastery Garden,” and “Bells Across the Meadows.” Those of us of a certain age who know this music remember mystically their fathers’ playing it on 78 and 33 1/3 rpm recordings. The music is transporting.

This morning I experienced the ringing of my phone across the tolling of my dropping a large, empty wine bottle into the bottom of my recycle bin: “What’s that sound? Oh. The phone.” Kellie, my daughter, was calling. This event mashup transported me to idyllic days of our guzz— sharing bottles of wine. One such memory is that of her pre-wedding party 13 years ago where she, her future mother-in-law, and I stood in the kitchen of Kellie’s 1948 cracker box California home chowing down on corn chips and salsa while so marveling at the richly flavored, velvety Australian Black Opal Cabernet Merlot – so reasonably priced. We opened a second bottle just to confirm our tastes. Good research triangulates, so we opened another. Wise choice Kellie made here in mothers-in-law. I don’t know what the other people at the party were doing. It didn’t seem to matter.

A year or so ago I bought a bottle of red wine that was standing on a liquor store shelf because 1) I found the label art attractive, 2) it was on closeout sale for $4.99, and 3) it was from California, my favorite place for wine, among other things. As a precursor to happily anticipated events, I bore the corkscrew into the cork. It crumbled. I tried a strainer; then a funnel seated in a strainer. I poured the wine from one glass to another, through a strainer. Why didn’t I keep cheesecloth around? Determined to drink this California wine with the artistic label I had bought on sale, and with no one watching, I did. It was O.K., not the best, but I figured if I drank enough I wouldn’t mind so much picking the cork crumbs out of my teeth. I have a friend who not only brings her own wine to my parties but also pulls her own corkscrew out of her pocket. Another friend says, “Honey, if I want to drink the wine, and I don’t have a corkscrew, I’ll find a way to open it.” I’m comforted; I am not the only one determined to drink that bottle of wine, liberally garnished with crumbled cork or whatever.

This morning while humming “In a Monastery Garden” and visualizing their wine cellar, I read the latest post of my favorite blog, Lame Adventures (http://lameadvertures.wordpress.com). She unearthed from her cupboard a 1996 Celebrity Cellars Bob Dylan Collector’s Edition One Reserve red table wine from Manteca, California. She and a friend cracked it open; that is to say, the cork crumbled. Using their ingenuity, including having a backup bottle of wine on hand, she and her friend employed various methods to filter out the cork crumbs, including a cone-shaped coffee filter. Figuring that filtering through a coffee filter would have taken them until next Christmas, they hit upon an ingenious how-to: a flour sifter. Therefore, as a precursor to enjoying your next vintage bottle of wine, let me recommend storing in your wine cellar a flour sifter.

The party my friend brought her bottle of wine to – René Barbier’s Catalunya, a delightful Mediterranean white – was my Christmas party. (I had a backup bottle of Catalunya on hand, because I know it is my friend’s favorite – not that she would drink that much, we agreed.) Our health care aide insisted on getting Emma up and dressed for the party. Emma loved parties and loved to host. And so the aide got her up and dressed in red. Although she said nothing, but only smiled, Emma enjoyed the party, seated at the head of the table and later when she started to list in her dining chair, in the wheelchair, then finally to her hospital bed in the back of the living room and to sleep, where after most of the guests had left, five of us sat and talked for another hour. I believe Emma enjoyed it all. The guests, spiritual teachers, nurses and artists, enjoyed her, too. (We didn’t give her any wine, as far as I know, but the guests were amazed at how much she ate that night. That is because the party was a potluck (and bring your own wine), and Emma always eats like she hasn’t eaten in months when it’s not my cooking.)

After New Year’s, another friend came by for an afternoon, and we enjoyed the rest of my first friend’s bottle of Catalunya and some cheese with the Keebler butter crackers my friend had brought to the party.

My party was on December 17. That was one of the last times Emma was out of bed. After that, she got too weak to stand up or to even sit up in a chair without listing or tilting forward, and has experienced intermittent bouts of agitation. My two aides overlapped a few days ago and together they managed to get Emma into her wheelchair, tilt the backrest and shampoo her hair, in the living room, using a footbath tub and glasses of water to rinse. Had I known they were going to proceed in the living room, I would have had them use rug shampoo. But, really, the aides were neat and thorough.

I have reviewed my early chapters here, starting in May, and I am amazed at Emma’s steep decline. In those May days, I was still chasing her around the house. Our Hospice team is astute about documenting Emma’s decline; for if she shows no decline, Medicare won’t cover the Hospice service. The decline isn’t as immediately noticeable when you’re in the middle of it: it’s like raising children – you’re always there raising them and then all of a sudden they’re grown up and gone. Then you’re drinking wine with them and they’re getting married and now you’ve got grandchildren who text you on their iPhones.

–Samantha Mozart, January 18, 2012



8 Responses to XLVII. For Whom the Bottle Tolls

  1. Bettielou Wagner says:

    Beautifully written as always. I enjoy reading your stories. It was cool being in one. I was a Girl Scout, so always prepared……thus the cork screw.
    Thank you,

    • sammozart says:

      HAAA-ha-ha-ha-ha-haaa. I enjoy your always being prepared, Bettielou, and it was my great pleasure to include you as a character in this story. Thanks for your wonderful compliments, as always.

  2. Kellie says:

    I really felt like I was involved in this chapter. Thanks for sharing. Wish we were closer

    • sammozart says:

      Well, you WERE involved in this chapter, Kellie. Glad you enjoyed revisiting. I, too, wish we were closer.

  3. Virginia says:

    As usual, reliably witty and reliably poignant. Thanks for the shout out.

    • sammozart says:

      You are so welcome, Virginia — any time I can, I’ll give a shout out. Thanks for the inspiration, the pingback and the compliment!

  4. Robert Price says:

    Finding this chapter as I was finishing viewing another Anthony Minghella film I got to read it with the lovely Gabriel Yared score in the background as the credits continued to play. The wine had been put away before the film, but the soundtrack continues, even now, to accompany all that your lovely writing evokes; leading and setting me down gently at this place; anticipating where the new chapter will preside. Thank you again for sharing these stories.