Annoyed with Old Flames

Never underestimate the spunk of a mother-in-law who is almost 100.

Never underestimate the spunk of a mother-in-law who is almost 100.

Kate’s Norwegian mother, Betty, in her 97th year, remained in Carpinteria in her tiny apartment while thousands of fire fighters battled one of the state’s major wildfires of the last, maybe, 1,000 years.

We drove through dense smoke and particulates the size of golf balls for much of 90 miles a week ago to be with Betty.

Grandmother Stays

Yesterday during a break in the Carp fires we invited Betty to drive back to LA and stay with us until the dangers of the inferno creeping toward Carp became a news item of the past.

Betty passed on our invitation because we keep our condo too cold.

I said I’d turn up our heat and explained that things could get pretty warm in her apartment if the fire leapt the freeway two blocks away.

“I’ve had a good life. I’m staying,” she said. “I’m ready to go.”

“Go where? To the beach when the fire jumps the freeway?” Betty lives a few blocks from the Pacific Ocean.

“No, I’m ready to die. I hate water. Especially salt water. Thanks for everything but it’s time for you to go back to your home.”

The rest of my pleas fell on deaf ears since Betty removed her hearing aids. I considered wrestling the hearing aids back into her head.

Betty is half my size and uses a walker. Still she could bite me, and even if I confiscated her dentures I figured she could inflict a nasty pinch.

Nor did I want to chance a charge of elder abuse even though I am a senior citizen myself. We’d probably both end up in the hoosegow or the nut house.

I got the feeling she might knee me if I moved on her. I was being paranoid since the only way Betty can raise either foot is to lasso her toes with a rope and heft up that foot.

We made certain Betty had a bug-out-bag and Kate packed her meds and silk pajamas. Yep, she’s still a silk aficionado — she may be sneaking hormones we don’t know about.

We hugged her goodbye.

We alerted three of her neighbors (within twenty five feet) and they vowed to load Betty into their vehicles if the volunteer evacuation became a mandatory evacuation.

At 3 am our phone rang in Bel Air. A crazy lady demanded to speak to someone we never heard of. Again and again she called us.

I thought about turning off the phones but Kate said her mother might call. So we left the phones on.

Lucky we did.

An hour later Kate’s mother phoned to report a wall of fire closing in on her. She was, to paraphrase Mark Twain, as calm as a Christian with a grand slam in Bridge. Betty and her 102 year old Bridge partner beat all comers who are foolishly enough to challenge them.

God help the raging infernal if it comes any closer to Carpinteria. I’m sure Betty will attack it with a vengeance bordering on character. She has a fire extinguisher the size of a can of Coke.


Kate’s mother is safe …. Probably asleep. Her temporary care givers continue to keep an eye on her. They are hesitant to wake her. Let sleeping bears lie.

We are in our condo in LA. Air is clear. Sun is out. Wind is down. Brave firefighters have won for now.



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Jaron Summers wrote dozens of primetime television and radio programs, including those for HBO, CBS, ACCESS TV and CBC. He conceived the TV and Film Institute of Canada. Funded by the University of Alberta and ITV, Jaron ran the Institute for 12 years, donating his services for a decade.

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