Sunday, April 26, 2015

Along Came Ms. Polly ...

When I was very young, prior to the birth of Sister Person, my parents placed me in the care of one Ms. Margie, who was quite possibly the most amazing woman ever. It was she who introduced me to the coma-inducing drone of the weather channel, a practice that works to this day, and who inspired me to potty train at an early age, in order to be a Big Girl*. Ms. Margie was the paragon by which all other future babysitters would be judged, and I was a tough critic, anyway. I can't really remember many sitters after Margie, and that's partially because my mother rarely used them. I mean, sure, my parents went out on dates and ... did something with us. Sent us to neighbors' houses? Got teenagers to come over? Had my grandparents come up/down as kind of a weird, torturous sort of vacation from their lives as retirees? I think all of these apply, actually, but like I said, my memory on this is not too great. Unless we are talking about Miss Polly. Because I remember that woman clearly.

Now, my recollection of this time period is pretty hazy, but I think my mother had just started going back to work and was in need of a babysitter during the summers, when my sister and I weren't at camps or over at friends' houses, so our then-neighbors recommended Polly. She was beloved by their twin sons, and so naturally, my mom was all for hiring her. Sigh.

Okay, so imagine if Sophia from Golden Girls and Marie from Everybody Loves Raymond were unceremoniously meshed together with only their negative attributes and you might get an idea of what Polly both looked and acted like. Honestly, it's comical now; just yesterday, I was telling Three about the woman (actually, our conversation is what inspired this post), and he was nearly dying from laughter in the middle of the produce aisle. But at the time? I loathed that woman. From the get-go, I wondered if she only liked dealing with little boys because the second my mom left, her nice facade disappeared and some she-demon took over. Everything I did warranted raspy scolding, from breathing too loud (???) to putting the spoons in the dishwasher incorrectly. And by God, if I interrupted COPS or Rescue 911? I might as well have pantsed the Pope.

If this is all she did, I suppose I could have just chocked it up to her being a grumpy old lady, but of course, that would have made for an exceptionally boring post that would have ended with "pantsed the Pope." Not a bad way to end a blog post, I suppose, but not what I'm going for. And that's what leads me into a very, very particular story that feels like it could have happened yesterday.

My mom dropped Sister Person and me off, and Polly presented herself as she normally did: perky and happy to see us. Of course, that mask was removed the second the door closed, and she quickly rushed us into the kitchen, telling us that, if we sat quietly during the special edition of Rescue 911, she would let us watch a movie. This never happened. I'd seen the VCR below her TV but had been forbidden to touch it, even if we brought our own tape, so this gave me a very confusing mix of emotions: elation and suspicion. It's not like I expected this woman to have an extensive collection of kid-appropriate movies hidden in her cabinets, so I half-expected her to laugh maniacally as she pulled out a taped collection of Unsolved Mysteries** or something. True to her word, however, as soon as the special ended, she called us into the living room and popped in a tape with a simple grunt that I took to mean, "Good work at being quiet, children." After rewinding it***, she pushed play and went tottering about her condo, muttering to herself the whole time. The movie started innocuously enough, with a very young Elijah Wood going to stay with his aunt and uncle while his dad is out of the country on a business trip.

If a feeling of dread just washed over you, yes. Yes, you are correct. An elderly babysitter had just introduced two children under the age of 12 to The Good Son. If you haven't seen this movie and don't want to click over to Wikipedia to read up on it, I'll sum it up for you: Macaulay Culkin plays a sociopathic child who killed his infant brother and then tries to kill almost everybody else and then dies when his mother chooses to let him fall off a cliff. I remember my sister hiding her eyes a lot, and I could not, for the life of me, figure out what prompted this cinematic torture. Was this because I'd defiantly smacked my lips as I ate my sandwich a few days before? Did I make her miss the opening sequence of one of her TV shows when I didn't hear her call for me at the pool a week ago? Is this what she thought of me and my sister? Was she wishing she could be like Henry?

I was too scared to say anything. I kept a wary eye on the woman the rest of the day, even while she lounged next to the pool later in the afternoon. Ms. Polly had a very eerie aura about her, and every look she shot my way I imagined was a sinister sneer, evidence of her plotting my demise. My sister seemed oblivious, despite her obvious terror just a few hours prior, but I was not about to let her be sacrificed to a woman I now deemed to be nefarious. I'm pretty sure that I was wide-eyed and skittish for every second following the movie until my mother showed up with open arms. I bolted out the door and to the car, ultimately discovering that I definitely have a flight drive and would leave everyone to their own devices in a time of emergency, as I did with my younger sister. But I figured my mom could probably take Ms. Polly if it came to that. Mom told me I'd behaved rudely, but I didn't care. I'd just escaped the claws of Polly the Punisher.

That was actually one of the last times I ever went to Ms. Polly's condo that summer, and the following year, I made sure that I was enrolled in as many extracurricular activities as possible. I also managed to convince my mother that I was perfectly capable of taking care of myself when she and Dad weren't around. After all, I was three years older than my sister and probably wouldn't make her watch a movie about a murderous child (unless she really pissed me off). Several years later, after I'd graduated from high school, I discovered she'd passed away from old age and not from, as I'd hoped, some sort of rabid dog attack caused by evil ritualistic shamans. Of course, I feigned somberness and wished condolences to the former neighbor boys who still, for some inexplicable reason, adored the woman. Some things I will never understand.

RIP, Ms. Polly. I'm sorry that I can never remember your last name. But also, seriously? The Good Son???

* Just as a disclaimer: I made this decision because a lot of the other kids Margie watched were at least six months older than me, and, being the competitive person that I am, I wanted to be just as Grown Up as they were. Ahhh, youth, when adulthood meant that I didn't piss in my own pants. She never pushed it on me, though, because she kinda understood that it was entirely appropriate for a girl my age to still use diapers. This doesn't mean that my mother wasn't relieved by the event, either, although my sister made up for that a few years later (hahahaha, "poo poo pants!" Okay, no one else gets that joke because they are not in my family, but Danger certainly understands and is probably scowling right now. Don't worry, Sister Person, this story will be told at a later date, in conjunction with my epic pooping in the pool tale.).
** Unsolved Mysteries both fascinated and terrified me. I loved watching the reunion stories, but the abduction (both by aliens and by people) ones scared me enough that it still makes me wary of the dark. Don't even get me started on the episodes focused on unsolved murders. Ugh. I still have nightmares about the woman who was kidnapped at a payphone.
*** This is important. If she had to rewind it, the movie had been watched, so it's not like she didn't know what she was exposing us to. It wasn't a rental, either, so quit trying to give this crazy old bat excuses.
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