My grandfather is getting married Saturday. He’s 89. I’ve not met the woman. I know her name, Barbara, but I don’t know her. My mom’s spent all of 4 hours with her. Some of my mom’s siblings have not met her. She’s got kids and her kids have kids, but we’ve not met any of them, either. Her husband’s dead. A prenup has been signed. A cruise has been booked.
They’ve already signed up to play the newlywed game.
It’s all happening so fast….
A year ago I worked at Patriot Software. 45 minutes south of where I live. 90 minutes of total driving. Traffic was a beast. Rather than attempt to slay it, I’d wait the rush out, drive south and visit grandpa. He’d recently lost his wife, Doris, whom grandpa affectionately called Maggie-Bell.
Grandpa Brown is a simple man. An old army cook. An old steel man. An old farming hand. He worked in an orchard, picking and spraying, until about 4 years ago. He works his own garden, votes republican, and never misses church. And goddamn can the man read.
I’d bring him books. Thick books. About presidents and wars and history and generals and politics. Mysteries. James Patterson. Tom Clancy. Biographies on old Western movie stars. Books thick enough to press linen. Books thick enough to stop bullets. He’d tear through them in a day. 600 pages in a sitting. Piles of books, gobbled up like pez. He’ll visit your house for a weekend and read the book you’ve been pecking away at for months in a single sitting. Hand it back to you. Shrug his shoulders. Ask what’s for dinner. Fall asleep at 7. Be up at 5, ready for the early bird special.
He’s a mobile, gentle, charming, docile, single man who nary has a disparaging word to say about anything or anyone—unless they’re some misguided liberal who doesn’t understand how the dems are destroying this great country. His great country. Yet, even then; even after being worked-up to a lather by ol’ Rush Limbaugh, he’ll only throw his hands up and laugh. This country, it ain’t it use to be. Taken in fullness, It’s part of his character. A kooky Grandpa trait. Makes him more loveable. A man outside of time, on a shelf, sitting, waiting to be with his Maggie-Bell in Heaven. A man with a character so true, he bleeds sincerity. A man that would cry at the mention of his dearly departed. That man, was getting married to a woman he met 3 months ago.
Grampa used to sit with his other, spouseless brothers at Church. But, the gang has been thinning out lately. Death plays a role, sure, but the main culprits are the hungry-eyed women on the other side of the aisle. Their husbands have croaked, leaving them with boring routines that, by and large, revolved around their own dearly departed. Cooking, cleaning, chatting, ignoring. Buying groceries. Watching reruns. Forgetting and reminding. Visiting the doctor. Routines. Safe, familiar routines. A spouse, even a bad one, leaves a hole after that many years.
Grandpa knew these women just wanted companions. So did he, which is why he took comfort in a close (male) friend who also lost his wife around the time Grandpa lost his Doris. Then that friend was lost to one of the widowed church temptresses. “They don’t do anything. The just sit around and hold hands. Maybe kiss. But they have meals together and see movies. Makes them feel good. Silly, if you ask me.”
SIlly. Silly Billy. Hey Silly Billy sitting in a pew. Hey Silly Billy with nothing to do. Hey Silly Billy won’t you sit with me. Hey Silly Billy have you met Barbie?
No one to talk to. No one to love. The ladies prowl the pews now, lonely, crafty lionesses. Ornate head coverings. Polished Pearls. Flowery perfume so strong it could rouse a boxer from a coma. They flirt. The listen. They hover. They flirt. The make brownies. They make cookies. They make scarves. They make eyes. A woman with that much dirt under her cleats knows what a man likes and she doesn’t wait around for him to initiate. Barbie pounced.
“Barbie”—my Grandpa’s pet name for her—”knows how to cook. She makes me feel like I’m 17 again.”
Note the order: cooking > than feeling young again. Because, for all the memories of youth inspired by meeting a new heartthrob, it’s the well worn trails and comforts of the present that count. For my grandfather, it’s: smarts at the Euker table, the ability to hold a conversation about politics, the King James Bible, mentholated cough drops, swing music, an appreciation for “American Made,” and, above all, cooking, sex and discounts.
Cooking got Barbie in the door. Any of the Brown side of the family will tell you that the way to gramp’s heart is through his tummy. He’s a slender fellow, but you’d never know how watching him eat. He can out eat all of us. He never refuses desert. He can smell Amish made apple pie from distances liken to a shark’s awareness of blood in an ocean.
But Barbie is a very different woman from the one my grandfather spent 60+ plus years of her life with. Doris, my grandmother, was an iron lady. You didn’t talk with her so much as you fenced with her. Thrust, parry, advance, thrust, dodge, repel, defend, counter, thrust. She had an active mind. Too active. Tireless and perseverating. Argumentative. Caring when it counted, supportive, energetic, strong, indomitable and fun—but a total hardliner and staunch conservative Christian bible-thumper who could not lose a fight. Could not. Like a dog with a jaw that had to be pried loose of your ass with a crowbar. In another life, with a different (or any) education, she would be top level sales rep, a ruthless lawyer, a marauding activist investor, the spark of a social movement. She was firebrand to shame all firebrands. Irreplaceable, incomparable, and, yet, as of this coming Saturday, January 14, 2017, replaced.
A different life. A different time. A different season, turn, turn, turn. Barbie was the now, and she just wants to have fun before the lights go out. Barbie is outgoing. Barbie wanted to dance. Barbie gets my grandfather to try new things. Barbie gets him away from his books. Barbie is someone we all need a little of in our lives.
“So Have fun,” the family decried. “Have fun. Be happy. We want you to be Happy. But you do not need to get married.” Not married? Clearly the collective view concerning couple’s sin, church, and wedlock is not shared by the generation raised to appreciate it (grandpa’s hope) and fear God’s wrath (grandma’s hope). At least not on my side of the family.
Fun was on the agenda. Oodles of it. Barbie had a condo. In Florida. Barbie wanted to go on a cruise. Barbie wanted Grandpa to come. Barbie want to the good times to keep rolling, baby.
Hey Silly Billy won’t you come with me. Hey Silly Bill let’s go out to sea.
But Barbie’s daughters were not so enthused. “We know how you are, mother. You won’t just cruise. You know it’s a (sssss)sin. You should be married or we insist you stay in separate spaces/rooms/cabins/beds.”
They had a point. You and I may not share it. My mother certainly—”who the fuck are these daughters, again? Who cares if the have sex, they’re a million years old for Chrissake!”—didn’t. But, the lovers met in church. The Church of Christ, no less. A church where women wear coverings, dancing is forbidden, and instruments cannot be used in worship. Appearances are big business at the Church of Christ.
Still, my grandpa debated it all. Marriage wasn’t in the original game plan. And, if we’re honest, appearances weren’t enough for him to pop the question. He knew what was in his heart and he knew he could be with a woman—an 80 year old woman—and not feel the need to consummate a relationship. He knew he would not be in sin if they cruised. The appearance of sin should be avoided, yes, but one (certainly this author) could argue that being 90 years old is strong start.
No good. Barbie’s daughters, it seems, are also hardliners. Something my grandfather can surely appreciate. And yet, In the end, the scales tipped because of something so pure and simple and central to his being that it could not be denied; so strong he could let go of his firebrand—his Maggie-Bell—and embrace another woman till death do us part: A discount.
My grandfather is getting married because it’s cheaper to cruise in one cabin than it is to keep up appearances in buying two. And, because newlyweds get a discount.
They marry Saturday. They sail Sunday.
Congratulations, Grandpa. Welcome aboard, Barbra. I hope this fills your remaining years with joy. I hope you have an amazing time. I hope the savings are incredible.
If and when Bonnie and I have a kid, we’ll sort the gran and gram titles then.