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Grand Prairie, Texas 1988

It’s weird waking up to an orange room.  See the sun comes through the orange curtains and turns the whole room that color.  I don’t think the curtains were that color when she bought them.  Oh just so you know, I’ve been at the most dreaded abode of Granny S. Preston, Esq.

For three days.




And that’s not including the half a day when we first got here and Aunt Iris made spaghetti.  Actually that spaghetti’s been the best part of the trip so far.  Not that you’d know it hearing Granny complain.  And that’s Aunt Iris!  I hate to think what’s gonna happen when it’s Missy’s turn to cook.  It’s like if you’re a babe she does nothing but trash your cooking and if you’re a dude she’ll come at you with those gnarly zombie lips.

I jump off the couch and knock over my backpack with all my make-up homework.  Probably should have zipped that up.  Oh yeah, I forgot to mention I’ve been staying in the living room.  First night me, Dad and Missy were set up in one of the guest rooms.  Most epic mistake.  Definitely not a way I ever want to wake up again.  So since then I’ve been camping out here with my cousins Eddie and Kerry.  Eddie’s on the Lay-Z-Boy and Kerry’s in her Jem sleeping bag on the floor.  This is actually the first day Kerry hasn’t woken me up.  I’m pretty sure she’s gonna grow up to be a cruise director.  It’s always ‘let’s do this for Granny’ or ‘let’s make that for Granny.’  Little hyperactive monkey’s a total suck-up.  There’s some creaking down the hall.  People are starting to wake up.  Better grab the bathroom before it looks like something out of “Aliens.”

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

I’m in the shower thirty seconds before someone’s knocking on the door.

“Marko, are you in there?”

“I’m Bill Uncle Ron.”

“I’m Kurt.”

“Oh, sorry.”

“S’alright.”  Okay, so we’re not the tightest family.  It’s really just this one guy I can’t remember.  Better finish up quick before there’s a mob.  I’m barely dressed when Eddie barges in.

“Dude, knock.  I could’ve been naked.”

“Huh?  Oh yeah.”  Eddie’s most definitely the muscle-brain type.  He practically shoves me out the door into a crowd of aunts and uncles.

“Bill!”  Great.  Kerry.  She waves her hand and comes bouncing toward me.  “How’d you sleep?”

“Uh, okay I guess.”

“That’s good.  Are you ready for Granny’s party?”  The way she smiles kind of reminds me of Ted.  Wonder what he’s doing.

“Uh, sure.”

“Great!  You wanna help me with the decorations?”  There’s that smile again.  Missy did say we should help out.

“Yeah.  Sure Kerry.”  She almost pulls my arm off dragging me to the dining room.

“I know you’re going to like these.”  Uh-oh.  I don’t like the sound of that.  There’s a weird twist in my stomach when I see what’s all over the table: musical notes cut out of colored construction paper.  Quarter notes.  Or are those eighth notes?  One of these days I’ve gotta ask somebody.  “Pretty neat, huh?  I wanted to do a whole musical theme.  I made the notes, me and Eddie bought her some of the 78s she listened to when she was a girl and I was hoping you could maybe write a song for her.”  Bogus.  As far as Granny knows I can only play that plastic kazoo I had when I was five and that’s how I like it.

“I don’t know Kerry.  I mean I don’t even have my guitar with me.”  That’s the truth.

“Oh.  Well, that’s okay.  We can say the decorations are from both of us.”  Suddenly I hear the squeak of a walker coming down the hallway.  Kerry throws a place mat over the notes.

“Good morning Bill darling.”  Heinous.  I’d know that gnarled-up old cigarette voice anywhere: hunch-backed Granny S. Preston Esq. Kerry elbows me in the side and puts on the Ted-smile again.

“Hi Granny!  Happy Birthday!”

“Kerry.”  Did Granny just snarl?  Too quick to see.  She’s already got that creepy tree stump grin back on her face.  “Bill my sweet, do you think Granny will get that kissssss this year?  Hmmm?”  Is she licking her lips?

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

We were able to dodge Granny for a few minutes to start work on the decorations.  There was a close call when she tried to sneak a peek at the room.  Kerry had Eddie on stand-by though.  He threw Granny over his shoulder and carried her down the hallway.  I gotta admit that part was pretty cool.  Wait, is something burning?  Oh right, it’s Missy’s turn to cook today.  Oh no, Granny’s gonna tear her apart.  I drop what I’m doing and bolt for the kitchen.

“Hey, where’re you going?” Kerry asks.  I don’t have time to answer.  As soon as I hit the kitchen I know I’m too late.  Missy’s trying to hide her tears and Granny’s got an evil little smirk on her face.

“Now don’t get emotional deary.  It just seems to me there’s no mystery as to why Bill’s so thin.”  She can’t say that to Missy!  I mean yeah it’s true, but you’re not supposed to say it.  Why isn’t Dad doing anything?  He’s just sitting over there in the corner.  Come on Dad, you can’t let Granny get away with this!

“I’m sorry Ms. Preston.”

“It’s Mrs. dear.  That’s what they call a woman who waits for marriage.”  That’s it!

“Hey, you can’t talk to her like that!”

“Oh Bill, don’t take it the wrong way.  I’m sure your virtue is intact.”

“I…wait, what?!”  What does that mean?  Oh wait, Dad’s coming over here now.  He should defend the most righteous Missy’s honor.  Granny’s starting to hobble out of the room on her walker, probably running scared.  Well, you know what I mean.

“Deary me, I just thought you would have better taste in women.”  That did it.  Missy breaks down and runs out of the room.  I try to stop her.

“Missy, come back!  I…”  Wait, what did Granny say?  Granny thinks I would have better taste in women?  Missy’s my step-mom.  What did she mean by that?  Dad finally maneuvers his way around the kitchen table and steps next to me.

“Uh, son could I see you in the other room?”  Dude, what’s with him?  He’s sweating like Ted Nugent.  I can still hear Missy-Mom crying in the guest room.

“What about…?”

“Don’t worry about that for now.  There’s something I’ve been meaning to tell you.”  He says something to me but I can’t quite believe what it is.

“You told Granny I’M dating Missy?!!”

“Please, keep your voice down.  You know Granny wouldn’t approve.”

“Wouldn’t approve?  What’s the difference?  Granny hates everything!”

“That’s not true.  She’s just from another time.  People were more…direct back then.”  I can’t take this anymore.  Gotta get out of here.

“I can’t believe you would do this to Missy.”  I leave before he can say anything else.  So mad.  Why is he always such a wuss?  She’s still crying.  Gotta check on her.  See if she’s okay.

“Bill?  What’s going on?”  Not now Kerry.

“This isn’t a good time.”

“Is everything okay?”  She’s in my way.

“Kerry, please move.”

“Nothing’s wrong is it?”  Why won’t she move?

“Kerry just get out of my face!”  She yelps and jumps back.  Good, she finally got out of the way.  I start towards Missy’s room but something doesn’t feel right.  Yeah, yeah I know what it is.  I’m not stupid you know.

“Bill…”  Aw jeez. I shouldn’t have done that.  Please Kerry whatever you do don’t cry.  In the living room I can hear Granny getting into another fight with Aunt Iris.  Heinous.  She’s making everybody miserable today.

“Kerry, I’m sorry.”  She doesn’t say anything for a minute.  I didn’t upset her that much did I?

“It’s alright,” she says but I can tell it’s still not.  “I just wanted today to be nice.”

“Why do you do all of this for her?  You know she’s just going to trash it.”

“It’s still her birthday.”  That last bit really stings.  All the decorations and presents and bouncing around, she was really serious about it.  All of it.  I feel like a jerk.  There’s gotta be a way to make this better.

“What can I do to help?”

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

The family’s still holding their ears tight after my kazoo interpretation of “Happy Birthday” and “Aces High”.  I don’t blame them.  I really needed someone on a second kazoo for rhythm.  I look over and see Kerry give me a big smile.  Right back at ya little babe.  That’s all the applause I need.

“What did you think Granny?” Kerry asks.

“Meh.”  Meh?

“It was a very good try Bill.”

“Woah, thanks Uncle…Jack?”

“Close enough.”  Kerry jumps back into cruise director mode and moves everyone into the dining room.  Eddie throws Granny over his shoulder and carries her along.  She giggles.  Gotta say, it sounds a little creepy.

The past couple hours have actually gone pretty alright.  Kerry really does know how to work a crowd.  She was able to calm everyone down long enough to celebrate Granny’s birthday (and hopefully leave right afterwards).  Just as long as we can get through cake and presents I think we’ll be okay.

Once everyone is sitting down Eddie lowers Granny into the chair at the head of the table.  She giggles again and puckers up her lips.

“Eww.”  Eddie makes a face and walks away.  Kerry signals to everyone and we all start singing.  Kerry did a great job here: the set-up is most excellent and everyone looks … kinda happy.  She even managed to keep Missy from killing Dad.

“Happy Birthday…”  Granny slams her fist on the table.

“No singing!”  Whoa, what’s that about?  I don’t get it.  The last few hours everyone’s actually been really nice to her but she just seems to get meaner and meaner.  My cousin Connie stands up and slides a present over.  Dude, her hands are shaking.

“Uh, this one’s from me.”  Granny smiles but I don’t think she means it.  She makes a tiny rip in the wrapping paper and looks in through the hole.  She frowns and very slowly slides the present to the side.  Behind me somebody gasps.  I look over at Connie and see that her mouth is hanging open.  Granny licks her lips and smiles.  Guess she wants another one.  My Uncle Norman goes up next and hands her a little gift basket with a lot of fancy soaps.

“Uh, I didn’t have time to wrap it.  Sorry.”

“Hmm.  Well, isn’t that a shame.”  Granny lifts the basket up in her shaky little claw and tosses it over her shoulder.  She smiles again.  I can hear Kerry gulp.  She goes to the kitchen and comes back with the cake.

“Granny, would you like some of your cake?”  Kerry’s just about to set it down when Granny throws her walker on the table and blocks her.

“No thank you deary.” Gross.  If her voice was a food it would be a bowl full of cockroaches covered in Hershey’s syrup.  Ooh, that’s good for some lyrics.  I gotta remember that one.  Kerry backs away and sets the cake down in the kitchen.  She comes back with a bright red gift bag.

“Well these are from Eddie and me.”

“Hey.”  Eddie waves then goes back to the Game Boy he was playing.

“I really think you’re going to like them.”  Granny frowns and very slowly takes the bag.  I don’t like where this is going.  She reaches inside and pulls out two Louis Armstrong albums.  Wow, they almost look new.  Not usually my style but you gotta congratulate her on her superb gift-buying abilities.  Somehow though, I don’t think Granny will be doing a lot of congratulating in the next few minutes.  Granny turns the records over.  She looks confused.

“What the hell’s this?”  Did she just say what I think she said?  It was so quiet I can’t tell.  “Who is this?”

“That’s Louis Armstrong.  Don’t you remember?  You told me how you used to listen to him when you were a girl.”

“I said no such thing.  That was Grandpa.  He was the one who liked all this,” she motions at the decorations, “brick-a-brack.”

“But didn’t you say…”

“I don’t care for music deary.  When I was your age I sat quietly in my room and didn’t talk to anyone … and I liked it.”  How about a repeat performance?

“But the music theme.  I was positive it was you who listened to…”

“Sweetheart I realize your observational skills are lacking, but next time check your facts before you graffiti my walls like some flamboyant criminal.”  That’s enough!

“Kerry is not a Rambo criminal!”

“Oh Bill, please sit down before you embarrass yourself again.”

“NO!  I’m sick of seeing you act like this!  Everyone’s too afraid to say what they really think about you, but I’m not! I’m not afraid of you.”  That last part’s a lie but I’m on a roll.  “I’m not afraid of you and neither is Kerry.  In fact she pretty much planned this whole party.  She worked hard to try to make this day special for you and if you can’t see that then you really are the twisted old hag everyone thinks you are.  I feel lucky to have someone like Kerry in my family.  Aunt Iris too.  Everyone here!  They’re all good people and I’m sick of you putting them down.  I don’t even know how people like this can be related to you.  I don’t know where you came from but I have a pretty good idea where you’re going.”  Wow.  Did I just say that?  Maybe that was too much.  Nobody’s talking, although Cousin Roland is trying to cover a laugh.  Everybody’s looking at me.  Whoa, look at Granny!  Her bottom lip’s jutting out a couple inches and her eyes are all squinty.  She looks like an evil turtle.  Is … is she growling?

“Granny, there’s something I want to say too.”  Dad?  All right Dad!  “Missy isn’t Bill’s girlfriend, she’s mine.  Actually she’s my wife and we’ve been married for quite some time now.  I know there’s a bit of an age difference but I love her.  I’ll always love her.  And you have no right to treat her the way you’ve been treating her.”  Missy runs over and throws her arms around him.

“Oh Eugene.”

“I’m so sorry honey.  I feel so stupid.”  They kiss and everyone makes the ‘awww’ sound.  Usually it’s kinda gross to see your parents kiss, but right now it’s kind of a relief.


Uh-oh.  Granny’s eyes are squintier now and I think her nails just scratched into the table.

“Granny, I took two years of culinary school just to get your respect.  I’d think you could find ONE nice thing to say about my cooking.”  Aunt Iris?  Whoa, this is starting to snowball.

“Granny, for your information I don’t have a job and I don’t plan on looking for one,” says Cousin Roland.

“I’ve been divorced for nine months and I don’t care what you think,” says Uncle…something.

“You’ve never liked my friends,” says Connie.

“You’ve never supported me,” says Steve.

“You smell weird,” says Eddie.

“RRAAAUUGH!!!” Granny roars, bolts up without her walker and flips over the dinner table all in one move.  Everybody’s eyes go wide.  Indeed this is most atypical.  I wonder how she did that.  She throws her fists over her head.  It kinda makes her look like a fat, wrinkly Bond villain.  “LEAVE – MY – HOUSE!  ALL – OF – YOU!!!”  Once her voice stops echoing there’s dead silence.  I’m pretty sure even the crickets shut up after that one.  Everybody looks at each other, then all at once we all smile.

“Sure thing Granny.”

“Hate to eat and run Granny.”

“Whatever you say Granny.”

“You smell weird.”  Granny’s still fuming but everyone’s so happy rushing out they don’t notice.  Dad waves over his shoulder as he’s rushing Missy-Mom along.

“Have to do this again sometime.”  He puts his hand on my back and starts pushing me toward the door.  “Just keep moving.  Don’t make eye contact.”

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Outside everyone’s talking and loading up their cars.  It’s like the end of every school day.  I check my watch. 5:30.  That means it’s 3:30 San Dimas time.  Ted’s probably just getting home by now.  I should call him later.  I’m about to jump in the backseat when something tells me I should go back.  Just as well.  Missy and Dad are leaning against the car … uh … I think they call that “reconciling.”

I jog back to Granny’s and see Kerry standing by the window staring into the house.  Suddenly there’s a loud crash from inside.  I look through the glass and see Granny, hobbling around on her walker, laughing and kicking over chairs.

“What’s wrong with her?” I ask.

“I think she’s happy to get rid of us.”  We watch her rampage of destruction in silence for a minute.  Well, not really silence. You know what I mean.  Anyway, we’re watching her and it suddenly dawns on me.

“You know, I think I just figured it out: Granny just REALLY likes being mean.”

“Why?”  Inside she kicks over another chair.

“I don’t know.” Kerry sighs.  I feel bad.  Poor little babe.  She really did work hard.  Sucks that it had to end like this.

“I just wanted her to have a good birthday.”  I put my hand on her shoulder and smile.

“Looks like she’s having a good time to me.”  She gives me a smile right back.  We turn and watch Granny stomp on the last of her presents.  “You know, I don’t think she really needs that walker.”

“Yeah. I gathered.”