Thursday, July 28, 2005

Ah So!

It's been something like five years since cancer took my mother, and equally as long since I've had the stomach to visit with my family. It wasn't just mom that died; the whole family institution crumbled, like a downed power line, whipping about and hissing, electrocuting anyone who got too close.

But two weeks ago I made the trip, me and my family, to surprise my Grandma Rose on her 80th birthday, a woman who had to endure the loss of her daughter, a roll of snake eyes in the craps of life, an ordeal worse than any this cruel planet has to offer.

I called her yesterday to wish her happiness on her real birthday, even though we had celebrated it together two weeks early. As usual, she was screening her calls. The mechanical machine monotone greeted:

"Hello... please... leave... a... message... Beep!"

"Hi Grandma, it's Scott, just calling to..." Click.

"Scotty! Hold on! Let me get the other phone! Hold on!" She is hard of hearing, has been all her life, so she has a special phone that is never the one she answers.

"Hello, Grandma."

"Hi sweetie, how are you?"

"Good. I'm just calling to wish you a happy birthday."

"Oh, my real birthday celebration was two weeks ago."

My wife and I mixed into the midst of her adoring friends and family as my aunt escorted her into the restaurant where Grandma expected to meet with my uncle for a quiet dinner. I was holding my twenty month old son in my left arm. Grandma saw my wife first and put both hands over her mouth and her eyes glossed over, and she reached out for her to come. Looking over my wife's shoulder, she finally saw me holding the baby.

"You have such a precious family, Scotty," she told me on the phone. "When I kissed little Emmett it was like Laura was there kissing him too. When I touched his little head it was like it was Laura's hand, and I just know she is here, watching over you."

I tried to keep my voice steady, "I hope so Grandma."

***

"Aunt Sandie, why did mom leave dad."

She looked at me with a stone poker face, but her eyes belied her casual countenance.

"I don't really remember back that far," was all she could muster.

"It's ok. I'm forty years old now; even you have to admit I'm not a baby anymore."

"Well, there might have been some abuse involved, I really don't know. Something happened on their wedding night, but I wasn't involved. But they went though with it anyway."

"Was mom pregnant then?"

"Of course not."

***

My step-mother never remarried since she left my father. She is a devout Catholic of the fire and brimstone variety, whose faith remains strong in a church that refuses to recognize a divorcee as a member. Perhaps she is punishing herself.

By happenstance, after the divorce she moved three thousand miles across the country, within ten miles of my biological mother, and neither had any idea. Whenever George Strait sings All My Exes Live in Texas, my father changes the station. Sometimes I have to believe that there is an angel looking after me, perhaps my great granny Deal, who reminds me that someone up there cares with little gifts like this. When I went to Houston to visit my mom, I got to see my brother and sister too, and for that I am eternally grateful.

"Mom," as I still call her, with a wisp of wryness, "what did you ever see in dad?"

"Have you seen any of his early pictures?" She laughed. "He was quite a macho man."

It's true, I remember seeing an old faded color photo of dad wearing blue jeans and a tucked in tee shirt with a pack of cigarettes rolled into his sleeve, and a camel hairy butt hanging carelessly from his lips. He was tall and dark haired, and his face was cool and confident, like an actor from the day when men were men, like a young Charles Bronson or Clint Eastwood. His face was forbidding and yet a promise of great things to come.

"When did things go wrong between you?" I asked.

"Right around the time he started fucking my best friend from high school."

"Noooo!"

"Yes! Remember, we used to visit them on weekends when we lived in New York?"

"Yes I do."

"He would drive up there while he said he was away hunting or on business trips."

And it all snapped together for me. The day my father told me that I couldn't go on the fishing trip for lying to my step-mother, how even then I thought he was lying, that he had ulterior motive. I thought it was me.

***

A long time ago, my real mom and I were driving to see the Houston Oilers play the Cincinnati Bengals, on a typical oppressively heat soaked day.

"I wasn't a planned pregnancy, was I mom?"

She looked at me for a moment before answering. "No."

"How did dad take it? I can only imagine that he didn't want it."

"Not at first honey, but once he realized there was nothing he had to say about it, he was very happy."

I smiled wanly. My momma, such a sweet liar.

15 comments:

Diana said...

That was lovely, Scott. Sweet, but not saccharine sweet, if you know what I mean. You write wonderful sentiment but you never make it treacly. Again, hope you know what I mean.

And I so agree with your statement about the actors of yester-year. I mean, come on, look at Gary Cooper, Gary Grant, Gregory Peck, Humphery Bogart, Clark Gable and the rest of those guys and compare them to the male movie stars of today. "Nuff said.

But, bact to your post. It was wonderful. My family is like that too. Secrets. Lots of secrets.

Scott said...

Diane,
Good to see you as always. Thank you. I think american cinema needs to get back to it's roots and give us a few men to idolize like we did back then, but I think it's hopelessly lost. Maybe we're just old folks now, but the list you provided, and I would put it in almost the same order -- Gary Cooper! -- makes me a little sad. I personally think Hugh Jackman fits the mold.

mr. schprock said...

Scott, pardon me — I haven't had a chance to read all your posts yet — but is your father still living and, if so, how do you get on with him now?

jenbeauty said...

I agree with diane g. Your writing is heartfelt and I feel in the moment with you.

Sometimes I think it is best that we do not know all the stoney details of our parents lives. In the long run it seems to have hurt me more. I know too much and keeping their "secrets" has always been a difficult road for me.

Scott said...

S - It's a mix with my dad. I never really confront him with the issues I bring out in my writing. My writing is a way for me to get it out there and make sense of it, to record and not forget. I love him, and despite the negative press he's getting here, I feel bad for him. Mr. T summed it up in a comment he made in the Dog Attack post, that I feel sorry for him, even though he made the bed he lies in now. He's a tortured soul, and probably ADHD. Throughout the years, he has shown me his love in big ways, but fails in small ways. He's alive and well, and still chasing his crazy dreams.

Jen - I know what you mean, but as an aspiring writer, I want to know how things really work, even though the answers are shocking and sometimes painful. I've lived a life where reality has been hard to conceal, with alcoholic parents, the truth spouts like an oil strike at unexpected moments. I'm surprised that I can still be surprised.

Diana said...

Oh, yes, definitely Hugh! *grin*

And I applaud you, Scott, for exploring your life through your writing. It's very brave.

Dixie Belle said...

Scott, you have such a good blog. The stories about your family are so good. I have no good memories regarding my family. I have a ton of resentment toward my mother, who is in the last years of her miserable life. I'm trying to make peace with it.

Scott said...

Diane - It's a little easier when you are anonymous, huh? I forgot to mention Christian Bale, who I seem to remember is one of your favorites. He counts too I think.

Dixie - Thanks, I think writing about it would help, maybe you should blog a few choice moments in time. It's cathartic. I've gotten myself worked up on a few of these.

Monalicious said...

What a great post.

Scott said...

And what a monalicious comment!

Mrs.T said...

I always think about the moment when my sperm donor told my mother he thought she should have an abortion because he had started a double live somehwere on the other side of the country... and liked it better than loved his first wife, my mom.

My mom was a good liar too, until I was older and asked real questions.

Scott said...

Your sperm donor: classic! It's tough, and the questions are tough to answer I'm sure. For my wife and I, we got married and wanted children, so I have happy reports when I'm asked in twelve years or so. I try to live my life that way, so I don't have to look back and regret.

Mr. T said...

Christian Bale astounds me... The Machinist was a CRAZY ride.

I'm always fascinated by the skeletons we hide in our family closets. You never know when you might stumble across that one secret that unravels your very being. Really makes you think on who we are and were we come from... How much of it is a farce and what secrets lie beneath the surface.

Joely Sue Burkhart said...

Scott, I love your memories, the way you write them. So bittersweet, fond, honest. Thank you for sharing them with us!

Beth said...

I had the same type of life. My dad cheated on my mom constantly, yet they stayed together. I was also an "accident" and not wanted by either party. Oh well. =)