When I go back home and bump into old friends and family, the conversation almost always starts with a recitation of the near or recently dead and disintegrates into sputtering frustration when it's obvious I have no idea who they're talking about. I know people who can spend a solid forty-five minutes eulogizing a fifth cousin twice removed (don't ask me removed from what) without coming up for air.
It's a small town thing, perhaps, but when you reach your fifties, you no longer greet one another at the Piggly Wiggly with "How are you?" Nope. They always start with a hushed and ominous, "Well, I guess you heard about Joyleen?"
The news that follows generally falls into two categories. Either Joyleen has abandoned her husband and children and run off with the repo man at the Rent-a-Center or she's gone to that great double-wide in the sky, where the streets are paved with asphalt and all the men pay their child support on time and you don't even have to "garish" their wages, as my friend Maudie-Lou calls it.
Maudie Lou swears she let the good one get away.
"Sure, all he done all day was smoke pot and watch Gunsmoke," she said wistfully, "but I think it's just 'cuz he loved Festus."
Sometimes, the trip back home is to "funeralize," something rednecks love to do because funeral food is so good. I've always thought that people who died in July are the most thoughtful because you just know there will be fresh butterbeans and tomatoes still warm from the garden when you pay your respects.
Ghoulish, you say? Not at all. That's how Bobby Rae would've wanted it. I least I think it is.
If we're not going home to funeralize, we're probably visiting a nursing home.
The last time I visited Long Suffering's aunt at the Golden Garden of Despair, I was a little late getting to her room because there was a sweet ol' thing pushing a walker standing at the entrance and screaming to anybody who came inside: "Can't anybody in this place tell me how I can get saved?"
My aunt-in-law's roommate was a pistol. Auntie shooed her away as she came over and foraged for one of the Payday bars she knew Auntie stashed in her bedside table. "I can't keep a decent candy bar in this place," she hissed. I was a little embarrassed by Auntie's outspokenness but I didn't need to be.
"She's deaf as a post," said Auntie. "Can't hear a thing." But it didn't stop her from trying.
While I told Auntie about my grandson's first trip to the bowling alley , the roommate perked up. "Is that Clyde's Blowing, the one who used to run the wash-a-teria?" Roomie smiled widely.
"Yes, he was an alley cat, that Clyde. I think he was from up North, that's some kind of I-talian name. He may have been from Iowa." Auntie looked like she wanted to scream but simply reached into her nightstand drawer, extracted a Payday and started chewing, her dentures snapping like castanets. Roomie decided this was a good time to hold court on all things Yankee.
"They tip for everthing," she said. "You probably know that since you know Clyde so well." Auntie rolled her eyes and made elaborate circles in the air beside her temple. I had to agree with some of what Roomie was saying. Like every former waitress, I tell Roomie, I am a generous tipper, but the proliferation of tip jars is starting to piss me off.
Frankly, after I've paid over three bucks for a small coffee, I'm thinking the tip is probably included. It's not like counter boy is Juan Valdez out there tying up the donkey and hauling the beans in from the back room. And, if I do tip the jar, I consider it kind of a waste if no one sees me do it. It's the age-old question: "If a tip falls in a jar and nobody saw it, did it really happen?"
The copy shop now has a tip jar on the counter to reward employees who do what they were hired to do. You know. Make copies.
Although I could tell Auntie just wished I'd stop encouraging her, I told Roomie that I'd seen a jar recently that contained a long-winded plea that ended with "the rent is due and things are pretty tight." "I love Fair night, too," Roomie said. Right. Fair night.
"You know what the best part is?" Roomie asked. "The sidshows! I once got to see the World's Tiniest Man and it was the truth. He was so little he could fit inside a teacup and his legs even dangle off the sides!"
Auntie perked up a bit at the discussion of sideshows. "Biggest ripoff I ever saw," she said, ripping into another Payday. "I paid extra to see the girl who was born with two bladders. She just sood there grinning at us. I mean, when you think about it, it's not like you can really tell."
We agreed that, next time the fair was in town, we'd visit, the three of us. I knew Auntie would eat too many deep-friend Snickers and Roomie would never be able to hear those Air Supply tunes they blast all over the fair grounds, but it would be fun if they had the diving mules again.
"You're right!" screeched Roomie. "Those Yankees are driving fools! Make it dangerous for all of us, you know."
'Deed I do.