Wednesday, November 29, 2017


Growing up, your aunts tend to date the darnest guys. This was no exception in my family. When I was about 9, my Aunt Rachel dated a guy named Rick. File Rick under what parents don’t want their daughter to come home with.
Days before my Pop Pop met Rick for real, Rachel showed up to our house with her newest flame. The reason for her visit was because Aunt Rachel had just been fired from another job. It wasn’t her fault. Most employers don’t understand vacation at will. It was a flower shop, and apparently she wanted to hang out with Rick and didn’t show up. Now she needed a few bucks to get through the week and she knew my mom’s door was always open.
Rick was a sight for sore eyes. He had dirty blonde hair, an AIDS era mustache, and a wife beater shirt. While he told us he usually styled his hair in a mullet, an admission that no one anywhere should make at any time, the Navy made him dawn his current do.
When Aunt Rachel brought Rick, I still remember the roaring of his pick up truck waking our quiet suburban block. Rachel, my mom’s kid sister, walked in with her conquest on her arm. His too tight jeans made him look more like the LGBTQ comic book star Tom Finland than the tough man he aspired to be, but why tell Rick.
Aunt Rachel wore a low cut shirt, a short skirt, and had terrible posture. All made my gym teacher mother gasp. Yes, her kid sister who struggled in school with severe dyslexia before it was understood. This same kid sister who had low self-worth. This same kid sister that my mom always had to keep an eye on. And this same kid sister who was now shortening her lifespan.
“This is Rick. The dream boat I have been telling you about.” She informed us as he walked in.
“Dream boat I am, so dreamy the United States Navy can’t even certify me.” Rick chimed back in his Southern accent.
My mom told Rachel she wanted to speak to her privately, probably to exchange twenty dollars and to confront her about her latest in a string of bad decisions. Our mother instructed us to show Rick our backyard gym. Our dad had installed a chin up bar and a rope because he felt it would be good for our upper body strength the previous summer. Wendell, who dreamed of playing football, was on their faithfully day in and day out trying to tone his muscles and get fit for the upcoming season.
 “They make us do chin ups in the Navy.” Rick said to Wendell, “And a man has to know how to do chin ups.”
“I can do 5.” My brother Wendell said. While he was strong, his body was still pudgy and growing. Wendell jumped up on our backyard chin up bar and did 5.
“Well in the Navy they make us do 20 or more.” Rick said. And then he jumped up and did several. Skipper and I stood in awe of Rick and his strength.
Just as this was happening, my dad pulled in the driveway from a long day of work. Rather than enter his garage, he stopped his car. It wasn’t to watch. No, like a hungry Great White he was lurking and wanted his prey to know he was there.
Stopping his car engine, he exited his Buick and walked down to the jungle gym. Sure, he was a lawyer off the clock but was ready to kill if need be. The look in his eyes indicated that he already disliked Rick, possibly because he knew my mom was going to give Rachel a few bucks and these two would have not stopped by had he been present.
Wendell also made the proverbial kill list. He was tardy with his room cleaning and the deadline was today.
Skipper and I ran over to hug our dad and Wendell stood in shock. Sensing the silence as we were no longer cheering, Rick jumped down from the chin up bar.
“Why aren’t you cleaning your room?” My dad snapped as he saw Wendell standing there.
Instead of butting out, Rick obliviously chimed in. Gosh, he was dumber than the grass under our feet.  “Hi, are you the man of the house?”
“Yes, I own this home, my wife is inside and those are my children.” My dad said putting his arms around us. His glance never left Rick.
“And where have you been?” Rick was now proving to be the brain trust he was. I wanted to tell the dumb ass to shut up now but it would be of no usage.
“Working.” My dad replied. His eyes not moving. I could tell he was freaking Rick out on purpose.
“Do you ever use the chin up bar?” Rick was now curious as my dad was in excellent shape. Meanwhile, I was curious as to how Rick was still alive.
“No. I don’t have time. I have a job.” In not so many words, my dad called Rick an idiot and a loser. At that moment, Rick got it. He gulped. And that’s when he found my aunt to make his exit.
My Aunt Rachel departed along with Rick in the roaring pick up. Actually, fled was more like it. While Rick seemed too stupid to be evil it was funny to see him sweat like that. But my mom was not holding her tongue over dinner.
Aunt Rachel said Nuni had seen him in McDonalds looking all handsome in his Navy Uniform. Nuni, my mom’s mother, was a character. Friendly and outgoing, she made friends everywhere she went and talked to everyone. She had fixed my parents up initially, and thought she could do the same with Rachel. This was a fail.
“Wendelin, what was she thinking!” My mom demanded. “This guy is a loser!”
“Gracie, your mom never thinks. That’s the damn problem.” My dad said shaking his head.
“She wants to move to Alabama and live in his trailer after he’s discharged!” My mom bemoaned. “Two years ago, when Rachel dropped out of college my dad called me crying. I said let her work. Let her get it together. Now she is dating THIS LOSER!!”
“Let it go Gracie, it’s not our problem.”
“But he could do a ton of chin ups.” Skipper said.
“That’s what unemployment looks like.” My dad informed her.
“In all fairness unemployment was kind of good looking.” I told my dad.
“It won’t be when he makes you a single parent.” My dad cautioned me.
Wendell laughed. “He was seriously jacked Dad. I could only do 5 chin ups…..”
“And so that’s why your room wasn’t cleaned! You were screwing around with that redneck!” Wendell gulped. The table went silent. My mom changed the subject to the fact Wendell’s science project was a finalist in the contest at school. The uneasy transition proved to work as my dad quickly forgot about Wendell’s room.
That evening, I had a dream. Rick came to our house, except his pick up truck was roaring and jumping over fences and people’s houses. The dream was pretty cool actually. And Aunt Rachel was yelling with joy the entire time as Skipper and I were in the truck bed. So what they were risking our welfare and breaking several laws? It was awesome.
The next morning my mom woke us up. As it was late spring we still had school as summer had not quite come. My dad was getting ready for work. Seeing him I said, “Dad, I had a dream. Rick came with his pick up and was jumping over houses and fences. Aunt Rachel was in the truck, and Skipper and I were in the back of the pick up.”
“That wasn’t a dream.” My dad said shaking his head.
“What he is saying is, your aunt made a terrible decision.” My mom shared.
Two days later, my grandparents had a party in their backyard. My dad was unable to come as he had a huge case he was working, and there was a filing date with federal court that Monday. The party began as usual, my Nuni telling colorful stories as she flitted in and out like a butterfly looking for a new flower. With white hair and a plethora of pastels, she stood barely five feet tall and was akin to a tropical creature each time you saw her.
“Mom, what were you thinking?” My mother said confronting my grandmother as people came in. “Rachel is dating a guy who has probably been voted most likely to go to prison!”
 “He’s handsome and Rachel needs to meet men.” Nuni said.
“She would be better meeting men at the food stamp office.” My mom was now livid.
“They aren’t getting married. Relax Gracie.” My Nuni said. “I never thought you would marry yours. Besides, he’s in the service. He has a job of some sort. It could be worse. He could be like Phyllis and Rob.”
My mom rolled her eyes. Phyllis was my mom’s other sister who was dating Rob, a man who fearlessly lived off of women. He had a glue on rug, glue on chest hair, gold chains, and announced that he was training to be a porn star. Phyllis and Rob would have been there, but Rob had been beaten up in a street fight and was currently in the hospital.
“Anything is better than Rob.” My mother seethed.
Just then, the rest of the cousins entered and we found ourselves in the backyard. My Pop Pop, a quiet, gentle man, put out bread crumbs to feed to his pet squirrel Jinx. Well it wasn’t really his pet, Jinx was sort of a pest my grandfather adopted. In many ways, my Pop Pop was the antithesis of my dad because he would have just killed Jinx.
Pop Pop was an the type everyone loved. Because my father had lost his own dad young, Pop Pop adopted him at times. My Pop Pop had been a college man and then World War II broke out. After graduating from The University of Pittsburgh, he enlisted in The Navy. Because of his engineering degree, he went through officer training and at the time of his discharge was a second lieutenant. My Pop Pop never spoke of the war or his Navy days but always remained friends with his shipmates. The war ended and life went on.
He coached my mom as well as the rest of her siblings in swimming, owned his own life insurance business and played tennis religiously. Of course as my mom bemoaned my Nuni’s bad decision making ability to her sister Magdelene, who’s children were dancers, Rachel entered with Rick.
I knew they were coming from the Duke’s of Hazzard roar of his pick up truck. Rick entered carrying Rachel. As soon as they saw my Pop Pop he set her down. Some of us laughed. Some of us gasped in horror.
 “I bet she’s pregnant.” My cousin Starboard said.
Starboard was Magdelene’s younger daughter. Mindy, a dancer, was in New York for the summer hoping to become a professional ballerina and Starboard hoped to join. She had a head of dark, springy curls and always dressed like Blossom. Like Skipper, she had been named for my Pop Pop’s love of ships and the water. While he said nothing else about his time in the service, he taught his kids all about boats because he felt it was important.
“Hello Mr. Wallace, pleased to meet you.” Rick said extending his hand. My grandfather, gray hair and Mr. Rogers sweater, looked confused. He looked very scrambled. My Pop Pop was sharp, this was a whole new thing. Seemingly disinterested, he continued to throw crumbs hoping Jinx would catch them. Was he getting dementia? My friend’s grandmother had that and it was nasty.
“Good to meet you too.” Pop Pop said, seemingly not focused as his big task was feeding Jinx.
“Rick’s in the Navy.” Aunt Rachel explained. “Just like you, Dad.”
“Oh yes, that was a very long time ago.” My Pop Pop said looking up laughing.
“Mr. Wallace, you would be pleased to know young men like me are making the US Navy strong!” Rick declared.
My mother marched over. Ever ready to micromanage a shit show, the oldest child in the family had to let Rick know what time it was. “Dad wasn’t just any Navy man. He was an officer, weren’t you, Dad?”
“Yes, Second Lieutenant. I was aboard a military aircraft carrier.” Pop Pop said. “We were in the Okinawa for much for the war and near Japan. But it’s over and I don’t like to talk about it.”
“I didn’t realize I was in the presence of an officer.” Rick said. He stood up and saluted my grandfather.
“Please, sit down. That wasn’t necessary. I haven’t been a member of the military since 1946.” My Pop Pop assured him gently. But Rick was standing there with complete salute.
“I hope she isn’t knocked up.” Starboard said again.
“What does knocked up mean?” Skipper, age 6, asked.
“Shhhhh……” I said as Rick continued to stand with a complete salute. At first it seemed he was mocking my grandfather, but he was tragically such a simpleton it was no longer even funny.
“At ease.” Pop Pop said. Rick relaxed his salute and sat down. He yammered on and on about something stupid and his thick drawl didn’t help. As Rick talked and Rachel chimed in, my grandfather’s eyes closed.
“He always falls asleep at parties.” I observed as Starboard stood near me.
“It’s because he’s old.” Skipper said. “Old people always sleep.”
“Maybe he’s dead.” Starboard offered. “My neighbor died like that.” Yes, Starboard, age 8, had all the answers.
“He’s not dead. His hand is moving.” Skipper observed. Her sunkissed strawberry blonde hair sporting ringlet curls from a perm my dad suggested she get to give her hair more volume.
“Also, if he was deceased his color would change.” Skipper educated us. “When there is still some red, you know there is blood moving.” Skipper had been reading a medical book she got for Christmas and announced her plans of becoming a doctor.
After my grandfather had been out for sometime my Nuni entered the backyard. Carrying a tray of something that resembled shish kabobs, she called to my Pop Pop, “Wake up Mike and stop being an old man. The kids inside think you are dead.” Yes, she never had the filter.
“Shut up Loretta. You are going to kill me one day.” Pop Pop replied.
“I would have done it already but I spent all your money.” Now we were all roaring. Yes, my grandparents were literally a comedy duo at times and today was one. Rachel laughed as Rick now looked confused. The two braincells he had were doing an awful lot of thinking.
“Being married to you is like life in prison. Except with life in prison I would have a chance at parole.” Pop Pop said now giving the zinger that finished the routine. We all applauded. How could we not?
Rick and Rachel than said they had an errand to run. We didn’t want to ask, and we prayed they weren’t going to get eloped. As they exited, Pop Pop perked up and went back to feeding Jinx. Murmuring to himself he lamented, “Enlisted men, they never change.”
Pop Pop had not been asleep. He had been tuning out an idiot in the most effective way possible. In the days before the block button this innovation was genius. For his bravery in the line of stupidity he was to be commended.

Rachel would later break up with Rick after he was sent to sea on a submarine, had a nervous breakdown, and spent time in a psych hospital. It wasn’t the time in the psych hospital that drove her away, but the fact she fell in love with his best friend, Josh. She figured Josh was more soft spoken, better looking, and had a better double wide I suppose. I dunno, that story is for another blog……

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