It was the summer of 1998. On Saturdays, we typically did yard work and then had a late lunch/early dinner. My mother thought it would be a special treat to eat on the back porch as we had been working all day. The house was cluttered as it always was in those days. After all, three kids ages 16, 13, and 10 lived there, respectively.
A week previous, our neighbors across the street had gotten robbed. There was a lot of talk as a mysterious jogger had suddenly been seen in the neighborhood. One neighbor asserted that this family, nicknamed the Clampets, had faked the robbery in order to get insurance. No one knew for sure.
We were a gun owning family, but not a vocal one. My Dad wanted us to know there were guns in the house and to respect firearms. He felt it was important. We also knew how to fire a gun if we had to. For a time my parents even belonged to what was known as a local “gun club.”
However, gun culture proved just to be too overwhelmingly stupid for my parents for lack of a better word. My dad wasn’t a hunter. Because of his career and work hours he didn’t have time, and my mom felt it was disgusting. Plus a lot of those folks were toying with starting their own militias and spouted Second Amendment rhetoric frequently. My dad studied it and knew while the Second Amendment was important, there was no truth to this hillbilly paranoia. When he explained no one was going to lose their guns anytime soon he was met with resistance.
My dad would explain as a lawyer this couldn’t happen, there would have to be many, many, many lawsuits before the Second Amendment was overturned. But they would interrupt him explaining one could never trust the government for very long. My dad would say they were giving the government too much credit. They couldn’t even deliver a piece of mail on time. But this fell on deaf ears, and some were really and truly losing their hearing because they were around guns so damn much.
Out of our family, the best shot was actually Skipper. I was a terrible shot. My skills behind a gun were tragic. Skipper could shoot a bullseye without effort. Later, she would go on to become a champion markswoman.
My dad’s whole thing was that yes, we owned guns but we were never to tell anyone. It was because he didn’t want them stolen or used in a felony. He also knew that if one of our moron friends accidentally shot themselves, it would be a shit show for lack of a better term. But yes, we had them and that was all we had to know.
After dinner, we were cleaning off the table. Dishes were about to be washed and the TV was about to be turned on. Auspiciously placed were my brother’s cleats from summer football practice. Not so far away was my notebook from writing camp. Pick up after ourselves…..ehhh……you know how it goes with kids.
Just then, there was a loud banging from downstairs.
“What was that?” My dad asked curiously.
“Nothing.” I said. “Probably some crap from Wendell’s football.” I said glancing over at my brother. While the season had yet to start, my brother had weights and other things he was using to buff up. Cumbersome and annoying, I had stubbed my toe on several.
There was a second bang, now it was more like a slam.
“I think it’s the boxes we stacked.” Skipper said, referring to boxes of books we were getting rid of. These books were old, outdated encyclopedias in our basement that still referenced the former Soviet Union. My father felt they were obselete and we needed space for other things, so my mother, sister and I had stacked them one night while our dad was working late.
The noise grew louder. Now it was as if someone was walking. We all froze in panic.
“No one’s home.” A male voice was heard saying.
We all gasped in horror. Oh shit.
“Guys, stay out here. Dad is going to get his gun.” My mom assured us.
Then she instructed, “If there is a group of intruders, run out the back deck. Run to the nearest neighbor and get help.”
Note this was before the age of cellphones so this all made sense.
My dad went and retrieved a firearm from a place in the house where it was hidden. Meanwhile, we were in the Florida room closes to the deck in case my father couldn’t shoot the intruders in time. These burglars might have been bad but they had never seen my dad when his was pissed. He was just a Western Pennsylvania man defending his home and he knew that at the end as a lawyer, he knew his rights and would get off.
Skipper began to cry. I held my sisters hand, and Wendell covered us both. “Keep it together. They can’t know we are here.” She said.
“Beware mutherfuckers.” My dad said under his breath. “I will kill any sonvabitch that comes in my home.”
My dad’s dark eyes flashed. There was no way these intruders were making it out alive.
Sure, these guys might have been bad, but they never saw my dad when he was pissed let alone defending his home. My dad was a nice guy, but when you crossed him he could cut a bitch for lack of a better term. One former associate at his law firm referred to my dad as “Satan” because of the way he spoke to opposing counsel. Yet when someone who heard this story saw our Dad with us at a local restaurant, he could hardly believe it was the man he had heard so many horror stories about. Bottom line, you didn’t fuck with my dad and come out unscathed.
“If any of you see their faces before you run for it, remember them. They are going to ask you in court.” My mother instructed.
Wow Mom, way to make a bad situation even worse. My stomach lurched at the thought of the potential tragedy that was about to happen. My heart beat and I felt everything freeze. I got ready to run, bad ankle and all. Skipper could go the fastest and Wendell wasn’t notorious for his speed. My mom always tripped and fell when she got nervous. It was a tick she had. Gosh this was going to be a shit show.
And shit show it was.
The door opened and I was expecting a scene from what would be a 20/20 crime special in seconds. I expected tragedy. Instead I heard, “Wendelin, that is no way to greet your mother in law!”
Fear disappeared and now we were just startled and amazed. My mom sprinted inside as my father dropped his gun to his side. The look on my dad’s face was priceless. Standing there was my Nuni, barely five feet tall with snow white hair and a light purple summer pants suit. On her head was a summer bonnet. Her lips had frosty pink lipstick. With her was a man who looked like the disenfranchised son of Charles Manson.
“MOM!” My mother said, shocked and pleasantly surprised. “You didn’t tell me you would be stopping over!”
“I tried to call but you didn’t pick up and your message machine was full. Here’s the book I promised you. You know the one about raising a teenage daughter with an interest in the arts.” My grandmother handed my mom the book.
Nuni continued, “It was from Barb.” Barb was my cousin’s wife. Their son had gone to film school and wanted my mom to have the book because I liked to write and work with puppets. He was currently living in LA with some girl from Brazil. The book was to give my parents hope and to assuage their fears about my dreams.
“Get in here and give your grandmother a hug.” My mom instructed, trying to make the most of an awkward situation. Meanwhile, my embarrassed father disappeared to put his firearm back in the undisclosed location.
When he reappeared she said, “Wendelin can’t kill me! He has to do my will first.”
“Who’s this?” My sister Skipper asked pointing to her friend. Her strawberry blonde hair had recently been cut and she was wearing her summer shorts and top.
“Oh this is Bob.” Nuni explained. “He’s a friend of Rachel’s from the Ren Faire. I saw him at the Walmart and he needed a ride.” At the time, Nuni worked as a greeter at Walmart. She was literally the mayor of the superstore. Nuni was so incredibly popular that she was even featured in several of their local television commercials.
Aunt Rachel worked at the Ren Faire. It had become her yearly gig and the only thing in her life that was constant. After breaking up with Rick and then running out on her wedding to Josh (subject of another blog) Rachel had sough solace in the Ren Faire. While my grandparents had blown their life savings on a wedding that was never to happen, they were glad their wayward creation was finding an outlet.
As for Aunt Rachel’s friends, they were notoriously nondrivers or had their license’s suspended for whatever reason, so Aunt Rachel was the chauffeur of the group. On this day, Bob needed a ride to wherever he was staying, probably a halfway house. Who knew…..
Either way, Nuni, who’s conduct never ceased to shock, awe, and amuse thought it was nothing short of hysterical that my father had almost shot her. Meanwhile, my father’s face was twisted in that state that was a mix between embarrassed, confused, and somewhat pissed. Nuni explained she would have knocked but when she parked her car, she saw the garage door was open.
Yes, Nuni was notorious for never using a front door let alone knocking. She had let herself in my Uncle Seth’s townhouse once because he left the back screen ajar. Needless to say he caught her youngest son and his wife Taylor sharing a moment of passion. Talk about killing the mood. Of course, Nuni freely and fearlessly relayed this story as my dad continued to stand there, mouth gaped open at this happenings of the day.
Minutes later, Nuni and Bob departed. My dad was pissed, but not for the reason we figured. Nevermind he had almost blown his mother in law’s head off. As he explained, , “A STRANGER CAME INTO MY HOUSE AND IT WAS MESSY! I WAS SO EMBARRASSED!”
“Honey…..” My mom said trying to calm him down.
“I WORK TWO JOBS TO KEEP THIS HOUSE GOING AND YOU GUYS SIT AROUND ALL DAY EATING BON BONS. I ASKED YOU TO CLEAN THE BASEMENT!” My dad roared.
My dad had not come from much and having strangers see his house messy always got under his skin. However, we didn’t know we were going to have company. My dad continued, “GRACIE, HOW COULD SHE! I ALMOST SHOT HER! I WASN’T PREPARED FOR COMPANY. THERE IS THIS FUCKING THING CALLED A PHONE. YOUR MOTHER COULD USE A FUCKING PHONE! OR BETTER YET, A FRONT DOOR!”
My mother said nothing expect, “Sorry, you know how she is.”
“HOW SHE IS ALMOST GOT HER FUCKING KILLED!!!” My dad was on a roll. “AND THEN FOR THIS STRANGER TO SEE MY HOUSE MESSY, HOW DO YOU THINK I FEEL!”
“Dad the stranger was probably homeless, it’s better than he normally lives.” Wendell reasoned. We all nodded in agreement.
“Nuni is hardly a housekeeper.” I said. It was true. And if Bob had been to Nuni and Pop Pop’s house, our place would have been the Palace of Mr. Clean in comparison.
“It doesn’t matter what you think or feel at this point.” My mom said trying to smooth things over.
“You almost shot grandma!” I informed him. “How we feel completely matters.”
Skipper ran over and gave our dad a hug. He probably needed one after that. “How about this, lets red off the table and forget this ever happened.” My mom suggested. I thought she was in good spirits seeing her mother almost got shot. (Red in Pittsburghese means clean off).
My dad shook his head. “Okay, but April has to vacuum the basement and Wendell has to pick up first.”
“Why do I have to vacuum?” I protested.
“Because I said so.” My dad snapped.
Wendell and I marched down to the basement to clean. After that, my dad calmed down and the gun was returned to the undisclosed location. We watched some stupid Adam Sandler movie and the incident became a piece of the family’s woven fabric.
And from that point forward, we all remembered to close the garage when we were done for the day. That way, if someone got shot it was a burglar and not grandma.