Good! Finally had time to finish this chapter! I've been so busy, so updating regularly is hard. I squashed the time in this week and managed to get it finished; mainly I wanted to upload this one in honor of Roseanne Barr's fifty-fourth birthday. Happy Birthday, Roseanne Bar!!!
I also want to dedicate this chapter to the memory of the great Shelley Winters, who did a FANTASTIC job portraying the brash, funny, lovable Nana Mary. Great job, Shelley! We all miss you and will never forget you.
So...here's the latest scene in this re-union "movie"...enjoy!
Lanford Days Again
Lanford Days Again
8: One Book Closes; Another One Opens
"What a relief for my aching gassed butt," Nana Mary announces after she finishes another plate of potato salad this balmy Mothers' Day.
All of us...Mom, Aunt Jackie, Andy, Grandma, Nana Mary, Becky and DJ and their families are gathered in our backyard along with David, the kids, and me. Chuck and Anne Marie are there also and so are Nancy, Crystal, Leon, and Bonnie. All of us get a chance to coo over Marvin before DJ and Lian put him down for his nap inside.
"If I eat a hot dog, I need to fart," Nana adds. "Potatoes help me do that." We laugh. Nana Mary's still a riot to this day, even in her late eighties. "I've read there's a kind of starch in potatoes that pushes out the air. And it doesn't smell bad either; it smells like hot dogs and a potato."
As if on cue, Risa and Andy both belch. Jackie laughs some and stands up to pour herself more limeade. Amused, I add my own chicken-scented belch, but it's a short soft one. Mom laughs and wolfs down more chicken wings.
This reminds me of the barbecues we had when Dad was alive. We laugh and talk a lot and Bonnie sings, then Mom and Jackie do a funny dance. So do Leon and Nancy.
By the time it grows dark, we're taking turns doing impromptu little performances. Nana Mary does a hilarious number where she belches out the national anthem. She gets most of the notes down, which is remarkable. She finishes with a high hop and one final long deep, rumbling belch, then bows as we laugh and applaud.
It's very late by the time we start to wind down and put the food and trash away. I smile softly and David and I put our arms around each other once we get inside and start bidding everyone good night. Nana Mary is spending the night with Bev, so Bev drives her.
"They should make that Monday after Mothers' Day a national holiday so we get off school and you grown ups get off work," Risa tells us as we go up and get ready for bed.
I laugh. "Not a bad idea, love," I say. "But you and Danny will be off for the summer in another month, so you'll have a break then. Good night," I kiss my daughter as she climbs into bed. On the way down to our bedroom, I also kiss Danny and Sara good night.
A week later, I get home from work and call hello to Andy, who is already home. He's almost ready to graduate from elementary school. He still dreads middle school some, but not as much as he initially did when Ed and Angela gave him that scare.
Andy comes over and gives me a little hug as I head into the kitchen and decide what we should have for dinner. "Chicken potpie or macaroni mix?" I ask me son.
"Chicken potpie," he says. So I make the potpies and we eat. As we're finishing, the phone rings. It's Mom and she sounds strained.
"Mom...?" I ask. "What is it? What's the matter?" My heart begins to beat fast and I feel my hands begin to shake.
"It's Nana Mary...she died this morning in her sleep," Mom gets out, then lets out a rasping sob.
"Ohh..." My eyes fill with tears and for a long moment, I can't speak. Andy sees my tears and immediately he becomes alarmed.
"Jackie?" Mom asks. "Are you there? Are you all right?"
"Yeah...I m-mean no, I'm not..." I begin to cry. So does Andy. I fumble for tissues and hand some to Andy and both of us cry.
"I'm so sorry to break this bad news to you," Mom says softly. She sniffles also. "I know how much you loved her and that you had a special relationship." I whimper, already missing Nana Mary. Deep down, I know she was old and would die sooner or later, but it still comes as a terrible shock.
"D-do y-you need me to p-pass the word on...?" I blubber.
"I'm about to call your sister and tell her," Mom tells me. "Then together we can break the news to the kids and grandkids...Jackie, darling, I can't believe she's gone either..."
"It's -st-still a shock..." I weep.
Mom says a few more consoling things, then after we hang up, I sob out the news about Nana Mary to my son. Andy and I hug each other and cry for a very long time.
As the tears run down my face and I sob along with my son, a brief rueful thought flashes through my mind that this time Auntie Barbara isn't around, so I don't have to go through the disaster to trying to tell her that Nana Mary is dead progressively more loudly.
It also reminds me that I have not had any more nightmares about Dad in a while. I wonder if the nightmares were just an anniversary reaction after all. I try to gather my thoughts and realize that it's up to Mom, Roseanne, and I to plan an appropriate funeral for Nana Mary.
I still can't believe Nana Mary is gone. But she is. Later that night at Jackie's, I keep my arms around Mom and Jackie and all three of us cry for a very long time. After what seems like five years, we slowly separate, sniffling, sobbing, and taking shaky breaths.
"Someone will have to tell our kids, " I say, blowing my nose. "I'll b-break the news to Darlene and David and their kids and Jackie...c-can you...?"
"I'll...c-call them..." Jackie says, her voice hoarse. "B-Becky...DJ...Lian..." Stray tears spill down Jackie's face as she clears her throat. She struggles to keep her brows from slanting but doesn't succeed. "Nana...and I...had good laughs together...went to the Lobo and h-had b-b-beer..." Jackie's tears are flowing again and she buries her face in another batch of tissues. Bev holds her, her eyes still damp also.
It feels so weird now that Nana Mary's gone. Becky is here with Alicia by the next night. My sister and I hug, weeping for a long time.
We then hear a door open and hear someone ask, "It's true, isn't it?" I turn and see DJ, his dark eyes wide and shocked.
"Yes..." I nod.
DJ's eyes fill with tears, his lips tremble, and his brows slant. I reach out and pull him to us and all three of us break down in each others' arms.
It reminds me of when Dad died. All three of us had clung to each other and just cried and cried for a long while. Mom and Aunt Jackie had also done the same thing.
We know logically Nana Mary was old, in her early nineties, but still it's shocking that she finally went. We also know that we will all miss her so much...her dry, funny sarcastic humor, her loud, funny one-line observations from life. I think Mom gets a lot of the humor from her.
At the funeral home, this time Jackie and I pick the White Rose casket for Nana Mary. This time we can afford it unlike the time with Dad. I shudder involuntarily as I remember Dan's funeral. Dan had requested cremation, so we hadn't used a casket then.
Tears are still streaking down Jackie's face sporadically. Her brows have been slanted ever since she found out about Nana Mary's death. Poor Jackie, this is so tough on her especially.
I remember how she and Nana Mary used to visit bars together. During Thanksgiving and Christmas, Nana Mary would often stay with Jackie while Dan and I usually either took Mom in or if she drove us too crazy, directed her to a motel.
The casket is beautiful and a beige-white on the outside and sort of silver on the inside. My breath catches as I see Nana Mary's body lying so peacefully there. Jackie also sees it because her tears start again.
"Goodbye, dear Nana..." Jackie weeps. She comes up to the body and keeps crying for a long minute. I stroke her back. "I'll never forget...all the good times...we had...your wisdom and common sense..." Jackie fishes for more tissue from the box she's been carrying around since Nana Mary died.
"Now who will be my post-Thanksgiving bar partner? I'll never forget how you tried to teach me to be tough...if you thought I was crying too much as a kid, which I usually did...crybaby that I am...you always pulled me to my feet and wrestled a bit with me...and Nana Mary, it usually worked..." Jackie blows her nose. "Now I'm crying and you aren't here to wrestle me out of it...because...you're...d-dead..." Jackie cries even harder.
I feel tears run down my own face and Jackie hands me a tissue. "And Roseanne, Mom, and I...will always miss you..." Jackie sobs. She leans on me, crying again. I weep more softly into her thick hair.
It's under a large shade of trees near the funeral home that we put Nana Mary's body to rest. All of us...the three kids, their kids and spouses and an assortment of neighbors and our friends drop blossoms onto the casket as it's lowered into the ground. It is fitting that most of the trees have white blossoms on them and most of those blossoms are dropping off onto the ground.
It's mostly a secular funeral, but a rabbi does preside over the ceremony and says a short Hebrew prayer after Nana Mary's casket is lowered and we toss dirt over it.
The sun is undecided if it wants to come out from over the clouds or not, but it's bright enough to be considered sunny. In the distance, I see a door to a shedlike supply closet close, then a side door fall open slowly. Like the door to one life closing, I think. I happen to look over at little Marvin in Lian's arms and think about another new life opening.
We're back at Aunt Jackie's that night for a sort of post-wake gathering. The crying has trickled down to an occasional tear and once in a great while, a soft chuckle or even a quiet laugh manages to escape one of us over memories of Nana Mary and her hilarious antics.
"I'll never forget when she first met us at the Mother's Day barbecue all those years ago," Anne Marie tells us. "Right off, she says, I'm not prejudiced and Roseanne's whole face just went so beet red."
"I did not," Mom starts to protest.
"Yeah, you did, I remember," I say. "You and Dad were in the kitchen with her and Chuck and Anne Marie and she said that about not being prejudiced and you were grinning at first, but then went totally red. That was one of the rare times I'd ever seen you embarrassed enough to blush."
"Okay, maybe I did...it was so long ago I forgot," Mom cedes with a grin.
"It was thanks to her that I found out that Mom had things in common with me," Jackie puts in. "I was pregnant with Andy and Nana Mary told us about when Mom was pregnant with Roseanne."
"Before I married your father," Grandma adds. "At first, I thought I'd die or go insane because I didn't want anyone to know about it."
"I'll never forget how you ran out of the house, hollering about how no one loved you and all that," Darlene puts in.
"I couldn't believe it at first," Jackie says. "I'd been feeling so sick that morning and I think that bit of news shocked me out of my nauseous fog and by the time we sat down after Roseanne calmed Mom down, I felt almost normal again."
"I thought it was rather odd that Fred was there and it was obvious you were feeling sick that day and had these dark circles under your eyes, but he didn't ask how you were until you started out after Mom along with the rest of us," Mom puts in.
How well I remember that Thanksgiving. Jackie had been attacked by morning sickness and had thrown up that morning and had looked awful. Mark and Dad had been fighting nonstop and I had volunteered to make the turkey to informally thank Mom and Dad for letting Mark and me stay at our old home for a few months.
"So that was what all that fuss was about that time," DJ says. "I remember it being something about when Grandma had Mom and that she hadn't been married at the time, but I never did get why Grandma had such a fit about it and why Mom had to calm her down."
"Back then, all of us were a lot more uptight about little things," Grandma says. "Way back when I was a child, having a baby when you were unmarried was considered a scandal."
"Yeah, you hopped on Jackie's back about her being single at the time," Mom says, sipping tea. "Nana Mary had a swell time shocking Fred with her version of the sex he and Jackie had."
"God, I remember that one!" Jackie manages a weak smile. "Fred stood there staring at Nana Mary, then me in shock and there I was, ready to laugh, but afraid to because I knew I'd throw up again. Fred then goes into the kitchen and asks Dan if this was 'typical' in our family. I'll never forget how Dan just laughed his head off and Fred sat there all scandalized."
Most of manage a soft laugh. Jackie's laugh is still weak and chokes off. Tears come to her eyes and she blinks rapidly as her face gets sad again. Her brows tighten and quiver a bit. Mom puts a hand on Jackie's and they become quiet.
"I don't remember if I ever paid her from that bet we made all those years ago," Darlene says softly. "I don't ever remember how much I ended up owing her...it was some card game or something..." She dissolves into tears and grabs some tissues. I put an arm around her. "I'll miss being her little wise ass..."
"Are you all right, Mom?" Risa comes over and hugs Darlene.
"Yeah...just a bit sad because I miss Nana Mary," Darlene tells her, wiping her eyes.
It's a mostly quiet evening, talkative, but in muted tones. We move around Jackie's house, bringing food over, taking food back to the kitchen, eating, drinking and reminiscing. Mostly we just quietly in our own way, honor Nana Mary and the special person she was in each of our lives.
As my daughter Angela and I get ready for her graduation from middle school, somehow the little shed near the grave where Roseanne and Jackie's grandma was buried comes to my mind. I vividly picture that one door closing and the other opening and as I watch Angela fit her graduation cap over her red hair, I wistfully mull over the aptness of the two doors.
It does seem as if our lives are changing, that one era of many aspects of our lives is ending and another is starting. Right now, my youngest pride and joy is leaving middle school and in the fall, will be entering high school. My baby growing up, I think as Angela and I chat over small things.
Angela has my late husband's small blue eyes, my freckles and fair complexion, and her great-grandmother's red hair.
"Mom...are you home?" Angela asks when I fall silent and thoughtful as I see the young woman my daughter's becoming.
"Wha...oh, yes," I say, taking her hand. "I was just thinking how life changes."
"Yeah..." Angela grows thoughtful also. "You know next week is Andy's turn...from elementary school. I wish him good luck...I just hope Jackie doesn't get too nuts worrying about him."
"Yeah...but I think those two balance each other out," I say. "They're very much alike, you know."
Angela leans close to me and we sit for a long minute, arms wrapped around each other. "Mom...you were married to Lonnie'd dad, right?"
"Yeah..." I say. "It was a long time ago. His name was Sonny and he was a construction worker until he died in an accident. It took me several years to really recover."
Lonnie, my oldest child, is now in his late twenties, is married and lives across town in an apartment and manages a Wal-Mart. His wife, Nicole, works at a Macy's close to there. They don't have kids yet. I don't see them that often, maybe a couple of times a year. If they can get off work, they'll be coming to Angie's graduation in a few days.
"I remember one winter day, I was depressed over a breakup and it brought back memories of Sonny, so Roseanne and Jackie took me to the Lobo to cheer me up and later Roseanne and Dan took me over to the site where Sonny had died...I got a lot out that night. I remember it was snowing, but they were there for me. After that, I was able to move on. It was back when Roseanne, Jackie, and I were all working at the Wellman Factory."
"I have a hard time picturing you at a plastics factory," Angela smiles softly.
"Yeah...it all seems so long ago," I say. "Trust me, I've worked at all sorts of crazy jobs before I started my cosmetics business. I'm glad I hung in there for that."
I like what I do and my business makes very good money, certainly more than I'd ever made at Wellman or any other place.
"Didn't Jackie used to be a policewoman?" Angela asks.
"Yes...for a while," I say, smiling as I remember petite Jackie in her cop uniform with her dark hair pulled into a high ponytail.
She was so serious about that job. I still laugh as I remember one time when Roseanne and I had been working in the beauty salon and Roseanne had been involved in a car accident with none other than Meg Wellman.
Roseanne's injuries had been minor, but she'd had to rest for several days with a pulled neck muscle and sore back. Jackie had been very upset and almost in tears at first, but once she came on duty the next day, had come into the salon all in uniform, questioning everyone in a funny, yet serious businesslike way.
I'd teased her about it and she'd gotten even more uptight and talked about a subpoena and I'd tried to crack her businesslike manner with a comment about me giving her a makeover. I'd inadvertently gone too far with the makeover remark because Jackie had kind of crumpled, her businesslike cop stance had actually dissolved, and she'd sat shakily and had timidly voiced her worries about being plain.
I hadn't really realized how shaky Jackie's self-image really was back then. I'd been afraid that Jackie would cry right there in the salon in her uniform, but fortunately she didn't.
"Why did Jackie leave cophood?" Angela asks.
"She was hurt in the line of duty," I tell her.
By then, Roseanne had been waitressing at Rodbell's Cafe for a couple of months. That was where she'd met Leon and Bonnie. Back then, she and Leon hadn't gotten along at all and were constantly bickering. Leon had been the manager there, but hated that job. Tell the truth, neither were Bonnie and Roseanne, but they'd all needed that income.
"Roseanne says that you used to speak with an Arkansas accent because grandpa was from Arkansas...is that true?" Angela queries.
I laugh a little. "I guess so."
"Wow...I could never tell," Angela says. "Now you speak...I guess like the rest of us here do."
It seems like it, especially since my dad's been long dead for years and I've never been back to Arkansas. I never lived there; I've always lived here in Lanford, but I think my dad's accent influenced my speech. Add to this that my mom was from West Virginia's mountain area.
Angela and I whisper a few more things back and forth for a while as it grows dark outside. The weather is now warm and the trees are budding. The fragrance seeps in through the windows.
It turns out that Lonnie and Nicole are able to make it to the graduation and my family, including Eddie, Lonnie, Nicole, and me sit on the benches near Roseanne and Jackie's family. Darlene, David, and their three kids are also there.
There's the usual amount of slight bickering among the kids, but finally we get settled down after Jackie wipes away Andy's tears after Eddie "accidentally" steps on his foot and Harris threatens to sit on Danny if he didn't shut up.
I can't help my tears as I watch my daughter collect her middle school diploma and flip her tassel. I hand over my camcorder to Jackie, who keeps recording and wipe my eyes.
At the end of the ceremony, Angela's whole class lets out hollers and whoops as they toss their caps into the air.
"I think I even see somebody's underpants there!" Roseanne crows and laughs. So do I.
"I see a couple of notebooks in the air also," Jackie puts in. She grins ruefully at me and asks,"You're done crying now, Crystal?"
"I hope so...here, give me that," I take the camcorder back. "Let's see how you do with Andy next week." I grin. I am sure Jackie will be a weeping mess at her own son's graduation.
Sure enough, as Crystal predicted, my turn to bawl comes when I watch my dear son graduate from elementary school the following week. I have to hand my camcorder over to Crystal, who keeps shooting away, and grab a handful of tissues.
Oh...My throat catches and I try not to sob as I put the tissues over my nose and mouth and try to cry quietly. My beautiful boy, starting middle school in the fall!
He looks a tad frightened as he takes his diploma and I think I see his hands shake a little as the principal shakes his hand. Not that I can see very well through my tears. I gasp a few times, trying to catch my breath. Roseanne, Nancy, and Crystal grin knowingly at me. Mom reaches over and strokes my hand.
I shrug and shake my head, tears still spilling down my face. Emotional me, weeping away. I think I've seen a few other teary parents proud of their kids, but to my embarrassment, I seem to be the one crying the most.
The ceremony itself is very nice and low-key. There is a small gathering on the elementary school lawn after the ceremony with light refreshments.
"Mom..." Andy runs up to me and we hug.
"Congratulations, Andy!" I tell him, tears welling in my eyes again. "I'm so proud of you!"
"Thanks..." Andy seems to cling to me for a long minute.
Roseanne takes several pictures while sipping lemonade and eating a cookie. How she manages to do all three is a mystery to me, but she does so with seemingly little effort.
"You all know, Fred and his wife are here," Mom tells us as she sips some lemonade. "It is a good thing you got away from him, Jackie...they have their two kids with them and those two boys haven't shut up or stopped shoving at each other."
"I can imagine," I say.
"Actually, they're Jennifer's kids," Andy puts in. "They always fight with each other and Dad."
Although I am glad Fred and family made it to the ceremony, I am glad they didn't sit near us. From what I've seen of Andy's older stepbrothers, they do seem competitive and rather out of control. I really don't know the whole story on them, so I say as little as a can.
I only hope Fred and Jennifer are happier together than Fred and I ever were. I am grateful that Jennifer seems to be the wife that I couldn't be to Fred and that his first or third wife couldn't be.
We stand by the table chatting and eating and our conversation drifts toward the Lunch Box/Dinner Pail business.
"It looks as if we now have the budget to make for a try in England," Nancy tells us. Roseanne, Jackie, Anne Marie, Leon, and I head to her car and she pulls a laptop out of her trunk.
Sure enough, according to the latest profits from the past year, we have more than enough to open a place in England. The very idea excites all of us and it runs through us like a Midwest wind in the fall.
"It's now a regular chain with meat running out in factory lines," Nancy says. "Hey..." Her large hazel eyes light up. "Why don't we call the entire enterprise the Meat Factory?"
"Meat Factory..." Roseanne says, trying out the name.
"Sounds good..." I say. "But we'll keep some of our places here under Lunch Box or Dinner Pail, right?"
"Of course," Nancy nods as she closes the computer down, puts the laptop back into her trunk and locks it. "The Meat Factory can be our overhead name."
We're all in a clatter over this newest expansion and decide on what we'll do to head out there over the summer to open the newest place. With the new changes going on now in our lives, it is not surprising that our business is also changing.