April 23, 2011

We had driven a majority of the morning into the late afternoon to arrive in the small town of Gillette, Wyoming. My Grandparents, from my mother's side, were celebrating their 55th wedding anniversary. The whole family had been invited, but it was issued more like a command to come for a visit. Daddy had chosen to work over going to face his in-laws. Gran was more down to earth than my other Grandmother and they didn't get along well. Therefore the sake of peace both Gran and Daddy had chosen not to travel with the Jason and Sookie to the family function. Or DysFunction as Daddy always called that side of the families get togethers.

I was standing near the elevator doors of our hotel waiting for Eric to return when I hear her piercing voice echo through the barren landscape of the lobby. "You look like a baby factory just like your cousins!" She shouted from the entrance on the opposite side from where I was waiting. I hadn't seen her in the all years I spent on the East Coast. The kids were crowded around me because Eric had to run back to the room to grab the baby's bottle and diaper bag. In all my nervousness about seeing her after so many years, I had forgotten the two most important things to keeping Amy calm and relatively happy.

I saw my reflection in the mirror hanging above the fireplace cattycorner from me. My belly was showing slightly and my chest seemed to sag with the weight of motherhood. The dress I had chosen for the night accentuated the baby bump which had finally arrived in the last three weeks. At six months plus, my pregnancy was being kind to me. I still had the pregnancy glow thing going on and it highlighted my already vivid blue eyes making them look like sparkly jewels hidden in the puffiness of my face.

The kids looked great as well. Copley and Amelia were holding hands in front of me; waiting nicely. Copley had stuck with his tried and true blue Superman shirt and dark blue jeans, his Avenger sneakers could have been in better shape but at the rate he was growing I figured he would out grow them before they completely gave out giving cause for new shoes. Amelia had her hair up in ribbons she looked like Cindy Lou Who. Wearing a bright orange shirt and pink skirt with stripped leggings underneath she could have easily passed for the storybook character from the Grinch Who Stole Christmas.

The final member of my small army of children was cradled in my arms, staring at the bright lights and noises in the curious fashion seven month old babies do. Amy had yet to voice a personal preference for clothing beyond what was comfortable. Her dress made of some stretch cotton that Gran had fashioned into a beautiful Easter looking dress.

Squirming under the scrutiny of my Grandmother, Donna, I shifted Amy to the other arm trying to adjust her into a more comfortable position. I tried to straighten the crumpled material of my dress in the process of the arm switch. Copley quirked his head at her as if was a puppy trying to understand some exotic animal in his presence.

That she was, an exotic animal or woman I guess you could say. Her frame was tidy, even in her seventies the woman counted calories rigorously. The wardrobe she chose was nothing I would ever put together but somehow it flattered her Native American skin and dark eyes. A scarlet red sweater with chocolate colored pants; it was striking and bright but suited her well. Most grandmothers her age had been widowed long ago but my Grandpre trailed after her as he had done for their 55 years of marriage.

The two could not have been more contrasting if they tried. Grandpre hair had been salt and peppered since I was a child. Her jet black hair had only grown blacker in the years since my youth, most likely with the help of Miss Clairol. His blue eyes reminded me of the twinkling Santa's in the malls; as a teenager I couldn't look her in the eye because they were so dark I feared my soul would be sucked into their blackness. Her 5'2" petite frame nestled well into his 6' flat body.

They stopped short of just arm length from me. My Grandmother landed a critical eye on Copley and internally I cringed at what she may say in the presence of the kids. Personality wise I was so similar to Gran it wasn't canny but Grandmother Donna and I had only genetics to prove we were related.

Surprisingly she bent to look at Copley, "Finally a Great Grandchild that looks like me." She smiled and tweaked his nose. Copley was beaming ear to ear, Amelia had a little frown on her face but my Grandpre fixed that with his own comment.

"Yes, Donna one looks like you but all of the other eleven Great Grandkids seem to have my eyes." He laughed softly and swung Amelia up into his arms. "Stackhouse blue my foot. You have the Peterson Blue eyes, who ever heard of a Stackhouse before Gran?"

Amelia giggled as Grandpre's beard tickled her cheek when she hugged him. I let out a huge sigh of relief. Perhaps I had made the introductions more difficult than they needed to be. The entire drive I had issued commands, restrictions, and general rules of behavior to the kids and in some instances to Eric as well.

Don't touch the antiques in Grandmother's house. Always use a coaster. Amelia cross your ankles when you sit in a chair. Copley open the doors for any girl or woman. Eric don't flirt with any of my cousins. The list went on and on. Six and a half hours is a long time to remember every rule the Grandparents had drilled into me for the weekly summer visit we endured as a children.

Grandmother never left the state, or that was her claim to fame anyhow. She had never travelled south of the border, Wyoming's border. So she had missed two of her Granddaughter's, Daisy and Rebecca, weddings that happened in Denver a few years back. She wasn't much on travel around Wyoming either. Claiming everything she ever cared about never strayed far from her.

There was a big family reunion planned for the Peterson side of the family. Pam had squawked about going until Jason relented. For some reason Pam really got on well Grandmother Donna, perhaps because they were both vain about their appearances. Who knew? Anyway all of the cousins from my mother's side of the family were to be there as were my Aunt Bethany and Uncle Thomas, the two living siblings my mother had. Uncle Bill had passed from lung cancer the year before I graduated high school but his daughter Holly was supposed to be making an appearance from Houston before the weeks end.

I knew Eric was up for the antics of my mom's side of the family but Copley and Amelia had different ideas about what family was about. That was mainly my fault. Families were the people there for you always and loved you regardless of what you did. This side of the 'family' had their own notions about what was good and right for a family. They dealt in conditional love rather than unconditional love. It was one of the reasons we had such limited contact with them growing up. Grandpre was more affection outwards but his temper once riled was hard to cool back down. Grandmother had always been tight fisted with her affection as well as any money she had. She never let anyone forget a dime they ever borrowed from her; which caused strife between her and Daddy after my mom's funeral.

Jason and Pam had travelled ahead of us in the travel trailer they had rented for the week. Eric and I had opted for staying at a hotel a half an hour away from the reunion spot. I didn't want to stay too close to Grandmother because she always commented on how much I looked like my mom. It didn't stress me out until I was older and a teenager, I found out the dirty secret she hated her eldest daughter.

"Where is the handsome man you married?" Grandmother looked around me like I was round enough to hide Eric behind my belly.

"He had to run back for the baby's things. We stepped out and left them on the bed." I centered myself, "Kids this is Great-Grandmother Donna and Great Grandpre Boyd. This is Copley," I settled my hand on the shoulder of my stout little man. "Grandpre you are holding Amelia." Who squeaked cutely at the mention of her name. "This is Selah Amethyst Stackhouse."

Amy swung her arm around pointing at a random object which caused everyone to laugh. I heard the elevator behind me ding and hoped it was Eric who was returning with Amy's bag. My energy was lagging after six months of pregnancy; dealing with my Grandparents wasn't on the top of list to do. But here we were anyhow.

"There is that handsome man. Oh, my how you have grown." Grandmother Donna crooned at Eric. I felt his hand slide around my waist; he pressed his palm against the side of my bump. The child inside responded automatically by kicking madly. He pressed a kiss to my temple and graciously took Amy out of my arms.

"Hello, Donna you are looking radiant as always." He gave my Grandmother a light peck on her cheek as was expected. After the exchange Eric shook Grandpre's hand and we made our way to the restaurant that was catering the first night of the reunion.

"Where is your father Sookie?" Grandpre asked.

I gave Eric a side glance but he was deep in conversation with Grandmother about the Occupy situation in large cities.

"He couldn't get the time off from work to make it." I stammered.

"Nuth uh." Amelia piped up from the security of Grandpre's arms. "He didn't want to freeze his balls off from the cold shoulder way up north. Isn't that what he said Momma? Great Grandpre where is the cold shoulder that would freeze a person's balls off, I don't got any but my brother does."

I rolled my eyes to the back of my head as my Grandpre's laughter boomed from his chest.

"Well that solves one mystery." Grandpre choked out. "The cold shoulder left a while ago so you don't have to worry about your brother."

Stepping into the restaurant I hear my relatives before I saw any of them. The female voices outnumbered the males in the family at a three to one ratio. Jason was the only Grandson for either side of our families. It seemed the balance of my mother's generation was woofully lopsided during my generation. Jason was the oldest and only grandson. I had seven other cousins all female from the Peterson side of the family.

Eric leaned down to whisper in my ear, "Give me the run down again."

"Jason, me, the twins Cheyenne and Cody no I can't tell them apart until after they start talking. Rachel, Julia, Rebecca, Daisy and then Holly she's the baby." I whooshed out in a single breath.

"Who do they belong to?" Eric continued into my ear.

"Really?" I looked at him to make sure he wasn't pulling my leg but the sincerity in his eyes lead me to believe he was either trying to calm my nerves or he had really forgotten which girls belonged to which relative. Sighing, I shifted the bag to the other arm so I could lean into his side while I explain the genealogy of my family to him. "Mom had Jason then me. Aunt Bethany right out of high school had the twins Cody and Cheyenne, but she wouldn't tell anyone who the girls' father is. Uncle Thomas got married with his first wife Elizabeth and they had Rachel, Aunt Elizabeth split afterwards. Aunt Bethany got married to Uncle Mike and they had Julia, yes they are still together after all these years and the twins think of Mike as their father. Uncle Thomas got remarried to Aunt Jennifer, they had Rebecca and Aunt Jennifer died in child birth. Uncle Thomas was married yet again to his third wife, who quite frankly I can't remember her name but anyway they had Daisy, yes number three got a divorcee and split too imagine that. Then Uncle William returned from over sea's with his wife, Itsy, they had Holly who lives with her mom still in Houston, she just graduated from high school and I think her mom and her are going to be sometime later in the week."

Copley had wandered over to Jason and Amelia had squirmed out of Grandpre's arms to find a cluster of little girls ranging in age from seven to two. My family had either no clue what birth control was or they didn't understand the process of using it. Either way the room was full of children under the age of ten.

I saw my cousins littering the room with their children and I felt out of place and uncomfortable. All of the girls didn't get along well with Jason or me. We were the outcast cousins whom grew up in the 'big city'. It was humorous to be polite. Rock Springs was not a large city but we did have quite a few amenities that the smaller town of Gillette didn't have. In the late 90's we finally had a Taco Bell come to town but to date Gillette still didn't have one. Stupid stuff like that caused strife between the families living in the smaller close knit community of Gillette and the 'larger urban' city of Rock Springs or even Denver.

I had surveyed the room to locate almost a battle like tactic as where to sit and whom to speak with. Amelia was already playing Barbie's with three of the girls who could only be Uncle Thomas's granddaughters. I had received birth announcements from my cousins while on the East Coast; Rachel had married after earning her certificate for teaching at the University. Each year thereafter she had a daughter and she looked to be swollen with child again after a five year break from her last pregnancy. Likewise her sister's Rebecca and Daisy had followed suit with attendance at the University. But that was where the similarities ended. Both women travelled to the 'wilds' of Denver, never to return; until this reunion. Rebecca had the first boy of the great grandchildren and he was looking across the room to Copley. I hoped the little boy didn't have the temperament of his mother whom as a child would hit, pinch and bite. Daisy the youngest of Uncle Thomas's daughters was holding a baby a little older than Amy to her breast. While I was all for breast feeding, it was similar to chewing with your mouth open; it wasn't done in public.

Mentally I shook my and took stock of the rest of the room. Cheyenne and Cody, the bane of my existence going to the Grandparents house as a child, were sitting next to one another eying me. I openly stared back, hoping to give them the impression I wasn't going to be as easy to intimidate as I had been when I was younger. Their younger half-sister sat with them but her nose was buried in a book. Uncle Mike and Aunt Bethany were mingling with the other couples in the room. There were second cousins and a few distance Great Aunts who if memory served me correctly were related to Grandpre.

"Sook." Jason hollered at me waving me over. I didn't want to break the stare down with the twins but my feet were beginning to swell and hurt in the stupid heels Pam had picked out for me. Reluctantly, I broke eye contact with the twins and waddled towards my brother.

Spring 1988 Funeral of Michelle Stackhouse

Gran was standing in the kitchen weeping. I knew how she felt, I missed my momma too. Grandmother Donna sat at the formal dining room table sipping coffee with a pleasant smile about her mouth. Grandpre was reading the newspaper at the end of the table drinking his scalding tea. I know it was scalding because I asked for a sip and he gave it to me. I got a spanking afterwards from him because the tea was too hot and I spit it out on his button up shirt.

He called me a 'spoiled brat' and landed three swats on my butt before Gran came to my rescue. The two grown up yelled at one another and Daddy came to take me to my room while I finished my crying spell.

This was the first time I remember meeting the pair. I didn't like them and told Daddy I wish momma hadn't passed away to go to heaven because the 'Grandparents' came when she left.

"Couldn't we get Momma back? And then we could send the Grandparents back to Gillette." I sobbed into my father's shoulder.

He didn't say anything back but stroked my hair and I felt tears from him land on my bare shoulder.

I watched the twins twirl their pretty skirts in the front yard. We had spent the afternoon at the funeral home and going to bury my mother. Those girls shouldn't be wearing blue and purple skirts; they should have black on like me. It was ugly but as Gran told me when she dressed me earlier in the day it was respectful to show how your insides feel at a funeral. I did feel black, like I was stuck in my bedroom without the light on. Pammy was dressed in black too, she must have felt rotten because she hated even wearing black shoes. She had her black shiny shoes special for church on, so did I.

The twins were spinning still in circles making themselves dizzy and would fall down laughing and do it again. I didn't meet them until this afternoon at the funeral home. Momma had two brothers and one sister. I met one brother and the other one was overseas in Japan on a base. I thought he must be playing baseball because that was the only game I knew of that had a base. Plus Uncle Bill was safe, everyone said how lucky he was because he was safe on base not in the field. He was on his second base and when I asked Daddy if Uncle Bill was good at second base Daddy looked at me really confused until I explained what I meant.

"Uncle Bill is at his second base and he is safe, so I was wondering if he is good at baseball." I was sitting on Daddy's lap in the long dark car driving us to the cemetery. Grandmother Donna, sucked in her breath and Grandpre smiled broadly. Daddy's chest shook and I was afraid he might start crying again, men don't sob like I do, they have silent tears.

But he wasn't about to cry, he chuckled and it was the first time I saw Daddy smile. I remember that smile the best because I wouldn't see him smile again until after the following years' Fourth of July celebration.

"Sweet Sookie, Uncle Bill is in the military. He lives on a base, like a big school full of other military people. He is safe because he isn't where there is violence right now he talks with people all over the world for his job. He doesn't play baseball at all." Daddy pulled me into his arms and I rested my head against his chest.

That was hours ago and now the twins were in the front yard with Baby Rachel spinning in circles.

"Gran, can I go spin in the front yard with the twins?" I asked waiting politely through all the hugs from people from town. But I was done with people I wanted to spin.

"Sweet Sookie you can go out with Jason and Eric, they're in the back yard. I don't want you out front; there isn't anyone out there to watch you." Gran's eyes were a lighter color than mine but they were kind eyes.

"She can go out front with the twins. Bethany is out there, she will watch you." Grandmother Donna barked from behind me. Her voice caused me to jump a foot in the air and let out a squeak. I know she was Momma's momma but she wasn't anything like my happy mother.

"It is alright Donna, I'm sure Sookie can play nicely with Jason in the back yard. Mrs. Ravencroft is out there watching the boys. She doesn't really like crowded places." Gran placed her hand gently on my back and scooted me towards the backdoor. I grabbed Pammy's hand and we raced headlong for the boys.

I heard low voices out in the back yard too. Daddy was sitting in the rocking chair my mother had sat in to watch us play. Eric and Jason were playing in the play houses Pammy and I had made last week when my momma was still alive. I missed her. Pammy ran over to the houses to see what the boys were doing.

I went and stood next to Mrs. Ravencroft. Her eyes were rimmed with red, I could see the lines in her makeup from where her tears had streaked down her face. I reached out and held her hand. She was more family than that Nasty old Grandmother Donna or mean old Grandpre who thought it was okay to hit little girls. I wondered if he ever hit the twins. They lived with Grandmother and Grandpre, in the fancy house in Gillette Wyoming. Daddy and Gran said Jason and I were going to go visit them in a couple of weeks. I didn't want to; especially after Grandpre swatted my butt.

I saw the twins come around the corner and thought to ask them if Grandpre ever spanked them. Letting go of Mrs. Ravencroft's hand, it went limp at her side and I saw her staring off into space with the silent tears that grownups have sliding down her face.

If I could only remember which twin went with which name it would be a lot easier to talk with them. "Cheyenne, Cody." I said loud enough for them to hear me but not loud enough to wake the dead, because Grandpre had told me if I was too loud even outside I could wake the dead. I did want momma back but I didn't want Grandpre's swats on my butt again. "I have a question for you."

"You have to tell us apart for us to answer." The little girl in the purple answered.

"Yeah, we don't talk to people who can't tell us apart. Isn't that right Cody?" The little girl in blue spoke out.

"Well you in the blue must be Cheyenne and you in the purple must be Cody." I thought I was quite clever for listening and I wondered if Momma was proud of me.

"Nope, you got it wrong." Said the little girl in the purple. "I'm Cheyenne and she is Cody."

"But she just called you Cody!" I protested to the little girl in the purple. Sighing and thinking about Dwiddle D and Dwiddle Dum from Alice in Wonderland. "I just have one question. It won't take long at all. Well, since you live with Grandmother and Grandpre, do you get spanking often?"

"Grandpre spank? Are you crazy?" The little girl in blue questioned me back. "Grandpre doesn't spank! He has never hit us. Why are you saying such crazy head things?"

"Yesterday I got a spanking for him." I mumbled, I didn't want the twins to think I was a bad girl but it was too late.

"Don't lie about Grandpre!" The girl in purple squealed and pounced on me.

I was flattened into the ground before I could even think of what had just happened. I all saw was purple, blue and black. There were adults around us before I could even get out a good cry. The twins had decided to step on me once I was on the ground and Pammy who had seen that I was going to play with the twins was skipping across the yard when I was shoved onto my back. She was the one who called for Daddy and her own Momma to save me.

Before I knew it what was going on, Daddy had me in his arms. We were storming into the house and Daddy was yelling for Grandmother.

"Get those little twin devils off my property right now!" Daddy hollered at her.

"Who are you talking about?" I couldn't see my Grandmother's face but I already knew she would have her black eyebrow arched so high it almost touched her hairline.

"Cheyenne and Cody, they just pushed Sookie down and were literally walking all over her!" I could feel Daddy's voice coming from deep in his chest. Feeling the vibrations on my legs and up to my tummy; I was draped over his shoulder almost like a sack of potatoes.

"What did she do?"

"She was lying on the ground getting stepped on! Did you hear me woman?"

"What did she do to get pushed down?" I couldn't see Grandmother but I could see Gran's face, it was shocked.

"Does it fucking matter what she did? Her mother died less than a week ago, we buried her today, and those little heathens pushed my Sweet Sookie on her back and then walked over her. Get them off my property and take yourselves back to the far north." Daddy was panting because his silent tears were about to start again. I could tell.

"What exactly are you saying Corbett Stackhouse?" This was Grandpre's voice, I wanted to turn around and see his face but I was scared he was going to swat my butt again. Instinctually I put my hand over my butt.

"My daughter, your own granddaughter fears you after you hit her yesterday. The two she devils in the back yard bullied my daughter. I don't want you here any longer. You paid your respects. Now go."

"I did more paying than you did." Grandmother's voice had a weird sound to it. Almost like when I tease Jason about something.

"The insurance money will be in at the end of the month and then I will owe you nothing for the funeral. It was a loan Donna, two thousand dollars to bury my wife in a suitable fashion. She was a good woman, despite the family she was born into." Daddy had increased his grip on my legs and I whimpered in response. I could tell Daddy was really mad. Looking at Gran's face again, it had gone from white to beet red. She looked like her head was about to pop off her shoulders.

"If we live now I will never return to this house ever again." Grandpre whispered.

"Goodbye Boyd, don't forget to take the rest of the family with you on the way out." Daddy spun on his heels making me spin around to see the anger on my Grandmother and Grandpre's faces as he marched us to the back yard. I have never forgiven the twins for the part in the big family blow up.