I spent my first Christmas as a free woman with my grandmother. This was back when I had just left an abusive situation and I wasn’t exactly what you would call “mentally sound.”
I got back right before the holidays and everyone had already made plans that I couldn’t just jump in on. Well, everyone except for Grandma Betty. She wasn’t really doing anything for Christmas and I decided the universe was giving me a sign to go over to her place.
Grandma was an Airforce wife. When she married my grandfather she was under the impression that he was an Air Force Ride or Die. Then my grandfather came back from a mission and announced that he would not be renewing his time with the armed forces; rather, he was going to seminary.
And so she became a priest’s wife.
We spent early Christmas Eve talking about her life. As children, we tend to not think about our grandparents as real people who led lives independent of their families before they settled down. I had no idea that she had met Clarke Gable and had boyfriends before my grandfather, but she did. It kind of blew my mind.
I ended up sharing a little bit about my then-predicament. I told her enough about my situation while sparing the uglier details, but she held up her hand and disappeared to her room. She came back with half of a picture. I recognized it from a family event that I had brought the human dumpster fire to. He had been ripped from the picture – quite viciously, too, judging from the tear. She said something along the lines of,
She pointed to the cabinet below the sink and snapped her fingers.
“There should be a bottle of Wild Turkey under there. Get it for me, would you?”
I had no idea what Wild Turkey was, so imagine my surprise when I opened the cabinet and saw a bottle of bourbon sitting next to the Lysol. A true priest’s wife, indeed.
“It sounds like you could use a glass of this stuff,” she said as she gave both of us a generous pour. It was the first time I ever drank bourbon neat. We didn’t talk about my troubles anymore, rather, we both sipped Wild Turkey and watched It’s a Wonderful Life.
This is my grandmother on one of the last extensive trips she ever made. I had overcome much of my crazy situation. Thanks to my grandmother’s support, I was able to go to a community college and get my grades back up enough to transfer into Brenau University. I was the first kid to graduate in my family. She made a point to be there even though it was difficult for her to travel.
My Aunt Susie passed away a little before my grandmother. I didn’t know her health was in decline, so it came as a bit of a surprise and shock to me.
My favorite memory of my Aunt Susie centers around my Uncle Mark and Norm MacDonald. At that point in time Norm Macdonald was having in the middle of a minor comeback as a voice actor.
Funny thing about my Uncle Mark: he sounds VERY MUCH like Norm MacDonald. So much, in fact, that as a child I just assumed they were the same person. I would tell people that my uncle was on the radio and in movies. This falsity didn’t matter much with other children too young to know better, but it became a problem when I started telling adults that my Uncle Mark was the dog in Doctor Doolittle.
My Aunt Susie overheard me and set the record straight.
“Do you know that the person you are talking about is not the same person as your uncle?”
“It’s him, I swear!”
“No, it’s an actor. His name is Norm MacDonald and he was on Saturday Night Live a long time ago. Your Uncle Mark was never on Saturday Night Live. They are two different people.”
I’m glad she did that. I probably would have kept on telling people I was related to Norm until I learned the truth via the hard way. This wasn’t out of the ordinary; I told people that my Uncle Hubert went blind after he was struck by lightning until I was seventeen years old. I was convinced that he told me so himself when I was six. The reality was this: Uncle Hubert didn’t go blind from getting struck by lightning. He went blind because his pituitary gland exploded and caused him to see a flash of white – like lightning. I told people he survived natural electrocution well into my adulthood. Well in.
With that in mind, I am grateful that Aunt Susie took the time to set me straight.
The family opted to wait and have a belated memorial for Grandma Betty and my Aunt Susie. It takes place this weekend in Darien, GA, and I can’t be there because of finances and work.
I am thinking about my family, though, and I am thinking about these two women and how awesome and loved they were while they were here.
Aunt Susie, thanks for not letting me live my life thinking that Uncle Mark was Norm MacDonald.
Grandma Betty, I’m so happy that I got to say goodbye to you back in the summer. You were a down ass lady and I’m so grateful for everything you made possible.
Rest in peace, ladies.