Monday, October 16, 2006

Skeletons in the Closet Continued: Grandma's Little Secret

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored!" Fifteen days and counting until Samhain, and dark moon this week! Do you know where your ancestors are? In order to understand yourself better, you should chase down those forebears and see how they rocked on.

Take my mom's mother, for instance.

When I knew Granmaw, she was a fat old lady who could sing Appalachian ballads all afternoon. She had a memory like a needle point. Later I found out that some of the old songs she sang were ballads that dated to the Crusades. She said her grandfather taught them to her. I don't think he fought in the Crusades. He must have learned them from his grandfather. Or grandmother.

I was a rowdy teenager in those times, and Granmaw used to be called upon from time to time to give me lectures on morality. It was all I could do to keep from laughing in her face.

How can you take advice on morals from a woman who housed her husband and her lover under her roof for 30-some years?

(Hey, you in the back row! Stop snickering! This is absolutely true!)

My grandmother stubbornly made a very bad marriage. Her husband was mean as a junkyard dog, kind of like Big Daddy in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, except with a potty mouth. When Granmaw married him, they went to live on a rented farm. And as with so many farmers in the 1920s, they went broke.

Granmaw and Grandaddy had a hired hand who lived at the farm with them. Let's just call him Bubba. I guess Granmaw got sick of being pushed around, and she and Bubba ... well ... emmmmm.

But here's where it gets really good. After Grandaddy's farm failed, he and Bubba went into town and impressed the town slickers with their work ethic. Just before my mama and her identical twin sister were born, Grandaddy and Bubba were offered the job of managing some gas stations. Grandaddy was able to buy a big house with six bedrooms.

And Bubba moved in. He stayed thirty years.

Bubba was a hard-drinkin' womanizer with a rotten temper, but he sure had a soft spot for Mama and her twin sister. In fact he often dragged them along to the local saloon and bragged about being their father.

And voila! He was.

My mama had an older brother who hated her (and Bubba). Older brother got his medical degree, and the first thing he did as a doctor was take a paternity test on Mama and Auntie Mame. I think they did it by blood type then. So Grandaddy knew he was raising bastard twins by the time my mama was in grade school. He never let on. How would it look? He had risen in the oil industry and was Western Maryland distributor of Sinclair Oil. He was a Big Man in the Community, a Lion, a Mason, and an Elk. And a deacon at church.

Bubba was just Bubba. Still living at home with Granmaw and Grandaddy.

Sorta makes you wonder, doesn't it? We cousins did a lot of speculation about that triangle. In its simplest form it's just a sort of polygamy. It gets more interesting if you imagine threesomes. That was the position of some of my more rowdy cousins, but Grandaddy had a mistress, so I think it took the tame route.

In 1972 Mama and Auntie Mame got drafted for a study at NIMH. More about that later in the week. But NIMH took blood samples from Granmaw and Grandaddy, and lo and behold they called Mama one sunny day and said, "Ahem, Mrs. X, the man who says he's your father ... isn't."

And my mama said, "Yeah, Bubba's my father. I always sorta knew it."

I never saw much of Bubba. He died when I was nine. My most vivid memory of him is him lying there in the coffin. And I pretty much felt like, "Good riddance."

I'm very satisfied with my spouse and have never been tempted to invite another fella to bunk in Chateau Johnson. But if I did, I'd just be following the good ol' white trash ways of my mama's kin, all now Asleep with the Confederate Dead.

May they rest in peace. They never had any when they was a-breathin.



kayakdave said...

AHHH. The twists and turns of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.

Autumn said...

I have boring relatives, unless you count my cousin who was in the Klan (or so the rumor said). I enjoyed the post. Thanks for sharing the story

Morrigan Waters said...


Athana said...

I just love this blog.

I wish I had a story to rival this one.

My mama's kin came partly from the Shenandoah Valley, but partly from Vermont. Dad's from upright, uptight Mennonite-type stock. I have to say I'm a bit partial to mama's side -- maybe cause they seemed to like who I was and ask my opinion about things (even when I was 9 or so), whereas Dad's folk were always telling me what I was that was wrong ("Your skirts are too short." "Don't be stubborn like your father").

Mom's side laughed a lot and told jokes; dad's side didn't. Mama's side had more mild-mannered men and more strong women. If anyone had a triangle going it'd've been on mom's side, without a doubt.