In the fourth week of our series we pick up at chapter 6: “The Matriarch & Me”
If you’re just coming across this series, you can catch up from the beginning HERE.
From the trilogy
Somewhere Between This & That: An Absurd Journey
THE MAKING OF A NATURAL DISASTER
This is a work of fiction. Although it is written in the form of an autobiography, it is not one. Clearly, no reasonable person would ever consider this absurd story to be true. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or are used in a fictitious manner. With the exception of public figures and those with reputations of public renown, any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental. Full of salty language – This is intended for mature audiences.
The Matriarch & Me
I LANDED IN Myrtle Beach to find Granddaddy and Nona there to greet me. Nona was a pint-sized, pistol-packing force of nature. She was my great-grandmother and the matriarch of our family. In her youth, she possessed the classic movie star looks of a Jean Harlow or Betty Grable type, but with an attitude that was all Bette Davis. She was widowed a few years into her volatile first marriage when one of her brothers took her abusive husband out drinking and had a wreck. Allegedly, my great-grandfather was killed when the impact of the crash caused the shotgun in the truck to go off — twice. It was ruled an unfortunate “accident”.
Although they were mother and son, she and my grandfather would often fight more like husband and wife. They once had a bumper car style battle down Kings Highway until she caused my grandfather to wrap his car around a pole. Furious that she hadn’t been invited to a political fundraiser Granddaddy was throwing for a family friend, she got drunk and crashed the party, literally. She drove just far enough into the window to break it, then got out of her car demanding to see her son — wearing only a slip, high heels, and a fur coat.
Since my grandparents were divorced, I wouldn’t be staying with either of them. Nona took me to her house in a private community just a little way south of the Myrtle Beach Air Force Base. I loved her house. It was a large single-story home on the oceanfront, but it had relatively few rooms. This meant the rooms it did have were more spacious. There was a guest suite just off the foyer. Beyond the foyer, and through the double doors, was the large living area. You might call it a “great room” and it had a beautiful fireplace. My mother and Daddy-Keys were married in this room back in 1974. Then, there was Nona’s master suite. The bedroom was large, but her bathroom was palatial. It was bigger than the guest bedroom and delightfully gaudy. The carpet was red and the long vanity was black. All the faucets and accents were gold tone and the large black commode made me wonder if the use of the word “throne” in reference to a toilet originated in this very room. On the other side of the room was the most ridiculous jacuzzi tub I’ve ever seen. It was also black and would dwarf any two-person tub. It was oval-shaped, with large shower heads mounted on poles that went all the way to the ceiling and of course, this lavish lavatory wouldn’t be complete without a grand chandelier.
Without question, the best feature of Nona’s home was the view. The entire back side of the house had sliding glass doors facing the Atlantic Ocean. A large deck ran the length of the house with a long walkway stretching out to take you over the dunes and down to the soft, sugary sand. Magnificent.
I was elated to be at Nona’s house and I couldn’t wait to dig into some of her cooking. I didn’t know what to ask for first, fried catfish and corn dodgers, fried chicken and biscuits, homemade fudge, or her famous strawberry cake. Mom had recently gone on a health kick and I was tired of eating bean sprouts, carob coated malt balls, and chicken baked in wheat flour. I was ready for some real food. I ended up making myself sick by eating eleven of her delicious corn dodgers in one sitting. I believe she fried them in something akin to heroin because I couldn’t stop eating them. I would have absolutely nothing to do with Nona’s chitterlings though. Whenever she cooked them I’d stay outside until well after dark trying to outrun the smell.
Nona made sure I attended church and promptly enrolled me in school. I was the new kid again and things didn’t go well. By the third day, I’d once again forgotten I needed to bring my own paper. My red-headed and pale-faced teacher, who wasn’t much taller than I, screamed in my face.
“Are you some kind of stupid IDIOT?! What the hell did they do in California, just GIVE you the paper?!”
“Yes”, I trembled.
Schools I’d attended in California did, in fact, provide students with paper through grade school.
“Well WAKE UP! You ain’t in some fancy California school no more, young lady. Will SOMEBODY please give Miss California here some paper so we can get on with it.”
Everyone laughed and my social fate was sealed.
She was a real fucking troll, but I was sure to have my own paper after that. I also made sure to take my lunch around to the back side of the school so I could eat in peace.
Outside of school, I had a wonderful time at Nona’s and got to visit all the relatives and family friends I’d missed so much. After only a few short months, I was given word that I’d be leaving soon. Incredibly, the doctors were wrong about my mother never walking again. Mom regained her ability to walk just months after the accident. She and Smoke were getting settled into a new place and would be ready for me to come back in about a month.
Time seemed to fly by as I tried desperately to muster up the courage to ask about my father, Strummer. I hadn’t seen so much as a picture of him since I was three and had long forgotten what he looked like. I resembled my grandmother and my uncle quite a bit, but I looked nothing like my mom. At one point, my lack of maternal resemblance had me briefly entertaining the thought that I may have been adopted. This notion was dismissed once my mother started saying, “damn that Strummer face of yours.”
Mom’s stories about my father had increased over the previous year. This was not only due to my growing resemblance to him, but his looking similar to some hot new actor who was starring in a movie I wasn’t allowed to see. Other than apparently looking like a movie star, my mother had nothing good to say about my father. She described him as a philandering, abusive alcoholic, who never paid child support, and had a penchant for thievery.
Mom loved to recount the first time she met Strummer’s family in Aynor. It’s only about 30 miles from Myrtle Beach to Aynor, but they might as well be light-years, especially back then. Like much of western Horry County, it’s a place you’d pass through on your way to somewhere else.
“Those are the biggest collard greens I’ve ever seen in my life!” Lyric exclaimed as the forest-lined highway gave way to tobacco fields.
When Strummer finally stopped the car, Lyric hoped he was pulling a prank, but he wasn’t. The small sharecropper’s shack, with what could’ve been extras from THE GRAPES OF WRATH gathered on its rickety porch, was indeed their destination. There were nearly a dozen people living in this two-room shack with no electricity or running water. It was cold, dark, and dank, with old newspapers filling gaps in the wooden walls. Lyric quickly excused herself and was directed outdoors to use the bathroom. She was expecting at least an outhouse, but there wasn’t one. She disappeared behind a tree in an attempt to relieve and recompose herself, but no such luck. While in mid-stream, a pack of wild hogs chased her out of the woods. This was hilarious, of course, to the inhabitants of the shack, but made for a long and silent ride back to Myrtle Beach.
My seeing or even speaking to Strummer was absolutely forbidden, and everybody knew it, but I couldn’t quell my curiosity. One day, on the bus ride from school, I decided I was going to do it. I was going to march in that house and ask Nona about my father. I was determined as I walked the short distance from the bus stop and through the front door.
“Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, oh please, help us, Lord Jesus.” I heard Nona as I came through the door, but I couldn’t see her.
I dropped my book bag and headed toward her room, but found her on her knees in front of the large console TV.
“Nona! What is it? Are you okay? Are you hurt?” I’d never seen her so upset.
“Jesus, Jesus, Jesus” she continued as she rocked back and forth on her knees, with the remote in her hand.
Looking at the TV, I was shocked to see that the President of the United States, Ronald Reagan, had just been shot.
So today wasn’t going to be the day and maybe I needed to reconsider this whole thing altogether. Just asking about my father could have disastrous consequences for me. The mere mention of him, by anyone, would send my mother into a raging tirade of venomous storytelling. Nona and Mom had always been very close. What if I ask and she tells her? I feared my mom would be so angry she may never let me come to Myrtle Beach again.
Our Special Secret
A COUPLE DAYS passed and I simply couldn’t stand it anymore — I had to ask about my father. I didn’t know when, or if, I would ever have the opportunity again. Just a little more than 48 hours before I was to fly back to California, I finally worked up the nerve. I was shaking, my stomach was in knots, and I could feel my face getting hot as I very slowly approached the kitchen table.
“Yes”, she looked up. “Are you okay?”
“Yes, Ma’am.” I was pretty sure I didn’t look okay and my hands were sweating. It was now or never.
“What is it, darlin’?”
“Can you tell me about my daddy?”
I held my breath waiting for a response as she quietly closed her checkbook, set down her pen, removed her glasses and looked into my eyes.
“Would you like me to call him?”
I exhaled as a huge rush of relief came over me.
“Call him? You know where he is?” I was confused and excited.
“Oh, yes Ma’am. I’ve always known and I can call him right now.” She assured me as she put her glasses back on and plopped the heavy phone book on the table.
“Wait. My mom will freak.” I was about to chicken out.
“Yes, she will. That’s why we aren’t going to tell her.”
“Really? I don’t know, Nona.”
“She’s my granddaughter and you know I love her, but I’ve never agreed with her on this. He’s your blood, Harmonie, and that’s what matters. Now, do you want me to call him or not?”
“You promise we won’t tell Mom?”
“She’ll only know if you tell her. It will be our special secret.”
I was too nervous and excited to stand there as she called. I went to the living room and waited, getting more fidgety with each number I heard her dial on the rotary phone.
“Strummer? It’s Nona.”
I couldn’t even listen. My heart was aflutter with excitement. I couldn’t believe this was actually happening and I waited until I heard her hang up.
“Well?” I was literally jumping with excitement now. “What did he say?”
“He’s coming to see you.”
“Directly, but he lives about an hour away, in Georgetown.”
“Oh, my God! Thank you, Nona, thank you!”
I squeezed her as tight as I could and then began to panic. I needed to fix my hair, no, I needed a bath, and what was I going to wear?
I waited for an excruciating three hours and had all but given up when the doorbell finally rang. I jumped off the couch and darted for the door. I got about four feet from it and stopped to feel the butterflies in my stomach. I took a deep breath and then the final few steps to the front door. When I opened it, I knew down to my soul the handsome man I was looking at was MY daddy. He had black hair and blue eyes just like me and it was love at first sight.
“What took you so long?” I asked
“What took YOU so long, Sugarfoot?” He chuckled. “Let me get a look at you, my first baby girl.”
I was smiling so big my face hurt.
“I want you to meet some people. This pretty little thing here is your sister, half-sister I guess, Stacie, and this is my wife, Shelly. As you can see, we also have one on the way.”
My half-sister was about three and his wife looked like she could pop at any moment. We all went to the living room and did some catching up. He told me he’d quit drinking almost four years earlier and ran a small plumbing business out of his house in Georgetown. He also told me something I didn’t understand at the time. After receiving the call from Nona, he stared out the window and cried for over an hour. I was nothing but excited to see him, so I couldn’t comprehend why he’d do such a thing. It would take many years for me to get it.
They took me to the Pavilion Amusement Park and I had a blast. His wife was too pregnant, and my half-sister was too small, so dad and I got to ride everything together, just us. It was a magical but top-secret reunion. I flew back to California and I didn’t tell a soul.
The absurd journey continues in chapter 8: “La-La Laguna”
If you don’t want to wait, you can purchase the paperback or eBook HERE
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