When I talk about my life, people often say, “You should write a book!” My usual response is, “I’m waiting until some people (99% of our relatives) have passed so I don’t make them angry.” I care less and less about that as I age because life is what it is. When I have no family left that speak to me, you, my fair readers, can feed me on holidays. I’ll be right at home in your laundry room, using the washer as a table. Just save me some rolls & slip me a glass or two of wine. White, please. A nice Pinot Grigio. Speaking of holidays, this Thanksgiving provided me with a classic “relative” moment to share & brought similar holiday moments of the past to mind.
Chuck invited me to move in with him after I graduated from college in May of 1992, one semester behind him. It was TOTALLY his idea, regardless of what you might have heard when his mother stood up in front of her Baptist church congregation and asked that we be prayed for because we were “living in sin.” I appreciated those prayers, and felt them working deeply as I was swinging naked from our cheap brass light fixture, but NOT as much as I appreciated the calls from friends saying, “Holy SHIT, Chuck’s mom told the entire church congregation you were living together!” Those, I appreciated. So……I took him up on his offer & my dad helped me move from Springfield to Kansas City. I had a lot of t-shirts, a cheap O’Sullivan coffee table & an end table that was made to look like a dalmatian. It was an easy move.
My dad is the sort of man whose train of thought goes something like this: “She’s moving IN with him? Before marriage? Well, at least she’s not pregnant and I didn’t have to pay for a dime of her college expenses and she’s never given me an ounce of trouble and HOT DAMN! That boy is willing to take this hot mess on? Where do I sign?” That’s my dad. He wasn’t overly upset and as my former college roommate likes to point out, my grandma was likely sure I was sleeping on the sofa because I was such a good girl. God LOVE that woman – I do miss her.
Our apartment was in a really nice, new complex in Overland Park, KS, the most vanilla, suburban city in which one could lay down roots. I longed to live near downtown Kansas City, which was undergoing extensive urban renewal at the time but Chuck liked to be literally five minutes or less from his office. The apartment was 762 square feet and had one bedroom, one bath, a living/dining area and a small kitchen. It sat right next to a major four-lane highway. I loved the traffic noise & Chuck hated it. Furnishings were sparse. Our used microwave oven was so old and heavy that when it quit, we had to disassemble it and carry it to the dumpster in pieces. Amana Radarange, baby! We were living the life! Remember those old sofas from the 60′s and 70′s that were made of a knotty, plaid fabric woven in a lovely array of fall colors? Had one! Chuck’s grandparents had donated it to him for his first apartment. We were very happy and really proud of our first home, despite it’s shortcomings.
We hadn’t made a lot of friends yet and didn’t entertain much (or at all), but Chuck had relatives who also lived in Overland Park and once when several members of his extended family were in town, he invited everyone over. If I remember correctly, in that tiny apartment were Chuck, two aunts, two uncles, a cousin or two and his grandparents, who (bonus!) got to reminisce about their old sofa! Chuck decided it would be nice to give everyone a tour of our place, which, had he thought, could have been accomplished by letting people stand beside the kitchen (card) table and spin in a circle while he yelled out the room names. Now remember, these people are all very, very uncomfortable with the idea of us living together because history will tell you that living with your future mate is bad. Charles Manson and all of his followers? Lived with their mates before marriage. John Wilkes Booth? Assassin and co-habitator. Healthcare.gov website developers? ALL CO-HABITATORS. So you can see why the worrying was rampant. Chuck wanted his relatives to really experience our place and file through all four rooms. He led them just like a realtor needing one more sale to wrap up a good month and when he got to our bedroom, they would not go in. WOULD.NOT.GO.IN. A team of sled dogs couldn’t have pulled them across that threshold. Poor Chuck was all the way in the room pointing out the lovely features (“This is where Noelle was stricken with her first kidney stone!”) and some of them didn’t even go near the open door while others peeked in like one might peek into a room fully expecting to see a dead body but hoping like hell not to. I hurried to look in there thinking, “Have I left a teddy on the bedpost? Panties on the ceiling fan? K-Y Jelly on the dresser? IS THERE A LARGE SPIDER?” Nope. Nothing. I sat back down, as did Chuck, eventually, and the circle of visitors had taken on the look of a gathering of relatives waiting for the doctor to come out and tell them if their loved one survived a harrowing surgical procedure. Apparently just thinking about the sex that went on in that 9×9 room had them all entirely discombobulated. After a few attempts at conversation – “How ’bout a game of Monopoly?” “How ’bout those Chiefs?” “Isn’t that George Brett somethin’?” – the party was clearly over and everyone left. Chuck walked them out and came back inside. He looked at me with an odd expression and said, “Did they think a giant condom was going to attack them if they went in our room?” We still laugh about it today because it was just so…….INANE!
A few weeks later we were (surprisingly) invited over to his aunt and uncle’s house for Sunday dinner and his uncle’s sweet, elderly mother, who is no relation to Chuck, was there for a visit. We were all sitting at the nicely appointed dining room table eating dinner when the woman blurted out, in the clueless manner of Aunt Clara on Bewitched, “DO THEY PAY RENT???” You can’t buy these moments, people. We still laugh about it because our assumption is that she was so absent-minded she thought we lived in the basement or another part of the house & had just come up to dinner. I wanted to yell back, “NO! We live in sin over on 103rd!”
By now, my hope is that you’re getting an idea of why I cringe when holidays roll-around. One year, I walked into Chuck’s grandmother’s house and she greeted me with, “Wow, you’ve really been a-putting it on ain’tcha? You used to not be that big!” I wanted to say, “Yes, Chuck looked into moving me up the Mississippi on a barge but in the long run it was cheaper to just rub Crisco all over me and shove me in the car.” Instead, I turned to Chuck and said, “WHAT THE HELL?” At a previous holiday dinner, she had accused me of not eating enough. I was pregnant and she said, “You’re gonna kill that baby!” I walked out that time and drove to my own grandma’s house. THIS IS WHAT I ENDURE. All out of respect for Chuck. Well, this grandmother is 89 now and still going strong.
Last week, on the day after Thanksgiving, we had dinner with some extended relatives on Chuck’s mother’s side and you guessed it, she was there (although she’s on his dad’s side). Being the nice person that I am, I walked into the living room where she was sitting with Chuck and sat down on the couch. Wyatt was in the recliner across from us, watching TV. The woman looked at me, flung her hand toward Wyatt and said, and I am not EVEN kidding, “That one there, he goes to a school for special kids, don’t he?”
Who SAYS that?? “Special needs or not! Who SAYS that?? A special school? NO. No, he doesn’t. He’s been in the family for 14 freaking years. He’s perfectly normal, if not extremely intelligent and how many……I literally have no words, except NO, he does not go to a “special” school! Now before you sensitive readers freak, I have nothing against children with special needs, obviously, but if your child does NOT have special needs, you don’t want people to say that they do and you certainly don’t want a grandparent who has known the child for over a decade to be telling people that your child has special needs when they don’t! I took a deep breath, counted to 10 and said, “He and his brother go to a private school. His sister went to a public school. They’re both great schools.” How do you even answer that? Thankfully, we don’t think HE heard her asinine question. We’re trying to laugh about it now but I have to tell you that one has just left me shaking my head.
All I know, is at this point in my life, all bets are off as to how I respond. To any relative. About anything. And all of this is happening to me because I CO-HABITATED, right?