Chapter Eight ~ Joe’s Gramma Tells a Story
Twenty Years Earlier
“I was thirty-five years old when Patrice finally landed a plane in the hanger, you know what I mean?”
Joe looked puzzled and said, “I didn’t know Gramps knew how to fly.”
“I not talking about flying. One of his boys finally meet one of my girls, and next thing I know, I’m pregnant with Estelle.”
Joe understood. He nodded. He had no idea where his gramma was going with this story.
Teresa continued, “I wanted a boy, so as soon as Estelle gets off my nipple, we start trying for a boy. I’m gonna tell you. His sperm got no power. Finally, four years later, we get lucky and he knocks me up. This is Annette. I telling you now, Joe, you want to raise kids, do it when you’re younger. It takes too much energy when you’re older.”
Joe looked at his iWatch. Teresa caught his glance. She said, “Okay, I’ll skip the first few chapters, but I got some good stuff to tell you, especially about Estelle, you wanna hear it.”
“Next time, you can give me all the dirt on Estelle,” said Joe hoping his gramma and Estelle patched things up before then.
Teresa yawned, then said, “The beer tastes good, but not as good as my Budweiser. Maybe I’ll have another bottle when I finish telling you about Annette.”
Joe had no idea his gramma enjoyed beer. He filed it away, making a mental note to surprise her with a six-pack every now and then.
Teresa said, “Annette, almost from the second she was born, was head strong. She was going to do things her way or she wasn’t going to do them. I don’t mean to say she was a bad girl. Just the opposite. Annette was a good girl. But we fought all the time. I tell her to go to bed. She’d say why. I tell her to clean her room, she say, later. She always do what I ask, but she’s always pushing me, you know what I mean?”
Joe nodded, but didn’t say anything.
“When she was in high school, she wants to start dating when she is fifteen. Patrice and I say, no. You’re too young to date. Oh my God, you think we put her in prison. Before we could say another word, she said she is going to her room and never coming out. She stomped to her room, slammed the door loud enough to wake up the dead. Patrice looks at me and says, ‘I hope she means it.’
Joe laughed. He knew his mom could be headstrong when she wanted her way. She usually got it with his dad.
Teresa continued, “Annette got better as she got older. I give her credit, but she still got this problem if she makes up her mind even God is not going to change it. That’s what happened when she goes off to college. We got this rule, you want to date a boy, you bring him home to meet Patrice and me. This work just fine during her freshman year because she’s living at home. Then she announces she is going to live at the college in the dormitory. Why? We feed her. We give her a roof over her head. I do her clothes. She wants to move out, it makes no sense. The college is only five miles from where we live. You agree with me?”
Joe thought his mom made the right decision to get out on her own, but he didn’t want to argue with his gramma. He said, “You were giving her everything.”
“You got a good brain, Joe. We argue with her. Her mind is made up. She got a head harder than rock. She’s going to work part-time at the college to pay the extra. I thought Patrice was going to have a heart attack.
“The next thing we know she shows up for Sunday dinner with her boyfriend. Right away, I don’t like him. I don’t like his looks. He looks too smooth. He hands me and Patrice a line I don’t believe for a minute. I see he got Annette wrapped around his little finger. She’s in love with him she don’t know from nothing, you hear what I’m saying.”
Joe nodded then said, “Was this Joe Wright?”
“Who’s Joe Wright. I don’t know no Joe Wright from nowhere. This was Joe Ritchie. He was the no good son of bitch that knocked her up. When he finds out she’s pregnant, he takes off.”
“He joined the army?” Joe asked.
“What army. He never was in the army, air force, or the marines.”
Joe reached inside his pants pocket and pulled out the folded letter he found in the metal box. He said, “Gramma. I found this letter. Look at the address, it’s Lieutenant Joe Wright and the return address says he’s in the army.”
Teresa took hold of the envelope and opened it. She pulled out the letter bringing it up within a foot of her eyes, and read it. While she was reading the letter, she flooded the atmosphere with one curse word after another. When she finished reading the letter, she handed the it back to Joe, “If I get my hands on him, I gonna snap his neck like I snap a chicken’s neck when I was younger. That’s what I’m gonna do. That’s no Joe Wright. That’s Joe Ritchie. I remember the letter. I picked it up from the mailbox. Annette is home with you and I get the mail and I say who’s this Joe Wright in the army who’s sending you a letter. And, Annette says, ‘He’s a friend from college.’ She thinks I don’t know nothing. But I know she was lying to me. But the truth finally comes out.”
Joe said, “What can you tell me about Joe Ritchie?”
“I’m going to need another beer before I get started. I got a story to tell you.”
UPON THE SAND.
By Ella Wheeler Wilcox
All love that has not friendship for its base
Is like a mansion built upon the sand.
Though brave its walls as any in the land,
And its tall turrets lift their heads in grace;
Though skilful and accomplished artists trace
Most beautiful designs on every hand,
And gleaming statues in dim niches stand,
And fountains play in some flow’r-hidden place:
Yet, when from the frowning east a sudden gust
Of adverse fate is blown, or sad rains fall,
Day in, day out, against its yielding wall,
Lo! the fair structure crumbles to the dust.
Love, to endure life’s sorrow and earth’s woe,
Needs friendship’s solid mason-work below.
The singer only sang the Joy of Life,
For all too well, alas! the singer knew
How hard the daily toil, how keen the strife,
How salt the falling tear; the joys how few.
He who thinks hard soon finds it hard to live,
Learning the Secret Bitterness of Things:
So, leaving thought, the singer strove to give
A level lightness to his lyric strings.
He only sang of Love; its joy and pain,
But each man in his early season loves;
Each finds the old, lost Paradise again,
Unfolding leaves, and roses, nesting doves.
And though that sunlit time flies all too fleetly,
Delightful Days that dance away too soon!
Its early morning freshness lingers sweetly
Throughout life’s grey and tedious afternoon.
And he, whose dreams enshrine her tender eyes,
And she, whose senses wait his waking hand,
Impatient youth, that tired but sleepless lies,
Will read perhaps, and reading, understand.
Oh, roseate lips he would have loved to kiss,
Oh, eager lovers that he never knew!
What should you know of him, or words of his?—
But all the songs he sang were sung for you!
The Singer, in India’s Love Lyrics, retrieved from http://www.gutenberg.org/files/8197/8197-h/8197-h.htm. author unknown.
Chapter Seven ~ Gramma Surprises Joe
Forty-five minutes later, Joe’s grandmother was sitting in Joe’s living room. Joe called from the kitchen area, “Gramma, you want bottled water?”
“No, I don’t want no bottled water, what else you got.”
“How about a can of soda. I have Diet Coke.”
“No, I don’t want no soda. What else you got?”
“Would you like a glass of wine? I have merlot.”
“No, I don’t want no wine. What else you got?”
“I have beer?”
“That’s good, bring me a bottle,” said Teresa.
Joe opened two bottles of beer, walked into the living room from the kitchen area and handed a bottle to his grandmother. He placed a napkin on the coffee table in front of her. She took hold of the bottle and held it up to the light and read the label.
“What’s this? It don’t have the same color as my Budweiser. I never heard of no Red Wing Brewing Company. What kind of beer do they make? This looks like the cheap stuff. You get on sale some place?”
Joe thought, you don’t want to know what I paid for the beer, it might cause an aneurysm. Joe smiled and said, “It’s a local brewery, Gramma. It’s really good. Try it.”
Teresa took a sip of the beer. She let it sit in her mouth for a moment. Then she said, It’s too dark to taste good. Definitely not as good as Budweiser. You know the beer with the big horses. I ever tell you, Joe, there are more horse’s asses than horses?”
Joe didn’t quite no how to respond. He said, “No, you never told me that one.”
“It’s true, Joe. A horse is a horse and it’s got an ass. A horse is not going to kick you out of your home and take away your money. Then you got people who there is no better description than to call them a horse’s ass. You understand this truth? Now, let me tell you about Estelle …”
Before Joe’s grandmother continued, he cut her short. He said, “Gramma, while I was getting our beers, I emailed a lawyer friend of mine. He owes me a big favor. He’s going to come over this afternoon and fix it so you won’t have to go back to the nursing home.”
Joe’s gramma said, “This is like Christmas in September. Estelle can’t sell my house until I sign the power of attorney. Now, I’m not going to sign anything. I been angry at St. Anthony for not answering my prayers, but I think he sent you to me, so I going to take him out of the laundry basket and put him back on the shelf.”
Terese raised her bottle toward Joe and said, “Salute, When I see this lawyer, I’m going make a new will. Estelle is going down the toilet. All she gonna get is five dollars for a meal at MacDonalds. I gonna put you in it.”
Joe said, “Thanks, Gramma, but maybe you and Estelle can work things out. I’m set. I don’t need anything.”
“Now, this proves I’m going leave everything to you. I gonna outlive Estelle anyway. She likes to make everybody think she’s a saint or something. She goes to church. She walks in church like she’s the Pope. Everybody knows she’s not the Pope but her. I could tell you stories about her but I ain’t gonna do it. Her husband he got no balls. He lets her run all over him like she’s a truck. He goes, ‘Yes, Estelle. No, Estelle. Whatever you say, Estelle.’ What kind of man is that who acts like he is a door mat? She don’t got my genes. She got Patrice’s genes, all the bad ones.”
Teresa sipped her beer and talked and talked and talked about Estelle. Joe gently moved her away each time, but it was a losing cause. Forty-five minutes and another beer later,
Teresa lost steam. She looked at Joe and said, “Okay, what you got on your mind?”
Joe leaned forward from his chair across from the sofa and said, “Gramma, I’m going to talk to you about something that may be difficult for you to talk about.”
Teresa said, “I’m in my eighties. You think I don’t know what’s going on in the world? You think you gonna tell me something that is gonna shock me?”
Joe sat up. He looked at his grandmother and decided to lay it all out for her. He said, “The other day I was going through the things in mom and dad’s house. I’m clearing everything out because I want to sell it.”
Teresa raised her hand. She said, “Don’t tell me no more. I know what you gonna say. I gonna save you some time.”
“How do you know what I’m going to say? I didn’t say anything, yet, Gramma? I don’t mean any disrespect, but let me finish,” said Joe.
Teresa wagged a finger at Joe. She said, “You listen, Joe. You went snooping where you not supposed to be snooping. And, because you go snooping where you not supposed to go snooping you find something you wasn’t intended to find. When you find it, you got your ass all tied up tighter than a leaky pipe with duct tape. How am I doing so far?”
“Keep going,” said Joe.
“You find out your mama, my Annette got herself knocked up when she was in college. And, you find out you was the one who slide down the chute and become my grandson. Do I hit the hammer on the nail?”
“Yes, but …”
“Don’t you give me no yes, but. You wanna know about your real father. You got this obsession. Am I right?”
“You listen to me. This man who knocked Annette up was a no good bum then, and if he is still alive, which I hope not, he’s even worse now. You can count on it,” Teresa made a gesture of washing her hands.
Joe said, “I going looking for him. Tell me what you know.”
“You want to know the story? I’m gonna give you the story and you better listen cause I’m only gonna say it once unless you want me to repeat it. You understand?”
Joe didn’t understand, but he nodded in agreement.
Love is the law of God. You live that you may learn to love. You love that you may learn to live. No other lesson is required of Man.
Success Is A Continuous Journey
Before you react, think. Before you spend, earn. Before you criticize, wait. Before you quit, try.
Chapter Six ~ Joe Visits His Fiesty Gramma
Joe pulled his black BMW into the Loving Care Assisted Care Facility. His stomach hurt. He knew his mom would never place her mother here. He felt a flash of anger toward his aunt Estelle, then backed off. Maybe his gramma failed since he last saw her, he thought. He kicked himself for being a poor grandson. He got out of his car, took in the finely manicured lawn, and saw a smattering of gold and red maple leaves on the lawn. He love autumn. He loved everything about it, the turning of the leaves, the cooler crisp air, and football. He loved football, especially Ohio State football. Today was almost to good to do anything by play golf with Tony instead of visiting his gramma. He felt an instant rush of guilt, took a deep breath and walked up to the building entrance. The entrance was under a portico in front of an automatic double door. The double doors slid open when he was still five feet away.
Joe walked through the entrance. When Joe entered the assisted care facility, the smell hit him. It was a strong, institutional cleaning smell, strong enough to make Joe start breathing through his mouth. He noticed the entry hall. The floor was polished granite tile, three large red vases of synthetic tropical plants were placed against the walls. There was a small, polished cherry table with brochures and forms to his right. In front on him, twenty feet away was the receptionist. She was staring at a computer screen and paid no attention to him. He walked toward her. There were three long corridors one in front of him, and one to either side of him. He saw a man wearing green scrubs, pushing a small table with some food and meds on it down the hall in front of him. Joe assumed the man was a nurses aide. The nurses aide and the receptionist were the only evidence of life. Joe knew something was seriously wrong with his gramma.
Joe walked to the receptionist’s desk and stood silently for a moment. The receptionist was chewing gum, and looking at her Facebook page. He cleared his throat. She turned slightly toward him and said, “I’ll be with you in a minute. I’m busy.”
Joe’s face turned red, and he felt his jaw clenching. He said, “I want to see my grandmother. Can you tell what room, she’s in?”
The receptionist rolled her eyes, closed her Facebook page and said, “What’s your grandmother’s name?”
Joe said, “Teresa Rigeri.”
The receptionist turned back to the computer, and said, “How do you spell it.”
Joe said, “The first name or the last name?” He knew he said it sarcastically. He wished he hadn’t answered so quickly.
The receptionist made a slight turn toward Joe and said, “Last name?”
Joe spelled his gramma’s name. The receptionist blew a bubble with the gum and popped it while she typed it in. She turned back to Joe and said who are you?”
Joe said, “I’m Joe Astore, her grandson. She was my mother’s mother.”
“Who’s your mother? I don’t see any Astore on the list of approved visitors,” said the receptionist.
“My mother was recently killed in a car crash.”
“Oh. Give me your driver’s license.”
Joe snapped, “What are you going to do with it?”
The receptionist gave him a look and said, “Are you serious? I don’t have to let you in here if you have an attitude.”
Jack said, “I’ll show it to you, but you can’t have it.”
The receptionist said, “Then you can’t come in.”
Joe said, “You are creating major issues for yourself. I’m sure you’re aware of State Statute 101.322.6 that says, and I quote, ‘No one has the right to make a copy of another’s driver’s license without the permission of said person. Violations are punishable by up to five years in prison.’ You don’t have my permission and I’m going to report you to police if you don’t let me see my grandmother.” Joe felt pleased with himself and how he crafted a lie on the spot as if it were the truth.
“Hey, I’m cool. You’re grandmothers in room 110 C. The C stands for center hall,” said the receptionist. She pointed down the corridor in front of Joe. Then she added, “I’m only doing a job. They don’t pay enough, there’s no insurance, and …”
Before the receptionist could continue her litany of work related grievances, Joe was walking down the center corridor searching for room 110 C. The odd numbered rooms were to his left, the even numbered rooms were to his right. Ahead of him, he spotted the nurse’s aide coming out of one room and pushing his cart. The aide stopped at an even numbered room half way down the corridor.
Joe realized the aide went into room 110 C. Joe was about to enter the room and stopped when he heard the aide say, “Teresa you have to take your medicine. It’s on your sheet.”
“I don’t need no medicine,” Joe’s gramma said.
“Will you drink this juice for me?” said the aide.
“I not gonna drink your juice. You trying to drug me like you drug everybody else in this place.”
“I’m going to report you to the nurse and they’ll make you take your medicine,” said the aide.
Joe opened the door, the aide turned around. He looked at Joe and said, “You’ll have to step out until I’m finished.”
Joe’s gramma said, “That’s my grandson, he can stay. You get your skinny ass out of my room before I tell my grandson to smack you. And take your pills with you.”
The aide stood up, and said, “When I finish my rounds, I’m putting you on report. You’re in big trouble.” He turned, ignored Joe and pushed his cart out into the corridor.
Joe walked over and kissed his grandmother on the cheek and hugged her. He stepped back and said, “Gramma, what’s going on?”
“You don’t wanna know. Joe, let me tell you something, growing old is hell. You think your kids gonna love you and take care of you, it’s a big mistake. When your grandpa, Patrice, died, God bless his holy soul, I lived on my own, in my house. I don’t need nobody to take care of me. Annette always comes to visit me. Your mother is a saint, she’s talking to Patrice now telling him about the hell I’m living. Estelle, she’s not like Annette. She’s different. All she thinks about is money. I spell it for you C A S H. She never bought me a present. Never once. Annette, never forgot my birthday or Christmas. Why God took Annette and not Estelle I have no answer. Estelle talked me into coming to this place, says it’s going to be nice for me. Your mom told me not to go. After your mom and dad died, Estelle begged me to try it for two weeks. Okay, I try anything once. I’m here and Estelle tells me I’m staying here. She going to get power of attorney for me to sign so she can control everything for me. She told me if I don’t sign it when she brings the papers she’s going to a judge and the judge will give it to her.”
Joe said, “She can’t make you sign what you don’t want to sign. You’re competent.”
“That’s why I don’t want to take no pills. They drug you up and you don’t know what day it is.”
Joe said, “You want to get out of here?”
“Do I wanna get out of here? You don’t have to ask me twice. You gonna help me?”
“Get dressed and get your things, we’re going to walk out of here and you never have to come back.”
“You just like your mother, Joe. Just like her. God bless you.”
“Actually, Gramma, that’s why I came.”