Let me start this story by issuing a couple of warnings: if you’re easily offended, stop reading now. I curse like a sailor and the humor in my family is definitely politically incorrect.
Also, I live in the Midwest and my family is in California, so by the time a story makes the trip back East I might be getting a garbled version of the truth. All I can say for sure is this is how these stories were told to me.
You’ve been warned. If someone tells you to watch your head, that doorway is low and you hit your head anyway, whose fault is that?
So watch your head.
Let’s start here: to say my sister had a drinking problem is like saying General Custer had a difference of opinion with some Native Americans.
Experience has shown that living 1,700 miles away from my family is just about the right distance, but every once in a while I call my mom and ask how everyone is doing and my mom always says everyone is doing great.
My mom had a tendency to put her own spin on the truth and this is an excellent example:
In one of those conversations my mom said Gloria was getting help for her drinking problem. I figured she was in some clinic drying out and said: “Great, how long is the program?”
I can’t quote her exactly, but my mom said something like: “Two to three years, depending on good behavior.” (The good behavior part is an exact quote.) The light went on over my head and I asked:
“Mom…is my sister in prison?”
You pretty much have to water board my mom to get the whole truth out of her and since I wasn’t there to conduct some enhanced interrogation I had to call my brother Danny to get the straight story.
Apparently my sister was involved in hit and run and there was an outstanding chance she wasn’t sober when she did it…which is pretty fucked up. (Don’t look at me, I warned you about the profanity.)
The point of the story isn’t that my sister went to prison, it’s that my mom tried to put a positive spin on it.
When my mom went on to say at least Gloria wouldn’t have access to alcohol in prison, I pointed out that you could put Robinson Crusoe on the dark side of the moon and the first two things he would make would be a shiv and a still and probably not in that order.
Turned out my sister did time with a female serial killer and I’m not sure they ever met while making license plates, but if they did I’m betting the serial killer thought: “Now that chick has some problems.”
I got a call from my mom telling me that Gloria had suddenly died and nobody knew the cause.
After checking out of the Graybar Hotel, Gloria had moved into the Sierra Nevada foothills and lived an isolated life; I hadn’t seen her in years. When I came home for visits she rarely made the family gatherings.
When I asked my mom about coming home for the funeral she said there wasn’t going to be one; Gloria was going to be cremated and then the family was going to gather at her son Jimmy’s place – also in the Sierra Nevada foothills – have Thanksgiving dinner and spread Gloria’s ashes.
If you’re thinking I’m a dick for not going home for the ceremony:
A. You’re right and…
B. I could see what a clusterfuck this was going to turn into.
When my family goes up the hill to Jimmy’s place they always bring their motorcycles and dune buggies and tear around his property and just because Gloria’s ashes needed spreading that was no reason not to enjoy themselves. I said to my mom: “So you guys are going to have a motocross memorial?”
I pictured someone taking a jump on a Yamaha 250 and spewing ashes in the air as they did so.
Turns out it was worse than that.
A fond farewell
Everyone was busy getting hammered when my mom was asked if she wanted to say a few words and took it as an opportunity to give a sermon.
Danny said mom was reading from scraps of paper that had quotes from Gloria about how she regretted ever taking a drink or smoking a cigarette and was going to live a life of virtue from then on out.
Danny also said Gloria never stopped smoking or drinking and couldn’t figure out where the scraps of paper with the virtuous quotes had come from and later learned they were part of a parole hearing transcript and my mom had cut out the parts she liked.
Gloria was lying her ass off to the parole board to get out of prison and my mom was claiming that she’d had a change of heart and wanted to speak to her family from beyond the grave.
(BTW: It turned out Gloria drank herself to death.)
After delivering her sermon my mom asked how many people were willing to renounce tobacco and alcohol and Danny said pretty much everybody in the room had a beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other. My brother Paul T said he wasn’t going to give up drinking beer, but my mom had managed to make him feel shitty about drinking the one he had in his hand.
But wait, it gets better.
After my mom’s sermon fell flat as an International House of Pancakes breakfast, Gloria’s son Jimmy got up and proposed a toast and everyone should do so with Gloria’s favorite beverage: Red Apple Ale.
Apparently mom and Jimmy didn’t coordinate their program. It was like following a performance by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir with a set by Black Sabbath.
After everyone got good and buzzed they decided to have a mini-bike race inside a giant shed and my sister-in-law Jo missed a turn, wiped out and broke her arm. So my family managed to have a memorial service with injuries.
And you thought I was a dick.
There’s so much that’s wrong with all this, but I have to admit I was laughing my ass off when Danny told me about it. I asked Danny if they ever got around to spreading Gloria’s ashes and he said no, she was still in her box:
“We brought Fun-Size Gloria home with us and she’s sitting on the coffee table freaking me the fuck out.”
That’s a horrible – and really funny – thing to say. If you laughed at that, then you’re horrible, too. And if you didn’t laugh at that, you probably shouldn’t follow me anymore.
Because it’s all downhill from here.