A Salute to Mary Grandma

Okay, so a warning in advance.  This will qualify as a PG-13 blog.  Or let’s call it a Sunglasses and Turkey Gravy blog.  When my sun glasses fell into the gravy pan on a Thanksgiving Day years ago, some very ungrandmotherly words escaped my lips.  The grand kids were much younger then, but to this day, when it’s time to make gravy, my son-in-law automatically clears the kitchen.

So back to Mary Grandma.  When I divorced my husband, I did not divorce my mother-in-law, Mary Janc.  She was a beautiful woman but she had a challenging life.  Her parents divorced when she was very young—six or seven or so.  She and her mother boarded a train and moved from New Jersey to Arizona.  I met Mary Grandma’s father once.  He was a gruff old guy who had never learned to read and who lived in the neighborhood he grew up in because he couldn’t read the street or highway signs.

By the time Mary Grandma was 16, she was a married woman with a child on the way.  My father-in-law, Herman, always liked to tell the story of how the first time she made black-eyed peas, she cooked so many that they had to fill up every pot in the house.  When he went away to the Pacific during World War II, she was left to raise her kids on her own for a while, and I suspect from things I heard along the way that during the time he was gone, she may not have always stuck to the straight and narrow.

I didn’t meet her until 1963 when I started dating my first husband.  She was always snazzily dressed with her hair and makeup in perfect order.  And although her Thanksgiving turkey dressing is amazing, she was not the very best cook.  She always boiled corn on the cob for a minimum of fifteen minutes.  Yum!  Other than overcooked corn, however, we got along just fine.

When I graduated from college in 1966, Herman and Mary were living in Las Vegas, and I was engaged to their son.  He was an iron worker at the Nevada Test Site where his father also worked.  So that summer, after school got out, I went to Vegas and ended up getting a job as a secretary/receptionist at a small construction company.  Toward the end of that first week, my boss told me that “the big boss” was coming in from Oregon for a meeting with people from Bullhead City, and he needed someone to go along to take notes.  Would I fill the bill?

For the record, I was twenty-one at the time.  I was a six-foot tall blonde, with blue eyes.  I weighed 132 pounds and had 23 inch waist.  Do you see where this is going?  Maybe you do, but I didn’t—not back then.  So I said sure.  I went home and and told Mary Grandma was was up.  To her credit, she did not roll her eyes.  She did not say “WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?”  Nope, she treated me like an adult and let me go.

Pretty soon The Big Boss showed up in his rented Cadillac and off we went.  As we drove, he told me that the people from Bullhead City were going to meet us in Searchlight which is right around sixty-miles from Las Vegas.  I haven’t been to Searchlight in years, and I know it’s changed remarkably since then, but at the time, it consisted of two run-down one story casinos, a couple of equally rundown motels, a gas station, and maybe a grocery store.  TBB pulled into the parking lot of the first casino and told me this is the place we were supposed to meet the Bullhead City guys.

Inside, he hauled out a wallet loaded with hundred dollar bills, laid one of them on the bar, and ordered himself a Chivas.  “What’ll you have?” he asked me.  I had barely made it past the legal drinking age, so my drinking vocabulary was somewhat limited.  “I’ll have a screwdriver,” I told him.  That was the one drink I knew.

By the time we finished our first drink, I was starting to wonder about our supposed meeting.  TBB ordered a second round before excusing himself to “go check,” I’d had a nodding acquaintance with a few bartenders at some of the sketchy dives where Jerry Janc liked to hang out, and I figured I needed a friend, so when the bartender delivered the second round, I asked him, “Who’s going to give out first, him or me?”  The bartender gave me a puzzled look. “Isn’t that guy your husband?”  “No,” I told him, “he’s my boss.”  “Got you covered, lady,” the bartender said.  “Don’t you worry about a thing.”  He dumped out my screwdriver and came back with straight orange juice.

For the next long while, TBB continued to pay for “double” screwdrivers while I drank straight OJ and he drank straight Chivas.  At one point he allowed as how I could really hold my liquor.  I told him it was a case of mind over matter.  I had come to work, and there was no way I was going to get drunk.  At some point, he allowed as how the place was dead and maybe we should give the other casino a try.   Having had exactly one screwdriver and lots of orange juice, I figured I could handle one more real drink, but that didn’t happen.  The first bartender called the second bartender, and my first “double screwdriver” was straight orange juice.

Finally TBB determined that the guys from Bullhead weren’t coming and maybe we should get some sleep.  We moseyed across the street to a motel and he went into the office to rent the “rooms.”  Of course when he opened the door to let me in to the one that was supposedly mine, he conveniently kept the key.  Go figure!  So I looked at the room, I looked at the bed, and I thought about how far it was to get back to Vegas on my own.  It was the wee hours of the morning by then.  I needed to get some sleep, but there was no way I was going to climb into that bed.

So what did I do?  I did a complete Doris Day routine.  I gathered all the covers and pillows off the bed, locked myself in the bathroom, made a reasonably comfortable bed in the tub, and actually fell asleep for a little while.  Eventually he turned up.  He banged on the bathroom door a time or two, but by then he had had WAY too much Chivas.  A few minutes later, I heard him snoring.  At that point, I crept out of the room and went back across the street to the first casino.  For the next hour or two, I drank coffee with both bartenders—the second one had gotten off work by then.  At five-o’clock in the morning, they flagged down a Greyhound bus that took me back to Vegas.  The driver dropped me off in front of the Showboat, leaving me about three blocks to walk back to the house.

When I came into the family room through the back door, Mary Grandma was sitting in her customary place—a decrepit leather recliner—smoking up a storm.  When I walked in, she didn’t even turn her head.  “Did you roll him?” she asked.  “No,” I told her, but thinking about all those hundred dollar bills, I added, “I probably should have.”

Do I know how stupid that was?  Yes, I do.  Do I know how lucky I am that I didn’t end up as a skeleton rotting away in the desert?  Yes, I do.  Would I raise hell with my granddaughters if they tried to pull such a boneheaded stunt?  Probably.  But Mary Grandma didn’t do that.  She gave me permission to make a mistake and figure out a way to get out of it.  And I think that may have been one of the things that set us on the right path for being mother-in-law and daughter-in-law.

So why am I writing this today, on September 11?  This morning we watched the 9-11 Memorial Service in Shanksville, dedicated to the forty passengers who died on Flight 93.  And when I heard the words “Let’s roll,” they gave me goosebumps the same way they did seventeen years ago when I first heard them.

But here’s the deal.  My mind is full of cotton, hay, and rags, and sometimes it comes up with the most astonishing and occasionally even inappropriate juxtapositions.  And before long I was thinking about Mary Grandma, sitting there in her cloud of cigarette smoke and asking me, “Did you roll him?”

Hat’s off to you Mary Grandma.  On this very sad day, remembering you made me smile.

12 thoughts on “A Salute to Mary Grandma

  1. What a wonderful way to start the day. You were born under a lucky star. I’m glad those bartenders were looking out for you. Mary Grandma sounds like a good person to know. Your life has had so many interesting things happen.

  2. A really great story how lucky you were. SMART TOO. Today we have so many predators out there our young need to be smart. Have a great day, hoping your shoulder is doing much better. Summer is cooling down here in SURPRISE Az. Thank goodness. … Jan
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  3. I so enjoyed your recollection. I had some close calls when I was young also. Wish I could recount them in such an interesting way. Love the bartender-sitters! Need more like them around! Your turkey gravy episode reminded me of my first dinner I made for relatives as a brand new bride. I was so proud of the beef stew I had simmering. When I was ready to serve, I lifted the lid and there, simmering along with the beef and veggies was a book of matches!! It had stuck to the inside of the lid and ended up in the pot. I think I opened cans of something or other for our dinner. I’m pretty sure I had a few choice words for the situation. Thank you for igniting my memories. You could write a very interesting book just about your memories!

  4. So glad you were able to get yourself out of that bad situation safely. We could have never experienced J.P. Beaumont, Ali Reynolds, Joanna Brady or the Walker family if things had gone differently. We would have never known you.
    I always think about that group of heroes on 9/11 who brought that plane down to save others. Todd Beamer’s call of “Let’s roll!” will forever be in my memory. Everyone else on the other 3 planes that crashed into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon as well as the people who perished inside the buildings are also heroes. They helped us see how vulnerable we were.
    Just as Mary Grandma was a hero. She helped you become the strong woman you are today. She allowed you to go somewhere, knowing it was not wise, but also knowing you had it inside of you to do the right thing, think for yourself, and learn from any mistakes you might make.
    The only thing that would have made it any better would have been if you had “rolled him!”

  5. Sweet story Thanks for sharing! I hope your latest injuries are healing! And thanks for the new book Field of Dreams! I loved it and was glad to get close to Joanna and Butch again. I really admire how you can make your characters so authentic. I was grateful when Deputy Raymond was able to save Letisha and I cried when she called her parents. I especially appreciate how you let us know the horrors of what happened without having to get into all the intricate details that make me unsure I want to read about it. I plan to have my 5 early teen granddaughters read the book so they can learn that sometimes parents know what is best for them. It is a scary world for them to grow up in. Thanks for sharing your talent.

  6. I always enjoy reading about your escapades! You seem to be a very good and quick judge of character, which helped save you when you proceeded to team up with the bartender.
    I finished FOB this week and I would rate it as one of your best books. It was good to catch up with Sheriff Brady, her team and her family.
    I do hope your shoulder is getting better and better, with minimal setbacks.
    I will never forget 9/11 and honor all those directly affected by the horrific events of that day. God bless the USA! ????

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