I’ve made reference to my motley extended family before, Aunt Babs (the forklift driver with five marriages under her sizable belt) in particular. I spent much more of my childhood around “Pop Pop Ralph,” my step-grandfather on my mother’s side, who, in the words of my fraternal grandfather, resembled a “burnt bale of cotton.” He had black hair everywhere, except on his head.
I guess I spent about 15 to 20 Thanksgivings in Ralph’s company. He didn’t talk much, except an occassional gruff request to “pass the rolls.” Did I mention Ralph was/is obese (I’ll speak of him in the past tense since he’s now estranged from our family)? In his prime he looked just like the “Time to make the doughnuts” guy.
Ralph was a champion liar. When he married my grandmother (her third), he told her he was a pilot. A few weeks later she found out that not only was he not a pilot but he was still married to his first wife (a detail my grandmother discovered after bailing him out of jail for bigamy).
There was nothing Ralph, an electronics whiz, wouldn’t lie about. He once worked for Jerry Falwell (“Rev. Farwell,” as he called him), whom he claimed was fond of goosing him. Falwell also regularly invited Ralph to high-powered pow wows with politicians like Dan Quayle and Colin Powell — according to Ralph, “They wanted the common man’s viewpoint.”
Some other gems from the Ralph library:
*Ralph claimed he was an innocent victim of the Playboy channel, which he subscribed to even though he claimed he didn’t. “I can’t help it, it comes with the basic cable. I called them up and said I don’t want this filth on my TV but they said there’s nothing that could be done about it.” Ralph had cable before anyone, and he took advantage of it, claiming to be privy to information the rest of us didn’t have. Example: “I saw Roddy McDowall being interviewed the other day. He said ‘I got it. I got what Rock Hudson has.’ ” This was in the mid-1980s. McDowall, of course, didn’t have AIDS, or at least he never announced it. But Ralph never let facts get in the way;
*Ralph had odd taste in movies (I guess since he mostly watched porn). One Thanksgiving he encouraged me to watch “Zapped,” the early 80s Scott Baio vehicle in which Chachi used his telekinetic powers to lift up skirts and unsnap bras. It was one of Ralph’s favorites;
*He had even odder taste in food, although he wasn’t picky. Ralph liked to snack on blocks of cheese, slathered in ketchup — which he put on everything — and sprinkled with FiberCon (covering all the bases). He was also fond of rum and cokes for breakfast;
*A native of Pittsburgh, where, he claimed, his father was once the mayor, Ralph had little tolerance for Southerners. One time when he was visiting he asked me if we had any Mobil gas stations nearby. When I told him we didn’t, he responded “typical stupid Southerners.” Ralph also claimed to be the “Prince of Bal-tee-more,” where he said he raced speedboats on the Chesapeake Bay;
*My sister lived with him briefly. She recalls seeing my grandmother place a very large pair of boxers, filled with shit stains, in the washing machine. Ralph used to work up in those tall television towers, and, as he told my grandmother, “When a man’s gotta go, a man’s gotta go.”
I could go on, but I’ll leave you with that visual of a 280-pound man crapping on himself atop a tower.