When my sister married the rich guy, families from opposite ends of the good fortune chain uncomfortably merged. His was born into inheritance; hers (mine) born in holes, equipped with shovels.
The rehearsal dinner was at a navy blue-blooded private club in a Buckhead high-rise. I was seated next to my late Aunt Babs, a truly gifted color analyst and functioning alcoholic. Had Zelma not been with him, I would’ve probably ended up beside my grandfather, born, bred and buried in Middle Georgia. He liked telling stories about his miseries, failures and misdeeds; his effortless folksiness, and usage of discarded colloquialisms — “What do you mean, pussel gutted?” “You know, pussel gutted.” Quizzical look. “Pussel gutted (while rubbing extended tummy.” “Oh, you mean fat.” “Yeah, pussel gutted” — made the woebegone tales amusing.
Zelma, quite pussel gutted herself, was proudly humorless, well-practiced at killing the party. Every year they’d come for Thanksgiving dinner, and every year Zelma would announce, right before turkey carving, that she was full from their big lunch at Davis Bros. in Madison. My dad barely hid his contempt for his father’s second wife, also known as the woman my grandfather “courted” while my grandmother lay dying of cancer.
The rest of the family, not so memorable. I’ve seen my uncles a combined dozen times in my life, if that. The older one used to be in a loosely organized motorcycle gang before he settled down as an arcade manager, the guy who would change out your quarters for one of the thousand tokens jangling in his pocket vest. This would mark my only encounter with Paula the hairdresser, wife number four. To hear Babs on her fifth glass of champagne tell it, Paula preferred the ladies — “them bull dyke types,” said the veteran forklift driver. My mom’s sister also had short hair and was really pussel gutted, though her five marriages were enough to discourage the typical assumption.
The much younger uncle said little, though he did enjoy brief chats about the Phils and “Iggles.” I’m told he once tried to bite off his tongue on an acid trip. I guess his wife, a high school math teacher, still had her tongue, though she seemed to regard conversation as a barrier to daydreaming about math.
My mother wanted to have her mother, the aged party girl, seated next to the paternal grandfather (see above) at the head table. Of course, that would upset my fragile grandmother, who thought her third husband deserved the front-row seat.
Ralph looked just like the “time to make the donuts” guy on the old Dunkin’ Donuts commercial, though he was seldom jolly. He could always be counted on for a whopper, insisting, on several occasions, he had lunched with Colin Powell and Dan Quayle. You can imagine ol’ J. Danforth driving all the way to the Shoneys in Ft. Wayne to break bread with his 64-year-old TV repairman pal. Maybe he shared Ralph’s appreciation for the Scott Baio flick, “Zapped.”
Ralph — really, really pussel gutted — arrived in a foul mood, claiming the suspension on his car was broken from “having to haul Mister Boone and Zelma’s fat asses around.” Ralph, nicknamed Guido by the bridesmaids, shopped at Big and Tall stores.
At one point, my brother-in-law’s father, a well-traveled patrician, tried to engage Ralph in some collegial banter, asking him how he could’ve ended up with such a beautiful (step) granddaughter. “You ain’t no prince yourself!” Ralph snorted.
By that time he had already complained about the small portions, an outrage, he said, for such a ritzy joint. Paula, after slurring her way through a racy toast to the new couple she had just met, collected the food off her and my uncle’s plate, advanced to the head table and transferred it to Ralph’s dish. He grunted and resumed eating.
Dont remember much else, save for my newly married sister planting a wet one on Ralph, who, best-case scenario, was once in the Mob. He has biological kids, but for some reason he agreed to let their mother tell them he’s dead. I hate to ponder what would make one consent to such an arrangement, though, when I have dared wonder, “Mafia hitman” is always the most preferable rationale.
Ralph’s parting words, “Let’s pack up and get the hell out of here.” Agreed.