Thanksgiving in Toomsboro

Another busy day in Toomsboro

I’ve written about my paternal grandfather (not to be confused with my infamous step-grandfather) before. Pop Pop Boone was a master storyteller with incredibly bad judgment and questionable character. Not surprisingly, we were close.

Most Thanksgivings were spent in Toomsboro, where my dad grew up. It wasn’t even a one-stoplight town, and even natives like my grandfather refused to rise to its defense. He once told me he’d rather cut my hands off  than have me take over the family newspaper, as a great-uncle hoped I would: “There’s nothing to do in Toomsboro but die.”

He was dying a slow death married to his second wife Zelma, proudly humorless and pussel-guted. My dad barely hid his contempt for his father or “Pretzel,” whom Pop Pop ”courted” while my grandmother lay dying of cancer.

Zelma made a heckuva coffee roast but otherwise she was a lousy cook. One Thanksgiving she prepared a chocolate pie doused with bourbon. Had I been 10 years older I would’ve welcomed it, but it was a bit strong for my adolescent palate. Her daughter, Sarah Ann, a chain-smoking Dixie Carter wannabe, and butch granddaughter English, who had what my grandfather called mill-post legs, always made fun of Zelma’s cooking.

My mom, however, is a fantastic cook, but that didn’t stop my grandfather and Pretzel, at her behest, from stopping at Davis Bros. Cafeteria every time they came up for a holiday dinner. “Oooh, we’re just so full,” she’d say, then ask for a little plate which she’d pile with food. Zelma was quite charming.

There was lots of talking behind backs at those family gatherings. “She could plow a mule straight to death,” said Pop Pop of his step-granddaughter, but only when she was out of earshot. We were all amused when English showed up one Thanksgiving with a fiance who weighed about 120 pounds. He acted quite nervous, which was understandable. A rhino would’ve been shaky around English.

There’s little conversation to recount since there was little conversation. Eventually my grandfather would hold court telling stories we’d all heard before (but I still enjoyed). My father would typically offer some barbed critique that my grandfather would pretend not to hear. Then we’d watch football though only Pop Pop and English showed much interest.

Pop Pop especially enjoyed ripping on Atlanta teams, which wasn’t hard. He was just jealous, trapped in Toomsboro and consumed by regret. He wished he had a crappy team to root for.

He found some happiness in his 80s when Zelma, about 15 years his junior, died unexpectedly from a heart attack. Her body was barely cold when Sarah Ann called. “So what are we gonna do about Boonie?” “What do you mean,” replied my dad. Sarah Ann was under the impression that Zelma owned the house in Toomsboro but the real landlords were my dad and aunt. My wise grandmother, who owned the title, passed it down to her children because she feared my grandfather would somehow piss it away, which he would have.

Turns out Zelma married my grandfather thinking he was as rich as his brothers, who were all quite wealthy. He was not. Zelma had managed to marry the one poor Boone brother, which probably explains her bitterness.

With Pretzel gone my grandfather finally had the freedom he’d craved for 81 years. Of course he was too old to enjoy it to its fullest but he seemed relatively happy. At least he could flirt, and we no longer had to have Thanksgiving in Toomsboro. Pop Pop was all too happy to drive to Atlanta. By himself, without stopping at Davis Bros.

tonight’s reading assignment


So completely had Johnson cut himself off from his family and friends that Brevard police would search for five days for someone to claim his body.

Well-observed details make Steve Hummer’s account of the tragic life and death of Randy Johnson, Atlanta’s first quarterback, worth your time.

my sister’s rehearsal dinner

(a rambling anecdote, of no real purpose)

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 arrangment, 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.