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.