The Queen of the Silver Dollar, Chapter 3: The Queen of the Silver Dollar

The Queen of the Silver Dollar

She’s the queen of the Silver Dollar, and she rules this smoky kingdom,
And her scepter is a wine glass, and a barstool is her throne.
And the jesters, they flock around her, and they fight to win her favors,
And see which one will take the queen of the Silver Dollar home.

Shel Silverstein

My grandmother never in her life had a driver’s license. She had a phobia about driving, so others had to help her enjoy her favorite pastime. Which was barhopping.

Her designated driver was my alcoholic grandfather up until the day he croaked, when he was 68 and she was 64. After that she had to rely on friends and family to motor her around from bar to bar. Then about five months after my grandpa died, I hit hard times, and my grandma allowed me to move in with her. And boy was she thrilled. Now she had a new, live-in chauffeur.

But I hated barhopping. What really cured me was the time she flirted with a young, squirrelly drunk, named Leonard, who kept putting his hands all over her. She complained to me about him, but then continued to flirt with him. It seemed she was setting me up to defend her honor.

“L-leonard, take your han-hands off her!” my voice trembled as beer sloshed out of my shaking mug, soaking my convulsive hand.

Leonard observed the amber liquid dripping from my fingers and smiled wryly. “Why? She’s a beautiful, sexy lady,” he daringly gazed at me as he ran his fingers down Grandma’s back. I grabbed his hand and pulled it off, and he staggered away, mumbling defensively. There. Honor defended.

But about a minute later, the drunken creep wandered back and resumed groping Grandma. In a bar, the code of honor dictates that my next move was to punch that miserable, fucking pervert square in the face. But I chickened out.

“C’mon Grandma, let’s go home,” I snarled, as I dismounted my barstool.

Grandma was clearly disappointed with my cowardice, but she complied, proud that at least some of her honor had been defended that day.

I wouldn’t take her to bars after that. But then Saint Paddy’s Day rolled around. For everyone else, it’s Saint Patrick’s Day, but drunken barhoppers call it Saint Paddy’s Day. It’s practically a national holiday for them. It’s the day of green beer, green guts, and green vomit.

We’d just finished grocery shopping when Grandma smiled sweetly at me and said, “It’s Saint Paddy’s Day. Let’s go get some green beer. But only if you want to. No pressure.”

I pondered for a few moments. And then, “No, I think I’ll pass on that, Grandma.” Grandma’s no-pressure smile instantly transformed into a pout. I drove her home in silence, and she hardly spoke to me for a week after.

Not long after this I found a job and moved out. Which is a good thing, because I think Grandma was about to give me the boot over the Saint Paddy’s Day debacle. Within weeks I was replaced by my drunken Uncle Mike (Grandma’s son), who worked as her live-in chauffer for about the next 20 years. And he made sure they never missed the green beer on Saint Paddy’s Day.

But then my uncle up and had a stroke, from years of hard partying. That’s when my wife took on the job of caretaking for my grandmother, who was now in her mid-80’s. In other words, she became her new chauffeur. My wife didn’t drink, and she hated bars, but she knew how much Grandma loved to party it up at all the local saloons. And so she became a reluctant barfly, escorting her about, from one drinking establishment to another.

She often tried to distract my grandma from barhopping, by taking her thrift store shopping. Grandma loved this, and would buy gaudy outfits that looked expensive, and perhaps once were, but were now priced at only a few dollars. And she loved to buy sparkly tennis shoes, for about a buck a pair.

My wife would take her home with all these new, old clothes she’d purchased, and my grandma would put on a fashion show for her, modeling all her thrift store threads. And then she’d spiff herself up in one of her second-hand outfits, bedizen her fingers, wrists, neck, and ears with cheap, sparkling costume jewelry, and suggest, “Let’s go to the bar!”

Dressed to the nines at the bar, Grandma would brag that she was wearing a $200 outfit, while flashing her costume jewelry under the noses of fellow patrons. And she always sported a nice, “expensive” hairdo, which my wife, who was a licensed beautician, had provided for free.

Her royal gown is a satin dress, that’s stained and slightly torn,
And her sparkling jewels are rhinestones, and her shoes are scuffed and worn . . .

Shel Silverstein

I think Grandma was a wannabe aristocrat. My mother once traced our family tree way back to a somewhat famous family of aristocrats, whose last name was the same as my grandparents. She also traced it to some horse thieves who were hanged in Texas, but never mind them. My grandmother focused on the aristocrats, and would brag to everyone that she was related to them.

My grandmother, the Queen of the Silver Dollar.

Back before my wife became her chauffeur, and her drunken son, Michael, was tooting her around to all the bars, she’d brag to her bar friends that Mike received a monthly trust fund check from this wealthy family. But of course it wasn’t true. Uncle Mike was just a bum, who was living with and leaching off of his mother.

I don’t know if anyone believed she was rich, but everyone at the bars loved her and called her “Mom.” And Grandma ate that up. But my wife and I had a different name. We figured she really was an aristocrat of sorts, in that she was a barstool queen. So we called her the Queen of the Silver Dollar, after the popular tune penned by Shel Silverstein.

When she was a child, during the 1920’s, she immigrated to California from the Ozark mountains. Her dirt poor family gradually made their way West in an old jalopy. It took them several years, because they had to stop from time to time to pick cotton and work other odd jobs. But eventually they raised enough road money to straggle into the Golden State.

At age 17, she was on a ladder picking oranges in a Southern California orchard, when she met my fun-loving grandfather. He was showing off to her by trying to stand on his head, while perched on top of his ladder. But suddenly he lost his balance and tumbled to the ground. My grandmother laughed her ass off, and a spark between them was struck. A few months later they eloped and were wed by a Justice of the Peace.

My grandfather introduced her to the bar scene shortly after they married in 1933. He’d punch off work, and instead of going home he’d spend his evenings in a bar. Grandma soon figured out that if she wanted to keep the marriage alive, she’d have to join him.

And so just like Queen Elizabeth, my grandmother received her coronation at a young age. She became a barstool queen, and she kept that throne all the way into her 90’s.

I found her and I won her, and I brought her to this world.
Yes I’m the man who made a queen of a simple country girl.

Shel Silverstein

Yes, Silverstein’s song fits her well, so I’ll end this post with Dr. Hook’s live version. But stick around for more tales about my partying grandmother, in the days to come.

This is the latest installation of my nine-part series, The Queen of the Silver Dollar. Come on back in a few days for the next installation, entitled, Chapter 4: The Saint Paddy’s Day Fire. Click here to read the last installation. Click here to start at the beginning.

20 replies »

  1. I never knew that Shel Silverstein wrote a song and yes, I can totally see why you and your wife gave your Grandma that nickname! Its perfect. 🙂

    You weren’t a coward, you were being smart about walking away, glad that ended your chauffeuring days!

    Your wife has a kind and patient heart, in taking over being chauffeur! LOL at the thrift store clothing and jewelry.
    So your grandparents met by both having a sense of humor! 😄

    Liked by 2 people

    • Oh yeah, Silverstein wrote quite a few hit songs. For instance, he wrote, “A Boy Named Sue,” for Johnny Cash, “Put Another Log on the Fire,” for Tompall Glaser, and “Hey Loretta,” for Loretta Lynn. But my favorite is, “The Unicorn,” which the Irish Rovers made into a hit.

      Had I punched that drunk, he probably would have dropped, given how inebriated he was. And then I would have been hauled off to jail. Wasn’t worth it.

      My grandmother required a huge amount of patience, which my wife fortunately had.

      Yes, both my grandparents had a good sense of humor. They laughed a lot and partied a lot, and tried to ignore the worries of the world. Sometimes that was to their detriment, but I guess it takes all kinds to make this world go round.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Well I learned something today! I know those songs you mentioned, except The Unicorn one, but didn’t know.Shel wrote them.

        Yes, there is a balance between forgetting your worries for a moment and in totally ignoring them, especially if they are ones that you can take care of.

        Liked by 2 people

    • I’m probably most fascinated by the fact that you were somehow able to develop the objectivity to look back on all of this intergenerational dysfunction from an “island of stability” (borrowing a physics term). I can’t imagine how screwed up I’d be now, assuming I was still alive, had I emerged in this environment.

      Probably count the number of times I’ve been in an American-style “bar” on my fingers. Not really sure what’s the Japanese equivalent. Occurs to me that despite Japan’s alcohol culture, I’ve only known of one heavy drinking relative, my favorite aunt (dad’s eldest sister and family matriarch). Hardly a Bar-Stool Queen though. I think there was more of an aspect of pain-management involved.

      Liked by 1 person

      • It’s all water under the bridge. Once I figured out that nobody dictates my reality other than me, I was able to diverge from family patterns and build my life the way I thought best.

        I think it’s pretty sad that some people spend most of their time inside bars. I’ve never understood the appeal. I tried it myself, and after a couple of stints at Happy Hour, I lost interest and never went back.

        Liked by 2 people

        • So I guess the question is, “How did you come to figure it out?”

          I’ve never quite understood the place of alcohol in American society. In Japan, it simply permits openness in circumstances where that’s a desirable departure from social norms. Past that, it’s seen as an impediment to being able to really enjoy the experience of things. In the US… quick fixes to loneliness and boredom?

          I remember spring break in college where students would travel off to someplace beautiful and exotic south of the border… to get falling-down drunk. What about… Diving in the warm ocean? Exploring the jungle ruins? Sampling the local foods? Meeting people? Photography? Relaxing on the beach? I wonder how many of them ended up happy with their lives.

          Liked by 2 people

          • I’m not exactly sure how my epiphany came about, but I know that seeing how drinking affected my family members over the long run, helped me realize that I didn’t want to travel the same road. For instance, my father was a highly functional alcoholic. He made good money, and was in high demand in his field. Yet downing a six-pack a day was nothing to him. By the time he made it into his 60’s, I noticed he was having some significant memory issues. He also made very poor choices in spouses. I realized that alcohol affects memory and judgment, not just in the short-run, but also over the long-run. I didn’t want that for myself.

            Yeah, those college kids who go to Cancun just to get drunk seem to be wasting some great tourist opportunities. You can get drunk at home. I’d be out looking at Mayan ruins or something.

            Liked by 2 people

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