The Queen of the Silver Dollar
She’s the queen of the Silver Dollar, and she rules this smoky kingdom,Shel Silverstein
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.
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,Shel Silverstein
And her sparkling jewels are rhinestones, and her shoes are scuffed and worn . . .
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.
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.Shel Silverstein
Yes I’m the man who made a queen of a simple country girl.
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.