Category: Family

The Queen of the Silver Dollar, Chapter 4: The Saint Paddy’s Day Fire

The Saint Paddy’s Day Fire

My wife hated being around drinkers, so when she took my grandmother barhopping she’d often leave her with her barstool friends, and go to the library and read for a few hours. One day, after returning from the library, my grandmother spotted her entering through the front door of the bar. “Oh, you’re home!” she exclaimed. Yep, that about summed up my grandmother’s attitude toward bars.

My wife had lost a lot of weight, after once being very heavy. She knew firsthand how hard it is to struggle with obesity, and had a lot of empathy for the overweight. But now and then the barroom banter would turn to fat people, and everyone would make judgmental remarks and wise cracks, including my grandma. So my wife would pipe up and observe, “Eating is an addiction. Just like drinking.” That would usually shut the crowd up.

Grandma was gregarious and loved being in the middle of barroom banter. But she especially loved talking with men. That’s because she loved men. Her favorite gender was male, and she was a natural flirt with this usually horny species. And she treated every bar as if it was a singles bar.

Although she’d flirt with the guys, the funny thing was, she never dated any of them. She was a widow, and apparently no man could ever match up to what she had with my grandpa. But she did seem to enjoy trying to get men excited over her.

When she was about 90, she bought a water bra to perk her tits up. Then she’d hug her male drinking buddies and announce, “I’m wearing a water bra!” Somehow she thought that made her more attractive.

One day she entered a drinking establishment that was mostly empty. Nobody occupied any tables, but two men were draped over at the bar, spaced apart by a vacant stool. Grandma could have planted her ass anywhere. But she loved men, so the elderly coquette ambled up to these two macho elbow-benders and claimed the vacant stool between them. This was my grandma’s version of a threesome.

My wife dreaded Saint Paddy’s Day. Or Saint Patrick’s Day, for the sober minded. But Grandma’s mind was always sharp enough to remember when March 17th had arrived, and my wife would end up spending the day, barhopping her all over town. Grandma’s favorite watering hole for slurping green beer was at a joint called Murphy’s Bar. But of course, with that name!

Murphy’s Bar was located in a strip mall, directly below a floor of apartments. Behind it was a donut shop, and next to the donut shop was a laundromat. One March 17th, my wife sat Grandma down at a table next to the front door at Murphy’s, then headed over to the donut shop where she could be away from the drinkers.

She was just lifting a cup of coffee to her lips when a lady ran into the donut shop and frantically announced that there was a big fire in the laundromat next door. The donut shop owner immediately dialed 9-1-1. The dispatcher ordered her to evacuate the donut shop, and go around to all the other businesses in the strip mall and warn them to evacuate also. So my wife piped up and deputized herself to perform this civic duty at Murphy’s Bar.

“Fire! Fire!” my wife bellowed, as she hustled through the front door of Murphy’s. Nothing. The bar was packed, but nobody so much as lifted a head or an eyebrow, to pay her any attention. “Hey, did you hear me!” my wife yelled again. “There’s a fire at the laundromat next door, and the fire department wants everyone to get out!”

An annoyed patron looked at her asquint and slurred, “Siddown an’ shuddup!”

“But you don’t understand!” my wife persisted. “The laundromat’s on fire! Everyone has to evacuate!” Now she had everyone’s attention. They all glared at her, including the bartender, and hollered back, “Lady, sit down and shut up! We’re not going anywhere! We don’t smell any smoke!”

They looked like they were ready to kill her. Suddenly my wife realized that all these drunks with their precious green beer were more dangerous than any fire. She feared one of them might get violent with her if she continued on, playing fire marshal.

Grandma joined the mob, and gestured at a chair by the table. “Yes, sit down and shut up!”

“But Grandma, aren’t you afraid of burning up?”

“No, we’re right by the door. So just sit down. If things start getting smoky, we can leave,” she nonchalantly remarked, while sipping her green beer.

The fire department rolled in with sirens blaring, and within minutes was able to suppress the conflagration. They had saved Saint Paddy’s Day for all the revelers at Murphy’s Bar, who really didn’t give a shit. They were much more concerned with their green beer than any fire at some laundromat somewhere.

And that’s how my wife survived the infamous and quickly forgotten, Saint Paddy’s Day Fire. And yet another day of barhopping with my grandma.

This is the latest installation of my eight-part series, The Queen of the Silver Dollar. Come on back in a few days for the next installation, entitled, Chapter 5: Fingerhut and High Finance. Click here to read the last installation. Click here to start at the beginning.

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.

The Queen of the Silver Dollar, Chapter 2: My Barhopping Grandparents

My Barhopping Grandparents

On the day my mother tried to place my sister and me into Juvenile Hall, then had to settle for taking us to my grandparents, she’d already found homes for my other three siblings.

My oldest sister, Marina Slip Gnu, was 17 at the time. She was sent to a friend’s house. I suspect that after she got out of jail, my mother worked as a prostitute for awhile. And I think she moved Marina back in with her, and pimped her out.

A few years ago, Marina tearfully told me about this. I thought she was crazy at the time, as Marina has had a history of serious mental illness, all her adult life. But after much reflection, I’ve put two-and-two together. It now makes sense.

It became too much for Marina, and she ran away from home and disappeared. For months, nobody knew if she was dead or alive. Then my father hired a private detective, who tracked her down in Texas.

There, she’d met an Army sergeant, and they’d married. They would stay married for more than 20 years, have four children, and become very wealthy. But not happy. Mental illness and spousal abuse led to a divorce. Money doesn’t buy happiness, and my oldest sister is proof of this.

My 12-year-old brother, and 14-year-old sister, were shipped off to an uncle’s house. He was my favorite uncle and kind of wealthy. Well, he had a swimming pool, so he seemed wealthy. I felt envious of my brother and sister’s good fortune. My uncle’s wife couldn’t have children, so he felt thrilled to take in my brother and sister. And my mother would have a hard time getting them back from him.

My 15-year-old sister, River, and 9-year-old me, were driven by my mom to Los Angeles the morning after our family’s big split. There we stayed for the next four months, living with my grandparents, before my mother could afford to take us back.

My grandparents began barhopping during the Great Depression, at taverns that probably looked similar to this.

My grandfather was a hell of a nice guy, but also an alcoholic. He was a functioning alcoholic, though. He made good money as a machinist, then would blow it all at the bar, partying and whooping it up.

My grandmother was also an alcoholic. And she was a party animal, having been introduced to the bar scene during the Great Depression, by my grandpa. She could be harsh, but overall was very kind to my sister and me. She loved us but didn’t have much time for us, what with all the partying she wanted to do with her husband, down at the bar.

So my sister and I were usually left alone to raise ourselves. But we were accustomed to this. All of my siblings and I had learned to take care of ourselves from a young age. We became very independent, as children, and have remained so as adults.

Although I was usually neglected, my grandmother did hold a very nice birthday party for me, when I turned 10-years-old. Well, she was a party animal, so she was an expert at throwing a good party. It’s the only time in my life I’ve ever had a birthday party, so this is one of my favorite childhood memories of her.

If my grandparents had not taken us in, I’m sure my sister and I would have been left to the mercy of the foster care system, and its unpredictable lottery of caring and abusive foster parents. So I feel grateful they opened up their home to us.

And it wouldn’t be the first time. My grandfather died at age 68, from too many years of hard partying. I was 21, and soon after his death I found myself unemployed and needing a place to stay. My widowed Grandma allowed me to move in with her for six months, until I got back on my feet. And thus, she saved me from homelessness.

Later, I was able to return the favor. My wife eventually became her caretaker. And when she became too old to live alone, we invited her into our house. She lived with us for more than three years, and during that time she took us on a wild ride. I did mention that she liked to party, didn’t I?

Fasten your seat belt, we’re in for a bumpy journey. The remaining posts in this series are about our adventures with my wild, eccentric, barhopping Grandma, during the final years of her life.

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 3: The Queen of the Silver Dollar. Click here to read Chapter 1.

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