Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Tammy Part 5

My grandfather looked a lot like his truck - sturdy, yet rusted, like he could get the job done, but not without some struggle. He was close to sixty and weathered. Tall and skinny everywhere else, he had a big gut. We used to always ask him when his due date was. He had a long, thin nose and a full head of snow white hair that he combed over to one side so it always fell over one eye. His hair reminded me of the wings of snow geese. Poppop June was a trucker. He'd spent a long lifetime hauling produce up and down the East Coast and he had a small produce stand at the Amish Market outside of Millpond for many years, which he closed in the winter when the fruits and vegetables were out of season. He swore and joked constantly, chewed tobacco and spit the juice in a Folger's can. He liked Patsy Cline and George Jones and smoked Pall Malls. His favorite foods were served at breakfast: pancakes, scrapple, biscuits and gravy, cream chipped beef on toast. I never saw him in anything other than a plaid shirt tucked into jeans or khakis.

I've never quite understood this, but Poppop had a way with the ladies. After being married to Memere Marie for 27 years, she'd had enough of his carousing. They got a divorce when I was in the first or second grade when Poppop took up with a 19 year old barmaid from Ohio named Flipper (this is its own story too). Nine months later my grandfather had a whole new family and a daughter eight years younger than me, his grand daughter. A year after that he had another son and not too long after that Flipper took off with the baby boy and left Poppop with the baby girl. I have never been clear on what happened or why. I don't know why she took her son and left her daughter, but she did. I don't even know what made her leave, except that she was abusive and an alcoholic and wanted to go back to Ohio. Maybe she was young and wanted to party and not be married to a sixty year old man. I don't know, but I do know that a sixty year old man whose job required him to be away for most of the time was not in the best position to take care of a toddler on his own. For a while my great grandmother, who was near eighty, moved in and tried to help out, but she was frail and not well suited to keeping up with an active three year old either. Most of my memories of my great grandmother involve her sitting at the kitchen table with a mug of black coffee and a lit cigarette, eating Sunbeam Bread straight out of the red and yellow bag. She existed on caffeine, nicotine and starch.

When my mother called my grandfather and asked him to come up, he agreed because he could find more work in New York. Winter was coming. He'd closed his stand for the season and needed cash fast. One of his favorite laments was that he never knew how he was going to make it through the winter, so this offered him a solution. He could leave his little girl with me and Tammy. He'd work in the daytime when my parents were usually home. Then when he'd get home in the afternoon, it would be time for them to leave to go to meetings with the Hungarian and he'd be home to make sure that Tammy wasn't starving us or performing heinous acts of bestiality on the dog and cat. It would work out well for everyone.

My mother and grandfather decided to make money that they would peddle winter vegetables out of the back of my grandfather's pick up truck. My mother's idea was that they could drive the truck (ice cream style) through the religious neighborhoods of Monsey, New York where the Chassidic Jews there would become loyal customers. My grandfather thought that they could also do well in the projects of Yonkers where the blacks were just as desperate for cheap food. My grandfather would pick up what he could in Millpond and haul it up in his tractor trailer, which he'd park at a nearby flea market. He'd them supplement that with produce he could buy dirt cheap wholesale at Hunts Point Market in the Bronx. He knew many of the vendors there. During the week, he'd haul and buy produce and on the weekends during the days my mother would join him as they drove from poor neighborhoods to housing projects peddling root vegetables, cabbage and fifty pound sacks of russet potatoes.

All week long Tammy had been anxiously awaiting my grandfather's arrival. I couldn't figure out why, but maybe she imagined he'd be a father figure to her or maybe she was just desperate for any single man, even if he happened to be sixty. She'd been on her best behavior since the foot stomping incident. We all had really. That day was a catharthis for everyone and as we'd all behaved like idiots we all felt badly and vowed to clean up our acts. Tammy had even made Shake 'n' Bake one night.

When Poppop walked in the door she turned bright red. He took one look at her and said: "GOD DAMN." This could have been interpreted in several ways, but it seemed to me as if it meant "Jesus Lord that is one ugly assed woman." It could very well have meant the opposite, but I don't believe it did.

Having set her sights on my grandfather, Tammy turned into Super Nanny all of a sudden. She adored my grandfather's daughter and doted on her constantly, while generally ignoring me. I get this. A pudgy, blonde toddler is a hell of a lot more cuddly and appealing than an angst-ridden, sullen, eleven year old with a bad mullet.

One day Tammy walked to the pharmacy and stole herself a bag of makeup. She took to wearing the green lipstick and press-on, french manicure nails my parents manufactured. All of a sudden Tammy seemed concerned about her weight, asking me repeatedly if she looked fat in her pink sweatshirt and stirrup pants.

"Did your grandfather say anything about me?" she'd ask.

"No."

"Did you think he was looking at me last night? I thought he might be looking at me."

"I'm pretty sure he wasn't looking at you."

"I'm pretty sure he was. Do you think he likes me?"

"Probably not."

"It's because I'm fat isn't it?"

"Maybe."

The idea of anyone finding my grandfather attractive was about as disgusting to me as anyone finding Tammy attractive. The whole thing was just terribly, terribly wrong.

"I'm losing this weight and then maybe your grandfather'll like me," Tammy announced one afternoon.

"Oh yeah? How? You going on a diet?"

"I been trying but I ain't got no willpower. I like food too much."

"So what are you gonna do?"

"I'm thinking about wiring my jaw shut."

"You're what?"

"I"m gonna walk up to the hardware store, get some wire and I'm gonna wire my teeth together so I can't eat."

"Won't you die?"

"I'll drink liquids through my teeth."

"You can't do that. I'm telling my parents."

"I done it once before. It's the only thing that works. You watch. I'll get this weight off in a month and then your grandfather'll think I'm hot."

"You're really gonna wire your jaw shut?" I asked.

"Hell yeah."

And with that Tammy set off up the hill towards the hardware store to get the wire.

To be continued...

25 comments:

Laurie said...

I grew up in Yonkers, though far from the projects. Thanks to your family for helping out down there!

Ashlee Rose O. said...

You couldn't make this shit up.

Now don't hold out on us with Tammy Part 6 ;)

Wide Lawns said...

Do you remember my grandfather? He sold there for several years. He became quite the institution on both banks of the Hudson.

seryan said...

I'm curious...when Tammy said "the Mormons" took her child away from her, did she actually mean the State of Utah? You know, with her not actually being qualified to look after a dead houseplant and all?

Shannon Culver said...

Please please please don't keep us waiting!

Wide Lawns said...

Seryan, maybe so.

MtnMama said...

Oh my! I do so love your writing.

Michelle said...

GOD DAMN.

Joy said...

"He liked Patsy Cline and George Jones and smoked Pall Malls."

I'm sorry I never met him. We could've been good friends.

TheSmacker said...

Oh.
My.
Goodness.

I can't wait for part 6!!

Anonymous said...

o.m.g. just gets better and better. Love your writing.

Lisa said...

How are you doing after your finger surgery? Hoping you're feeling better and not just because I am anxiously waiting to find out what happens next.

Tammy should have had her loins wired shut. I'm grateful the Momons or whoever took her baby. Can you imagine her unsupervised mothering skills?!

Lisa in Canada

Anonymous said...

This is just too good. I am addicted to the Tammy chronicles much more than I ever was to the Sopranos or Murder 1 (both had me waiting with bated breath for the next show).

I've come to the conclusion that every family was / is dysfunctional in its own way. At the moment my 91 year old father is determined to hump the caregiver. Barring that he attempted to hump my husband. Reading about your family makes me feel normal.

And, yes, you couldn't make this shit up.

~Maureen~

Maria said...

How does one wire their own mouth shut? I always thought that needs to be done at a doctor's office. I guess I'll found out in Tammy Part 6.

I hope your finger is doing better!

Missicat said...

Wow. I want more!
Am curious about Tammy's child too...did he/she ever surface?

Jean_Phx said...

Before I even began I ran for a cup of coffee! Can't wait.

Jean_Phx said...

Dang Poppop must have been one 'hella guy ;-) Actually everything else that you have written about him I got the impression that he was, in fact, a 'hella guy.

martee said...

I am rivited to this story... wow, Tammy is a realy gem, Ha!

I Can hardly wait each day to read about her. She is querky enough for many stores to come, I hope.

JoeinVegas said...

You're worse than the tv show 24, except you leave us hanging with no idea how many installments will come.
And now you add an upcoming (we hope) Flipper segment. You will never run out of things to write about.

Laurie said...

I think you and I are around the same age - I didn't get to downtown Yonkers much until I was older and worked there for awhile, so I don't remember your grandfather. I wish I did - he sounds like a hell of a guy!

Anonymous said...

OMG!!!

Anonymous said...

I would love to see you write a book!

Christi Lee said...

Ahhhhh! No!!!!

Ok. Please hurry back. Ok Thanks.

Also, "he'd be home to make sure that Tammy wasn't starving us or performing heinous acts of bestiality on the dog and cat. It would work out well for everyone."

I feel awful for laughing at that. I mean, I had to stop and take a breath. Yeah. So wrong.

*hugs you*

WV is defunk. I hope that is what happened to your household soon after.

Rich said...

The Tammy Chronicles are something else. Please don't keep us waiting.

Anonymous said...

Am I the only one who doesn't know what "scrapple" is? I guess I'll have to google it.

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