I wish I could act like I don't know who these people are, but I am all too familiar. Allow me to introduce my great grandparents and my mom. The back of the picture said that this was taken at Christmas of 1981. It is at the home of my great-grand parents, Poppop Henry and the unfortunatly named Mommom Millpond. They always had Christmas at their house because they had a wood paneled rec room that had a pool table and a bar and they used to actually serve the food on the pool table. Because I come from fancy folk.
I can't believe I haven't introduced you all to my great-grandparents yet, because Lord knows they were some characters. Mommom Millpond is (was?) Memere Marie's mother and Poppop Henry was her second husband and therefore Memere Marie's step-father. I never met my real great-grandfather. His name was Robert, but I'm pretty sure it was ro-BEAR, because that's french for Robert. Things didn't go very well between Mommom Millpond and ro-BEAR. I once heard that he burnt the house down and all the kids got sent to orphanages. Memere Marie was raised by an aunt and uncle in upstate New York. Apparently, Mommom Millpond, whose name was Geraldine, although people who weren't her grandkids called her Peggy, was a very wild woman. I don't know how someone gets Peggy out of Geraldine, but people called one another strange things back then. Take Dot for example. Growing up Memere Marie didn't know her mother, who had somehow made it to Millpond and married Poppop Henry. He owned the town junkyard. Memere Marie met her husband, my mother's father (Poppop June) because he worked at Poppop Henry's junkyard. When Memere Marie turned eighteen she wanted to meet her mother (Mommom Millpond) so she came to Millpond to visit. She ended up falling in love, staying and getting married. Are you confused yet? I know. If only people in my family could have had normal relationships and stayed in them it might have been simpler to explain who I'm related to and how and why, but then I wouldn't have anything to write about.
When they were little, my mother and her siblings named their two grandmothers after the places where they lived. They named them this against their wills. Mommom Peggy became Mommom Millpond because she lived in Millpond in an old house in the colored section of town near the junkyard (in the 70s they moved to the fancy new house off the highway with the rec room and paneling). Mommom Ethel (their dad's mom) was named Mommom Elmwood because she lived at a crossroads, not even a town, called Elmwood. Mommom Ethel was single, so there was no Poppop Elmwood to go with her. She had had a husband, also not my grandfather's father, for a short time. The kids called him Poppop Jones and my mother describes him as the most wonderful man, but he died suddenly at a very young age. I never got to meet him. My grandfather never knew who his father was and Mommom Ethel never revealed the truth, even on her death bed. Poppop June was named after the doctor who delivered him, which means that two generations later, I am named after a country doctor from the Eastern Shore who probably delivered more livestock than actual human beings.
But anyway, back to Mommom Millpond and Poppop Henry. When I was little they lived in the wood paneled house pictured above. I hated going to their house because it stunk. They had two mean German Shepherds that had to be locked away when people came over because they were junkyard dogs who would kill and eat anyone besides Poppop Henry and Mommom Millpond. The male was black and brown and the female was all white and dog hair was all over everything. The offensive odor of their home was a complicated blend with top notes of dirty dog, blended with subtle hints of casserole, rancid oil and Emeraude. There was an after-smell of generic decay, and possibly dog pee. It was awful. I can still smell it if I think hard, but I don't want to.
Mommom Millpond had a unique decorating style. If you've ever been to a Mexican dollar store or have an Italian or Puerto Rican grandmother who lived on Staten Island in the 70s and 80s you're probably familiar with it. I call it Bucca di Beppo chic. My great grandparents had a gold velvet sofa. Their color scheme was an odd Rasta-like combination of red, gold, green and black. There were numerous Catholic shrines throughout the house, elaborately displayed with spot lights, stage-like red velvet curtains and statues of saints painted in life-like colors. There was one where you could flip a switch and it would cry real tears. Plastic vines abundant with soft, hollow rubber grapes wound around the archways and over the gilt frames of reproductions of Italian Renaissance masterpieces on velvet. There was a lot of velvet in that home. And fringe. Mommom Millpond liked fringe. She also really liked angels, so there were many of them in paintings, hanging on the walls, on elaborate plaster urns. The whole house was one great monument to horrifically bad taste Catholic style and it occurred to me as an adult looking back, that the crying saint wept over the hideousness of her surroundings. As a child, I didn't understand why my great-grandparents' house looked like this. I remember feeling a great unease and an unusual sense of perhaps theater. One time I had a nightmare where Mommom Millpond and Poppop Henry's house was a ride at Disney World where I rode slowly through each room in a small cart that wove silently around the ottomans, slowing down as it glided past the shrines, pivoting so that its rider could get a look at the Last Supper cast in the bordello-like glow of the red glass sconces on either side of it. That dream was so unsettling.
Mommom Millpond kept crucifixes in every room. She seemed to like them the bloodier the better - Jesus, rare as a sirloin. Perhaps these added to the horror I felt about visiting my great grandparents. She also planted plastic flowers in the ground outside her house, to save her time gardening, so that they would always look perfect, maybe. I don't know if anyone ever asked her why she did this. The plastic leaves and petals faded in the sun and I remember driving by their house after a blizzard and seeing the stiff fake blooms dusted over with snow and bent from tiny icicles. All these things bothered me.
Poppop Henry bothered me too. He was a gigantic old perv. While Mommom Millpond decorated the house with her kitschy relics of white trash Catholicism, Poppop Henry took over when it came to the rec room. Jesus and Mary were strictly banned. It seemed like Mommom and Poppop had some kind of agreement about this, where he could do what he wanted in the rec room as long as it didn't cross over into the rest of the house where the portraits of the Pope could see the sin. Where the rest of the house was Vatican City, that rec room was Vegas Baby. Running a junkyard for several decades, Poppop Henry had amassed a collection of strange, sexual artifacts. He liked anything with a showgirl or a titty on it: lamps, neon signs, old cigarette machines and beer advertisements. He had an entire closet full of vintage porn and posters of pin-ups papered its walls. I used to stand in front of it and open the door for quick seconds. It was as if I felt like that closet ,with all those dirty magazines and pictures, would hurt me if I looked in there too long, but at the same time I had a vague sense that maybe it would be a little bit of a good hurt, though terrifying. Poppop Henry had a slot machine and a roulette wheel. He had any number of stupid, nasty toys and nick-nacks like a wind-up penis that jumped and spun across the tabletop and a statue of an Indian chief with a huge erection. My favorite, and I am ashamed to admit this, was a set of drinking glasses. When empty the glasses depicted various busty models in bikinis. When filled with a cold drink, the bathing suits would mysteriously vanish, revealing naked women. I could never get over that - completely naked women and they had tan lines, obscenely large nipples and dark, fluffy patches of pubic hair between their legs. Like the closet, I wanted to look at the glasses all the time, as they dripped condensation all over the coyly posed women, but it felt so terribly wrong and I didn't want someone to catch me staring. The longing was almost painful.
And I am sure that when this picture was being taken, that little me, at seven years old was nearby, perhaps peeking into the stacks of 1960s Playboys or trying to sneak a glimpse of bare breasts on a novelty glass. I love how Poppop Henry in this photo, is wearing a completely red outfit from head to toe. I guarantee you he was wearing red leather, zip-up ankle boots to match. Now who on earth would wear a completely red outfit? I suppose it was Christmas and all, but still. And really, I have to address the elephant in the room. What are they doing to Mommom Millpond's boob?
Is it what it looks like? Are they squeezing the old woman's breast through her shirt? Could that be? I mean, Poppop Henry, as I said, was a filthy old lech, but my mother? She wouldn't do that to her own grandmother, would she? It has to be something else. Maybe they're laying their hands on her to heal her. Maybe it's an illusion and what looks like her boob is something white that they're holding up in front of her. I have no idea. Mommom Millpond was around eighty years old when this was taken, so maybe they're helping her out, picking her boob up off the floor so she wouldn't step on it and hurt herself. Lord knows.
All I know is that I'm so grateful that I come from such a long line of ridiculously free spirited, half crazy (sometimes whole crazy), hilarious individuals and that I got to know so many of them and their stories.
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