I saw that it was getting close to the time that the kids were supposed to go sleep at Teresa’s house. During my discussion with Grandma I had missed seeing them open their presents. They were all excited about their ‘loot’ as they called it and there were piles of wrapping paper all around them. Jessie and I got busy helping them pick up and getting their night gear together. We brought their sleeping bags so they could bunk down in Teresa’s living room. I wished her luck getting them all to sleep!
Walking over to Teresa’s with the kids gave us a chance to unwind a bit from the tensions of the dinner. Teresa seemed a little startled to see Jessie with me. I think my family is sometimes puzzled by Jessie’s involvement with co-parenting my kids from my first marriage. She decided from the beginning that she was in all the way, and had taken to step-parenting with her full enthusiasm. She had read a stack of books on blended families to prepare herself. I was still adjusting to the idea that I didn’t have to do it all alone. My ex-husband, who we called the sperm donor (though not in front of the kids) couldn’t have been less involved in their lives.
We stayed long enough to get the kids settled in their sleeping bags, teeth brushed, jammies on, and completely embarrassed by kisses goodnight. At least, Paul at 11, had to roll his eyes and protest to save face with his cousins. We made sure Teresa had our cell phone number and left, grateful that one thing, at least, was going as planned.
The rain had let up but the ground was slippery with ice. Ah, midwestern weather! I missed the thunderstorms but freezing rain was something I could live without! I shivered and Jessie linked her arm with me and snuggled up against me. The moon was beautiful with a glistening ring of rainbow colors around it. Most of the sky was clear now as the storm system was passing on. Moonlight glistened on the ice—how could something so deadly be so beautiful? We were lucky our power hadn’t gone out but thousands of homes had lost power for most of the day. The freezing rain brought power lines down from the sheer weight of the ice.
We got back to Grandma’s house and rushed in, seeking the warmth.
Jessie said, “Why don’t we have some tea?”
“What a good idea. I think we deserve a little peace and quiet before bedtime. I think they have Lipton—is that ok?”
“Sure, if they have some decaf.”
“Oh yeah, Grandpa has to have decaf these days so I’m sure they do.” I replied.
As I put the teakettle on the stove, Grandma came in. I could hear Aunt Vickie and Mom in the living room talking softly. Jessie was sitting at the table where we had hoped to have our tea in peace. I was thinking I might have a sliver of the pumpkin pie.
Grandma was business-like as she announced the sleeping arrangements.
“Teri, you can sleep on the sofa bed and Jessie, you can take the room next to ours. Vickie and Bonnie can sleep in the lilac room.”
“Why in the world would you put Aunt Vickie and Mom in the same room and split us up?” I asked, biting my tongue on the several other phrases that came to mind.
Grandma glared at me. I glared right back.
“You ain’t even married” she hissed. “It ain’t right.”
“Of course we’re married! You ought to know—you were invited to the wedding!” I was tired. I wished we hadn’t come. She knew I was expecting to sleep in the same bed with Jessie.
“It wasn’t legal, and no one is going to practice sin under my roof!” Grandma said, hands on her hips.
The teakettle whistled and I poured the water into our cups, buying a little time before I responded. Jessie had urged me before we came not to get into a fight, pointing out that my grandparents weren’t going to change at their age.
“Grandma, it’s hardly our fault that the government hasn’t seen fit to legalize gay marriage—but there’s no law against being married in our church.”
“Church, what church, the Unitarians? They don’t believe in anything!” Grandma sneered. “What kind of crazy religion is that?”
Jessie’s mouth dropped open. I had tried to tell her about the kinds of things Grandma had said in the past to prepare her, but I guess I didn’t manage to convey the reality accurately enough. None of the people we spend time with would ever talk this way.
“I’m not going to try to explain our faith to you again. The point is, we were married before God, whether you approve or not.” I responded. I don’t know how I was keeping my temper under control. My stomach was on fire and I turned back to the counter to remove the teabags. I really needed some tea.
Mom and Aunt Vickie had heard the raised voices and came into the kitchen, followed closely by Grandpa.
Grandma repeated, “No one is going to practice sin under my roof. God don’t want women to marry women.”
I sat the teacups down on the table. Jessie grabbed hers eagerly. Her face had reddened with embarrassment at being the focus of such anger. This was so unlike her family gatherings that I think she was stunned.
I sat down beside Jessie and sipped a bit of my tea, trying to calm myself—and my stomach—down.
“Grandma,” I said, “no one is talking about practicing sin, unless sleeping is a sin in your house.”
“You know what I mean. It ain’t right for you to be in the same bed.”
Mom and Aunt Vickie sat down at the table across from us. Mom got out a cigarette, as she always does when she’s stressed. Aunt Vickie looked like she was thinking longingly about a cigarette too. Grandpa stood uneasily in the doorway.
“Look, I’m not going to waste time arguing with you. If you really mean this then we’ll go to a motel for the night. We can come back tomorrow and pick up the kids.” The more I thought about it, the more I realized that this was a good idea. We’d have more privacy at the motel.
“Fine with me.” Grandma snapped.
“Pearl, let them stay. What’s it gonna hurt?” Grandpa intervened. This was rare—he usually stayed out of these things, even when he agreed with her. That way she got to look like the bad guy. It took me years to realize this.
“Not in my house! Not in the same bed!” Grandma repeated.
Grandpa was silent.
Aunt Vickie said, “Why don’t you just stay here—one night in separate beds won’t kill you.”
I really couldn’t believe she was saying this, after the way she and her husband were treated when they first got married.
“Did you and Uncle Clyde have to sleep in separate beds?” I asked.
“Well, no, but that was different.” Aunt Vickie replied.
“Oh, really?” I took another sip of tea. “It always amazes me when minorities don’t stick together.”
Aunt Vickie looked away, sheepishly. Mom looked like she wanted to say something but thought better of it.
Jessie said quietly, “Look, it’s getting late. Mrs. Elschlager, I don’t want to offend you. We’ll just go to a motel. Let’s see if we can find a room, Teri.”
“All right, but Grandma—we won’t come back again if this is the way you want it,” I said.
“You just had to ruin my Christmas, didn’t you?” Grandma said. “I don’t know what I ever did to make you hate me so much.”
I jumped up from the table. “Bullshit! You know exactly why I’m so pissed. We’ve been over this again and again. If you can’t respect our marriage then I don’t want to be here, and for sure I don’t want to put Jessie through this.” My face was flushed and I was breathing hard. God how I hated these scenes. Jessie came over and put her arm around me. We stood facing Grandma together.
Grandma took a step back. She might have been blinking back tears; I couldn’t tell. If she was, she’d never show them.
“Have it your way, “ she said coldly. “But don’t expect any money when I die.”
“Money, always money with her. She thought it could control me like it did my mom. Mom, who was being obediently silent, not daring to take sides.
“You can burn your damn money for all I care.” I hadn’t raised my voice but I said it with all the resentment I’d been suppressing all evening. Jessie rubbed my back, calming me down.
“We should just leave.” Jessie said softly. She was right. This was getting us nowhere. It never did.
“We’ll pick up the kids after lunch tomorrow,” I said.
Grandma gave me a poisonous look. Her fists were clenched.
“You’ll be sorry when I’m dead. It won’t be long now. You’ll be sorry.” With that she left the room. She always needed to have the last word. We heard the water running in the bathroom. She was probably running a hot bath.
“You gals will need some money for the motel,” Grandpa said, pulling out his wallet.
“Oh that’s sweet, Grandpa, but we have the money. Don’t worry about us.” I gave him a kiss and a hug.
“Well, if you’re sure you’ll be ok…”
“Yeah, we’re fine.” I looked at Jessie. “Let’s get our things and try that motel we passed on the way into town. Didn’t they have a vacancy sign?”
“I think they did.” Jessie replied.
We said our goodbyes and got our stuff together. Mom followed us out to the car.
“You know she doesn’t mean it, she’s just senile,” Mom explained.
“Then she’s been senile for her entire adult life.”
I got into the car. Jessie started the motor. Bless the rental, it started right up.
“Goodnight Mom. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
to be continued--