Rest in peace, Grandma

April 1, 2014


“She was a good Christian woman and a pillar of the community,” he said.

The Methodist preacher was a small man sporting a bow tie and a bad dye job and an even worse eyebrow job.  He looked like Moose had taken a Sharpie to his face.  The saint to whom he was referring was Grandma Bean.

I nudged Sissy and whispered.  “Is he talking about our Grandma Bean? Are we at the right church?”

Sissy giggled. 

My Aunt Lilly shot us a look.

It was 5:30 in the evening.  We were in Montgomery at a sprawling modern Methodist church for Grandma’s memorial service.  I was certain Grandma had never stepped foot in the place.  And it was probably a first time for the dozen or so of her poker-playing cronies who’d come to pay their respects.

It was Dewey, Grandma’s 96-year-old boyfriend, who was the Methodist.

The morning started out at 6:00 when Sissy and I left Charleston in the Honda in blinding rain that was so loud that we couldn’t hear to make hotel reservations.  We’d had to text Papa to find us a hotel in Columbus, Georgia, so that we could get ready for the funeral.

The Shady Grove Inn sounded quaint. 

It turned out to be the Shady Grove Family Motel and Trailer Park, and by the time Gertie (we were bored; we named our GPS) got us there, we were 15 miles off the interstate and the beaten path.  Ma and Pa Kettle ran the place.  There was a console TV and a jury-rigged Betamax with free bootleg movies.  There were two sagging beds with old faded chenille bedspreads.

The place was a dump, and Papa, the cheap SOB, who couldn’t even make it to the memorial service because of his sorry gimped up hip, really had some nerve. 

We changed clothes so fast that I ripped the only pair of tights I’d brought. 

“What are you gonna do?”  Sissy asked, looking at my scary-white legs.

“Gertie can find us a Walgreens, and while she’s at it, she can find us a bar.  I need a drink, and Papa’s credit card needs a lot more damage than the Shady Kettles can do.”

“Bar first.” 

Sissy has her priorities in order.

We drove to Montgomery, found a bar and got happy.  By the time we were happy, we were running late, but we’d spied a department store without Gertie’s help and we ran in and grabbed a pair of tights.  Sissy took Papa’s credit card to pay and I took the tights to the dressing room.

They ripped.  In the nether regions.  It was not a good day.

“Come on,” I hissed to Sissy who was still standing in line.  “Let’s go.”

“But I haven’t paid yet,” she said.

“The tights are defective, and we don’t have time to deal with this.”

Later in the Methodist ladies room, I discovered that the tights we’d absconded with weren’t actually defective.  They were simply crotchless, and I was a thief and a skank sitting in church with ho undergarments, slightly drunk.

“MJ Bean was a virtuous example for us all,” the bow tie preacher droned.

I nudged my cousin Star on my left and Sissy on my right.  Star nudged Cousin Adele on her left.  We giggled. 

Aunt Lilly glared.

“When her beloved husband JR passed away in 1974, MJ married Glen.”

“That’s not true.” 

Oops.  I’d spoken out loud.  (Note to self:  don’t drink and do funerals, or, for that matter, crotchless tights.)

“I beg your pardon?” the bow tie preacher said.

“Grandpa and Grandma got a divorce in 1974.  Grandpa didn’t die until 1985.”

Aunt Lilly looked like she was going to have a coronary. 

“You are mistaken, Miss Bean.  I have my notes from my conversation with Mr. Cromswell [Dewey] right here in front of me, and it clearly says that your grandfather died in 1974.”

“You know, I think you’re right, Jenny,” Ida, one of the cronies, chimed from her wheelchair.  “Reagan was president when JR died.  And ol’ JR never got over the whole Watergate deal.”

The bow tie preacher was turning red.  Star and Sissy were giggling.  “Out of respect for the deceased,” he started before he was interrupted by a loud clap of thunder.

The lights went out.  Somebody screamed.  And then a bright flash of lightning lit up the sanctuary.

Then Grandma’s voice boomed, sending us all into shock.   “You know this is an April Fool’s joke, don’t you?!”


  1.  Sissy and I got a room at a Hilton.  We don’t trust Papa to make overnight accommodations.
  2. It really did rain like hell, and the part about the crotchless tights, is, regrettably, true.
  3. We only had two beers each.
  4. I do have a tendency to giggle in church.
  5. Aunt Lilly does not glare, but she would just tell you without preamble that you need to shut the hell up.
  6. In some ways, Grandma was actually a pillar.  As far as I know, she wasn’t a Methodist.  But she was an avid volunteer in the community for many years, and I’m sure that earned her a place in heaven.


Love and peace

February 14, 2014


Glamorous GrandmaThe year I was 19, I rode in a car that Grandma Bean was driving for the first time in my life. We were going out for Chinese and I’d just driven for an hour in a blinding sunset, so when Grandma asked me if I wanted to drive, I told her I would rather not.

She drove horribly, just like you’d expect of any little old grandmother except that Grandma wasn’t any ol’ grandmother. She drank beer like it was water, vodka when it was available; she argued politics like a Fox News pundit, and she played a mean game of Scrabble. There was even a whisper that she’d tried wacky weed.

“What did you expect?” Papa asked when I told him what a lousy driver she was. “She didn’t learn to drive until she was 40.”

If Papa had imparted that little piece of knowledge to me before I left, I never would have let her drive. As it was, it was the last time. On the way home from the restaurant, I drove, and I drove us all the way from Hope Hull, Ala., to New Orleans and back for Christmas.

Grandma was born July 1, 1924, in Madison, Wisconsin. She was the second of five children. Her father was a farmer, and she grew up during the Great Depression.

On February 14, 1943, Grandma married Grandpa Bean, a Southerner, who was stationed in the Air Force in Madison. I’m sure Grandpa was bowled over by her great beauty…. Lauren Bacall had nothing on Grandma.

According to Grandma’s records, Papa was born 11 months later. According to Papa, Grandma had been drinking when she compiled the family tree, but I think Papa lies about his age, and he’s been known to discredit anyone who suggests anything he deems unflattering.

While Grandpa was in the service, Grandma and Papa, and nine years later, my Aunt Lilly, traveled all over the place. They lived in Mobile, Japan, Pueblo, Monterey, Anchorage, Tacoma and Taiwan. They finally settled in Jackson, Ala., where Papa went to high school.

In 1973, Grandma and Grandpa divorced, but I didn’t learn about that until a few years later after Grandma married Glen. But even though Grandma married Glen, she and Grandpa were still on friendly terms. Grandpa retired and bought a motorhome. In the summer, he lived in North Carolina. In the winter, he parked in Grandma and Glen’s yard.

We were a modern family before it became vogue.

Glen died in 1988 and Grandma took up with a Dewie next, and through the years we usually saw her on our annual visit to the beach.

If Grandma needed to think something out, she always did it verbally. As far as we could tell there was no internal mulling over of things, Grandma just talked… and talked… and talked.

Once when we were at the beach, Papa, who can be a little touchy, just exploded, “MOTHER, WILL YOU SHUT THE HELL UP?!”

(Actually Papa used a word that rhymes with “duck,” but this is a family-friendly blog.)

Everyone was quiet for about two whole minutes, and then to break the silence, Grandma just started talking again like nothing had happened.

Grandma was thrifty. She recycled everything. She sent us used Christmas cards that she slapped a label on that read, “Love and peace, Grandma.”

She also recycled her stories. The talking got worse when Grandma drank, so everybody kept the booze away from Grandma. One time Grandma got a bee in her bonnet about her Scrabble dictionary. She couldn’t find it, and she was going to make us all nuts if someone didn’t find it, so I went looking. When I peeked in her suitcase, I didn’t find the dictionary, but I did find an almost-empty bottle of vodka.

The funny thing was that we were all pretending not to drink. Papa was drinking vodka in a coffee mug, Grandma had her own stash, and Sissy and I escaped down to the bar on the beach for beer.

That’s how it was with our dysfunctional modern family.

Dementia set in about two years ago and Grandma went to a nursing home. God finally took pity on Grandma Monday.  She was 90 years old.  Now she’s up in heaven trying to convince St. Peter that Scrabble and vodka belong in the hereafter. If anybody can wear St. Peter down, it’s Grandma.

Love and peace, Grandma. We’ll miss you.

She didn't drive until she was 40.


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