“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?”
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.”
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?!”
- Sissy and I got a room at a Hilton. We don’t trust Papa to make overnight accommodations.
- It really did rain like hell, and the part about the crotchless tights, is, regrettably, true.
- We only had two beers each.
- I do have a tendency to giggle in church.
- Aunt Lilly does not glare, but she would just tell you without preamble that you need to shut the hell up.
- 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.