Meme misses her boyfriend. The pale yellow couch is half vacant. The twin bed in the spare room still has the same sheets she washed for him after he left for Maine Medical and never came home. The trailer has the lonely spare feeling of one.
My grandfather, Lauriston “Lon” “Larry” Buker called her “Rosie” and he adored her cooking. Rosie was fearless with an oven. The tripe, tongue and road-kill that he brought home always found its way to their dinner table. He sat on the couch reading while the smell of odd animal parts wafted through the trailer gagging the children. Theirs was a strange marriage marked by the love of odd meats, a one-foot height differential and separate beds.
Grandpa’s smoke stained books line my bookshelves. Each one marked by some rolling paper covers or odd ads that he cut out of magazines. I used to read the selections looking for some clue to the man he was but I could never make any sense of it so I stopped looking. All I really know is that he was 6’4”, sharp witted, and a very strict father. He wore summer hats for driving and winter hats for driving and he loved his mother.
Meme was excommunicated from the Catholic Church for marrying a Protestant. Grandpa’s mother, Elizabeth Buker, stood across the street to watch their wedding. She thought “Lon” married beneath him and let Meme know any chance she had. Meme endured her mother-in-laws jabs and her separation from her faith with a set jaw. When my grandfather was dying of spinal cancer, he asked my Meme to take care of his mother. She goes to Portsmouth every week and takes her out for lunch and buys her groceries. Meme is very loyal. I go with her as much as I can. Great Grams behaves better when I’m there.
Meme insists on taking old route one even though the drawbridge could be up and leave us sitting for an hour. I’m driving her old white Buick. I call it “The Boat” because every time you open the 25-pound doors trapped rainwater sloshes back and forth.
When the coast is clear for pulling out onto route one Meme yells, “Tromp on it!” It’s a direct quote from Bob McGirk, the drunken Irish husband of Meme’s older sister, Yvonne. Meme always quotes him when the coast is clear. Today there’s agitation in her tone when she says it. I navigate “The Boat” around some slowpoke and wait to find out what she’s thinking.
“That Bob McGirk, she shakes her head in disgust, he was something. You know your Grandfather started down that certain path too, drinking and staying out nights, but I wouldn’t have it. He came home one night stinking like spirits and when I sassed him about not being able to find his way to the dinner table, he raised his hand to me. I stopped his hand in mid-air and looked him in the eye and I said, ‘Is this how it’s going to be? Because I don’t like it.’ He lowered his fist and he said, ‘No Rose, it isn’t.’ and he ate his dinner and went to bed. That was the last of that. My sister, did she ever put up with it. Bob drank so much he couldn’t be a good husband if you understand what I’m saying. I never had that. Larry was good to me in that regard. I wouldn’t put up with what Yvonne did.”
I drive and shut up. Meme had a satisfying sex life. I would love to hear more but I know she’s done.
“What else do you need for the wedding, darling?” Meme is picking her nails with an ancient nail file. Her feet barely touch the floor. I’m getting married in two weeks.
“I think I am finally set. I hope anyway. I’m sick of shopping.”
“How about I buy you something for the wedding night?” I look over. Meme is serious.
“Like what?” I am tickled.
“Like a teddy. Something special and festive. I can take you to that shop in Sanford”
“I wasn’t thinking of getting anything like that but sure. Randy will love it.”
After the lugubrious visit with Grams, I announce that I have to work so Meme and I can get out of that squalid apartment that smells like aging flesh. I’m a bartender at Jackie’s in Ogunquit this summer trying to get wedding money. Great Grams buys it and rushes us out the door. Off we go. I am curious what if anything I will be wearing on my wedding night.
The August light streams in through the windshield on the ride to Sanford. The leather seats are warming up and I am drowsy. Meme is rolling her thumbs around and around each other like she does. We don’t feel the need to talk.
Hooz’s is an “old lady” store in Sanford. One of the few left in Southern Maine. Thick-ankled ladies with no waists bustle around with tape measures hanging off their shoulders. I’m not sure I can answer them when they ask if they can help me but Meme pipes right up.
“We are looking for a little something for her wedding night. You have that sort of thing, right? You ladies have it all.”
Meme adores Hooz’s. She bought a red dress here to wear to my wedding. They all fawned over her bringing her dress after dress to try on. Meme doesn’t get much fussing over anymore. In the end she paid way too much but “…it’s a once in a lifetime buy!”
The helmet-headed salesclerk smiles sideways at us.
“Right this way, girls. This whole rack is lingerie. Let me know if you need help. Oh, and please keep your underwear on when trying on the garments. You know, sanitary reasons.”
I laugh in an “of course’ way but I don’t wear underwear. Breaking the rules will make Meme nervous so I don’t bring it up.
Under the watchful eyes of two women over 70, one of whom is my grandmother; I pick out lovely little peach teddies, an ivory camisole and matching panties. I don’t know what I’m doing. I throw a forced smile toward the sales lady. She gives me an encouraging nod.
I’m uncomfortable with undergarments. Bare skin seems much sexier to me. But I keep looking and smiling.
From the other side of the rack Meme holds up a black crotchless get-up and says too loudly, “How about this one darling? This is nice.”
Everyone is looking. I stuff my puritan choices back on the rack.
On the way home, we don’t talk about the little black number in my shopping bag. It could be a cardigan or a turtleneck in there for all we don’t say about it. In two weeks, I’ll be trotting it out for my husband. I imagine sashaying out of the bathroom.
“Hey baby. Just a little present from my Meme. You like?” as I give him a tiny glimpse of my lace lined thighs.
When we get to Meme’s trailer, I hate to say good-bye.
“I don’t like leaving you here all alone.”
I tell her this often.
“Oh darling, we all make our choices. I’m fine. Run home to Randy, he’ll need to eat. And save your present for after the wedding.”
I hug her extra long. She pulls away and gives me a little slap on my bum.
“Go! I’ve got date with Tom Brokaw.”
On the day of my wedding, I watch Meme climb out of my uncle’s car in her red dress. She looks perfect. The Hooz girls set her up beautifully. I cross the field to give her a hug. We just look at each other and grin. The photographer snaps a picture.
That night in a bed and breakfast in New Hampshire, I wear a black crotchless teddy that drives my new husband to sexual hysteria. I wonder if this is what Meme had in mind?
Randy and I have great sex but it doesn’t help our marriage. We divorce after a year. I still have the teddy. I can’t throw it out. Meme bought if for me.