Chapter 21: Holiday Threads

(C) 2011 by Metta Anderson – All Rights Reserved 

Phoenix, Dec. 31, 1977

Hyatt House

Dear Beca–

And a very Happy New Year to you and your family!!!!!! Hope 1978 is marvellous for you!

As you can see, I’m not home celebrating. What you can’t see is that I’m not alone. And it’s around 9 o’clock at night here in Phoenix. I guess I’ll have to explain.

But first, I’m sorry I haven’t written before. I got your letter about breaking up with Dan Rivers and I’m truly sorry that happened. He seemed like a nice guy who really loved you and I began to think, “This is it!” I sympathize wholeheartedly with you, but not so much with Dan. I think he’s a little bit old (at 35) to suddenly decide he has to go “find himself” in the Canadian woods. What couldn’t he find in Chicago? I’m sorry–I’m trying to be “mature” about this, but I just think his reason for breaking off the relationship is just childish. I hope he comes to his senses soon, though. You’re such a great person!

I also think I need to apologize or at least explain why my recent letters have sounded so weird. You’d think nothing ever happened in Tucson, and I don’t think it does, but I guess I haven’t “put down roots” or whatever since I moved here and the letters reflect how I feel–disconnected. And that’s not even an accurate word.

Okay, you remember Julian. Not with fondness but you know who I’m talking about. He’s living with me now, although I don’t know how permanent this will be. Probably not like getting married, but for the time being, we live together. I moved to Tucson in April, I got a letter from him in July and he was here about a week later (two weeks?). He did call me first, from someone’s house in New York, and I said great.

And except for a couple of weeks in October or the beginning of November when he had to go to Los Angeles, he’s been here.  We went to Mexico, which was kind of strange. We drove down in my car, following the Pacific coast but not Baja and we liked the food and the scenery and things like that, but it didn’t take long for us to decide that Mexico may not like us. I know that sounds strange–we weren’t threatened or ripped off or run out of town on a rail or anything like that. But, I guess we didn’t click or couldn’t find a groove. Something. So we came back.

My mother called from Michigan to announce her imminent arrival and would we make sure her house was ready? (Did I tell you she married her third husband in February ’76? He’s from Benton Harbor and very very nice? Mom had rented it for the summer to a young couple who needed a place to stay because–I’m trying to make this clear–he’s an Air Force pilot and he and his wife either need a place to stay til military housing becomes available here (transfer in) OR he’s being transferred and they need a place to stay after they move out of military housing. What they liked about Mom’s house was that it’s furnished and she wouldn’t make them sign a six-month or year-long lease. Mom liked the deal because it’s so hard to find renters in the summer.  Julian and I thought it would take us a day or so to get the place ready once the couple had turned over the keys.

Talk about being WRONG!!!

The couple moved out on the appointed day, Julian and I picked up the keys and went in to look it over. I also thought Mom had a forwarding address and phone number, but it turns out that the Air Force does not give out that kind of information. The couple didn’t skip out on the utility bills or the rent, but that’s the nicest thing I can say.

The house hadn’t been dusted or vacuumed since the spring, when Mom and Chuck went back to Michigan for the summer. That was the easy part. We discovered in the master bath that the shower floor had strange black marks on it (white tile floor) which didn’t come off with Ajax or any other cleanser we tried. We thought about scraping the tile, but worried it would make a bigger mess and take the waterproofing glaze off. We did the best we could, but when Mom arrived, all we could do was show her the shower floor and, WOW! did she get pissed!

To jump ahead–she finally got in touch with the husband, who said he often brought back cases of Molson Beer when he flew missions to Canada. He’d stash the cases under and around his seat in the cockpit, where it picked up whatever grease the Air Force uses in its jets. When he brought the cases back to the house, he’d put them in the shower to keep them cool. (Please note: Mom does have a decent 16 cu. ft. refrigerator in the kitchen which keeps things cool or even frozen. A pilot doesn’t see that?)

But then Chuck went to a hardware store, explained the problem and they recommended a specific acid, diluted in water. He tried that and it worked, but Mom was really upset about all this.

Among other things.

She had told me when they were arriving so Julian and I were at the house when they drove up. I’d had trouble with the Oldsmobile I bought in April and traded it in for a Datsun Z 28. (This was Julian’s idea, actually, but we did this AFTER Mexico, in case you’re picturing us zipping through that landscape. And it’s “slightly used,” in that it was a demo, so it’s not exactly used but it isn’t brand new, either.) Anyway, I like the car and wonder why I didn’t get one before! Mom and Chuck park right behind the Z and come up the sidewalk to the open front door. I’m at the door, Julian’s a few feet off to one side, and Mom walks in. She’s smiling and her first words are, “Wow, whose snazzy car is that!? Yours?” she asks, looking at Julian (the first time she’s ever seen him, too). He smiles back and shakes his head, while I, grinning happily, reply, “It’s mine.”

She went ballistic in a split second. She stopped dead in her tracks, gasped and opened fire (verbally). “What the hell do you think you’re doin’, spendin’ your money on a goddamned expensive sports car like that! You’re just throwin’ your money away and don’t come cryin’ to me when you need help!”

Then she stopped, took a deep breath and looked at Julian for the second time. She gave him a big smile and gushed, “You must be Julian. I’m this crackpot’s mother, God help me.” And then she laughed and walked away toward the kitchen.

Chuck came in, very embarrassed. He quietly introduced himself to Julian, and gave me a hug. He told us to leave, but in a nice way, explaining that my mother was tired, it was a long trip and so on and so forth. Julian nodded, told me to get my purse and shook hands with Chuck, who said in parting, “We’ll call you tomorrow.”

I don’t remember where we went for lunch. Julian was driving, fortunately, because I was just too numb.

And that was the opening shot. A couple of days later, Mom said that she’d invited her mother and sister to come for Christmas and that they were going to stay in my house. It was all arranged. She asked if Julian and I were married, I said no, and she told me to make him stay at a motel so as not to offend my grandmother and aunt. I not only said no, I shouted her down in the argument that followed.

Then there was the dinner she insisted I have for her, during which she sniped at me for the dumbest things–mostly how petite and feminine she is compared to me–until Julian kind of roared at her from across the table, “Shut. Up. When you are in this house, when you are around me, you will treat your daughter with respect or you will not be welcome here at all. Am I making myself clear?”

Total dead silence. Chuck is studying his plate. Mom is looking at Julian with her eyes wide open in surprise. He is giving her a look that should have killed her.

I’ve never loved him more than I did at that minute.

That kind of finished dinner, too, and I fell apart when I washed the dishes later. Yes, I do love Julian for lots of reasons, but the way he warned my mother to back off was simply the first time anyone has ever stood up to her in my defense in my life. I can not even now express my gratitude for that. But the tension I felt afterward was too much, so I started to cry. I turned off the water and stumbled to the bedroom, where I cried til I fell asleep.

My grandmother and my aunt arrived for Christmas and had absolutely no problem with Julian living with me. In fact, my aunt even snapped at Mom, after a few beers one night, “Lissen, Arabella, Grace met a handsome young man and she’s happy. These days, who the hell cares they’re not married? I don’t and neither does Momma, and I know she’s told you that. And believe you me, there are worse men for Grace to live with than Julian! Y’all just bettah thank your lucky stars Grace found a gentleman, and not some trucker from the wrong side o’ the tracks!”

We took Nana and Aunt Katie to Old Tombstone, to the Sonora Desert Museum and out to lunch. They had a great time. Then we’d go to Mom’s and she’d be angry at everybody. So finally, Julian said he had to get away for a couple of days, and suggested we go someplace for a night or two. I didn’t want to, but I knew that if I didn’t get away, I’d just walk out into the desert and never be seen again.

We told Mom and everyone that Julian had to get his visa re-validated, so we were going to cross the border into Nogales, spend the night and come back the next day. Mom and Chuck have two cars, so Aunt Katie could use Mom’s and not be stuck at my house. (I live miles from Mom.) And anyway, we’d be back in time for a New Year’s Day dinner.

Only we just drove up here to Phoenix and discovered that the hotel was offering discounts on their rooms. We have a  big room, with TV, king-size bed, big bathroom stuffed with gigantic towels and a complimentary cocktail before dinner–for $50. WONDERFUL!!!

We went shopping, we had lunch, watched TV and then got dressed for dinner. I don’t know if Julian took something or if he’s reacting to the last few weeks, but after maybe two drinks at dinner, he almost passed out. I got him upstairs and onto the bed, and he’s been so sound asleep I’ve checked him a couple of times to see if he’s still breathing.  This wasn’t the way we planned to spend New Year’s Eve, because there’s an orchestra playing in the dining room on the mezzanine and the second diningroom on the top floor revolves so you can get a panoramic view of Phoenix as you eat. (In the daytime, anyway.) Right now, I’m getting a narrow view of New Year’s on the TV set in the room, as I sit on the bed next to him. This doesn’t match my fantasies, but it kind of beats reality in Tucson.

And on that note, I guess I’ll close and stuff this letter in an envelope. I do hope you have a great New Year’s, Beck, and a great 1978, too! I will very sincerely try to be a better correspondent in the New Year, honest! Very best regards to your family and a big hug to you!

Love,

Grace

 

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