(catch up here)
Upon arrival at my mother's house, we were whisked to the new guest bedroom (used to be my bedroom) where she showed off her mad decorating skillz. First of all, how cool is it that I got to sleep with my non-husband in the same room where (in my high school days) they put an alarm on the bedroom door to prevent me from sleeping with my non-husbands? Sometimes being a grown up really is awesome. And then you get another bill in the mail.
My mom spent a lot of time clearing out all the junk they stored in the room after I moved out, and furnishing the room with estate sale finds. She painted over my gaudy purple striped walls with a nice, calming, guest bedroom-y yellow. The first thing I noticed in the attached bathroom were the dead cats.
Growing up, I always suspected my family was "different" because of my mother's penchant for cremating our deceased felines, shoving the ashes into brass urns, and proudly displaying them on the fireplace mantel. Other people buried dead pets in the backyard or had the vet dispose of the bodies. Not us! We liked to keep them for...uh...no apparent reason.
Two of the urns contain the ashes of cats that my parents owned before they had children. One contains Ace, the biggest cat I ever knew. I remember him as being big enough to ride on, but then again, I was really little. He was probably 18 or 20 pounds. Big for a cat, he required a jumbo-sized urn. He was the sweetest thing, with a diamond shaped face and big, yellow eyes (always reminded me of a snake). I saw Ace die, and it was seriously traumatic to watch the sweet cat morph into a foaming, fang-bearing beast as his heart gave out. The final urn, I believe, contains what used to be our Siamese kitty Jangle. She was run down in the road and unceremoniously dumped on our front porch for us to discover when we got home.
I loved those cats (weird, as now I can't stand feline pets), but never felt that keeping their ashes in an urn in the house was a necessary part of the grieving process. So...whatever. My mom is a freaky, dead cat keeper. That's nothing compared to the whole "speaking in tongues" and "being filled with the Holy Spirit" stuff. I'm totally over it.
We slept for a couple hours and then went upstairs to see if my sister's baby was awake. We spent the day playing with her and my brother, visiting with my grandmother, petting her new chihuahua puppy Peppy, and waiting around for my sister to show up with her new husband. We had a grand time, and it turns out that my concerns about Grandma's use of the word "bastard" were unfounded. Instead, she relayed heartfelt condolences for our loss and told me she was very sad to have heard the news. That was when any lingering anxiety about the trip melted away.
Gray took my almost-ten-year-old brother to a store called Vintage Stock so they could be nerdy together and spend hours looking through old video games, wrestling DVDs and comic books. I went with my mom to Sam's Club for some last-minute Turkey Day shopping. We also went to a small grocery store, and between those two stops, she encountered FIVE separate people she knew, to whom I was introduced and to whom she talked with at great length about God and Blessings and the like. One woman, whom I'd never met, lectured me about moving back to Arkansas to be near my mother. She said that she has daughters, she can't imagine how hard it would be if they lived far away, and extolled the many great opportunities in the area for a "beautiful young lady" like myself. I asked her if my mom had paid her to give me that lecture. She did not think I was particularly funny (maybe she was sick or something).
My step-father and I, who have enjoyed a rocky relationship for years, got along well. Gray won him over with his electric guitar, and they spent some time "jamming" together (Gray playing Metallica songs and my step-father doodling along with them on his acoustic, which I have to say was pretty funny and strangely fitting). I went out of my way to be extremely respectful and polite, so as to head off any tension that might remain between us.
Ok, so my mom's garage is filled with crap. And I mean, quite literally, FILLED with stuff. Both my mother and step-father are pack racks. And when I say pack rats, I mean they crossed the line from keeping everything to hoarding everything years ago. They're hoarders. They've done a great job of clearing stuff out of the actual house, making it presentable. All the stuff, however, ended up in the garage. There is just enough space for each of their cars to pull in, and several inches to open the driver's side door on both cars. If you're a passenger, you must either crawl across from the driver's side, or you must stand outside and wait for them to back out. The sides, back and middle of the garage are piled with boxes to the ceiling. There is a small "path" carved out of the junk that allows you to travel from the cars to the house. It's sort of like a maze, except mustier and full of spiders.
At the back of the garage, through the crap maze, is a fridge. We put our beer and wine (brought with us from Minnesota) in there because the fridge inside the house is - imagine this - PACKED full of food (most of it probably long past edible). On Wednesday night, I was hankering for a tasty Schell's brew. But, as this was not my own home and as I had never been an adult of drinking age in this home, and as the general consensus in the area is that alcohol = evil/hell, I decided to defer to my step-father and ask his permission before we started drinking. He seemed to appreciate the gesture, and only asked that we put the beer into glasses, presumably for the sake of my impressionable little brother. We were happy to oblige, and travelled many a time that night, to and from the garage fridge, grabbing beers. Tasty, tasty beers. I did notice that I wasn't getting a buzz though. Not even a little buzz. I figured I just had to try harder, so I made more trips to the garage fridge. That didn't work. Eventually, I cursed the beer gods and called it a night.
Later, my sister seemed slightly horrified that we had been drinking beer out of the fridge in the garage. I was puzzled, knowing she enjoys a frosty brew as much as we, and asked why that would be so shocking. As it turns out...my step-father's DEAD FATHER'S ashes are kept in some kind of box on top of the fridge in the garage. Where they have been for YEARS since he died. For those of you counting, that's FIVE DEAD SOULS living under the roof of one house, one of them human.
Now...my wish is to be cremated when I die. I get that. But what I DON'T want is for my kids to put my ashes in a box and store them in the garage next to a stack of books that haven't been moved since 1976 and a pile of old, match-less socks (that might come in handy somehow someday). That...is just plain creepy. Dump my ass in the lake, put me in one of those lockers at the cemetery, flush me down the toilet, I DON'T CARE. But do NOT put me on the fridge in your garage.
The ghosts of those four cats and that one Oklahoman man (who was married, like, 8 times so probably isn't a happy ghost), they might have been responsible for my lack of buzz that night. I'm pretty sure Grandpa Kenneth was sucking the alcohol out of the beer, right through the bottle tops, and waggling his tongue at us from his perch atop the appliance. That might also explain the unearthly vomiting we heard that night. We'll never know. What I do know is that next time, we're bringing a cooler.
More later on how Walmart left us hanging, and possibly more details that you care to read about gastrointestinal illness.