Great Grandma had an RCA lighter that she used to light every cigarette.
It was the kind etched with a spotted terrier in front of a gramophone. A simple Zippo. And, after she died, Dad hung onto it and then he gave it to me. “She was the only source of love in my life, then,” he said. He gave me the only thing that she left to him that I know of. An RCA Zippo.
“She lifted her hand when she saw me, in the hospital. She was supposed to be dying, and she saw me, and she waved”, my dad told me one night, in between pints at a bar in Boston. “She waved at me. She did. She always called me ‘Chrissy’.”
Great Grandma had Apache cheekbones. And black hair. In all of the pictures that I ever saw of her, she had full lips and deep eyes and the kind of eyebrows that made you second guess whatever it was that you’d just said to her. And, I imagine, she had a great laugh. She didn’t do it very often, I think. But when she did it, when she really laughed, it was probably something to remember.
My mom’s family sat wrapped up in a ranch, I think. I asked her about it often but she never said all that much, except for the part where she chased bulls in their pen and then got knocked around a bit in her pink dress.
Before going to ‘pack her way through Europe:
“Grace called me a ‘whore’ when I was 16, right before my next birthday, and so I went to college as soon as I could and I was 18. I went to Europe right after college,” she said. “I used my own money.”
My mother just took off. She, delicate in her words and thoughts, just took off. To Europe.
My Aunt Bobbie was only 15 years older than me and she took me to see Return of the Jedi on the big screen at the mall after she took me for great, greasy burgers first. She was a terrible driver. I jerked helplessly to and fro in the front seat as she shifted around, through simple stops. I spilled my milkshake in her car during a fast-stop at a corner. She’d gotten a run in her hose and wiped clear nail polish on it to stop it from spreading somewhere along Colorado Boulevard, as she shifted down from third gear into second. She was fantastic and I adored her, even with the runs in her stockings.
Dad only had two sisters and while Aunt Trish was intermittently locked-up under psychiatric care, Aunt Bobbie always came to me.
Aunt Bobbie gave me a Bible in the early 1980s and wrote, “This is like a toothbrush. Use it just a little bit every day,” on the inscription page. And so I did, for very many days. Like a toothbrush. Revelations was my favorite. Prescience.
1992: my father came out in West Hollywood that summer and Bobbie went the way of my not-much-used bible; evaporated into the periphery. She had become Born Again. And she didn’t agree with us. Or, she wasn’t allowed to.
She wouldn’t talk to me anymore.
Aunt Trish was probably, still, had just been, or was just about to be, under professional care right about then. Again.