Grenadine McGunkle’s Double-Wide Christmas, Chapter 10: Piles of Problems

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Grenadine McGunkle’s Double-Wide Christmas, Chapter 10: Piles of Problems

Good lord, where do I even begin with Gladys Finkelstein?

Well, for starters, she’s one of my newer friends here in Pittsville–though “new” is a pretty relative term, seeing as how we’ve been knowing each other for over thirty years. She was born and reared way up north, someplace that starts with a “B”, I think. Boston? Baltimore? Birmingham? If she’s told me once, she’s told me a thousand times, and I still can’t recall. I need to start taking my ginko biloba again, I reckon.  

But that don’t matter none. She’s been down here more than half her life, so as far as I’m concerned, Gladys is one of us.

I admit, there are some narrow-minded folks in this here town who think she’s a heathen or some such, seeing as how she’s Jewish. Of course, those folks are idiots. Most don’t have two brain cells to rub together, much less the Pittsville pedigree of Gladys and her family.

The Finkelsteins have lived in Hogwalla County for well over a century. Gladys’ great-great-grandaddy opened Finkelstein’s Mercantile when my own great-great-grandaddy was still in grade school. We’ve been trading with ‘em ever since. In fact, Gladys’ aunt Doris sold me my first-ever pair of Mary Janes the week before I started first grade. Best pair of shoes I ever had.

So, them rednecks who don’t think the Finkelsteins are part of Pittsville don’t know what they’re talking about. Folks like that ought not to breed, as far as I’m concerned.

Anyway, Gladys was born when her mama and daddy were living up in whatever place that starts with a “B” they were living in after her mama finished college, and her parents just decided to stay put. They wanted Gladys to get a good education, and given the state of Pittsville High back then, I can’t see as I blame ‘em. Wouldn’t blame ‘em today, neither.

Eventually, Gladys’ parents moved back down to Pittsville, and when they got sick, Gladys came a-running, along with her husband Stanley. Poor thing: one week, Judy and Irv was fit as fiddles, and the next, they was cold in the grave. The doctors said it was pneumonia, but five other people who done ate at Bernice’s Bodacious BBQ that week nearabout bit the dust themselves. Not long after, we all woke up to find the restaurant locked and an empty spot where Bernice’s Airstream used to be. That woman done disappeared into the night, and hadn’t nobody heard from her since. Spooky, ain’t it?

But that don’t concern you none. Gladys and I met at a self-defense/aerobics class down to the YWCA. You remember that movie Flashdance? It was a little like that. We’d all do some flashy dancing, then start in on the karate chops. I like to think I was pretty good, but Gladys always managed to get the better of me. Hands moved faster than most people could see. Finkel the Flash, we called her. Nickname never stuck, though.

I have plenty of friends, of course, but I love me some Gladys because even after thirty years of living in Pittsville, she’s like a fresh set of eyes. She’s been out and seen the world, you know? So, when I’m up against a problem, she’s got a unique perspective on the situation. Loretta and Madge are dear as can be, but ain’t neither of ‘em can offer that.

Gladys is also a darn good cook–a skill that could come in awful handy right about now

* * * * *

“Gladys Finkelstein, you are a sight!” I say, giving her a little hug with my free arm. I could not be happier to see anyone right about now.

“Oh, is it my sweater? Too bright?” In fairness, it is a little sparkly. But then, Gladys has always had a thing for bling. I’ve never seen so many sequined sweaters in all my born days. My stomach does loop-de-loops thinking of what her dry cleaning bill must be.

“Not at all, sugar. It’s just been such a long day, and I ain’t gotten nothing done, and I ought to have dinner on the table in less than an hour. If I were any further behind, I’d be ahead of myself.”

“I had a hunch you’d be in trouble. That’s why I came over early, to help set up.”

“Gladys, you are a lifesaver. With all the folks dropping by, it’s just been one thing after another.” I look over to where Earl is conked out in his chair. “And you-know-who ain’t been no kind of help, neither.”

“You know, honey, I say the same thing about Stanley. But as frustrating as it can be, sometimes it’s better to let sleeping dogs lie. The two times in his life that Stanley offered to help out around the house, I had to hire a cleaning lady just to put the dirt back where it was.”

I gather up the last of my bags and lead the two of us inside. “Well then, maybe Earl’s passion for naps has been a blessing in disguise.”

“Bingo” says Gladys, opening the door for the two of us. “At least when Stanley’s asleep, I know he can’t be buying stuff on the internet. I mean, look at this place, Grenadine. Do you know what I’d do for all this empty space?”

She points around at the living room, which has always seemed kinda cluttered to me. “You think this is empty? I’ve been meaning to have a garage sale to clear out some of this junk.”

“This? To me, this looks positively palatial. Tell me, Grenadine, when’s the last time you came to my house?”

“Um, about three years ago?” Honestly, I can’t remember, but it’s been a while.

“Try five. That’s when Stanley discovered eBay. I swear, not a day goes by that we don’t receive a package from some bubbie in Sheboygan stuffed with Hummel figurines. Those things multiply like cockroaches. He doesn’t even open them all, just stacks them wherever he feels like it. I’ve had to create alleyways through the house. It’s like living in a maze. I’m about to start leaving breadcrumbs to find my way outside. One of these days, I’m going to lose my sense of direction, and they’re gonna have to call in that dumbass Geraldo Rivera to find me.”

“Land sakes, Gladys. I had no idea.”

“I’m so embarrassed by the whole situation, I won’t even open the door for the Girl Scouts–and you know how much I love those cookies! Earl says he can buy Thin Mints for me online, but he never does. Only tchotchkes, tchotchkes, tchotchkes. I swear, Grenadine when he dies, I’m just going to set the place on fire and collect the insurance money. You didn’t hear that from me, though.”

“My lips are sealed.”

Gladys unpacks the canned yams and then stops, all serious like. “Can I tell you what’s really bothering me, though?”

“Why of course, sugar. You want me to whip up some Sanka?”

“No, gives me gas. The real thorn in my side, the thing that’s making me so furious right now is that Stanley has spent so much on his little gewgaws that he’s completely wiped out our savings. I was hoping to go on a trip next month to see Daniel in Miami. Do you know it’s been two years since I’ve laid eyes on my son–two whole years! But thanks to Stanley…. Where do you want the ketchup?”

“Oh, just leave it out. Earl likes it on his black eyed peas.”

“Gross.”

“Well, couldn’t you just drive down to Miami? You’ve got a car, and it can’t be that long of a trip.”

“We probably could, if it weren’t for Stanley and his damn hemorrhoids. If that man is in a car for longer than half an hour, he has to get out and scratch. Ew! I’ve told him to go see Hank about it, but of course, he never does. The man puts chocolate sauce on hamburgers, but somehow talking about his own butthole with his own doctor is too disgusting for him to stomach. I’ve had it up to here!” She holds her own hand about midway up her backside, and we both fall to pieces laughing. Even when she’s down in the dumps, you can always count on Gladys for a joke.

“Gladys, you are too much! Now, pass me them pickles and that packet of Kool-Aid. We’re gonna have a dang barbecue if it kills me!”

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