Mom and Dad will be disappointed with me for smoking again, but that’s the least of my worries.
Besides, Dad has a three-pack-a-day habit and Mom one. Plus, they both smoke cannabis. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, to use an old Seinfeld catchphrase. My parents took it up sometime after I moved to Indiana. I must admit I’ve tried it a few times, but find it too harsh on the throat for my liking. All it ever really did — other than provide a nice little high — was give me coughing fits and a serious case of the munchies. It’s just not for me.
Anyway, I hope they hid or did away with their stash before being questioned by the cops. Not that they won’t be able to get their hands on more of it fairly quickly. We have a family friend who grows it in the woods across from her farm in nearby Bear County, and she always shares the wealth with them since she has so damn much of it. More than she’ll ever smoke by herself, for sure.
I give Dickhead the lowdown, figuring it’s best he know everything before we go into the house and they light up in front of him. If it surprises him, he doesn’t show it. He has quite the poker face.
While I’m at it, I better remind him to let me do all the talking, too, just in case.
“They may be hostile toward you, so try not to take offense,” I say. “Once I tell them we’ve settled our differences, they SHOULD be OK.”
He emits a long sigh.
“Let’s get on with it, then,” he says. “Shall we?”
We take the cobblestone path that ends at the porch stairs so we can access the side entrance. Dickhead stops briefly to admire Dad’s garden before we continue up to the door, putting our cigarettes out and placing them in the always-present coffee can that sits beside it.
I make one final attempt to stall the inevitable before opening a door I’ve strolled through at least a bazillion times prior to today — wondering if they truly DO have scandalous secrets that I know nothing about, wondering if things ever will be the same again if they HAVE been keeping things I have a right to know from me. Whatever the case, it feels like a lose-lose situation. And I have this sickening sense of foreboding that I’m not going to like what I hear one bit.
Without a word, Dickhead fuses his hand with mine. I give him a small, grateful smile for his silent understanding.
I lead the way, opening the door. I feel strange. Like it’s not quite home anymore.
“Mom? Dad?” I call out.
Even with central air, the house is warm. And I know why right away.
“In here, honey,” Mom says from the kitchen.
Cornbread. I smell cornbread. My absolute favorite!
See? Told ya, didn’t I?
They were expecting me. It was just a matter of when.
That’s because you’re too damn nosy for your own good. Everybody knows THAT.
No one makes cornbread like Mom. Not even me, although I come in a distant second and hope to one day do her proud by surpassing her mouth-watering concoction. In the meantime, I’ll just have to keep practicing. Hers wins blue ribbons every year at the Crimson County Fair. It’s so fucking moist, it’ll bring rapturous tears to your eyes. You don’t even need to bother buttering it. To do so is sacrilege.
The key to making great SOUTHERN cornbread, other than the usual basic ingredients, are a cast-iron skillet — anything else simply will NOT do — bacon or sausage grease or a mixture of both, buttermilk and Mrs. Dash. Most important, you NEVER, EVER use sugar. We will fucking kick your ass out of the South if you dare even THINK about it. Only Yankees use sugar, which is why theirs is complete shit.
I also catch a distinct whiff of collard greens with ham hocks, fried green tomatoes and baked bean casserole.
OH, HELL FUCKIN’ YEAH!
MORE of my all-time faves!
Mom always makes the collards and FGTs, also known in our household as fucking great tomatoes; Dad’s specialty is the casserole. His masterpiece of a recipe includes four large cans of original flavor Bush’s baked beans, a five-pound tube of hamburger, three pounds of ground sausage, onions, green bell peppers, mustard, catsup and his trademark homemade barbecue sauce. Mom alternates making the FGTs with cornmeal or flour and lemon pepper. I can’t tell which it is this time, though, because of all the aromatic scents simultaneously drifting out of the kitchen. Wait a sec! My nose also detects the aroma of pecan — we pronounce it puh-cawn; everyone else calls it pee-can — pie!
GAWDDAYUM! I am in hog heaven!
I’ve been hungry pretty much all day, but now I’m fucking dying of starvation!
We stop at the kitchen entrance, Dickhead still out of Mom’s eyesight, still holding onto my hand from behind me.
“Hi, Mom. I, uh, have a guest with me.”
I timidly walk into the kitchen, bringing Dickhead into full view. Mom is standing in front of the stove directly to our right, oven mitts adorning both of the delicate hands gripping the handle of a cast-iron skillet midair as she’s about to flip the cornbread onto a large plate.
Lawd, have mercy! There’s about to be a serious sit-down feast in the Granger household tonight!
I eye the cornbread greedily.
“This is Di … ” I start to introduce my infamous boss, but that’s as far as I get.
Good thing, too. I almost blunder and call him Dickhead without thinking. Hey, don’t be getting all judgy and shit with me. What can I say? Some habits die hard. I still can’t bring myself to call him by his given name. Never have, come to think of it. Not even when I first met him. He’ll always be Dickhead to me. It just fits, don’t you think? He IS still an asshole, after all, y’know, treaty or not.
As it is, he clears his throat to let me know he doesn’t miss the fact that I almost commit the faux pas of calling him by his nickname. Rather, my pet name, since we ARE getting along so famously. For now.
“I know who YOU are,” Mom says, clearly unhappy as she takes in the fact that I’m holding hands with the big, bad boss I’ve been boo-hooing to my parents about for the past year. “Piccolo has told me ALL about you.”
Oh, fuck! Shit’s about to hit the fan! Better douse that fire before it gets outta control!
“It’s OK, Mom,” I say, purposely standing between them while mentally crossing my fingers that she doesn’t crack Dickhead over the head with the very skillet — cornbread and all — in her hands faster than I can muster an explanation for his unexpected appearance. “We made our peace and buried the hatchet just today, in fact. I, um, over-exaggerated a teensy-weensy bit about him being a, uh, monster. He’s really not THAT bad, now that I know him a little better. Honest.“
At least ONE of us is forthcoming.
This seems to mollify Mom.
WHEW. Close call.
The cornbread is safe.
Oh, and Dickhead, too.
She turns her attention back to her task, expertly centering the thick, crispy, tantalizing cornbread onto the plate without it falling apart. She relaxes just enough to drop her famous “ass-whoopin'” stance, but not enough to allay her suspicions as she takes off her mitts and tosses them onto the counter next to the stove.
She’s my mom, all right. I take after her Irish temperament and looks. We have the same carrot-orange hair, although at 67, hers is almost completely gray now, and she is shorter than me at 5 feet 2 inches tall. She also is curvaceous like me, but her eyes are green to my hazel. And she has way more freckles than me from piddling around outside all day since retiring from teaching at Von Braun High School three years ago.
It took her a long time to get her master’s degree and obtain certification because all the moving around she did with Dad forced her to have to change universities more than once. And that includes the hassle of having to transfer her transcripts so she didn’t lose any credits for the classes she did complete before packing up and heading to yet another Navy base. But she kept whittling away at it until she finished school and met all of the requirements to teach in Alabama. There are five public high schools here in Tideville, with Mom’s old stomping grounds being the farthest away on the opposite side of town where all the affluent people live.
She also writes those series romance novels I love to read under a pseudonym because she has this reputation to uphold among her colleagues as a respected former English teacher, so I don’t share that info with anyone lest she whoop MY ass. It’s also how my parents were able to afford to send me to Catholic school. She does all of her writing in the evenings, clacking away on the keys of her laptop from the double L-shaped sectional couch in the living room as Dad channel surfs until finally settling on a show to which she can listen and he can fall asleep.
“I’m Margaret,” she says to Dickhead in her soft drawl, holding out one of her tiny hands to shake his because this IS the South, not that I need to remind you for the umpteenth time, and we pride ourselves on displaying good manners in ALL situations, most especially when it comes to extending our hospitality. “How do you do?”
Looks like we’re going to take the formal approach. Very interesting, indeed.
It’s the first time I can remember Mom introducing herself by her full name. It’s Meggy to everyone else. But Dickhead isn’t everyone else. There’s no else quite like him, come to think of it.
He slowly disengages his hand from mine long enough to reach around me to shake hers before linking ours together again. It doesn’t escape Mom’s eagle-eye notice, but she doesn’t say anything. Yet.
It suddenly dawns on me that Dickhead probably is even more apprehensive than me, knowing he’s treading a potential minefield because of all the shit I talk about him to my parents. Sorry, talked. I feel guilty, and it shows. I may as well be wearing a flashing neon sign across my forehead. Dickhead gives me a fleeting partial smirk, then goes back to being all serious and stoic.
He’s a real pro, that one.
Mom notices that, too.
“Bill?!” she yells the house down like she always does. “Piccolo’s here! We’re all in the kitchen!”
Mom turns the burner under the monster pot of collards down to the “simmer” setting before opening the oven door to check on the casserole. A heaping platter of FGTs and two pecan pies already are cooling on the counter.
C’mon, Dad! Hurry up, else the food will get cold, and we can’t be having THAT!
I hear him descending the creaky stairs.
Mom dons her mitts once more to retrieve the now-bubbling baked bean casserole out of the oven to cool on a pair of pot holders on the counter beside the other goodies just waiting for me to start throwing down on them any second now.
“Let me handle this,” she says in passing as she swiftly leaves us to head off Dad in the laundry room.
I hear them whispering, but I can’t make out what they’re saying. I let out a low whistle. Dad sounds furious — again, completely MY fault — but I know Mom will get her way because she rules the roost. Always has, always will. I HOPE.
As soon as I hear their footsteps, I protectively turn around to place myself between Dickhead and the kitchen doorway. His grip on my hand tightens as if it is his only lifeline. I suppose it is, in a way, since my brilliant move only succeeds in trapping him in our kitchen with nowhere else to go. That is, unless he climbs out of the lone back window. Or my dad sends him flying through it. He’s pretty spry for a 67-year-old, and he can scrap with the best of them.
Shit’s about to get real up in here!
“Hi, Dad,” I squeak, compelling myself to look up at him.
No, furious is too TAME a word.
I backpedal, stumbling into Dickhead.
If looks could kill …
The person standing in front of me is not at all the Dad I know and love. The person standing in front of me is an out-and-out stranger. The person standing in front of me fucking TERRIFIES me.
The person standing in front of me with the cold blue eyes is perfectly capable of killing.
He’s done it before in the line of duty for our country.
And the person standing in front of me might be just as capable of committing cold-blooded murder.