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Initially, the room was in stunned silence following Buford’s pronouncement that he wished to serve the Lord via a midlife career change, and then the chaos descended.
“Now you’re my favorite son!” squealed Granny Crown, hurling herself into Buford’s arms and clutching him in a rapturous manner, leaving hamburger-grease streaks on his already sweat-drenched shirt. Then she paused and leaned back to ask a critical question. “Wait, have you ever had sex? They have an issue with that.”
Buford sighed, not so gently removing Granny’s tentacles from around his waist. “Of course I have, Mother. How do you think we had seven kids?”
Granny was not fully convinced. “Well, there was never any real proof they were yours, so I was never completely certain, especially since Betty has that reputation, and none of those kids look like me, which doesn’t seem possible, with MY dominant genes.”
Of course, Momma Crown did not take this kindly. “WHAT reputation, Mother? This is news to me.”
Granny glanced briefly at Momma Crown, then turned her still-hopeful eyes back to Buford. “People talk, Betty. People have always wondered what happened the night of the Zucchini Festival when you and Tommy Thomas went on that hayride alone.”
Momma Crown let loose a sigh containing as much exasperation as she could pack into it. “Mother, we were NOT alone! There were at least twenty other people in that hay wagon! And Buford and I didn’t even start dating until years later.”
“Well, you two sat away from everyone else in the wagon, and it was dark. Those are ingredients of the devil. No telling what you did when no one was looking. Or maybe they were looking and you found this appealing in a perverse manner. Once you’ve sinned, it’s a short tumble to Hell.”
Momma Crown practically leapt out of her chair and stomped toward Granny with a determination that was quite exciting. Momma noticed, with barely-concealed satisfaction, that Granny cringed slightly before recovering herself and pretending to check on the stuffed peppers sizzling in the oven. “You are a bitter, old woman, Mother Crown, and you are completely out of your mind!”
Buford cleared his throat. “Betty, let me take over.”
Granny Crown looked at Buford with gratitude, her once-again adoring eyes filled with assured salvation. “You’re such a good son, Bufe, stopping that horrid woman from-”
“I’m not stopping anything,” clarified Buford. “I’m finishing it. Tell me, Mother, why do you suppose that I’ve chosen this particular moment to join the priesthood. Any ideas what might have happened recently that could, shall we say, cause me some concern?”
“Why, I would have NO idea,” said Granny, edging slightly away from her glaring son, a move which certified her guilt in the developing inquest.
Buford continued. “You are right, in that people talk. And most of the time it’s you doing the talking. And right now, I’d like nothing more than to go somewhere where people don’t talk, especially YOU. I’d like total silence, maybe for the rest of my life. And the only way to ensure that type of solitude is to join an order of Jesuits who take vows of silence. And we get to live in a monastery, where the powers of Jesus will keep you and your hell-mouth out.”
“Oh?” asked Granny with fake tremulousness, blinking her overly mascara-coated eyes with hummingbird rapidity. “Whatever do you mean?”
“Well, I just had a nice little chat with Mrs. Ferbisher. You know, the old nosey woman in that bridge club of yours? Where you and she and probably a whole coven of cackling harpies make up stories to impress one another.”
Granny Crown gulped.
“Mrs. Ferbisher, purely out of nothing but concern for my welfare, asked me if it was a good idea that I be working so hard outside considering my erectile dysfunction.”
Granny made a small keening noise, similar to those heard in National Geographic specials before small prey breathe their last. Out of desperation, Granny sought any means of escape. “Buford… should you be saying such words in front of the child?”
“It’s okay, Granny,” piped up Harley. “I know what erectile dysfunction means. It’s a kind of dinosaur.”
Momma Crown jumped in. “That’s right, Harley, it’s a dinosaur. Now tell me, Mother, why you would be talking to anyone about Buford’s dinosaur? And choose carefully before telling your next lie, because I can assure you that Buford’s dinosaur has no problem whatsoever DOING IT’S JOB!”
The doorbell rang, which was a really unfortunate happenstance for anyone wishing to see potential domestic bloodshed.
“That must be the Fischbeins,” Granny Crown practically screamed. “I’ll go let them in.” She did a body roll over the kitchen counter and hit the ground running.
“I’m warning you, Mother,” Momma Crown hollered after the fleeing form. “The only words you know right now are ‘welcome’ and ‘please have a seat’.”
“Oh no,” sighed Harley. “We ran out of time and didn’t finish my list.”
“Not just yet,” comforted Momma Crown. “We still have a few moments. Read Momma the rest of the names while I finish up with dinner.”
Harley smiled. “Great! Okay, next we have…”
[Editor’s Note: The original version of this serialized story was a not so subtle tribute to the regular readers of one of my blogs. (The names of Harley’s friends were actual people who followed that blog.) However, the subtlety went out the window at this point in the story, and the tributes became overt and emotional, with misty eyes and heartfelt sighs all around. Since the fine folks here on WordPress couldn’t care less about me thanking people they don’t know from that time and place, I have removed that section. Suffice it to say that there was a small love-fest and people smiled.]
A bit later, the Crowns and the Fischbeins finally sat down to dinner.
“So,” said Ida Fischbein, serving herself a surprising portion of pea salad, “why are you being so quiet this evening, Beatrice?”
Granny Crown glanced furtively at Momma Crown before answering. “Oh, Ida, you know how I get a little peaked sometimes when the seasons change. I’ll be fine in the morning.”
Ida paused, a dab of mayo on her chin. “I don’t believe I’ve ever seen you peaked. In fact, I’ve never seen you NOT dominate a room with just a Bible verse and some subtle hints of blackmail. Something extraordinary must have happened after you left the ‘Jesus and Bagels’ meeting this morning over at the Hyatt.”
Momma Crown grinned broadly. Spearing another stuffed pepper, she shared some news with messy-chin Ida. “Oh, Beatrice has a new outlook on life. Lots of things have changed.”
“Beatrice?” asked Granny Crown. “You always call me Mother.”
Momma Crown continued beaming. “That’s one of the things that has changed, Bea. Another new development is that you will start helping out with all the meals, since I pay for all the food despite you having tons of your own money, yet you come over every night and don’t do a damn thing but eat it. I believe Harley is ready for you to make dessert.”
Harley was leery, because Granny Crown interactions often ended in tears, or at least door-slamming. “I am?”
“Yes, you are,” said Momma Crown. “What would you like?’
Harley considered. “Ice cream?”
“Perfect! What flavor?”
More of the Harley thought process, then: “Tapioca.”
Granny Crown gasped. “The child can’t be serious. It will take ages for me to make homemade ice cream, and there’s no such thing as tapioca ice cream.”
Momma Crown smiled coldly. “Well, Beatrice, you claim to be such a marvelous cook, I’m sure you can manage it. Now get your ass in the kitchen and don’t come back unless you’ve got a nice bowl of tapioca ice cream for your favorite granddaughter.”
“Well, now” said Ida Fischbein, using her napkin to daintily wipe away the smidge of mayo she had finally discovered on her chin. “I think this is the best meal that Beatrice has ever been forced to eat. I think I’ll have another helping.”