Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Five or Six (Known) Wives of Old G-Pa

The best way to describe my grandfather is that he is a living, breathing reincarnation of W.C. Fields.

He came to town a week early for my sister's wedding, and I was privileged to have an interesting conversation with him. It began with a discussion of the Eliot Spitzer affair.

For an elderly gentleman, my grandfather has quite a libertarian view of prostitution.
He declared that if he was in Spitzer's situation, he would never resign. I told him (jokingly) that if he was in Spitzer's situation he would probably have been impeached upon ascending the office based on his past alone.

He recounted the various women of ill-repute in his small Ohio town, some of whom had gone on to become quite successful in more legitimate businesses, or who had married prominent members of society.

This led to him reminiscing on his ex-wives. I'm not sure of the exact number, but he's definitely in Elizabeth Taylor territory. However, I don't think he counts the ones annulled by angry fathers brandishing various loaded weaponry. If my grandpa is to be believed, he's had his life (deservedly) threatened more than anyone I know.

I don't remember offhand the name of his first ex-wife. He's told me, but I can't remember. She was before my grandmother's time and they were hastily married during WWII when he was 18 and she was somewhat younger. I believe this was the cause of the first loaded shotgun being thrust into his face.

His second ex-wife was my grandmother. Two more incompatible people never forged a union. I do believe, in the finest of my family's tradition, there was some urgency to the nuptials as well.
My grandfather talked for some time about my grandmother. By this point, I'd stopped talking and just listened.

My grandmother was quite pretty and had been the toast of a nearby army camp along with her four sisters who would go and sing harmony for the boys before they shipped out.
She and my grandfather met after the war. He had spent the duration in the navy cruising the South Pacific on a supply carrier visiting the foreign ports and the ladies who passed their time there. She had spent the duration politely rejecting the advances of a hundred soldiers, holding out for Cary Grant.

No doubt he seemed a worldly, sophisticated young man in the small-town, mid-western eyes of my grandmother. And no doubt she seemed quite the trophy gal to my grandfather who possesses, if nothing else, a passive aggressive sense of competition.

To sum things up in a contemporary vernacular, he tagged her. And so began a life fraught with violence and upheaval.

Their first child was dropped on his head by a drunken OB, causing him a brain injury that resulted in mental retardation.

The fact that my grandmother was chronically and compulsively jealous (due to her father leaving her mother for a younger woman in an age where that kind of thing simply did not happen), and my grandfather was chronically and compulsively cheating (due to the fact that he was a man) did nothing to calm anyone's nerves.

And it was on this situation that my grandfather dwelt when talking about my grandmother.
"I had to step lively to avoid the butcher knife more than once," he said placidly. "She'd get herself all worked up about something, and she'd come at me. But then the damnedest thing. She'd be at me with the knife and I'd have had to bang her head on the ground to get her to let go, but when it was over, she'd want to have sex. I couldn't go from A-Z just like that. My nerves were a wreck after 4 years. I had to join the Merchant Marines just to calm down."

His third wife, Maryanne, was a nice lady from Kentucky. She took good care of him, his son, and my mother whom she didn't like much, but did her duty by.

"I really messed that one up," said my grandfather. "It was all my fault. I just couldn't stop the running around."

Maryanne divorced him in fairly short order.

His fourth wife was a rich widow from Arizona. Her name was Goldie. I actually remember her. She was a nice lady. She was about 30 years older than he was, but she kept him well clothed and well fed, and he kept his philandering to a minimum. Her family hated his guts (and not without reason).

When she died, she left him everything with the caveat that he was never to marry again. Her family naturally contested, and he, believing that he had no chance of ever getting the money, began keeping company with the most terrifying woman.

She was about 6 feet tall, of mixed Mexican and American Indian and European descent. She was absolutely wild. I remember my grandfather bringing her to visit us before they were married. My sisters and I just stood there with our jaws hanging. Even by today's standards she was just a little bit past exotic. To say that she was a gold-digger is not quite accurate. She was more of a gold-carnivore. And she voraciously gobbled up Grandpa. They were married shortly after their visit.

A few months later, the judge ruled that Goldie's will was valid and that my grandfather was entitled to her estate. But it was too late. Goldie's family had been proven right about Grandpa, and they had her money on top of it. Wild woman left him in pretty short order and Grandpa swore off marriage for awhile.

After settling in Florida and indulging in several interesting flings that may or may not have entailed a few wild trips to Vegas, Grandpa cast his eye on Katie, a sweet little old divorcee whose husband had left her for her best friend.

Katie had a stroke a short time after they eloped and her sons, thinking Grandpa might in the will, had the marriage annulled. My mom tried to defend him and the marriage, but she kept laughing and had to grudgingly admit that there was the slight possibility that Katie's son's had a point.

It seems that Katie was the last of the wives. Even though the marriage was annulled, Grandpa kept her company in the assisted living facility where she was residing after the stroke.

Recently, he moved in with my parents. He's been diagnosed with throat cancer. I'm afraid he doesn't have much time left, but I can't help hoping that they'll be able to keep him around for at least a few more years. His faculties are charmingly intact for an 83 year old man and his wit is not dulled.

He has a plethora of interesting expressions. And I'll leave you with his favorite:

"First your money, then your clothes, then only God in Heaven knows."

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