GRANNY MAUDE DOESN’T WANT YOUR BAKED GOODS by Karen Uffelman
It seemed like another boring Christmas. And then Granny Maude backed her truck over Stephanie’s foot.
“Bye Granny Maude! Was so, so great to see you again! You be careful in this big ole’ truck! I’m gonna’ come out and visit you – oh yes I am! That’s a threat not a promise!” Stephanie was the most cheerful, most friendly, most aggravating, inappropriately affectionate person you ever met.
The next sound was the rev of the engine, then the screeching of tires and crunching of bones. I didn’t actually get to hear the crunching part, but I did get to see the expression on Stephanie’s face, and THAT was very gratifying.
Surprisingly, the woman who never shut up didn’t say a thing as the weight of Granny’s old Ford 150 rolled over her metatarsal. Her eyes got very big, and all the blood ran out of her face, but she kept the irritating, idiotic smile she’d been sporting all weekend. Apparently Granny didn’t want whatever baked goods Stephanie had been trying to press on her, because Stephanie was still holding several mysterious foil-wrapped loaves as Granny stopped, halfway down the driveway, and yelled out the window, “Jeffey – you got to do something about this driveway. It’s bumpy as hell!”
That’s when I took off running for the house, afraid that I’d burst out laughing and be in more trouble than I already was.
See, Jeffey – Uncle Jeffey to me – is what my family calls a hopeless bachelor. And Stephanie is the woman that my family, or at least my mom, thinks will finally make him an honest man. The “honest” part always confuses me. I’m pretty sure Uncle Jeffey is honest in all the ways that are important. He is an excellent uncle. He comes to most of my gymnastics meets. He fixed up a bike for me for my last birthday. He always slips me a ten or a twenty when he comes to visit and tells me to go buy ice cream. He is pretty much a perfect man in my estimation. He’s got a good job and his house isn’t messy. He probably owns too many motorcycles (my mom says so) and I once found some Penthouse magazines in his garage, but I’m guessing that’s pretty normal for 46 year-old man that hasn’t had a regular girlfriend.
Of course he did have that girlfriend Miko. On and off or almost three years. But my folks said she only cared about “her career” and that Jeffey always came second. She was Japanese, and had really great clothes, and even though my mom and dad would swear on their graves that they weren’t racist you could tell it kind of bugged them that Jeffey was dating an Asian girl. And then he brought this woman named Carly to a couple of family events. Carly was tall. And kind of big. Big hands, big jaw, big feet. Pretty, sort of – no, not really. But super, super nice. Asked me all about my gymnastics team and how I want to be a chemist. My brother joked that she was drag queen, and claimed she had a sex change. My mom totally did not approve. In fact, when Jeffey brought her to our family reunion my mother did not exchange a single word with her. That was the last time we saw her.
But with Stephanie it’s different. Maybe Stephanie is more in line with the image my family has of an appropriate wife for Jeffey. Or maybe they’ve given up and decided to cheer for whoever comes up next. Jeffey tends not to date for a while after a romance ends. He seems happy to me when he doesn’t have a girlfriend, but my mom claims he goes into deep depression. She frets about the months and years he “wastes” between relationships. It’s possible that my folks decided that the next woman Jeffey took up with was his last chance to father a family before he’s old and grey. In any case, they’ve thrown in their lot with Stephanie’s, and it’s hard to imagine how Uncle Jeffey can escape. What’s worse is that he doesn’t even seem to mind her. She’s always trying to put her arm around me or my brother, or rub the shoulders of our Uncle Ted (who’s married, and doesn’t need strange women rubbing on him – Aunt Sonia and even my mom get riled by that behavior). And she constantly refers to Uncle Jeffey in the third person when he’s right there:
“He just loves it when I put extra chocolate chips in the banana bread!”
“He does have a little extra tummy these days – guess my cookin’s too good!”
“I keep telling him that if he keeps me up so late every night I can’t make it to work on time!”
That’s another thing I can’t stand about her, and can’t understand why it doesn’t seem to bother my folks. She talks about her and my uncle’s sex life constantly! Yuck! She’s, like, at least 40. I’m glad my uncle is getting some action but who wants to hear about it? I don’t ever remember Miko or Carly referring to their sex lives with Jeffey. It’s just so gross – we barely know her! And it’s not like she’s a lingerie model or something. She has way more love handles than Uncle Jeffey and her clothes always look uncomfortably tight. It must be very embarrassing for Uncle Jeffey, although he just sits there and takes it. Once in a while he gets an expression that makes me think he’s imagining himself on a deserted island, far away from Stephanie, but mostly he just smiles vaguely and pats her shoulder.
Uncle Ted and Aunt Sonia, my mom and dad, Grandma Diane and Grandpa Bob, and even my brother all seem to be rooting for Stephanie. They nod encouragingly when she tells her stupid stories at dinner, they all accept and eat her endless supply of baked goods (none of which are particularly good, but she is a prolific baker), they all nudge Uncle Jeffey and talk about how hopeful they are that we have another wedding to attend before too long. The only other person who sees Stephanie for the vapid, annoying gold digger she is seems to be Granny Maude (Uncle Jeffey’s grandmother and my great grandmother). Granny Maude is 92 and you just can’t get much by her. I know that she knows Stephanie is a big phony. Granny Maude hardly ever talks, but she said “Shut your goddamn mouth,” to Stephanie, not once but twice. Once on Christmas Eve and then again on Christmas Day. I laughed both times, and both times was sent to the other room. And then Granny Maude ran over Stephanie’s foot.
Jeffey is Granny Maude’s favorite grandchild, and Jeffey adores Granny Maude. He works on her old Ford when it goes haywire and helps her manage the sharecroppers that allow her to stay on the family farm. When the walnut harvest comes in, he hauls the buckets of water for her and sets out her tools so she can extract the meat from the shells in the waning September sun. Jeffey has been the main focus of Granny Maude’s love since Grampy Bill passed away. I guess she would do almost anything to save Jeffey from unhappiness, including assault with a vehicle. I am totally on Granny Maude’s side.
When Granny Maude peeled off down the road Stephanie finally dropped the loaves she was clutching, and sank to the ground with a wimper. I was standing by the side of the house by then, with a hand clamped over my mouth. Jeffey ran over to her, trying to help her up, but she brushed him away.
“I think that old bitch broke my foot!”
“I mean, I’m sure she didn’t mean it, but Granny Maude just ran over my foot.”
“Why did you have your foot in the way of the wheel?”
Yeah, that’s what I want to know. If Stephanie had any sense she’d have known that Granny wanted to do her harm.
“I don’t know how it happened, babe. I was just leaning in to give her a kiss. I think her foot must have slipped.”
I don’t think so. Even Uncle Jeffey looked kind of puzzled. Granny Maude is an excellent driver.
Jeffey finally got Stephanie off the ground, promising an ice pack and a Jack and Coke, and helped her limp back into the house. My mom saw me lurking at the side of the house and ordered me inside.
“And wipe that smirk right off your face young lady. I hope you and Granny Maude will be happy when Jeffey is sad and alone again.”
I guess that means Granny and me are going to win. But Jeffey won’t be sad and alone. He’ll have us!