I arrived home from school to my mother crying, yet I didn’t think there was anything wrong because my mother cried all the time, but this day she managed to sputter out “Aunt Bessie died!” She screamed it, truth be told, as if it were my fault.
My dad got home from work and the three of us went to my grandparent’s house where some of the family gathered. My mother’s sister Christine, whose face looked like a beach ball after a hard day of play, rubbed my grandma on the back, and I saw my cousin Davey in the kitchen at the table so I went to sit with him. Even though I didn’t much care for Davey, he was better than being around his mother. She was prone to fits of anger and Jesus. She scared me.
I grabbed the bag of potato chips from Davey’s hand, and before he had a chance to say, “Hey, give those back,” I crushed the bag to make what I liked to call “potato soup.” He sulked. I knew there wouldn’t be any physical consequences. He was lame.
Voices got louder in the living room when Aunt Geraldine arrived with my Uncle Eddie a half step behind her. I stopped the crinkling of my work on the bag so I could better hear the adults argue. Christine’s husband Carl said he’d go over to the nursing home to pick up the trunk, and I guess my mother didn’t like that idea much because she started calling him a “money grubber” and while I didn’t really know what that meant, I was certain she was right.
Christine, Carl, and their slow son Davey lived in a trailer with their two other kids, my cousin Jim, who’d always say he wanted to be a preacher when he grew up, and my cousin Brenda, a too tall girl for her age, her height sparking whispered jokes among the rest of the family. The two older ones weren’t there that day at my grandma and grandpa’s house, just Davey whose face turned dark and mean when he heard my mother yelling at his dad.
The fighting went on until it got dark outside, and my Aunt Christine was never more than a foot from my grandma. Even when grandma came into the kitchen to see if we wanted anything to eat, Davey and me, Aunt Christine was in her shadow. I saw Carl grab his car keys twice, but grandpa stopped him each time, and my mother warned that no one was going to get that trunk without the whole family present.
When Aunt Bessie’s room was cleaned out at the nursing home, my mother was right there with Carl, Christine, and my grandparents. Bessie’s trunk was loaded into the back of my grandpa’s Cadillac and taken to the house where it would remain unopened for almost a year. It was my grandma's wish.
I guess the whole family thought that poor one-legged Aunt Bessie had the mother lode in that thing the way they were carrying on, and I guess Christine and Carl thought it’d be the ticket out of their trailer, but when the adults gathered around the trunk the following Thanksgiving, they discovered that there was nothing in it but some old family photos, a porcelain clock wrapped in one of her floral housedresses, a box full of keys, and a satin pillow with My darling Beth embroidered on it in elaborate cursive.
My mother started to cry, Christine and Carl glared at each other, and my Aunt Geraldine snickered, drew a deep drag from her cigarette, and said, “She was always a tramp, anyway.”