Contains a bit of foul language
GREAT JENNY GRAND
Right now, I’m sleepily in the present and lying in my bed with my wife hoping, no, begging for a full night’s rest. I’ve been writing all damn day. I put on my eye mask to block the television glare. Drowsiness evades me and disappears like a morning first cup of coffee. Not to be deterred I begin counting sheep, pacing; one sheep, two sheep, three. The sheep jump a fence only to land in a barn. From the barn and I hear a pathetic bleating. Baa, baa, baa. I see fleece fly and bloody electric razor mistakes. So I shift and count 99 bottles of beer on the wall. I begin counting down and reach seventy bottles of beer on the wall. Take one down, pass it around, sixty-nine bottles of beer on the wall, and Ham interrupts. Bad luck.
Ham, a coachman, intrudes quite uninvited into my sleepless fray and says “why don’t we count wives and significant girlfriends instead of sheep or beer bottles. Stringing bad luck with the girls for thirty years is interesting, right? A lot more interesting than your current state I would say. Not the girls luck of course, but the bad luck boy who lies here sleepless.”
Ham snaps his whip and the miniature horse neighs and feels the hindquarter crack. Ham expands the lungs and bellows like a town crier. “Giddy on up now you old plough.” Whose Ham?
Well, my companion who drives the carriage. More about him later.
Wooden metal banded wheels with thick red, white and blue spokes clack on a slanting cobblestone bone wall. Inside the 15th century carriage sitting in her rocker rocks Great Jenny Grand. An Earth like atmosphere, perhaps an aura, lightly and ghostly shrouds Great Jenny Grand and she smiles wrinkling her nose to lift rimless, round lens glasses perching on her nose bulb. She wears a seemly farmhouse frock in blue with white stars that spill out on edges where a fuzzy brown throw doesn’t throw. Her white hair swept to the rear and neatly coils in a bun at the back of her head. Her worn hands in her lap match the durable, protracted heritage and nine plus decades lining her face with stories of strength. She produced five children, who produced eleven children, who produced twenty children. So here I am with strong, maternal, ancestral blood lubricating my body, and my brain that won’t sleep.
Bad luck defines my failure to sleep and turns that failure into a circus with no cotton candy.
What? Are you crazy Ham? I’m trying to sleep not get depressed. Oh, loyal reader, let me introduce you to my handler, the unflappable pest Ham. We know that Jung posited that males all have a feminine presence in our male psyche. Ham, lives but is homeless as my effeminate presence. He/she and I do not always agree. That’s false, we never agree. Hams like a runaway cranium malware. We’re all right here, right now. As you saw Ham guides a medieval carriage spinning wildly around a slanted cobblestone bone street the wheels chipping, clickity clack, clickity clack. And I can’t fucking sleep.
Inside the carriage that Ham pulls Great Jenny Grand rocks back and forth and her magic memorizing hands lift from her lap and motion a talking. No sound, but I hear. She silently dispenses a moral standard judgment and conveys from the rocker, her hands and eyes wasting no words. The carriage speeding along Ham whooping, “giddy up, giddy up you old sow,” he scolds the hard-working miniature horse.
From inside the carriage Great Jenny Grand flourishes her hands. Like sunlit dancing butterflies I see her surrounded by pleated gently shrugging drapes in front of a solo tuba. She deftly engineers each dip, every swirl, each rise, every whirl and swish and arranges for me learned lessons of a child crossing overland in in 1858 bouncing around in a covered wagon. The vast plains, rugged mountains and rushing rivers, a mother protecting a child, uncommon courage and strength birthed by hunger, danger, and death.
Great Jenny Grand’s ancestral role is to assess behavior and measure positive versus negative or random versus nonrandom or luck, good or bad. She herself epitomizes personal history and emits an expectation down her ancestral line. She is my mother’s grandmother, my great grandmother. Great Jenny Grand bleeds a blessed history. I peer into the carriage; she returns my gaze and tells me it’s more about character than bad luck. I feel her disappointment in me. Or, maybe I feel small, weasel small. I could choke Ham for bringing up the thirty years of habitual bad choices and bad behavior. .
Sleep still disappearing over an ocean's horizon.
“Whoa Nellie. Stop?” Ham pulls the carriage still. He sounds like Nathan Lane in The Birdcage. He says, "I am tick, tick, ticking off the list. Let’s just go in order. I believe folks might enjoy hearing about your early spousal mismanagement. You were like the Edsel of inamoratas. Let’s begin at the beginning. What about that first wife?” Ham asks. “Your sometimes high school sweetheart. Challenges on the honeymoon eh, Mr. Helm?”
Always the critic you are Ham. I am Mr. Helm, that’s what Ham call me. His failed attempt at humor. He implies I’m steering this life. Hey, it’s clear to me our journey employs multiple helmsmen. I’ve been trying to get rid of Ham and all his critical and moralizing rants but a task I find near impossible. I, myself, invented the name HAM. My own gender-neutral pronoun for him that I discovered from Spanish. Hombre a mujer, or man to woman. It fits.
In the distance I see Great Jenny Grand and feel heat from her eyes. Tastelessly so, I think of a pleasingly plump and pretty Patricia Berry remembering that too merits another bad behavior story. After all these decades I still see her exiting the school bus and walking across the Father Berry’s lawn I was mowing. Gawking like a curious an aroused thirteen-year-old.
I’m hopelessly awake now, Ticking, clicking and bickering.
She did not last long, did she? Can you explain that chief?” says Ham.
Why are you asking me. Why did you not mention earlier experiences? I hate you, Ham. But if we go straight to the first betrothed then might I remind, you were voluntarily there commenting on the whole short, sad immature show. Serving Great Jenny Grand while overriding her advice. You, rolling out your shitty advice like an advisory elf who knew all about submarine sailors, deployments, and teen marriage.
“Counting partners as we are I am helping by moderating, well really to make sure you don’t lie. Valerie was only a bad luck minute with unexpected results and then a reprieve and Connie you kissed and missed and that’s it. Unlucky boy with those two for sure. Drug stores have sleeping aids. That’s what I would recommend for sleep but too late now.
I hate you, Ham.
“Giddy up and go you old nag,” The horse pulls the carriage up to speed. Clickity clack. “No, you don’t but you need me to treat the compulsions. Mitigate your instinctual miscues. She was pretty that first one. The ta ta’s led you by the nose or should I say by hand sensors. Such a short union. You lost her luggage in Philadelphia on the way back to Groton, CT, remember? That didn’t help. That apartment in Norwich, one bathroom for two apartments? You might’ve found better lodging for the poor girl. I remember thinking about departing myself.”
Oh God you are obnoxious. I was a Seaman earning $78 every two weeks.
“Maybe the smell of diesel? Maybe that you were called a pig boat sailor? A title like that can be a little disappointing for a newlywed. I can hear her on the phone out in the hall telling her mom, Mom, I’m married to a pig boat sailor. How could you let this happen?”
“You can almost see the smell of diesel. Remember the Artic Beep Beep Mr. Helm? When her piggy sailor returned from the cold north seas the newly betrothed whiffed, sniffed and pointed herself home to see Mom and Dad and get some Seattle fresh air. At least you were smart enough not to marry the next one, or were you?” Clickity Clack on cobblestone bone.
“During the transit across the Atlantic in 1969 we read Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock, remember? Remember what Toffler prophesied Mr. Helm? He said that in the future persons will be more likely to have five or six partners during a lifetime. A cultural change. Do you remember that?”
Yes. My kind of evolution. I’ve been around a while now and I’ve known some lovely woman rather well to quote Delbert McClintock. Presently I hear the ocean brush the rocky Kauai shore and stare at the ceiling. I am really here. Go to sleep Ham. You annoy me. You're interfering with my need for sleep and I’m returning to counting sheep.”
“No, brother, you will not. Number two another Teri, Teri the Hungarian. Oh my God, that long black hair flowing like a magnificent soft, waterfall down her back to her tiny waste and those legs. Whooooohhhh. I honestly do not know what made you let that one go Mr. Helm. I really want to rant and cuss you like a drunk sailor would cuss another drunk sailor. But I won’t.
“Good. We can tell the story without foul language?”
Teri and I drove together in a Volkswagen from Connecticut to Oregon and spent the summer there with my family. When we went back to Connecticut, I crumpled up and tossed our relationship into the relationship trash can. Not sure where there was a greener grass. But I dropped Connecticut too and then hitchhiked back to Oregon and learned how to drive a log truck. Winter came and brought too much snow to log. So, I hitched a trip back to Connecticut. Made the trip on three rides and seventy-two hours if you can believe it. Youth and wanderlust caused this hitchhiking adventure and finding myself in Connecticut to think about Teri. I sought to see her again. You know this story don’t you.
“I do believe it, I went to. Sometimes compulsion is tough to regulate. Why don’t you cough up to your audience how that went?”
Well, we reconnected, made love and all went fine until I made a promise to her.
I broke the promise, I told her I would go back to Oregon and get settled. I would call her so she could quit her job, leave her family and join me in Oregon, and we would have a happy life.
“Whew! You don’t say. Life can muddle, can’t it? I know what you did you did next. Wish I didn’t. You were like the great misleader. That’s not bad luck that’s evil incarnate.”
Ease up Ham. We all make mistakes, and all is well that ends well isn’t it. Great Jenny Grand conveys this edict to Ham through damp interior neurological channels coursing somewhere near the heart.
“Some seriously shitty behavior there Mr. Helm.”
That’s a bit over the top Ham.
“Regretfully. I am trying to mediate between you and Great Jenny Grand Mr. Helm, and it just didn’t work out. I can feel her talking, her eyes blazing.”
Do you ever fess up Ham? Years later we spoke, and she gently shared that I had done her a favor. By making that mistake she found a better lover. I’m just saying, a-ha!
“No. No. What about number three Mister Helm? An interesting middle as I recall,” says Ham. “And this one got a ring.” Clickity clack, clickity clack the carriage clacks round and round.
“How will you handle this one Mr. Helm?” Grand Jenny Grand subliminally conducts with a deep hole dark non blinking stare and accelerates her rocking chair.
Oh man. Truly you two torture me. Can’t you see I’m tossing around like a hooked fish, and the My Pillow fellow needs a nasty complaint letter. Impossible to adjust this damn thing. Some Bleach Bit will erase those twenty years. Ten years sizing the whole thing up and marrying. Once married another ten years undoing the whole mess.
“No, no Bleach Bit. Just lay still, we’re operational here.”
Lobotomize me. Call nurse Ratched? You know. Please remove my prefrontal lobe. Cut my goddamn memory out with an ax. Erase those twenty years and I will finally rest. You know Egyptian embalming required a hammer and chisel to access the skull through the nose bone and then a hook to remove the brain. They preserved every organ except the brain. There’s a toolbox in the garage. Goodbye Ham.”
“You know except for building that cabin and the hours blissfully alone driving log truck, pain piles up. We’re seventy four right? So it’s fifty-four to twenty in our favor if we count the formative years,” informs Ham. “No asking God for a mulligan,”
I know. I’ll give you credit for saving me Ham but maybe going blank seemed okay at the time. You remember that day?
“How would I forget? Die?”
“We hurtled down a steep gray-back mountain road with a load of logs and no brakes. We couldn’t even slow down. The transmission screaming. Death was right there, rushing toward us like a Crimson Tide nose guard, clickity clack. I relaxed, you know resolutely, and watched canyon deep come over the Western Star hood. Not a dishonorable ending, dying in a logging truck. What did you do Ham?
“I screamed open the door and jump before the blanking turn you blanking schmuck. And you did. You jumped. Thanks to me we will wake up tomorrow morning, forty-five years later, in Hawaii. The truck, not so lucky.”
Great Jenny Grand smiles and softness floats from inside the carriage and the carriage slows.
When we wake up, if ever I get to sleep, I will own a time machine, that episode doesn’t get started as long I keep number five.
“Okay, well then what about number four?” asked Ham. Clickity clack.
Well number four went well. She became the go to girl in my post number three midlife crisis. She very ably held me, and we rummaged around New Orleans. A superb guide. She grew up there. She knew the blues bars, local eateries and fun places to spend a weekend. Her maxim Let the Good Times Roll a perfect fit. Our time together felt seasonal though. We might stay together for a Spring, then part for summer.”
Wafting through the neurological ether smelling like the sad Salton Sea Ham receives a question from Grand Jenny Grand. Coachman, you recall what I said to you when you were explaining your inability to settle Mr. Helm?
I said “do you ever think that it might be Mr. Helm that’s the problem? He seems hopelessly lost and certainly unequipped to have a spot in my ancestral line. You know before you became relevant, he found and read a book from the book rack in his dad’s market. The boy read Handsome’s Seven Women by Theodore Pratt. He remembers that book though. Light on handsome might not have deterred him from embracing the pattern.
Did Great Jenny Grand say something, I ask. Clickity clack. Ham applies his whip to the horse for more speed.
“I am the adviser and the wiser,” Ham says as he slaps the reigns on the horse's hind end, “The number four discordant result grew from a double-dealing heart and lives homeless in the psych's downtrodden suburbs suggesting you were mentally unsettled Mr. Helm. Own your heart. Your heartbeat overworks us all the darn time while you impulsively behave outside norms and embrace different and objectionable cultural habits. You’ve grown into it I suppose. I wrote this little rhyme for you Mr. Helm.
So deceitful is the heart.
A thought oft there born,
Strives to take apart.
A good thoughts sense and form.
Good thoughts live to resist
A blessed child each one,
Their swords wield to insist
Beat the heart’s deceit till gone.
Oh, that’s nice Ham did Great Jenny Grand help with that. Can we move on I see dawn lingering on the ocean’s horizon. Hey, did you happen to see the most beautiful girl in the world?” I ask.
“That will be number five. Well, Mr. Helm I think I’ll just say that you’ve finally got it right. We finally can archive those first four.”
“She’s lying right here and sound asleep. Twenty-Five years she’s been lying beside me. This right here is some damn good luck.”
No regrets. Life unfolded like it did. Were it not for the first four and escaping that log truck episode, I would not have met her. Looking back, I think Toffler got it right with me, not Pratt. I got lucky and someone to grow old with that is my best friend. Reasons why? Thousands. Grand Jenny Great smiles from her rocker and her wonderfully historical hands form the pyramid of thanks.
A thousand reasons to be basking in the ninth inning with good luck Lori, number five, an ever-giving gift and the best thing that ever happened to me, I proudly say.
“Reign in the carriage and the clickity clacks Ham.” I wave goodbye to Great Jenny Grand and slowly circle beneath sleep’s convincing quilt that hushes all.