Hot peppers and saying goodbye

When Mike and I started dating, it was a big deal with his family because he hadn’t brought a girl home before. It was a REALLY big deal when I was asked to go to a family function at his grandparents’ house.

Of course, I was warned about “things” in advance. Things like women did not eat with the “men-folk” and women stayed in the house, preferably the kitchen, all day. Women served the men first, who eat in order of seniority/age with the elder men sitting down first. Then, the women served the kids. THEN, the women got to eat the meal. After everything was picked over and cold (no microwave). Whatever was left was okay for women to eat – EVEN THOUGH THE WOMEN WERE THE ONES WHO MADE THE MEAL.

I was warned because Mike knew this wasn’t going to fly with me. Turns out, there was nothing to be worried about.

Within minutes of our arrival, Mike’s grandpa wanted to show me his garden. We walked to the back yard and I was extremely polite. I ooh’d and aah’d over his vegetables. Then he walked down a narrow path, bent down, picked something, and came back toward me.

“Try this, girl,” he said. (Every female in the family was “girl,” and I doubt he actually KNEW any of the women’s names.)

“Sure,” I replied, taking a green pepper from his hand and biting three-quarters of it. I chewed it, swallowing whole as much as possible.

Thank goodness I was wearing dark sunglasses. My eyes were watering. My mouth was on fire. But I’d be damned if I’d let him see that.

“Well,” I said. “It’s a little warm, but do you have anything HOT?”

Mike grabbed the pepper from my hand and took a bite. He ran into the house screaming, mouth on fire, for a glass of milk. When he came back with a drink for me, I refused and held my eye contact (from behind my sunglasses) with his grandpa.

Mike’s grandpa clasped his hands, did a bit of a jig, and kind of giggled. He was absolutely tickled.

From that moment on, I had a name – in fact, I was the only woman referred to by my first name, and not called “girl.” I was also invited to eat WITH him IN THE GARAGE. It was monumental for the family. Not everyone was pleased.

For the next 15 years, Mike’s grandpa would ask me about peppers, give me a huge hug, and call me by my first name. I was also the only woman invited to eat in the garage and watch wrestling (“wraslin’”) with him.

I don’t know why I decided to google his name today. He was near 90 years old and I don’t believe he had ever been on the Internet, let alone have an online presence. I typed his name into the search engine and …

Up came his obituary.

He died on September 20. Ethan and Lauren are mentioned in the obit as his great grandkids. Mike is mentioned as a family member who died before him. There is no reference to peppers (not that there should be).

No one called to tell me he passed. Of course, I don’t have a relationship with his family, but I honestly thought his parents would call when Mike’s grandpa died. I even mentioned this to my mom a few weeks ago, that I thought Mike’s parents would reach out when his grandpa died. I told my mom that I’d send a pepper plant to his funeral service.

But, I didn’t know he had already died.

God bless you, Charles. I guess I’ll let you know now that the pepper was the hottest damn thing I ever tasted. But, you probably already knew that. Thanks for referring me by my name and letting me dine with you in the garage at family functions. I have very good memories of you. XOXO

3 thoughts on “Hot peppers and saying goodbye

  1. I think its a real shame no one called you to tell you he had passed. But you know you were a warm spot for Charles. Perhaps Mike’s family saw you as a foreigner, an interloper or something silly. Do not let them take away the fond memories you have of that man. I am curious, why don’t you have a relationship with his family?

    • You know, Rose Chimera, it’s complicated. Mike didn’t have a good relationship with his parents – he never felt that he “fit in” with his family and his childhood was marked by some complicated (and twisted) events. When we started dating, Mike grew very close to my dad (and my dad viewed him as a son), and that really aggravated the situation with his parents. Mike’s dad was jealous and pissed that Mike had a close bond with my dad. It was sad (and pathetic) how Mike’s dad acted out – his dad was a complete asshole when my parents were around and on more than one occasion, tried to egg my dad into a physical confrontation (which my dad never fell for).

      Because I had such a strong relationship with my parents, I tried HARD to build up the relationship between Mike and his mom and dad. If it wasn’t for me, Mike wouldn’t have ever called them (contrast to how I talked to my parents every day) and we probably wouldn’t have ever seen them.

      When Mike’s alcoholism became apparent, Mike’s parents blamed me. Even the phone call telling me that he died was marked with *direct accusations* from his mom that I somehow killed him. Seriously.

      Because of the strained relationship between Mike and his parents, the kids have never really had much interaction with them. Until the last year or so of his life, the kids saw their grandparents once or twice a year, for a day or two at a time. Even then, there wasn’t any “interaction” – Mike’s parents would sit on one side of the room and watch (in a somewhat creepy sort of way). There wasn’t any conversation or playing or getting to know them.

      When Mike died, we were in their hometown for the arrangements and viewing. For the five or so days we were in a local hotel, they never called or stopped by. They didn’t even talk to the kids at the viewing or the funeral mass. Ethan and Lauren are their only grandkids.

      • It seems Mike came from a dysfunctional family. That alone is going to make it all complicated. I asked because I didn’t have much of a relationship with my MIke. The years we were married I kept nudging him, nagging him to patch things up…he finally did. A little.

        There was always a distance. When Mike got sick the distance was pretty obvious. I was the interloper, the intruder and they let me know it daily. I had hoped that there would remain a family connection after Mike died since I had lost my parents but nope. Its as if they never knew me, as if they didn’t remember that Mike had 3 kids (2 of them mine which he adopted).

        Honestly now, I’m not making this up, my Mike’s parents made direct accusations against me…that I had killed him. But they didn’t just say it, they wrote it in declarations under penalty of perjury in 2 lawsuits they funded against me after Mike died.

        I’m sorry, but I’m finding myself laughing at the similarities between your story and mine. Its not funny of course, but its….interesting. How about that?

        I don’t know why some people are so hard at heart. I guess whatever caused your Mike to drink began there in his parents home when he was young. I bet his parents, given what you have written about them expected you to keep Mike under control; rather his drinking under control. If you didn’t then you were a bad wife. People like that never blame the one responsible. Mike could drink all day but it was your fault. Its confusing to those of us not lost in that mindset or dysfunction.

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