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Grandma Mooney’s Spooky and Wonderful Gift

I’ve been thinking a lot of my beloved Grandma Mooney (great-grandmother to those just tuning in).  Thank you for letting me share her stories with you all; I think you’ll agree she was a very rare and highly entertaining individual indeed.

Now, I do dabble a bit in the occult.  I love giving or receiving tarot card readings.  I also strongly believe in ghosts to the point that I would never dare make one angry, or even dream of playing the Ouija board alone.  I strongly believe there is more to this world than our limited five senses can ever know or that science can prove or disprove, at least for now – I mean we’re learning more and more every day about the world around us, right? Who knows what they may find out.  I also strongly believe that you should agree with me, or I will use my ancient Voodoo magic to hex you.  Nah, just kidding on that one, but I am a firm believer in the paranormal in general.

Grandma Mooney had a unique ability that luckily, I did NOT inherit…it can’t have been pleasant.  It wasn’t a super power like flying, freezing time, or moving things with her mind (seriously though, how cool would that be!?), but it was a spooky gift for sure.  Grandma Mooney always knew when someone was dying.  She never got upset; she was completely matter of fact about it.  She’d get the feeling in her bones (I assume it was her bones at any rate), and just nonchalantly announce, “John’s dying.  Gotta go,” and then she’d be off, to go help the family.  Without fail, whoever the unfortunate soul was that she would name would either be on their deathbed or dead before she even got there.  Of course, back then there was no Facebook, no cell phone texting, and no emails; this gift was pure intuition. She was always accurate, and it was really, very creepy.

While we’re on the subject of death and dying, did I tell you about the time I almost killed Grandma Mooney?  If it wasn’t my fault, it might have been her sheer orneriness. Let me explain…and spoiler…there was a happy ending, no Grandmothers were hurt in this story.

My grandfather, god bless him – I loved him to pieces – enjoyed three things in his life: playing the banjo, singing, and drinking beer. He drank beer like some people drink soda pop or ice tea. And for the most part, he could handle his alcohol. Later on in life, he decided he’d had enough and just stopped, cold turkey, and never looked back. But back in the day, when he was especially deep into his cups, he liked to get out the banjo and entertain all and sundry – with bluegrass and hymns being his favorite music of choice. The more beer he drank, the more boisterous his hymns and bluegrass songs would become.

This one particular day, when I was 7 or 8 years old, Grandpa Walker was really going at it with his hymns while Grandma Mooney ate a piece of cornbread.  You may know, old-school cornbread was really dry and would fall apart when you ate it.  Anyway, I got really carried away by grandfather’s music this day, and before you know it, I was howling like a dog on the front porch. Yeah, I was an ornery child. Like great-grandmother like great-granddaughter.

This tickled Grandma Mooney to the point of laughing her ass off, but as luck would have it, she started choking on her cornbread.  I was so scared that I ran away for the rest of the afternoon.  No way was I going to stick around to see what happened!  All I know is Grandma Mooney was laughing and choking, so I did what any reasonable 7 or 8-year-old kid would do; I ran for the hills.  Not my bravest moment, to be sure.

One thing was guaranteed.  If she actually did die choking on cornbread, she would definitely come back to haunt me.  And if she didn’t…

…she was definitely going to kick my ass.

When the Elderly Attack

Ah, the world of phone scammers.  Surely, they think when they hear my sweet mother’s voice on the phone, this will be an easy target. I mean, who wouldn’t? Butter wouldn’t melt in that woman’s mouth.

Not so fast, imposter account manager from India, Nigeria, Kalamazoo, or wherever you are!  My mom may have a senior citizen discount to IHOP, and she does in fact know every word to the Hokey Pokey, but make no mistake.  She’s nobody’s fool.

To clarify, my mother does in fact shop at physical stores and use an archaic form of payment known as a “check.”  She actually visits her bank in person, and knows the tellers by name.  She doesn’t shop with those newfangled “online” gizmos everyone else uses.  So from the very beginning, the scam is pointless.

Tired of receiving multiple phone calls daily from “Microsoft” or “Windows” representatives who inform her in heavily accented voices that her computer is sending out “illegal signals,” my mother decided to have a little fun of her own.  She knows that these scammers only want access to her computer to pull out any financial information they can.  I told you, she may have seen Elvis in person (good Elvis, not bloated Elvis), but she isn’t stupid.  My mom is far from demented.  She is slick as an oil spill, but now, phone scammer from India or Nigeria, you made her mad.  You won’t like her when she’s mad. Trust me.

As soon as one of these calls comes through these days, my mom just pours herself a cup of coffee and sits out on the porch to feed her minions wild “pets” while she talks to the oh-so-helpful con artist on the other end of the line.  Little Miss Sugar Sweet has a backbone of steel and wit as sharp as a Ginsu knife.

A typical phone call with her scammer friends may begin innocently enough.  The heavily accented voice warns her that she is about to lose everything…EVERYTHING, we tell you…because her licenses are expiring. You read that right. Her licenses. Her computer licenses. She greets the man warmly, thanking him so much for caring about little ol’ her and her big, bad computer.

Voice quaking in fear and sorrow, she asks the kind gentleman to discuss her options.  He advises her to turn her computer on.  Mom makes clunking noises as if she is walking to the computer.  She may thud her coffee cup and bang the phone a few times for emphasis.  Then, she sighs heavily and in apparent frustration.

“I’m sorry, how do I turn this thing on again?  I hate computers, I’m not used to this…oh wait.  Wait, there it is.”  She clicks a fingernail on the table.  “There.  It’s coming on.”  She sets the phone down and sips her coffee; she gives it a solid five minutes before picking the phone back up.  “It’s on.  Now what do you need me to do?”

The patient account representative from Microsoft Windows of India or Nigeria or Kalamazoo advises mom to hit the control and ALT buttons.  “Control?  I don’t see a button that says control.”  Clicks fingernails against table. “I found something.  Let me get my glasses…well, this thingy says CTRL.  You’d think a computer could spell better than this.”  She allows a few minutes to go by as she throws some bird seed to her adoring fans.  “ALT.  As in, alternative?  What is this an alternative to?  I always prefer originals.  Delete?  This thingy that says DEL?  I thought that meant delicate.”  More fingernail tapping, than a horrified tone of voice.  “DEL means delete?  I’m sorry, sir, I don’t want to delete anything.  Why would I delete my alternative button?  Then I wouldn’t have a choice at all.”  And so it goes, until the scammer is nearly yelling from frustration. She made one cry.

Mom likes to play with the scammers; she feels the longer she keeps them on the line, the less time they have to scam someone else. More power to her, I say.

The best secret she keeps, though, is how fruitless her scammer’s efforts really are after all is said and done.  I mean, even if he were successful and got into the secret vault that is her computer system, all he would find are funny cat videos, pictures of kittens, about a million pictures of my kids, a video of my brother’s dog, funny memes and joke pages, and links to America’s Funniest Home Videos from the entire past decade.  Her favorite is a link to a local zoo who has live-cam footage of a giraffe on “birth watch” who we both agree is just having a joke at all our expense because this sneaky giraffe has yet to give any indication she’s going into labor. I think she just wants the romaine lettuce treats they’re giving her…good old April the giraffe is likely running a nifty scam of her own.

The moral of this story, dear scammers, is it’s just not worth it.  God love her, mom has a new hobby now though, and that’s cool. Keeps her occupied.

And be warned, she will out-scam you every time.

Of Myth and Moonshine

When most people think of great-grandparents, there is a perception of elderly, slightly demented people with mints and Kleenex in their pockets.  They sit on the couch knitting or telling stories of the “good old days,” their pasts a delicious whirl of somewhat ordinary lives well lived.

Enter my Grandma Mooney.

I have talked before of her exploits.  Her Vinegar Valentines, her sketchy use of Halloween masks to frighten a neighborhood boy and her subsequent lying about it to the boy’s parents. I won’t even get into the whole moth fiasco. There was an even deeper layer to Grandma Mooney (great-Grandmother if I’m being completely accurate), though, every bit as fascinating as the ones we’ve already uncovered.

Job opportunities back in the day weren’t quite what they are today, especially in the country, and when you have a houseful of hungry people, you do what you need to in order to survive and feed your family.  I think, in times like this, bending the law a little is easily excused.  And, in Grandma Mooney’s case, bending it until it broke was a way of life.

Grandma Mooney was a purveyor of frowned upon refreshments.  Okay, fine, she sold and stored moonshine.

In the days of prohibition and the depression, moonshine was a profitable enterprise. In fact, it still is today.

Well, as the story goes, moonshine runners would drop off their inventory to Grandma Mooney – she’d sell some, she’d store some, she’d…well, never mind. The great thing about Grandma Mooney is she wouldn’t have needed an enforcer to help protect her shady business. Everyone around for miles was already afraid of her. So, there was some money saved on personnel.

To stock brew, this ingenious old lady had a special crawlspace in the floor of her kitchen that she used just for this purpose. No external storeroom fees or the inconvenient industrial spy to get rid of. I’m telling you, she had the whole theory of commerce locked down.

In fact, she had just one serious concern. Government officials. Cue the supervillain music…Dun-Dun-Duuuun! Oh wait. Grandma Mooney is the supervillain in this tale. Nevermind.

One thing about the government; it never changes. In search of their fair share – I mean violators, yes of course, violators – agents would wander door to door, foaming at the mouth in the hopes that they could catch someone with illegal contraband.

Normal law-abiding citizens would have no reason to be afraid of these visits, but Grandma Mooney wasn’t exactly a normal law-abiding citizen.  I’m not sure she was ever afraid of anything, it just wasn’t in her nature. But knowing she would get into serious trouble if she were caught with white lightning, she devised a fiendishly clever plan to hide the storage space. And again, with the government being what it is, her plan went perfectly. Every. Single. Time.

Whenever these agents came to the house, she’d stick her youngest daughter Wanita, aka Neda – Needie to friends and family — into the bathtub, and put the bathtub over the crawlspace door.  The bathtub, it should be noted, was basically just a large metal bucket that was used for baths, dishes, laundry, and anything else that required a large-ish supply of water.

She used this wonderfully creative plan repeatedly over the course of frequent government raids, and her secret storage space was never discovered. Ahh…government agents – the cream of the crop, the best of the best, the finest civil servants you can ever find. Yeah, right.

The government agents were never quite bright enough to realize that every time they paid a “visit,” Needie was in the tub.  Now, I’m not sure if they thought Grandma Mooney was obsessed with cleanliness, or maybe they thought that Needie was simply a kid who enjoyed playing in mud and wrestling skunks – but whatever their thinking was, it never crossed their minds that Grandma Mooney was involved in the highest form of trickery and deception.

Maybe their money would’ve been better spent had they just put Grandma Mooney on the payroll as an agent.

A Shameful Cycle of Shaming

These days, it seems like every mom with a computer becomes an immediate motherhood professional. From website to blog and back again, these moms pour out their wisdom and advice.  I find myself marveling at the wealth of information I can find in any one of these sites, and also the ridiculous amount of judgmental bull crap that I read in nearly every one.

On one site, a mother proudly proclaims she let little Junior cry himself to sleep last night; best decision she ever made and just who the hell in their right mind co-sleeps anyway?  In another article on the same site, a mom is complaining praising herself because she slept in a rocking chair all night, soothing her baby to sleep and why on earth would anyone in their right mind let their baby cry it out?  Both are shaming the other in their storytelling, while complaining that they are being shamed for their own choices.

It’s not so much the contradictory advice I constantly see (sometimes in the same damn blog) that bothers me.  It’s the sheer hypocrisy I see from some of these New Age Mothers. This “newer, softer” generation of parents are outraged at anyone who dares to judge them for their parenting techniques. They shame the “mommy shamers,” brutally. They encourage the battle cry “mothers unite!” and push hard against those who have the audacity to judge other parents.  This in and of itself is a very good thing.  Mothers SHOULD stick together.

I guess these writer-moms must be exempt from their own outrage, though, not to mention their own rules, because every other article I’ve seen is a harsh judgement against parents who think differently from whatever parenting protocol they happen to be writing about. When they run out of “their words,” they resort to memes to make their point.

When I’m navigating my way through these “Mom” groups and see memes outright mocking so-called “helicopter” parents or zingy little one-liners criticizing those with only one child (because apparently, they’re not actual “parents”), I think to myself:  For a group who berates mommy-shamers, you guys sure do a lot of shaming of your own. Why do you care how others parent their children so long as they’re loving and caring, and not abusive?  Isn’t mocking someone else’s parenting technique the very thing you get angry about, or is that just when others do it to you? Alas, I get no answers to my questions since the inquiring voice is only in my head.

Now as I’m sure you know, I’ve never been one to say I won’t judge. Hell, I do it all the time. Oh, I won’t judge you on your looks, your education, your job, your religion or anything of that nature, and I won’t judge someone doing the best they can with what they have.  BUT, I will judge you on being a hypocrite. I may judge you for white shoes after Labor Day, not stopping at the crosswalk, or for using the Express Lane with eighteen items, and I will definitely judge you for being a jerk, a bully, or an asshole.  It’s part of my charm. But some of these writer Moms are caught in an endless shaming cycle. While they decry those who judge them on their parenting choices, in the next breath they shame others for choosing a different path for their kids. You can’t have it both ways.

Bottom line, despite the competitive nature of the world, raising kids should not be a game or a contest, and if your child is growing up healthy, polite, and able to function respectfully in society, then congratulations.  You’re doing it right.  It’s a wise mother that knows there is no “right” or “wrong” answer to raising kids; it’s mostly just a hell of a lot of trial and error and making shit up as you go along.

Choose your parenting path, and travel it proudly.  You do need to take ownership, though, and realize that if you choose to judge – those you are judging will be judging you right back.

Grandma Mooney’s Spooky Charades

I’ve been thinking a lot about my Grandma Mooney lately. I’m not sure why. I joined a vintage photo group recently and it’s possible the old-timey photos remind me of her – I mean, many of the “mountain” or rural women from her era all look very similar; hair in a bun, house dress, a wearied expression on their face that makes it look as though they’ve seen it all (and probably have).  Winnie Mooney had a heart of gold underneath her massive bosom, however, there was a twisted edge to her sense of humor that still has me laughing to this day. I’m not sure what that says about me. But it’s probably why my mother always called me Winnie when I was growing up (just to be clear, it was meant as an insult).

If you recall, my Grandmother – great-Grandmother really – loved sending Vinegar Valentines; Valentine’s Day always brings her back to my memory too.  If you are newer to my blog, a Vinegar Valentine was a way of saying “Bless your heart,” that infamous southern loaded phrase.  She agonized over the perfect valentine to send to people she disliked, laughing as she sent it.  Although turnabout is fair play, she would get so mad when she received one.  These anti-Valentine’s Day cards were more popular for a while than regular cards.  I have a few people in mind that I could send some to, but alas, the practice has fallen out of favor…anyway, I digress.

Grandma Mooney and the rest of my Mom’s family lived in a holler.  For those who aren’t from the south, a holler is a small valley between mountains.  There was only one way in and one way out of the holler. Now you know what all those country songs are talking about. You’re welcome.

To digress one again, I got in trouble at school once for saying and writing holler when my northern-born teacher thought it ought to be “hollow.” Apparently, I wasn’t one to back down from a debate despite my young age. Seems my mother was not immune to the dreaded “parent/teacher conference” any more than I was when my kids were growing up.

Now when my mother was younger, about five or six or so, she had a young friend who lived down the dirt road from her, and he would come by her house to play with her. Or at least…he tried. For reasons unknown to anyone but herself, Grandma Mooney loved to prank this poor young boy.   No-one was ever able to figure out why; it was a secret known only to Grandma Mooney.  Knowing her, it started as a joke and was so hilarious to her that she just continued doing it.

At any rate, the whole premise behind the “joke” was, is there a demon haunting the Mooney house or isn’t there a demon haunting the Mooney house?

And it went like this: my Grandma Mooney would pull a hideous Halloween mask over her head (and we’re talking back in the day when they really knew how to make Halloween scary), and would sit lurking…lurking…waiting for the boy to come up the road to the house.  Then, it was show time.

Grandma Mooney, in this creepy as hell mask, would pop her head up at the window just in time to scare this little boy half to death as he walked up on the porch.

The terrified boy would run home crying to his parents about the insanely frightening witch or monster that dwelled in his friend’s house.  The parents would march over immediately to find out exactly what was going on, as any good parent would do.

Grandma Mooney was ever the innocent hostess. I mean butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth when she put on her “who me?” act.  I can imagine her taking the parents in for coffee, all the while claiming she had no idea what the poor little boy was talking about.  She kept her bluff face on the entire time and never once cracked or confessed.

I don’t know if the little boy ever got punished for telling “wild tales.” Given the parenting techniques of the day though, I wouldn’t be surprised if a trip or two to the woodshed had been in order. What I do picture, though, is this child growing up and ending up in therapy, never able to trick or treat or watch a scary movie, or even believe his own eyes for that matter.

Word carries quickly in the usually close-knit communities in the mountains of WV.  I’m sure word got out about the demon? monster? madwoman? who lived in my mother’s house.  Amazingly enough, my mom still had friends who would come visit her.

my great-grandparents (Grandma and Grandpa Mooney)

my great-grandparents (Grandma and Grandpa Mooney)

 

The Sear and Slide

Throughout history, there have been many devious instruments of torture.  There was the rack, the metal slide, and the iron maiden.

Now you haven’t really lived if you haven’t slid down a metal slide, in shorts, during the midday summer heat.  There is nothing as satisfying as scorching the backs of your legs on a downward spiral into Hell; if you’re lucky, your shorts will hike up and cause your skin to adhere to the slide itself and you may be fortunate enough to get stuck halfway down Satan’s Skillet.  You may even be lucky enough to sort of stick and slide all the way down, causing amazing degrees of Indian Burns from the friction of your skin on the metal. Talk about adding insult to injury.

My mom taught us a trick. And she says she loved us. Yeah, right. Anyway, we used to add to the fun of a hot metal slide by sliding down on wax paper a few times, or just using the wax paper to rub on the metal slide, making it super, SUPER slippery.  It worked like a charm, let me tell you! It created a whole new level of thrill.

Now my Grandma Jimmie was a rather hip grandma, and she and my mother both loved to go down the slides with my brother and me.  That’s how I remember it, anyway.  Of course, I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that the coffee in their thermos had been spiked either…I mean, they did have my brother and I to deal with after all.  Anyway, on this particular day, my Aunt Margaret joined us for the fun. Nothing like having a few witnesses. We had been waxing the slide a couple of times that day, and maybe…just maybe…it was a little slicker than we had thought.

My sweet grandmother climbed the metal rungs of the slide, and perched at the top for her innocent, fun ride.  She gave us a smile and a wave, and set off on her journey.

Perhaps you’ve read about my grandmother in some of the more obscure history books; she was the first grandma ever to achieve space flight. And we were there to witness it all. She flew down the slide at Mach speed, and sailed off into the unknown at the end.  Her feet never even touched terra firma as she flew into orbit. I’m telling you, she flew. All things that go up, must come down as they say. She landed on her rear end, about ten feet away from the slide. It was impressive, really.

I’d like to say we were right at her side, concerned and helping her to her feet.  I’d like to say that, but the reality was we were laughing too hard.  Luckily, my grandmother was okay.  Told you, she was a hip grandma.  And apparently tough as nails to boot. My mother, my Aunt Margaret, my brother, and I were useless to our elderly astronaut.  If they had cell phones in the 70’s, I cannot even imagine the fame she would have gotten on YouTube.  It would have been phenomenal. Truly. Naturally, once we saw my grandmother flying across the playground, we all wanted our turn on the Amazing Slide of Doom.

We live in a generation of kids who have plastic slides to coddle their behinds and will never know the joys of burning yourself to death on metal slides at the playground. In a way, it’s a shame. Third degree burns on the playground are a rite of passage. Not to mention the joys of becoming airborne when the right accoutrement is used.

Today’s playgrounds feature rubberized mats, monkey bars that are only about three feet off the ground, and safety swings.  In my day, we had solid concrete under our feet, skyscraper monkey bars that we were afraid to try to climb back down, and chains on our swings that ensured we would get our fingers caught in them at least once.   I also remember one unfortunate incident with a hippity-hop, a jump rope, and a baseball bat, but I digress.

Is it evil to want to see little Tommy Joe, in his perfect Osh Kosh B’Gosh overalls, take the searing slide of sadism?

If I have any consolation, it’s that the new plastic slides feature those gigantic metal bolts at the end that guarantee an unbelievable electric shock from the static built up during the slide.

It’s a beautiful thing.