Valentines and Self-Realization

The older I get, the more I realize that my mother was right after all. I am just like my Grandma Mooney.

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Grandma Mooney & the Case of the Vinegar Valentines

Valentine’s Day always reminds me of my Grandma Mooney (more specifically, she was my Great-Grandmother). That may seem odd to some people (to think of grandparents around a holiday meant for couples), but there’s a reason behind it.  She was actually quite a colorful character… and then some. And one of her favorite things to do centered round Valentine’s Day.

It’s not really observed much anymore, but back in the day people would give out what were called “vinegar valentines.” They were basically insult cards with a caricature drawing on the front and a small acidic poem on the back that tended to call people out as being either foolish, a spinster, a loser, etc. You get the idea. They were pretty unflattering for the recipient and not exactly the heartwarming valentines we give out now covered in hearts and roses. Grandma Mooney absolutely loved giving these out to so-called loved ones and friends.

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It was one of her favorite times of year because, while she may have been thinking these evil thoughts all year, now she was able to put those thoughts to paper. And let me tell you, she got serious pleasure out of poring over who would get what card. If memory serves they were sent out anonymously so the person receiving the snail mail insult couldn’t be sure who thought they were an idiot, but rest assured, someone out there in the world did. The ironic part is that Grandma Mooney would get super pissed if she ever got one. She sent them out by the bucketful but getting even one in return was blasphemous.

I wish I could’ve seen her face as she was picking out the cards and sending them out. It’s hard to picture without having seen it up close, but anytime Grandma Mooney was up to trouble, she’d laugh… not out loud… but sort of an internal laugh so that her massive bosom shook like jelly. Watching her go through her stash of valentines with an intensity more often seen in a tax auditor and the inevitable intervals of shaking as she came across just the perfect one for say… Georgie or Carlene… would’ve been a hoot. Although I’m just guessing that these two were among the lucky recipients.  Grandma Mooney always kept her list top-secret so no one could rat her out.

In truth, though, I almost wish more that I could’ve seen what she did when she opened up one that she had received. I’d be observing that from a very safe distance of course.  I mean, there’s just no sense in poking an already pissed off bear. Grandma Mooney would’ve made Sherlock Holmes proud though… because after receiving one of these heart to heart communiqués in the mail, she suddenly became a resolute and determined investigator, examining handwriting, postal stamps, and whatever else would give her a clue as to who sent it.  She’d wander around the house muttering names for a week as she narrowed down the list of suspects. And when she finally had that “eureka!” moment and was convinced she knew the perpetrator of this horrible crime, she immediately began planning the coming year’s list, editing it accordingly, and putting that person’s name in the top position. Ahh… it’s the simple joys that mean the most.

When I was young, my mother used to tell me that I was just like my Grandma Mooney. I’d take offense at that if I could only figure out how to argue the rationale. Admittedly, I can see the similarities — though not to the extremes of my enjoying sending anonymous insults. But I do share some of her ornery eccentricities. In some respects, it may seem like an awful comparison — but along with her cantankerous quirks, my grandmother had a heart of gold and took care of her family above all else. So I guess when all is said and done, I’m pretty happy to be compared to her.

 

Miller Time

When I was about 12 years old an event that would become one of the most hotly debated stories within my family happened. It was as ridiculous as it was horrific and divided the bloodline for years to come. Of course I’m talking about when my Great-Grandma Mooney was “allegedly” attacked by a vicious, unrelenting, terrifying…moth.

In our house a moth is called a miller. While both are accurate (a miller is a type of moth that loves to live in homes…sort of like The Borrowers), I’ve never heard the word miller used up here in Maryland regardless of favored habitat of said insect, so it must be country speak from days spent wasting time down in the holler. So, during one fateful summer at my grandparents’, this moth/aka/miller flutters its way into the house probably looking for a light bulb to beat itself against for hours on end. When, all of a sudden, it was gone. Poof. We thought it must’ve flown out the window and were ready to scrub the intrusion from our mind completely.

Well, we start to notice Grandma Mooney jerking her head every once in a while and muttering to herself like one of those more quiet (and dangerous) inmates at a lunatic asylum. She gets up, sort of shuddering…I’m not sure how else to describe it, and starts swatting at her head with her hands swearing that the moth flew into her ear. We all let her have her dramatic episode with none of us actually paying her much attention. She keeps breathing heavily and tossing her head and getting even louder with her ooooohs and aaaahhhs so we decided maybe it’s time to actually listen to her.  My Mom gets a bit concerned, but she was the only one out of the adults to do so. My grandmother, Grandma Jimmie, isn’t buying it.

What you need to understand about my Grandma Jimmie is that while she was smart as a tack and generous in most respects, she also housed a bit of a mean streak. Patience was not a virtue she was keenly familiar with, especially when it concerned her mother, Grandma Mooney.

So Grandma Mooney is hooting and hollering about this damn moth and Grandma Jimmie is stubbornly refusing to take the bait. The story is just too ridiculous for words. Eventually, someone caved and brought a flashlight out to look in her ear. What do they see? Nothing. Nada. No evidence or trace of a moth anywhere, especially not in Grandma Mooney’s ear canal.

The lack of proof certainly didn’t dissuade my Grandma Mooney. Every few seconds she’d shudder, then twitch her head, claiming she can still feel the damn thing flapping around inside her head. Grandma Jimmie is over it and wants to put the nail in the coffin on this pure fabrication. So to “appease” Grandma Mooney, she pulls out a turkey baster…yes—a turkey baster…fills it with peroxide (not quite sure why that particular medium was chosen) and shoves it none too gently into Grandma Mooney’s ear. She then proceeds to syringe the hell out of Grandma Mooney’s ear FULL FORCE which (I’m assuming) was at the very least…not pleasant. I mean eardrums are fairly sensitive and probably don’t respond well to being blasted with a torrent of peroxide shot out of a turkey baster wielded by a highly annoyed woman.

1,2,3,4 times Grandma Jimmie floods the ear with this peroxide baster. What do they see now? Still nothing. No moth. So that’s it, the jig is up. It is decided that Grandma Mooney, God bless her soul, is lying. Or crazy.  Or both. Still, she stuck to her guns and kept on saying she could feel it fluttering. Moth or no moth, could we all just agree that at the very least she was now contending with what must have been an insanely horrendous cacophony of bubbling in her ear from the peroxide?? I mean, can you imagine!?

Time passes. The moth is forgotten. Though I suspect Grandma Mooney’s hearing was never the same again. Lo and behold about 8 YEARS later, a dead moth falls out of her ear! Just plops right out of her ear! It had been in there the whole damn time. She was right and had always been right. Not that Grandma Mooney had ever needed any proof!

I’ve often wondered that if it hadn’t drowned or been bubbled to death and subsequently driven deep into her ear canal by that flash flood if it would’ve come out sooner. In all that time she never developed an infection or serious medical condition because of the insect corpse, so I consider her lucky in that way. But it makes my skin crawl thinking about some winged creature being lodged inside my ear for that long. If she wasn’t crazy before that moth flew into her ear, can you imagine what having it in there fluttering around would do to a person?? Or knowing it was in there and dead?  Ugh….

It truly haunts me and to this day, any time I see a moth, I instantly cover my ears. My kids laugh at me but they just don’t know the danger these vile creatures pose! My mom is the same way. One of the reasons she keeps her hair just long enough to cover her ears is so that she always has a little cover to block any unwelcome moths. You see my Grandma Mooney had amazingly lush, long, thick, beautiful hair – but she kept it up in a bun, thereby leaving her ears completely exposed to all and sundry. Had she been just a bit less modest, perhaps all of this could have been avoided. This is a real threat people! Don’t leave your ears vulnerable! You’ve been warned!