Mrs. Pincus, who is way more active on Facebook than I am, got a message from someone with whom she is not connected. "Brian Roadblock," my wife announced as she gazed at her phone with a puzzled expression.
The name was not recognized, at first, but within a few short seconds there was something familiar about it. And it jarred me.
My paternal grandfather died in 1970 when I was nine years-old. After his funeral, mourners returned to my house for a shiva, a traditional gathering of family and friends after a Jewish funeral. My house was packed with people representing my father's side of the family, most of whom I barely knew. My father was an only child. His father (my recently-deceased grandfather) was also an only child and my paternal grandmother was despised by most of her relatives (and rightly so). Later in the day, a young man entered my house. Everyone welcomed him as "Stan." He looked vaguely familiar although he was a total stranger. However, I noticed that everyone in my father's extended family knew him. Even my mother knew him. My brother — a recent Bar Mitzvah — and I scratched our heads and briefly discussed who this guy could be. As the day became evening and wound down to a close, guests said their goodbyes and offered their condolence to my father. When the house was empty of guests, my mother began to gather empty cups and paper plates that seemed to have lost their way to the trash. My father, never one to help with "womens' work," had settled himself in "his chair" in the den and lit up a cigarette. My brother and I confronted our parents.
"Who was that guy 'Stan' that everybody knew?," we asked.
My parents froze and exchanged "the jig is up" glances. They hemmed and hawed and cleared their throats. After stalling for way too long, my mom and dad sat us down and came clean.
My father was married before he married my mother in November 1955. His brief first marriage produced a son, Stan. My father had just divorced Stan's mother when he was fixed up on a blind date with my mother in February 1955. At the start of the date, my father made his intentions very clear. "I am just coming off of a divorce," he told his date (my mother) "and I am not looking for a serious relationship." My mother, a 30 year-old bleached blond doppelgänger for actress Barbara Stanwyck, was a free spirit and not looking for a serious relationship either. But something must have triggered ol' Cupid to pierce their collective hearts with his arrow of love, because they were married a mere nine months after that first date. In the early days of their marriage, my mom and dad took five year-old Stan on weekends, treating the youngster to a day at the zoo or the movies or out for an ice cream soda. These outings were regular occurrences until 1957 when my mother gave birth to my brother Max. My parents no longer needed Stan to play the part of surrogate son. They had Max, who was their own. Meanwhile, my dad's first wife had remarried. Her new husband adopted Stan and his Pincus name was abandoned is favor of his "new dad's" sobriquet: "Roadblock."
In 1961, little Josh completed the new Pincus family. A larger distance grew between my father and Stan and the two rarely saw each other again. My grandmother, however, maintained a close and loving relationship with Stan, while constantly hounding and belittling my father and treating my mother like shit. She antagonized my mother on a regular basis, criticizing her cooking, her housekeeping, her child-rearing - her every move. My relationship with my grandmother could only be described as "cordial." Not particularly "grandmotherly." She was never warm or welcoming. I remember her playful insults, often referring to me as "bucktoothed."
But Stan! Stan was the "golden child." He was rewarded for being the first grandchild, often lavished with gifts and money and love. My brother and I, the products of the distasteful union between my father and that woman, as my mother was no doubt referred to in private, were treated cordially, never with warmth. My grandmother fancied herself "benevolent" when she offered my brother and me rusty cans of Borden's Frosted Shakes when we accompanied my father on a visit. She exhibited an affectionate and comforting rapport with Stan, while her demeanor towards the second round of Pincus progeny was as cold as the chest freezer from which she extracted those chalky commercial milkshakes.
It was quite a blow to learn that a) my father was married prior to marrying my mother, b) I had a half-brother and c) that semi-sibling's existence was kept a guarded secret for a decade. After my parents concluded their lengthy tale of familial deception, we all sat silent for a long time. My brother and I thought about the novelty of having a new found brother. It was pretty cool. All was forgiven for this little indiscretion (after all, there would be more indiscretions) and life went on.
My grandmother passed away in 1995. She outlived my mother and my father. As a matter of fact, just after my father died, my brother and I drove to her apartment to inform her that her only son had died. When we told her the news, she scowled and angrily questioned, "Well, who is going to take care of me?" 'Cause that's the kind of person my grandmother was. Selfish, self-centered and self-serving. Except, evidently, to Stan and his family.
My grandmother's question was answered when my wife generously volunteered to tend to the old shrew's needs. Mrs. P did her grocery shopping (and was routinely castigated for her selections). She contacted a cleaning service to tidy up my grandmother's tiny apartment (there were repeated complaints about that, as well). She managed my grandmother's finances, writing checks for bills and making sure a positive balance was preserved in the account. That is until my grandmother accused Mrs. Pincus of stealing from her and had her unceremoniously removed from the account. 'Cause that's the kind of person my grandmother was. However, when my grandmother finally kicked, the eternally-nice Mrs. P single-handedly cleaned out and emptied her apartment of clothing, furniture and knick-knacks. She donated what she could. The rest she sold on eBay, splitting the consequential income evenly between our son and my nephew (Max's son), Curiously, Stan and his beneficiary family were noticeably absent from the "tying up loose ends" process. They showed up late for the graveside funeral that Mrs. Pincus had arranged, but displayed requisite somber facades nevertheless. At the sparsely attended ceremony's conclusion, Stan approached my wife with his young son attentively by his side. With a forlorn expression on his face, he asked Mrs. P if any of my grandmother's extensive collection of elephant figurines were in our possession. My grandmother was a lifelong, backwards thinking, narrow-minded, bigoted Nixon-loving Republican. She accumulated a vast assemblage of figures, in a variety of materials, all in some form of an elephant — the symbol of her beloved Grand Old Party. With nary an emotion, my wife reported that the entire contents of my grandmother's apartment was liquidated. Nothing remained. We all started towards our respective automobiles and we never saw Stan and his family again. That chapter of of our lives had ended.
Until a new, revised edition was released just this week — in Facebook form.
Stan's son Brian — now grown — took a shot in the dark and contacted Mrs. Pincus, tracing her though her married name and Philadelphia location. In his unsolicited salvo, he asked if she was the granddaughter-in-law of Molly Pincus and the half-sister-in-law of Stan Roadblock. Mrs. Pincus looked at the message for a long time before issuing a response. Finally, confirming her identity, she asked was there a reason for his puzzling inquiry. His near-immediate reply first expounded on his love for "his favorite great-grandmother" and their special, loving relationship. Then, he asked a twenty-one year old question: "I was wondering if you had any of her elephant figurines?" He explained that he began collecting elephant-related memorabilia in an effort to keep her memory alive. He would love to have one that actually belonged to her as part of his collection.
My grandmother's possessions — all of them — were sold two decades ago. I haven't given them or her a thought in twenty years. I haven't given thought to Stan and his family in as many years, as well. I get a bit steamed when I hear someone tell me what a lovely, caring woman my grandmother was. She was not. She was a vicious, vindictive, hate-filled, scheming troublemaker. I don't care what Brian Roadblock says. I voiced my opinion to my wife and asked her to take that into consideration when she decided to answer Brian's question.
Mrs. P responded. "The contents of Molly's apartment was sold over twenty years ago. I do not have anything that belonged to her. Although I appreciate your fond memories of your great-grandmother, please understand that it was a much different story with her other family. Molly treated my husband Josh, his brother Max and their families poorly. She was mean and nasty to both Josh and Max's mother and father, leaving us with less-than-fond memories."
We thought that would be it. The final final end of the story. But, alas, it was not. Brian sent Mrs. Pincus a Facebook friend request.
She deleted it.