Dre rummaged through his grandma’s refrigerator, looking for something to eat.
The shelves looked a little sparse. There was a platter of roast beef covered in aluminum foil, another plate with turkey breast covered in plastic wrap. She had three kinds of cheese –American, sharp cheddar and pepper jack, which he hated.
He found strawberry jam, grape jelly, and a drawer full of apples and pears, but no grapes, no strawberries and no oranges.
There was half a container of low-fat vanilla yogurt and opened jars of pickles, olives and pepper rings, but there was no ice cream, no frozen pizza and no Marie Callendar pot pies and no Hot Pockets.
His grandmother, making her fourth cup of instant coffee, asked him, “Andy, what are you looking for?”
Dre winced at that. He and his mother had explained his preferences regarding his name, but Grandma Collins only nodded and continued to call Dre what she’d called him since he was born, which was never an approved address to begin with.
“Just something to eat,” he told her, head stuck inside the softly humming appliance.
There was bacon, a white, translucent plastic container of macaroni salad that came from Walmart, two smaller re-purposed butter spread containers with baked beans and peas, and four eggs left in the carton.
Dre found two different kinds of butter -one with salt and one without. She had orange marmalade and a quart of 2 percent milk, but no Coke or Pepsi.
Breakfast had been everything his Mama promised. When they’d arrived, she’d had the table laid out for him –biscuits and gravy, bacon and some slices of tomato he could put salt and pepper on. She gave him orange juice and Dre ate it all up.
He didn’t usually eat like that in the mornings.
Most mornings, he grabbed something at the school cafeteria or a bowl of cereal at the house. A couple of times a year, his mother got out the Bisquick and made pancakes and sausage or his dad would spring for a couple of biscuits from Tudor’s or take them to Shoney’s for the breakfast buffet.
None of it was as good as the table his grandma set and he ate more than he probably should have, but those biscuits were from scratch, not from a can. Dre liked canned biscuits just fine. His Mama made them all the time, but grandma’s biscuits felt special.
Lunch had been turkey and roast beef sandwiches with cheese, technically a club sandwich, as much as Dre understood the concept of club sandwiches, but they weren’t as refined as what he got at the Subway.
He liked the French bread better and Grandma put too much mayonnaise on his sandwich, but he’d never tell her that.
Dre ate two sandwiches and a pile of barbecued chips just to be polite.
“How much are you going to eat?” She asked.
Dre shrugged. He was hungry.
“Well, figure out what you’re going to eat and get it done,” she said. “We have to get going.”
Dre looked back over his shoulder.
“Where we going?”
“Out,” his grandmother said, which meant they were going out gambling somewhere.
Grandma retired from the post office four years ago. A year later, she lost Grandpa.
He ran off with a dancer who worked at that club across from the library downtown. Her name was Champagne or Charlie or Carlee. Dre wasn’t entirely certain she’d ever given him the same name twice.
Usually, he just called Nanny, which she got a kick out of, since she was only two years older than Dre’s mother.
It didn’t matter. Grandpa and the dancer fled to Parkersburg, where they ran a Bed and Breakfast and Grandpa did some handyman work.
Dre and his mother went up to visit sometimes, but mostly during the off-season when the B&B didn’t have any guests.
They always treated him nice. His grandpa took him fishing and told him embarrassing stories about what his mother was like growing up. Sometimes, grandpa slipped him $20 and told him to spend it on something stupid.
Dre was happy to oblige.
Champagne or Charlie or Carlee was a lot prettier than his grandmother, if you liked your women to be so fair-skinned and blond, but she wasn’t that great of a cook. Her taste in music was better than his grandma’s, but she thought that rocks could take away bad luck or stomach aches and that drinking special tea made with garbage dug up out of the backyard was better than taking aspirin if you had a headache.
Dre’s mama thought she was a flake but told Dre to never repeat that.
Aside from keeping the books for the B&B, she taught yoga in the big sunroom out back.
Grandpa sometimes watched.
After Grandpa ran off with Nanny, Grandma fell into a deep depression. She did not handle any of it well, but Mama said nobody could blame her. She loved her dad, but said he was a world class jerk.
She also told Dre not to repeat that.
At first, Grandma tried dating, “getting back in the game” was what Dre’s dad called it. He’d always like Grandma Collins, even if the rest of her family was “a bunch of trashy mouth-breathers who were dumber than a bag of hammers.”
Dre was told, once again, not to repeat that.
Grandma tried meeting single men in the places that most people went to meet men –mostly, bars and grocery stores –and had little success. She tried different grocery stores and different bars, moving from the nicer places to the places that were frequented by people that the county sheriff probably kept pictures of in his wallet.
She never met a man she liked –at least liked well enough to bring around twice –but while looking for love in all the typical places, she discovered something else.
Grandma didn’t really drink all that much. If she ordered alcohol someplace, it was always some very elaborate and sugary-sweet cocktail; the kind that usually included a fruit kabob and a little doll hanging out of the glass.
These were the kinds of drinks she got when she and Grandpa had taken cruises or gone on vacation in the Bahamas.
No local bars served those kinds of drinks –or if they did, Grandma got tired of listening to the bartender giggle as he made them.
She had to do something in those bars. She tried pool. She tried darts, but the only thing that made Dre’s grandma feel like a duck in water at a dive bar was pumping dollar bills in a poker machine.
She could play for hours.
For a while, she took her money and went up to the casino and dog track in Cross Lanes, what the locals called “Cross Vegas.” She went with a women’s group, a former book club that had ran out of anything good to read. The group took trips to that casino and other casinos within driving distance. Everyone went with a set amount of money, won or lost whatever money they brought with them and then came home.
Usually, they stopped at Cracker Barrel on the way back.
This was good for Grandma. It was manageable. She was getting out with people her own age, many of them also women who’d lost their husbands, some of them to strippers, but most of them to heart disease and diabetes.
It was social, but then something went wrong at Cross Vegas. She got into a shouting match with a lady seated next to her at a blackjack table, which spilled over to the roulette wheel and turned into a full-on brawl.
Security was called and then the sheriff.
No charges were filed, but Grandma was put on a lifetime ban from playing at the local casino. The experience also soured the group toward her. They didn’t want any trouble. They were all respectable women, who liked to shop at outlet stores, spend money at the track and order the same thing over and over at Bob Evans, swearing that it tasted different in Ohio.
Grandma never got asked to come along again.
(To be continued)