The year is 1989. Ghostbusters II has just come out, Dynasty had aired it’s series finale, Cincinnati Reds Manager Pete Rose has been banned from baseball for life, Sega has released Genesis, acid washed jeans are huge, and Madonna has released her controversial Like a Prayer Album.
1989 was a great year. It was also the year I started staying with my Grandma Stella. Stella was 67 years old when she found out I was going to be coming to stay with her. Most of the time I would stay with Stella Monday through Friday, and on the weekends I would be with my parents. Stella wasn’t like most Grandma’s- she didn’t like to be called Grandma, Mimi, mimah- no- she liked for me to call her Stella. She was there for every scrape on my knee, for every time I asked her to make me her famous Mac n cheese, and for every time I just needed someone to listen. She was my best friend.
Stella carried herself like Elizabeth Taylor. She tells me that women are supposed to be the backbone of their family. “Women must be beautiful, full of forgiveness, and have faith in themselves that they are capable of moving mountains,” she says. At night time I lay awake and watch her while she sleeps. She rubs along her skin with her long nails for comfort. I don’t know what she is trying to comfort herself from, but I know it always helps her go to sleep. Especially if she rubs her arms. I can still hear her long glamourous nails, always painted a different color, hitting her skin. She rubbed her arms like some people need fans to fall asleep.
Every week Stella goes to get her hair done at the beauty parlor. I always love seeing what she’s had done to her hair. Sometimes it was even a different color! I loved days when she dyed it a new color. She was always happier on those days.
She wears a single strand of pearls around her neck, along with pearl earrings. Most of the time dark red lipsticks, and every once in a while she throws on a shade of pink. Not too often though.
Stella puts on old movies for me to watch. Stella hates A Streetcar Named Desire. She says that from the time that movie came out it had been impossible for anyone to hear her name without reciting the famous line, “STELLLLA! STEELLLLLLA!” Stella loves Sunset Boulevard, Casablanca, but her favorite is Samsung and Delilah. I watch her as she recites every word on screen. Stella didn’t always want to be a wife and Mother. She had bigger dreams.
In our neighborhood of Evansville, Indiana, Stella developed quite the reputation for feeding homeless people if they came up to her door asking for food. She had to hide it from my Grandpa John, though. Grandpa John would get incredibly mad when he caught her feeding the homeless!
When I’m six, a young boy knocked on her door. He couldn’t have been more than 16. He put his hand behind his head bashfully, “Ma’am, I hate to trouble you, but a friend of mine said you would feed me if I asked.” Stella’s eyes widened, “You’re just a BABY!”
I watched as Stella proceeded to make the biggest steak known to man! The boys eyes widened, and he started to dig in. To this day I’ll never forget how hard he started to shake every time he went to pick up his fork. I watch him as he eats and shakes. Stella whispers in my ear that it’s not polite to stare. Stella pats him on the back, “Slow down honey, there’s more where that came from.” About an hour later the boy stands up and he hugs Stella letting out a long deep sob. The type of hug you can only give someone when the world has kicked the shit out of you. The type of hug a 16 year old boy shouldn’t have to give. Stella gives him a bag of sandwiches and our number. She tells him if he ever needs anything he is always welcome in our home.
When he leaves Grandpa John comes in the room, and he is mad! “Stella, you can’t keep inviting all these homeless people in to our home!”
To which she replies with my favorite response of all time, “Oh John, shut the hell up!”
Grandpa John chuckles to himself and goes into the other room. Stella takes me by the hand and we go to kitchen table. We sit there, and there is a long pause. She proceeds to tell me that when she is eleven she is living with seven brothers and sisters in California with her parent’s. Stella’s mother and father desert them one afternoon when she is eleven, and she is left to take care of all her brothers and sisters by herself. “You see Maegan- we as women are unbreakable. We are fighters. It is our responsibility to make sacrifices for those around us we care about. Even for people that we don’t know. If you are a truly blessed person there will always be enough to go around.”
She pats me on the head and starts to make dinner. Stella fills my heart up with happiness. She is my best friend. They say time has a way of speeding up when you are happy, and coming to a complete stop when you’re sad. Stella was my everything. The years I spent with her, were the happiest moments of my life. And, yes, they went by extremely fast.
When I’m seven Stella’s sisters fly in from California. Stella tells me it is a yearly tradition, but she hasn’t gotten to do it the last few years because one of her sisters had been in a wreck. This is my first time meeting them. When they sit together I call them The Sisters. I am extremely jealous that they are monopolizing time with Stella, but, I also am extremely fascinated by them. There is five of them including Stella. They couldn’t have been more different than Stella. Patty was shy and quiet, Janet was the know-it-all, Sue was uptight and didn’t like for children to speak, and Margaret was- well- she was the Gold Digger! Margaret was my favorite of The Sisters. Margaret was fun and loud and crazy! Margaret had been married 3 different times. She married a businessman, a lawyer, and even a politician. I secretly call her Black Widow, because every husband she had died. Of course, it doesn’t help that she married them when she was extremely young, and they were extremely old. Margaret said after the politician she was done with marriage. Margaret is fun. She brings her friend Jennifer with her. Jennifer is her roommate, but I’m not supposed to ask her questions about it. She pays for The Sisters to fly out to see Stella.
The sisters sit in a circle making tamales. They cackle and talk about old times. I watch them. It’s like Stella is a version of all of them, but in her own glamourous way. I listen as The Sisters start to ask questions about me and my mom and my Dad. Stella tells them that I belong with her, that I am allowed to go visit, but I have stability in her home. She is right. Living with my Mom and Dad and my three brothers is chaos. Mom is sick, Dad always works, and the boys, (ten and eleven years older than me,) are always in trouble. I believe that the boys make Mommy sicker. I miss my Mommy when she wasn’t sick. I miss my Daddy when he was around more.
I go back to watching The Sisters make Tamales. They ask me if I want to join. “Me?” I ask. Margaret says, “Yeah, you! Why so bashful? You’re one of us!” My heart fills with joy. I’ve always wanted sisters. I get in the circle and they start showing me how to make tamales. They ask me if I have ever had Tamales and I shake my head no. The Sisters are happy to show me how to make them. “It’s a known fact The Burris Sister’s make the best tamales,” Janet said.
Patty is the youngest out of The Sisters. She catches me looking at her and she smiles and waves. I smile and wave back. “What’s your favorite color?” I ask them. “I love the color blue!” I say with a huge smile. Sue looks forward and says, “That’s enough of that! Children are to be seen and not heard!” I scowl at sister Sue. Margaret said, “Oh Sue! She just wants to know more about us! There’s no harm in that! And you love talking about yourself, sister.” Margaret says with a smirk. Sue sticks her tongue out at Margaret and I let out a huge giggle. Sue likes that I am laughing and she says, “Maegan- do you know who you are named after?” I shake my head no. Sue continues, “We had another sister. Her name was Mae. She was the true embodiment of a Saint. She did charity work, and she was a social activist.” Margaret chimes in, “That’s right. She organized phone banks, wrote to Congress, she even staged sit in’s during the civil rights movement in the 60s.” “That’s awesome!” I said. “What happened to her?” Everyone becomes silent. “She was too good for this World. She died of breast cancer right before you were born,” Stella says with a tear forming in her eye.
I get up and hug Stella, “I’m sorry you all lost your sister.” Stella hugs me for a very long time and whispers, “I am too.” Margaret looks at us and smiles. She says, “Maegan, did you know Stella used to be an Actress?” “No!” I say with excitement. Stella starts to blush and slaps a rag at Margaret. “Hush up! That’s enough of that!” I look at Stella, “You used to be an actress? Were you in anything?” Stella starts to shake her head and Margaret chimes in, “She sure was! She was in an American classic.” My eyes widen in complete disbelief. Stella gets mad and walks away from the table. Margaret says, “She was an extra in The Ten Commandments.” My eyes widen in complete shock. “Stella was in The Ten Commandments? The same Ten Commandments she’s been having me watch every year since I was BORN?” Margaret nods her head yes. “Was she ever in anything else?” Margaret frowns and shakes her head no. “Why not?” I ask. Margaret shrugs her shoulders. “She met your Grandpa. She said it was love at first site. Stella had a baby by the next year and she knew she wanted to settle down.” Margaret shrugs, “Those were much different times, Maegan.” I help the sisters clean up. This will go on to be one of the best days of my life.
When I’m Nine John and Stella celebrate being married 50 years. Which was weird, because they never slept in the same bed. Stella tells me it’s because he snores in his sleep, and John tells me it’s because she kicks him. John does incredibly sweet things for Stella. He makes her a grapevine, which he later makes wine for her with the grapes. Stella will be in the kitchen making dinner and she’ll start to fart. John and her look at each other and start to laugh. John comes up from behind her and gives her a hug and kiss and slaps her on the behind. Stella laughs harder and says, “You better stop! Maegan is watching us!” I laugh with them and hope I find a love like theirs- with the exception of sleeping apart at night. Stella and John have Sun-Flower growing competitions. They plant their sunflowers and they wait and see how tall they can get. Whoever wins the competition has to take the other out to dinner.
Stella does tarot. So does my Dad. She taught him. She has every day since I came to stay with her. Sad women come to her door and ask if she can make them a love spell. Before I was born Stella tells my Dad that I’m going to be Gemini. She said, “She will be a walking contradiction. People will love her and they will hate her. In time, she will win over her greatest critics.” Stella is magic.
When I am ten Dad comes to pick me up for the weekend to see me. He is in a great mood when he comes in the house. Stella and him hug, but you can tell Stella is aggravated. Stella and my Dad’s relationship is weird. Stella tells him, “You know Dennis-the best thing you ever did in this life was make that sweet baby.” Stella motions to me, she takes a sip of wine, and she walks in to her bedroom. Earlier that week Stella and Dad got in a fight because Dad comes by and tells her that he needs help paying the electricity. Stella gave it to him. Later that night Stella had been drinking wine. She got out all of my Dads report cards. She showed them to me one by one. “You see. You have to keep doing great in school. I don’t want you to end up like your Dad.” I look at the report cards in shock. Mostly C’s, and D’s. For the most part my Dads a smart guy. I don’t understand.
Dad and I sit in his car. I ask him what we’re going to do for the week. He said I am going to go visit my Mom in the hospital. I tell him no. He said, “I’m not giving you the option. That’s your mother and you need to go see her!” “No I don’t!” I scream. “Anyways, Grandma showed me your report cards and you’re stupid! I don’t have to listen to anything you say!” I take off and try to run inside. Dad catches me and he walks me up to Stella’s house. He barges in and says, “Really Mom? This is a whole new low! Trying to make my own kid think I’m stupid?” Stella shrugs, “I don’t think you’re stupid. I think you can do better. And time and time again you choose to do the wdrong thing! Do better, Dennis! DO BETTER!” Dad slams his hand on the table, “I’m TRYING God damn it! Between Ruth, and the boys I never have time to think straight! I work, go to the hospital, go and bail Kirk out of jail- that’s my EVERY DAY!”
Stella throws her wine glass at the wall. “You knew what you were getting in to when you married that woman! Rumors followed Ruth everywhere she went. Even when she was a little girl! Am I supposed to pat you on the back that you got the bookie’s daughter pregnant?” Dad starts to choke back tears, “No, Mom. But you can pat me on the back every once in a while and say, “Dennis, I know you’re trying! You’re doing the best you can!” Stella spits back, “This is not your best! I try! Do you think I wanted to be raising another kid in my seventies?” Stella looks at me and she can see the hurt in my eyes. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that, Maegan. I enjoy our time together.” John comes in the kitchen where everyone is pissed off, crying, and hurt. John has a huge smile on his face as he opens up the fridge and says, “What’s for dinner?”
Dad picks me up and we leave. I look over my shoulders at Stella. She frowns and waves bye. She mouths, “I love you.” Over the next two weeks Dad keeps me at his house. I am in misery. The boys torment me. I am sitting there one day and Kirk throws a boot at me. It hits me in the center of my chest and it burns so bad I start to cry. “What was that for?” I try to say. “Because I hate your face,” Kirk responds. I flip him off, “Fuck. You.” I manage to say through struggled breathing. Stella has called the house several times. Dad tells everyone in the house that they are not to answer the phone. He says, “I will give you the beating of a life time if you answer the phone.” I start to cry when he says that because I know he means it.
I go in to the kitchen. Another reason why I hate living with my parents, aside from my brothers, is they never have food in the house. And, the house is always dirty. One time I saw a mouse crawl on the kitchen table and eat from a pizza that had been sat down. I didn’t eat for two weeks thinking about all the germs the mouse had gotten on our dinner. And, also, how many other times ha0d this happened before?
I open up the fridge and there is mustard and crackers. Dirk comes in the kitchen and opens the fridge too. “God, I hate Dad. Where the fuck is the money going that I gave him?” I shrug. It’s midnight and I’m starving. I can’t sleep because I’m so hungry. I eat a sleeve of crackers with mustard, and start to cry. “I’m so hungry, Dirk.” Dirk gets me a glass of water. “It’s okay baby girl. Keep eating the crackers and choke back this glass of water really fast.” I did what he told me and I went and laid down in my bed. I was tired, hungry, and I missed Stella. I went to sleep crying and when I woke up –there she was! It was like she felt me crying.
I ran over and gave her a huge hug. “I’ve missed you so much!” Stella looked like she was about to cry, “I’ve missed you too!” Dad and Stella hugged. I said, “Does that mean I get to go home?” Dad interjected, “This-this is your home. But yes, you can go back to Stella’s house.”
Stella and I were quiet as we got in the car. I looked at Stella with hurt eyes, “Did you mean it? Do you really regret having to raise me?” Stella frowned and shook her head no. “No sweet girl, you are going to be my greatest accomplishment.”
A month later, in February 1996, I had a dream that Stella came to me. She wasn’t alive. She was a spirit. I wasn’t afraid. I was peaceful for the first time in my life. We were putting together her wooden calendar that we put together every month since I was a little girl. She points to March 2nd. March 2nd was her birthday. She tells me, “Maegan, I’m going to die on my birthday.”
I woke up crying and screaming. Stella came running to me. “What’s wrong?” I didn’t tell what my dream about. I just shook my head and said, “I had an awful, terrible dream!” She gives me a hug, looks me in the eyes, and tells me, “It’s going to be okay.”
On March 1st Stella insisted I go to Mom and Dad’s house. I said, “NO! I want to spend your birthday with you!” Stella gave me a huge hug. She said, “I love you, kid. But, I want to spend some alone time with my husband. It’s going to be alright.”
I begrudgingly went to my Parents house. Dad took me to get a birthday card the next day. About 7 pm, I called my Grandpa and asked if I could bring over her birthday card. Grandpa let out a huge sigh. He said, “You can’t come, Maegan.” “Why not?” I ask confused. “Stella just had a stroke. The paramedics have her in the ambulance now.” I drop the phone and fall to my knees crying. Dad picks up the phone and John is telling Dad everything. Dad get me and the boys in the car and he takes us to the hospital where Grandma is at. We get in the hospital where we see John. He looks at my Dad and shakes his head no. “It’s not looking good, Dennis.” The whole family is called in. I ask to go back and see her. Everyone says no. I scream, “NO! I HAVE TO SEE HER!” They take me back and there she was. The woman I had idolized my entire life. The woman that had raised me. The woman that made me feel like I was actually lovable. She was hooked up to tons of monitors. She was just lying there like she was asleep. She had blood coming out of her nose. There was a huge white light shining down on her. The doctor had just left the room, they had been working on her until there was no more they could do. I stood there in shock. Maybe if I nudge on her she’ll wake up. I nudge her but nothing happens. Maybe if I get in bed with her, she’ll put her arm around me and wake up! She’ll start rubbing at her skin because that what makes her feel better! I get in bed with her, and Dad picks me up, “No honey! You can’t lay with Grandma!” I start to cry, “But, why? We have laid next to each other every night since I was a baby!” Dad starts to cry and he gives me a hug, “I know honey! But there’s too many machines attached to her!”
Stella passed that night at 11 pm, March 2nd– her birthday. Stella was an amazing woman. Little did I know that my life and everything I knew was about to be turned upside down.
Stella’s funeral was beautiful. Margaret flew The Sisters in. She also took me to get an outfit for The Funeral. I didn’t talk much the next few days. Everything felt so surreal. I’d walk in to the Funeral Hall and my brothers were sitting around in suits. Their heads hanging down like they were doing anything possible not to cry. I would go up to Stella’s casket and stare at her. I couldn’t understand how a woman with so much life in her could just be laying there. She would never be able to make me mac-n-cheese again, or to tell me how much she loved me, or to tell me I was her sweet special girl. After all, those things are important to kids.
Dad stared off in to a daze. He went over to my brothers and he consoled them. When I went up to him to ask him if he was okay, he stared right through me. Like I didn’t exist. I shrugged my shoulders and went up to John. John took his glasses off and put his face in his hands. I went to give him a hug. He hugs me and says, “Are you my little buddy?” I smile and nod my head yes.
Several homeless people she had helped throughout the years show up to her funeral. They shared stories of how she changed their lives, helped them get jobs, and even find a place to live. It was a beautiful sight.
I go up to the casket one more time. I pray that Stella will come back and rescue me. She doesn’t come back.
The next few days everyone tries to get back in to the swing of things. Dad goes back to work, the boys go back to school, and I thought I was supposed to be going back to John’s. The first day there John was packing clothes up from Stella’s room. He makes a comment that he may make her room in to a painting studio. I look at him confused, “Grandpa, that’s still my room.” John sighs and tells me to come sit down at the kitchen table with him. We go sit down. And Grandpa says, “Maegan, you can’t live with me anymore. You have to go back to your Dad’s.”
I sat there in shock. “Why?” I screamed. “I just lost Stella, am I losing you too?” John shook his head no. “No!” He says. “You will always be welcome here, but I’m getting older. And you are too. There are going to be things that you are going to need women to talk to about. And I don’t have it in me.” My face turns red with embarrassment. I shake my head with anger, “You know what you are sending me back to! Dad isn’t even talking to me right now! Stella would NOT want this! You are selfish!” I started to cry and John gives me a hug. He goes in to closet and pulls out all of Stella’s dresses and hands them to me. I remember being five years old. Going in to her closet and putting on her dress and lipstick. Getting her jewelry out and putting it on all at once. Trying to stand in her high heels. I pick up the phone and dialed Dad’s number. He answers and I ask him to pick me up. I hang up the phone and pack up my stuff. My clothes, and Stella’s clothes. About fifteen minutes later Dad pulls up outside. He honks the horn and I pick up my clothes to leave. I look at John and say, “I will never forgive you until the day you die.” John sits with his head down and says nothing.
I walked out of the door in tears. This was the day I said good bye to my child hood home.