bertha was a dying swan

Bertha was a dying swan. The kind who said “Lawd Lawd” and “My heart, My heart”. Matriarch of a rather large family, she introduced 9 children to the world before her husband died. They, in turn, gifted her with 32 grandchildren. Three gingers by the youngest were, in her eyes, the crowning achievement of her clan. The rest of the family hemmed and hawed on her every whim in the faint hope she would just have a heart attack and get it over with, or come to care for them as much as she cared for her three copper-topped grandchildren. She did neither.

The memories I have of the woman are unpleasant ones. A biting tongue. A pockmarked face. Black stringy hair that sat on top of her head in a beehive. She babysat my brother and me for years. Pleasantries aside, when our mother left, she locked us out. Brought us in only to feed us. Chicken and biscuits. Some kind of good, but not good enough. Her grandchildren would stare at us through windows and laugh when they felt like it – because we couldn’t come in – and the weather was awful. Hot or cold. Didn’t matter. We were locked out just the same and took shelter under a tarp-covered rose bush.

Bertha hated us. She disliked me because my name was Buffy. The stupidest name she ever heard. (Oi Bertha!) She couldn’t abide my brother because he was never discontent. He was placid, he was sweet. Bertha didn’t like placid sweet things. Her tastes ran more acidic.

As for those……….I lived in the vague but incessant belief that Bertha was the witch from Hansel and Gretel gone underground, who would one day, having fattened us up the desired amount, boil us as soup for the reds.

She never tried to cook us – as far as I know. But those reds would have eaten us alive all the same had I not, in a coming of age moment, beat the tar out of ’em one evening after school. That was the end of chicken and biscuits, and the end of Bertha. If I could take down three reds in the parking lot of Montcalm Junior, I could take care of my brother.

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