The final essay of the class is worth 90% of my grade. That's somewhat stressful. Everything else we have written this semester is just scratch working up to this one. Well, it's now been turned in, and all I can do is sit and wait for my grade. Here is the essay I wrote, if you want to read it:
Wendy C. Allen
(A Revision of Essay #2: Eva)
(April 25, 2012)
May 9, 2012
Have I Told You Lately That I Love You?
One of my earliest memories was of a road trip to Mt. Washington in New Hampshire. I was 6, maybe 7 at the time. I was sitting in the backseat of a 1964 Dodge 330 4-door sedan, a former Old Orchard Beach police car, now painted metallic orange. On either side of me sat an old lady. The older one, at five foot one, was only inches taller than I was, had short curly hair, was known for her wild temper, spiteful ways, starting fist fights, putting curses on everyone in sight, spoke with a Scottish accent so thick you could barely discern she was speaking English, and in the 1960s had embraced the passion of wearing purple polyester. The other, twenty years younger than the first, with hair not quite as grey, stood five foot eight, had very dark tan skin, kept her hair tied in two long pigtail braids, and having just arrived back home from (yet another) trip to Hawaii, was dressed in a long ruffled muumuu with butterflies so huge, that only two fit across it. Neither had ever driven a car; both remembered the days long before cars existed.
“Nobody ever takes me anywhere,” complained one.
“Oh, I know it, isn’t it terrible, nobody ever takes me anywhere either,” answered the other.
They spent the next several miles discussing how they each did nothing all day but sit home alone, never got out of the house, and had overall dull, boring lives. The conversation was ironic, considering neither had any idea where they were, seeing as some 100 miles or so back, we had taken a wrong turn and were now wandering aimlessly on the unmapped dirt roads which weave their way around the New Hampshire White Mountains.
Their conversation went on in endless babble, until the Scottish woman pulled out a ham sandwich and offered it to the Indian woman, a Seventh Day Adventist and Huna practitioner, and therefore a strict vegetarian and animal rights activist. An all out food fight ensued with pieces of ham sandwiches being thrown from one side of the car to the other. It was always eventful sitting between my two grandmothers on a long road trip, because you never knew whether you should wear yellow to match the mustard or white to match the mayo. I was quite used to this by now, as we took a road trip every weekend and airborne slices of tomato, flying lettuce, and hamburger patties sliding down the windshield, was just the way it was. My parents had long ago given up on asking their parents to sit down and behave.
Until that moment you would have thought the two women best of friends. However, nothing could have been further from the truth. The two women hated one another, had spent many years feuding, and had only been sitting peacefully together in the red shag backseat of a giant orange car, because one’s son had married the other’s daughter and any chance to spend time with their grandbaby was worth having to put up with one another’s company for a few hours. To the untrained eye, the ham sandwich had been an innocent mistake; however, any one who knew Helen Ricker-Allen knew all too well that she did not normally eat ham, and had gone out of her way to buy ham, specifically for this event, knowing full well that meat of all kinds, but most especially pig, was off Eva’s menu. The screaming and yelling died down when we reached the top of Mt. Washington, but the slices of ham were firmly stuck to the windows and ceiling for the rest of the trip.
My memories of Grammy Helen are few, many of them involving hospital visits, though most are of her screaming and waving knives as she chased someone down the road. Was she a crazy woman or was it just for show? I do not know. I was too young to know. People around town called her “Helen the Hellion.” Seems like she was always screaming, always waving knives in the air, throwing ham sandwiches, and always running down the road, whenever she wasn’t reading bird books or tending to her massive flower garden. I was just 8 years old when she died of cancer. I remember her funeral. She wore a blue velvet gown. Some Atwaters showed up and started a fight. I don’t remember why. Grammy Helen was the oldest of my grandparents. She remembered horse drawn carriages and both World Wars. When Grammy Helen died, I inherited her land, her grandmother’s 200 year old rosebush, her Liberace records, her 1971 MTD 3-Wheel MudBug (yes, she was an 82 year old woman with an ATV), her comic books (which set a Guinness Book Record, for containing the largest and most complete run of Disney comic books), the family Bible/Grimoire (a giant and ancient Medieval volume weighing close to 40lbs and passed down through our family for centuries), and her title: Queen of the Gypsies, Hedgewitch, Witch Doctor, Fortune Teller, and caster of spells. Grammy Helen was a Scottish Traveller, part Christian, part Pagan (Welsh Faery Faith aka Traditional Witchcraft and Scottish Hoodoo aka European Voodoo) and all Witch. She called herself a Methodist, yet was a practicing Witch. Not a fru-fru Wiccan witch wannabe, like what you see today, but the real deal black magic, curses, hexes and everything. Witchcraft wasn’t a religion back then, not like it is today. Today Witchcraft is is fad, a thing to do; back then it was a way of life, a career, a job; it paid the bills.
My other grandmother was also a Witch, but a very different kind of Witch. She was known as “The Weather Witch of Biddeford,” a title she was given from her habit of predicting with alarming accuracy, minute by minute, day by day weather forecasts, from reading the smoke from the towering mill-stacks. Only two of the tall brick smoke stacks still stand, and only one is still in use. However, she was not content to let people know how she did it; rather, she found it to be far more fun, to “get back at people” with it. By this she meant, say a woman in the grocery store accidentally ran into her with a shopping cart, she’d turn on the woman and say something along the lines of: “You apologize for that right now or I’ll make it rain this afternoon.” It was going to rain whether the woman apologized or not, but we were Gypsies and people expected to be cursed by us, so Grammy had fun with it.
Her name was Eva Viola LittleJohn/Dyer. She was an Indian, who disliked and refused to use the term “Native American.” Some records say she was Kickapoo, others say Micmac. Orphaned at age 3, no one really knew much about her family, other then she was a “red skinned savage”, and the child of a unmarried flapper of the 1920s. Her mother’s favorite book was Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and she was named after the character “Little Eva”. Her mother was a prostitute and a colored woman, who in 1921 did the unthinkable and attempted to be a single unwed mother, raising a child on her own. She had two other children as well. Records are unclear as to how exactly she died, just that she did, leaving 3 small children alone. The older girl had lighter skin, could be passed off as white, and was quickly adopted, but her beauty was her downfall and as a teenager she was raped and beaten, her head bashed in with a baseball bat.
Miraculously she lived, but remained for the rest of her life with one side of her skull, pulverized and flattened, looking as though half of her head had been cut clean off, barely recognizable as having once been human, and in a mental institute for the rest of her 80 long years. We found out what happened to her only weeks before she died, when Pineland Center shut down and sent its patients free to wander the streets. In what would be yet another long road trip we drove Grammy to see her sister. It was the first and only time the two sisters had seen each other since their mother had died.
Raised by the Shakers in the 1920s, Eva lived in abusive foster care, told she was worthless due to her race, seen as free labour to do the hardest dirtiest tasks of the Shaker Village at Sabbathday Lake, Maine. If you go to the village today, which is now a living history museum, look at the old photos on the wall, and notice the little girl, the scullery maid hard at work scrubbing clothes at the washboard - that’s her, that’s Little Eva, scrubbing till her fingers bleed, then locked in a closet each night without supper to punish her for being born “red as the devil”.
As a teenager, Eva ran away, hitch-hiked to Portland, Maine, joined the Seventh Day Adventist church, and married the getaway driver of Honeyfitz Kennedy’s rum-running gang, who also claimed to be “the one true” king of all kings of the Gypsies, Scottish Traveller David Henry Atwater of Nova Scotia. Their early years had been happy, but in his mid-20s David Henry went blind, and became a bitter, angry, violent man, mad at life and every one who still had their sight. David originally blamed his blindness on his having had Scarlet Fever at the age of 12. In later years, he claimed his blindness had been caused by having seen God in person, face to face. Folks who had known the young gangster, blamed his blindness on a swig of bad moonshine. Eva’s young adult years were spent in terror of an abusive husband, who took to locking her in dark closets, to punish her for not having gone blind as well.
Eva and Helen meet each other in the 1950s through David. Helen had been born and raised in Old Orchard, she was a Ricker after all, and the Rickers had founded the town. David and Eva had moved from Portland to Canton. While in Canton, David began to have visitations from God, angels, demons, spirits, and ghosts of varying degrees of strangeness. He decided after one such visitation, that God wanted him to move first to Saco, then to Old Orchard Beach, then back to Saco, then to Biddeford, then back to Old Orchard again. No one moved into Old Orchard without the Rickers knowing it. Normally Gypsy Clans get along one clan with another, but the Atwaters, lead by the infamous David Henry, were far from normal, and saw other Clans not as fellow comrades, but as mortal enemies to be cut down and eliminated. It was after all, God’s will, and they could prove it was God’s will, because David spoke on on one with God Himself.
In about 1811 the Ricker Clan of Portland, Maine, married into the Googins, Lewis, and Allen Clans of Portland, then moved to a nearby bay. George Ricker, declared himself “ruler” (as well as mayor, road commissioner, and fire chief) of this new land, which he named “The Orchard by the Sea”. In 1821, it was renamed The Town on the Old Orchard Beach, and the Travellers set out to do what they did best: set up a carnival, only this time a permanent one known as The Palace Playland. To celebrate the founding of his new Kingdom (town) he gave his wife Rose Ricker a rosebush, which, now, being at least 191 years old, is still alive and growing, standing at 13 feet tall. Their daughter Helen Ricker went on to run the school board, the firefighters wives society, and founded nearly every women’s group active in Old Orchard between the 1920s through the 1980s. During that time she also maintained a hobby of collecting comic books, crocheting, obsessing over Liberace, and casting spells and curses on everyone in sight.
The Rickers ran the town, which some nicknamed “The Dynasty of Old Orchard Beach,” on every level. Every town official, public works officer, school board member, police officer, fireman, and business owner was a Ricker, a Googins, an Allen, a Lewis, or a cousin of one of the above. Tourists were the income and the original fairgrounds were massive, spanning for nearly 5 miles along the beachfront. The Ricker Dynasty came to a horrific end during the Burning of the White Way or the Second Great Fire of Old Orchard Beach in 1963 (the first was in 1907) which took out every ride, shop, and motel along the shore. This event came on the heels of the arrival of a brutal, violent, scam artist, polygamist, extreme Fundamentalist Mormon crime family: The Royal Highland Atwater Clan, lead by none other than the soon to become infamous murder-suicide cult leader himself: David Henry Atwater. When one thinks of Gypsies, most think of Cher’s “Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves” along side of news reports of terrorist crime families. For most Travellers this image is far from the truth, but for the Atwater Clan, this was a perfect image of who they were. The Atwaters brought with them honky tonks, bar rooms, drug dealers, prostitutes, pickpockets, petty thieves, fist fights, knife fights, and gunfights in the town square.
In 1968, feed up with the Ricker Dynasty, appalled by the Atwater arrogance and lack of moral decency, and recovering from one of the largest fires in Maine history, the Old Orchard Beach townspeople gathered together in arms, and with the help of several shotgun armed State Police officers, drove the Gypsies and Travellers out of Old Orchard Beach at gunpoint. Residents today, old enough to remember the march, are quick to retell the nightmare tale of “The day the Gypsies were run out of town”, with its parade of over 300 cars, trucks, vans, jeeps, buses, trailers, wagons, and motorhomes escorted by police officers from every department of York County. The Atwaters were marched to the New Hampshire border, where they were met by New Hampshire state police who in turn marched them straight through to Vermont. The march continued, from state to state, until they arrived in Utah, the first state to not greet them at the border with an army of rifle toting patrolmen. The Atwaters settled in Ogden Utah, where they remain to this day.
Back in Old Orchard, the Rickers resigned their town offices, and most of the family relocated back to Portland. Only one family remained in Old Orchard Beach: the now elderly daughter of George Ricker, Helen Ricker-Allen and her son Kenneth Ricker-Allen with his wife, Eva’s daughter, Jeannie Atwater and, me, their daughter Wendy. The Atwaters were gone, the Rickers had left office, but the drama was far from over. For Eva, the Atwater drama was just beginning.
It was on this police guided march out of Maine in the 1960s, when Eva gained her freedom. A revelation from God told David the joys of white supremacy and hatred of all blacks, red skins, and Jews.” He promptly divorced “the red skinned evil spirit”, took her 12 children, married another woman (who was found strangled to death a few years later, her murder remains unsolved), and left Eva, literally standing on a roadside in the middle of a desert in Utah. He abandoned her in the desert, hundreds of miles from the nearest town. Eva spent the next several months, walking back to her hometown, Biddeford, Maine, stopping in all 48 states along the way, discovered Jesus, took her first of several trips to the brand new state known as Hawaii, discovered Huna, took a trip to Alaska, started tracing her Native American roots, then flew to Japan and made her way East to West, through Australia, New Zealand, China, Russia, Germany, Holland, and dozens of others. Having discovered a love of traveling and walking the open road, she would continue to take a world walking tour every year, for the next twenty-odd years. To fill the void she now had without her husband and her children, Eva took up travel and education.
By the 1980s, Eva had been to all 50 states and 114 counties. Alaska was her favorite, and the place she would return to several times. I grew up surrounded by Grammy’s countless books, tour guides, postcards, maps, view masters, souvenirs, and trinkets of Alaska and Hawaii. Each time she left, she would return with more stories of bear and moose and mountains and glaciers. Alaska was her home away from home. I spent 17 years of my life, daily listening to Grammy tell of the glories and wonders that were Alaska. “If you never go anyplace else, you must at least see Alaska before you die,” she would always say.
While she had little education in childhood, as an adult, she got a degree in Graphology, the psychology of handwriting. From looking at a sample of someone’s handwriting she was able to tell them, the type of person they were, and how their personalities would affect their futures. She used this skill, like she did her meteorology skills, to wow people and scare them into thinking she was a powerful psychic witch. Education through travel and hands on cultural learning, was the schooling she loved best of all.
David, in the mean time, went on to call himself first a prophet, then later the right hand of God, before making friends with a man called Applewhite and helping him form the UFO suicide cult known as Heaven’s Gate. David abandoned Heaven’s Gate shortly before the whole group offed themselves with Kool-Aid under the shadow of Comet HaleBop. He next crowned himself “the one true prophet of the Mormon Church,” moved to Salt Lake City, and made attempts at convincing the Church leaders God wanted him running the church. David would go on to have leadership connections to five more murder-suicide cults and two cult compounds. By the time of his death, in 2004, he was close to claiming he was God made flesh and was ordering everyone he met to obey him or be cast into the “tar pits of hell”. I generally avoid telling folks I’m related to the Atwaters, because just to mention the name Atwater often results in the response: “You don’t mean that murder-suicide Gypsy-Mafia cult family do you?” Yeah. That would be them. My family, the cultists. You can choose your friends, unfortunately you can not choose the family you are born into. Such is life. At least I can say each of my grandparents had colorful personalities.
In spite of the fact that David was clearly insane, Eva never stopped loving him, and never gave up on the hope that one day he would come back to his senses, remember he had a wife and give up his mad chasing after God at the expense of everyone who loved him. Eva remained single the rest of her life, in spite of several proposals of marriage. She remained firm in her belief that love was stronger than religion. She loved David. She knew David. In his heart still loved her, so she said. Eva waited for 30 long years, for him to come to the realization that in his search for God’s love and approval, he had thrown away the true love he already had.
When I meet Eva, she was in her 60s and lived in a giant Victorian mansion in Biddeford, Maine. Eva was by that point being called Maine’s Crazy Cat Woman, famous throughout the Greater Portland Area for being decked out in outlandish flowing South Pacific robes, flying down the street on roller skates while pushing an 1800s baby pram, with cats, not babies, riding inside, her trusty broomstick slung over her back, and singing America the Beautiful. Her house was decorated for Halloween, all year round, complete with jack-o-lanterns in every window. She’d greet you on the veranda with a black cat in one arm and a broom in the other. Her shrill laughter sent children running. She once said she had spent years perfecting her cackle to get it just right. Over her bed hung a sign which read: “Here’s Lives the Original Salem Witch”. No one dared go near the creepy old mansion. Locals were terrified of her, and called her a witch and she relished it.
What people did not see was that Grammy liked to put on a show, and the pumpkins, black cats, baby pram, and broomsticks were all the act of a carnival clown. Grammy’s early life, overshadowed with many years of neglect and abuse, had taught her to see the world through the eyes of compassion. A closer look inside that baby pram, revealed more than cats enjoying a ride, but also food to hand out to the homeless. The cats were more than just there for the ride, many of the homeless had lost pets when they lost their homes, and hugging cats is often desired more than food. The roller skates got her on her daily “walks” from Biddeford to Portland faster. The long flowing robes, hid the many coin purses, used to fill all the expired parking meters of downtown Portland. And the broom? Eva stopped at every door step along the way, to sweep it clean. The song? She had seen the world and it was beautiful, but here back home was so much suffering and sadness, people starving in the streets, with nothing to hope for.
While her ways were bizarre, there was a method to her madness: “I was the mother to many, the friend to all, I’ve seen the world, I want to share the joy, and make you smile.” Making people smile, bringing a little joy into their otherwise dreary day, was why she did the things she did.
Because of her actions and her spending so much time with the homeless, people often said of her “That’s that crazy homeless cat woman.” By the non-homeless, she was often criticized, had rocks thrown at her, more then once put in the hospital, and was several times beaten up by good upstanding citizens who “don’t want your kind around here - go get a job you filthy bum”. She was not, as they had falsely judged, either jobless or homeless. They didn’t know she went home each night to one of the biggest sea captain mansions in Biddeford, that she had not 1, but rather 3 jobs, working in the shoe mill, a nanny, and caring for elderly in nursing homes, or that when not putting on her clown act show to entertain the homeless of Portland, she looked just as normal as you or I.
Eva often remarked at how surprised she was by the difference in how people treated her, the exact same people did not recognize her as the same person, when all that had changed was the addition of a baby pram full of cats and a pair of roller skates. “It’s pitiful, that they have such a lack of compassion and judge a person only by her clothes.” It was through this discovery, that she made a radical decision in the 1980s, to stand up for gay rights and the transgendered community of Portland, Maine. Many of her dearest and closest friends were glamorous women only on the outside. Glitter. Silks. Sequins. Glam. Ruffles. Lace. Fur and ball gowns. Eva went from entertaining the homeless by day, to having glamorous girls nights out with her drag queen and transvestite friends. The more outcast you were from mainstream society, the more Eva would seek you out and just to say: “You’re beautiful and God loves you just the way you are.” Compassion for others motivated everything she did.
It is from Grammy Eva that I learned compassion for everyone, regardless age, race, gender, gender identity, religion, health, lifestyle, income, social status, or species. Everyone deserves a second chance. Everything has the right to live. Through her combining Adventism with Huna, and Native American traditions, Grammy Eva taught me to love and respect life: humans, animals, plants, water, all of it. Compassion for everything and everyone; to live and to let live. Her friendships with with everyone from the unbathed homeless in rags to the wealthy glamorous shemales in their sequined dresses, and everyone in between, taught me to look beyond outer appearances and see the person inside the clothes. Her religion and her traditions motivated her actions. “Jesus said to love everyone. Judge no one. See them as God sees them”, Eva would say, again and again. Every night she would put me to bed with the words: “Never let the sun set on your anger. Forgive your enemies. Pray for them that hurt you. I pray for your grandfather every night.”
In the end, her faith, or rather her church and religion, let her down, and ultimately cost her, her life. A devout Seventh Day Adventist, she lived the strict lifestyle, denouncing foods from animal products, eating only church owned soy products made by SDA owned companies Morning Star, Worthington, and Kellogg's, eating what she was told, when she was told, denouncing meat, pants, short hair, jewelry, and make-up as being the cause of all sickness and disease, avoiding doctors because doctors were a sin, all because her pastor told her to. When she got sick, she was told to praise the Lord, avoid Satan’s evil doctors, and ignore the pain.
1988 was a bad year. In 1988 Eva’s massive mansion on 3 Graeme St burned to the ground, her best friend Dr. Roberts died, and she was told the lump on her breast was cancer. David phoned from Utah to tell her he had burned her house down, via his psychic abilities. He also proudly took credit for killing her friend. She did not tell him about the cancer. She told no one but me. Grammy moved into a run down apartment on Foss St. on the bad side of Biddeford, down by the Mill. Gangs. Drug dealers. Thugs and bars. Eva now found herself in the heart of Biddeford’s Section-8 slum district.
Grammy took to strange walking habits; picking up the black cat and walking aimlessly around town in the middle of the night. The 17 years of weekly weekend pleasure drives across New England in the 1964 Dodge, suddenly turned into daily panic drives to look for Eva, pick her up, and calm her down by driving her to a new place each day. Nights were spent “following stars”. Look up in the sky, pick a star and drive wherever it leads us.
January 1989. The old Dodge stopped running. The transmission died and parts were nowhere to be found. Not unexpected, considering only 5,000 of these cars were built and only a handful are known to still exist today. The weekly road trips came to sudden end. Eva’s good spirits died with the Dodge. Depression sunk over her and it became clear that she could not be left alone. Arrangements were made that I would stay with her during the day, and her illegitimate daughter by Dr Roberts would stay with her at night.
This semi-moving in with Grammy, living with her from 6AM to 9PM 6 days a week, for the next 4 years, gave me a new look into the world of the Atwater Clan. My eyes were opened the living hell that Eva’s life was and the monsters her children had grown up to become. Every night, Eva called David, each of her 11 remaining children, and each of her 64 grandchildren, to say one simple phrase: “Goodnight, I love you.” For four hours, every night, 76 phone calls went out to Utah, Wyoming, Nevada, Illinois, Vermont, Australia, Germany, Russia. Every night. Her phone bill was monumental. The responses to her phone calls were horrendous.
“Burn in hell you old bag!” said one daughter.
“NanaBanana the big fat bofana. Can’t get to heaven...” sang the words of a toddler.
“Love? What do you know about love? You aren’t capable of lovin, you ain’t got the brains God gave an ape! Why don’t you drop dead you hideous non-Mormon hag!” sneered one son.
“I’m praying for you to die soon, so we do your baptism of the dead temple work, it’s the only way we’ll get you baptised a Mormon and save your soul from being cast out into eternal damnation of outer darkness,” said her self proclaimed favorite son.
“All non-white, non-Mormons deserve to die,” roared Grandpa.
She begged and pleaded, between the insults, “I’m dying, please come visit me.”
“Yeah, good one,” came the response, again and again, repeated by each person, in every phone call, like broken record. “You? Dying! Ha! You’ll never die, you're too evil to go to Heaven, and you’re so wicked Satan don’t even want you in hell!”
“What have I done? What did I ever do to make you hate me?” she’d ask between the tears.
“You were unfaithful to the Lord thy God.”
“What did I do?”
“You are not a Mormon.”
Every night. Seventy-six phone calls. Seventy-six insults and several lectures on why all non Mormons, especial evil non-white ones like her, will go to hell. I have to ask, how white do they think they are if their mom wasn’t white herself? Did they ever think of that, I wonder? They claimed she was not Mormon enough to have her family, and yet, when she tried to attend church with them, they laughed at her, and told her she was not welcomed inside. No matter what she did, there was no pleasing them. She stopped going to both churches, hers and theirs. What was the point? No one loved her in either. She had attended both churches for more than 50 years. After family, nothing mattered more to Eva then church. I knew there was something seriously wrong the day she stopped attending church.
After 6 years of ignoring the pain, Eva went in secret to a doctor, and was told needed surgery. Her pastor found out and condemned her as a sinner for having seen the doctor, than forbade her to have the surgery. Three more years of pain and suffering passed before she fell on the ice, broke her hip, returned to the doctor and while there, had the tumor removed. By this time however the cancer had spread to her liver and pancreas.
Every night Eva went to bed crying. Every night as I tucked her in, changed her diapers, brushed her hair, and brought her cat to her, she would turn to me and ask, “Why do they hate me? I love my family. They threw me away. They abandoned me. They left me alone to die in the desert. Why do they treat me so badly? What did I ever do to any of them? I’ve never even seen my grandchildren! Why do they hate me? I keep trying to tell them about the cancer, but they won’t listen, they won’t give me a chance to talk. I just want to see my children before I die.”
After 748 days and 55,328 insults, Eva stopped calling. She stopped walking. She stopped wandering. She stopped going for car drives. Stopped roller skating. Stopped going to Portland. Stopped helping the homeless. Stopped hanging out with her transvestite friends. Eva became despondent. She stopped eating. She refused to get out of bed. She rarely spoke. She gave up. For weeks she cried uncontrollably, but then she stopped crying, and did nothing by lay there staring blankly at the ceiling, through the blurred eyes of despair. Her family was her life. Her hope of one day being reunited to her husband and children was the only thing she lived for. It had finally hit her, there was no reuniting her family. The man she loved hated and abandoned her because his church had commanded it. Her children abhorred her because their father demanded it. Her grandbabies despised her because their parents set the example of it.
One by one I confronted them. Grandpa, the Aunts, the Uncles, the Cousins. “Why? Why do you say these things to her?” They denied it. Every one of them. “She’s lying to you. That’s what she does. Don’t believe her evil lies about us. She’s an evil woman. We never said those things. We’re Mormons, we wouldn’t talk like that. She’s just making stuff up to poison your mind with hate, that’s the sort of thing she does. That’s the sort of thing non-Mormons do.”
They did not know Grammy had a speaker phone. They did not know I lived with Eva. They did not know that Grammy had never told me what they had said. She didn’t need to say anything. I had heard every word, straight from their own lips. I watched in silence as every night, for 4 years straight, she picked up the phone, said “I love you”, got an earful, hung up the phone, tears streaming down her face, dialed the next number, said “I love you” again, and got another earful.
Summer 1994. Once a talkative person who chattered non-stop about everything, a vast change now had come over Eva. She lay in silence, day after day. “My family hates me,” she’d say as I changed her diapers. “Why did he take my babies away?” she’d ask as I changed the bedding and flipped the mattress. “Why did he teach them to hate me?” she’d whimper as I cooked her meals. “I loved him you know,” she’d say as I waited for her to open her mouth so I could put the spoon in. “That’s why I never remarried,” she said as I brushed her hair. “I never stopped loving him.”
November 1994. Grammy was refusing to go to the hospital. A friend of hers, who was a doctor, stopped by every few days to check on her. Her skin was turning orange, the white of her eyes glazed over in a brilliant yellow, and she suddenly lost 60lbs in a matter of days. “Her liver has stopped working,” he said one day. “She won’t make it to Thanksgiving. This silly game her family is playing has to end. It has to end now. She wants to see her children before she dies. She deserves that much.”
That night, my dad called Eva’s favorite son. He called from Eva’s phone. The doctor was still in the room. He got to hear for himself the vile spewing hatred her children spoke to and about her. The son picked up the phone and without stopping to hear who was on the other end of the line, went into a venomous hate filled rant of how evil Eva was. He thought he was talking to his mother. He was stunned to hear my dad’s voice on the line and the doctor’s voice in the background. He got an earful from my dad, which included every swear word under the sun and just exactly what my dad (a Ricker) thought of Atwater scum. Somewhere in my dad’s words however, it occurred to the son, that something was wrong, and he’d better get to Maine fast, if he ever wanted to see his mother alive again.
And then they came. From all points of the globe, the Atwaters headed back to Maine. Droves of Atwaters scurried into Biddeford under the cover of darkness like the deviant rats which they were.They brought their friends and their in-laws. Some of them entered Eva’s house singing “At last the Wicked Old Witch is dead!” They filled Grammy’s house with loud blaring music, and stay up til the breaking of dawn, partying, drinking, and singing. It was a joyous time of celebration, for the woman they hated was at death’s door, and nothing made them happier. They brought with them chips and dips and punch, pork rinds, turkey, and a giant roost honeyed ham. They knew about Eva and ham. They laughed and sang in the living room, while she lay dying in the bedroom. They joked, they drank, they sang. Not one of them entered the bedroom to see her.
When the partying was over, they stripped down the house stealing moldings, curtains, shelves, door knobs, furniture, and light fixtures. They ripped the sink out of the kitchen, they cut the copper pipes out of the basement, they tore the walls open and pulled out the wires, laughing at how they could melt off the plastic to get at the copper inside. Like the Grinch who stole Christmas, they left behind not a crumb. When the house had nothing left to steal or cut off of it, they left like rats fleeing a sinking ship. Not all of them made it back to Utah. At least 3 of them ended up in jail while still here in Maine: one for attacking a homeless man with a machete, one for stealing shoes at the Maine Mall, and one for holding up the Kentucky Fried Chicken. Of the nearly 300 people who came and went out of Grammy's house that week, only 4 of them entered her bedroom to see her before she died. David himself, however, did not come.
Eva died on Thanksgiving morning only a few days after the Atwaters had arrived. Several of the Atwaters were still here in Maine trashing the house when she died. Her children were visibly stunned and baffled, and vocally made their radical opinions known. Several asked why she had not told them she was ill. For 6 years she begged them. Four years she told them she was dying, every night before bed. They never heard a word she had said, they were all too busy putting her down to listen to what she was saying to them. Each of them commented on how quickly the cancer had spread, and how rare it was for someone to die from cancer “so fast” after only getting it “a few weeks ago”. David attributed her “speedy fall to cancer” to have been “proof she was possessed by an evil spirit”. The Atwaters nodded and murmured in agreement, “Yes, that must be it. God wanted to rid the earth of her evil spirit, that’s why he took her so young, and so fast.” On David’s command, her children buried her in a cardboard box, in an unmarked grave, without a wake or a funeral in order to “get her evil spirit in the ground fast so we can forget about her vile, evil existence.”
Two years after her death, the son whom had treated her the worst of all, whose children had the vilest of all things to say to the grandmother they’d never met, came to Maine to beg forgiveness. I do not understand his actions, or why he came to me of all people. I did not know him. He, like the rest of the snobbish Atwaters, had long maintained a vow of no contact with me due to my “being on evil Eva’s side and working against us”, as the Atwaters like to put it. I am shunned and ignored by the Atwaters, due to my evil sin of having taken care of my dying grandmother for so many years. So when an Atwater suddenly seeks me out for anything other than to throw rocks at me, it’s an occasion for raised eyebrows. But here he was, an Uncle I hardly knew existed, telling me he had had a vision, his mother had visited him in a dream and she, to his surprise, loved him. I fail to understand why he was so surprised at this, but he was stunned, shocked, and flabbergasted by the discovery that his mother, wasn’t as he previously had thought, an evil bitch who hated his guts. He said he could not ask her for forgiveness, so he was asking me to forgive him in her place. He said to show he truly was sorry, he was buying a grave marker for his mother, which contained the phrase: “Have I told you lately that I love you?” to make up for a lifetime of having never once told his mother he loved her. As stunned as I was by this visit, another such request of forgiveness would come 8 years later, by the most surprising Atwater of all.
David Henry died 10 years after Eva, at age 100 years and 14 days. Before he died, he wrote me a letter, saying he regretted the hell he had put her through, and since he could not ask for her forgiveness, he asked me for mine, knowing that it had been me who had taken care of his beloved Eva those last four dreadful years of her life. He said he regretted not coming back to Maine to visit her before she died. He regretted hanging up the phone, all those many times she had called pleading with him. He regretting leaving her standing alone in the desert all those years ago. He regretted taking from her the things she loved most in life: her husband and her children. He especially regretted having raised her children to hate her, and bemoaned the appalling actions they had taken against her on her deathbed. He closed the letter saying he wished he had never found the Mormon Church and had never set out on his quest to get closer to God, because it cost him the woman he loved. He said he still loved her and that he was booking a flight to Maine, planning to visit her grave. He did make the flight, but not alive. He died 3 days before the plane left. His body was shipped back on that same flight, in a gold plated pink metal flake coffin. David wass buried along side of Eva’s cardboard box, one week after writing me that letter. David Henry finally realized what he had given up to gain the approval of God, but that realization had come 10 years too late. “Have I told you lately that I love you?” Like his son before him, David said he wished he had put love of family, before love of church. He wished he had put God aside, just long enough to say “I love you” to the woman who had devoted her life to loving him.
1) Helen Ricker-Allen, December 16, 1971, out front of an Old Orchard Beach hardware store, picking up her brand new ATV. Maine.
2) Eva Viola Atwater, 1976, at a boat race in Hawaii.
3) Eva Viola Atwater c.1980, at a flower show in Holland.
4) Eva Viola Atwater c. 1982, on a reservation in Alaska.
5) Eva Viola Atwater, c. 1985, another trip to Hawaii.
6) Eva Viola Atwater, c. 1983, at Otter Cove, Acadia National Park, Maine.
7) Eva Viola Atwater, February 21, 1921 - Thanksgiving Day 1994. Grave marker at Deering Cemetery, Saco, Maine. Easter Sunday, 2010.
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~Rev. Wendy C. Allen aka Empress EelKat of Laughing Gnome Hollow
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------This post was written by Wendy C Allen aka EelKat, is copyrighted by The Twighlight Manor Press and was posted on Laughing Gnome Hollow's Traditional Gypsy Magic and Scottish Hoodoo Blog @ http://laughinggnomehollow.blogspot.com and reposted at EK's Star Log @ http://eelkat.wordpress.com and parts of it may also be seen on http://www.squidoo.com/EelKat and http://laughinggnomehollow.proboards.com If you are reading this from a different location than those listed above, please contact me Wendy C. Allen aka EelKat @ http://laughinggnomehollow.proboards.com/index.cgi?action=viewprofile and let me know where it is you found this post. Plagiarism is illegal and I DO actively pursue offenders. Unless copying a Blog Meme, you do not have permission to copy anything appearing on this blog, including words, art, or photos. This will be your only warning. Thank you and have a glorious day! ~ EelKat
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