GALLOPIN’ GRANDMA: Christmas with Bonnie and Clyde 

By on January 3, 2017
Nebraska’s version of Bonnie and Clyde, circa 1923. She’s already on her second husband, he’s on the right, and he’s as slippery as his hair. Nice trowser crease, though. (Photo: Gallopin’ Grandma)

Nebraska’s version of Bonnie and Clyde, circa 1923. She’s already on her second husband, he’s on the right, and he’s as slippery as his hair. Nice trowser crease, though. (Photo: Gallopin’ Grandma)

JACKSON HOLE, WY – As I write this, Christmas is over, I hope. It comes once a year, and for something that has pretty much been the same for 2,000 years, you’d think that people would know it was coming and be prepared for once. This seldom happens, but sometimes out of disaster, fun things do occur.

When I was in high school back in my hometown of Corn Cob, Iowa, my friend LaWanda and I took a job wrapping Christmas gifts at the Highway 30 Mall. It wasn’t much of a job but we weren’t much either.

Mrs. Tizzie, our supervisor, showed us how to fold the paper just so and measure the ribbon. There was to be no crumpled paper, no wasted string and no taking boxes or paper. Of course we hauled both out of there by the armload.

It is actually very hard to wrap a gift because customers are idiots. They are also your natural enemy. They cannot decide on anything. One day, Mrs. Nutley, Norman’s mother, brought in a huge, oddly shaped gift for her darling son. Norman had adenoids, ears like windmill sails and didn’t like anything. It took us an hour to wrap the thing, as it was about the size and shape of New Jersey. Mrs. Nutley took one look and changed her mind—she wanted it wrapped up in some other paper. Mrs. Tizzie said we couldn’t kill her. We looked at each other, picked up our purses and departed on the endless lunch.

Having learned nothing, we took jobs as Easter Bunny helpers that spring. We were to hand out Fanny Farmer candy samples while little children sat on bunny’s lap and asked about their Easter baskets. Our friend Marvin was the bunny. He had a fuzzy bunny suit, a poofy tail and some kind of a bunny head with ears. One evening just at closing time, in came Grandma Merkel and her gang of grandchildren, none of whom were tried as adults. Grandma wanted her picture taken on the bunny’s lap. However, she weighed about 400 pounds and Marvin would have been smashed beyond repair. He told her the mall was closed and he was going home.

“No it isn’t!” she said.

Inflamed, she kicked him in the shins, tore off his poofy tail, ripped off his bunny head by the ears and whacked him with it. Grandma spent the night in jail, Marvin had a split lip and a bump on his head and we took all the candy samples and went home.

I have mentioned these incidents because there is an upside and a downside to all moments of joy and sometimes the downside isn’t all that bad. After all, Norman hated his gift and returned it and we got lots of free wrapping paper and boxes. On top of that, one of our fondest memories of Grandma Merkel is her chasing the Easter Bunny through the mall, ripping off his tail and beating him with his bunny head.

Now this Christmas I learned that great joy can come from anything. Last week I was looking through some of my mother’s things and came upon some old yellowed newspaper clippings from 1924. Apparently, there had been a notorious murder trial out in the wilds of central Nebraska when it was really wild.

Let me set the scene for you: There is a dance at a sleazebag dance hall and all the usual characters are there—drunks, lowlifes, underage girls, etc. Since it was during Prohibition, they were probably drinking some combination of motor oil and Listerine. A lovely young newlywed couple is there, probably not Bonnie and Clyde, but close. There is a fight, guns are waved, everyone jumps into their cars, there is a car chase and shots are fired. Someone winds up dead, par for the event. The lovely couple is arrested, charged with murder, there is a notorious jury trial and they are acquitted and told to get out of the county and never come back, which they do.

As I read the clipping, the names became familiar. Holy crap, it was my Aunt Helen and her husband. They were the notorious criminals! How great is that? By the time I knew Aunt Helen, she was divorced, living with my grandmother and no longer armed and dangerous (as far as we knew). I really liked her and I can’t understand why no one ever mentioned her glamorous past.

I suppose the family was mortified, but I’m not. What a great Christmas gift to find out that we are certified lowlifes, something I always suspected.

Other families have relatives who are famous and socially acceptable. Not us, I treasure our scumitude. PJH

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