It was a beautiful Spring morning when the trouble began.
My grandma phoned up my mom.
“Mary-Jo,” she started, somewhat pensive. “There’re some relatives here. You better come over and see.”
Grandma was a social and church-going woman who, in her heyday, hosted all manner of strangers – no problem. Now she was 89 years old. The fact that she had no idea who these relatives were was a bit of a red flag. They claimed that they were related to my grandfather, and he and his half-brother were their only remaining blood. They needed a place to set up ‘camp’ for the evening.
“Well, I guess they can come to our place,” mom offered, having no idea what was in store.
Their caravan trundled out to our place: an enormous pick-up truck crammed to the gills with assorted junk, a rumbling, leaky RV and a sizable boat – its’ undercarriage nearly scraping the gravel as it bounced down the road. At the helm was Vera, my mother’s cousin (somehow), and Larry, her husband, a welder by trade. Following in behind was their shifty-eyed son, Shane, his pregnant girlfriend (who bore the muted, oblivious expression of a cow chewing its cud), and two slobbering dogs – an ancient black Lab and a yappy, invasive Terrier. Apparently, there was a cat at some point as well, but it wisely ran off when they stopped for gas in Dryden. They were National Lampoon’s Cousin Eddie & family in the flesh. Our politesse and pervasive Canadian deference only encouraged them. We couldn’t be certain of when they would leave, just as we hadn’t known they were coming in the first place.
They were on their way out east from Grande Prairie, AB – en route to check out their latest investment: A plot of land they had purchased (sight unseen) in PEI. “She’s gonna be a beaut!” thundered Vera, her mind exploding with possibilities. Grande Prairie was cold and wintery all the time and PEI would surely be warmer. They could buy a piece of land and subdivide it, and haul a trailer onto the lot, and build a garage and a storage shed on the side. Live there until they were done, then sell it and drag a new trailer onto the next lot and do the same thing, until the end of time.
Vera had the grizzled look of a woman who had been released from prison only to spend the remainder of her life sucking back Export-A green and hacking out the window of an 18-wheeler. Larry was the money-maker for the family. He would paw at his oily beard, mute, while Vera chattered on interminably. Shane had the sleazy entitlement of a small-town teenaged hockey star. He gave me a long lecherous look and clicked his teeth approvingly. I shuddered. Wasn’t he related to me somehow?
“You know what? That goddamn roof is leakin’,” said Vera, motioning to the RV. “Larry can’t seem to figure it out, can ya, Larry? Sonofabitch. Ah well, hopefully it isn’t pissin’ rain tonight… hey Mary-Jo, you wouldn’t mind if we used your bathroom, wouldja?”
She may as well have handed over the title and deed to the house. Their occupation was swift – within hours they were ferreting away tools for maintenance projects, BBQ-ing ribs, and having long, fragrant baths.
“We’re out of cereal!” Larry announced the next morning, to no one in particular. He was stretched out on the living room sofa, slurping back Cheerios in his underwear.
“Git, you little shits!” Vera clucked at her dogs, who were merrily wolfing down our dog’s breakfast. “Mornin’ honey!” she sang. She usually called me honey; a stark contrast to her usual stream of epithets.
A day stretched into a week. We responded by working late and trying to be home as little as possible. As a teenager living on the outskirts of a small town with nothing to do, this would prove increasingly difficult. “When are they LEAVING?” I hissed. Mom, always the optimist, said; “well they can’t stay forever. They have to go check out that land in PEI.”
Ah yes. The promised land. A little slice of heaven on earth that would swallow up all our sorrows. When the grimy caravan finally pulled away, we heaved a collective sigh of relief.
It would be short lived.
“Goddamn piece of shit, that’s what that was!” Vera spat.
Once again, she was on our doorstep with her dejected troupe behind her.
“Bastards sold us a lemon.”
Apparently there was no access road to the mysterious PEI property, and so they resorted to skulking across the adjacent plot, tearing up the yard in the process. That did not go over so well with the new neighbors. It also didn’t help that the land was virtually uninhabitable. “It was a goddamn swamp!” Heavy with disappointment, the prospect of returning to Grande Prairie without a last visit with her “only livin’ relations” would be too much to bear.
“We can now at least relax and have a proper visit,” Vera said, pushing her way into the house. “We’re in no rush…”
Stay tuned for Part 2. Names changed where possible to protect the innocent.