June 3, 2019
I took the two steps up to my Grandma Marcel’s front porch and knocked on the door twice.
Two weeks prior, I had graduated from Penn State with a history degree and no clue what to do next.
One week prior, I was at my Grandma Lucille’s funeral in Marshall, Minnesota—where both my parents grew up and where Grandma Marcel still lived.
Nobody was quite sure how Grandma Lucille had died, but I heard rumors about an overdose on the day of her funeral. The obituary had explicitly stated that there was no foul play. Strange thing to write in an obituary, I thought.
Grandma Marcel had told me, “She just had an old heart, honey. Don’t listen to the small town gossip.” Then she said, “Lewis, you should move here to Marshall.”
My plan was to move back in with my parents and try to start a venture-capital-backed tech company with my smart friends from college. I tried to tell Grandma Marcel this, but she just said, “Lewis, you don’t know how to do that.”
I grinned at her honesty and slowly nodded in sheepish agreement. “What would I do in Marshall?” I asked.
“Work as an archivist in the church, for pastor Ron.” She said this without blinking, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.
“I’ve almost never been to church, Grandma. And I don’t really know how to be an archivist. I only took one class on that in college.”
“That’s one more than anybody else in Marshall has taken,” she said, winking. “A little church will be good for my son’s boy.”
Grandma Marcel was a difficult person to disagree with. She possessed a strange confidence that was hard to resist. I had actually only interacted with Grandma Marcel five times in my life, but she spoke to me as if she knew exactly who I was. My parents raised me in Ocean City, Maryland, far away from Marshall, Minnesota and the life they were raised in. I grew up visiting my grandmas only once every few years. This seemed strange to me as a child. Some of my friends were practically raised by their grandmas. I barely knew mine. When I was 7, I asked my mom, Gerry, why we lived so far away from Grandma Lucy and Grandma Marcel. She told me, “Your grandmas get tired when we visit. We need to let them rest.” That answer appeased me when I was 7 but it often befuddled me as I grew older. My dad, Jerry, often joked that Grandma Marcel hated the ocean and Grandma Lucille didn’t know that cities outside of Minnesota existed.
While in college, I suspected that there must have been some serious family trauma that was keeping my parents (and me) away from their families back in the Midwest.
My curiosity concerning my extended family heightened when I got the news of my Grandma Lucille’s death. It was even more alarming when I heard my mother debate whether or not she wanted to attend her own mother’s funeral. I half believe that she wouldn’t have gone if I hadn’t pressed the issue. I had just finished my history degree and knew more than I wanted to about the family history of numerous conquerors and royal families. Yet, I knew almost nothing about my own family.
“I’ll think about moving here,” I told Grandma Marcel, surprising myself but not her with this answer.
“Of course you’ll think about it,” she said. “I’ve heard whispers that you might.”
“Whispers? From who?”
“Don’t you worry about who, Lewis. You know I’m connected.”
I didn’t know who she was talking about, but I knew Grandma Marcel was a very spiritual person. Maybe this was some voodoo holy ghost shit she believed in.
Now, I was standing on my Grandma’s porch wondering if it would be rude to knock again. Was she not home or just slow to answer?
I started dialing her landline when she opened the door.
“Already on your phone and you haven’t even greeted me,” Grandma Marcel joked. “Shanda shanda shanda, let’s get you some dinner.”
I ignored her strange yammering and gave her a hug. “I can’t believe I’m here Grandma Marcel. You caught me at the perfect time—no serious plans and six months to burn before student loan payments kick in.”
“There’s a season for everything.” She chuckled and tried to take one of my duffle bags, pulling it inside.
“I got that Grandma. What’re you doing trying to lift my bags?”
“I’m stronger than your skinny ass, little Lou.”
We hadn’t been together more than a minute and Grandma Marcel was already busting my balls. Why were my parents so adamant about keeping this lady out of their lives?
“How was your flight, Lewis? Would you like a baloney sandwich? Please make yourself comfortable on the couch.” Grandma Marcel’s living room had four couches. One on each side.
“I’d love a baloney sandwich Grandma,” I answered.
“I’d love one too,” she said. “I’d love two. Do you want two?”
“I’ve never said no to a second sandwich.”
“You look like you’ve said no to all sorts of sandwiches. How did you get so skinny in college? I remembered a little pudge on you when you were in high school.”
“That was a while ago Grandma, maybe 10th grade.” I picked the couch on the south side of the room, closest to the porch. Grandma Marcel scuttled into the kitchen to make the sandwiches. I surveyed the room and counted 27 crucifixes in different forms. I didn’t remember seeing these in the house when I was a kid. There were paintings of the cross, wooden crosses, stone carvings—even a digital screen with rotating versions of the scene on Golgotha.
“What’s with all the crosses, Grandma?”
“What do you mean Lew? It’s Jesus dying for our sins.”
“Right. But why so many?”
“It’s a little secret of mine Lew, but I think you’ll figure it out soon.” Grandma Marcel brought me my sandwiches, complete with tomato, mayo, mustard, and pickles. Not the typical food your Grandma makes for you, but my Grandma was not exactly typical.
“I have a proposition for you,” she said, sitting down on the couch to my left. Nine of the more gruesome crucifixes hung over her head. So this was the real reason she wanted me to spend the summer in Marshall. She had something up her sleeve.
“I want you to help me record my life story and the story of this family.”
“You want me to help you write your memoir, Grandma? That might take more than a summer.”
“No, no Lew, nothing that complicated. I have a little different idea. I want to do an oral history of sorts. I need you to set up the audio equipment and put it all online.”
“You want to put your life story on the internet? Are you sure that’s a good idea?”
“The rest of my old lady friends are still perfecting their scrapbooks. Nobody is ever going to look at those old photos, Lew.”
“Well, you’re certainly thinking forward. I’m not exactly an audio engineer, Grandma. Are you sure there isn’t someone else who can help you with this? Someone from the church?”
“I listened to that little podcast you did with your college buddies. That’s good enough quality for me. And I don’t want to tell my story to someone from church. They’ve known me too long. They’re characters in the story. You Lewis. You’re family and you don’t have a clue about who I am, or even much of a clue about your family. You’re the perfect person to tell the story to.”
June 4, 2019
The next day when I woke up it took a few seconds to remember where I was. I was in the annex to Pastor Ronnie’s church, fifty yards away from the sanctuary. The annex was a one-bedroom flat that used to serve as the parish before pastor Ronnie saved enough money to buy himself his own house down the block.
Staying in the annex was a part of my compensation for serving as the summer intern archivist.
Better than moving back in with my parents I thought as I brushed my teeth and got ready for my first day on the job.
I had met pastor Ronnie at Grandma Lucille’s funeral. We both went for the last piece of potluck lasagna before he graciously let me take it. Self sacrifice is an important qualification for the ministry I suppose.
Now he was showing me to my desk in the church’s library.
“Nobody has organized these computers in ages. We lost our secretary four years ago and there hasn’t been the budget to hire a new one,” he said. Pastor Ronnie’s aged frame still stood a couple inches over six feet tall. He turned on the computer at my desk with a wiry finger and pointed to a heap of external hard drives with the same finger. “I’ve put all my files on those—sermon transcripts, notes, photos from summer activities and Bible Camp.”
“Is there a certain way you want me to organize everything?” I asked.
“Whatever way feels best to you. You can go back and rearrange any existing structure. I’m not much for looking in the past.”
“I’ll go through everything today and give you an idea of how I think we should organize it tomorrow morning.”
“No need to rush Lewis. Things move pretty slow here. I just want to give things a little order before I pass on.”
Pastor Ronnie was 83. That’s what Grandma Marcel had told me. I didn’t know what he meant by pass on. Did he have a diagnosis or was this just general preparation? I didn’t think I knew him well enough yet to ask.
“My grandma mentioned something about a sound guy at the church that I should meet. She said we could borrow some audio equipment for a project she’s working on.”
“That’s Dave. He’ll be here tomorrow. I’ve already talked to him about the equipment. He’ll show you everything he’s set aside for you to use.”
“Sounds like a plan Pastor Ronnie. Thank you very much and thanks for the job.”
“Well, we’ll see if you like it.” He ducked out of the library and left me to figure out my job description.
Grandma Marcel should’ve had a job in PR. She sold a secretary’s file management duties to me as an archivist internship.
I clicked through a couple folders until I found one named photoscans_1957. In it were 14 .jpeg files, all of Grandma Marcel and Pastor Ronnie together.
At the beach.
Enjoying a picnic in the park.
At the movies.
Strange. These weren’t sermon notes. Was this Pastor Ronnie’s personal computer? Why did these photos look like Grandma Marcel and Pastor Ronnie used to date?
This life story project was going to be more interesting than I had thought.
I don’t usually go to dive bars, but there aren’t bars that aren’t dive bars in Marshall, Minnesota.
Duane’s Bar was a four block walk from the church. I walked in as they were starting the first round of Tuesday night bingo.
I saw the NBA playoffs on the screen at the bar and sat down. I ordered the only craft beer they had on tap. The guy next to me called to the bartender, “Change it to the Twins, I can’t stand all the showboating in basketball.”
I love basketball and hate baseball, but I figured, as a newcomer, my vote wouldn’t count. I ordered a mushroom and Swiss burger from the menu.
The guy next to me told me his uncle had played for the Twins in the 60s. I feigned interest and had a twenty minute conversation with him about it before my burger came. I don’t enjoy it, but I’m not bad at small town banter. I grew up talking to vacationers in Ocean City who always wanted to know if the locals had tips on where to eat.
As I bit into my burger, the guy next to me (who’s name I now knew was Floyd), asked me what I was doing in town. I was glad to see that his conversational skills went beyond the Twins. I told him about my Grandma Marcel and the church.
“Oh, so you’re a Davis boy?” Floyd’s eyebrows shot up.
“Yeah, my dad is Jerry,” I said, unsure what conclusions Floyd was coming to. It’s easy to talk to small town folk, more difficult to read their judgments, especially in the Minnesota Nice Midwest.
“You know about some of that ruckus from years back, then?” Floyd had a concerned tone in his voice.
“Um, no,” I responded. “Something I should ask my Grandma about?”
Floyd was starting to nod when somebody stumbled through the front door, tripping and almost falling over.
“The Davis boy is here,” said a voice from the other side of the room. I couldn’t see who said it.
The drunk looked up. A slurred “Where is he?” was all that came out of their boozy mouth.
“You better head out,” said Floyd, shuffling me from my seat to the back door.
As I reached for the door handle, the drunk almost reached me. “You shouldn’t have come here,” yelled the drunk as I slipped out the door. My eyes adjusted to the light and I started to jog back to the church. The bar had been dark and I didn’t get a good look at the drunk. What had I gotten myself into?
June 5, 2019
“Your aunts were murderers, Lewis.” These were the first words from Grandmother Marcel’s mouth after I hit record.
I turned silent, not sure if this was a joke. My grandmother’s face gave no signal of jest.
A panic swirled through my gut and I wondered if this was going to turn out badly. Was my grandmother crazy? Very possible. Was she telling me the truth? Even more unnerving if so. Why me? Did I want to be the vehicle for her tell-all narrative? This wasn’t how I envisioned reconnecting with my roots would go.
“You look concerned, Lewis. Don’t worry. The murders happened years ago. Your father was a teenager. Your aunts were in college.”
I didn’t know how this was supposed to console me.
“I’ll tell you how it happened Lewis. I think it’ll make you feel better.”
“Okay…” I murmured.
“Your father was a junior in high school. The girls were back in town during Spring break. They were freshmen in college.”
“Both of them?”
“They were twins Lewis. Didn’t your father tell you anything?”
“Obviously not.” I gulped, then coughed. My mouth was dry. “I’m going to grab a glass of water,” I said.
As soon as I was back with my water, Grandma Marcel continued.
“Back then, college kids would still go to high school dances when they came back to town. Your aunts, Gina and Tina, they were at the dance. Your father was having trouble with a bully…yes, he still had bully troubles as an upperclassman. Anyways, Jerry was outside behind the gym and this bully, Jeremiah Goddard, was giving him trouble. Roughed him up real good. Jerry got knocked out, unconscious. Your aunts happened to be on the gym roof—they always snuck up there to smoke cigarettes—and saw the whole thing. As soon as Jerry got knocked out…well your aunts, they dropped bricks on Jeremiah’s head. He was dead on the scene. Your aunts scrambled down, grabbed Jerry, and snuck back to the house. No witnesses.”
Still stunned, I eked out a question: “Was there an investigation?”
“Yes there was, but the girls didn’t get in trouble. Jerry didn’t either. He didn’t even know what happened. The girls told me everything, but we didn’t let Jerry know. He was pretty confused, but he was a naive kid and didn’t put two and two together.”
“How did they not get in trouble? There must’ve been people who saw Gina and Tina go up on the roof or students who saw Jeremiah and my dad go out back.”
“We had to make a few bribes.”
“Grandma, I don’t think we should be recording this. I’m going to turn it off.”
“You’ll do no such thing. Your aunts died two years later in a “mysterious” car crash and I’ve never believed it wasn’t foul play. This story is going to prove a motive.”
“You’re going to have to excuse me Grandma, but this is all a little much for me right now. I, I uh…didn’t even know my aunts were dead. Dad told me they lived in Oregon.”
“You’ve been lied to your whole life Lewis. I’m telling you the truth. You’re helping me tell the truth before I die. The truth will set you free.”
“I need some air Grandma.”
I stopped the recording and walked out the door and back to the church.
When I got back to the church, I met Pastor Ronnie outside the lobby doors.
He was smoking a cigarette.
I didn’t think pastors smoked, but what did I know. I didn’t go to church.
“Hallow der Lew, you hab a good visit with yur granny?”
Why was Pastor Ronnie’s speech so slurred? Had he had a mild afternoon stroke? I came closer and smelled the bourbon on his breath. He was dead drunk.
“We had a nice visit, yeah it was good,” I lied.
“Gud gud, I’m glad yur here to keep er compny.”
“Hey Pastor Ronnie, do you need any help? A glass of water maybe?”
“I just need to piss, that’s all.”
Pastor Ronnie took a couple steps around the corner of the lobby entrance and took out his unit to relieve himself. I saw more than I had bargained for (but decent size, nothing to be ashamed of for sure).
“Ahh, that feels better. The whiskey makes you crazy. The beer makes you piss.”
“True enough,” I replied, not sure what to do next. “Do you want me to walk you home, Pastor Ronnie?”
“No no, that wonbenecessry. I know the way. Bsides, there’s still a quarter bottle left. C’mon inside and finish it with me.”
It probably wasn’t the responsible thing to do, but I followed Pastor Ronnie into the sanctuary to polish off the remaining liquid inside the off-brand 1.75. Honestly, I needed a drink after hearing what Grandma Marcel told me.
So, Pastor Ronnie was a drunk. I decided this summer was going to be much more interesting than I had anticipated.
After we finished the bottle, Pastor Ronnie was in no shape to walk home.
“Ders a cot in my office in the room oer der,” he said, pointing.
I guided him from the sanctuary to his office. As I put a blanket over him, I noticed there were tears in his eyes. “Pls don’t tell your Grandma abow thiz,” he whimpered.
“No worries Pastor Ronnie, I’m not going to tattle. I’m going to bring you a glass of water from the kitchen and set it next to the cot, okay?
“Okay okay, thanku Lew.” Pastor Ronnie burped and turned to his side. He started snoring almost immediately.
By this point, I was feeling pretty drunk myself. I checked my phone. It was only 11:30. Time to find another dive bar. Maybe one with a younger crowd. I did a quick search on my phone for an appropriate bar. It seemed like the only reviews were written by the bar owners themselves. All 5 stars.
Fuck it, I’ll just wander till I find anything that isn’t the dive bar I got chased out of yesterday I thought.
Half a mile later I walked into a bar with a two-for-one sign out front. Thankfully, the bar was full enough and I didn’t have to suffer too many stares from the locals. The crowd seemed to be a mix of college kids on summer break and young-ish townies. I ordered the two-for-one whiskey coke and sat at the bar.
“You should come back tomorrow,” said the bartender. She was much cuter than I was expecting a bartender to be in Marshall, Minnesota.
“Why’s that?” I asked.
“We have a DJ tomorrow. People will actually be dancing.”
“I don’t like to go out two nights in a row.”
“Sure sure…but you’re out on a Wednesday.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I don’t know. You tell me.”
“I got drunk with a pastor tonight and figured I’d keep the buzz going.”
“I can’t say. I told him I wouldn’t tattle. I’m new to town, I can’t be adding to the gossip already.”
She just smiled and moved on to help the next customer. I started on the second whiskey coke. Gosh, I was going to be hungover tomorrow. I reassured myself with the fact that Pastor Ronnie wasn’t going to notice if I slept in. Things did move slower here. That was okay with me. Maybe Grandma Marcel would move slower with her family divulgences too. One could hope. I wasn’t ready for all this heavy heavy stuff.
I threw back my drink and headed for the door, looking over my shoulder as I left and catching the eye of the cute bartender.
June 6, 2019
“Maybe something a little lighter today, eh? I pleaded to Grandma Marcel with my eyes. I had called earlier, asking to skip the day’s recording session. My request fell short.
“Lighter? What do you mean?” Grandma Marcel sat straight and still. I felt that she towered over me. She was only five-foot-two, but her presence dominated mine. I sat in her living room, on her turf. I didn’t know her. She was to reveal her life to me. She knew exactly what she was going to say. She would dole it out. I would play the unsuspecting grandson. The dutiful audio scribe.
“You know, maybe um…maybe no stories involving family deaths today. Or any deaths at all would be nice.I still haven’t processed what you told me yesterday.”
“Oh that. Hmm. It was grim. I suppose I’ve lived with it so long I didn’t consider how it would sound to fresh ears. Do you know the Lord, Lewis?”
Was she going to try to convert me? Was evangelism her version of lighter? I hesitated. I felt bullied. “I don’t go to church, Grandma Marcel…you know that, right?”
“I suppose you don’t. That’s okay. You don’t need to go to church to know the Lord.”
“Are we going to go through old stories today?” God, I hoped she would let me change the subject.
“Does the Lord make you uncomfortable, Lewis? Are you uncomfortable staying at the church?”
“No, no. I’m fine at the church. Pastor Ronnie is great. The room is great. I like it.”
“Will you go to church with me on Sunday? I would appreciate it quite a lot. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to go back.”
“Sure Grandma, I can do that. I can go with you.”
“Oh good. Good, good. I want you to meet my friends.” Grandma Marcel smiled. Like she won a small battle. Like heaven and earth shifted a little bit and one more grandson might be saved.
“I’d like to meet your friends. That’ll be nice.”
“Okay, what old stories do you want to hear today?”
“I’d love to hear stories about Dad. He doesn’t talk about his childhood much.”
“No? Well, I’ve got plenty of stories about your dad, that little weasel.”
With the subject changed, I let out a breath and leaned back on the couch. Grandma Marce was exhausting. Each day she had a new objective with me. She was on offense. My defense was weak.
“Your father was a sweet young man. Still is, I think. Maybe a little sour around the edges now. Did he ever tell you about his thirteenth birthday party?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
“You would know if he told you. It was a Saturday afternoon. We had half the school over at the house. At least it felt like that. I was grilling hot dogs and brats, baking a cake, trying to keep everybody in line. Your father’s friends were troublemakers. Well, they were good kids. Not troublemakers. Pranksters really. And your father was bashful and unassuming. He was the victim of many a joke. Anyways, we were in the backyard. As he was blowing out the candles, he was attacked on both sides. This girl, Anika was her name, she leans over and kisses Jerry right on the lips. On the lips. She was a bold girl. Had a huge crush on your dad. Simultaneously, Jerry’s friend Gavin pulls down his shorts.”
“You’re kidding, gosh they were pranksters.”
“Not kidding. Jerry is standing there. The candles are out. He’s speechless. I’m pretty sure he had a crush on Anika too. Although he would never admit it to me. Everybody is laughing. And your father…Jerry would always run when he got anxious. And so he ran. He dropped the cake and was off. Not very far at first. He tripped on his shorts. His friends tried to hold him back, but he wrestled free and ran away. In his underwear. I had to stop the party. It took all afternoon and into the evening to find him. When we finally did, he was curled up behind a bush behind the bowling alley. The poor thing.”
“What did you say to him?”
“Honestly, at the time I thought the whole thing was funny. I told him he overreacted. He didn’t like that. He would bring that up again and again during his teen years. Every time we got in a fight he would remind me that I told him he overreacted.”
“Maybe it was traumatic for him. Everybody takes things a little differently.”
“I don’t think that counts as trauma. What happened to Jerry’s sisters, that’s real. He got a kiss from his crush.”
“Well, we should probably ask him before we post this recording anywhere. He might not want the story to be immortalized.”
“Psshh. It’s my story, Lewis. I’m telling it. Don’t ask Jerry. I’m sure he’s over it by now.”
I wasn’t sure he was over it. My dad was reserved and hard to reach. I bet there were dozens of stories like this that he wasn’t over. They were pushed down. And he ran away. That’s part of the reason why I didn’t know my family. My dad ran away to Ocean City.
June 9, 2019
I was not prepared for church. Not this church. In junior high, I had a friend who went to church. Presbyterian I think. Stuffy. Boring. Presbyterian. I didn’t think much of it when I visited. The people who went there didn’t seem to think much of it either.
Grandma Marcel’s church was not boring. I hadn’t bothered to consider the name of the church before my first Sunday. Holy Fire Spirit of God Anointed Revival Community Church. The long Pentecostal name made more and more sense the longer I stood through worship.
Men, women, and children were jabbering away in some unknown language.
“That’s tongues,” Grandma Marcel whispered in my ear before coming under the spell of this linguistic oddity herself.
The assistant pastor (this was the first I had heard of him) hollered into the mic. He made numerous proclamations. Past, present, and future. He covered all tenses.
“That’s prophecy,” Grandma Marcel said. “Another gift you should learn about.” I nodded like I knew what prophecy meant. I felt as if I should’ve paid more attention to my school friends who were into magic as kids. Maybe I would have a better idea of what was going on.
The assistant pastor kept going.
“Now he’s interpreting the different tongues amidst our congregation.” Again, Grandma Marcel with her timely explanation. At least she understood that I wasn’t comprehending anything that was going on.
The worship band was an actual band. No choir. Guitar, bass, keys, full drum set. Every song was pop-rock. They grew louder as the worship service continued.
“There are nine gifts, Lewis. Nine gifts of the Holy Spirit.” Grandma Marcel looked at me with an expression that assumed I would be impressed.
“Nine? Oh wow. So specific…is it okay to talk during the worship?” I half shouted to be heard even though Grandma Marcel stood inches away.
“Nobody can hear us!” she shouted, giddily. The energy of the service excited her. She was into it. Even dancing a little. As much as her old hips would allow.
I didn’t see Pastor Ronnie. I had assumed he’d be leading the service. Maybe he was hungover. I wondered if Grandma Marcel knew about his drinking. She must. They were good friends. If my suspicions about those photos on the hard drive were correct, they may have even dated a long time ago.
The assistant pastor switched his tone and started railing against sin and unholiness. He went on about “being set apart” and “taking a stand.”
“This is a call for holiness,” Grandma Marcel started whispering again. The worship band had changed tunes as well to make room for the assistant pastor’s roaring call to consecration.
How does someone listen to this holiness stuff when they know the pastor is a drunk? I didn’t have much of an opinion about religion. My parents didn’t engage in it or lambast it. It was a nonissue in our home. Some of my college friends hated religion. They lost their faith in high school and rebelled even more in college. They cited gross hypocrisy, and some even told stories of blatant fraud committed by church leadership.
I didn’t sense anything too sinister going on here. But, the more strict the sermon became, the more I couldn’t help but chuckle at the sanctimoniousness of it all. Did this fiery assistant pastor believe his congregants were really winning spiritual battles in an alternate realm? Did he really think that it was possible to remain blameless of all fault for weeks, months, years at a time? The more I listened, the more ridiculous the sermon became. As the pastor screamed against the evils of premarital sex, I looked around the room at the dozens of young people in the room. They sat straight faced, serious. No doubt trying to ignore all memories of the previous week’s trysts.
I looked back at Grandma Marcel. Her content smile convinced me that she truly loved it, the whole spectacle satisfied her. She looked over at me and winked, her eyes full of light and whimsy.
June 9, 2019
My mom called Sunday night. She sounded concerned. Gerry is not the overly protective type. She didn’t call often in college. I probably called her more. I could hear the strain in her voice. She asked about the job, the town, if I had forgotten anything at home. I felt like she was asking all the questions except the one she wanted. Have you found out yet that Grandma Marcel is batshitcrazy? This was the question I could hear between her sighs.
My parents didn’t want me to go to Marshall for the summer. When I left, it felt like I was ruining their plan. It was obvious they had tried to keep me away from Grandma Marcel. Now their adult son was running right into the trap.
I tried to get the conversation off me and asked about my mom’s business. She ran a local marketing shop. Websites, radio ads, flyers. Her team of four people did it all for the small beachside businesses of Ocean City, Maryland. She said work was steady. How was dad doing? Oh he was fine. Golfing more than ever. His deep appreciation for the art of delegation made his tax services office run all the smoother.
So no news from home. Given all the excitement from Grandma Marcel and Pastor Ronnie, my parents were sounding like complete bores. I think they wanted it that way.
June 10, 2019
“Did you date Pastor Ronnie?” It was late Monday afternoon. The third recording session with Grandma Marcel. I was trying to go on offense this time. I turned my laptop around and showed her the photos from the church computer. I had found even more that morning.
“We dated for one summer…everybody knows that. Well, nobody probably remembers, but it’s not a secret.”
I was relieved. This was no secret affair come to light.
“Oh good,” I exhaled.
“I just didn’t want this to be anything scandalous.”
Grandma Marcel burst out laughing. “Lew, Lew…ahh Lewis. You’re a sweet boy like your father. Very concerned. Those photos are nothing like that. I’m actually glad to see them. Fond memories. Pastor Ronnie and I had a nice summer and mutually discovered that we were just good friends. Lifelong friends in fact. We know that now.”
“I’m sorry Grandma…I didn’t mean to trap you.”
“No no, you’re fine Lew. No need to be sorry. I bet I would’ve had a question or two too if I’d have seen those old photos with no context.”
“How did you and Pastor Ronnie meet?”
At this, Grandma Marcel dove into a long story. Perfect. I didn’t want my voice to be too prominent on the recordings.
“I was sitting in the balcony of the packed church when I heard my name. There was no way he could have seen me and it was only my second time in attendance, so I don’t know how he knew my name. At least, at that time I wasn’t sure. Now I know.
Back then, Pastor Ronnie captivated everybody. His thick, black hair had every girl in the congregation swooning. He was young too, just a couple years older than me. I was 19.
His voice roared through the rafters, ‘Marcel, the Lord sees you up there. You can’t hide from his gaze in the balcony.’ The hushed syllables of my name echoed towards my ears as the congregation murmured amongst themselves. I was to receive a word.
‘His word is upon you tonight, come to the altar Marcel.’ He said this with such authority. I obeyed and started towards the stairs to receive my word. Janice, my coworker at the newspaper, caught my eye as I passed her in the aisle. I saw her jealousy, worn plainly on her face. She was one of the few people I knew who also attended these Wednesday night meetings.
When I got to the altar, I felt an electric rush through my body. The Spirit caught a hold of me and wouldn’t let go. Pastor Ronnie looked at me and I felt as if he saw every fiber of my heart, woven together and then broken apart, as his gaze pierced my soul. He laid his hand on my head and started to speak.
I don’t remember all of the words that he said. But one phrase has stayed with me to this day.
‘You’ve been marked with my holy commission.’
But, as he said them I knew they weren’t his words. They were The Word from God Almighty himself. That night, there was a thickness in the air. A permanence hung in the atmosphere, even as I walked back up to the balcony. A bliss I’ve rarely encountered again stuck to me. I’m sure I didn’t even notice the stare Janice must have given me as I staggered back to my seat.
‘I’m holy,’ was the only thing I said for the rest of the evening. I didn’t say this out of pride. I knew it in my gut. I was marked by a holy commission. I didn’t know yet what that meant, but it didn’t matter. A certain destiny had been set. And it was mine. I climbed into bed that night with a new peace. It settled me.
In the coming weeks, even my struggle with migraines left. All my anxieties fled away. For months afterward, I felt invincible. I’d been met by The Word of The Lord. My life took on a new purpose. A new meaning entered every task, every word that left my mouth. A holy commission was no small thing. I was marked. Called out. My life was worth something.”
I had never heard anything like this. I didn’t know what to say. So I said, “That’s a very unique way to meet a summer boyfriend. Is that when you felt you met the Lord too?”
“I had been a Christian all growing up, but yes. That’s when it really started to feel real for me. You can’t fake that type of experience. That whole summer shifted the direction of my life. Like I said, a holy commission.”
“How long after that first night did you start dating Pastor Ronnie?”
“I think about a week later. He asked me out on a date.”
“I’d love to hear that story.”
“We’ve argued how it went over and over. He has a very different version.”
“Maybe I’ll ask him about it.”
I could sense that Grandma Marcel didn’t want to get into anything more for the day. Although she had downplayed her dating Pastor Ronnie, she had also said the course of her whole life changed that summer. I needed to follow up with Pastor Ronnie. Maybe over a pint or two.
June 11, 2019
“We’re going to Mankato.” I hopped into the passenger side of Pastor Ronnie’s truck and put in the address of the brewery I had selected.
“No need for GPS, I know how to get to Mankato,” Pastor Ronnie grunted.
That morning, I had swung by Pastor Ronnie’s office to see if he wanted to venture out of town for some craft beer. Like any agreeable drinker, he said we could leave work at three and head out of town.
Mankato was a couple hours away. A convenient distance for a pastor with a penchant for drink.
“Does anybody in the congregation know that you drink?” I asked. The windows were down and the view was nothing but highway and corn fields.
I wasn’t sure if drinking was taboo or not.
“Is it a sin?” I was trying to catch on with the church lingo.
“Are you asking what I think or what the church’s stance on alcohol is?”
“Both, I guess.”
“Lewis, I don’t know what you think about this whole church bit. I know you’re not a churched kid.”
“I don’t really know yet…I’m just getting used to it. I’m learning how important it is to Grandma Marcel.”
“Right. Right, well, hmm…”
“You don’t have to…”
“No, it’s alright. Lewis, when you’re as old as I am, you have no illusions about vice. People have vices. Mine, fortunately or unfortunately, is alcohol. Am I frustrated with it? Not anymore. Does the church approve? No. Do I care…?”
“Are the church members, are they allowed to drink at all?”
“Allowed? There’s no surveillance. I’m certainly not spying on them. But no, they’re not really supposed to be drinking according to the rhetoric, according to what we tell them on Sunday morning.”
I was surprised at Pastor Ronnie’s honesty. Encouraged by it, I pushed further.
“Are you a Christian?” I asked. Pastor Ronnie paused and looked the other way, towards the corn field to his left. He didn’t say anything and I didn’t press any further.
I decided to wait to ask him about dating Grandma Marcel till we had a few drinks. When we got to the brewery, Pastor Ronnie told me that if we drank too much we could sleep in the truck or grab a motel room. I hadn’t planned on getting tanked. It was Tuesday anyhow. But, I figured Pastor Ronnie had been an alcoholic long enough to plan ahead. This was him planning ahead. Somehow, his comfortability with his own weakness encouraged me. I couldn’t tell yet what I thought about the church. Grandma Marcel seemed to operate on a mystic level. Pastor Ronnie was surprisingly cynical. From what I could tell, the assistant pastor was probably a total hypocrite. It all seemed fun to me. Now, only if I could get Pastor Ronnie to tell me more about Grandma Marcel. Maybe he could shed some light on the crazy stories she was telling me.
Pastor Ronnie beat me to the punch. “You find out yet that I dated your Grandma?”
I was mid sip. My eyes got big. “Uh, yeah…actually I saw some photos at the church and asked her about it.”
“Well, we can’t blame you for being a snoop. It’s sort of your job right now.” Pastor Ronnie signaled to the bartender for another pour.
“She said it was just for a summer.”
“And then she cut it off…started dating your Grandpa later that fall. Did you know your Grandpa?”
I didn’t know my Grandpa. As little as I knew Grandma Marcel, I knew even less about Grandpa Oscar.
“Your Grandpa was a good man. Died too young, that’s for sure.”
Basically all I knew was that he died too young.
“What did he do for a living?” I asked.
“Newspaperman. He was the editor. Sharp guy.”
I shifted in my seat, hoping for a distraction. Where was I supposed to take the conversation from here? I looked at the beer list again.
“What did your Grandma tell you about me?”
Pastor Ronnie didn’t look uncomfortable in the least.
“She said it was a fun summer, but that you guys ended up just being friends.”
“Ahh yep. Good friends. Your Grandma was a good friend. Still is. Still is…”
“I’m not going to lie, Pastor Ronnie…this conversation is a little awkward for me.”
“Oh I’m sorry Lew. We don’t have to talk about this stuff. But I mean, you did look like you wanted to talk…you dragged me all the way out here to Mankato for a drink.”
“Well, I am curious.”
“It seems like maybe you would’ve dated Grandma Marcel longer.”
“I think so.”
“She said you guys have different versions of how things went.”
“Your Grandma is a very stubborn and devoted person. She was probably wise to not waste her commitment on me.” Pastor Ronnie’s face darkened. His words held a finality to them. I didn’t push further. I was having second thoughts on the whole outing.
Catching himself, Pastor Ronnie brightened again. “Lewis, I don’t think we should drive back tonight. You order more drinks. I’m going to call the motel.”
We closed down the brewery. And then the dive bar two blocks down. Pastor Ronnie opened a 750 of gin when we stumbled into the hotel room. I helped him drink away his still very present sorrows. It was all very strange.
June 12, 2019
The next day while I was stirring my macaroni and cheese supper, my dad texted me.
Dad: How you holding up bud?
Why is he acting like I’m sick?
Me: Good! Talked to mom the other day
Dad: I’m sorry for whatever your Grandma is putting you up to
Me: She’s great, wish I would’ve spent more time with her in the past actually
Dad: I’m sorry you didn’t get to see her more when you were young
Me: that’s okay I guess…which thing are you actually sorry about? About me seeing her now or not seeing her before???
That was probably too bold a question. Grandma Marcel’s bluntness must be influencing me.
Dad: Both I guess
He’s covering all his bases. Classic dad. Apologizing for everything.
Me: Business going alright?
Dad: Fine, the usual you know
Crap, my aunts. Why haven’t I thought about asking him about this till now?
Me: Can I call you quick?
Dad: Sure, I’ve got ten minutes before your mom and I are going for supper
I pressed the call button, then started shaking a little. How was I going to ask this?
“Hey dad, I thought it’d be easier to call. I won’t be long.”
“No problem bud. You’re still staying at the church, right? How’s that going?”
“All good, all good. Pastor Ron is great. We’ve actually hit it off pretty well. The work is easy enough too.”
“I was suspecting the work would be the least of your challenges there.”
“Ha yeah, about that…Grandma Marcel has quite the stories.”
“Oh boy, that she does. She spilling the family beans to you?”
“We’re actually recording it. Sort of an audio memoir I guess.”
“Really? Interesting. Doesn’t exactly sound like a good idea to me…”
“I tried to tell her that.”
“She doesn’t listen.”
“I’ve figured that much out.”
“Anything else you figure out?”
He’s fishing, he knows I know something.
“Actually…I don’t know, I know this call has to be quick.”
“Go on Lew. It’s only your mom who we’ll be holding up.”
“My aunts…I didn’t know.”
The line was silent for at least 30 seconds. Should I have waited to bring this up in person? Finally, he spoke again.
“Lew…I figured that would come out. I’m sorry. Listen. There’s a lot of things from my childhood that uh…hmm. You’re right, this call isn’t going to be long enough to hash all that out.”
“I thought you said…”
“Hey, your mom is calling me. I’m sorry Lew. I’ll text you with a time we can talk about this later.”
“Be sure to text me.”
I had no doubt that he would put this off until I brought it up again.
June 12, 2019
After I finished my macaroni and cheese, I looked in the cupboard and remembered that I needed to go grocery shopping.
In aisle four, I noticed the cute bartender picking out some breakfast cereal. I wasn’t in the mood to chat, so I scurried over to the next aisle.
I checked out. When I left the store she was waiting for me in the parking lot.
“What’s your name?” she asked.
“Lewis, hey how’re you?!?!” I asked a little too excitedly.
“Not too bad. I’m Emily. Are you doing anything tonight?”
“Nah, just grabbing a few things. What’s up?”
“You drive here?”
“On my bike.”
“You’re going to bring all those groceries home on a bike?”
“Planning on it.”
“Want a ride?”
“Oh I don’t want to put you out.”
“Not at all, hop in.” She grabbed a couple bags from my hand and told me to put my bike in the back of her truck.
Was it this easy to meet cute girls in a small town? I never had any luck like this in college.
When we got to the church, she said, “Ha, now I know what pastor you got drunk with. Not surprised.”
“No?” I had her pull around back towards the annex.
“There was a period of time when Pastor Ron used to come by after hours on weekdays. He was friends with the previous owner.”
“Oh wow, do you know all the town’s secrets?”
“Only half of them,” she laughed.
I started to open the passenger door and thank her for the ride when she asked, “You want to go out to the lake?”
“I’d love to go sometime. Sounds fun.”
“No, right now. I’m meeting up with some of my friends out there. Just a little bonfire.”
Gosh, could this get any better?
“Uh yeah totally. Lemme put my groceries inside real quick.”
The lake was a few minutes outside of town. There were already six people out there. Four girls and two guys. The fire was going and drinks were being passed around. It felt good to be around some young people again. Emily asked if I wanted a s’more. Of course I did.
Anything Emily. Anything for you. Yes to all your ideas. Amen. This is my type of prayer.
Everybody was nice. Emily introduced me. I told them that I met Emily at the bar after getting drunk with a pastor (totally failing at keeping Pastor Ronnie’s secret). They laughed.
We played a few drinking games and the chill bonfire started to get rowdy.
“Shots,” somebody yelled.
We took the shots.
“You’ve got to take three pulls,” somebody shouted at me. I had just failed at some dumb drinking game.
On my third pull I heard Emily yell, “Skinny dipping time!” The others laughed and protested. But they also started taking off their clothes. Emily was the leader. And her shirt was off, then her pants.
Emily caught me watching. I was still fully clothed. “Hurry up Lewis. You’re no fun. Take em off!”
Soon enough, every stitch was off. Everybody was naked and we were sprinting to the lake. I hadn’t noticed there was a beach before. My feet hit the sand, then the cold cold water. I was drunk and the booze was inhibiting every ounce of self consciousness.
Then the games started. Red Rover (in the water?). Chicken Fight. King of the Hill. Was this a normal activity for these people? Rural life felt good. So did Emily. She was flirting. Accidentally splashing into me. Picking me for Chicken Fight. I couldn’t believe it. I must be dreaming.
Eventually, everybody got out of the water. I badly wanted to stay and make out with Emily, but she got out with the rest of them. It was back to the fire to put clothes on like nothing happened. I was glad it was dark enough to hide my excitement.
One of the guys started to grab his keys and head for his truck.
“No Johnny,” Emily said. “Nobody is driving tonight.” She pointed at two tents over by some trees. “Everybody’s staying safe.”
I hadn’t seen the tents before. I guess you have to be prepared when you live in a place that doesn’t have Uber. I slept in a tent with Emily and two other girls that night. As I fell asleep, all I could think was I love Marshall, Minnesota.
June 15, 2019
While fishing Saturday evening, I got a text from Emily: What’re you doing tonight?
I had texted her the morning before and was worried she wasn’t going to respond. Thank god. I thought she was never going to text me back.
My fishing spot was a lonely bridge, crossing the Redwood River. I didn’t know any good fishing spots and I hadn’t seen Pastor Ronnie around to ask.
As I started to text Emily back, I heard an engine rev and looked over my shoulder to see a fast approaching car. I had only a few seconds to respond. The driver came straight towards me. The bridge wasn’t too high. Ten feet maybe. I dove just in time as the vehicle crashed into the side of the bridge wall.
Thankfully, the water was deep enough to safely dive into. I came out of the water unharmed and watched the car screech angrily away.
I shivered. Not from the water. It was warm. A fearful tingle rode up and down my back. I think I just survived a murder attempt. My mind started to race. I reached for my phone to call Grandma Marcel. It was dead, obviously, from the water.
I walked back into town, looking over my shoulder every five seconds, hoping the car wouldn’t come back.
After getting no reply from Grandma Marcel’s landline, I headed to the church. Pastor Ronnie was nowhere in sight. Exhausted from nerves, I went to the annex. As I opened the door, I noticed a note stuck to the front.
hey friend, don’t fry your groceries
Disturbing as it was, I wasn’t in a mind to find out who had put it there. Hopefully a dumb neighborhood kid. I collapsed on my bed and fell asleep.
I squinted at the clock. Why was I so warm? Then I heard the alarm. And smoke crept into my nose. Coughing, I got out of bed and looked towards the kitchen. All flames. I grabbed my wallet and phone, opened a screenless window, and somersaulted to safety outside.
June 16, 2019
“Why do you think someone started the fire?” Grandma Marcel stared at Pastor Ronnie. The church service had ended an hour ago, but we were still standing in the foyer. Firefighters had put out the flames soon after I tumbled out of the window. The cops were suspicious of an insurance scam.
“I really can’t say,” said Pastor Ronnie, picking at his mustache and looking at the carpet.
“I don’t think the fire is unrelated to Lewis getting run off the bridge. Lewis, someone might be targeting you,” said Grandma Marcel.
Pastor Ronnie looked up from the floor.
“Anybody give you trouble lately, Lewis?” asked Grandma Marcel.
I took a sip of cold church coffee. The styrofoam cup bore my initials. “One of the first days I was here…there was a drunk at the bar down the street. I was eating dinner. The drunk charged towards me and said to get out or something. A guy helped me slip out the back door.”
Now Pastor Ronnie stared at Grandma Marcel. Grandma Marcel muttered a name, then said it aloud, “the Goddards.”
“Who is that?” I asked.
“I told you about Jeremiah,” replied Granda Marcel.
The kid my aunts killed. I winced at the image in my head.
Grandma Marcel continued, “Jeremiah was the oldest of the eight Goddard siblings.”
“Eight?” I asked, my disbelief evident.
“Yes eight. Jeremiah, Jordan, Jenny, Josephine, Johnny, Jackie, Eunice, and Emily.”
“Did you say Emily?”
“Yes, Emily and Eunice were from Mr. Goddard’s second marriage. They’re quite a bit younger.”
“I think I might’ve met her.”
“She give you trouble?”
“No, I saw her at the grocery store. She invited me to a bonfire the other night.”
“You should double check if this Emily is the Goddard Emily. There’s only so many people in Marshall willing to pull stunts like these. And most of them have the last name Goddard.” Grandma Marcel shifted her Sunday hat and leaned towards the door.
“There’s no way…” my voice trailed off as I considered it. My mind started racing again and a pang of fear hit my chest. When I caught my breath, Grandma Marcel had already left. Pastor Ronnie was still in the foyer with me, staring at the carpet.
June 20, 2019
My phone buzzed as I pulled up to the cemetery. A text from Emily read Excited for tonight, see you at 6. We had a date planned at the only Italian place in Marshall. I hadn’t asked about Emily’s last name yet, but I planned on bringing it up casually during dinner. Most likely Grandma Marcel would be wrong and I could continue with my summer fling.
Grandma Marcel pulled up next to me in the parking lot. Then Pastor Ronnie. We were there to visit Grandma Lucille’s grave. The loss of Grandma Lucille was still fresh for me, even though I didn’t know her very well. I felt that this summer would have been even more enlightening if she were still alive.
We walked to the tombstone and set the flowers down. Grandma Marcel and Pastor Ronnie each whispered prayers. I hung my head and took in a few deep breaths.
Pastor Ronnie indicated for us to follow him to a nearby shed. “There’s a special, antique Bible I keep hidden over here,” he said. Grandma Marcel was intrigued. I felt this to be an odd interruption to our paying of respects.
We approached the shed and Pastor Ronnie let us in first. He followed us in, flicked on the low light, and locked the door. As my eyes adjusted to the light, I noticed a figure in the back of the shed. It was Emily. She was pointing a pistol in our direction.
“Emily?!” I gasped.
“Don’t move,” she said.
Pastor Ronnie cackled and pulled his own gun out of his pants. “There’s two chairs there…Marcel, Lewis…take a seat.” We scampered over to the chairs. I wasn’t quite sure if I was dreaming or not.
Pastor Ronnie pulled a small book off of a shelf in the corner. “Marcel, is this what you’ve been looking for?”
“Her diary,” Grandma Marcel breathed out. She began to shake.
“The existence of this is why you poisoned her, isn’t it?” said Pastor Ronnie.
Grandma Marcel was silent.
Pastor Ronnie continued, “What on earth is in this little book that you would spend your whole life sneaking around for it? What could possibly be written in here that would make you kill off poor little old Lucille, the mother of your own daughter-in-law?”
I gulped. Grandma Marcel was sweating. We were sitting side by side and I could feel the dampness of her sleeve on my arm. Emily kept the gun pointed at us. I glanced at her and she met my gaze, a look of disdain written on her face. Why was she a part of this scheme? How the hell did I get involved in all of this. My parents were right. I should have stayed away from Marshall, Minnesota.
“Page forty-nine,” said Pastor Ronnie. He flipped to it and read, “June 30, 1957. Marcel told me a secret today. Her and Pastor Ronnie made love under a tree in a meadow south of town. She had mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, she said it was the most beautiful thing to ever happen to her. Marcel and Ronnie have been dating for two weeks and she is absolutely in love. She’s crazy about him and they have this chemistry that is almost on a spiritual level. But that’s the other thing…Marcel feels what they did is morally and spiritually wrong. She said she tried to explain her feelings to Pastor Ronnie but he didn’t feel that anything was out of place. I tried to comfort Marcel and tell her to follow her gut and only do what she was comfortable with. Marcel was very distraught and left our conversation in a hurry, saying she shouldn’t have brought any of this up.”
Grandma Marcel hung her head. I could feel the deep sobs wracking her body. I wanted to comfort her but was afraid to move with the gun still on me.
Pastor Ronnie flipped through the book and read on, “August 27, 1957. Marcel and Pastor Ronnie have broken up. I had lunch at the cafe with Marcel today. She was feeling dull but also relieved to not be “sinning against the Lord anymore” as she put it. I tried to cheer her up a little but her mood remained grim and dutiful. I think she should have given it more of a chance and not worried about the sex so much. I’m surprised I’m even writing this down but I don’t really believe sex before marriage is a sin. Gosh, if my mother ever reads this…”
Pastor Ronnie seemed to be enjoying himself. “Marcel, if only you would’ve had similar doubts to sweet Lucille…maybe things could have turned out different. This is the last bit of evidence of our so-called “sinning against the Lord” that summer. And I know you want nothing more than to destroy it…but I’m going to destroy you instead….you deserve it after all, for killing Lucille, for covering up the murder of Jeremiah Goddard.” Pastor Ronnie nodded at Emily. “I’ve employed our friend Emily here to do the honors. I think it’s right that she finds justice for her brother. You’ve long believed the Goddards are a plague on this city, but the real menace to this area is you, Marcel. And now I’ll be free to live out my last few years free of your presence. We’ve even got little Lew here as a bonus kill. God knows we need less of the Davis family on this earth. I’m looking forward to the peace and quiet.”
Grandma Marcel’s sobs had turned into tongues. “Shanda shanda shanda.” The shock and the shame and the tongues had put her into a trance. She wasn’t fighting back, had nothing to say in response to Pastor Ronnie’s rage.
Pastor Ronnie nodded at Emily and I instinctively jumped in front of Grandma Marcel. I landed on the ground, unwounded. Looking up, I felt Grandma Marcel’s blood start to drip on my forehead.
Emily stood over me. “That was me at the bar your second day here. I warned you to get out and you didn’t leave. Now you’re going to be collateral damage. Your whole family is going to rot in hell.”
I was expecting the shot that would end my life when Pastor Ronnie stepped over and kicked me in the back of the head. Then Emily started kicking me in the stomach. I moved my arms to protect my head and tripped Pastor Ronnie in the process. He tumbled over and fell into Emily. The gun went off and the bullet meant for my life tore through Pastor Ronnie’s body. He fell dead on top of Emily. I scrambled up, grabbed the diary on the floor and sprinted to find help.
September 20, 2019
I open up Google Maps and search for Marshall, Minnesota. I’m sitting at my desk in my mom’s marketing office back in Ocean City, Maryland. Mom gave me a part-time job working for her while I figure out my next step. I drag my mouse around and picture the events from the beginning of my summer as I click on various points around the city. I still haven’t fully processed everything that happened. Thankfully, mom and dad have started to share more about our extended family. They can’t hide the craziness anymore.
Emily is headed for prison. I haven’t gone on a date since the incident. Even though I know the odds are low, I’m suspicious that the next girl who befriends me will also secretly try to kill me and my family.
Grandma Marcel’s funeral had been a huge city affair. She was very popular and the church folk did her justice with their celebration of her life. I kept it together for most of it, but ended up breaking down in the church basement, half choking on a turkey and cheese bun. My parents consoled me the whole way home, but I think they are secretly glad that Grandma Marcel has passed on. We’re all glad that Pastor Ronnie is dead.
As I close out Google Maps, the sadness of the loss and trauma hits me again and I bend over in my chair and quietly groan. I’m the last one in the office for the day, so no one hears the strange words that leave my mouth. “Shanda shanda shanda, shanda shanda shanda.” I can’t tell you why I’m uttering this, but as it happens I feel a strange comfort that I can grieve Grandma Marcel’s death in her own special language.