Family was the most important thing when I was a little girl. Sometimes family went beyond blood relatives. Sometimes family included close friends or family of family. I knew when somebody outside of family counted as family because I got to call them by their first name. That’s the way it was with Rudy and Lucille.
Rudy was Aunt Lucille’s brother and he also married a girl named Lucille, which probably kind of confusing for Rudy because he had a two Lucilles trying to tell him which pants went with which shirt: one was a sister who he had to love and the other was a woman he chose to love. Rudy smiled and nodded a lot. I never saw him do anything but smile. Maybe he had one of those switches in his earlobe like I saw on The Outer Limits, where the guy pulled on his earlobe when he wanted to go deaf and not hear his nagging wife anymore. Rudy didn’t need a switch with his wife Lucille, only with his sister Aunt Lucille.
Aunt Lucille married Dad’s brother, my Uncle Merle. She was a tinsy bit grumpy and got fun out of telling all her sisters-in-law a bunch of stuff she hated about Uncle Merle. Mom said Aunt Lucille was super
good at pretending and she just did that for a laugh. Besides, Dad and all his brothers were so darned goofy, it was hard for the wives to keep up and sometimes they let their smiles sag a little just to give
their mouths a rest. I decided right then and there that when I grew up I was going to have wrinkles like Mom’s: big deep creases where all the smiles cracked her happiness wide open and left laugh-scars
around her eyes and lips and even across her forehead. Dad’s wrinkles were like that too, only he had more around his eyes.
Rudy and Lucille had a bunch of kids, even though they were in the non-catholic category. Mostly catholics had big families, ’cause God was blessing them so that his one-true church would get huger than huge. Non-catholics had another way of getting their churches big; that was by witnessing. Rudy and Lucille did that a lot; they loved their Baptist church. The part about knowing Jesus personally sounded like a pretty good idea. Still, I couldn’t get with the part about no dancing. My legs had to dance when good music came on. Sometimes they started dancing even when I was sitting down and reading a book, and Deanna was playing the radio in the kitchen. My leg would just start jumping, right there in the middle of Lad a Dog the sad part where Lad has to choose which master he’s gonna go with, the cranky guy who’s so good to him on the sly, or the nice boy who loves him to death right out in the open for all to see. It’s about as hard to be sad when my legs are dancing as it is when Uncle Merle and Dad and Uncle Glenn and Uncle Gerald are goofing around doing plain old silly stuff like pretending they have hemorrhoids at the County Fair.
One thing that was different as night and day about Rudy and Lucille from every other adult I knew was this: Rudy and Lucille were all smootching and lovey-dovey, like two teenagers. Most grown-ups I knew about kept that stuff for good-bye and hello. My Mom and Dad always cuddled up on the couch to watch The News and Johnny Carson, but other adults had their own private chair for TV and hardly ever even held hands. Not Rudy and Lucille. The whole world knew Rudy and Lucille were in love.
Some years Rudy and Lucille and their kids went camping with us. Rudy and Lucille waded into the lake together holding hands or floating one of those mattress-rafts between them. Lucille got on the raft, and Rudy pushed her around with his forehead up against hers, like she was the only person in the world. Then their lips touched and touched again, and Lucille giggled. Deanna said that was dee-sgusting and nobody should act like that in public, especially grown up married people, who had kids playing on the beach and might drown while they were moon-dogging each other and not paying attention to what was going on around them. I thought maybe all those sparks between Rudy and Lucille is what kept their faces looking like teenagers, ,’cause Rudy’s face was all smooth and pink and happy looking, even when he was just sitting there relaxing and reading the paper. I guessed love can do that for old people. Of course, Rudy and Lucille laughed a whole bunch, too, which made all that smoothness crack into happiness.
Well, all these years later, I got my wish: I have plenty of deep creases where happiness cracked my face wide open and left scars. My wrinkles look a lot like Mom’s. Here I am with her and Bonita, Marcia and Julie, drenched by a cloud-burst and shoved into a crowded bus in Rome. We’re soaked through, but our enthusiasm remains undampened.