Gloria Gompers' first husband died from a stroke on the third
day of their honeymoon. It was a terrible inconvenience for Gloria, having to
bring his body back from Hawaii to New York so her husband's parents could hold
a funeral. Had it been up to Gloria, cremation in Honolulu would have sufficed.
"I would have brought the ashes back in a nice urn," Gloria told
her mother. "But his parents wouldn't stand for it."
She said that Max's parents, Hyman and Maxine Stein, had a big
living room with mahogany woodwork and that she had found a lovely urn the
exact same color. It would have looked nice, she thought, in the middle of the
long mantel. She described the urn to the Steins by phone the day Max died. But
they didn't care if it was a good fit.
"It would mean Max would be with you forever," Gloria told Mrs.
Stein, who was crying and not impressed.
Gloria understood Mrs. Stein had had to have time to mourn but
decisions had to be made. Max was dead and getting colder by the minute.
Eventually, Mr. Stein got on the phone.
"Be nice now, Gloria," Hyman said, " and bring Max back to New
York. We'll take care of everything."
There were Jewish burial rites that had to be observed, Mr.
Stein explained. Gloria didn't know what to say. She knew a little about kosher
food but nothing about Jewish traditions. She had been trying to learn how to
say Rosh Hashanah. And her in-laws were dismayed when she asked at dinner one
evening if Yom Kippur was a fish. Max had worn his "beany," as Gloria called
it, only once--at their marriage ceremony under a tent in the Steins' big back
"It was more like a park than a yard," Gloria recalled.
And stepping on that glass after the ceremony really befuddled
"It was a very nice glass," she told her mother later. "Why
On the night of their engagement, Max had told Gloria she was a
"rural princess" and not to worry about what his parents said. They had never
met anyone like Gloria and she was as mysterious to them as they were to her.
"Give 'em a little time," Max said, "and they might come
Mr. and Mrs. Gompers hadn't attended their daughter's wedding.
They decided to remain at the family home in Sleeper, Missouri, rather than
take the Greyhound bus to New York. They told Gloria they couldn't find anyone
to milk the cows. And three old hens were still laying eggs.
It was just as well, Gloria thought. Her parents and the Steins
probably wouldn't have had much to talk about. Her parents liked beer in the
afternoon and sometimes into the evening. The Steins were fond of different
colors of wine at dinner but didn't drink at other times. Gloria had never seen
white wine before and she hadn't eaten much fish except for the sandwich they
sell at McDonald's. She liked to order that once in awhile back home.
Gloria finally gave up on the urn. She was able to get the
funeral home in Honolulu to ship Max to the Steins' mortuary in New York. The
Steins paid for everything. Gloria had to admit the funeral was impressive. She
had never seen anything like that in Sleeper.
Back home, the pastor and family members would gather at the
gravesite, say a few nice things about the deceased, and then the casket would
be lowered slowly into the ground. One time, however, the straps broke and the
casket dropped in a hurry. Everybody jumped and groaned, Gloria recalled, but
the lady was dead anyway.
Butch Clinton, a high school classmate of Gloria's, worked at
the cemetery. His job was to open the grave, stand in the background during the
ceremony, and cover the casket after the mourners were gone. Apparently Butch
was pretty good at his job because he had been doing it since graduation.
Actually, Butch was more than Gloria's classmate in high school.
She and Butch used to date, if you could call going on hayrides and to the
movies dates. Some girls would like that kind of thing but not Gloria. She had
been on enough hayrides with Butch to know he wasn't going to take her anywhere
in life. She had a far better future in mind for herself.
After Max had been dead two years, Gloria decided to leave New
York and go to Chicago. She had heard nice things about Chicago and she thought
she would like it there. This time she traveled by train, not by Greyhound.
Once she arrived, it took her a little time to settle in. She found a good bank
to manage the proceeds from Max's estate. And then she found a pleasant job
selling perfume in a nice store on Michigan Avenue, even though she didn't
really need to work. Max had provided for her very well in his Will. She never
knew he had so much money. She knew his parents lived high off the hog, so to
speak, but she didn't know Max had been that rich. It was a pleasant surprise.
A few months later, after work, she was walking down Michigan
Avenue and met Kevin O'Brien, a very nice man with bright red hair. It stood
straight up like a tall crew-cut, as they called that style back home. His
sister, a co-worker, introduced them.
After a short courtship, Gloria married for a second time. As it
turned out, however, her luck hadn't changed. Kevin died from a heart attack
one month shy of their first anniversary. It was a complete surprise. Kevin had
been a track star in college and still jogged two miles a day. She told her
mother how Kevin had died and Mrs. Gompers wanted to know why Kevin bothered to
run when he didn't have to.
"It wasn't like someone was chasing him," she said.
This time Gloria didn't have to make any immediate decisions
about the remains. Kevin had died at his desk in the office. The body was taken
directly to a funeral home at the behest of his company. She had to drive to
the mortuary, of course, and make an official identification of the body.
"He looked the same," Gloria told her mother. "Like he was
sleeping, except he wasn't snoring."
This time Gloria had to attend a funeral of a different sort but
it was no less lavish than the one held for Max. It was a big Catholic funeral
in a posh suburb of Chicago. Kevin's family chose to have a traditional Requiem
Mass. It was said in Latin, a language Gloria knew nothing about.
Back in Missouri, the only church in town was the First Baptist.
Anyone in Sleeper who went to church went to First Baptist. Everyone else was
figured to be a drunk or an atheist or simply not quite right. She had tried to
explain to Max and Kevin the difference between "not right" and "not quite
right" but neither one seemed to catch on.
"Mishugina is mishugina," Max had said, trying out his limited
Yiddish. Kevin just nodded and said, "You mean 'nuts' and 'half nuts.' I get
It was raining the day of Kevin's funeral and Gloria had to
borrow an umbrella at the cemetery. What's more, she thought she looked a
little out of place in her yellow dress and sun hat with the feather sticking
up in back. She couldn't understand a word of the priest's prayers prior to the
lowering of the casket.
The brunch afterward, however, more than made up for the bad
weather. Kevin's family had money, maybe more money than Max's family, and the
O'Briens pulled out all the stops at a very nice hotel. It was buffet style and
Gloria had never seen so much wonderful food. Everything from Eggs Benedict,
whatever they were, to Prime Rib, a fancy name for what folks back home in
Sleeper called roast beef.
Gloria, however, was most impressed by the hash browns. She told
her mother they "were better than Digby's," which was the diner in Sleeper.
Digby's was open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and sometimes as late as
midnight if Mr. Digby had been drinking. Everyone in Sleeper liked the food at
Digby's. Some people just stopped in for an afternoon snack. His pickled pigs'
feet were known for miles around. A couple of gelatinous feet and a cold beer
and you weren't hungry till supper.
After Kevin's funeral, Gloria didn't know what she should do
next. She was only four years out of high school and twice a widow. She'd have
to sell the nice house that Kevin had bought her if she wanted to leave
Chicago. Sitting on the patio and staring at the stars with a glass of iced tea
wasn't her idea of excitement but it beat hayrides in Sleeper. So when the
phone rang in the middle of the night and her mother said her father had passed
away, Gloria told her she'd come right home and help with the funeral. After
two dead husbands in less than three years, Gloria had learned quite a bit
When she got back home, the first thing she noticed was that the
town hadn't changed since her last visit. She had made it a practice to visit
Sleeper prior to each of her marriages. The visits gave her a chance to show
her parents and a few friends photos of her future husbands.
On this visit, however, her friends were baffled. They just
couldn't understand how one woman could have been widowed twice in such a short
period of time. And now Gloria was back again, but this time with no new
husband in mind and no photos. Would she leave again or settle down, they
wondered. It was even money as to what she would do.
Butch Clinton, though, was downright pleased to hear the news.
He had never married and he figured maybe it was time to get to know good ol'
Gloria again. He had quit his job at the cemetery after his parents were killed
in a highway accident. He inherited the family pig farm and it was a thriving
business. Butch understood pigs, having grown up on that farm, and he had the
moxie to run the place right.
"Pigs may stink," Butch told Gloria's mother, "but there's a lot
of money in them. All you have to do is fatten 'em up and take 'em to market."
Butch had stayed in touch with Mrs. Gompers ever since Gloria
had caught the Greyhound and left town. And it didn't take him long to run into
Gloria, since her mother had told him where he'd be able to find her. He
strolled into Digby's Diner after church one Sunday and walked right over to
the table where Gloria and her mother were finishing off eggs, bacon and hash
browns with side orders of biscuits and sausage gravy.
"Neither of my husbands ever had biscuits and gravy," Gloria was
telling her mother when Butch walked up. He was all gussied up in a new red
plaid shirt and neatly pressed bib overalls. He even wore a new John Deere cap,
and it looked mighty nice on him, Mrs. Gompers said right away.
Gloria didn't know what to say to Butch but her mother kept
complimenting him. Finally Mrs. Gompers asked him to sit down and have some
Since Butch was single, just like Gloria, Mrs. Gompers had a
right to hope for the best. If Gloria would marry Butch, she'd probably stay in
Sleeper. And Butch wouldn't be dying any time soon. He was one strong fellow.
Taking care of pigs seven days a week is no job for a weak man, especially when
sows had piglets. Butch needed a wife, Mrs. Gompers thought, but she didn't
know how Gloria would fit in with the pigs even if she caught a hankering for
The breakfast reunion went well, Butch thought, so he was happy
to hear that Gloria planned to stay in town for a while to help her mother
adjust to widowhood. Butch had made it a practice during Gloria's absence to
take Mrs. Gompers to dinner once a week and now Gloria could come along, too.
Mrs. Gompers did most of the talking whenever they went to
Digby's. Gloria didn't have to say much. In fact one night, after Butch had
taken them home, Gloria told her mother that it was too bad Butch was so young.
"The two of you seem to get along real good," Gloria told her,
underscoring the obvious.
It was then that Mrs. Gompers suggested that Butch would make a
fine husband. Gloria was dumbfounded and told her that there was more to life
than pigs and Butch. But as time went on, and the dinners continued, Gloria
began to see a side of Butch that she had never seen before. He was nice to her
mother and nice to her. And he wasn't any fancy pants like Max and Kevin. He
ate biscuits and gravy just like she and her mother did.
It took a full year before Gloria would let Butch take her to
the movie in town. They went out for a drink afterward. He ordered beer for
both of them. Gloria had never really taken to wine with Max, and Kevin's
whisky just about knocked her over. But she could handle beer real well. One
night Butch, after three beers and a couple of hard-boiled eggs, came right out
"What say you and me get married, Gloria? I make a good living.
I got hired help. You won't have to mess with no pigs, and we can even get some
lady to handle the laundry. My overalls stink somethin' terrible. Your mother
can live on the second floor so she won't be lonely. I'll take real good care
of both of you."
Gloria didn't say no and she didn't say yes. She told Butch
she'd think if over. She really didn't need him to take care of her with all
the money she had inherited from her two husbands' estates. She had never told
Butch about that money. Her mother knew she had a few bucks but had no idea of
the actual amount Gloria had in the bank. She just knew it was a big bank in a
pretty big city and that Gloria did all of her business by phone, usually when
Mrs. Gompers was taking her afternoon nap. The bank sent Gloria statements and
a banker would call to get her okay on any new investments.
He likes to move money around," Gloria told her mother,
to keep up with market. Mrs. Gompers didnt know what she
meant but agreed that made a lot of sense.
Three months later, urged on by her mother, Gloria surrendered.
She told Butch she would marry him. He bought her a nice ring, half the size of
her other wedding rings but bigger than any ring she had seen on any other
woman in Sleeper.
A month later, they had a beautiful wedding at the First Baptist
Church. Pastor Jones had baptized the two of them in eighth grade and now he
was marrying them. Gloria's mother sat proudly in the front row and bawled all
over her double corsage. Mrs. Gompers was happy she had helped to arrange the
marriage. Now maybe Gloria would stay in Sleeper. You can live better with your
own kind, Mrs. Gompers had told her a number of times.
Mrs. Gompers turned out to be right. Butch lived for another 30
years and Gloria gave him six children, three boys and three girls, all with
the right number of fingers and toes, although two were cross-eyed. She had
never been happier. But she still kept her "Max and Kevin money," as she called
it, in that bank in the city. She never did tell Butch or her mother about it.
She figured if Butch ever took to drinking too much or cheated on her, she'd
leave him and hop the Greyhound to Atlanta.
A magazine Butch had bought for her said that Atlanta was a very
nice city. After looking at the magazine, Mrs. Gompers had agreed that Atlanta
looked like a nice place but so was Sleeper. A couple of months later, she died
of a brain aneurysm. Gloria took care of the funeral since she had experience
in that area.
Now it was just Gloria and Butch at the home place, as Butch
called it. All the kids had grown up and moved off to big cities of their own
selection. Four of them had married and had children and the other two were
still prospecting. So Gloria decided to sit tight and keep an eye on Butch to
see what would happen. Since she had that money in the bank, she could stay in
Sleeper or live anywhere she liked.
If Butch died first, she would move to Atlanta. She didn't care
how old she was. She was very healthy and planned to keep it that way. She had
quit eating fatback years ago although Butch still wolfed it down with pinto
beans and cornbread. But she had to admit Butch and his pigs had provided a
nice living for her and the children. She never had to touch her savings.
Gloria certainly would miss Butch if he died, but if he did, she
wouldn't be surprised. His father had died young. His arteries were all clogged
up, according to the medical reports. He liked his fatback even thicker than
Butch. And he wouldn't say no to a nice hog jowl now and then.
Every Sunday at church, Gloria would thank God for Butch and his
pigs. She'd get him all cleaned up on Saturday night so they could sit in the
front row, which was informally reserved for folks who tithed. After services,
it was off to a nice table in the back of Digby's.
Even though Mr. Digby had died, his children were running the
diner and the biscuits and gravy were as good as ever. You wouldn't find
anything that good in New York or Chicago. But with Atlanta being in the Deep
South, there had to be pretty good biscuits and gravy down there. She figured
if the biscuits were fluffy, and if they put enough sausage in the gravy, it
might not be such a bad place to live. She'd keep that in mind just in case the
fatback caught up with Butch.