One of my earliest memories is of seeing the world from the tabletop. My eyes must have been even with the kitchen table back then. I remember the overflowing ashtray, the empty beer cans that didn't make it to the trash can, the ring made from the cans were crusted black because the more the adults talked and forgot to ash their cigarettes, the ashes would either fall on the table or little embers of it would fall into the wet beer rings.
Country music would play loudly, adults screamed at each other just to be heard. It was always the same crew. My grandma, her niece and nephew(who were older than her because she was the youngest of twelve children), and her twin brother, that was the core of the group. There were friends and other cousins that came and went. My grandpa, when he was around, usually sat outside in the shade of snakeberry tree or the shade of his squaw cooler which is a lean to built of tall posts and covered with pine boughs. That's where he drank his muscatel wine and sang old standards. Inside the house you were guaranteed either Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Loretta Lynn, and so on. Still the same music I listen to today.
I remember on one of these occasions, my grandma was hosting all day. I don't remember who was there but my grandpa wasn't. There was a lady there. She was bigger and light complected. I don't think she was white, but I think she was an iyeska (half White – half Indian). Most of the people that hung out there were iyeskas.
Anyway, this lady had a guitar and was able to sit and drink as long as she played the guitar and sang. She even took requests. Which tickled my gram, she requested her ass off. Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, the works. I stood by my grandma and listened to the lady sing. She had a pretty voice and every time she finished a song people would war hoop and clap. She would try to guzzle as much beer as she could before the next request came in. Soon her voice was giving. To this day, I now know it took on a Janis Joplin sound to it. It still sounded pretty, but gravelly.
She begged for a break. Even in my youth, I knew she didn't have to beg. They played country music for awhile. After awhile, my grandma had a request. I don't remember the name of the song but it was about rain and love and such. It was beautiful. Everyone was quiet while she sang.
When she finished, she grabbed her beer. I think just to wet her throat.
“Sing it again!” My grandma barked.
She sang the song over and over and then finally took a bathroom break. When she sat down my grandma had evil eyes. “Sing it again.”, she said.
“I can't”, she said. I lost my pick here somewhere and my fingers are bleeding.
“Bullshit.”, my grandma said, “You wanna stay, you play. You're hiding your pick.”
“For reals, I'm not lying. Look at my fingers.”
I looked, they were indeed bloody.
“Then you're out the door.”, my grandma said.
Instead of letting her just leave, because my grandma had her mean eyes on, she beat her up all the way down the stairs and out the front door. Throwing her guitar out after her as if to say, “There!”.
I was not too shocked. I had seen my grandma beat people up before. But never for anything like that. Even though I was 4 or 5, I knew it was wrong. I knew enough to know that my grandma was drunk and felt sorry for the singing lady with bloody fingers.
My grandma still had mean eyes and I didn't want to see anymore fighting. My brother was in his usual spot under the coffee table, drinking his bottle and watching T.V. I scooted him over, it felt safe under there, and Grizzly Adams was on.
That's when I noticed in his hand that wasn't holding a bottle, he held a guitar pick.