I’ve been meaning to write for a while. I’d thought my birthday would prompt it, but here we are two weeks later and I’m just now writing something. There are reasons, but most of them boil down to “I wasn’t sure what to talk about.” Unfortunately, I’ve got something to talk about now. Elenore “Momma” McGuire passed away on June 11. That’s not a Blues singer. She’s the mother of the guy that’s probably the closest thing my Dad’s ever had to a brother. I even call him Uncle Dan.
I guess the easiest way to describe it is that Momma McGuire was a matriarch not only to Dad and Uncle Dan, but to pretty much their whole group of friends. That group of friends formed a club in the 60s known as The Gluttons. The Gluttons are still a functioning, dues paying club to this day (albeit with a mostly newer membership) and celebrated their 50th anniversary in 2014. It started out as a bunch of high school friends. Most of us at one point or another said “we should form a club” to our high school friends. But these guys actually did, and they kept it going. For the most part, the original membership is still in contact, though some have either moved or passed away. Life takes different people to different places, and for myself, life placed me in the pool of the Gluttons Club as a kid, where I learned to swim, where I snuck my first taste of beer, and where I met the McGuire family.
The great shame of the Gluttons is that the members’ kids didn’t really grow close. We all recognize each other, but for as small as St. Louis is, it’s also easy to not see someone for years at a time, and if you weren’t at the Club at the same time you might not be best friends with the other kids. So it goes. But I did manage to grow fond of most of my “Glutton Uncles” as Dad has always called them. And if there’s one thing that can be said about the “Old Boys” amongst the Gluttons, they all loved Momma McGuire. And she loved them too. She contributed to most of their delinquencies back in the 60s. On that note, she is very likely indirectly responsible for me being born, as she once saved my Dad’s life.
I’ll spare all of the details…but the short version is my Dad was raised in a Baptist home by good Baptist people. Dad himself was also a good Baptist, but those Gluttons sure were a bad influence on him. (**wink**) After one such night of influence, Dad went home a shade of green that he found himself needing to explain to my grandmother. Now…my grandmother was a kind, generous, warm person… But there is no doubt in my mind that she would have killed Dad if she knew the truth. Dad, of course, said that he’d gotten sick–I believe saying “it was something I ate.” Grandma picked up her telephone and (I’m sure with a wooden spoon in one hand) dialed the McGuire household, speaking to Elenore, asking questions one might expect her to ask. Momma McGuire replied telling her that “oh, yeah…I think just about all the boys got sick. I don’t know what they ate, but it must’ve been bad…” She fed Grandma the same load of crap my dad did. (Because she loved those boys.) And Grandma bought it, my dad lived, and eventually I was born.
Decades later, Dan and Don (Dan’s brother) were throwing a birthday party at the Gluttons Club for Momma McGuire. Dad said he’d help get the place cleaned up and showed up to do so. A couple hours went by and the McGuires weren’t there yet, so Dad called and asked if they were still coming. They consulted Elenore and said something to the effect of “well, Dave’s over there doing all the work himself right now…” She replied, “He still owes me.”
That’s a good story. I hope my Dad doesn’t mind me writing it down. (I’ll edit it if he does.)
The last time I saw Momma McGuire was in 2014. She would have been 88 or 89 then, but you’d have guessed younger. Sadly, we were both at a funeral for a member of the Gluttons family. Barb Bolesta had died too young. I wrote about that here. I’d gone through the receiving line already and was milling about as one does at a wake. In through the door came Momma McGuire. We were well acquainted, of course, and I went over to say hello. “Hello young Mr. Brink” she said and kissed me on the cheek–the first and as it goes last time she ever did that. I was wearing a suit and I remember briefly feeling like I was at a mafia meeting and I just got made. (If the mafia existed. Which, of course, it doesn’t. And if it did, it would be awesome.) That was immediately followed by her pointing right at me and saying, “Is there coffee?” And I said, “Yeah, it’s downstairs…” to which she threw a dismissive hand in the air and said, “AH! …of COURSE it is!” and she wandered off.
That’s a pretty good story too. Mostly because I also hate stairs.
It was late in the day this past May 29th when my dad called me and told me that Momma McGuire was in hospice and wasn’t going to make it. I don’t often hear my dad cry. It’s not fun. By coincidence of the calendar, that was also my birthday…but who can you possibly hold that against? Nevertheless, that’s got a little bit to do with why I haven’t written, I think. Hospice is one of those awful things that in its kindness is also misery. I go back and forth on whether or not it’s a blessing or curse that most people in hospice don’t know they’re there. And what’s better for the family? To sit around waiting for someone they care for to die, or for it to happen quickly? I’ve never been sure, even having had some experience in the field…
I don’t know arrangements yet, but I did tell people at my office as early as May 30th that I may need to take a day off with very little notice. Because of COURSE I want to go to the funeral. She saved my Dad’s life, and I owe her.
Elenore “Momma” McGuire was 91. It’s hard to feel shortchanged on how much time she had or how much she packed into it. 91 years is a good run. And for at least 90 of those, she had the demeanor of somebody much younger. A boundless energy and a joy of living. “Feisty” is a good word for it. If I live into my 90s (ha!) I hope I have even a fraction of her same energy. I don’t even know if she meant to do it, but Momma McGuire drew people to her and when they walked away they felt better, even if they were already feeling good. That’s a rare gift. I’m glad to have known her and even though the memories are good, it hurts my heart to know that the last time I’ll be in a room with her, she won’t be able to make me feel better…
But damned if I won’t find a cup of coffee at the service.