When I was a kid, I’d spent a lot of days and nights over at my grandmother’s house. As anyone with a grandparent can tell you, the spoiling of young Ron was constant. My grandmother would pinch her pennies during the week and splurge on me during the weekends. We would walk down to the local gas station together, or take the bus downtown, and I would just get to go hog wild. Ice cream, candy, cookies, comic books, trips to the consignment store, and the key cog of the experience, supermarket tabloids.
I got older, as kids usually do. The ice cream and candy lessened in favor of home-cooked country-style meals full of delicious and fattening fried goods. The money once spent on toys and comic books became beer money. Time is a wheel and everything changes; the one constant was the omnipresent copies, sometimes several months worth, of The Weekly World News.
My grandmother passed away on January 14, 2002. I was attending a winter intercession class at college, so after a week off for Christmas/New Year, I had to hurry back to finish up my Christian Ministries/Psychology course on demons (which is why I took it, obviously). I was hoping to see her again before I had to go back, as usually on my way back to school I’d drive downtown, out of my way, and spend a little time with her. But I was running late that day and had to cancel. She understood, and told me to be careful on my drive back to school. I told her I would and that I loved her.
The next day, she had a brain aneurysm, which triggered a series of heart attacks and drove her into a coma. An otherwise active and healthy woman was felled by what is basically a fluke event that can happen to anyone at any age. I raced home from school and held her hand as she lay in that bed, hooked to machines I could never understand. She managed to say my name once, and squeezed my hand when I sobbed into her ear that I loved her and that I wanted her to be okay.
Around the time I was born, she was diagnosed with cancer. In 1981, cancer was a lot more fatal. At the time, they told her she only had a 25 percent chance of living, but after radical surgeries which took away most of her ability to speak clearly, produce saliva, and ability to eat solid foods, she survived. In spite of all the odds, she survived another 20 years and never complained about the lot life had dealt her. She always said she lived because she had me to live for.
My grandmother was a link to a time when people were a lot tougher than they are now. My grandmother was a survivor. The Great Depression, World War II, cancer, and thousands of near-miss biblical apocalypses predicted by the Weekly World News. She was, and remains, a very important figure in my life. Not just because she spoiled me with junk food and tabloids, but because she spoiled me with oft-told family tales about people long gone.
There aren’t a whole lot of things an angry teenager and an octogenarian can talk about, but the silly pictures and crazy stories in a black and white tabloid helped to close that gap. We’d sit at the kitchen table, passing magazines back and forth, talking about P’lod the space alien who predicted presidential elections, the latest adventure of Bat Boy, what Elvis and other non-dead dead celebrities were up to, and all the other crazy cryptids that inhabited the Weekly World News universe and whether or not things like that could really exist.
There’ll be other tabloids, other crazy stories about mermen from Atlantis and Saddam Hussein’s gay love affair with Osama Bin Laden. But it won’t be the same. I always knew I could stop at any supermarket, plop down a few bucks, and be back in 1992 with a bowl of ice cream, in my grandmother’s living room. The crinkle of pages and the black ink stains on my fingertips were a time machine, connecting me and my grandmother once again. No matter how bad I felt, or how much I missed her, I knew I could just pick up that paper, smell that familiar musty inky text, and find her again.
It’s funny, the things that trigger memories. I teared up a little as I read the news about the paper closing down. I know it’s just a silly paper full of fake news, but I’ll miss it anyway. Not so much because of what it was or what it contained, but what it always meant to me.
(Originally written for Den of Geek, though I couldn’t wait around to post it after they did, for obvious reasons.)