The Ecphorizer

The Last Con
Gareth Penn

Issue #19 (March 1983)

The last time I saw Dad, I asked him about my aunt Beulah.

Actually, she's not my aunt, she's my great-aunt, but I have always called her "Aunt Beulah." She was my grandmother's sister. When I was a boy, Beulah lived with Grandma, who never quite recovered from a broken

She must be 90 if she's a day, and she's still conning people.

leg she had suffered when in her late sixties. Beulah had worked as a nurse, so she took care of Grandma in exchange for room and board.

[quoteright]Beulah has been in a nursing home for several years now. Dad said they had almost thrown her out because she was too rich to be on welfare. Rich? I asked. Yes, Dad said, she was going on and on about her immense wealth again.

Beulah had had to go to the nursing home because the neighbor lady had given up on her. Seems Beulah had been telling her that if she took care of her, she would become wealthy, because Beulab would leave her an immense fortune. Somehow, the neighbor lady found out it was a fraud, and she got mad at Beulah, and one thing led to another, and now she's in the nursing home telling them how rich she is. But before she got there, she conned her cousin, who is also named Beulah, into moving to San Jose from Salt Lake City to take care of her in exchange for an enormous bequest. Beulah II needed only a week to see through the scam, and she went home.

What fools everybody is the sparkler. Beulah has a huge diamond on her wedding ring. Dad had to move heaven and earth before they would take her on welfare, because of that ring. The ring is a memento from her marriage. Her husband was run over by a car in Spokane in 1935. When his life insurance didn't pay off, Beulah sued the company. Somehow, she got all the way to the Utah Supreme Court before anybody noticed that she hadn't paid a premium in ten years. Anyway, she's been wearing the ring ever since to remind her of the happier days of her life.

Her husband was a con man. Beulah got all these notions about being rich from the way they lived. She and her husband used to hang out in places like Warm Springs and Saratoga. This was hack in the twenties. Lots of people were selling the farm in Keokuk and taking the money and flocking to all the places where the high life was. People like that were known in the trade as "rubes," and people like Beulah and her husband got to be good at spotting them and taking their money from them and then skedaddling.

When I was a young boy, she used to take me to the movies in downtown San Jose. She taught me how to stand close to the curb while waiting for the light to change, so that if an expensive-looking car cut the corner too close, you could step off, bang into the side of the car - you were supposed to smack it with the flat of your palms to make a lot of noise -- and then fall down and writhe as if in agony on the pavement. She told me that was a good way to get a lot of money without having to work for it.I remember, too, what a big to-do she made when she won her car. She had paid 50 cents for a raffle ticket, and they drew her number, which got her a spanking-new 1949 Ford coupe. If she ever had any illusions about not having been born into The Big Rock Candy Mountain, this spot of luck dispelled them forever.

Dad told me something else I hadn't known. Back when she was taking care of Grandma, Beulah had appointed herself executrix of a stash of Government bonds that Grandpa had bought and not told Grandma about. There was bad feeling between Grandma and Beulah, Dad said, because Grandma asked what had happened to all the money, and Beulah told her that it had been eaten up by administrative costs.

Anyway, there's Beulah immobilized in a nursing home in San Jose. She must be 90 if she's a day, and she's still conning people. It seems to be in the blood, Dad said.

I said, it's not in my blood. Nobody else in the family is like her. He said, that doesn't prove anything, because she's not in the family anyway.


I said she's not in the family anyway -- he said it as if I were hard of hearing.

Well, she's your aunt, isn't she? And that makes her my great-aunt, right?

No. You always just called her "Aunt Beulah" and she never corrected you. Actually, she's just the illegitimate daughter of your Grandma's second cousin. We're hardly related at all.

You mean, this person I thought all these years was my aunt is an imposter?

Yep. She just knew a good thing when she saw it.


Gareth Penn's earlier article, "Lima Riki," has been picked up for reprinting by the journal Letters from Limerick.  Those interested in subscribing will be disappointed as a Google search in 2006 turned up no mention of it.  However, a Google search on the name of the editor, J. Beauregard Pepys, turns up a half dozen hits of sites that mention his books on limericks (Flasher in the Rye, for one).

More Articles by Gareth Penn

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