Thursday, November 26, 2009

Are We There Yet?

It always took forever and a day to get to Granny and Grandad's.  Know why?  'Cause my dad drove so daggone slow!  Do you have any idea how long it takes to get the 45 miles between Huntington and Charleston, West Virginia, when you drive 45 miles an hour?  Darn tootin' it takes an hour!  And that's if no one got car sick.  Whenever that happened, we always had to pull over and let whoever barf in the designated coffee can.

My three older brothers and I tried to make the time go faster.  We’d play the Alphabet Game or Bury the Cows, but it didn't help much.  Even though the big, green "Stink Bridge" outside St. Albans smelled worse than the container of ham salad my brothers tried to make into catfish bait, we were always glad to see it. 

"Won't be long now."

Granny and Grandad lived on Swarthmore Avenue in Charleston.  The turn into their driveway was tight.  I always closed my eyes and waited for the scrench of Buick Skylark bumper on metal fence post.  Miraculously, it never came.

When I opened my eyes, there was Tara, or what I imagined Tara looked like, before I saw Gone with the Wind.  If you looked at the house from the driveway, it was pretty ordinary, just a larger than average, brick Cape Cod.  But if you walked around to the front, it did a presto change-o into a mansion, thanks to the semi-circular appendage that was more veranda than porch.  What made it truly grand though, was the presence of four white columns that supported the porch roof.  I'd hang onto a column and do a skippy dance around it, leaning out like half an 'x.'

Someone would always shout, "Last one in is a rotten egg." Twenty seconds later we'd be inside the house, lined up like the von Trapp kids, for Granny kisses.

"Go see your Grandad," she'd say as she swatted each of us on the behind. 

Grandad was usually in a suit and most times we found him in the living room, reading The Charleston Gazette.  He'd pound each boy on the back and say, "How much do you weigh, son?"  We spent many an hour speculating why he always asked that.  Then he'd pull me onto his lap, and my feet would dangle over his shiny wingtips as he scraped his face against mine.  I don't think he shaved on Sundays 'cause his face always felt like 80 grit sandpaper. 

I remember his breath the most because it was what I dreaded most.  If I had to say which smelled worse, the Stink Bridge or Grandad's breath, I don't know if I could.  I've smelled that odor a couple times since.  It's a cross between unflossed teeth and stale coffee.    I reckon it could've been worse--if he licked an ashtray or ate a chili dog with onions.  I have always been a faithful flosser, thanks to Grandad.

On the other end of the smell spectrum was Granny's rump roast.  It was to drool for.   When I heard the oven timer buzz, I'd hightail it into the kitchen.  If she was in a good mood, she'd let me chew on the roast beef strings.

Granny always carried the roast platter into the gymnasium-sized dining room with much pomp and circumstance.  She was a very good cook, and she knew it.  We'd eat off delicate, white with gold trim china plates, even it it wasn't a holiday.   

My brothers and I would make mashed potato dams and flood 'em with Granny gravy that was more au jus than gravy.  The boys and I would wolf down firsts, seconds, and thirds, as fast as possible in order to get to the best place ever.

The attic was the best place ever because my grandparents lived through the Great Depression.  When you live through a depression, you save stuff.

There were hundreds of books up there.  I liked to sit on the old brass bed, under a quilt, and read the first pages of as many books as possible.  I wanted to see if any of them were interesting.  They never were.  I mean, what story in a super old book could measure up to the adventures of Nancy Drew or Alec Ramsay and his big, black stallion? 

The boys would root through scads of military uniforms and paraphernalia.  Dad had four brothers, so there was lots of both.  I'm pretty sure my brothers were looking for guns.  Boys like guns.  My brother John could make the best machine gun noise ever.  Hold your mouth like you're gonna blow a bubble and say to-to-to-to super fast.  I don't know why, but it always sounds better when it comes from a boy mouth.

When my brothers weren't around, I'd hold Granny's evening dresses in front of me and look in the giant mirror, tilted against the wall.  I'd rub my cheek against the satin lapel of Grandad's tuxedo and inhale the sharp scent of moth balls.  They must be important to wear these super nice clothes.  

One time I asked Granny about her fancy dresses.  "You can't look like a tramp when you visit the Greenbrier, you know." She told me that as  she gave her hair a hundred brushstrokes.  I nodded like I understood.

One day I found four unopened boxes under the brass bed in the attic. 

"It's probably beans," one of my brothers said.  "They ate a lot of beans during the Depression."  

I found a pearl-handled knife and sawed through the stringy packing tape.  All four boxes were full of Estee Lauder beauty cream.  My brothers couldn't believe it. 

"I was sure it'd be food," one of 'em said.  

I knew why it wasn't canned goods.  Granny stockpiled beauty cream in case Mrs. Lauder stopped making it.  Granny loved her country, but she didn't want to stop being pretty on account of the war.  

It always made me sad when Mom or Dad called upstairs.  Sometimes they wanted us to come down for a bowl of Valley Bell Ice Cream, but more often than not, it was  time to go.  

Sadder still was the day 20 years later when my dad called.  I lived in Cincinnati, Ohio at the time.  

"They've got a dumpster pulled up to Granny's house.  They're throwing everything out but furniture, china, and silver." 

My bottom lip came out, and I slumped over on the sofa.

"Gosh, Dad," I said.  "Why didn't you tell me sooner?  It's not like I live 45 minutes away, you know."

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