Change is a constant but fickle flow. Years fly by with simple drops sprinkled here and there. We are grounded and growing, laughing and loving, nourished by life on the infinite road of time. Yet, almost without perception, in the smallest moment the rains fall and the deluge comes, ripping normality and tearing life, crushing time under its thumb. Change is a joke without the punchline, an unfinished thing.
I stared at the note in my hand. Anny fell. I debated whether to go to the hospital, or do as the note requested, wait until I heard from my parents later in the day. I pushed open my bedroom door and the clock radio on my bedside table read 3:30 AM. I walked in and set the note next to the clock. I undressed, throwing my beer-soaked, fruit-stained and sweat-laden Whispers t-shirt and shorts on the floor, flicked off the light switch and got into bed. I stared at the arms of the clock radio. Anny will be ok, I thought. She’s the strongest person I know. I’ll see her in the morning.
I closed my eyes and the rains came.
I never saw my grandmother again. The smart, sweet, sassy and genteel southern lady who, even though in her 60s and 70s helped raise my brother and me and was more mother to us than grandmother, was gone. No punchline.
Life’s first lesson in pain was difficult for me. The death of a loved one to whom you are close can be devastating. The loss of Anny was.
…And She Was
When the storm of our parent’s acrimonious divorce turned violent, Anny was peace and protection. At six-years-old I remember my brother and I hiding in the dark hallway of her apartment while our father beat on the front door, begging in angry tears to let him see his sons, while Anny and our mother held their backs against the door, praying it would hold tight.
Anny was fun and laughter. She would plunk me on to her lap when I was young and make up silly songs, always with me getting smashed in the face with my own hand at the end. “Ittle guy, ittle Bo, big MESS!” and pop! She would laugh much harder than I did, but we laughed together. She told us stories of our growing up, when our memories were blank and smooth. Anny was particularly fond of a time when she was watching us, as she did while our parents were working, I grabbed her hand, pulled her to sit beside me on the bed, and told her, “I love you but you must learn to mind.”
Anny was a prim and proper lady, exactly as her upper-crust Atlanta upbringing taught her to be. She was embarrassed geniunely when, as she aged and lost control of some of her functions, she left fly a thin, squeaking and uncontrollable fart.
At a time when young ladies were influenced to marry and start a family while forgoing dreams and ambitions of their own, she did both. Anny graduated college, married, had a son, taught school and 10 years on, had a daughter, our mother. She didn’t care what lies society or social convention tried to tell her about what and how to be. Anny stayed true to herself, her faith, and her truth.
She was comfort and confidence and love. Beside keeping us during the day, she stayed with us when our mother succumbed to the stress of a bad marriage, a hostile divorce, raising two boys, and being a single parent in her late twenties without much to show for it and few encouraging prospects in front of her. Remember, this was at a time when women weren’t allowed to get credit cards. We were living hand-to-mouth in the wake of our parents separation and it all overwhelmed her. She had some stays in the hospital after an “episode.” Each time, Anny was there to take care of us, to hold us, to remind us to pray at bed time, and sing us to sleep in an unpleasant, off-key singing voice that conveyed love and comfort.
As individuals and as a family, Anny never let us fail.
Anny’s Final Gift
One Saturday afternoon, as the fresh plastic was still drying and sealing on my new driver’s license, I left home to go work at the bar. I looked around for my moped in the back yard where I’d parked only a few hours before but it was gone. I returned to the house and walked ten steps from the sliding glass door to the living room, where my step-dad, Bud, and my mother were sitting on the couch watching TV.
“Have you seen the moped? It’s not outside. Did Randy take it?” I asked them.
I always thought my brother was the culprit when something valuable or I cared about went missing. With my older brother, experience and the law of averages had been good teachers.
Also, while I was afforded anytime use as long as I could buy gas and oil, the moped was not mine. Bud purchased it years earlier after he found himself behind N.C.’s finest and strongest bars for drinking and driving on a suspended license. When he first rolled the moped into our apartment and parked it on its kickstand next to the living room window, my brother and I were captivated. He swatted away our pleas to ride it like fireflies on a summer evening.
I can understand. We were young and it wasn’t a proud personal moment for him, a decorated Vietnam War vet, having to purchase and ride a blue bicycle with pedals and a motor around town. Yes, it sported pedals, but it also had a motor.
My brother and I would not be denied.
Later that day, after our parents left, I opened the front door while my brother muscled the shiny, brand new moped out and down the front steps. Taking turns, we rode the moped around the cul-de-sac next to our apartment building, gray-blue smoke puffed out the exhaust.
Smiles and laugher reigned, until my brother came straight for me, shaking the handle bars right and left in a game of chicken I was slow to pick up. He ran over my foot as our parents drove into the parking lot. Busted and in pain, we retreated back to the apartment and awaited our fate.
“I got rid of the moped,” Bud siaid. “We don’t need it anymore.” Once the state deemed him fit to drive again, and with Randy already driving, the moped defaulted to me.
Teenage irritation rising and insulted over not being consulted, I shot back, “Well, how the heck am I supposed to get to work? I guess you have to drive me now.”
“No, Anny left you a gift.”
“She what?’ I stopped.
“She left you a gift. You can drive yourself to work,” he said, smiling.
Anger, confusion, and hurt from the fresh wound of her loss left me speechless and unthinking.
Bud and my mother stood up and walked to me. Bud opened the front door and I looked outside to see my grandmother’s Carolina Blue Ford Pinto sitting in the driveway.
“She wanted you to have it. She left it to you in her will,” my mother said.
“What? Where…”, I stammered.
“We’ve kept it at Jimmy’s because we wanted to surprise you.” Bud said me before throwing me the keys.
A Thief and a Fiery End
My grandmother gifted me the car I’d ridden in before my feet could touch the floorboards. While other people saw an ugly fuel-sipping, sub-compact hatchback, I saw Anny’s love.
I kept the Pinto clean and well maintained. Like many kids who don’t have much in the world, I was proud of the car and treated the ugliest girl I ever loved with respect.
This model year Pinto was known for a critical manufacturer design defect. To save some dollars, Ford placed the fuel tank too close to the rear of the vehicle, leaving it vulnerable to explode in rear-end collisions. Typical 1970’s American fuel shortage corporate thinking drove that decision. The poor choice haunted Ford as lives were lost, lawsuits lost, and money and market share also lost as this failure opened the doors to safer, cheaper and more reliable imports.
My first car’s end was in a ball of fire but it was not due to being rear-ended in a wreck.
I sat with with some friends one day after school. One of them piped up, “Hey, Hess. Have you seen Randy?”
“No, why would I?”
“He might need some help. I saw him behind K-Mart standing beside your car. It was on fire.”
My brother took some buddies joy-riding in the Pinto and blew the engine doing donuts behind the local discount store.
No punchline…well, maybe there’s a couple here.
If you have stayed awake long enough to read to this point, that’s enough for tonight. Tomorrow’s another light. From one sojourner to another, all the best.