by Eloise Hawking
The school bus rumbled to a stop at the end of my driveway. I coolly stepped down the three deep steps, hit the road and kept on walking even though I felt like skipping. Aaahhhhh. Friday at quitting time was my favorite time of the week. I had the whole weekend ahead of me and I enjoyed thinking of the many ways I could spend my time. My blissful thoughts were interrupted, however by a long, loud blast.
WAAAAHHHHHHH! WAAAHHHHHHH! WAAAHHHHHHHH!
The sound startled me so much I nearly wet my pants. I looked around to see where the noise was coming from. It seemed to originate outside of my grandparents' house in the yard between both of our homes.
“Did you hear that, Ellen?” someone shouted at me. It was Grandma standing out in the yard between our houses, holding something in her hand.
How could I NOT hear that? I nodded once and walked over in her direction. I was still bracing myself from the loud sound in case it happened again.
As I got closer to Grandma, I eyed the red clylinder in her had. The unit had a black plastic, funnel shaped piece attached to the front of it.
“It’s an air horn, Honey,” Grandma said loudly. “Listen.”
I had just enough time to plug my ears.
WAAAAHHHHHHHHH! She let out an annoying blast again.
Sometimes Grandma took her hearing aids out because they made her ears sore. I had two clues that she did not have them in now. The first clue is that she was talking to me very loudly. I don’t think she can hear the sound of her own voice even though we all can. The second clue was the sheer fact that she would set that thing off again.
WAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! This time she set off a really long, loud one.
I took my fingers out of my ears and looked at Grandma quizzically.
“It’s going to be our weather alert system---just for you and me. I can’t trust your mother to ever know what’s going on, so this is going to be a deal between you and me. When I sense your family may be in danger, like when I see that there is a tornado warning on the radar, I am going to set this off, like this."
“You’ll be able to hear it from wherever you are.”
Like Slovenia, I thought. I think Grandma popped my eardrum.
“For God’s sake, Helen! What are you doing now?” said Grandpa rounding the corner of the house. “You are going to give everyone in the neighborhood a heart attack.”
“Who broke their back?” asked Grandma.
A look of frustration crossed Grandpa’s face. “Heart. Attack,” he enunciated, pointing to his heart. “You. Give. Me,” he said again slowly.
“Oh be quiet, you Horses Potato. I am conducting a safety drill and teaching Ellen the storm procedures. She’s the only one with any common sense over there,” pointing her cigarette in the direction of my house.
“Well, I have to agree with you there,” said Grandpa giving me a chuckle and a wink.
“Those fools never watch the weather radar and their cell phones are always dead,” Grandma said. “Now scram! We have work to do.”
Grandpa muttered something that I couldn’t hear because my ears were still ringing from the air horn blasts. His firm steps matched his temperament and his grumpy gait made his keys that he kept clipped to his belt, jingle and jangle against his hips.
Grandma made a face at Grandpa behind his back and turned her attention toward me again.
“Now, where were we, Ellen?” Grandma asked. She paused a moment then continued, “ It’s going to be up to you and me to keep the family safe."
“Now when you hear this sound,” Grandma pressed the button on the air horn.
My lunch almost came up this time.
“….you will know that bad weather has been spotted and your mother is refusing to answer my calls and text messages. That will be your signal to find a gym bag and gather the necessary things for survival: a set of shoes for everyone, the car keys, your dad’s wallet, a cell phone, a cigarette lighter—but don’t let Sam get a hold of it, a box of Band Aids some Bactine, and if you can find a deck of cards to pass the time while we wait out the storm, that would be great.”
I just nodded my head and stared at Grandma wide eyed.
“Here, Ellen. Hold this,” said Grandma handing me the air horn. Grandma dug into her pocket and retrieved a handwritten list. “I wrote t all down for you. It is a lot to remember.”
I unfolded the note and smiled when I read Survival Checklist at the top of the page.
I decided it was a good time to change the subject, so I said more slowly and loudly than usual, “Homecoming is tonight, Grandma. Do you want to go with us to the game?”
“Who’s gunning?” Grandma said leaning a little closer. “I blew out my hearing aids testing out my air horn. Don’t tell your Grandpa though because they are fifteen hundred dollars a pop. The new ones won’t be in for a few days.”
I smiled and made a second attempt at communication. “HOMECOMING TONIGHT. FOOTBALL GAME,” I said, making a passing motion with my right hand. “DO YOU WANT TO COME?”
“Oh, yes. Gotcha, Sweetheart. Game tonight.” Grandma paused and said, “Let me go check the weather—I think there are some storms coming—it may be a better night just to stay home and watch it. It’s going to be on Channel 6, you know,” and she turned on the heel of her white sneaker and sprinted into the house.
Grandma only ever wore sneakers. I never saw her feet without them on. I think she even wore them to bed. This gave her pretty good footing, so she was able to run from place to place even at her age. She looked funny running across the yard with her air horn and her cigarette, but I figured the bursts of exercise were good for her old ticker. In Health class we learned the key to a healthy heart was regular exercise. Maybe that was the key to all things.
I turned on my heel, just as Grandma did, and tried to run just like her, but this time in the other direction to my house, smiling the whole way. Welcome weekend, welcome.