by Eloise Hawking
We were all buckled into the van and ready to go in about forty-five minutes, running fifteen minutes late as usual, but that is good for us. Mom only had to only turn around once and go back for Sam’s raincoat. Grandma made her. The sky was purple and orange as the sun was setting. The clouds were hanging low and when the sun hit them they looked like lumps of black coal. Beyond that, further west, was a line of thick black clouds. Something was surely coming our way, but like most things, it depended on just which way the wind blew.
“Quit cheating! Come on, now! Hold your hand still and don’t move it around,” Grandma yelled at Sam. He giggled with delight over the game the two were playing in the back seats of the van.
Grandma rode in the back with Sam and let me ride shotgun. The two were playing Masking Tape Toss. Sam would hold up his hand like a fist, bent at the elbow and Grandma would try to ring the roll of tape over it like Ring Toss.
My mother always kept a roll of tape in the back seat to entertain Sam whenever we went somewhere. She called it cheap entertainment. You could roll it like a wheel along a smooth pathway like a sidewalk. You could write on masking tape with a pen and leave messages for people to find. Once, on a long ride to Cleveland, Sam figured out it could be formed into a ball. It got so large that he wanted to earn a world record for making the largest ball of masking tape.
Mom actually researched it to see if Sam even came close. She found out the current record holder was held by the city of Madrid, Spain and it was eleven feet in diameter. For months Sam was insistent on beating the record. He named his tape ball Sticky and it rode in the back seat of our car most of last summer. I noticed that after Sam started talking to Sticky and tried to give it a sip of his milkshake once, Sticky disappeared.
As we were rounding the bend on Farmer Richter’s curve, Mom yelled, “CRAP! Where did he come from!” She was startled by Fangs, who apparently jumped out of the ditch to take a chomp of the van tire. “That darn dog is going to get squashed one of these days!”
“I TOLD YOU, CRAP IS A POTTY WORD AND WE AREN\’T ALLOWED TO USE POTTY WORDS IN SCHOOL!” screamed Sam from the back seat.
“Oh pipe down, Sam,” Mom shot back. “Number one, this isn’t school, and number two, it isn’t polite for children to correct their parents.”
“Yeah, try to remember that,” said Grandma flatly, but she continued, turning to me.
“Grandpa and I almost hit that Rat Bastard the other day, too,” said Grandma.. “We’ve got to go down and talk to Bill about putting that dog on a leash or something.”
“What’s a rat bastard? Sam asked.” Everyone ignored him.
It would be highly unlikely for Farmer Richter to put Fangs on a leash. Fangs was a farm dog and they ran free in our parts. If your farm had over a certain number of acres you could have farm dogs who were exempt from the leash law. Bandit, aka “Fangs” was a Blue Heeler. They are bred to herd and protect cattle. It was in Fangs’ nature to go after a moving object near his farm, cars included. It’s what kept me within a half mile’s distance from my home at all times.
I would often ride my bike to the beginning of the orchard along the edge of the woods, and wait and watch in the tall weeds. I always wanted to see what the vineyards and fields looked like from a bike rider’s perspective, but the fear of Fangs always held me back. Once, I even gathered enough nerve to try to make a dash past the farmhouse, but Fangs leaped out of nowhere, chasing me back. I knew my place and decided to stay there for awhile longer.
We pulled into the high school parking lot and it was very full. I could see Mom craning her neck to get a glimpse of the scoreboard and the car started drifting to the left.
“Mom! Look out!” I screamed just before she hit the bushes under the high school art room window. She was able to right the car before any lives were lost.
“Whoops,” she said quietly under her breath. I saw her glance nervously over at Grandma who at the time was digging in her purse for something, and never noticed it.
I looked back to see what Grandma was searching for. The zippered mouth of her bag was wide open and I could see the black, cone shaped mouth of the air horn! Oh no! My blood ran cold. I only had a moment to sweat though because Grandma proudly emerged with a handicapped parking pass—the kind you hang on your rear view mirror.
“Ah ha! Here it is!” Grandma exclaimed proudly. “We can use this! It’s Grandpa’s from when he had his knee replacement and I never turned it back in to the doctor. I’ll limp a little, so it will be okay.”
“MOTHER! I work here for God’s sake! I am not hanging that on my mirror,” my Mom shot back at her parent in a tone of utter disgust.
“Oh, you’re no fun,” said Grandma, flapping her hand down in a single gesture of annoyance. “Drop me off here at the gate and Ellen and I will grab us some seats. 30 yard line?” Grandma asked.
We always sat in the same spot for the home football games. Our spots were at the west end of the stadium, around the thirty yard line. The seats weren’t ideal for game viewing when the play was at the other side of the field, but the location was what my mother called “strategic.”
Our seats were by the concession stand and the bathrooms. I was old enough this year to go to the concession stand myself, as long as I came right back. The bathrooms were in our line of sight too, which was nice when we had Sam along. Even though Sam was potty trained, he always waited until the very last minute to go. He had no qualms about stopping wherever he was and whipping out his pee pee to go wee wee and could care less who was watching.
We’ve been going to the football games for so long that the guy who stands at the gate knows us and lets us walk right through. School district employees get to go in for free, and all of their family members, too. I smiled and waved to Gary the Gate Guy. “Where’s your mom?” Gary asked me.
“Parking the car,” I replied.
“She’s got herself one long walk tonight. It’s a packed house with Homecoming and all. Plus Northwestern is undefeated, too,” he said. “Hope the weather holds out.”
Grandma and I entered the stadium and made our way up to our seats. “Excuse me! Pardon me! Move it on over, Tootsie!”
Those are the things that Grandma said to the people who happened to be sitting in the row above our spots and had their feet on our seats. One little kid didn’t seem to hear Grandma, so she just swatted his feet away with the bulk of her very large purse. I could hear the clunk of the air horn when it hit the metal bleachers.
Grandma spread out the blankets, making it a little softer for our behinds, and I settled in next to her. I looked around for Emily and didn’t spot her yet. I was content to sit with Grandma for a minute or two because she bought a program. Mom already knew most of the players and cheerleaders from school, so she rarely bought one. Grandma opened up to the middle section to review the Homecoming Court. I scooted in a little closer so I could see, too.
“Let’s take a look at these Honeys this year. Now let’s see, who do we think will win Queen?”
Grandma flopped open the book wide and extended her long bony finger. She pointed to the first girl, Sara Evans. “Sara. That’s Darlene and Bob’s daughter. Nice girl, but I hear she’s a little loose, if you know what I mean,” she said elbowing me.
I was again horrified because Grandma was not aware of how loud she was talking without her hearing aids in. I could see the woman sitting in front of her shift uncomfortably in her seat. Grandma went right on to the next girl before I could think of something nice to say about poor Sara.
“Julia Dempsey. Now that’s a cryin’ shame. Look at that beautiful girl and her parents are too cheap to fix those horse teeth,” bellowed Grandma.
“GRANDMA,” I said very loudly. “Look at this girl’s long, red hair. I’m trying to grow mine out like that. How do you think mine would look like with longer bangs?“ I hoped the positive comment I just made about another nominee Erin O’Malley, would steer the conversation in a more positive direction.
“I like your hair just as it is, Ellen. Never try to be someone you’re not,” said Grandma examining my bangs. “I don’t know that girl. She seems pretty, in a plain sort of way. Kind of cute now that I give her a second glance. Do you know her Ellen?” Grandma asked.
“Erin rides my bus. She is really nice to everyone. Maybe she’ll be the dark horse and win the crown tonight,” I said pleased with my own pun about horse racing.
“No, Honey, the dark horse will be Julia with all that dark hair and those te…….”
“Ellen! Ellen!” I could hear a voice calling for me. My lucky day. A savior appeared to rescue me from the hell I was in. No white flowing dress and wings, though. I had to settle for a pair of converse sneakers, wind pants, and a Paw Power t-shirt with a glow in the dark duct taped 77 on the back. This time, a white hoodie peeked out of the neck hole of the shirt and Emily’s head was sticking out of it. Thank you, Lord.
Emily was waving me up a couple of rows where she and a couple of my other friends were sitting. I pointed out Emily to Grandma, without having to shout to her as the band started playing and she wouldn’t be able to hear me anyway. Grandma smiled and nodded like she understood and waved me on. Perfect timing.
Timing. Maybe that was it. The key to all things didn’t have anything to do with luck at all. It was all about good timing, and my friend rescued me in the nick of it.