Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Key, Chapter 6

The Key
by Eloise Hawking

Chapter 6

     I made the short trip east to my Grandparents’ house.  The fall air was crisp and smelled of the apple harvest.  It was the sweet smell of fall.  Sam was right, the air was getting crisp.

     The door to the back porch was propped open for Amtrak, the family cat.  He liked to go in out as he pleased.   He was almost twenty years old, so an open door was a well earned luxury.  Amtrak stayed the night wherever the mood struck him.  Sometimes it would be at Grandma and Grandpas, sometimes at my house.  He was perched at his usual post on the cement step.  I stopped a moment to pet his scratchy, gray head. 

     “How ya’ doin’, Old Man?” I asked before entering the house.

      “Grandma!” I yelled, “Mom sent me over for some soup!” trying not to startle her this time.

     The Weather Channel was on full blast, but Grandma was nowhere to be found.  I saw the Margarita Mix bucket sitting on the stove and figured that must be for us.  I lifted the lid with its dancing sombreros and inhaled.  Homemade vegetable—Harvest Soup, Grandma called it.  It was my favorite.

     I resealed the lid and grabbed the plastic handle, warmed from the contents.  It was filled to the top.  I guessed the vegetables in the soup were heavier than the margarita mix it originally contained, so I carried it very gently.  I noticed a loaf of homemade bread was sitting next to it, wrapped in tin foil.  My mouth watered and my stomach growled.  I hoped that was meant for us, too.   
     I looked out grandma’s kitchen window and saw she and my grandpa talking out in the garage.  I thought I’d go let them know I found the soup and see if this delicious smelling bread was for us, too.  I tucked the bread in a football hold in my left arm, grasped the soup bucket in my right, and opened the levered door handle with my elbow.

     I could hear the end of their conversation before they noticed me coming.  “………..some doozers coming in from the west this weekend.  We better batten down the hatches.”   I could tell she was nervous about something because she was smoking.   She tapped the long, white cigarette that was between her pointer and middle finger to knock the ash off onto Grandpa’s garage floor.  I always wondered if the ash would melt her equally long, plastic fingernails.

     My mother and grandmother are not alike at all it seems.  My mother would never smoke, for one, and for two, she despises fake nails.  I asked my mom once if I could go get a manicure for fun as we were walking by the nail place one day.  She stopped, hesitated, and pulled me backwards by the arm to look in the window.  Mother Eloise has this habit of never answering “Yes” or “No.”  She usually answers my question by asking another one, just like she does in school.  

     She said to me, “Take a look in this window, Sherlock.  What do you see?”  I didn’t say anything.  

     “See all of the people wearing facemasks?  That should raise the first warning flag in your brain that says, “Hey—maybe I shouldn’t be in here.”  And that was that.  My Sally Hansen #12 Petunia Pink does me just fine for now, I guess.

     One thing I have figured out about my grandma is that she is very scared of storms and she tells you straight up.  You don’t have to guess.  She calls us when she sees something coming on the radar no matter what the season; ice in the spring, torrential rain in the summer, thunderstorms in the fall, and blizzards in the winter.  Grandma should have been a weather forecaster.

     Luckily for Grandma, we live in a very safe area of the country.  My science teacher told us that the Great Lakes Region of the country is very safe because we don’t experience as much severe weather as the rest of the United States.  We get some bad thunderstorms and a neighboring community did have a tornado touch down once, but that was when my mother was just a kid.  About the worst thing that happens to us where we live is snow—lots and lots of it.  Grandma says “It’s not the snow that will kill ya’, it’s driving in it that will.” 

     Once Grandma was babysitting me when we had a very bad thunderstorm.  My sister and brother were with my parents and they were coming back from somewhere when the storm hit.  I was worried about them, but Grandma told me they were safe because the rubber tires on their van were poor electrical conductors.  She assured me they wouldn’t get electrocuted.  

     I suppose that was why the two of us were sitting on top of her long, wooden kitchen table wearing rubber rain boots.  There we sat, side by side cross legged, and watched the storm roll by out the windows.  Grandma kept waving the trail of smoke from her cigarette away from me, but kept the lighter handy in case we needed it to light the candles she made us hold in case we lost power.  

     I guess that is the only benefit of being a smoker:  You always have a lighter handy.   I knew about the danger of tornados and driving on icy roads, but I asked Grandma if people could ever die in a thunderstorm.  Grandma replied, “Only the dumb ones.”

      My mother, on the other hand, is not afraid of storms.  She told me once that one of her favorite places to be is near the beach when a storm rolls in across the lake.  Mother Eloise likes to sit on the shore and look for water spouts, which are actually mini tornados that are caused by the changes in air pressure when the storm goes over the water.  She made me pinky swear not to tell Grandma her secret or she knew she would surely get punished, even at forty years old.   

     I interrupted my grandparents conversation first by clearing my throat so they would notice my presence, then with the question, “Grandma, is this the soup and bread for our dinner?”

     “Oh hi, Ellen.  Yes it is,” Grandma said acknowledging me with a smile.  “It’s Harvest Soup, your favorite.  Framer Richter brought a big basketful of good things to put in it.  Did you have a good day at school?”

     Before I could answer, Grandpa interjected.  “Ellen, tell your mother that she needs to slow down.  She ran into the garbage can this morning.  Always in a hurry, that girl is.  Don’t be like that, Ellen.  What’s the hurry?  Take things slow.  Your life will be much easier.”  Grandpa's voice had an edge of irritation in it.

     “And after you are done telling your mother that," interjected Grandma,  "you may want to mention that there is more nasty weather on the way.  I talked to your Uncle Willie in Topeka and he said a twister spun off that sucker.  He hid in his basement for six straight hours.”

    I tried to conjure up an image of Grandma’s brother hiding in a basement, but I pushed the thought out of my mind when I thought of his plaid pants and loafers with the little tassels on them.

     I looked over to see that Grandpa had fixed the garbage can in the only way he knows how—using parts and pieces from all other things.  “Waste not, want not” he always says.  I noticed that the handle was from my old doll carriage, as well as one of the wheels.  Because the new wheel was slightly larger than the other three, the garbage can sat tipped on a slight angle. 

     “Since you’re going home, drag the can out back for me, will you honey?” Grandpa asked.
     Dragging garbage cans, hauling soup buckets, and delivering my mother unpleasant messages.  Maybe I was the real Cinderella.   

     I held the Margarita bucket in my right hand, tucked the loaf of bread underneath my chin, and grabbed the makeshift handle to the garbage can with my left.  I smiled and thanked them and carefully walked home, measuring every step so not to slop the soup or tip the can.  I had to concentrate extra hard not to drool on the bread.  It was a feat much harder than it looked.

     I was making good progress and was almost halfway home when I heard grandma’s voice calling to me.   I stopped, set the soup bucket down, released the bread from my chin-grasp, and balanced the garbage can in the grass.  When I turned to look back, Grandma was smiling and said, “You never said how your school day was!”

    ….or no one gave me the chance to answer, I thought.  

     “Fine,” I yelled back. I went to reconnoiter myself and it seemed like just plain too much work to readjust my load for a one word response, so I added this:  “What do you think is the key to all things?  It is my homework assignment.”

     “You have to pee, of all things?  Well get a move on, honey!  If you hold your pee you’ll get poisoned by your own urine and die.  You got to let that out!  Get goin’! ” Grandma yelled back.

     I sighed, smiled, and shook my head.  I could feel the sides of my pony tail brushing my neck.  Suddenly that remaining journey across the yard didn’t seem so long because I had something to chuckle about.  It always helps to take something funny with you along for the journey, even if you are dragging someone else’s garbage along with you.  I giggled to myself and thought that maybe that was it---laughter.  Could laughter be the key to all things?

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