By: Gary Gray
“LEON.” I Said.
Engrossed with my view from the rear window of the car as we exited Versailles, my sisters had no clue what I was talking about, they seldom did. They were busy bouncing and I was stuck in between them. Sometimes they would bounce in unison and the car would surge forward and back as though the engine was sputtering, other times they would alternate and the car would wobble back and forth in perfect synchronization.
I had no preference. Being stuck in the middle of the back seat between two bouncing girls was misery enough. My only recourse was to play dead. I found that I could disrupt the bouncing if I limbered my body and fell on one of my sisters. It was hard to bounce with a dead boy on top of you.
It was a few days before Christmas. Mom had wrapped fried chicken in aluminum foil for the trip and tucked it in her purse. She waited for the kids to fall asleep before she would eat it. Both of my sisters were asleep and I was still playing dead when mom pulled the little foil pack from her purse. She barely had it out when my older sister was aroused from her slumber by the smell of cold fried chicken still wrapped in 6 layers of foil. An amazing feat to say the least as mom had also packed a 5 gallon bucket of slop in the back of the wagon. The slop was for Grandma’s pigs. Why we had to haul slop across the country was a mystery, but that’s the way things were done in this family. We couldn’t make a trip to the farm without bringing slop and there would most certainly be a deficit of slop on the farm, weird.
“I smell meat!” Cathy bellowed, raising her head from the window frame. “Get off of me creep!” She pushed my dead body until I flopped to my youngest sister’s lap.
“Mom! Gary’s playing dead again, tell him to quit!” My sister Laura screamed, waking from her nap. “What’s that smell?” She continued, leaning forward, gazing at my mother.
“It’s Chicken.” Mom answered.
“Where’s mine?” Cathy asked.
“You don’t get any.” Mom replied.
“But I’m hungry.” Cathy whined.
“You’ll have to wait until we get to your Grandmothers.” Grandma’s was another thirty minutes away at best, she would probably starve before then, I hoped.
“Mom, tell Gary to get off!” Laura pushed on my dead body again. I wouldn’t budge; I was seeking revenge for having to endure the earlier bouncing and had now bestowed the added comfort of drool to my sister’s lap.
“Gary. Stop pestering your sisters.” Mom said as she gnawed into her chicken leg.
“Mom, it’s not fair you get chicken and we don’t.” Laura said.
“Your food is behind you.” I said, waking from my dead state and reaching for the bucket of slop.
“There’s my dream house.” Mom mumbled with her mouth full of chicken, pointing to what had to be the most dilapidated house in the state of Kentucky. Every time we drove through Keene, she would say the same thing. What had probably been a house thirty years before was now a mere pile of rotted lumber sitting precariously on top of a pile of limestone rocks. It still had the very basic form of a house but the only thing living in that hovel would be snakes and insects, I imagined.
“When are we moving?” I asked, being the consummate smart aleck.
We passed through Keene and were now in the open countryside.
Ahead, along the side of the road my father spotted a car sitting in the ditch. He pulled to a gentle stop behind the car and we could see a woman, still sitting in the front seat. Dad walked to the car and chatted for a few minutes then helped the lady from the car and assisted her into ours. Apparently, she had a tire blow out and had careened into the ditch; striking her head on the dashboard she received a cut on her forehead and was bleeding badly.
“We’re taking her to the hospital.” Dad announced. “You kids scoot over and make room.”
The skinny old lady was dripping blood down her blouse so we moved as far away from her as possible to make room in the already overcrowded back seat of the station wagon. Mom gave her a towel to place over her cut and Dad drove to the nearest hospital in Lexington.
The ventilation in the car was poor and rolling the windows down in winter wasn’t an option and it was getting fairly uncomfortable in the back seat. There I sat pressed between two obnoxious sisters and a moaning old lady bleeding all over us and the smell of fresh slop wafting from only two feet away while my mother continued chomping fried chicken. I vomited. Mom was out of towels.
We got to the hospital and Dad took care to see the bleeding lady into the emergency room and make sure her family knew where to find her and we were soon back on our way to Grandma’s.
We made it to Nicholasville and drove past the old courthouse. As always, the same scruffy old men were sitting on the stone wall, talking their old men talk and drinking their whisky from bottles wrapped in brown paper bags. I spotted the old green civil war cannon, still parked on the courthouse lawn and imagined the old men getting drunk and firing it at the courthouse.
About half way between Nicholasville and the farm, we passed the old country store. There was old Pappy Locker, walking the roads as usual. Every time we drove here we’d spot ole’ Pappy, walking along the old winding country roads. He must have been 90 years old, wearing the same dirty brown suit and ragged fedora on his head. He was a fixture along the country roads. He waved at anything that passed him. He waved at us as we drove by. I waved back through the rear window.
Aunt Irene lived a few miles up the road from Grandma. Her chickens ran loose all of the time and were generally found in the middle of the road. Dad slowed the car down as we approached the flock of chickens. Most of the chickens sauntered off the road, but one remained, our favorite chicken, the one that had run through mud and straw for a week. The accumulation of mud and straw on this chicken’s foot gave the impression that it was wearing combat boots. We called it the “Clod-Hopper” chicken. No trip to Grandma’s would be complete without the “Clod-Hopper” chicken standing in the middle of the road. It eventually waddled away from the road and we continued on towards Grandma’s house.
“Oh, there are the Piute Indians.” Mom said, wiping the grease from her hands. “See-um?” She wiggled her finger, pointing towards the roadside.
Every trip, without fail, Mom would tell us to watch for the Piute Indians. They were tiny folk, maybe two or three inches tall and lived in the limestone rocks along the roadside. I always worried that we might crush them with the cars tires as they caravanned across the roadway, trying diligently to reach the other side of the highway. I held my face to the window, desperately trying to spot these tiny people climbing in the rocks or huddled along the road side as they waited for the traffic to clear. I couldn’t see them, neither could my sisters. Mom continued to assure us they were there and I never doubted her.
When we arrived at Grandma’s farm, I could smell the old coal stoves Grandma used to heat her ancient farm house; they emitted a pungent smell into the air. I loved the smell of coal burning. It was a much better smell than a car full of slop and vomit and fried chicken. I took the slop to the pigs as quickly as possible. Grandma had more fried chicken inside so my sisters got their reward for putting up with me. For the remainder of the weekend, we enjoyed our holiday visit at our Grandmother’s farm house.
On the return trip home, we again drove through Versailles. Every year at Christmas time, hanging across the road at the entrance of the small town was a festive holiday sign with NOEL written in garland and tiny bright twinkling Christmas lights. Another sign, just like this one, greeted travelers on the other end of town as well. As we exited Versailles my sisters had finished their bouncing and were sound asleep. Mom was eating more of Grandma’s fried chicken. Dad was watching the road for hazards and I was back from the dead, silently peering through the rear window of the car as we passed under the sign on the opposite end of town.
“LEON”. I said.