Thursday, April 25, 2013

Midland, The Tall City, 1952 - 1953

This started out as my mother's story, written from my memories, some research and a lot of making stuff up. When I reached age 12 in the story, my inner adolescent simply took it over, and Mother became a minor character. Sorry. I do hope to get back to having Willie Mae as the central character at some point. If you're at all interested in my year as a  high school sophomore, read on for the continuation  of "Mother's Story", which was interrupted by "Suzy's Guitar" last month. 
  John and Eva Gray picked Fay and me up at camp on a Saturday in July, 1952. They broke the news that my family had moved to Midland. I felt shocked. Someone had agreed to buy our house in Odessa before I left, but I didn’t realize the move would happen so soon.
 When we arrived at the Grays’ home, Mother came from Midland to get me. She declined Eva’s offer of iced tea. “Thank you, but I have so much to do, we should get back.”
 Realizing I wouldn’t be at church with them on Sunday, I hugged the Grays before we left, feeling close to tears.
 In the car, I asked, “Can we drive out to our old house so I can say goodbye?” I felt a little foolish, but desperate to see the place once more.
 Mother sighed. I was sure she was going to say no.
 “Please, Mom.” My voice broke.
 She sighed again, and turned the car toward our old neighborhood. I was glad no one had moved into the house. Mother and Kyle waited in the car while I walked around, running my fingers through the scratchy juniper shrubs in front, touching each of the five Chinese elms along Edison Street in our side yard. They were just little sticks when Daddy planted them. Now they shaded the west side of the house in the hot summertime. When I got to the backyard, I ducked into the center of the weeping willow branches and hugged my best-loved tree, hidden from sight in my old refuge.
* * *
 In Midland, Mother turned into a modest driveway at 1307 W. Washington St. “Welcome to our new home, Honey. I’m so glad you’re finally here to help me get settled.”
 I looked through the windshield at a wall that had obviously replaced a garage door, one window facing the driveway. The siding didn’t quite match along the edges. I got my suitcase and bedroll out of the back seat. My little brother followed.
 “My school is only three blocks that way. I got a new bike I can ride there when I start fifth grade.” Kyle pointed west on Third Street.
 I turned from looking at the tall buildings that loomed a few blocks to the east in downtown Midland. Kyle took my suitcase from me, and I gave him a one-armed hug as we walked to the door. Glad that he was happy with the move, I wasn’t sure of my own feelings.
 Mother opened the screen door for me as I climbed two concrete steps to a central porch, flanked by tall skinny evergreen trees. “Come see your new room. I hope you like the furniture I picked for you.”
 Excited, I entered the small living room, separated by an open archway from the dining room behind it. Our old familiar furniture welcomed me.
 “Your room is to the left of the dining room, toward the front of the house, Joe Mike’s is the room in back.”
 I walked over a floor furnace in the hall, went left at the open bathroom door and entered the first room of my own.
 “Oh, Mom,” I called, “the furniture is beautiful.” Putting my suitcase on the bed, I pirouetted, catching my reflection in the large mirror above the new dresser, then opened and closed the six large empty drawers. I sat with a bounce on the full-sized bed, running my hand over the headboard that matched the dresser. Double windows a few feet from the foot of the bed faced the street. My small cedar chest was under the side windows next to our neighbor’s driveway. Scrambling across the bed to open the door of the closet in the corner, I wondered what happened to the fancy old wardrobe that had held my clothes. A stack of cardboard boxes greeted me.
 Mother came in. “Your clothes are still packed. I decided not to buy new curtains and a bedspread until you got home so you could pick them out.”
 I walked around the bed and threw my arms around her. “It’s so nice to have my own room. I want brown organdy crisscross curtains, with a ruffled bedspread to match. They’ll look nice with the yellow walls, don‘t you think?  I can show them to you in the Sears catalogue.”
 Mother nodded and beckoned for me to follow her back to the hallway. “Come see the rest of the house. Here’s the bathroom. I’m so glad to have a bathtub. And look, cabinets for towels and toiletries.”
 I thought I’d miss having a shower, but Mother obviously liked this house better than our old one, with its stingy storage space. I kept quiet about the shower.
 Past the bathroom, another door opened into Joe Mike’s room. His new furniture was dark wood. I was a little jealous that his bed had a bookcase headboard, but I didn’t say anything.
 “Where’s Joe Mike?”
 “He’s working at the warehouse with your dad, saving money to buy a car, since he’ll be going to Odessa Junior College when school starts.”
 Mother led me across the dining room to the kitchen, which was even smaller than the one in Odessa. Our old stove and refrigerator were there. I found a glass in the cupboard and ran water from the tap, taking a drink.
 “Ooh, chlorine,” I wrinkled my nose.
 “I know. It smells and tastes bad, but we’re on city water here. It’s softer than our well water was. Be careful not to use as much shampoo, or you’ll have a hard time rinsing out all the lather.”
 I walked toward the door leading to the backyard, but Mother motioned me to follow her through another door that led to the biggest room in the house, the converted garage. “Daddy and Kyle and I will sleep in here.”
 I went down two steps into the room that held two double beds, their headboards against the wall that had replaced the garage door. Mother and Daddy’s familiar chest of drawers was against the wall to the right. My old wardrobe stood near Kyle’s bed on the opposite side. Mother showed me her favorite feature, a large closet with sliding doors. The concrete floor was painted in black and white squares to resemble tiles. An exterior door led to the side yard. A new automatic washing machine sat near the kitchen door..
 “Oh, Mom, a washing machine. No more going to the Helpy-Selfy.” I laughed.
 Hearing my chuckle, Mom looked relieved. She studied my face. “I hope you like the house, Honey. Joe Mike says we should’ve bought a bigger, nicer one.”
 “It’s fine, Mom. I’ll love having my own room, but I’m going to miss my friends.” I made a sad face.
 “I know. I’m going to miss mine, too.” She looked truly sorrowful for a moment, then brightened. “The people at church here are friendly, and there are a number of girls about your age.” 
  I went back to the kitchen and out the door into the backyard. It was smaller than the two large lots we had in Odessa. There were no trees at all, just patchy grass and a clothesline. Too bad we couldn’t have moved the weeping willow tree.
* * *
 The next day was Wednesday. Mother, Kyle, Joe Mike and I went to church that evening. The building was much larger and finer that ours in Odessa. There, our pews were built by a local carpenter, the wooden floors were uncovered and whirring fans hanging from  the low ceiling augmented the evaporative cooler in a back window. In Midland, we entered an air conditioned sanctuary from the heat. Space rose high above us to open beams, making me feel small. The coolness was reinforced by the teal of the carpet and matching draperies at the back of the pulpit. Indirect lighting shone above large windows on each side. The window glass looked like swirling turquoise water with white bubbles flowing through it.
 As we entered, the minister, Brother Kennamer, met us at the door. After introductions were made, he directed us to our Bible classes. Mother followed him in to the adult class. My brothers and I walked around the building. We left Kyle at the door marked “Grade 5”. Joe Mike reminded me that he was a college student, but would go to the high school class with me.
 “Mr. Day got me a place to stay with a family in Odessa, so when school starts, I’ll be moving there.” Though his voice sounded proud, he looked a bit scared.
 Before we entered the classroom, I took a deep breath. Six girls sat in the second of three rows of chairs. They looked up from the cluster they made as they leaned together, talking. They smiled and murmured greetings as they eyed Joe Mike appreciatively. The man who sat alone in the front row, stood and introduced himself as Brother Hejl.
 We laughed. “We have the same last name.” Joe shook the man’s proffered hand.
 “Probably not. My name is spelled H -e- j- l. It’s Czech.” I noticed that he spoke with an accent. He turned and shook my hand. His face looked as if he’d scrubbed it until it turned pink under his fringe of graying brown hair. Dressed in a suit and tie despite the July heat, he had a formal but friendly manner. “Tell the class your names.”
 Feeling shy, I waited for my brother to speak. “I’m Joe Mike Hale and this is my sister, Jann.”
 The girls smiled and some waved as we sat behind them. After Brother Hejl started the class with a prayer, the door opened again and a boy came in and sat beside Joe Mike.
 After 40 minutes of a familiar discussion of New Testament passages, class was dismissed.
 The six girls surrounded me, large smiles on their faces. One with dark-hair and a pleasant face that went perfectly with her plump figure spoke first. “I’m Ruth Ann Kuykendall, but everyone calls me Kirk. Can you come over to my house tomorrow afternoon? We were talking about having a party to make brownies when you came in.” She wrote her phone number and address on a note pad, tore off the sheet and handed it to me.
 I looked at the address. “I don’t know if my mother can drive me. I’ll see.”
 The girl next to her spoke up, her brown eyes sparkling behind rhinestone-studded glasses that swooped up on the corners. “I’m Jo Ann. If you give me your address, my mom and I’ll pick you up.” She spoke in a decisive, take-charge manner, even though she was a full five inches shorter than everyone else in the group.
 “Thank you.” I borrowed a sheet of Kirk’s notepad, wrote my address and phone number and handed it to Jo Ann.
 She finished the introductions. “This is Evelyn Hejl, Ann Kennamer, Joan Roberts and Mary Jo Hejl.”
 Joe Mike, standing by the door where he’d been talking to the other boy, motioned with a jerk of his head that he was ready to leave.
 I answered with a motion for him to come meet the girls. “This is my brother, Joe Mike. Please repeat your names for him. My memory is hopeless.”
 Each girl shook Joe Mike’s hand and said her name, their smiles widening even further.
 Joe Mike responded with a smile, took my arm and turned toward the door.
 I waved at the girls, “See y’all tomorrow, I hope.”
* * *
 At the party the next day, I learned that Evelyn, Kirk, Joan and Ann were seniors, Jo Ann, a junior. I was the lone sophomore, but they welcomed me warmly into their group. Mary Jo wasn’t there. She was home from college for the summer, working in the office at her father’s Studebaker dealership. The party was fun, but I was in awe of how nice Kirk’s house was. I’d just have to get used to having rich friends if I was going to live in a higher-class town. At this disloyal thought, I felt my heart contract, and wished  I was back in Odessa with my south-side friends.
* * *
 That Friday, we left home to go to a Cummings family reunion. As usual, Daddy didn’t go. Thursday night, I overheard Mother asking him to reconsider. “Please come with us, Joe. My family would love to see you.”
 He snorted. “Right. They look down on me and you know it. Last Christmas when I gave all the men a drink of whiskey, A.D. raised his glass and said, ‘It sure is nice to have a sorry brother-in-law.’” He drew out the word sorry with sarcastic emphasis. “I saw how red your face turned. I’ll spare you the embarrassment this time.”
 Daddy was home more since we moved to Midland, but I noticed more signs of his drinking. I wished he’d go with us but was also relieved that he wouldn’t. I felt excited at the prospect of seeing Grandmother and Granddaddy and the crowd of cousins, aunts and uncles that would surround them at Uncle Elma’s house in Canyon.
 Friday afternoon we headed north. Joe Mike did most of the driving. Two and a half hours after leaving home, we arrived at Aunt Ina Rae and Uncle J.D.’s in Lubbock, where we ate dinner and spent the night. I loved being there, because we always had fun. Kyle, 10, and J.Mac, 9, went out to play catch with a football. Joe Mike and I asked permission to play with the wire recorder, making speeches and singing songs, then rewinding the wire to play back our strange-sounding voices.  In the kitchen, Mother and Ina Rae talked non-stop, laughing often as they made a fudge cake and potato salad to take to Canyon the next morning.
 As one of the younger of my grandparents’ 20 grandchildren, this was the first time I was included in an outing with the teenagers instead of staying with the adults and little children at the reunion. I was ecstatic about going to the museum at West Texas State College, where we looked at Native American artifacts from the nearby Palo Duro Canyon and a collection of early automobiles. Rue and I were the youngest, and the only girls, who squeezed into the car with our brothers, Tony and Joe Mike, and cousins Neil and Clancy. It was a day that felt “just right.” Cousins older than this group were already married. After the museum, we drove to the canyon to see for ourselves the land where the Comanche held out for so long against the Fourth Cavalry. It was a beautiful and wild place. Laughing at the boys as they sparred to be the funniest, I felt beautiful and wild myself.
* * *
 I was glad when school started and I could widen my circle of acquaintances. The school days began with me singing alto in the a cappella choir. As in Odessa Junior High, most of the kids from my church were in this class. Because we sang without instrumental accompaniment at church, we knew how to read music. Almost all of the new friends I made were in choir. I joined the Music Appreciation Club, where I could have more time with them after school one day a week.
 I liked Miss Perkins, my English teacher, who taught in a very structured, systematic way. I found I actually enjoyed diagramming sentences, though surely we could’ve studied a more compelling book than Silas Marner.
 This was Mr. Johnson’s first year as a biology teacher. He started class by saying, “I hate to alarm you, but I just read in Science that our sun is going to burn out in only a million years.”
 We got used to his corny sense of humor. The day we dissected an earthworm, my lab partner was a boy with the unlikely name of Snookie Roberts. We couldn’t find the brain, our main assignment. Kids all around us were raising their hands after they found the tiny white dot at one end of the worm. We thought maybe were looking at the wrong end, but we tried both and somehow missed it. Finally, I made a minute ball of notebook paper, put it in the mangled end of our poor worm and raised my hand.
 Mr. Johnson bent over to look at the mess through his thick glasses, straightened, gave me a brilliant smile. “Yes, that’s it,” After he turned to respond to someone else, I gave Snookie a thumbs up. My secret was safe with him.
 I don’t recall learning anything new in American history. I took a class in clothing design and joined the Future Homemakers of America. I liked the clothes Mother made me and wanted to have that skill.
 Still, a disastrous mistake occurred in scheduling my classes. As the year went on, I came to a daily fearful dread, a knot forming in my stomach as time for second year algebra class approached. I’d made an A in first year algebra but didn’t realize that I needed plane geometry as a prerequisite for second year algebra. I’ve never known why this placement happened, but it was great preparation for my later teaching career. It helped me empathize with students who felt lost in a subject matter. This was the only D I ever received, and I was relieved it wasn’t an F.
 It was an emotionally shaky year in other ways as well. On the Friday night of the football game between Midland and Odessa, I felt torn. The game was in Odessa, and some of my new friends were not even going. Midland was not the rabid football town that Odessa was. I wanted to go to the game but couldn’t stand the thought of being on the side opposing all my childhood friends. Still, I liked my new friends, and if I were going, I’d want to sit with them and cheer for my own school.
 I lay down in my room as I struggled with the feelings that flowed from these contradictory thoughts. Tears streamed from my eyes. Mother came in to tell me we were leaving to go to the game. My back was to her as she stood in the doorway. “I don’t want to go. I think I’m getting sick.”
 “Oh, no, Honey.” She put her hand on my forehead. “You do feel a little warm. Do you want me to stay with you?”
 “No, Mom. I’ll be okay by myself.” I’d never felt this kind of depression before. It did feel like an illness and I wanted to be alone so I could cry unseen and unheard.
 “Okay, Honey. If you’re sure. We’ll come right home after the game.” Mother turned, and I listened to her footfalls until she was out of the house, then let out a miserable wail.
 I crawled under the covers with my school clothes on, glad when the room turned dark, thinking of the bright stadium with friends cheering on both sides. Every imagined scene opened a fresh spring of tears. I was sure Odessa was beating Midland badly, and felt both happy and dejected about that.
 This one-night breakdown is my most vivid memory of regret and sadness over my family’s move to Midland.
 At fifteen, my first real romance blossomed. Bill Brown was several years older than I. We met at church the summer before my family moved. He bowled me over with his blond hair, soulful brown eyes and slow, shy smile. He was out of high school, had a job and drove his own car. I was delighted when he courted me, even after our move to Midland. A typical date was the night we went to see “From Here to Eternity“, then to a drive-in for soft drinks. We sat in his car in front of my house for an hour, still under the spell of the movie. Talking led to what we called smooching. I thoroughly enjoyed the fully-clothed groping Bill and I engaged in, and floated into the house in a kind of dream state. Neither the thought of  giving up my virginity before marriage nor guilt over Bill’s frustration entered my mind.
 A war raged on the Korean Peninsula, and the draft age was lowered to eighteen and a half. Bill was conscripted and sent to Ft. Bliss in El Paso. His parents invited me to go with them on the day of his graduation from Basic Training. William Stout, a friend of the Brown family also went. On the long drive west, I sat in the back seat with him. Mrs. Brown sat next to her husband, who drove. She was a small woman, with dark hair, brown eyes and a sharp, pretty face. She reminded me of a mouse as her body tensed and she emitted small frantic sounds with every passing car.
 Bill was as happy to see us as one could be in his situation, not knowing whether or not he’d be fighting a war soon. I felt cherished by this small family. I suspected they hoped Bill and I would someday marry. After the graduation ceremony and a wonderful Mexican dinner, all of us had tears in our eyes as we told Bill goodbye.
 We got into the car to drive the 350 miles back to Midland. William Stout drove and Mr. and Mrs. Brown sat in the back. Though her husband soon went to sleep, Mrs. Brown perched on the edge of her seat, repeating her earlier performance, seeming to think she could prevent her worst fears by intensifying them.
 I leaned my head against the window and tried to sleep, but couldn’t get comfortable. I welcomed Mr. Stout’s invitation: “You can lie down on the seat and put your head on my leg. It won’t interfere with my driving.”
 He was in his forties, on the other side of the line in my young mind that separated friends from adults, but he was a trusted adult. As I lay with my head on his leg, looking through the windshield at the brilliant stars of the west Texas sky, I was aware of the hard muscles moving his foot from the accelerator to the brake pedal and back, a mysterious introduction into sensuality.
 After that Bill and I had only a few dates on weekends. I was too young for him, with my heart set on going to Abilene Christian College. He wanted to settle down after his army service. The Korean conflict ended in July, so he finished his service in El Paso. We didn’t have a break-up. He just stopped calling, and by that time I was dating other boys I met in school. I ran into him and met his pretty wife at church in Odessa the summer after I graduated. My heart still melts when I think of his sleepy-looking brown eyes and shy smile.
* * *   
 My dad had the best job he’d ever had, but his drinking got worse. One vivid, painful memory is of the company Christmas party in a private dining room at the Diamond Horseshoe Restaurant. Among Daddy’s employees was Mr. Bennett, an older man who’d worked for Daddy in Odessa and went with him to Midland.
 During the dinner, “Old Man Bennett”, as Daddy called him, dropped his dentures. He had to get down on all fours and crawl under the table to look for them. All the men were drunk by then and were merciless in their laughter at his expense.
 I was excruciatingly embarrassed and wondered why Mr. Bennett was so loyal to Daddy, who loved to tease him. That may be the night that I decided to go to summer school in order to graduate from high school a year early and leave home.
 In the spring, I was assigned to write a research paper for biology class. I chose the topic of alcoholism. I learned that the disease affects people from all classes of society. The one common characteristic that alcoholics had, my source wrote, was a highly sensitive emotional nature.
 I saw the tragedy of the disease through the screen of my love for my father. I avoided having friends come to my house when he was there or might come in. His eyes were often bloodshot, his voice too loud, his attempts to be friendly or funny, silly and humiliating. The pain of my love for him in this condition felt almost unbearable.
* * *
 One of my new choir friends, Margaret Gibson, lived near me. I loved to go to her house, which was filled with music, books and art. Miriam and Malcolm, her parents were friendly and good-humored. They had a Pekingese named Wee Sing and several cats. Thanks to her mom, Margaret and I got jobs at The Book Stall, in downtown Midland, where Miriam worked full time. Margaret and I started during Christmas break. We worked mostly in the back room, wrapping gifts.
 When school convened again, we helped with inventory after class. The terror I felt standing on a ladder, counting bright Mexican hand-blown glassware, not from fear of the height, but of breaking another glass, as I did on the first day. The owner, Mrs. Mancill, was patient and kept me on until I went to college. I loved having money of my own, but usually bought so many books with my employee’s discount that I didn’t have much left in my paycheck. Ever after that, I had a weakness for small bookstores that also carry stationery and gifts.
 Margaret and I went with her parents to try out for plays at the Midland Community Theater. Her dad, Malcolm, was a good singer and played the part of Sir Joseph, the First Lord of the Admiralty in H.M.S. Pinafore. Margaret and I sang in the chorus, as one his “sisters and his cousins and his aunts.”
 Community theater gave me a wider circle of acquaintance than church, school and my dad’s employees. One night I heard another cast member ask Malcolm what his job was.
 He laughed. “I’m a geologist. Isn’t everyone in Midland?”
 It struck me with a mild shock, that people took a good education and well-paid employment for granted. The Gibsons were a refined, light-hearted family. I felt lucky to be welcome in their home.
* * *.
  The choir’s spring musical, Down in the Valley, matched my mood. Even now, when I hear the title song, it brings to mind the sad lament of the Jennie, the heroine:
 Brack Weaver, my true love, they’ve taken away.
 And since he’s been taken, there’s no night or day.
 No joy ever tarries, no heart can be gay.
 Oh, my love of Brack Weaver will not pass away.

 The sun in the morning, will rise in the sky.
 The laurels are green where the river runs by.
 The trees on the mountain are growing so high.
 But without my dear loved one, I’m sure I will die.
 Unlike Jennie, my melancholy didn’t result from losing my true love. It was that I didn’t feel at home in Midland. I didn’t know why and couldn’t express it at the time. I’d lived amid working-class, low-income people all my life. My dad, with his ninth grade education, had achieved more than most people would expect. He was part owner and manager of the Midland 66 Oil Company, the wholesale distributor for Phillips products. He seemed self-confident, but maybe he drank so much because, like me, he felt out of his element.
 I realized later that my feelings were similar to Mother’s at the same age, when her family moved from the farm near her one-room country school to the town ot Floydada. We both felt like fish out of water. Like her, I made friends who helped me cope.
  That sophomore spring, I dated a senior, Joe Cates. One day at the Book Stall, Margaret teased, “You’ve been out with Joe several times. You must like him.”
 “I like him all right. He’s a perfect gentleman, which is a good thing, because I don’t feel the slightest tingle when he gives me a goodnight peck at the door.”
 That night, after Joe and I had seen “The Greatest Show on Earth,” I enjoyed an elegant fruit plate at the Diamond Horseshoe Restaurant. He stopped talking about the movie and cleared his throat. “I probably should tell you that I nominated you to be the DeMolay Sweetheart. The vote is next week. I hope you get it.”
 I felt slightly alarmed. “What does that mean? What would I have to do?”
 “Nothing but go to the dance with me to receive your crown. The top vote-getter will be the Sweetheart, and the next four will be Duchesses in her court.”
 I’m sure Joe meant this as an honor, but I sincerely hoped it was the last I’d hear of it. How could he know that Church of Christ girls didn’t go to dances, and I didn’t know how to dance? Picking at my fruit, I murmured, “Thank you, Joe.”
 As it turned out, I was a Duchess. I was afraid Mother wouldn’t want me to go to the dance. I didn’t know how to get out of it, but she said, “I think it’s fine that you’re being recognized. I doubt you’ll fall from grace at a high school dance.”
 I was shocked to realize that I felt more strict about Church of Christ doctrine than my mother did. She took me shopping for a formal and we found one we both liked at Dunlap’s Department Store. Three layers of soft yellow tulle covered the long rayon taffeta skirt. Appliqué flowers edged the strapless top and a stole of tulle floated around my shoulders.
 Daddy came home early the day of the dance so he could see me in the dress. He repeated the same thing he said all my life when I got dressed up for special occasions. “You’ll be the prettiest girl there.”
 Joe picked me up in his father’s 1953 burgundy-colored Cadillac coupe. It had extensive chrome trim, including bullet-shaped extensions on the front and back bumpers. He was ecstatic to be driving it. The ride was like floating on a cloud.
 I carried a cascade of long-stemmed  yellow roses in the coronation ceremony. Joe wore a white sport coat and a yellow rose boutonnière. As the honored couples processed into the country club ballroom, we paused under an archway woven with tiny lights, flowers and greenery, to be introduced. The effect of the luxurious setting and having hundreds of eyes on me was numbing.
 As the applause died,  I heard a male voice say, “Mmmm…That’s what I like about the South.”  I felt like an object on display, though not entirely displeased. At the end of the long evening, my face hurt from smiling without feeling happy as I shuffled across the dance floor.
 That was in late spring. Joe graduated and got an early start on college in summer school at Texas Tech. The goodnight kiss at the door after the dance ended our dating.
* * *
 Fifty-seven years later, my son Patrick, who has a shop manufacturing hot rod parts, called. “Mom, one of my customers remembers you from high school. His name is Joe Cates. He said to call him if you’d like.”
 The name seemed familiar, but I an image didn’t come to mind until I got out my old yearbook. On his picture he’d drawn dual carburetors like horns coming out of his head and had written, “Hot Rod.” The whole DeMolay Duchess fiasco came back to me. I called him and we had a pleasant chat. He lived in Bakersfield with his British wife of 45 years and was finally building his dream car.
 He put into words exactly what I was thinking. “Talk about arrested development. I still love hot rods.”
* * *
 Most of my friends were a year ahead of me. I decided to take Junior English and World History in summer school, earning enough credits to be a senior. My way toward Abilene Christian College became clearer.
 Besides going to school that summer, I started a new romance. One Sunday morning, as I turned to leave after the closing prayer at church, the woman sitting behind me touched my elbow. “I want you to meet my son Bob. Bob, this is Jann Hale, who helped me with my third grade class in vacation Bible school. I don’t know what I’d have done without her help.”
 “It was fun, Sister Peters.” I held out my hand to the tall young man beside her and caught my breath as I looked into his brown eyes. His brilliant smile flashed from a perfect tan. He took my cold hand into his warm one. I almost forgot to introduce him to my best friend, who stood beside me. “Do you know Jo Ann Bassham?”
 They said yes in unison and laughed as they shook hands. We all moved out into the aisle.
 Mrs. Peters and Jo Ann became involved in conversations with other people as we walked toward the door, Bob hung back to be next to me and leaned close to my ear. “Would you like to go to a movie with me Friday night? Roman Holiday is opening at the Texan.”
 “I’d love to, Bob. Your mom has my number.” He was just the right height for me to look up to.
 “Okay. I’ll call you to arrange the time.” He squeezed my elbow and hurried after his mother.
 “That was quick.” Jo Ann laughed at my flushed face as she caught up with me. “I don’t know which of you looked more smitten, you, Bob, or his mother.”
 After the movie and refreshments at a drive-in restaurant, Bob and I sat in his car in front of my house and got acquainted. He was home for a few weeks from Texas A. & M., where he had one year to go before finishing a pre-med major. He showed me his senior ring, set with a diamond, and was proud of playing French horn in the famous Aggie marching band. After graduation, he’d go to an osteopathic school in Missouri.
 “When I finish my medical training, I’ll go into practice with my father in Austin.”
 “Really? Your father lives in Austin?” I’d never had a friend whose parents were divorced. My voice betrayed my feeling of shock. “I thought your mother was a widow.”
 Bob laughed and patted my hand. “I don’t even remember when we all lived in the same house. They split when I was small, and I can’t imagine them together.”
 By the time Bob kissed me goodnight at the door, I was enamored.
 The busy summer weeks raced by. I went to school, worked at the Book Stall and dated Bob. By the time he left, I hated to say goodbye, and we promised to write to each other through the coming year.
* * *
 On the last day of summer classes, I walked home in the oppressive August heat and hurried to the kitchen for a drink of the iced tea that Mother always kept in the refrigerator. There was none. Sighing with exasperation, I took out a metal ice tray, pulled the lever on top, which moved the dividers between the cubes. Cracking the ice was strangely satisfying. I filled a tall glass with ice cubes and tap water. After just one sip, I decided to make a pitcher of tea, since I knew Daddy would want some when he came home.
 As I was filling the kettle, Mother came from her bedroom. When I saw her face, I turned off the water and left the kettle in the sink, realizing that not having tea was a minor problem. Mother’s eyes were red, her face drawn tight with distress.
 “Mom, what’s wrong?” I put my arms around her.
 She hugged me back and briefly rested her head on my shoulder before answering. “Ina Rae called earlier. Mama had a bad stroke last night and is in the hospital. Pack a few things. Your dad took the car to be serviced. We’re going to Floydada as soon as it’s ready.
 “Oh, no. How bad is it?”
 Mother took a deep breath, but sobs broke through her answer. “She’s paralyzed on her left side and she can’t talk.”
 My mind went blank at the thought of my grandmother, always laughing and talking, the undisputed matriarch of the Cummings clan, helpless and silent in a hospital bed. I walked toward my room to pack, which brought my mind back to the practical. “I need to call Mrs. Mancill to let her know I won’t be in tomorrow.” My plan for the start of summer break evaporated. I wouldn’t be working at the Book Stall on Saturday and hanging out with my girlfriends after church on Sunday. I faced with dread the prospect of being at Grandmother’s house without her.
 Mother, Kyle and I were on the road by four o’clock. I drove the first 48 miles to Lamesa, but was happy to give the wheel to Mother after that. Although the road was smooth and flat with hardly a curve, I didn’t have much highway driving experience, and tired quickly from nervous tension. We arrived in Floydada as the purple and orange  sunset lit the western sky over the high plains.
 We drove straight to the hospital, a modest single story building with asbestos siding. As we entered the lobby, I resisted the urge to hold my nose as a wave of alcohol fumes overtook us. Aunt Ina Rae and Granddaddy sat in black vinyl chairs with bent chrome frames. Granddaddy’s face was in his hands, elbows resting on his knees,  shoulders slumped forward. Ina Rae patted his back, her pretty face a mask of grief. Mother rushed ahead of me and Kyle. Her hands extended to her father and sister.
 “Oh, Shorty,” Mother reverted to her sister’s childhood nickname, struggling to keep her voice low in volume. Even so, a kind of howl escaped her lips.
 Ina Rae stood and hugged Mother, kissing her on the cheek. “Hi, Bill. I’m glad you’re here.”
 They clung to each other, both crying softly. As I waited for my hug from Aunt Ina Rae, I noticed Granddaddy was standing behind his daughters, looking bewildered. I went around and held up my arms to him.
 He seemed to have shrunk and he responded with a hug and pats on my back, still taller than I.. “Hello, Daughter.”
 “Hi, Granddaddy. Are you okay?” I stepped back so Kyle could give him a hug but kept talking. “How’s Grandmama?”
 “She’s bad.” He patted Kyle, then moved to give Mother a tearful hug as Ina Rae gave Kyle and me  kisses. Granddaddy took a bandana out of his back pocket and wiped his eyes. “She can’t talk or move her left side.”
 “Where is she? Can we see her?” Mother was looking down the single long corridor.
 Ina Rae, said,  “Aileene’s with her in room 12. You and Jann go on and see her, but tell me bye first. I have to go home. I left the children with my sister-in-law early this morning. J. D. picked them up when he got off work, but he’s probably pulling his hair out by now. We’ll come back in the morning. Can Kyle go with me? That would make J. Mac happy, and youngsters can’t go in the hospital room anyway.”
 Mother absent-mindedly gave her consent for Kyle to go to Lubbock. He was so excited, he was at the door waiting with his bag before Ina Rae said her goodbyes. He’d just had his eleventh birthday. J. Mac was ten, and the two boys were delighted when they could get together.
 Filled with dread, I followed Mother and Granddaddy down the hall. Just three months earlier, at his 80th birthday party, everyone had remarked how straight and tall Granddaddy stood. Now, three months later, he was bent by the blow of finding Grandmother on the floor, unable to sit up or make herself understood. Mother had her arm around his waist. I walked past them to open the door to Room 12. Reluctant to go in, I waited by the door after they entered. Mother and her older sister, Aileene hugged, sobbing. Mother wiped her eyes, turned to gently touch Grandmother’s pale face.
 Grandmother’s eyes opened. She looked afraid and lost, eyes darting around the dimly-lit room. Finding Mother’s face, she shook her head, signaling that she couldn’t find words. Her right hand closed over the inert left hand that rested on her chest. She rubbed the twisted fingers, trying to straighten them.
 Aunt Aileene turned the crank at the foot of the bed to raise Grandmother’s head.
 “Oh, Mama. I’m so sorry this happened to you.” Mother placed her hands over Grandmother’s hands, squeezing them both, leaning in to kiss her cheeks.
 I came to stand at the foot of the bed, horrified by Grandmother’s drooping face, not knowing how to respond. When she saw me, the right side of her mouth lifted in a half smile. Her right eye crinkled, emphasizing the drooping left eye. She made a sound that I took to be a joyous greeting.
 I walked around Granddaddy to stand on her left side, bent and kissed her face and nuzzled her neck, comforted by the familiar smell. “I love you, Grandmama.”
 She patted my arm. When I straightened, she closed her eyes wearily and I moved back to the foot of the bed and listened to Mother, Aunt Aileene and Granddaddy discussing next steps.
 Aileene lived on a farm in Hart, an hour away. “Since you’re here for the weekend, I’ll go home and come back during the week. Jack has a crew coming to harvest the maize tomorrow. He said he didn’t need me, but I should be there to cook and run errands for him.” Aileene laughed in a self-deprecating way.
 “Dad looks awfully tired. Has he had anything to eat?” Mother raised her voice slightly, “Dad, are you hungry?”
 He looked confused “I hadn’t thought about it. I guess I could eat something.”
 After some discussion, Mother decided to take Granddaddy to his home and make his dinner.
 “Would you like to stay here with Mama, Jann? The nurse said they’d set up a cot. After I get Dad settled, I’ll bring you something to eat.” Mother stroked my hair, her face strained.
 “Yes, I can stay with her..” I felt awed to be given this responsibility, but confident at sixteen that I could handle it.
 “If Mama wakes up and needs something, call the nurse. I’ll be here as early as possible in the morning.”
 The long night on an uncomfortable cot was a rite of passage for me. Being there with my beloved grandmother in her distress was bittersweet. I hardly slept as I listened to her labored breathing.
 She eventually recovered her speech, but was unable to walk for the remaining four years of her life. I don’t recall hearing her bell-like laughter after that August night in 1953. My grandparents, Sid and Susie Griffin Cummings, had married in December, 1895. Fifty-seven years later she became bedridden and depressed. Granddaddy spiraled into dementia. Life no longer seemed to make sense to him. She died on May 30, 1957, at age 82. He rejoined her September 2, 1958, at age 85.
 Leaving my childhood home in Odessa to start high school among strangers was a sad time. Saying goodbye to my grandparents’ house as a happy place of refuge took me to a new depth of sorrow.

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