Tuesday, November 28, 2017

South of Chattanooga

     Her uncle was a drunk, there's no nicer way to say it. Used to disappear all the time. Used to say he had to go "see a man" and disappear all the time. Wind up in some new ugly situation, jail or hospital sometimes, and her and her mother, your grandmother, his sister... they'd have to go get him. This was a regular thing whenever he was back in Louisville. She saw some interesting things for a girl that age, I can tell you. Anyway, like I said her uncle was a drunk but he had a car and he could drive and so whenever her father got really crazy and they needed to get away from him, get out of town and back down the road to St. Augustine, they called on him, were dependent on him. He had this Cadillac he was so proud of. How he got it is another story for another day.
     This was before the interstates, you have to remember. This is the early 1950s, back in the time of Route 66, and the drive down from Louisville was no joke. No straight shot down I-75 back then. No gas-station Starbucks/Hardees rest-stops along the way. No GPS. No satellite radio. This was two-lane piney-woods highways, a couple of closed up little towns and long stretches of nothing in-between. Farms. Woods. Creatures in those woods.
     Your grandfather, I don't have to tell you what he was like. He was crazy, and the older she got the crazier he got. I'm sure you can put it together yourself. I used to shy away from terms like "evil" - he was crazy and he was out of his mind on speed most of the time, but other people are crazy and other people are stoned and they don't do what he tried to do. He's be OK for a while, then he wouldn't be OK again and then she and your grandmother would head back down to St. Augustine, her uncle at the wheel of his dumb red Cadillac. I suppose she was probably around eight, maybe ten? This one time we're talking about? Eight or ten. Let that sink in for a minute.
     So your Mom and her mom and her uncle cleared Kentucky and were heading down to the Sunshine State. Highway X to Highway Y. Highway Y to Highway Z. Her uncle sweating behind the wheel of his car, her mother talking and talking and talking. Middle of the school year but that didn't matter. Knowing her she probably brought her books along. Her mom and her uncle in the front seat, her working out math problems in the back. This ride already familiar to her. Tedium and radio and cigarette smoke and sometime towards late afternoon she needs to pee. She lets them know, but there's no place to go, so just hold it for now. So she holds it and she waits and the wheels keep turning but she really needs to go and she tells them again. An again, no place to go just hold on. More miles pass and eventually she shad no choice. She tells them again and I imagine there was something in her voice that told her uncle that if he really loved that dumb red Cadillac he'd better pull over quick so he pulls over quick and out she pops. Practically flies out the back seat. Her mom gets out of the passenger side. Middle of nowhere, somewhere south of Chattanooga.
     It's getting dark, but not dark enough, and her mom, your grandmother, looks for somewhere to take her that isn't the side of the highway in plain view of her uncle and the rest of the world. She deserves that much. So she looks around as her uncle gets back behind the wheel of his Cadillac, lights himself another Chesterfield, and waits. He's pissed off, just sick of this shit. Sick of these debts he owed his sister and her angry little bitch of a kid, sick of these drives, sick of this nowhere Georgia heat. Just sick of this shit.
     Meanwhile her mom, your grandmother, spots a clump of trees about twenty yards up off the shoulder of the road, under the most primitive of fences, and the two of them pretty much run for it. She just about makes it. Her mom is close behind. When she's done and she's hitching up her underwear your grandmother has a go. Then they're finished, puddles running down into the dusty red Georgia dirt. Then they're finished, this girl and her mother, this mother and her girl. They stand there looking at each other and dizzy with relief, surrounded by trees somewhere deep in Gordon County.
     They hear the Cadillac's engine turn over while they're still standing there, and whatever smile your grandmother might have been smiling just drops. As they clear the trees, hurrying back towards the highway on the other side of the fence, they catch the sight of her uncle shifting the Cadillac into first. They're running now, but they can't catch up. Her mother cries wait and her uncle calls back out through the passenger-side window that he'll be back, that he can't wait any longer, that he's got to go see a man. And the Cadillac pulls off the shoulder and on down the road, leaving your mother and your grandmother behind. They watch it go until the road curves, then they watch it disappear.
     They walked about three hours south down that same highway until they found the next open town, and then they searched every bar in town until they finally found him. And that's a true story. That's what happened when your mom was a kid.

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