March 01, 2007

Moment of Insight

Not one to let a writing assignment be wasted just on a professor here at Tall Corn College and Technical Institute I submit today a recent Non Fiction Literature, Moment of Insight.

"Indiana Avenue"

When I heard Aunt Ruby’s voice on the other end of the line I knew it was one of those calls that you know will someday come and yet in your heart you hope never does. She was going through her address book, announcing the death of her mother. We all knew that at 92 it was only a matter of time. Although her mind was still sharp, over the years Granny had shrunk in size and her vision had become hazy and faded. She didn’t want a funeral so there was no worry about a trip out to the coast.
It wasn’t long before the phone rang again. "How you doing Scotty? Did you hear about Granny?" Aunt Dawn asked in typical machine gun fashion. "We went out and bought a pack of Salems and a 12 pack of Coors to commemorate Mom. She didn’t want a funeral but Kim and I are putting together a party. Friday night at the Corner Bar in Charles City. You gotta be there Scotty." "I wouldn’t miss it, we’ll be there." I promised her.
Charles City. I hadn’t been there since Grandpa died. After Granny removed her name from the headstone, sold the house and moved to California to live with Ruby there was no reason to go back. Following in the path of her children, Granny was the last to leave.
As a kid a trip to Charles City was like Christmas. The planning took weeks, with all the precision of a military assault. There were bags to pack, pies to bake, and the over sized picnic basket to fill to the brim. By the time the big brown Bel-Aire was packed with blankets and pillows and what nots there was barely a hole for my sister and I to squeeze into. Even though it was a mere fifty or so miles away the chorus "how much longer, are we there yet" would begin in earnest as we passed through the first town. This trip would not be as elaborate.
It was a quick four-hour drive from our home to Charles City that late autumn afternoon. We made a quick stop at the hotel to check in and drop off the luggage before we headed to the party. With the pretext of showing my wife around I could not resist a tour of the town.
Charles City is frozen in time. Main Street looks the same and the "swinging bridge" over the Cedar that used to scare the girls on the way to the swimming pool is still there. As are the big immaculate houses with the manicured yards in the Riverside neighborhood, where as kids we always seemed to pass through quickly and quietly like scared kids cutting through a cemetery.
As if drawn by some unseen force we turn north, crossing the tracks that divide the town, a left at the school, and a couple blocks down to Indiana Avenue. We pull to a stop and as day fades into twilight I can make out a hazy image of the place where Granny used to live.
The little three-room tar paper house where Granny once said, "She raised nine kids and my grandpa." The dirt path behind the house leading to the toilet and just beyond that the railroad tracks. To the left, the little shed where we filled the big metal tub on bath day and where Grandpa skinned muskrats for trappers in the winter and recycled metal from the city dump in the summer.
No matter how many of us showed up there was always room for everyone, with kids and adults alike, packed liked sardines on the front room floor. In the early morning, eagerly waiting for the day’s adventures to begin, I would lie awake and listen to the sounds of Tinker’s nails clicking across the linoleum of the kitchen floor, the squeak and slam of the screen door as she let herself outside. Grandpa in his chair in the corner of the kitchen, coughing as he lights a Chesterfield, while his old radio is tuned to the morning farm report. The ker-chunck of the pump handle as Granny fills the coffeepot and scoops in the grounds to boil.
"What are we doing here?" my wife’s voice softly wafts from the truck. As I squint through the growing darkness, the scene somehow seems wrong. Like peering at the scenery through an old pop bottle. The tracks are too close and he trestle over the creek is too low. Everything somehow shrunken, and faded. "This is Granny’s place" I whisper. I slowly turn the truck around and we head to the Corner Bar.
The party is more than I expected, with people that I never knew or with names that I vaguely remember. One old gentleman, too full of beer, keeps telling me how well he had known my mom, and Aunt Dawn teasing that perhaps he is my real dad. As the evening wears on the crowd slowly drifts away.
"Scotty when you think of Granny, what do think of?" asks Dawn in a sad little girl like voice. "I always think of the place on Indiana Avenue" I reply. "Me too Scotty. Kim and I stopped down at the old place before the party," tears welling up in her eyes. "I had to stop there too." I admit.
It was never about the place, the place was God-awful, but we didn’t know that. Children are blind to such things. Life’s circumstances extend only to the length of their reach or the scope of their vision. It was about us. It was about Dawn and I, best friends making mud pies together down by the creek. It was about me, teaching her how to whistle through her fingers, or her and Kim teaching me how to ride a bike that was two sizes too big. It was about a room full of kids whispering and giggling late into the night and how a shush only brought about more giggles.
Most of all it was about a woman that once served beers right here in this very bar. That scraped nickels from the bottom of her purse so we could all buy a piece of candy. That could take a chicken and a bag of flour and make a bottomless pot of noodles for which I still get a craving for today. A woman that spent her life bandaging scraped knees and giving hugs. Unselfishly ensuring that despite the circumstances our little heads would be filled with fond memories, while knowing full well that one day each one in turn would wake up and realize those circumstance and at the first opportunity would blow out of this little town like a shot.
"Kim thinks the house was where third base is. But I think its closer to the creek, like on the first base side." She says, breaking my trance on the glass of beer. Obviously, they are having trouble seeing through their own pop bottles. If there is one thing I am sure of, there is no baseball diamond on Indiana Avenue.

Update 5/4/2007 Although the prof thought this was a good relection piece he didn't see a Moment of Insight.

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