Bay Reflections

Vol. 8, No. 33
Aug. 17-23, 2000
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Old Sounds, Warm Memories
By Connie Darago

The sound of a whining engine in reverse filled the air as I crossed the huge Kmart parking lot. Just a kid showing off for a friend on a Friday night, but there was a haunting familiarity.

Memories began to flicker. I stopped in my tracks listening. Traveling back 45 years, I felt like a child retrieving a treasured Baby Ruth cleverly hidden at the back of a drawer - and savoring its every bite. As I opened the door and slid behind the steering wheel, ghostly feelings of warmth, safety, security, excitement and love surrounded me.

My mom had been an only child, the apple of her daddy's eye and quite the beauty when she married my Dad and moved to the mountain community above the mining town. When my sister and I were born, we became the center of the universe for our grandparents. They were equally important to us.

Every other evening, they would visit.

Our narrow gravel road left no option for passing, so Pa chose to back the car 200 yards to the tiny hand-dug parking space.

It was a fine car, a blue 1949 Chevrolet with lots of chrome and four doors. Granny hated those back doors. She never drove and was afraid they would fly open and we would fall out as Pa maneuvered the horseshoe turns down the mountain. For her fear, we were restricted to the middle of the back seat and forbidden to touch anything.

I remember wishing I could drive the Chevrolet, and I thought the round porcelain knob Pa used for steering would give me special powers if I could touch it. But I always stopped myself when temptation reared its ugly head. Granny would find out, I just knew she would.

The whining engine became our signal. I would run to one window in the diminutive cinderblock house and my sister to another. We'd giggle and wait. Our excitement would reach the intensity of a caged tiger anticipating its release. As they entered the kitchen door, we'd lunge into their arms, smothering them with hugs and kisses.

There was always a goodie. Granny would bring sweets fresh from the coal-oven or a dress she'd made from a feed sack. Pa would have a stick of our favorite soft peppermint candy. He got an extra special hug for that.

Thus it went for years, our game of love played with the grandest people on earth.

When my sister, four years my junior, was old enough to spend the night with big sis at our grandparents, a new game emerged.

She liked the ride from the mountain to the coal town and was content to play checkers with Pa and listen to "The Lone Ranger" on the tall, arched Philco radio while Granny made our favorite, macaroni and cheese.

Inevitably, darkness would approach.

She'd begin her pleas by asking Pa to take her home to kiss mom, promising she'd come back. Next the sweet-cheek tears. Finally, the rolling, kicking, screaming and crying on the floor.

They always gave in, and we'd climb in the Chevy, head up the mountain, and take her home to kiss mom. Of course, she never came back that night.

As it is in life, all things change.

Our grandparents were forced to move in 1959 when the mining company transformed the hollow into a huge slag-pond.

Pa was older, the drive longer and his eyesight wasn't as sharp as it had been. Granny still played co-driver, but the visits became fewer and further between.

When they came, there were no games. No eager-beaver sisters waiting with open arms to greet them. It seems we had become too grown up to listen for the whine of the Chevy or to jump with glee and anticipation. I now wonder if that helped determine the frequency of their visits.

I suddenly realized I'd been sitting in the car a long time. The sound in the parking lot had carried me back to a place of my youth where life was simple, memories sweet and love unconditional.

As I arrived home, I headed for the library where the photo albums are neatly lined on the shelf. The floor was soon covered with open books. I smiled, cried, laughed and reinforced my memories as I went through them one by one.

Copyright 2000
Bay Weekly