For over 200 years, The Old Farmer’s Almanac has adhered to the saying, “If All Saints’ (November 1) brings out winter, St. Martin’s (November 11) brings out Indian summer.” So I guess according to them it is technically not Indian summer. However in this case, it is warm 70’s and has followed a period of cold, but I’ll go with The Farmer’s Almanac and say it’s not yet Indian Summer. My grandfather swore by it, counted on its knowledge, its dates, its predictions to organize his farming life. My grandmother wished he swore as much to the Bible.
Some say the early Algonquian Native Americans believed that the condition was caused by a warm wind sent from the court of their southwestern god, Cautantowwit.
The origin probably goes back to the very early settlers in New England. Each year they would welcome the arrival of a cold wintry weather in late October when they could leave their stockades unarmed. But then came a time when it would suddenly turn warm again, and the Native Americans would decide to have one more go at the settlers. “Indian summer,” the settlers called it.
Whatever the meaning or where it came from, for me it was always a time of harvest, a time to be in the field with my father, help my grandfather drive the truck, and a time to thank God for another year that the earth sustained us.
I’ve never been to Disney Land, but I didn’t really need it. I have my own Main Street, except in this case it’s a square, and it even has its own cast of characters. Carol Davenport is always there on Saturdays and still tries to pinch my cheek, even in public. Maude Davis is the waitress at the Rexall Drug lunch counter. With a Camel cigarette hanging from her red lips, she has a smile for everyone who enters. Best of all, each time John and I order fries and a coke she says, “If you share those fries I’ll get your friend a free coke.”
The weather is nice, so I expect to find old man Blue sitting on a bench in front of Greeks Tavern. I don’t know his real name. Everyone calls him old man Blue. I don’t know why, but Grandma says to be polite and call him Mr. Blue. As I leave the car, I see him. He’s smoking a pipe and is in blue coveralls with one strap hanging loose. He knows everyone’s name. When he sees me, he asks, “What you up today, Timmy Joe? Not spending all that allowance are you?”
It’s only 12:30 and John said he wouldn’t be here until 1:00, so I sit next to old man Blue to talk. “I’m waiting for John. We’re going to get some fries and a Coke at the Rexall and then go to the movies. Roy Rogers is on today.”
He takes the pipe out of his mouth and points it at me. “You want to be like Roy Rogers, be a cowboy?”
“Yes, more than anything. I’ve got a Roy Rogers lunch box, chaps, a cowboy hat, and a gun belt with a six shooter.”
“Well, be careful, don’t go killing anybody.”
“It’s not a real gun. I just pretend.” I see a friend of Grandma’s coming down the street and I want to talk to her. “Mr. Blue, I’ve got to go.”
Old man Blue put his pipe back in his mouth, takes a puff, blows out white smoke, and finally nobs his head. “Well — enjoy yourself and stay out of trouble”
Grandma’s friend is Irene. Behind wire-rimmed glasses, her eyes dance as she looks at me. They sparkle, and I feel happy when I see her. She loves movies. “Hey Timmy Joe, what’s at the movies today?”
“It’s Roy Rogers, Miss Irene.”
“I was hoping it was Frances the Mule or Ma and Pa Kettle,” she says. When one of them is playing, she takes me and buys me Raisinets. She gets Sugar Babies.
Irene always wears a hat, Minnie Pearl style. Today it’s small, with a veil, boxy, except without the price tag. She’s short and wears black lace shoes with white gloves, just like Grandma. Today she’s in a blue flowered dress and smells like roses, most likely the body powder, probably uses it like Grandma. Her money and a lace handkerchief is kept in a zippered black purse. She never appears lonely, but she’s always alone. I’ve never seen her with a man, so I guess she’s not married, and I never see her with kids of any age.
Since Irene will not be going to the movies, she gets in the back seat of the car to talk to Grandma. It’s time for me to find Grandpa. He’s always good for some extra money. I’ll need it if John and I are going to movies and getting fries at the Rexall.
As we left, Grandma did not bother to lock the house. The black iron skeleton key remained in the lock. Grandpa sat in his tan Buick with an unlit King Edward cigar in his mouth, and as Grandma opened the car door, she said, “Sherman, don’t light that thing while we’re driving.” She then pulled down the sun visor and inspected her blue pillbox hat, took out the hatpin, made a few adjustments, and then repositioned the pin.
Grandpa said nothing. He raced the Buick’s engine, let it die down a little, and then put it in reverse. Like clockwork, Grandma bugged him. “Sherman, I don’t know why you need to race that engine.” It was the same as all other car trips. Grandpa would race the engine, and Grandma would complain. It was comforting to know that in a rapidly changing world of a young boy, some things never changed.
The road was oiled each spring in front of the house, a failed attempt to keep the dust down from the rest of the gravel road. In the country, the road no name, but when you reached the city limit, it was called Madison Street. One of my best friends, John, lived in a new subdivision at the city limits. I couldn’t see his house from the road, so I didn’t know if he and his parents had left. I was supposed to meet him on the square.
At the top of a slight rise, before you crossed Coon Creek was Peggy’s house, another friend. Her family ran a nursery center. She had to help out Saturdays, so I rarely saw her on those days, which was a shame, because for a girl, I kind of liked her. The bridge across Coon Creek was only one lane and a little scary. Grandma would hold her breath, but Grandpa never missed the running boards.
After Coon Creek, we were in the town proper and headed to the square. We turned on Main street at the Dairy Queen, just past Grandma’s Baptist Church. On my left was the Clintonia Theater where a double feature was playing, Ma and Pa Kettle and Francis the Mule. We crossed Monroe Street, which still had the tracks of the old inter-urban electric train. The square was just ahead. The popcorn smell always lured me in to spend a nickel of my allowance for a bag. It was at Main Street and the Square, in front of Gottlieb Mens’ Clothing Store.
Grandpa looked for the perfect parking spot. It had to be on the Northeast side of the square, out of the afternoon sun, and ideally in front of Woolworth’s Five and Ten. From there it was easy for him to get to The Greek’s Tavern for a beer and a game of pool. At one time or another, everybody needed something from Woolworth’s. A place there would assure Grandma would have plenty of visitors to the car for gossip. Grandpa didn’t have to circle. There was a spot between Woolworth’s and the tavern, in front of Montgomery Wards. After we parked, it was time to explore the square.
Tuesday – Thursday, July 21 – 23 my novel Square Affair is available as a free E-book on Amazon.
As its white particles landed on the dinning room table, she emerged from a white dust cloud, and the room was filled with the scent of lilacs. Grandma still held the powder puff in her hand by its pink satin ribbon. I watched as she gave one final pat to her chest and placed the puff back into the round decorated box with painted flowers on top.
We had just finished lunch: fried pork chops, fried potatoes, biscuits and gravy, wilted lettuce salad, and cherry pie for dessert. Afterwards, I helped Grandma with the dishes that were now drying on the drain board of the kitchen sink. She hung her flowered bib apron on a hook next to the pantry and went to change out of her blue dress.
I sat in the wooden rocking chair while Grandma dressed for our trip to the town square and looked at her bed, a small cot in the dinning room next to the stairway. I wondered why she didn’t sleep with Grandpa in one the many bedrooms upstairs. The dinning room buffet held her slips, bras, underwear, and girdles. As she took off her dress, I looked at her jewelry, hatpins, and powder box reflected in the mirror on top, that is until it disappeared in the cloud of lilac powder.
Once the powder settled, Grandma put on a white dress with blue cornflowers and then turned to me. “Timmy come over here and zip my dress.”
I walked through the lilac scent, stood on a dinning room chair and zipped her dress. She then took a necklace with blue stones and held it to her neck. “Now, fasten this.”
As I closed the latch on her silver chain, we heard Grandpa in the green 1954 Buick. He got it used last month from his neighbor, John Day. John now owned a new 1958 red Buick, it’s fins so big, it looked as if it could fly.
Grandpa liked his Buick, and he impatiently sat in it, waiting for Grandma to finish getting ready. He wanted a good parking spot on the town square. The best spot was in front of Woolworth’s, close to the dress shops for Grandma, and Greek’s Tavern for Grandpa, but most importantly, he needed an ideal spot to catch up on gossip.
The car was parked in the drive under an open kitchen window, and when Grandpa floored the idling Buick, a roar echoed through the house. “Go tell your Grandpa, I’ll be there in a jiffy, and to stop gunning the car.” I never heard them argue, but Grandma could never stand Grandpa racing the car engine. I was also eager to go. The afternoon movie started at 2 and I wanted to get there in time for a front row seat.
To be continued.
When I wanted to play Mom or Dad would give me a chore. This time it was Mom. Before she left for work, Mom told me to water the garden. “It’s been hot. You need to water the vegetable garden for me today. There hasn’t been any rain, so the vegetables will die if they don’t get water. Don’t forget now.”
I didn’t see anything so wrong if the vegetables died. I didn’t like cabbage. The only time I’d l eat lettuce is if it was on a sandwich and then only with Miracle Whip. Carrots were yucky and tomatoes, I guess, were all right when Mom put them in spaghetti sauce. I couldn’t tell this to Mom. She’d tell me to pack up my portion and send it to China. There are plenty of starving kids there. She’d make me pay to mail it. I could only give in. “Okay Mom, okay. I won’t forget.” She knew I’d be watching my morning TV shows. I knew I better ask if could wait. “Can I finish watching the Lone Ranger?”
“I guess so, but make sure you get it done before it gets too hot.”
The Lone Ranger was getting exciting. He and Tonto were on the trail of stagecoach robbers. I wasn’t about to take my eyes off the television, so I answered Mom without looking at her. “I’ll go right after the show.” I added in my most convincing voice, “Honestly I will.”
I could feel the eyes on my back, not ordinary eyes. They were penetrating X-ray eyes, capable of seeing right through me, even hearing my thoughts. Lying was not possible with those eyes. Even the smallest fib would be caught. She was better than the Lone Ranger. Her eyes had the ability to force you to look at them, even though it was the farthest thing from your mind, so I wasn’t surprised when I found myself turning to face her. She asked, “Mickey Mouse comes on next, doesn’t it?”
“Don’t be watching it and water late, or forget. Are you listening?”
See I told you. Those eyes, they see and know everything. How did she know I was planning on watching Mickey Mouse? Wonder where she got that power? Do you think I’ve got it too? I’ll try it out on my sister later.
I could hear Lone Ranger calling, high ho, Silver and away we go. I was missing the best part. I’d promise almost anything to get rid of her eyes and get back to the television. “Yes, Mom, no Mickey Mouse.”
Mom’s eyes turned their attention to finding her purse. It allowed me to return watching the Lone Ranger. I listened for the screen door to close. It meant she was walking to the car, and soon I’d hear its wheels on the gravel driveway. Mickey Mouse came on at eight-thirty and ended at nine. There would be enough time to water after nine. It didn’t get really hot till around noon. Then I heard my sister. She thought she was boss when Mom was gone. “Aren’t you supposed to be watering the garden?”
“And aren’t you supposed to be making the beds and dusting?”
“Yeah, but I can do it anytime, and you’re supposed to water the garden before it gets hot.”
She turned and went to Mom and Dad’s bedroom. I could see her through the open door. I focused my eyes on her back and stared hard, willing myself not to blink. It didn’t work. She didn’t turn around, but she spoke. “Quit staring at me.”
Maybe it takes a little more practice, or it gets better as I get older. I kept staring to see what it would do. She was feeling it all right. “I said stop staring. I’ll tell Mom you didn’t go out after the Lone Ranger.”
She’d tell just to get me in trouble. One time she was so mad at me for not doing what she said she shoved me, and I fell out of my bedroom window. Good thing it was on the first floor. She never said she was sorry. That’s why I’m trying to see if I have the eye power. I can use it to get even.
I usually did what she said, so I went to my bedroom to get dressed. While I was getting out of my pjs, I pretended I was still staring at her. No response. I guess it doesn’t go through walls.
Giving up my experiment with x-ray eyes, I went outside to water the garden. Mom used the watering can because you had to put two hoses together, and, even then, it barely reached. She said it was less hassle with the can. Well maybe less hassle, but a lot more work. You had to walk back and forth to the faucet at least a gazillion times. No, I decided to use the hose and put my thumb over the end like Dad. I could get the entire garden wet that way, without a watering can.
The faucet was between the porch steps and the house. In order to make it reach the whole way, the hose had to go over the steps, and it had to stay in place. I got it just so and started watering. As long as it stayed put, it worked, but it kept falling off the steps.
I went to Dad’s tool shed to see what I could find to keep it in place. I decided on a couple nails and a hammer. Once I nailed the hose to the steps it stayed in place. There was less water coming out at end because it was spraying from around the nails, but I was still able to water the garden.
I was proud of how I had solved the hose problem, so I left it in place until Mom got home. I could show her that when she watered she wouldn’t have to work so hard. Excited, I ran out to greet her when I heard the car in the driveway. I didn’t want to miss the look on her face as she saw how I solved her problem, but it wasn’t the look I expected.
It started with the eyes again. They got wide as they saw the nails in the hose, like the bad guy when he sees the Lone Ranger’s gun. Then the eyes squinted as they searched and found me. “Timmy Joe what is this?”
Mom used Timmy Joe only when she was angry. She had the ability to yell it so loud I swear I could hear it at Grandma’s house, a mile away. I still thought if I explained it, she’d understand. “I solved your problem with the hose. It’ll stay in place now, and you won’t have to use the watering can.”
It wasn’t working, because this time the index finger joined the eyes. It’s almost an evil combination, enough to make a kid have nightmares. “But you’ve ruined the hose.”
“No, Mom, there’s still enough water to get the whole garden.”
She broke down then and started laughing. There were tears in her eyes.
“Your dad will not think it’s such a good idea. We better get it off the steps.”
I know we didn’t have enough money to buy new hoses, but Mom and I went to town to get them anyway. We got two longer ones this time. They reached all the way to the end of the garden. I told Mom to keep my allowance for two weeks to help pay for it. I don’t know if Dad ever knew, but I think he did. That night Dad was laughing so loud it woke me.
Bye the way, I’m still working on my stare.
I have very fond memories of memorial day, or decoration day as we often called. We prayed the peonies and iris would bloom in time to make bouquets. My aunt and I would carefully pick the blossoms, put them in bunches, and place them in large buckets of water. Next we’d load them into the car trunk and off we’d go to the cemeteries to put them on the graves. She’d tell me stories about her various relatives and I’d listen in rapt attention.
Following is the first of a three part story about my grandfather and his special remembrance of my grandfather, his divorced wife.
Clyde might as well have been an empty heat shimmer or artificial flower bouquets left at the grave sites on Memorial Day. No one thought he would mourn, let alone be seen at the cemetery, but there he was, alone, in a blue seersucker suit, straw hat in hand. He’d walked over from his house. The one he moved to in 1946 with his new wife after divorcing Mary. Now fifty-three years later, she returns to her hometown to be buried.
Clyde could have seen the cemetery from his house, but he felt he needed to be here. As he was watching, Clyde didn’t notice Joe, the cemetery groundskeeper, until he spoke. “Morning, Clyde. Why aren’t you there with the family?”
He’d been satisfied standing alone with his thoughts. Clyde was a politician, and words flowed out of his mouth like water over a cliff. “Morning, Joe. This is my kid’s day to mourn. I gave up the right to mourn her when we divorced.”
Taking a pipe from his back pocket, Joe stomped it on the sole of his boot, got rid of any loose tobacco, and then blew through the stem to make sure it was clear. As he took out his pack of Prince Albert to pack the pipe, Joe spoke. “Shouldn’t you be there to support your family? I know you keep in touch.”
Joe struck a match, let it flare a minute, then sucked the flame into the pipe bowl. When it was lit, he waved the match to put out the flame, dropped it on the gravel, and crushed it with his boot. Joe moved his eyes from Clyde to the funeral, finally settling on Clyde. Joe gently puffed and Clyde spoke through the aromatic smoke surrounding him. “I can’t change what I did. Ethel is now my wife, and though I think of Mary fondly, after the divorce, she was just a woman I had once known.”
Joe took the pipe out of his mouth, blew a smoke ring, and then responded. “Well…” He drew this out as if he were thinking while he talked. “Clyde, you’re still a father, a grandfather, and great-grandfather. Doesn’t that give you some responsibility?”
Clyde fanned himself with his hat while he and Joe turned to the funeral. Clyde spoke, “ They’re on their own. I nurtured them as kids. Mary and I didn’t divorce until they were grown.”
“That still doesn’t tell me why you’re not over there.”
Joe took another puff, looked at the pipe bowl, exhaled the smoke, and then turned to Clyde. “If you’re not going to be part of the mourners, if you’re not going to talk to your family, if you’re not going to give any of them a hug, a kiss, a handshake, how come you’re standing here all duded up in the sun, gawking?”
Clyde wasn’t sure he knew the answer. Joe took out another match to relight his pipe, so Clyde had time to think about his answer. “I guess it’s about the responsibility you mentioned. I still feel responsible for their grief.”
Joe took the pipe out of his mouth and, holding it by the bowl, pointed it at Clyde. “They’d be grieving with or without you.”
“I can’t really explain it, Joe. They need their time to grieve, and I need mine. You see, the kids didn’t think I respected Mary when she was alive. Charles and Esther came early in the marriage. I was still farming, only dipping my hand in the politics around Weldon, but the marriage was not good by the time Cecile and Millie came along.”
“But I remember you and Mary as happy. My wife and me’d come over to play cards, strum the banjo, Mary would make her famous apple pie, and I’d bring some of the sausages I’d made. Then you were absent a lot, gone on the road to some meeting or another. I don’t know when you had time for two more kids.”
“We covered it well, but if you’re willing to listen, I need to talk about Mary and me.”
“I’ve got nothing to do until those cars drive off.”
Clyde and Joe took a look at the mourners and decided there was time. “I wanted Mary with me. A politician wants visual support from his wife. Mary said she needed to stay at home with the kids, watch over the farm. I’d get angry. We’d have arguments. Esther and Charles were married. Cecil was in WWII, so I guess Millie got the worst of it. She blames me for the divorce.”
“Now…” Again, Joe drew the word out. “Clyde, you can be ornery as hell, and you can ramble on from your soapbox better than most. But I’m not telling you anything you don’t know.” Joe motioned with his pipe toward a bench under the oak tree. After they sat, Joe continued. “There were rumors about your womanizing on the road.”
Clyde was beyond denial, even if it did put him in a bad light. He was no longer involved in politics and didn’t worry about his image. “They were true. When I was on the road for a meeting or a convention, there were available women hoping to hook a politician. We all had a chance at being an elected official, most petty local politics, but one of us could make it to be governor, senator, or president. I couldn’t resist the urge. I strayed.”
The funeral was breaking up, but no one had gotten into their cars. Satisfied he’d smoked out the pipe, Joe hit the bowl on his shoe again and put the pipe in his pocket. With his slow drawl, Joe spoke. “Well…now…Clyde, didn’t you think it would come back to bite you in the ass?”
“I didn’t care. I needed a woman on my arm, and if Mary wasn’t willing, I’d get another.”
“Same old Clyde, stubborn as a mule.”
Joe saw the mourners going to their cars, but he wanted to ask one last question. “Clyde, why did Mary move to Clinton when you divorced?”
“Mary was embarrassed to stay in Weldon. Everyone knew your business. If she moved to Clinton, she could invite the friends she wanted to see. I wouldn’t be around.”
“But Clinton is only five miles. We all go there to shop and catch up on gossip.”
“She never learned to drive. Without a car, living there was easier. I bought her a house. I didn’t want to see her walk the streets in Weldon either. If locals didn’t see her, I didn’t have to explain anything.”
As the cars started moving, Clyde and Joe stood. They watched the black hearse pull away with Reverend Jones. On the vinyl side, silver letters spelled Harrington Brothers, with a scroll below. Cars, with family and other mourners, followed. Their movements on the gravel drive covered Clyde and Joe with dust. Hat in hand, Clyde searched each passing car for eyes to look his way, confirm he’s more than a bystander. No one acknowledged his presence, no wave, no head turning to look back. They were off to Weldon Methodist Church for lunch. He didn’t think he should join them. Clyde thought he was as dead to his family as the wilted bouquets or the bodies beneath his feet, or was he feeling sorry for himself?