Crouched on the floor of our 57 Plymouth Belvedere, I saw my life fly by, which didn’t take long. Not much can happen to a kid in seven years. I knew it would be my last day alive, and I was not too happy about dying in a Pepto Bismal pink car with tail fins big enough that I thought it might fly. I could see the headlines, BOY AND FAMILY FOUND DEAD IN AN UGLY PINK PLYMOUTH.
I’d only been to one funeral, my grandma’s sister Ida. We didn’t go to a funeral parlor. Mom and Dad called it a wake. I said, “I don’t get it. A wake is something you make in water with a boat.”
Mom sighed and looked at me with those eyes of hers, eyes you couldn’t avoid. No matter how hard I tried to look away, they were like a magnet forcing my eyes back to hers. And she knew what you were going to ask before you asked it. This time she took a deep puff of her Camel cigarette, careful to blow the smoke out of the side of her mouth so as to avoid me, and then answered. “No Timmy, it’s when family and friends stay awake with the body, praying to help their soul travel on to be with God.”
At first Aunt Ida’s wake was creepy, people crying, walking up to the oak coffin and kissing her on the cheek. When it was our turn to go to the coffin, Dad lifted me up so I could see. I reached out to touch her face. It wasn’t that creepy, except she was cold. After seeing her, I found there was lots of food in the kitchen and dining room. Mom had brought an angel food cake. Grandma had baked apple pies. Aunt Leda’s deviled eggs were on her special rooster plate. And best of all, I was allowed to fill my own plate.
With these thoughts in mind, from the floor, I reached up on the seat and grabbed my pencil and paper that Mom had brought along so I could draw. I wrote a list: Johnny Kare, Mark Lewis, Peggy Store, Nancy Hill, Linda Mash, and Marsha Stone. These were my friends that should be at my wake. Of course, Grandma, Grandpa, my aunts and uncles, and I guess my cousins will be there also, but they have to. Next I made a list of food I’d like and food my friends would want. There needs to be, chocolate milk, Lemonade, sweet tea, Aunt Esther’s chocolate chip cookies, Aunt Carol’s cocoa fudge, Grandma Holt’s cherry pie, Grandma Baker’s apple pie, Aunt Bessie’s ham sandwiches, and Aunt Mary’s potato salad. Finally, I asked for a blanket to be in my coffin to keep my warm. I want my Roy Rogers’ thermos, lunch box, gun, and chaps to be buried with me. Mom said people were buried in their best clothes, and I liked Roy Rogers the best.
I closed my eyes so as to not see out the window, climbed on the seat, retrieved my Roy Roger’s lunch box, and placed my note inside. I returned to the floor hoping someone would find my note when the car and me were found crushed on the side of Pikes Peak. Then I remembered I would never again see that ceramic pink piggy bank that held Mom and Dad’s spare change for our vacation. I pulled the note back down and said my Grandma Baker should have what money is left. Mom was always saying she needed money.
I lay there and told God, if I survived, I would never complain about eating spinach, mowing the lawn, going to bed early, or Mom and Dad’s cigarette smoke. I thought of what the Clinton Journal, our local newspaper, would say about our family’s death. After sleeping the night in a Colorado fleabag hotel, the Holt family was found dead in their crushed pink Plymouth. Because the family had not made reservations they had been forced, the night before, to stay on the other side of the tracts. A side they there were not accustomed to. Fleas, apparently from the hotel, were found crawling in the car. Young Timmy was found clinging to his Roy Rogers’ gun. It was said, a note was found, a list from the young boy, his wishes for his wake. Those last few minutes before the crash must have been terrifying. The family will be waked in the front parlor of Mr. Holt’s parents.
We may have been poor, but we did not live on the other side of the tracks. This boarding house we stayed in, Mom and Dad said was way past the other side of the tracks. I knew not to complain, but my sister stomped her feet and refused to sleep there. Dad said if she didn’t like it she could sleep in the car. Outside, the neighborhood was even scarier than the boarding house. Whimpering, my sister crawled under the thread barren sheets with me that night.
Even before the motel, the trip had not gone too well. The drive from Illinois to Colorado was long, hot, and dusty. Grandma Baker, Mom’s mom, was between my sister and me in the back seat. My parents had agreed to drop her off at her sister’s house in Superior Nebraska, and we would pick her up on the way back home. We had to stay the night. The kitchen had a dirt floor. Grandma said it was okay, because Nora swept it with water twice a day. It was still dirt. We slept on army cots. The good part, Grandma’s brother took my sister and me to town, and he paid for my butter pecan double dip ice cream cone with a check. He said he didn’t have any with him, and the clerk asked what bank. He said it didn’t matter, because he had money in all of them. I didn’t understand. If they had money in all the banks, why didn’t they have a floor in the kitchen, or a bathroom inside the house?
Later I asked mom how could he have money in all the banks. Mom said he and Grandma’s sisters were rich. Multiple oil wells had been found on their wheat fields. Maybe they are planning on getting a real floor in the kitchen.
I had my first death experience at stop in western Kansas My sister had to go to the bathroom so we stopped at a place calling itself an old Indian trading post.
To Be Continued