1950s Archive

Roughing it with Gramp

Originally Published September 1952

Colorado Springs in 1919, when Gramp and Mama and I were trying to cross America by car, was a very fancy place and very loud, and Mama was involved there with Chiefy, the local peace officer, who was trying to recover Emma, our stolen car. We had innocently come to the Springs. parked our car, and the next day it was stolen. We had our baggage. Gramp had his cigar case. Mama was having fun, but there seemed no hope that we would get our car back.

I remember the morning we came down the wide, red carpeted hotel steps, had our breakfast, and decided our car was lost for good.

“No use weeping over spilled gasoline,” said Gramp. holding his head (a small hangover, he admitted, “no bigger than a man's hand”) and looking over the menu. “It isn't like shooting a pet horse.”

Mama seemed amused and hummed a Victor Herbert tunc, and I could guess she and Chiefy had been out dancing the night before. “Really,” said Mama, “this is such a real outdoor place. One could spend a season here.”

Gramp rattled his menu. 'Now, Sari, we're crossing America, not spending a season in this hill country. You have a good night?

“Chiefy and I went dancing. Of course, we were looking for the car.”

“Why at a dance, Mama?” I asked.

“Now, baby boy,” said Mama, patting my head, “people drive to dances in cars,” Mama could be extra logical when she had to be.

Gramp motioned the waiter over. “What's to cat this morning?”

“Frontier breakfasts all during our Frontier Week. We're serving piping-hot hog this morning.”

“Please!” said Mama.

“Salt pork, ham, bacon ribs, headcheese, Hitches of bacon. liver pudding, chitterlings, scrapple. …”

Gramp sucked in air and panted. “No!”

“Smoked, pickled, brined. Bath chips all very nice.”

What the devil are bath chips? asked Gramp.

“The hog's lower jaw, sir, cured like bacon.”

“I'd rather eat buffalo chips.” said Gramp. “Lots of strong coffee.”

We were just nibbling on our flapjacks when Chet, one of the local railroad kings Gramp knew, came in. He wasn't looking too happy. He bowed to Mama and patted Gramp on the shoulder.

“Old hoss,” he said, “something has happened.”

“Frontier Week, I hear,” said Gramp.

“Worse, my boy Freddie wrecked a car last night near Denver.”


“Ruined the car. Wasn't his car. Was yours, old hoss.”

“Emma!” I shouted.

Chet nodded. “So I'm making proper returns. I just got me a spanking new Srudebaker from South Bend, and she's all yours. A beautiful riling.” Chet put down a legal-looking paper in front of Cramp and smiled. “All legal and proper. In your name, old hoss.”

Gramp rose to the event, napkin around his chin. “You're a yard wide and a dingdong sport. You're the prime goods and have the great hallmark. Chet.”

“This calls for something.”

“A great event,” said Gramp, “needs just a little throat clearing.”

“The car is outside,” said Chet, “and the bar is open.”

They went off arm in arm, and Mama said, “Just shows you, baby boy. what fools grown men can be. But the car is ours.”

“Let's go look at it.”

It stood there in the sunlight. I have a photograph of it before me as I write, and it was a beautiful tiling. We had that Studeboker for years and never could wear it out. wreck ir, or kill its great, roaring, gasoline-bathed heart. It took us over mountains and down hills; it stood us in good years and bad; it tame through when we had money and when we had none. It remains in my mind as one of the great stone markers in my life. Even today, when I think of it, I bow towards South Bend, Ind. (For years I never knew the name of the state was spelled in any longer form.)

Mama tested the tires by kicking them with her little foot. I tooted the horn, then got behind the wheel. It was one of the first of the sedans—all closed in. a big square, boxlike affair. The only thing that was streamlined at that time was a cigar or a small blonde.

“I like it.” said Mama.

Mama climbed in, pushed me aside and turned the key and shifted some gears, and “Stude,” as we at once named the car. shot off down the street, which was being turned into a frontier street for Frontier Week. We missed an Indian, chopped off the corner of a covered wagon, and almost destroyed a valuable sheriff. Mama drove, staring right in front of her, bent over the wheel, and holding tight to her lower lip with her little white teeth. I held on to my hair and whooped it up, and “Stude” went along the main street at a deadly speed. It was a grand ride.

Gramp was resting when we got back, and Mama was polite to him, but firm. She wasn't angry. Gramp had a right to test, only he tailed it “tapering off”—a frontier expression, I suppose.

Chet invited us to the Frontier dinner. It was in the biggest hall in town and everyone dressed in period garb: the ladies as dance hall girls and we men as cow hands, mountaineers. gamblers, ranchers, outlaws, and railroad men. I was an Indian, but Mama spoiled the effect by making me wear a warm coat over my painted torso. I had composed a mural around my navel and some ritual signs on my stomach and sported a complete rain-and-thunder chart on my chest. There wasn't too much of me in those days, or I would have added Chief Crazy Horse at the Battle of the Little Big Horn. I had more skin available, but decency seemed to call lor covering it.

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