1950s Archive

Roughing it with Gramp

Part XIV

Originally Published December 1953

Gramp always had an idea, in 1920, when he and I and Mama crossed and recrossed America, why the covered wagons went West and didn'r come back. We were crossing desert country, heading for Arizona, leaving California, and the car was roaring along the sand roads of the period when he said it. Loud. “No wonder they never went East again in them covered wagons…”

“Those covered wagons,” said Mama, “not them covered wagons.”

“I'm talkin’ Western style, gal, '' Gramp said, biting into the two-inch stub of his last good cigar.” Once they traveled these here roads, potner, they sure never wanted to try it again going that-a-way, that way East again.”

Mama sniffed the dry desert air. “You call that Western talk?”

“Mam, we ain't polished out yar in the West, but we plumb are right respectful of men and women. Ouch!”

The last was because we had hit a rut in the road. Roads in 1920 in America were pretty bad. I sat watching the desert landscape, and Mama refused to carry on any of Gramp's Western-style talk. She was angry at Gramp because she had wanted to stay in Hollywood and maybe work in the old silent movies, which weren't old then and weren't silent, as there was always a weeping fiddle and a choked-up piano to carry on with the action.

“This the way to Tucson?” Mama asked at last.

“It's the only road there is.”

Mama thought awhile and asked, “Why don't we go to Texas? I have friends in Dallas.”

I said, “I like Texas,”

Mama said, “Don't talk, Baby Boy, the air is too dry to open your mouth. You'll dehydrate.”

Gramp tossed away his last cigar butt. “Ever hear what General Sherman said about Texas, Sari?”

“I'm sure it's vulgar,” said Mama.

“Tell it, Gramp,” I said, risking dehydration for a bit of vulgarity.

“Sure it's vulgar.” Mama didn't answer, so Gramp went on. “Seems the General got angry at Texas people and Texas ways, and he got up on his hind legs and he said. 'If I owned Hell and Texas, I'd rent out Texas and live in Hell.' 'Well, said a Southern gentleman present, 'I guess the General knows where to find his friends!' Pretty good, eh, Sari?”

Mama didn't open her pretty lips. Gramp looked from her, to the jack rabbits on the road, and then at me. “Coventry?” he asked. I nodded my head, and Gramp frowned. By the rules, if Mama put him in Coventry, even I couldn't talk to him. It was a game we had played several times on the trip. Coventry meant no one talked in Gramp until Mama recalled Coventry. It hurt the old man a lot because he liked to talk, and very often I thought he was worth listening to, This time I could see Gramp was really angry. He didn't even protest. He just clammed up his mouth into rigid lines and drove the car, bent over, as if he were a jockey. At last we came to a frontier looking town called Victorville, and we pulled up by a roadside gas station and eating place.

Gramp looked at Mama as if he were giving her a last chance to say something. Then he got out of the car and ambled over to the Mexican and his wife who ran the place and asked: “Howdy, potner, anything eatable in these yar parts?”

“Could be. My wife, she make a fine enchilada, real orégano and culantra flavor. We also have it the molè de Guajalote, turkey with pepper sauce. My wife, she fine cook.”

“Any desserts?” asked Gramp, peeling his gloves and ignoring Mama and myself.

“Ah yes. Pudín de coco, and camote y piña, sweet potato and pineapple, she very fine,”

“Good, set one place for me. Any cerveza or vino?” “But of course. They are not eating?” He pointed to Mama and then to me.

Gramp looked at us and borrowed a thin Mexican cigar from the Mexican stand owner. “Sad cases, potner, real sad. Deaf and dumb. Both of 'em.”

“Sacred Virgin,” said the Mexican, crossing himself, and his wife touched her holy medals. “Deef and dumb?”

“Born that way most people think. But, it's not true. Seems they were once very cruel to an old man. A feeble dying old man who had made their life soft and easy, who had worked and toiled for them. And then, in his old age, they took his earthly wealth and turned him off, out into the cold world. The next morning they were rigid and when they came out of it, they were as you see 'em…stone deef and no tongue, dumb.”

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