1950s Archive

Roughing it with Gramp

Part XIV

continued (page 4 of 4)

Mrs. Clark was young and pretty and raised dogs, and said she was “right glad you all had phoned that you all were visiting us all.” I remember best her Chinese cook, who served a very fine tea in the shade of a vine-covered patio. Mama and I were still catching up on our meals. There was a kind of omelette chasseur paysanne with ham, veal-styled paupiettes, and a real kind of zabaglione with Marsala. The Chinese cook came our to meet us, smiling, and when Mama said, '“This is really very good,” he bowed and hid his arms in his sleeves and said. “I cookee boy on big boat for velly fine people. So happy you likee.”

“It was divine,” Mama said, “the best food we've had in a long time.”

I saw Mama had her fingers crossed and that Mrs. Clark was very earnest in her hunt for our pasts. She said: “I've been here, buried, just buried alive, just planning food and cleaning house, while Fred, that's my husband, worries over his cotton here. But now, Mrs. Longstreet, we'll talk of the past.”

I went out into the sun, hoping it would kill me, because I had a feeling Mama would fail to get the railroad fares.1 still dream at nights, sometimes, about this time and how brave Mama was.

After a while Mama came out looking very pale, and I wondered if the lunch had disagreed with her. She took my hand, hard. “Stevie, it's a phone call from the hotel. Gramp's been hurt. Bad.”

“What happened?”

Mama bit her lip. “He fell down some stairs going to see the lawyer. Mrs. Clark is sending us back to the hotel in her car.”

We found Gramp groaning in bed, a bandage around one eye and a doctor twisting one leg. while Gramp howled. Gramp looked up at us and held out a hand.

“I'm dying, Sari. I want to say I'm sorry. Real sorry. Kiss me before I go.”

“Gramp! Oh doctor, how bad is it?”

The doctor stopped pulling. “Well, he's got a nasty knock over one ear. And this leg isn't going to be easy to walk on. And maybe there are some internal injuries. I can't tell yet, and…”

Gramp moaned. “Am I going to die in peace?”

The doctor bandaged the leg tight and said he'd be back, and Gramp sat up in bed and even let Mama talk him out of a cigar. “It's all my fault, Sari. I went and changed the will, and felt so bad about it that I went back to change it, and I'm not used to wearing cowboy boots, I guess, but I fell head over teakettle. Well, you can't leave me now, Sari. Not until I die. Then you'll have everything, and don't say bad things about me when I'm gone.”

Mama took off her hat and punched Gramp's pillows into shape. And it's hard to believe, but a week later we were all on our way to New Orleans the Second War of Coventry forgotten. At least until now, when I record it. Gramp was a pretty battered man, but game. And even black and blue he knew how to make us happy, now the war was over.

As we waited for the ferry to take us across the brown mud stream across which the spires of New Orleans sang in a yellow sky, he said to us, “It's a lucky thing I bought that cowboy hat and cowboy boots. If I hadn't fallen down those stairs we wouldn't be together now.”

Mama patted his hand and I could see Mama was back on our side.

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