Long Ride Home

Just as soon as we got to Nannie’s I rushed into the kitchen and slung open the fridge. There I found a fresh pitcher of her sweet, cheek-sucking Kool-Aid. Nannie used enough sugar to prop a door open, at least a finger or two resting on the bottom, and so I grabbed the pitcher, the deep green goodness sloshing around as I hoisted it up to the counter where I poured, gulped, and did it again.

When I was finished I wiped my mouth with my sleeve, just as Nannie and Mom walked in and started fussing over me for making such a mess. Nannie with a smile and a wink but Mom had her mouth tight and her arms crossed. She told me to get outside, because her and Nannie had some things to talk about. I grabbed my football and started for the door.

“And don’t bother Grandpa, hear me?”

I nodded that I would, but soon as I was out I started for the backyard. Grandpa never left his car, an old Dodge that sat under the pine trees out back. Sometimes he’d sleep there, with his head lolled back in the seat, his mouth opened, snoring loud enough to wake Mrs. Wilmer’s dachshunds. But most days he just listened to the radio, sipping on Coors Banquet, banging his fist on the steering wheel depending whether he was listening to a ballgame.

I was tossing my football around and pretending not to spy on him when he called out my dad’s name. I turned to him and he honked the horn and waved me mover. I dropped the ball and looked around. “Now come on, Douglas,” he said, “We’ve got a long drive home and no time to waste.”

Slowly, I took a few steps, to the old Dodge that hadn’t moved in my lifetime. The hood didn’t shut, and the tires were flattened to a fold. I plodded over and opened the door, breathing in a gust of spring pollen, summer mold, fall leaves and a sprig of winter pine.

“Shut the door, Douglas. Hurry.”

I reached over and yanked it shut, cans scattering under my feet.

“There we go,” Grandpa said, hands on the wheel. “Gosh, Dougie, I wasn’t sure you were going to make it home.”

He took me in, his eyes so full and I could hardly believe it was my crusty old grandfather. I rubbed my arms, feeling a chill over my bones, him calling me Dougie. All I knew about my dad sat in a dusty flag-folded triangle on the shelf above my dresser. But Grandpa, even with that map in his head a few roads short of an intersection, I liked him saying it. Besides, the seat was comfortable.

“Where are we going?” I said, happy to play along, still glancing over to the kitchen window, hoping Mom wouldn’t see and run out and spoil things.

Grandpa set his eyes to the windshield, where the branches and grit darkened things and it was more like dusk than morning. “Well, let’s get over to Della’s, get you some grub. Sure looks like you could use a burger or two, no?”

I shook my head, smiling, happy to be along for the ride. Only that’s when I saw Mom, and Nannie, out there in the yard. Grandpa waved to them and Mom waved back, and soon I was waving too.

I was going for an adventure, with Grandpa, even if we never left the backyard.





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