Going to Grandpa’s house was like no other adventure. Grandpa Cecil was a recluse, and though he didn’t mind dancing with the town ladies come Saturday night, he spent most of his days at the end of a long, lonely lane. Some days when Dad and I went to visit, the road would be thick with mud from rain the day before, and we’d have to park Dad’s shiny blue Oldsmobile and trudge two miles into the hollow for our visit.
One visit, I looked around at the mountains that surrounded us and marveled that, though it was modern 1967, this kind of pioneer-like place still existed. The birds cheered us on, and wind-tussled pine trees whistled as we passed them. No neighbors shared this lane, so we had the whole hollow to ourselves.
I felt the hot sun coat my bare neck and arms and took a deep, scented-pine breath. “This is nice, Dad,” I said softly.
He smiled down at me and laughed. “Never hurts to get out in the fresh air and go back to your roots,” he agreed. Dad started whistling, and soon I recognized his favorite tune.
I grinned and sang along. “Come away with me, Lucille, in my merry Oldsmobile…”*
We walked along, singing and whistling, and then grew quiet. I could hear the chuff chuff chuff of our shoes in the thick Kentucky dust. Some of it swirled high enough to choke me, and I coughed.
“You know something?” Dad asked.
“What?” I visored my hand and watched Dad’s face. His mahogany-tanned skin evidenced his Cherokee heritage, and his smile lines creased white along his browned cheekbones.
“I remember playing a 76 record of that song when I was a squirt. Mom had the record in her old Victrola,” he offered.
“Yep. I loved it so much, I’d wait until Mom was outside tending her garden, and then I’d drag a kitchen chair over to the living room, hop up on the chair, and turn the crank of the Victrola. I kept the turntable whizzing while I played that old beat-up record over and over again.” Dad glanced at me, his gray eyes sparkling. “’bout wore it out, that’s for sure,” he laughed.
I barely breathed, aware of this sacred secret of Dad’s early childhood, rarely shared with anyone. The memories before his Mom’s death from tuberculosis, when Dad was just twelve, were hardly spoken. I didn’t want to intrude, but my heart was aching to hear more about those mysterious years.
“You must have been happy, Dad.” I prompted gently.
He paused, thinking it over. “Yeah—Mom was a sweet woman. Those were her records from her teen-aged years. She brought that Victrola with her when she married your grandpa.” He sighed. “That’s one of the few times I remember being happy, I guess.” He stared into the distance. “Maybe that’s why I always buy Oldsmobiles. Huh. Never thought of that before.”
We trudged onward in silence. I knew the moment had passed for more recollections, and I purposely sealed the conversation in my heart. I wanted to remember our talk forever.
Later that afternoon, as we prepared to leave Grandpa, Dad stopped and turned to him. “Dad, whatever happened to Mom’s Victrola?”
Grandpa thought a minute. “Well, I think everything got put in that old shed out back of the cabin. Should still be there.”
Dad nonchalantly dug the toe of his boot into the dust. “Hmm. Think anybody would care if I took it home?” he asked.
In the quiet that followed, I could feel hope rise in my heart, my fingers crossed into wish-symbols.
“I don’t see why not, Boy. Next time you come, bring your pickup and I’ll help you load it.”
Dad grinned at me, and we shared our secret thought as I grinned back.
Our trek to the road was filled with small talk and chatter about touch-me-nots and baby copperheads. Dad whistled a little more and told silly stories and big tales about his Army days and hunting adventures.
When we came to the car, the blue reflection of the sky on the Oldsmobile’s own blue skin made it shimmer like a mirage, and I suddenly imagined Dad as a boy, singing along with his Victrola, tragedy far in the future, his innocence yet untouched.
I looked at Dad, my eyes teary, and smiled.
*My Merry Oldsmobile: 1905, with music by Gus Edwards and lyrics by Vincent P. Bryan.
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