Friday, September 19, 2008

Cigarettes, Soda Water and Jesus

I grew up in the 1970s basically. Those early formative years before reaching puberty and being distracted by girls wearing jordache jeans and coming into their womanness. It was a time of playful innocence, where awareness of things of the adult world had not yet raised its ugly head, and we were allowed to explore the limitless adventures our young minds could conjure up. Cowboys and Indians and Army and Bonnie and Clyde (I will not mention who was forced to play bonnie some times due to the lack of any girls in our group!). Little did I know of the world of sex, drugs and anti-war sentiment. For me, it was Sesame Street and Captain Kangaroo and Saturday Morning cartoons. It was 3 channels on a TV with a manual dial. Life was good.

And in the summers, I would be transported into another country for a week or so at a time to visit my grandparents on my mothers side. They lived in Southeastern Oklahoma and this, though only a few hours away from my little town, seemed like an entirely different universe. And they were poor, but I didn't know it. As a kid, I never really noticed that some people lived in big houses and some didn't. Some lived in brick homes while some lived in trailer houses. And I was family and friends with them all. My grandparents lived in a four room house. Literally. If you take a perfectly square box and divided it equally into four parts, that's the house. And you can see each room from the other room by leaning this way or that.

My grandfather was German and my grandmother Native American. We don't know which tribe due to records being burned up in a fire of some sort. But if you look at her photograph, she looks just like Geronimo, but with boobs.

And grandfather was an alcoholic. Not a mean one but one nevertheless. He amused us as kids, with his wisp of white hair piled up on his head, he was a sight to behold. He was a logger in his early days and a tree fell on him. He walked with a cane the whole time I knew him and drew a disability check from the government. And they always had the best butter, cheese, peanut butter and honey. I didn't know that it was food subsidies. It tasted great and they always let us have all we wanted.

And he drank and cursed the whole time I knew him. And I didn't care. He and I would wait inside the house as my parents left, watching through the screen door their Chevrolet Caprice station wagon with the wood grain sides traveling down the limestone road, creating a dust trail that wouldn't settle for hours, and he would tell me to get me and him a beer. He drank Miller High Life in the bottle and man they were cold. He would then roll a Prince Albert cigarette, and then feign he couldn't get it to light. So he would have me light it for him then go ahead and smoke it with my beer. Man, that stuff was so tasty to a 10 year old, and it was our little secret, our little rebellion against the good wishes of my parents. And I loved it.

One day he ran out of beer, wine and whiskey, so he asked me and my cousin of the same age if we wanted to "go to town". Going to town in those days was a big deal because Grandad rarely left the forty acres he lived on. We loaded up in his old ford pickup and headed down the dirt roads to town, where he would buy us a "sody water" and a snack. City boy me would always ask for a Coke and a Snicker Bar, while my Oklahoma cousins would opt for a Orange Pop and a Moon Pie. And of course we would have to eat and drink it at the gas station so we could leave the bottle and not have to pay the deposit!

and somehow, we ended up at the liquor store. Now me and my cousin didn't know it was a liquor store, as grandad told us he was going in to see his girlfriend and get us some Arkansas Soda Pop, which sounded pretty good to me. He returned with two huge bottles of what can only be described as the best tasting grape juice that had to that point touched my lips. Now grandad made us drive back home while he sat on the passenger side and drank. Okay, he didn't really make us, we eagerly agreed to his arrangement. Anything to get to set up on the Sears Catalog and shift that 3 speed on the column. While one of us drove, the other drank. Then we switched places. I can't tell you how many peanut crops were ruined that day, but I'm sure somewhere there was one unhappy farmer.

Luckily, we made it back. Glory hallelujah. I went into the bedroom and fell out under the swamp fan on the bed and passed smooth out. As luck would have it, mom and dad returned a few hours later and found us all passed out. Jesus, the stuff hit the fan and off we go, me in the rear of the station wagon, bouncing around the back roads of Oklahoma, sticking my head out to rid myself of the contents of my stomach.

I'm not sure mom ever forgave him for that. I still can't believe we survived that and many other episodes. Every visit after that, I noticed that mom would make us go to the little baptist church that was close to granddad's place on Sunday morning, even though we didn't know anyone there. I would listen to the old time preacher screaming about sin, and I would think he had me and grandad pegged. And the best part is that the pulpit had a box in it, like a diorama box, with a three dimensional Jesus in it that would stare holes through me, no matter where I was setting. It was kind of creepy. Did Jesus know about the cigarettes? the beer? the Arkansas soda water? I'm sure he did.

I miss those moments. They come and go in an instant. Those experiences that are "once in a lifetime". Those people who loved you in their own way are also gone. And I miss them deeply. But I have those memories, memories of cigarettes, soda water and Jesus.


journeyingrick said...

npp - beautifully told. dead on. i remember days just like that out in the hill country in the 70's with my grandparents. granny smoked camels and drank seagrams and coke. and she and i would sit at night on her crush-velvet couch and watch johnny carson and drink toddies and eat eskimo pie ice cream bars.
i miss it.

nonprofitprophet said...

rick - i think that next we get together, we need to smoke an unfiltered camel and have a miller high life in their honor. looking forward to that. ~npp

MizAngie said...

Wow - we had some badass grandparents! Ha!!My grandmother and her cronies used to take a trip to Mexico once a month to stock up on hard liquor for their weekly bridge games. They smuggled in an unbelievable amount of liquor by "Sugarin'" and "Honeyin'" the border patrol, the whole time sitting on a trunk full of rum, whiskey, and tequila. My grandmother, though, wasn't one for sharing. My cousins and I had to swipe her liquor by pouring just a little off of every bottle in the cabinet - or by fixing her a toddy that would kill a weaker man. Once she got drunk we could do whatever we wanted...

KJ said...

dude, what a great story! I can picture it in my mind! My mom was an alcoholic, but I don't really have cool memories of that. But my granddad smoked cigars and let me drive all over creation from about the time i was 9 or 10. Thank God for angels.

The "3 dimensional Jesus" staring at you...that's funny!

Can I come to ya'lls beer and smoke memorial?! :)

nonprofitprophet said...

mizangie - yep, it was a different time for sure. That mexico trip sounds fun!

kj - come on! well smoke a nice cigar for your granddad (Like i needed an excuse lol) and you can toast beverage of choice to your dad.