A Guardian Angel

Recently we broke from routine to consider a loss.  One of the most beautiful among us on this earth was gone.  That special beauty and the loving way she lived, and taught others to live, has become memory now.  The passing of my Grandmother brought many of us together, and it was a time of renewal.

My mind wanders off as I write this to so many places and faces.  Free as a butterfly, and in only perhaps a millisecond, my thoughts covered pictures of tears running into rivers of smiles, though not yet for all.  In time, as the brightness pushes back the dark, the memories will open up again all of the wonderful colors of so many images of goodness and decency and, of course, laughter.

Many years ago, the family was walking out the door of her house together when my mother thought we’d been distracted, and had forgotten something:

“Mrs. Brown, aren’t you going to lock the door?” she asked.

“Lord, no!  What if somebody needs something?” was Grandmother’s reply.  It was a different time.

That house was always open to neighbors.  Back in those days, Granddaddy saw to it that there was always a basket of fruit and nuts for any child that might come by.  And grandmother always had some cookies, cakes, pies and other snacks around to deal with appetites.  Even if you said “no thank you”, she’d feed you anyway.  Besides, all the neighbors knew where she kept her flour, sugar, cornmeal, milk, butter, and eggs, and nobody was expected to pay anything back.

Though we all had been preparing mentally for her time to come, it was not an easy thing.  Nor was getting everyone together easy; we tend to complicate things in this family.  Folks were to meet other folks; airplanes had to be met, and as soon as we were sure who would pick up whom from where, everything would change.  the more a person was depended on, the more likely they’d come down with something.  Murphy’s law moved from just a theorem used in frivolity to the full-fledged status of “Scripture”.

A lot of the family coming from out of town had to deal with pets.  Arrangements with friends and neighbors were made wherever possible.  Penny Lane, Cosmo Topper and Ashley Cooper took the last available kennel spaces within a hundred miles.  Another cousin found no such luck, and had to bring her dawg with her to the funeral, which is allowed in South Carolina (and possibly California).  The dawg stayed out in the car during service though Grandmother wouldn’t have minded: she loved dawgs and every living thing ‘cept rats.

It was a pretty dawg, and had a thing called “pedigree”: a rare condition that both of my dogs and my cat have an immunity to.  Perhaps it is a benefit of spending most of their time outside.  Cousin’s dawg lives in a kitchen and reads newspapers.

After the chapel service, the whole company formed a caravan and proceeded to Spartanburg (at that time still the hub of the known universe) for internment.  Then, a good many made the trek back to Columbia for family time.  Besides private cars, there were a few limousines, one carrying my parents; a cousin and my oldest son.  It was a traditional ride.  But, my family has traditions that would tire out other folk.

Some years before, Dad thought he was having a heart attack, so he drove himself to a hospital not wanting to wait for an ambulance.  Dad had devoted his working lifetime to railroads and freight-car repair, and it hurt his feelings that day to be stopped on the way to the emergency room…by a train!

Dad was not the kind of person to be cheated out of an adventure–not even on the day of his own mother’s funeral.  The trip was almost over when the rear axle of that Cadillac came apart, and one of the wheels fell off sending sparks, some fire, and smoke billowing into the oncoming night.  The driver, a semi-retired man of 75, somehow maneuvered the Caddy from the center lane to the emergency lane of Interstate Highway 26.

All passengers emerged whooping and hollering to safety.  No one was hurt. The only damage was to the car: most of it to the frame and under-side, but no doubt the upholstering was going to need a little attention as well.  This took place in full view of another of the family cars whose passengers were no less animated than those in the downed vehicle.

When the wheel flew off one car, a woman in the other car almost jumped out the window.  I guess she was going to fly over there and save somebody.  Luckily, her husband pulled her back inside the limo.  He understands the power of machinery since he drives ships as large as some cities for a living, and has a personal car (called “the rust bucket”) that is actually smaller than he is.  He knows that a machine can still be piloted some distance even when thought to be disabled.  The same is true for some of us human machines when adrenalin is used as a fuel.

As would be expected, everybody stood around there on the roadside and discussed it for a while.  Then, they all piled into the remaining car that still had all four wheels, and headed home leaving the 75 year old driver there, I reckon, to go down with his ship.  But they did thank him for his decisiveness, and courage, and his brilliant driving maneuvers before they left.

Hmmmm.  Brilliant driving maneuvers!  What got him to the emergency lane without a collision or flipping over entirely was that he had no idea what was going on.  When some people reach 75, they just don’t look any more: I figure they think they’ve looked enough.  I’m sure he never saw the other traffic he’d swerved in front of while crossing two lanes on the interstate.  I’m sure he never saw the flames shooting out of the back-end of his car like a rocket: he just heard a noise, and pulled over.

This was not my Dad’s first close call.  Though many events have tried to prove him wrong, he has held on to a belief that grit, will, and a strong back are more powerful than mere iron.  He once (though unintentionally) tried to stop the swinging hook from an overhead crane…with his teeth.  Like Superman, he had quite a knack for leaping from tall ladders, and bending steel with his bare head.

He is a tenacious man, with scars.  From stories, I’ve gathered this has been a life-long avocation.  I heard that during WWII, he had at least one serious fight with just about everybody involved with no distinction for rank or whose side they might be on, which took up a good bit of his free time.

After the war, and while courting his soon-to-be wife (and later, my mother), they boarded a small Piper Cub and took it up for a spin in the clouds.  After swooping down low to the ground and scaring the chickens on a nearby farm (I understand my Grandpa went out with a shotgun, but the plane was out of range), Dad decided to land the plane at the municipal airport where the little plane lived whenever not out scaring chickens.

A cross-wind was making it difficult and Dad really believed a collision course into the embankment short of the runway was inevitable.  In a cold sweat, he pulled hard on the joystick, and said he prayed a little, too.

I’m sure the prayers were for even the slightest updraft, and also that his sweetheart wouldn’t know his fear and become panicked.  All the time, she was looking out the window at the scenery, feeling as safe as if she was on a merry-go-round.

The plane’s landing gear cleared the top of the ditch by inches, and the Cub found the runway and landed quickly, spinning around in circles to a dead-stop right where it touched down.  Dad sat there for a moment, amazed to still be alive.  Mom, who never knew they were in any danger, thought he was just showing off.  A bit impressed by it all she said:

“You can turn this thing around on a dime, can’tcha!”

Years later (forty some) they were riding in a car with Dad at the wheel.  They rounded a curve to face a bridge that was fully occupied by a rather large truck.  There was little time to think of anything short of becoming a hood-ornament on that truck.  The spontaneous decision was to get off the road, so off the road he went fully expecting to flip over into the nearby woods.  But he didn’t flip over: there was a dirt road skirting the bridge, and he was on it.

Later, he said he’d never noticed that little dirt road before, and figured it must’ve just appeared in the nick of time.  It carried them back to the main road where he regained control of his car after spinning 360 degrees to a full stop.  The car had stalled, and though it wasn’t raining, the windshield wipers were going full blast.  Dad was in a cold sweat, but Mom had been looking out the window enjoying the scenery.  She turned to him and said:

“You can turn this thing around on a dime, can’tcha!”

Now and then, when circumstances call for it, I wonder if there is a guardian angel hanging out with my father.  No doubt, it was with him and other family members that day on I-26 coming back from Spartanburg.  The old man driving the limo that day was lucky to have Dad with him.  Dad’s guardian angel saved his life too, y’know.  Had he been driving with other passengers that day, the incident might’ve made the newspapers.

Well, I told you all of this as background to retrieving the cat and the dawgs from the kennel when we finally got back to Atlanta.  Cosmo Topper was fine, and so was the cat, Penny Lane.  Ashley Cooper was having a time of it, though.  Seems anxieties in anticipation of some undesired treatment came over her as soon as we dropped her off at the kennel (which was located, and a part of, the veterinary hospital where she has been frequently).  She had developed diarrhea.

At my expense (ain’t no free lunch), they treated her for worms even though there was no sign of worms.  We were also advised to hold off feeding her sawdust even though it is an economical dawg food, and move up to something with less crude fiber in it for awhile.

She was still on Pepto-Bismol (I kid you not!) by Christmas, and the day after.  Try getting a spoonful of that stuff down a dawg!  She’d spit it out; gag, make awful faces, and complain to high Heaven, but I finally managed to get some down.  It must’ve tasted awful to her ’cause she didn’t want her lips to even touch her teeth and gums.  I’ve never seen a snarl like that: her nose was so wrinkled you could’ve planted corn on it.

We kept this up long enough for the problem to reverse itself: instead of diarrhea, she was now constipated.  One problem quite opposite the other.  It seems I’d misunderstood the vet, and was giving her about three or four times the needed dosage of that pink stuff.

Poor Ashley.  She’d go outside; assume the position, and howl for mercy, but none forthcoming.  After awhile, I think you could’ve bribed her to play the piano for just a half a bar of chocolate-flavored Ex-lax.  Mending from such extremes, she went with us to Augusta along with the children and the other dawg.  It was a holiday time with Brenda’s parents.

The weather had been a bit unkind to southern animals, and had dropped to degrees formally known only to arctic life.  “Hugo” wasn’t enough for the Carolinas.  No, they had to have freezing rain and snow as well.  Myrtle Beach got over a foot of the stuff driving locals crazy, many having never seen real snow before in their entire lives.  At least it didn’t cave in their roofs, as all of those had been blown away by “Hugo”.

We heard that Ashley Cooper’s father (still in Charleston) went a bit berserk seeing snow for the first time in his life, and ran away.  But luckily, you can spot a large black dawg in the snow, so they found him soon enough.

A cousin in Charlotte put blankets out for their dawg who would not lie on them, but would drag them around the yard and bark at ’em.  Dawgs are creatures of habit, and unless they’ve been laying on something since puppyhood, they won’t lay on it at all unless it stinks badly.

Another says that their dawg removes all bedding materials from the dawg house including a light bulb (put in there to add a little warmth).  If they had put in a proper switch, the animal would’ve been able to turn out the light without removing the bulb every time it was ready to turn in for the night.  Some people just don’t think.

Our dawgs weren’t raised in dawg houses as puppies.  We put up some after the dawgs got a little older, but they won’t use them.  They prefer a cardboard box if it’s kept right by our back door.  They won’t actually get in the box: they’ll just lay down right beside it which seems to suit them just fine.

On the way to Augusta, Ashley Cooper got car-sick.  She was sick as a dawg.  It wasn’t entirely her fault: after all, the other end was still plugged up from too much Pepto-Bismol, so she had to do something!  Whatever we do to clean the car will be inadequate.  I’m sure the project will require spending money.

We tied the dawgs’ leashes together around a tree once we got to Augusta, and went inside to be with Brenda’s folks.  It was snowing.  We were all hugging and laughing except Brenda’s mother who stood by the window watching the dawgs shiver in the snow.  After a moment, she asked:

“Don’t you think it would be alright if we brought those two inside out of the cold?  They’ll be alright in here with us, won’t they?”

It was her house, after all, so we did as she had suggested: we brought the “puppies” inside, and thanked her.  The dawgs thanked her, too…recognizing her as their guardian angel.  We didn’t even bring up the Pepto-Bismol incident.

I close this now, not just the letter, but the decade (which is the root word for decadence).  Tomorrow will start a new one by how we measure it.  I trust your new year, and your new decade will be happy and prosperous.


One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Marlene Humberd on May 18, 2012 at 1:08 pm

    Lord have mercy , Mr . Brown- Twain ! Had to sit and catch my breath after areadin’ this one . Obviously you learned how to spin a tale 360 degrees from your Dad ! ; ) And ” You CAN turn this thing around on a dime can’tcha! ” I enjoyed every spin and turn . Thanks, again , Van !


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