Championing the cause of the orphan in my own unique way.
Welcome to another edition of Family Fridays, where I am sharing glimpses of my own childhood experiences in advance of my forthcoming book, Lines in the Gravel (and 52 Other Re-Told Childhood Tales).
I remember starting school the week before Labor Day way back when I was a kid. The week back was a short week, followed by a longer short week (off Monday for Labor Day), finally followed by a full week of school. As I sit here writing today, both of my sons are in school; I wouldn’t have been at their age. (I may gloat in that fact later today.) No, I would have still been on summer break, and that reminds me of the week of summer break spent at my grandparents’ every summer.
My mother’s parents were Wilson and Wilma Thompson. I share my grandfather’s middle name, Wade. We simply knew them at Tomp and Mama Tomp. When my sisters and brothers and I were young, my parents would drive us two hours north from Star to North Carrollton, where they lived. We only saw them a couple of times during the rest of the year, just for part of a day each time, so we looked forward to the week in North Carrollton each year.
The drives to Tomp and Mama Tomp’s were adventures enough; these were the days before mandatory seatbelt laws. I remember the six of us piling into the two-door ”69 Ford pickup truck (yes, all six of us); watch out if you were just to Dad’s right as he shifted through the gears. I remember the ’75 Gran Torino (Dad, how fast are you going?) that allowed us to stretch out a little bit and the two-tone green Dodge van that I don’t really remember much about except that it sorta reminded me of the Mystery Machine. Finally, there was the ’81 Corolla. That’s the one we kids remember because my brother (the youngest) had to ride on the emergency brake between the two front bucket seats. Sure, he had a pillow to sit on, but it was a two-hour drive. Bless his heart.
During our week with Tomp and Mama Tomp every summer, I rarely remember our driving anywhere. Mama Tomp didn’t drive at all, and Tomp drove only on rare occasions. So we walked everywhere.
We walked out their back door, which was about 50 yards or so from the railroad tracks, and walked along the rails.
We walked maybe a quarter of a mile or so to the railroad trestle and walked across it. That was fun since we didn’t have a railroad trestle to cross in Star.
We walked about the same distance in the other direction to the general store. The store with bottled drinks on ice in enormous troughs. There’s nothing like an ice-cold grape drink from a bottle. This was Nehi heaven.
We walked to Mama Tomp’s friends’ houses. There, we were expected to sing Mama Tomp’s favorite hymns to her friends. Seems like “Trust and Obey” was her favorite — good words to live by. We were regularly commended for our singing, but they were just being polite, as we would rudely discover back in our hometown in our teenage years — perhaps I’ll tell that part of the story next week.
Finally, if Tomp was feeling up to it, we would walk to the big bridge that separated North Carrollton from Carrollton (an important distinction among the locals). The big bridge was probably a mile-and-a-half, maybe two miles away from their house, and the Jitney Junior was conveniently positioned on the way back (it was, after all, a convenience store).
Once during every week of summer spent at my grandparents’, Mama Tomp would fry up some scrumptious hamburgers. I don’t know what she did to those things, but they were sooommmme good. When they were ready to serve, she would fold a paper towel in half, place it over half the burger, wrap it underneath, and tuck the edges so that we held in our hands a restaurant-quality burger both by taste and presentation.
The most memorable taste of every summer trip for me, however, was not those burgers but Corn Flakes. Near the end of our week every year, Tomp and Mama Tomp would let us stay up until midnight, when the train rolled through. And every year, Mama Tomp would pour us a bowl of Corn Flakes — with the all-important spoonful of sugar — to enjoy as we opened the back door and watched the train roar by. I remember the sheer power of the train in its close proximity to us. The house literally rattled, and we always wondered how we remained asleep on all the other nights we spent there.
I lament that Mama Tomp and I got our wires crossed on one of these summer trips about my chore of sweeping off that dadgum front porch a dozen times a day, and our summertime weeks in North Carrollton ceased. But when I think back on those days now, I remember fondly ice-cold Nehi grapes, walks to the big bridge, and restaurant-quality hamburgers. And Corn Flakes at midnight.
Thanks for reading.4theVoiceless, Al
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