Twin Beeches -- an Illinois Love Story
Author: paul schoaff

Chapter 3
My Grandmother, and Mama meets Daddy Joe

(MJ)

My Grandmother, and Mama when she was Young

Mama becomes someone's Mushroom

 

Do-Si-Do: your Tragedy is my Opportunity, but your Pain is still my Pain.

 

Did I mention Woodland had eight churches and no bars?  You couldn’t have even a BYOB place, and the American Legion and VFW refused to build a Post anywhere in the township because they couldn't ever expect to get a liquor license.   All of which helps to explain why a roadhouse on any hard road running through Woodland, sited just over the township line, had guaranteed success.  Something about being around fellow soldiers and of rethinking your experiences 'over there' leads a man to be morose and to drink too much, I think.  And, of course,  is why drunk driving and one-car accidents were always commonplace on those roads.   One such accident led to Grandma getting a practically new sewing machine I mentioned before.

 

Dilworth 'Dilly' Terrone drove wearily on his way home in his pickup truck from the VFW in Beardstown late one night when he apparently hallucinated the taillights on the back end of a pipe truck 100 feet away as being a house on the bluff three miles away, or maybe the flashing lights on the top of the Havana power plant, up the river 13 miles.  Dilly, going 90 mph with no skid marks, hit the rear of the 30 mph pipe trailer. Some of the pipe, supposed to be installed between Woodland and the old reservoir, wound up buried three feet through Dilly's head and upper body. People miles away in the valley heard the pipe rattling around old Rt 100 and into the mucky ditches next to it.   Dilly had a small insurance policy from the Canton coal mine where he worked at the tipple, so Mrs. Nedra Terrone decided to move up to Canton where she could find work as a nurse paying better than at the 'retirement home'.  She also decided to travel light, and sold her practically new Singer Sewing Machine with 14 Attachments and instruction book to Grandma for less than $30 and free tax prep for the next five years.

 

As a result, starting with the second grade and all the way through high school, Grandma Martha made every piece of clothing Mama ever wore, except for dainties, bobby sox and shoes.    So far as I know, Mama never had a pair of pants, anything at all with legs.  Grandma fancied pants were too much trouble to get to fit right and only made dresses, or altered previously made ones to fit a growing girl.  Sleeves, for Heaven's sake, were trouble enough. 

 

Anyway, Mama never lacked quantity of clothing to wear to school or church, only quality and style.  Woodland wasn’t a town filled with kids who could afford to do much about their sense of style, but Mama says she felt like she stood out, even so.  She overheard a remark or two now and then, but she said “I couldn’t afford to pay any attention, could I?”

 

Yes, I mentioned 'church'.  Grandma and Mama went to the Church of Christ on the square from the time they moved into the Camp Ellis house.  I once asked Mama why the Church of Christ, not one of the other seven.  She said she didn't know, maybe it looked the friendliest and it turned out the people there were usually friendly.  I had to laugh 'cause I never thought of any church as 'friendly-lookin'.  Mama tried to take me to church as a small child, but she says I just screamed the whole time, even in the nursery, so she decided to wait till I became older and, eventually, we did go back.

 

Grandma and Mama kept going, though, right up to the accident.  They had her funeral there, I suspect, though I wasn't here yet to go, and I don't really know. 

 

By the time she died, she and Mama weren't always talking, even though they lived in the same house.   Here's what happened.   Mama seemed mad at Grandma because she wanted to be in school but had to take care of Grandma; Grandma seethed at Mama because Mama insisted on taking off from school to take care of her….Mama was very, very bright – way out ahead of all the other kids learning her words and writing and mathematics; she read all the books in the Carnegie library before she graduated grade school.  I've read some of her essays from freshman year of high school and they may have been better than what I wrote as a freshman in college!   But during the summer before her junior year, Grandma Martha got sick with hives, hives so bad she couldn't stop scratching and burning and crying, and they lasted for months.  Mama had learned to drive by then and she kept taking Grandma back and forth to Rushville to the doctor, and then Macomb and Peoria, but no one and no greasy ointment seemed to be able to help her much.  Mama kept putting ice packs on the lesions for her, all summer long.  People who were Grandma's customers would come around and ask about this filing or another, the month ends for June, then July.  Grandma couldn't do them, so Mama did.   She had been helping Grandma and watching her since she studied in grade school, and with a few questions here and there to Grandma, she easily kept up with the in-home work.  The stuff at the seed corn company and the fertilizer company and the grain elevator would just have to wait.  

 

Finally, the hives just faded away.   No one knew for certain why they came; no one knew why they went.  Mama says she thought she knew it had to be something Grandma became allergic to at one of her jobs – maybe the mercury compounds they used on the seed corn, maybe the ammonia or nitrates at the fertilizer company, or the dust at the elevator.   Maybe she got it right, maybe she got it wrong, but she got it right the elevator would kill her, just not how she thought it would.

 

Mama said she danced all the way back to school.  The first week back, though, the principal came to the typing class she took and pointed at her and did a little 'commere' with his finger.  She slipped out while listening to the clackety clack of the other typewriters fall away, then slowly start up again.  In the hall, Principal Johnson told her she had a phone call from the elevator; please call them back right away.  She knew it must be serious – Johnson hated it when people got calls at the school, especially the teachers.  Hated to take messages or run around like an errand boy, and she couldn't really blame him. 

 

In the office, Mrs. Stambaugh dialed the number for her and sat back just far enough away to hear as much of the conversation as she could without looking like a snoop.  Like most offices, the Administrative Assistant, in this case, Mrs. Stambaugh, became the one who did everything, so she needed to know everything going on, even if no one told her.  What had happened they reported -- Grandma looked pretty weak and her eyes weren't real good and could Mama come by and take her home since no one there had time to do it.   Mama knew there must be more to it , but Principal Johnson wasn't about to give his star pupil a hard time when she told him she had to go.   He even asked if, and she did appreciate it, he could give her a ride where she needed to go.

 

After Johnson dropped her off, she slipped into the little back office Grandma used for the bookkeeping. Mama says she knew right away things were bad – Grandma crying and looking in a hand mirror -- “I can't see well enough to do the entries!” she cried. 

 

“Don't worry, Mama”, my Mama soothed her, “we'll go up to Canton tomorrow and get some new glasses.” 

 

She sat down and worked on the books the rest of the afternoon until supper time, and then took Grandma and herself home to some fried bologna and soup for dinner.  The next day, she called the school and told them she wouldn't be back until Thursday, then got her Mama into the car for the ride to Canton.  They were hopeful on the way up, but not on the trip back -- Grandma had glaucoma and cataracts, and here she stood, not even 45 yet!  People blamed all the close work and long hours for it, but Mama already knew from her reading it may well have been just the luck of the draw – if her Mama's folks had lived long enough, God knows what troubles they might have foreshadowed.  What if she lived to be as old as her mother, herself?

 

Grandma's eyes did get better with time and treatment and the threat of surgery, but the economic problem for the late summer wanted immediate attention.

 

Even the nicest folks at the church told her “We just can’t use a blind bookkeeper.”

 

Before she could stop herself by thinking about her own needs, Mama quickly went to all Grandma's customers and told them she, Mama, would take care of all their books, just asking Grandma the answers to things she didn't know as she went along.  She could legally quit school if she wanted, but she just told Principal Johnson she would be taking a semester off, and maybe be back in time to finish her work to graduate with her class.  Everyone smiled and said 'yes, of course, we know you will', then shook their heads sadly as soon as Mama left the room. 

 

The funny thing was, she meant it and, up to a point, she did it.  Everything was on her shoulders now, the house, the cooking, the work, and the doctor visits, like suddenly she was Grandma and Grandma was a little child again. Being her parent's caregiver wasn’t supposed to happen for another 30 years, at least.

 

They were on the way to a doctor appointment in Macomb one morning when the car suddenly and loudly blew steam from under the hood.  Mama quickly shut the engine down and she and Grandma sat there in the coolness of the morning for about 10 minutes before a pickup truck slowed and passed them and then stopped and backed up to them -- one of the trucks from the pipeline company putting a new gas line through from Kansas City to Joliet, according to the Argus newspaper.  The crews were to be in the area for four to six weeks before transferring their camp to the Lewistown area.

 

The man who slipped out of his truck and eased his way back to Mama's window stood thin.  The kind of thin making a man seem taller, not smaller.  He had the darker complexion of a Western Desert Native American, and cheekbones to match.  He had a mouth with a curl of smile even when he wasn't happy.  It opened, and the polite man said, with a slight Mexican accent, “Can I help you ladies?” Mama looked around, wondering who she had stowed away in the back seat, before regaining her balance.

 

 “You certainly may.” she said. “Do you know why my car just blew steam all over?” 

 

“Pop the hood, why don'cha, I'll see what's what.”

 

Five minutes and one slightly burned finger later, maybe less, the blown hose end had been cut off and the clamp reinstalled.  His truck held all the supplies for servicing the big diggers and dozers, so everything he might possibly need lay in the various drawers and bins of the body.   Grandma, bad eyes and all, could tell the pickup body resembled closely the ones 'Fiber' Glass designed when she and Grandpa helped begin the company.  She leaned out her window and said as much to the man, while he topped off the radiator with ethylene glycol.

 

“I 'spect it might be,” he said, “where you folks from?” 

 

“Down at Woodland”, said Grandma. 

 

“You, too, Ma'am?” he asked Mama

 

“Yes,” she stammered, “Woodland”.  

 

“Well, I have to be down there tonight to pick up something from the bus station; maybe I could stop by your home and check my work?”

 

Before Grandma Weiser could thank him and say “No, thank you”, Mama had shook her head “Yes”, and blushed and looked away and said “Thanks, again! We’ll see you tonight!”

 

And, he did come to check his work; the rest, as they say, is....

 

(Narrator) Smilin' Joe Gonsalves started with the pipeline company as a 13 year-old gopher in the Texas panhandle.  His aunt, Sally, found him a place in the shop of the company after Joe's daddy took a fatal shank in Oklahoma State Prison. His mother gathered up all the kids and all she owned to move down to Houston to live with her brother and sister-in-law.  At the last minute, Joe slipped away from the car and his mother didn't realize he was even gone before she was 100 miles south and east of Amarillo.  She called her sister, Sally, from a gas station and learned, Gracias Dias!, Joe had camped out on Sally's trailer steps.  Joe's mother asked Sally to look after him until she could afford to send some bus fare money, but I guess things were pretty rough in Houston, or, maybe, in Amarillo, because the bus kept right on leaving without Joe.

 

Eight years later, he was servicing bulldozers and end loaders and cranes for the same company and was really beginning to like the looks of the country as he got further and further east.  The thought started in Missouri, leaped to the front of his mind when they under slung the line below the Quincy bridge, and pounded him like a big drum the closer they got to the end of the job.   “This is really nice”, the thought insisted, “Why not just stay here?”   Joe didn’t know if things would continue to get better as he got further east, but he understood ‘good enough’.

 

Joe got along really well with everyone he met.  He never talked up, much, because he knew he didn't know enough to not make a fool of himself.   He always smiled, because his mouth just had a peculiar curl.  He could tell a thousand jokes, learned from every man, and a few women, he had ever sat around a burn barrel with in mid January, or in a smudge of smoky fire to keep the skeeters away in mid July.  He wore a clean pair of coveralls and a clean shave with Old Spice every day, since he never knew when he might have to run to town to pick up a barrel of transmission oil or a case of lithium grease, or a package, or mail for the crew.   He had good teeth, because he never ate candy or cracked nuts and even stayed away from tea and coffee.  He had never been to a doctor in his life nor had a cavity, nor hurt himself on the job, nor banged up one of the trucks.  He had also never had a woman, but he knew exactly what she would look like if he ever found one he wanted.   And that is what he saw in his rear view mirror, sitting behind the steering wheel of a 57 Chevy with vapor still drifting out from the front grill.  It wasn't that she was pretty, which she was; she perfectly matched the picture in his head of what she would look like when he found her.  He had seen the blush and he knew what it meant.  That recognition, that knowledge, gave him the courage to go after her.

 

He remembered when his Daddy took him, the oldest, out to hunt mushrooms in the rich humus of the creek sides in the East Texas farm country where they lived from his birth.  His Daddy always found more and bigger ones than Joe, and Joe finally asked him how he did it.

 

 “I don't know,” said Big Joe, “I just put a picture in my head of what I am looking for, and when what I see matches what I have in my picture, then there it is!”

 

Joe tried his father’s method many times when looking for a particular tool or fitting in the back of his truck, but he couldn't say whether it really worked.  He would never doubt it again, though, after he saw Mama, in her home sewn pinafore, sitting behind the steering wheel.  

 

He smiled to see her features were so regular the mirror image matched the real one well enough not to make a bit of difference.  The heat had yet to leave her cheeks.   He had found her.(end Narrator)

 

 

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