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

Chapter 4
My Mother, Father and Grandmother. Young Love and Tragedy

 

 

(All read by 'Mary Jo')

Joe began his campaign to get what he wanted.  Mama still laughs when she tells the story.  She knew Joe had fallen for her, she just didn't know for certain how hard.  He did show up that night, and the next night, and for Sunday dinner.  Then he asked Grandma if it would be okay to take Mama “out”.  Grandma said it Mama’s choice, but it had to be a nice place, no liquor, and they would have to be home early, since Mama had to ‘help’ Grandma with her work the next day.  Joe asked if the movie in Lewistown or Rushville would be acceptable.  Grandma said she expected such would be okay, but remember, “She’s only 16 and you already admit to 21, so behave yourself accordingly!”

 

Mama didn't have any experience with boys, but she had no shortage of smarts.  She knew when a boy held your hand, it meant it wouldn’t be long before he wants to put his arm around your waist.  If his arm went around your shoulders, better watch out for where those fingers were dangling….  When, two weeks later, it seemed like one thing could soon lead to another, she told Joe flat out,

 

“I like you, Joe, but you'll be leaving soon.”  Well, I didn't claim Mama expressed herself with enormous originality, did I?  Perhaps she can and sometimes has, but on this particular overheated occasion, she swears she chose to be straight-forward.

 

The time had come for Joe to make a decision, and he had already made it, figuring the subject could soon arise.

 

“I'm not leavin', I'm stayin'.”  Mama says Daddy didn't have time to think of a better way to express himself, and so much blood being diverted from his brain just then, it is a wonder he could speak at all.

 

So then, Mama, having hoped and maybe prayed Joe would stay, said, “That's fine then, there's no need to hurry.  Let's find out what sort of job you can get around here!”

 

The next two years were very interesting, to say the least.   Joe looked for a job and found one at the foundry in Vermont, grinding the seams off of heavy castings all day long.  The pipeline crew moved on.  Joe showed the foreman and his buddies a picture he had of Mama from the snapshot booth at the Ipava Homecoming and he had to argue most of crew out of quitting, too, joining him in Woodland.  He told them he wasn’t happy to leave them but he wouldn’t miss the taste of the warmed over diesel fuel they called coffee…. Mama kept up with the bookkeeping work and made sure Grandma doctored and could see Grandma beginning to get better.  Mama could begin, then, going back to school, and she wrangled Principal Johnson into letting her study at home and only come in to take the tests every other Friday.   She even took all the pre-college tests and scored way high on them and started thinking maybe about college.

 

Joe kept his castings to the grindstone, as it were, and hooked up his old Airstream to the utilities at Grandma's house.  He just kept smiling whenever people tried to find out just where his relationship stood with Mama. He even volunteered to be a volunteer fireman, servicing the equipment and making friends everywhere he went.  Whenever someone he saw in the shop or at the firehouse complained of trouble with a fitting or nut or lid or whatever, he would yell out, “Don’t force it!  Use a bigger hammer….”  Soon, folks all over town thought of ‘Texican Joe’ as ‘one of us’. 

 

Mama always told me to learn to negotiate.  She had lots of practice with Daddy and thought she had things settled on completely 'giving in' to Joe on her 18th birthday and marrying the summer after, after she graduated.  She says she didn't ever tell Joe she still wanted to do college, figuring 'one step at a time'.  Well, 18 turned out to be almost a year too long for both of them, but they were careful, very careful, and Price's Rexall drugstore had a steady customer before long.  I must say I blushed at the age of 12 the first time she told me what she meant.

 

Grandma Martha even told them the chiropractor had cured her eyes; she thought she could start driving herself again and to go back to doing all the bookkeeping herself.  Mama wasn't sure, but she went along to get along and went with Grandma to all the businesses the first time Grandma wanted to go back on her own. 

 

At the elevator, after sitting in the back office with the hot machines for an hour with Grandma, Mama went up front and told Mr. Washog most everything looked okay, but if they didn't want Grandma to have a relapse, they needed to put in an A/C unit and some new lighting, and, maybe, an exhaust fan.  Mr. Washog said okay, and he told Maryann, the clerk, and Maryann told Elmer, the fixit man. He went and bought the A/C, the lights and the fan, from the Sunshine Store at Main and Pearl, and installed them without thinking about why the electrical fixtures next to the new 208V lines he laid in were ‘Class Two, Division Two, Group A’ fittings.

 

He didn't have to wait long to learn why.  Lots of grain dust hung in the air and blanketed on the pipes and ledges outside her room the first day Grandma unlocked the 'back' room, and flipped on the switch to the new florescent fixture and exhaust fan. When she turned on the A/C unit, a spark jumped the points in the relay and ignited an explosive dust mixture being pulled through the unit by the exhaust fan, so the unit blew out of the wall and killed Grandma where she stood.  The doctor said she was dead before she hit the floor and never knew what hit her.  The grain elevator shook from the explosion, so much so the fact Grandma became the only victim rated a miracle.  So much so the new wiring wasn’t detected by Washog’s cousin, the fire marshal.

 

The next week blurred, punctuated by moments of stark reality.  The funeral home called Mama the next day to tell her all the funeral expenses were being taken care of by an anonymous donor – the Washog's, of course, but they couldn't admit they were at fault.  Mrs. Gains, from the church, sent so many flowers from their nursery you'd have thought the mayor's wife had been laid out, not everybody's bookkeeper.  Mr. Hoppes, not wanting to be outdone, sent some himself from his nursery and offered anyone else a 25% discount.  The Senior class voted to use some of their Senior trip money to send a wreath, and Principal Johnson and his wife sent Mama a letter, one she still has in a plastic sleeve under the tablecloths and napkins in her hutch drawer and she won’t know I know about it until she reads this .  The town, and most of the farmers around, was going to miss Grandma and her sharp pencils -- more than they could bear to think.

 

Mama says she would have just collapsed into a hole and pulled the dirt on top of herself if it wasn't for Joe. She could barely find anything to wear to the visitation until Mrs. Bonnie Welker White came by with some black things she wondered if Mama wanted to borrow.  She did and if they started a little tight, by the time of the funeral, Mama hadn't eaten for four days and they fit just fine.   The Church of Christ minister delivered the eulogy, and Mama realized, as he did it, how little he seemed to know about Grandma, how much he hadn't noticed.  And then she realized, of course, how could anyone know those things but herself?  She and Joe, perhaps, but mostly, just Mama.   The minister didn't even know when or why Grandma Weiser had come to town.  He hadn't even been in Woodland before F. F. Glass blew his brains out by the church lake.   He didn't know Grandma had lived with Mama in one of the Camp Ellis houses.  He didn't know Grandma had made every dress and coat and blouse she had ever worn with a sewing machine bought from Nedra Terrone when Dilworth Terrone crashed DUI.  He didn't know Grandma Martha had graduated with a degree in economics from Bradley University before marrying Grandpa and later moving to Woodland to help F.F.Glass build his dream factory and bring 40 good jobs to Woodland.  He didn't know she had been 'cum laude', and president of her sorority, Pi Beta Phi. He didn't know her family could be easily traced back to the Mayflower on one side and Jamestown on the other.   And she hadn't comprehended she survived as the only one who knew those things and if she wanted the minister to say it, she would have had to have told him.

 

Two hundred people squeezed into the big funeral parlor on east Main, and 150 or more followed the hearse out to the Town cemetery where, in the warm, humid, rich ground a new grave had been dug all the way in the back where the land began to slope down to the creek running a mile over to the church camp lake.  More words were said over the coffin, suspended by straps over the deep hole; tears were shed, flowers tossed, dirt scattered and everyone went home.

 

Three days later, Mama and Joe drove out to the cemetery where they saw the piled up dirt with layers and layers of dead flowers on top.  They each got out of the car separately and went to talk to Grandma for the last time.  Mama says she asked Grandma to forgive her for asking for the a/c unit and for any cross word she may have ever said to her.  She says she told Grandma if she ever had a daughter, she would hope to be half the Mother Grandma had been....Mama says she thinks she heard Joe say ‘Vaya con Dios, Madre Mio. Gracias por su hija bella’, before going back to their home where they began to behave like married people do, and to plan the wedding making it official.

 

 

 

 

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