Hot, dusty road of a summer long ago
Published 8:15 am Wednesday, August 30, 2023
By Harold Brummett
Denmark Star Route
These hot summer days have me remembering the day Mom disappeared. No one knew where she had gone or when she left. It was her day off from working as a licensed practical nurse at the hospital and it was unusual that she would just take off without a word.
Dad had bought Mom a forest green 1973 Chrysler New Yorker. It was huge. At least three feet of space from the front grill to the radiator and behind the radiator was a 400-cubic inch monster of a motor.
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The trunk was large enough to hold an Olympic-sized swimming pool. The cabin could carry four little league teams, three varsity basketball teams or two college teams of any sport. If it were not for the interior padding, the car would echo. It would fairly well fly. That big engine loved the open road and the faster you went it would just squat down and hug the pavement.
The cars we had before the Chrysler was a black early 1950s GMC pickup, 1954 green with a white top Chevrolet sedan, and a white 1964 Chevrolet Impala. It was the Chrysler Mom loved. The pretentiousness, the power and the physical presence of the Chrysler is what she liked.
While I was growing up Mom had a 10th-grade education. When I graduated high school Mom went back to school and got her GED and then on to nursing school, where she became an LPN. To say she was proud of her accomplishment is an understatement. The youngest girl in a family of three boys and four girls, they grew up motherless in the heart of the depression with only a sharecropper father to provide for them.
What I think sparked the disappearance was a chance encounter Mom had at the hospital. One of her patients was an elderly black man and when she checked his chart she recognized him. It seems that the community of sharecroppers at the west end of Lafayette County would help one another.
Being poor is a colorless condition and these men would share what they had. Mom’s patient was one of those men who met on Daddy Gant’s porch once and awhile sharing problems, solutions and solace.
According to what Mom said, as she took vitals and ministered to him, she asked him if he remembered her. He opened rheumy eyes, yellowed by decades of wood smoke and asked, “Chris is that you? You one of Fennels’ girls?” Mom said she assured him she was. Mom laughed and said he lifted his head a bit, looked her up and down and then stated, “You done stoutened up on us.”
This is what I think caused Mom to disappear. Mom would tell of times when there was nothing but molasses to sweeten the coffee, of times where there wasn’t always plenty, but there was always enough. Times they would walk shoeless to the field in the Mississippi summer, girls in flour sack dresses, boys in hand-me-down overalls.
What particularly perturbed her was running to the ditch with her sisters when a car approached, the car not even slowing down to lessen the dust that would coat sweaty skin. Great swirls of powdery dust that could not be outrun and settled everywhere.
It was one of these times little girl Christine swore that if she ever had a car she would cause great dust swirls of her own. So she did. That great green Chrysler New Yorker found the road of her youth unpaved and barely graveled.
On a day like we have been having now – hot, humid, oppressive – an entire tank of gas spent as she hurled back and forth along that road sending great plumes of dust into the air, fulfilling a pledge made as a dirt coated little girl and homage to an old black sharecropper.
Write to Harold Brummett at email@example.com.