Taking back the road

Published 12:57 pm Sunday, November 16, 2008

Your genes can creep up on you.

They’ve been there all along but they don’t manifest themselves until the graying of years.

I come from a long line of “terrorists” and outside influences have also been strong.

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In the spring of my seventh year, I learned that great terror can be wrought from behind the wheel of a car.

Mamie lived in the house right behind ours and, when I saw her get in the car with her Sunday hat on, I ran and crawled in with her.

Mamie didn’t know how to drive but I didn’t care.

Cranking the car took a while and, when she hit the gas, we didn’t go in the direction either the two of us imagined. We went backwards – across the dirt road and into the field of red clover.

She kept her foot on the gas and turned the wheel furiously. We bumped and bounded through the field, with red clover flying along our backward path.

On the other side of the field, we came to a sudden, unexpected stop — in the ditch and stuck in the “launch” position. Mamie’s Sunday hat sat sideways on her head.

I can remember the terror on Mama’s face as she came running through the clover with Bubba in her arms and the fear – or something akin to it – on the face of all Mamie’s blood and kin.

Mama yanked me out of the car by the arm and marched me to the switch bush and made me painfully aware that terror is born behind the wheel.

That knowledge was confirmed by the Smith sisters. If they weren’t midgets, their mama and daddy were. Even sitting on the spring and winter editions of the Sears and Roebuck catalog, all you could see was Fanny Lou’s chubby hands clutching the top of the steering wheel of their 1936 “Chevrolet” coop. When they drove down Main Street, it cleared.

The Smith sisters weren’t kin to me but Tornado Tom was.

Aunt Mary Tom “owned” the streets of Brundidge. Folks gave it to her. She drove on both sides of the street, no matter whether she was going or coming and she stopped anywhere she pleased. She’d stop right in the middle of the street and go in to do her shopping. Folks would have to just drive around her.

Lily was terrified of Aunt Mary Tom when she was behind the wheel, as was everybody who valued their lives. Lily and my grandmother were putting up peas and Aunt Mary Tom stopped by at that inconvenient time.

When it was time for Lily to go home, Tornado Tom offered to take her.

Lily’s eyes got as big as saucers and her “ah-rahs” started. When, she got nervous she would preface every other word with “ah-rah.”

“Ah-rah, Miss Tom, ah-rah, I gets real ah-rah nervous ah-rah going through ah-rah town. I wishes you’d ah-rah let’s go around ah-rah on the ah-rah backstreets.”

Lily’s face was twisted in terror as she and Tornado Tom sped off, I’m sure, toward ah-rah downtown.

My granddaddy also owned the roads. Pop was hard of hearing so he couldn’t tell when his car was cranked until it started to vibrate. When it did, he jerked the car into reverse and came roaring out of the car shed like a bat out of Hades and continued his drive in the same fashion.

When folks saw “Mr. Grady” coming, they pulled off the road and gave it to him.

I’m a product of those folks and others like them.

Some time back, a friend and I had a meeting in downtown Montgomery. He directed me off the interstate but I balked and, instead, made a quick left — into three lanes of oncoming traffic and a deluge of blowing horns.

My friend sent up a pleading prayer, “Save us, Sweet Jesus!”

I was dodging cars like that frog in the video game. “What to do?”

“Pull on the ramp!”

I did. Onto the exit ramp.

Now, those Montgomery folks are real friendly. They blew their horns and waved at us with one finger.

A man, with bulging neck veins and an extremely red face, stopped his car so we could back off the exit ramp and get going the right way. He gave me that big-city wave.

I’d had enough of Montgomery and pledged to only go there on a “got to” basis.

Well, Thursday afternoon, I “had to” be back in Montgomery where there are more one-way streets than Carter has Little Liver Pills.

And, this is why folks shouldn’t be allowed to talk on cell phones when they drive.

Sis and I were minding our own business — going the wrong way on a one-way street — and this man, who was talking on his cell phone, didn’t even see us coming. Why, he could have hit us head-on.

Luckily, we were able to pull off onto a business exit. Then we went on our merry way but there wasn’t a one-way that was going our way.

So, we gave up and allowed my genes to take over.

We stopped the car right where we were and walked a country mile to our destination, crossing busy one-ways and two-ways as we went.

Now, I’m here to tell you, those folks in Montgomery will flat run you over.

But they are the wavingest folks I’ve ever seen.