Route 17 1980 Chapter II
My mom’s grandmother was beautifully white. Cantankerous and rude in 1980, a harborer of racism but not racist. She raised me and my brother, partially. Pennsylvania was her home, but she had people that stretched to Vermont and across the pond to north of Liverpool. My grandfather left then divorced her when I was young. He was a reformed criminal every five years. Eloise is/was my grandmother, her bread and cinnamon bun aroma captivated counties for decades. She was a gifted needle-pointiest yet preferred to crochet and knit. When I was young, she would latch hook with me as an act of bonding. My brother and I were the first black people she loved.
By the time I was four my grandmother had taught me the symbols. They were woven into our Euchre and Pinochle games, our bird watching sessions and our Reader’s Digest time. It was never education. Games and tournaments filled my youth and all I wanted to do was compete within the symbols. On the rare occasion she would sneak me away to Mansfield. My mom never knew. My dad would have geeked. I thought it was cool. Imagine the fascination of a 4–5-year-old mixed kid visiting rural family unbeknownst to his parents.?
Mansfield in mid-day July/August 1975, was kinetic and amazing. My grandmother knew everyone and trundled me proudly everywhere in the county. I saw things.
Some of the most memorable moments were on the farms. The health of the livestock was astounding. At 6 I could see the vigor of the cattle the stock… The gardens were arranged in a deliberate way. Configured purposefully to allow efficiency. Everything had labels. Some of the gourds and greens were labeled beyond my comprehension. I was a unique kid. Most of it read German and Old English. My grandmother would keep me there 3-4 hours. Thousands of families in station wagons and sedans pulled up and bought beef, pork, beans, and squash.
On special days we ventured beyond Mansfield. Lamb’s Creek, Cherry Flats and on special days Blossburg. We never told my mother, her mother. It was an adventure, and I was the only brown, tan, black face on those days. My grandmother was a driver, she drove irresponsibly. She would strap into the back seat of her Oldsmobile, give me a turkey sandwich and some shoo fly pie. She always packed it. It was a knockout formula. Normally I woke up in Big Flats.
It was early November. I remember leaving Mansfield, playing Euchre as a young one. I woke up groggy, the sign said, “Painter Run”. Ever wake up so disoriented you feel like you are still asleep? I wasn’t. 700 hundred people were gathered and chanting in whispers. There was a sign on a barn in letters and language I did not know, I was afraid. My grandmother looked peaceful as she chorused. There were a series of buildings, each distinct in design. The object of their worship was 25x50x25x50. How do I know? I do not know. My grandmother, looking sheepish, pensive… turned to look back at the Cutlass. She saw I was awake, and our eyes connected. She left the gathering and shuffled back to the car.
She kissed my cheek and opened the basket. I ate the Shoo fly pie and fell back to sleep.