by Elaine Mead Currier Keniston
Mother was driving. When we were young, it was the Ford with the smooth, curved hardtop. The car slowed and we heard its tires spinning. I guess we three girls, always occupying the back seat, had been making some noise: talking, giggling or arguing the way kids do. We knew instinctively to stop when we heard the car getting stuck. The decibel level we had attained was not so high as to cut off our awareness of the larger situation. As a matter of fact, Mother’s tolerance of kid-noise did not even approach the lower register. She and those of her generation often reminded us how fortunate we were to take part in some social measure, because when they were kids, “children were to be seen and not heard”. The next thing we knew from similar prior experiences was that this unintended automotive situation was somehow our fault.
Her voice resounded from up there in the front:”There! Now see what you kids have gotten me into? A mess – that’s what! Now BE QUIET and we’ll try to get outta here!”
We sat perfectly motionless at first and maintained the quiet she demanded, hoping that it would help her concentrate while rocking the vehicle back and forth, shifting into first, then into reverse, the Ford spitting out gravel, its engine roaring with newfound acceleration, dipping down into the rut and straining up to its edges. As the process continued, we gradually began moving our small bodies forward and back with the car’s rhythm and making sure to duck our heads down when she turned her head beack, her right arm across the back of the front seat so she would have a clear view. We certainly didn’t want to be the cause of some worse predicament which we had unknowingly caused! And most times by some law of miracles or engineering, something far beyond my reasoning at the time, Mother maneuvered the Ford out of the ditch. We went on our way and all was quiet from the back seat the rest of the way.
Memories of us going somewhere in the car stick vividly in my mind. There was the sound of the “rattledy bridge” as we called it. It was the wooden bridge at the bottom of Howe Hill in Grantham, New Hampshire, my Father’s hometown. The towns of Springfield and Grantham share a proximal border so we were often riding up to the old Currier place where Daddy, his two sisters, Aunt Betty and Aunt Jane and two brothers, Uncle Kenneth and Uncle Bob grew up. All sisters and brothers had left to go on with their married lives except Uncle Bob who remained a bachelor his entire life and stayed at the homestead. This bridge was constructed of wooden slat timber and as we rolled over it and began to get up some speed to gain momentum over the “washboard” ridges of the hill’s dusty gravel surface, a loud clattering sound always emerged.
Regular trip were made to Newport, about 15 or 20 miles away – although the mileage might be less; to child and in those days, it seemed like quite an excursion. I now suspect it was not so far. We went there to do grocery shopping at the A+P supermarket since Springfield had only a small country store, the shelves of which held mostly basic commodities. Along the way to Newport there was a small, weathered structure with a sharply peaked roof which had long since been abandoned. A huge bittersweet vine grew over it and spilled down over its sagging architecture. It had a certain romantic quality, I thought – something like those lithographed illustrations in the English poetry books. On one of these drives, I piped up and told everyone that I thought it was a “nice, little house” and that all it needed was a little work. This elicited everyone’s laughter, another family joke was launched and from that time on whenever we passed the progressively deteriorating place, one of the parents would cast a knowing glance my way, saying, “That’s Sister’s place.” This occurred with embarassing consistency and culminated in a final denouement of hilarity when even I had to laugh: we rolled by it, my Father slowing the car to a crawl: the peculiar small structure had succumbed to the weight of the bittersweet vine and had fallen flat on the ground.
Coming soon: Part 2 – Snow and Mr. Evans.