This is going to be difficult to tell. Mostly because I am already laughing. It was unseasonably warm for mid-October. We were still riding with our windows down. This is something that people who live in small, country towns do–or used to do. I don’t know about now, because I haven’t lived there in over 20 years, but I used to do it all the time. The air smells different in the country. There is something comforting about the sweet smell of cow manure and hay–I can’t explain it, it just is, and I know plenty of people who will back me up on that. Another reason I did it, was I smoked cigarettes and I didn’t like to actually smell like cigarettes, so I was under the misguided impression that if I drove my car with the windows down, the cigarette smell would dissipate, and Mothah would not smell it on me when I got home. This was, of course, a ridiculous delusion on my part. Anyway, the point is that it was mid-October and people were still riding with their damn windows down in Madison, Georgia. Mid-October happens to be my birthday. Literally. October 15. Mothah was cooking my favorite dinner: Swiss Steak À La NaNa. (NaNa was my grandmother on my Daddy’s side, and Swiss Steak was her specialty. Nobody could actually duplicate it, but Mothah tried, Mothah tried, and actually she got pretty damn close) Grandmothah Bennett was coming to join us for my birthday dinner. I am pretty sure that we (my step sisters and I) were all rolling our eyes and standing around picking at the Pillsbury Crescent Rolls, which were all of our favorites, as we waited for the white Bonneville to come roaring down the driveway, a cloud of dust and gravel flying up behind it. We knew it would take Grandmothah a minute to take one last drag off of her Misty Menthol and partially crush it into the overflowing ashtray, leaving it to burn out on its own-a lone streak of blue smoke drifting up in front of the dash. She would dig through her giant bag, find her lipstick, and hold it perfectly still in front of her face while she moved her lips to apply it. After all of that, she would get out of the car and slam the door and we would hear her walk up the walkway to the porch. On this mid-October day, we waited. We waited and waited and waited. And Grandmothah Bennett never showed up. This was SO not like her. She always showed up. We were getting worried. About that time, some guys in a pickup truck pulled into the driveway and came to the door. I think it was Mothah who actually went to the door, but after all the years that have past and the brain cells I have lost since then, these minor details are really not that important. Grandmothah had wrecked her Bonneville. Right up the road from our house. We all got in the car and flew up the road to the scene of the accident. She had been driving down Bethany Road, most likely smoking her Misty Menthols, with her windows down. I already told you, it was unseasonably warm. Apparently, she ran off the road a little and the conditions were just right enough for her to flip the Bonneville. There was Grandmothah, in the Bonneville, upside down, on the side of Bethany Road. Her arm was pinned underneath the top of the car. She had apparently been carrying around several bags of trash in the back seat. If you read my last story about Grandmothah Bennett, then you know that this was a thing with her. We did not have residential garbage pick up in Madison, so we had to take our garbage to the dump. Grandmothah would put hers in the backseat of her car and ride around with it until she felt like taking it to the dump. This was quite unpleasant for anyone who had to ride with her. Namely ME. She always made me ride in the back seat. With the trash. Anyway. That’s neither here nor there. The Bonneville was upside down, with Grandmothah inside it, also upside down. Her arm was trapped under the top of the car, bleeding. It was not pretty. We were all standing there waiting for the emergency vehicles to get there. My mother was trying to comfort Grandmothah. All of a sudden, Grandmothah yells out, in her raspy Misty Menthol voice, “HEY!, YOU BOYS! (she was talking to the boys who had stopped to help her. These were the same boys who came down to our house to tell us she had wrecked her car) IF YOU BOYS’LL JUST HELP ME FLIP THIS CAR OVER, I BELIEVE I’LL JUST GO ON DOWN TO BOB’S FOR LUNCH!!” We all stood there, stunned. If you boys’ll just help me flip this car over, I believe I’ll just go on down to Bob’s for lunch. My step sisters and I had to walk off to the side because we were laughing so hard we were about to wet our pants. I could hear Mothah saying, “Now, Ms. Bennett, you can’t come to lunch right now. We are gonna have to go to the hospital and have your arm looked at, and then you can come have some lunch…..” We could hear Grandmothah protesting raspily, “I’M FINE! I DON’T NEED TO GO TO THE HOSPITAL! THEY CAN JUST FLIP THE CAR OVER!” The emergency vehicles showed up and the rest of us went home and got in a car and went to the hospital to make sure Grandmothah was going to be okay. Her arm was banged up, but other than that, she was fine. She wanted to go out to the house for lunch, so we did. It had been one hell of an afternoon. Nobody felt much like eating Swiss Steak, well, except Grandmothah Bennett. “Why aren’t y’all eatin’ Doll Babies?” she asked, with a mouth full of food. All of us just looked at her, sitting there, in her bloody and dirty shirt, with her arm bandaged up. “We ate too many Crescent Rolls”, we said. That birthday dinner was pretty much a bust. Oh well. There was always next year….
Grandmothah Bennett was my step-grandmothah. She did not want her son to marry Mothah. He did anyway. She was pissed. He did not give a damn. She did come around after a few years 😉 I think…..
Grandmothah Bennett would show up at Robin’s Nest Farm (the name of my stepfathah’s farm, and where I lived my high school years and some of my young adult life, and also where JC and I were married) in her white Bonneville, smoking Misty Menthol’s, with a couple of bags of trash in the back seat. She would fly down the driveway and come to a screeching halt, tires kicking up dust and gravel as she threw it into park. She would just barely crush out her half-smoked Misty into her overflowing ashtray before getting out of the car. She was always dressed in either a suit or slacks and a blouse or sweater. She was the only woman I have ever known who could put on lipstick by holding the lipstick perfectly still in front of her lips and moving her lips around the lipstick. Saying she was a character is putting it mildly. Some people found her to be frightening. Some found her to be offensive. I found her to be fabulous and hilarious. She was also very wise, you just had to get past her gruff exterior. My brother and step-siblings often called me “Grandmothah Bennett, Junior”, but it was not meant to be a compliment…..now, I would take it as one 😉 There are many Grandmothah Bennett stories, but today there is one in particular that I want to share.
My oldest step-sister, Leigh, and I had agreed to take Grandmothah to the mall in Athens. My memory fails me, but I think it was just the three of us. Grandmothah wanted to buy a white blouse. I believe that this was the same trip to the mall when we talked her into having a group photo made at the photo kiosk where you dress up in old timey clothing….that was the most hysterical picture ever and I wish I had a copy made of it because it faded out over time. Anyway, we took Grandmothah Bennett to Macy’s and she was looking at blouses. This was not a fast task. A sales lady tried to help her, but there really was no helping Grandmothah Bennett, and she was not very nice to the sales lady so the sales lady left us alone to find the blouse. Finally, Leigh and I went off in two different directions to look, and left Grandmothah to look by herself. We were not far away from her. I remember the next part like it was yesterday. It was like Leigh and I both turned around and saw her at the same time, and our gasps could be heard ’round the store. We were both at Grandmothah’s sides in no time flat. “GRANDMOTHAH BENNETT!” we hissed in unison, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!!” Grandmothah was standing there, in the middle of the ladies department in Macy’s, at Georgia Square Mall in Athens, Georgia, in her bra, with no top on. She had not bothered to go to a dressing room. She was just trying on blouses right there, in the middle of the store! Leigh and I had looks of horror on our faces. Grandmothah looked at us and chuckled. She put one hand on her hip and cocked her head to one side and said, in her raspy Misty Menthol voice, “Doll Babies, when you get to be my age, you just don’t give a God Damn!” Leigh and I looked at each other in horror and then burst out laughing. Grandmothah finished trying on the blouse, bought it, and we left. I think I was about 19 at the time, and Grandmothah Bennett was probably 70? I don’t know how old she was, but I can tell you one thing: I am already there at 45, and what a relief it is! When you get to be my age, Doll Baby, you just don’t give a God Damn.
I am a creature of habit. I do not like change. My Daddy is an architect, and when I was seven years old, he bartered his architecture services for a share in a condo at Litchfield Beach, SC. That condo is where I still vacation every year, even now, 38 years later. I am telling you, I do not like change. My husband and even my Mothah, at times, have tried to talk me into going to another beach, just for a change of scenery, but I will not. I also like to go to pretty much the same restaurants and the same shops, but I am willing to try new restaurants and shops. When we first got married, it took JC a little while to accept his beach vacation fate. At first he tried to fight it, and then finally he succumbed, realizing that there was simply no point in fighting me. The place is basically free to us to stay in! It is not on the beach. We do have to drive to the beach, but there is also a pool, which is great with the kids. It has been my home away from home for 38 years, and well, I am just not willing to let it go. Like ever. Forget it. I will stay at other places at Litchfield in addition to the condo–say if we are going to stay there for two weeks, which we have done before. I just only like Litchfield, and that is all.
For a time, we started taking day trips to Charleston, SC, which is about an hour away from Litchfield. Our ancestahs basically stahted Chahleston, so there is a lot of family history there for us to dig up. We also like to eat at Jack’s Cosmic Dogs, since that’s MiniMe’s actual name. (Jack. Not Cosmic Dog) This particular year, though, may have been before Mini Me was even born. Mothah and I had dragged JC to Chahleston. JC actually did not mind going to Chahleston, so long as we did not make him go shopping. So, we ended up at the Open Air Market, of course! I love the art, jewelry, etc. And I love the wheelin’ and dealin’ that you can do with some of the vendors.
JC had tired of Mothah and me, not surprisingly, and had gone off on his own. Mothah and I came upon a booth of wonderful African masks. My brother happened to love those damn things. “Jennifah, I should get one of these for youah brothah for Christmas, ” Mothah said to me. “Yes, I think he would love one,” I said. I took Mothah off to the side and told her that I was going to make the man an offer and see if he would bargain with me. Mothah got all excited. She loves a sale. I asked her which one she wanted to buy and she told me. “Step aside,” I said, like a seasoned wheeler and dealer. I walked up to the man and asked to see the particular mask. I held it in my hands. It was, and is beautiful. “I will give you $60 for it,” I said. “$60? You have a deal, ” the man said. About that time, Mothah jumped in and yelled out, “WAIT! I’LL GIVE YOU $65!” I just stood there and hung my head and then I just shook my head. I looked up. “Just let her have it,” I said. I walked off and watched her pay for that damn mask. When she was finished, I said, “Just what in the fuck was that?” She looked at me and said, “Do not use that language with me, Jennifah. I didn’t want him to sell it to you!” I just stood there. “I was going to let YOU buy it at that price,” I said, ” I did not WANT to buy the fucking thing in the first place!” I think I may have had smoke billowing out of my ears. She said, “I already said don’t talk to me like that, Jennifah. I do not like the F word. I’m sorry! I got carried away! I like bargaining too! I’m glad it was only $5 difference!” Then we both started laughing. That was the last time we ever went to the Open Air Market. I think that may have been the last time I have been inside the city limits of Chahleston, for that matter. I doubt JC will ever go back with us again. Who, in their right mind, would?