A grandmother is a mother who has a second chance

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Smells Like Gary

Gary, Indiana, that is.

A couple more stories from the road. When I was four, we moved from Illinois to Dayton, Ohio. At least once a year we would drive to Chicago to visit family. I, of course, spent most of the trip either whining or sleeping. As we passed through Gary, Indiana on the trip, we drove by either a foul lake, sewage treatment plant, not sure what - but the small was not pleasant. If I was asleep, it would usually wake me up. My Mom would say, "We're in Gary, I can smell it!" I came to recognize the odor as a sign that we were almost at Grandma's house.

But one of my favorite stories happened when I was 11 or 12. We were taking the trek back to Tucson from Southern California. It was summer and very hot. Back then there were no superhighways so the drive led us through every little podunk town from San Diego to Tucson. One of these was Gila Bend, AZ. You could drive 75 on the highway, and then within about 10 feet had to screech down to 25. The town's main source of revenue was speeding tickets. It was an interesting little town - had about 10 bars and 5 churches - and a population of maybe 1000 people. One main road.

My grandfather, Papa Jim, was always destination-bound. Once we got in the car, our only goal was to "get there". If anyone (including my grandmother) had to go to the bathroom or got hungry, you had to beg several times before he would stop. And then he would pick the dirtiest, most run-down place on the route. One of these fine occassions happened in Gila Bend. After significant crying by the kids, and threats from Nani Gene, he finally stopped at a bar/restaurant with a bathroom that would even make Europeans shudder. We all went in and used the facilities, and got something to eat. Papa Jim had a nice, cold beer.

Suddenly he started getting dizzy, was sweating, and couldn't see very well. He said his whole body hurt and he was totally convinced he was dying. He called me and my cousin, Ken, over to his side. He held our hands and said (insert heavy Italian accent here), "I-ma dyin'. I-ma gonna miss you. But I wanna to tell you that I wanna you to have the trailer park after I die." He then let go of our hands, and Ken and I walked to our parents and cried, "We don't want the trailer park! What are we going to do with a trailer park!?!" In the meantime, my grandmother went over to Papa Jim and said, "For god's sake, Jim, you're not dying. You just drank that beer too fast. Now stop complaining and scaring the kids and get back out to the car." Which he did. And we drove home.

As an aside, they sold the trailer park a couple of years later. About 6 years after they sold it, some developer bought the property at a hefty price and built the first air-conditioned mall in Tucson.


Jenni said...

I love that story! I wish I had known Papa Jim - he sounds like quite a character. I didn't know that they owned a trailer park!

Arlene said...

The heavy Italian accent had me giggling!
I love how readily you admit to your whining...I wonder if my kids will too :-)
I so love your stories!!

A Special Family said...

What a wonderful story! I miss hearing those strong Italian accents....

Wendy said...

My family owned a trailer park too. It was my grandfathers. He gave it to my mother, her sister, and her brother. My mother and uncle owned a larger share because my dad was in business with my uncle. They were/are developers. It caused a huge fight in the family that lasted until after my grandfather died. My uncle still has the park...bought my mom and aunt out. Be happy your family sold it, they are a bunch of trouble.