I’m sitting in the swing on my grandparents’ front porch on Bannister Road in south Kansas City. My toes tap against the concrete floor to push the swing back and forth as I sip sweet iced tea, count the cars that go by — 50 — 100 – 150 – and watch for the shiny black Mercury coupe that will soon slow and turn into the gravel drive – Granddaddy coming home. I am six years old and taking a break from watering the zinnias in the flower garden at the side of the house.
Nanny, my grandmother, who has just finished reading me the Sunday funnies as she does every weekend until miraculously one day I can read them myself, cooks fried chicken and green beans with bacon over the old gas stove in the kitchen. Muggins, the yellow cat, who is the subject of Granddaddy’s countless tall tales, weary from poking around the cornrows in the garden where I sometimes play hide and seek, picks his way up the porch steps to huddle in my lap. He’s Granddaddy’s cat and never as comfortable when Granddaddy isn’t there.
I swing and tap, swing and tap and sip my iced tea until his car catches my attention, slowing as it reaches the gravel driveway. Granddaddy’s arm flings out the car window to signal, but the car turns too sharply, then plunges headlong into the ditch along the front yard. I stop swinging, rise in what seems like slow motion, and scream helplessly, “Nanny! Nanny! Granddaddy…” but I can say no more, just point frantically. Nanny is hard of hearing but somehow she hears me calling and I see her standing at the screen door, her face as white as the apron she uses to dry her hands. She tells me, “Run next door, tell Bobby to call the doctor,” and races down the hilly yard to Granddaddy. I leave my iced tea sweating on the porch by the still moving swing and speed across the wide side lawn hollering, “Granddaddy’s in an accident. Granddaddy’s in an accident.”
I don’t remember anything else about that day, just the nightmarish quality of it. Granddaddy survived but he was injured and walked with a cane the rest of his life. My mother said he was never really the same, not the strong, proud man I remember and still see in old photos of him. A few years later he retired and spent his days sitting in his big wing chair in the living room smoking his pipe and spitting tobacco juice in the coffee can on the floor, his sparkle vanished. And he didn’t tell me stories about Muggins anymore.
It has been 64 years, but I can still see myself, standing at the edge of the porch, my mouth opened wide in a soundless scream, fear coursing through my body that Granddaddy won’t come out of that car, alive.
––Ann Otto writes essays and memoir.
Her essay, Remembering Prairie, was published in Kansas City Voices, Volume 6. Order your copy today for only $5 at http://www.kansascityvoices.com/05subscriptions/subscribe.shtml