I am having a cup of coffee and a sit down. I’ve been so busy this morning, I feel like I need to think for a minute. And the North Wind is blowing – nothing rattles my brains like the North Wind.
My grandma hated the North Wind – she said so – and we could tell, from the miserable look on her face as she wandered around the house in circles with a drip at the end of her nose. Her eyes reddened up and her hair stood out like a fright wig, she seemed to have half-used tissues stuffed in every pocket, in her watch band, and in her bra, which she used like a second purse. Already an old lady when we got her, she seemed to age dramatically under the influence of the North Wind.
One October morning she announced we needed to go to town and pick up some groceries. We went about changing into our “town clothes”. Gram never went off the property without putting on a clean dress, fresh stockings and good shoes, running a comb through her hair, and then adding that dab of lipstick. As she was going through her purse, she noticed the car keys were not in it.
We sat in the living room trying to stay clean while she scoured the entire house for those keys. Normally a very pulled together woman with a good sense of humor, she started to get pretty pissed off. After about an hour of looking, and some pretty imaginative cursing, she gave up the ghost and went to change her dress. We kids did same and then found something to do outside, where we could still hear her slamming doors and cabinets. We knew we hadn’t done anything with her keys, and she hadn’t accused us – but she was damned mad, and we didn’t want to be under her feet.
When Gramps came in she was waiting for him – “what did you do with my car keys?!” I’ll tell you what – my grandparents fought like cats and dogs. They used language, “you damned old fool” and “you old sunnovabich” being their pet names for each other. We kids just thought that’s the way married people talked to each other.
We’d seen worse – my dad used to come home from the pipeline, drunker than a skunk, and try to wipe up the floor with my mother, who could give it right back. My grandmother had him arrested out of the front seat of his stock car at the Silver Dollar Speedway. My family is just point blank fucking mean.
So we kids reared around on the sofa just in time to catch the “oh what now” look on my grandfather’s face, and his answer, “I didn’t do anything with your goddam keys!”
My grandfather was not a liar. He was never afraid to tell the truth. Gram was flummoxed – what else could have happened to those keys?
Dinner went on in silence, Gram flummoxed and Gramps still pissed off about being accused of rifling a woman’s purse – only a louse or a deadbeat went through his wife’s purse.
But as soon as the dishes were picked up we noticed Gramps started picking around the house. He was determined to solve this mystery. He was too old and stiff to do the work at hand, so rounded us kids up and we went room by room – “look under there, maybe she dropped them in there… shake all the clothes in the closet, listen for keys… Erm, when was the last time you used your old purse… ” No lead left un-turned.
But we got nothing. We looked and looked – suddenly we realized we’d missed all our tv shows and it was half hour past our bedtime. We were all sick and tired of keys.
Outside the North Wind was howling around the eaves. My grandma looked very beaten.
So we kids went about getting ready for bed. Grandma was too distracted to ask us if we’d all hit the toilet before we got under the covers. We felt pretty beaten too, we didn’t like to see anything get the better of our grandma, unless it was grandpa, who was always pulling some sort of prank on her. But this time it wasn’t one of his pranks – he seemed a little beaten too.
The lights went out all around the house, as Gramps settled into bed and Gram made her usual rounds of all the doors and windows before she got ready for bed. When she was still teaching school, she might sit up until 11 or later grading papers, or she’d write letters or read something she’d been meaning to read. She usually came to bed at least an hour after the rest of us.
We kids sat bolt upright when we heard the noise of keys hitting the floor. It was my grandmother, getting undressed for bed. Gramps woke up too. He laughed so hard he had a coughing fit as he chided her about that “old bottomless pit” – her “second purse,” the Jane Russell 18 hour bra. All the while the keys had been hidden in there with about a half a pack of Kleenex and her stamps money that she’d forgotten to put in the mailbox.
We were happy to hear my grandparents’ laughing – their fights were sudden and loud but never lasted long.
I learned two things that night – family is a good thing to have when the wind is blowing around the eaves, and don’t use your bra like a purse.