“You stay here, sissy. I’ll be right back.”
Papaw wiped his brow with his wrinkled white handkerchief and opened the car door. I sat in the passenger’s side of the vinyl-covered bench seat and watched him go, stuffing his hankie in his back pocket as he entered the store.
I studied the name of the store on the window. Mommy had been reading to me for as long as I my little five-year old head could remember and I could spell and read pretty well considering I didn’t start Kindergarten for another month. She had stopped spelling words in front of me one day after she told Daddy, “I hid her present in the w-a-s-h-r-o-o-m,” and I had made an inconspicuous beeline for the washroom.
“Sound it out,” I whispered. “Ham….lins. Harrrrd-waaare. Hamlin’s Hardware.” I knew the name. Daddy was always talking about going to Hamlin’s to get this or that. Mommy always said he didn’t need anything, he just went there to chew the fat. That sounded yucky to me and I could never understand why they sold fat, anyway. As far as I could tell, no one wanted it. My 16 year-old sister, Lisa, was always worried about being too fat. But she wasn’t. She was the most beautiful thing in the world with her long, blonde hair and paisley print bellbottom pants. She was like one of those girls on the covers of magazines that Mommy looked through while standing in line at the grocery. A few weeks ago, Lisa had been on a float in a July the 4th parade. It was a special parade, mommy had said. It was America’s 200th birthday. My brother had woven red, white and blue streamers through the spokes in his bicycle wheels and was in the parade, too. I had watched from Daddy’s shoulders, waving and wishing I could have rode my new red bicycle with training wheels in the parade.
I could see Papaw through the window talking to a man behind the counter. Papaw pushed his hat back from his forehead and scratched, then pulled the hat back down. He was nodding and every now and then he’d smile and say something.
I wiped my forearm across my brow, moving the sweat from one body part to another, a few drops dripping on the seat and slowly rolling into a seam. A lady in a red dress and banana yellow sandals walked into the store next door. It had bright colored flowers painted on the window. That looked way more fun than the hardware store. The sign on the door read, “Cool Jew-els.” I didn’t know what a Jew-el was. I’d have to ask Mommy when I got home.
I poked my head out the window a little bit, hoping for a cool breeze like the one we had cooling us off when we were driving to the store. Daddy’s car had air conditioning. All he had to do was…hey! That was it! I slid across the seat easily, the sweat on the backs of my legs creating a slip-and-slide effect. I rolled up Papaw’s window. I slid back across and rolled up mine.
I waited. I pushed my face close to the vents where the cool air came out in Daddy’s car. I didn’t feel anything, but Daddy said sometimes it took awhile. My blue, ruffled halter-top was wet around the top. I leaned my head against the dashboard, waiting for the coolness to kick in. I felt a little sleepy.
“Sissy! Oh my Lord. SISSY!!” Papaw had opened my door had pulled me out of the car, scooping me up into his arms.
“Hey Papaw.” I yawned, feeling a little woozy. “I think I fell asleep.”
He carried me to the sidewalk curb and sat me down, fanning me with his hat and looking at me with wet eyes.
My hair was stuck to my face and my eyes stung with sweat.
Papaw knelt down and cupped my face in his hands. “You, okay, sugar buttons? Why did you roll the windows up, honey?”
I pushed my wet bangs from my forehead. “When Daddy rolls his windows up, the air conditioner comes on. Yours must be broke.”
“Oh. I can’t…you almost…Oh, sissy.” He looked across the street at the courthouse, took a deep breath and blew it slowly through his mouth. He bent down and picked me up, even though he always said I was getting bigger and threatened to put a brick on my head to keep me from growing.
He took my hand and we walked into “Cool Jew-els” where the air was so cool, it felt like my sweat was freezing to my skin. Goosebumps covered my arms. But it felt good.
“Afternoon, sir. What can I do for you?”
The lady in the red dress worked there.
Papaw let me down and grabbed my hand. “Well, we stopped in to cool off, if that’s okay. And…and….well, I think I’ll buy my little sugar buttons something. Whatever she wants.”
The lady peered over the counter at me and smiled. “Well, I think we might have some things she’d like. Right here in this case.”
She directed us to a glass case with lots of shiny, sparkly colorful things in it. I was speechless. I could try on Lisa’s jewelry, but always had to put it back. Now I was going to get something of my own! I immediately saw what I wanted. It was a bracelet with three green daisies arranged in a triangle on a thin, gold wire band. Papaw bent down and fastened it on my wrist. “It’s a little big,” he said, “but as fast as you’re growing, it will fit soon enough. Unless I find that brick…” He winked, put a hand on each side of my face, and kissed my forehead.
“Bleck.” He said, sticking his tongue out. “You’re salty.”
I giggled and we left the store. We rode home with the windows down. He kept patting my hand and he explained that not all cars had air conditioners and that I should always ask an adult to turn it on and for pity’s sake, NEVER roll up the windows in a hot car again.
Walking into Grandmother’s kitchen, familiar smells met my nose. No matter what she was cooking, there was always an underlying aroma of ripe bananas lingering about. Maybe because there were ALWAYS ripe bananas in the kitchen. Today the kitchen smelled like cake AND bananas.
“Where have you been? I put your bologna sandwiches in the fridge 30 minutes ago.” Grandmother wiped her hands on her pink and purple calico print apron and stared at Papaw.
“Well….we….” He scratched the back of his head.
“Look what Papaw bought me!” I ran to Grandmother and showed her my new bobble.
“Ohhh. That’s pretty.” She looked at Papaw with one arched brow. She thought Papaw spoiled me a little too much.
“It’s a….a….” his face brightened. “It’s a late birthday present. We were all so busy with the parade, we never really got to celebrate sissy’s birthday. Why this young lady turned 5 more than three days ago and we haven’t even had a party yet!”
Grandmother was frosting a cake. I knew that cake. It was her famous banana cake. The one that no one could ever duplicate and everyone fought over at family gatherings. Tomorrow was Sunday. I’d have to wait ’til after church for Sunday dinner before I could have a piece. My mouth watered just thinking about it. That moist white cake with bananas separating the top layer from the bottom. The creamy frosting with an ingredient so secret that Grandmother kept the recipe in a small locked wooden box on her countertop.
Papaw was standing beside Grandmother, talking in a low voice. I was admiring the way the light bounced off my new gold band.
Grandmother stopped frosting abruptly and turned to look at him.
“Oh, Acton! She could have…well, I just read about…”
Papaw interrupted her and calmly said, “I know, I know. But she’s alright. She’s all..right.”
He and Grandmother both looked my way. I smiled, so happy that I forgot about my missing front tooth.
Grandmother sighed, holding a frosting-covered spatula in her hand. Her face softened.
“Well. You both go along and get your sandwiches and some cold RC Colas out of the fridge. And be sure to save room. I think we might just have a slice of sissy’s banana birthday cake a little early.”
(Scary as it is, the part about rolling up the windows so the A/C would come on is true. I used the deductive reasoning of a five-year-old and did that. Papaw really did buy me the green daisy bracelet. Unfortunately, he died shortly after of a heart attack. I still have the bracelet. I finally grew into it. And I still wear it.
Grandmother’s banana cake is the stuff of legend in our family. She is 93 and doesn’t make them anymore. But I do. I am now the one responsible for bringing the cake to family gatherings and they still fight over it. And that secret ingredient? I know it – but I think I’ll keep it in the family.)