When I was young it rained in the winter. Oh boy did it rain. The kind of rain like we had a few weeks back. Rain that would awash the concrete gutters of our street. Rain that flooded manhole covers and overwhelmed the brand-new wipers Dad put on our car the day before. Torrential rain. Biblical Rain. Rain that seemed to come every Thanksgiving we went to visit my Grandmother in San Francisco.
From the East Bay it was a relatively unprotected drive along the East bank of the San Francisco Bay. Crossing the spindly-feeling Bay Bridge the wind whipped without remorse shoving our 1960’s era Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser left, then right, then left again. Determined, we pressed fearlessly onward. “One day,“ I said to myself, “The Judt party shall be remembered for their bravery of this crossing.” Most memorable was that creepy, high pitched, briney whine that whistled over the Bridge’s cables midspan. So loud it would drown out every other sound in the car sending chills down our collective spines. My father, the most patient man I ever knew, would calmly focus on the task at hand while my mother would carry on a conversation to keep us distracted. Although, I think she was the one who wished not to see what she was seeing from her front seat perch.
The Vista Cruiser was a classic station wagon of the time. It got its name from the distinctive windows located in the roof directly above the middle seat where my three eldest siblings sat. An homage to a sports car’s moon roof I imagine. The compromise that dad gets instead of the muscle car he fervently desired. “Look honey, it has a moon roof. One night we’ll get a baby sitter and make out in the back seat and look at the moon.” Or so the conversation would go. I imagine. My younger sister and I were relegated to the flip up back seat. Far from the radio speakers or Mom’s stories of driving to Reno in the 30’s, I would turn around to look out the back window to witness the Hellstrom for myself. Fancying myself a young scientist I would observe the other fathers purposely piloting their family crafts. Marking he movements behind I became lost in thought and would begin to hum a low, rather monotonous tone. Those of you who know me have heard this painful sound. Should I ever be around the corner in dire need and suffering, and all that is heard is this woeful sound I am assured a private demise as those close to me will only think me reading, writing or focusing on some other task at hand; only to check on me once silence filled the air.
I would sometimes sit by our font picture window on rainy days and count the sheets of rain as they drove by our house. We lived in a 3 story atop a hill and it wasn’t until I ventured a block or two in either direction could I see the flood that would sweep the streets of our town. And yes, one year, when the storm drain was blocked, at the bottom of a very long, steep hill, the manhole cover popped off and from this circular void in the ground a 6-foot plume of water shot straight upward. It seemed to spout on forever, to the point where even Old Faithful would have been embarrassed to continue.
It felt like it took a lifetime to reach the Sunset form our home in the East Bay hills. Always the last to disembark, the bitter, bitter cold had already begun to chew its way through my good clothes before I had a chance to even step on to the sidewalk. My entire family would reach the relative safety of my Grandmother’s porch before I even shut the car door. “Make sure you closed it tight.” my Dad would say, “We don’t want to come out to a dead battery after dinner.” My head cowed to the rain, the short jacket I wore leaving the entire length of my pants legs exposed to the elements; I would run back to the car open the door, the close it again. Racing up the stairs I would be cautioned against running on the slick painted brick stairs. I am totally soaked by the time I cross dear mater’s threshold.
Now here I must stop and refresh all of our memories. Rain, bitter cold, young child, soaked through and through, shivering as I would if I just popped out of a heated pool on a cool Spring day. Okay, back to Grandma’s.
Walking into my Grandmother’s house was bitter sweet at best. I was so excited to see my cousins, hug my Grandfather and fill my plate with stuffing and gravy that I would charge through the portal only to be met with a palpable wall of super-heated air. It was a contrast filled with contradictions. On one hand I was happy to be free of the elements and on the other the heat felt corrosive as it stung my young skin. The aroma of turkey and bread rolls clashed as Titans with the underlying odor of mothballs and cleaning fluid. It took a few moments for my senses to adjust and the steam to clear the rain my pants had gathered in the short run from the car.
Jacket hung on a hook, a minute in the bathroom to check my hair and dry my face, then off to the kitchen I would go. In this decade the kitchen was still the haven and territory of the women only. The men were relegated to the living room to watch ‘The Game.” Being young, cute, and terminally charming, I was afforded a few moments to hug, say hello and taste a bite of turkey before I was rushed off to play with the other children.
I have told the following story before and still I am reminded of it each holiday season. Sitting at the table of my mother’s mother, waiting for dinner to be served, I once repeated a comment my mother made of how my father’s mother was such a good cook and could whip up a meal out of practically nothing. I went on to say how she, my father’s mother was such a good cook. It turns out my Grandmother, my mother’s mother, overheard this and asked, “What about your other grandmother?” Beat, beat, beat. “Her food is great too!” My first lesson in diplomacy and comedic timing learned.
Until next time,