My Faded 501s
“Granny, your tired, let me drive to see Gran’pa.” This is how I turned my excitement of my newly acquired hardship license and need for adventure into a weekly long driving event. I became my Granny’s chauffeur. I adored and dreaded this drive. The drive from Groesbeck to Marlin via the TX-14 N and TX-7 E was about a half-hour commute. It was a pastoral drive that helped me to whittle down the hours of oppressive boredom as a teenager in a town holding just north of 3,000 people. Mostly old, I thought.
Crossing over Big Creek was a signal to start steeling myself for the part of the journey I dreaded: on the way in, seeing Gran’pa; on the way out, heading back home to nothing. I did not know it at the time but Marlin historically had been a popular destination for “taking the waters.” Had I been aware, I might have pulled over my Granny’s light blue Chrysler and jumped in to the creek with the hope that the sparkling brook might wash away my youthful angst.
When we moved in with Granny, Gran’pa Vince was already hospitalized. My father’s stepfather, I recalled him to be a tall, kind, quiet man from my childhood Christmases spent with Granny. He seemed to always be found clad in a neatly buttoned, ochre-colored cardigan napping in the avocado-green vinyl recliner. That was before his severe stroke which landed him at the now shuttered Marlin VA Hospital.
In the hospital, we would walk down the long hallway, greeted by cheerful nurses, “Good morning Mrs. Hunter!” At the end of the hallway, we would find ourselves almost blinded by the well-lit, highly sanitized room. There on a raised hospital bed, upon which rested the wisp of Gran’pa Vince. He lay rigid and curled, like a fallen leaf outliving its autumn glory. Our greetings were always gentle and hushed as if we might blow him away with much more.
Granny would busy herself with making sure he was comfortable, straightening a sheet, moving an tube, and adjusting the blinds. Trying hard to be polite and accommodating, I would hear the tick of the wall clock tormenting me as I allowed her to be the good wife sitting bedside for a generous hour.
She was once a tall woman herself. Her stature seemed wearied by years of hardship. Even so, she was meticulous in her appearance. As a local taylor, she turned out her own beautiful suits with long vests and midi-style skirts. This served to slim her rounded silhouette and show off her narrow ankles. Her hair was a tight mass of silvery curls. I had helped her with those curls. Curious about home-perming, I willingly volunteered to help roll those tight curls and douse her tender scalp with the chemicals that magically rendered a robust, shiny gray ,wavy head of hair out of the that which had been thinned by age.
When we first moved in with Granny, our circumstances were questionable. My parents had been divorced. My mother had remarried and her new husband, in the army, was given a military assignment in Germany. Suddenly, we found ourselves in my father’s custody.
It was for our own good that we stay in the United States while she went with my new stepfather, Bob. Or so she failed to convince me. My father, now sober for many years, was still struggling then to find his sobriety. And just as abruptly as my mom seemed to have left, we found ourselves uprooted and living with Granny. Initially, shock and curiosity saved me from the the wreckage of abandonment that had not quite sunk in yet.
I yielded to my inquisitive nature and explored Granny’s house. Peering in cabinets and drawers, I discovered endless treasures and oddities, like a small capsule of liquid containing my Granny’s gall stones removed by a previous surgery.
My most favorite objet trouvé: Gran’pa Vince’s faded Levi’s 501s. With a belt and cuffs formed by a couple of rolls, I was able to make them fit. I was in style heaven. Hungry for novelty and comfort, I adored these jeans. Eventually, I allowed the need to fit in and make friends over-ride my personal panache. I discarded the jeans.
And like those jeans, many of my memories from this difficult time were tossed out of my life. Or, so I thought. These days, I am delighted to be able to treasure these gems from my past recollections which I so desperately wanted to forget. I take solace as I linger on this impression etched in my mind, the sight of the healing waters on that long drive and how I felt in my Gran’pa Vince’s 501s.