Trip to Grandmas House – Part 1 – John Gilbert

Grandmas House


Finally, we’re on our way

I never could understand what money had to do with going to my grandparents. They didn’t charge us to stay with them. All we had to do was get in the car and go.

by John Gilbert,  contributing essayist Columbus Georgia Online
Part 1

Grandma's old fashion radio

We’re on our way to Grandmas House

I suppose my childhood was not unlike that of other children raised in the 1950’s & 60’s. The first home that I remember was a modest two bedroom affair with a small yard. My parents had the front bedroom and my three sisters and I shared the back bedroom. I can remember on cold winter days we would all play in the living room where the heater was kept burning. If I went into my bedroom to fetch another toy, I can remember that it would be so cold that I could see my breath. Those were the days before central heating. You never heated the whole house. You only heated the room you were using at the time and besides, it saved money.

We were not wealthy nor were we poor. My father managed the Rexview Drive-in Theater in Columbus Georgia and from time to time my mother worked in the Bibb Mill. A treat for us was to go to the store next door to buy a piece of penny candy. If there was enough money we might even buy a soft drink. The most prized treat was ice cream. Another treat was to go to my father’s drive-in. We had only one car and daddy would use it to go to work. If we went to the show it meant that we would have to walk. That was not a problem. The drive-in was only about a mile from the house and to me, the short walk was always fun. We would start in the early evening as the sun was slowly sinking in the west. We would walk past my school and then through a black neighborhood. We passed many houses where sat ancient women in their flowered bonnets spitting snuff into the yard while old men rolled cigarettes with trembling hands. I could smell tea being brewed and the aroma of pork chops and meats being cooked all mingled with the smoke of the stove wood. From some of the houses, I could hear the faint sounds of laughter from radios where folks were listening to Amos N’ Andy. But we didn’t have to listen to Amos N’ Andy. We were going to the drive-in to watch Sampson and Delilah and a cartoon.

Though there were many treats I enjoyed as a child there was one that I held in highest esteem. There was no treat greater than this one, no candy sweeter and no movie more fascinating than going to my grandparents. For a child, there is no time more special than a birthday or Christmas and I was no exception. However, those holidays paled next to a trip to my grandparents.

My mother’s parents lived in the tiny community of Compass Lake, Florida which was about 150 miles from Columbus. We would usually visit them twice a year and always at Easter.

“When are we going to Grandmas and Granddaddy’s”, one of us kids would ask. The question was asked at least a dozen times a week.

“As soon as we get a little money put back”, Mama would answer.

I never could understand what money had to do with going to my grandparents. They didn’t charge us to stay with them. All we had to do was get in the car and go.

Time would pass and one day daddy would announce that on Saturday we were going ‘down the country’. That meant we were going to Florida. Four kids would squeal in unison. Right away I would begin to make a mental list of all the things that I was going to take and show to my grandparents. Then I would run to the calendar and find out what day it was and how many days it was until Saturday. Then each day I would X off a day to see how close we were getting.

Soon Friday would come and sleep would be next to impossible. I kept telling myself that if I would go to sleep it would soon be time to go. All I could think of was that the next bed I would sleep in was at my grandma’s house. I never remember falling asleep, just my mother gently waking me and telling me to get dressed. No other words were needed to coax me from my bed. With nervous anticipation, I gulped down a bowl of Cheerio’s, ran to get the things I would take with me, and headed for the front door.

It was still dark outside. As I made my way to the car, Daddy was loading the trunk. All four doors were open and the dome light cast its faint yellow light onto the sandy parking lot in front of the house.

Daddy had taken the car to the service station the night before to get it lubricated which was his custom. Before any long trip, he would have the car greased. This only added to the excitement. I got to go with him once. It was at night and the station was lit with yellow bug lights. The big thrill was watching the bug zapper electrocute insects. But best of all, I was with my daddy while my sisters were at home asleep. I guess I felt kind of important.

“Make room for my penguin,” I called as I came to the rear of the car. The penguin was my favorite toy. He went with me everywhere.

Soon Mama came out with the girls and closed and locked the door. Everyone piled into the car as Daddy closed the trunk. My three sisters and I would fight over who would sit by the windows until Daddy slid into his seat and closed his door.

Let’s offer a prayer,” he would suggest. All heads bowed and waited until we heard “Amen.”

“I’ve got to go to the bathroom!” one of my sisters would squeal. All doors would open and with three girls in tow, Mama would head back to the house. I was in complete agreement with her. Why hadn’t they gone before they left the house? After all, Grandma and Granddaddy were waiting.

Soon all had returned and Daddy started the car and pulled onto the road. Now it was only a matter of time. We drove through town and over the river and turned onto highway 431. At last, we were really on our way.

Seale, Al. foggy road to Grandma's houseAs we drove through Seale, Alabama the stars began to disappear one by one. Saturday was dawning. The eastern sky was turning a faint pale blue as the dim outlines of houses whizzed past the car. After a few more minutes I could see fields with low-lying fog and thin wisps of smoke drifting lazily from kitchen chimneys and shrouding tree tops.

“The day dawn is breaking the world is waking, the clouds of night’s darkness are fleeing away…” my mother would sing. We were now in Pittsview, Al. and Daddy would turn off the headlights. The morning was fully upon us.

I had gotten a window seat and could see the big yellow sun just coming over the horizon, rock steady one moment, then be flickering through the trees the next. The pastures and woods were wet with dew and reflected the yellow gold sunlight.

My sisters were lying all over each other trying to get some more sleep. I knew that if I went to sleep it would make time pass faster but I wanted to sight see. I don’t know why. I knew the way by heart and I knew every landmark along the road, but this wasn’t just any road. This was the road to Grandma’s house and that made it special.

Mama pointed toward some horses and one old mule in a pasture and asked me if I saw them. I grunted an “Uh huh” as I eyed the grazing animals. Mama’s gaze turned back toward the highway. She was young and pretty and as she watched the road the wind from the window played with her soft brown hair.

Daddy was middle-aged with just a hint of gray at his temples. I always thought that he had the biggest hands. Those hands were now grasping the steering wheel and guiding us toward our destination.

I had broken our trip into three segments; Columbus to Eufaula, Eufaula to Dothan, and Dothan to Compass Lake. It took about an hour to drive between each town making about three hours in all or two hours and forty-five minutes if Mama drove. Once we reached Headland we had driven about 75 miles. There was a little store there that we called the halfway point. Sometimes we would stop and get a snack. All four of us kids would proudly announce to the store keeper that we were half way to our Grandma’s and Granddaddy’s house. I never could understand why their reply was less than enthusiastic. Why couldn’t they understand that we were going to Compass Lake, to the Cutchen’s, to our grandparent’s! If only they could go with us just once, then they could understand our excitement.

Soon we were on the Dothan perimeter. I kept my eyes open for a Standard Oil Station and when we turned right at that station. The highway changed from 431 to 231 and that meant we were in the home stretch.

Grandmas House“,  by John Gilbert,  contributing essayist Columbus Georgia Online

About John Gilbert 46 Articles

John Gilbert is a terrific story teller and “Save The Bradley” is historic, funny and entertaining! John’s special talent is to awaken the child in us all, this is why the adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckle Berry Finn were so popular. John’s easy style, descriptive details, humor and just plain nice guy attitude makes John, without question, our modern day Mark Twain. Read one of John’s stories and see if you agree?

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