Photo by Roman Kraft on Unsplash

The seats were gray vinyl. On sweltering July days in Nashville, it was like sitting on a hard, slick bench from the depths of Hell.

We were lucky enough to have a car with air conditioning, which was a blessing during southern summers. But we would always speed crank the handles to roll down the windows just so we could breathe those first few minutes anyway. Though the humid air outside was not much better than what had been trapped inside, the illusion made us believe we were a few degrees cooler until the A/C kicked in.

By then we were cruising, rolling around the backseat, where seatbelt laws and booster seats had not yet encroached on our freedom.

My most distinct memories, however, are curling up in the corner of the backseat on sleepy Friday nights after having spent the evening at my Granny’s house.

Sometimes my whole family was there for dinner. But some nights, it was just me and my three brothers spending quality time with Granny while Mom and Dad went on a date, a rare event for a young couple with four kids.

I loved those evenings. The boys would scatter, doing boy things, which meant that I got one-on-one time with the woman who raised my Daddy.

I heard some pretty hair-raising tales about him and his own brothers. I’m still amazed he lived long enough to father me.

During those evenings, I came to know a side of my grandmother I might never have suspected.

She told me stories of life in the 1920s and 30s, growing up during the Depression in rural Alabama, working to help provide for her large family.

She told me about fun times, like how much she loved to dance and the local dance contests she won. Her father would tell her, “Hansel, you can’t walk a straight line across the floor. You’re always dancing.”

She told me about how she hated her name growing up, because, you know, Hansel, he’s the boy in the story. But her daddy had met a woman with the name in a saloon in Texas when he was young and just loved the idea of a girl named Hansel. Her mama wanted to name Granny after her (Granny’s) grandmother. They fought about it. It’s clear who won, much to my Granny’s chagrin.

Once Granny told me about the day she broke her daddy’s heart.

She was about 20 years old when she met my grandfather. His name was Prince. They courted for only a short time before he asked her to marry him.

He had been working on a job for the WPA, the program established by FDR that created millions of jobs during the Depression. Prince let her know this meant there might be travel in their future.

She said, “yes,” anyway.

They agreed to a quick wedding at the justice of the peace a few days later.

Hansel went home and announced she would be marrying and leaving soon. Her father just laughed. But Hansel didn’t.

A few days later, at breakfast, Hansel was emotional as she tried to tell her father goodbye, but he only laughed again and walked away, not realizing his little girl would be walking away that day, too.

Later that afternoon, Hansel and Prince stood in the courthouse and spoke their vows before the justice of the peace. The Justice said, “You may kiss your bride,” . . . and everything changed.

Hansel left the only home she had ever known to start a new life with Prince — her Prince.

Married life was one of ups and downs.

The first few years were hard. They struggled to make ends meet. They experienced the loss of their first child.

Through the years, Prince changed jobs, they moved to Ohio, and they eventually settled in a comfortable home in Nashville with three rowdy sons.

Those sons grew, and the oldest married a girl, and the two of them had some children of their own, including an inquisitive little girl.

One Friday evening many years later, Hansel — Granny — would find herself telling stories to this little girl, not knowing how she — I — would continue to ponder all these thing on the ride home in the dark backseat, being oddly frightened and soothed at the same time, listening to songs about a “heart of gold” and “a ghost in a wishing well.”

By the time we arrived home, such deep thoughts and strange songs almost always sending me drifting off to sleep, Daddy would slide me off those gray vinyl seats and carry me to bed, warm and content until another Friday evening and more tales of the lives that came before me.

Mother, Writer, Optimist

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