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Fond memories of long trips and family commitments

Saturday evening arrived and the '38 Chevy, like a guided missile carrying four passengers, left the garage, crossed the broad Susquehanna River and headed north along its picturesque banks.

The two back-seat occupants _ my brother and I _ were on our happy way, eagerly anticipating the serpentine country road that would lead to our destination. Its twists and turns elicited shrieks of joy as Daddy let the car coast down the frequent inclines, taking our breath as we plummeted to the bottom and then slowly climbed to the top of the next grade.

This trip was a weekly occurrence, begun years before we were born, to the home of my father's oldest sister.

Her frame house was nestled on the side of a pastoral hill with a large porch on three sides. It had seen major changes in 15 years.

My uncle, whom I never knew, was tragically killed one evening while on his way to work, leaving a distraught widow and four young children to support and bring to adulthood.

How would this be accomplished? What and whom would make the transition easier for the young widow and her family? Remember, this was the 1930s _ before federal Aid to Families with Dependent Children and social programs for widows.

Her family drew together in this time of crisis, coming to her aid as much as possible. At this point, my dad entered the picture. He was the youngest brother, single and more easily available than the older, married siblings.

During this grieving period, he would spend numerous days and nights with her and her children, helping to fill the space left by a loving husband and father. Weeks blended into weekends as he and his fiancee, my mother, became involved in helping the children cope with their loss. Frequent hiking trips and picnics in the nearby woods filled many of their hours.

During this time a business venture was started whereby my aunt could incorporate raising her children while working within the home. Again, necessity became the mother of invention!

The basement of the house, fronting on the well-traveled country road, was converted into a general store, selling everything from canned goods to nails, bread and milk to soap powder. A lone gas pump sat conspicuously on the gravel approach, which my aunt operated as dexterously as the meat slicer.

It was here she spent her days, enveloped in the art of diplomatic conversation with her customers, mothering her children, dipping ice cream and pumping gas.

She was open six days a week and closed at sundown, but it was readily known that she would accommodate a late-night request for a loaf of bread or a quarter-pound of bologna.

As year followed year, her business remained stable and her children grew strong, handsome and caring.

But habits are hard to break. Daddy, now married and with two children, still felt the need to "go see how Jennie was doing." Off we went, Saturday after Saturday, week after week, year after year. Some days the snow, rain or fog along the riverbank curtailed our visits. Needless to say, Jennie probably uttered a prayer of thanksgiving for the reprieve from our perpetual regularity. If this were the case, she never let it be known.

As children, we were oblivious to the past history of the store, although we were enchanted by its uniqueness despite its unpretentious facade.

Shelves of necessary items needed for human consumption surrounded our two favorite spots: the penny-candy counter and the ice cream freezer.

I remember the wonder of hopping atop the nail bin and gazing into the glass dome of that candy counter containing its gastronomical jewels, trying to decide between gumdrops, a luscious licorice pipe or a long-lasting cherry lollipop. Such a major decision for a 7-year-old! My brother, less analytical, made his choice more rapidly and ate his selection in record time. As for me, I savored my choice, making it last for an extended period of time while warming the seat of the old porch swing.

When the last customer was served, usually around sunset, we watched Jennie close and lock the premises and then followed her up the narrow back stairs to the living quarters. Here we sat over a cup of tea, discussing the week's events while Jennie declared again and again how glad she was that God had proclaimed Sunday as a day of rest _ for she surely needed one.

Then, time to rev up the Chevy and head for the other side of the river. Jennie walked us to the car, hugged each of us to her large frame and uttered her Italian goodbyes.

No sooner had we pulled onto the serpentine road than our eyes grew heavy and sleep accompanied our ride home to the city, interrupted only by the Chevy pulling into the garage.

Another Saturday gone; another visit completed. Jennie was doing fine, Daddy was secure in his ritual, and my brother and I had another week in which to dream of that serpentine road, gumdrops and licorice pipes.

_ Norma McCulliss is a freelance writer living in Countryside.

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