Now, say hello to Stephanie Neighbour.
Before beginning my post, I would like to thank Robbie for opening up his blog to guest posters, like me. It’s always exciting to have an opportunity to connect with a new audience of readers and hopefully, friends. Robbie has always been a wonderful source of support, friendship, generosity and a pretty darn talented writer. I hope all of you enjoy the post I’ve prepared and if nothing else, it will make you feel better about your own life. ~ Stephanie
Beer, Cigarettes, Clams and Ice Cream…Welcome to Summer!
In honor of Memorial Day and the official kickoff of the 2013 summer season, I thought it would be fun to share an excerpt from one of the short stories from my childhood. This sampling is from my soon to be released book, Least Likely To Succeed; it highlights events from a yearly summer vacation, which my brother and I were forced to take with our grandparents who we called, Lady VR and Ted. We now join the action from the backseat of my grandmother’s car:
|Love the pigtails!|
My brother and I sat in the backseat of the Plymouth Belvedere with a perfect view of my grandmother’s meticulously shaped beehive wig. As we drove, the August sun beat down on the fully enclosed car turning it into a rolling oven. With our legs sticking to the black leather seats, we were reminded that air-conditioning and fully opened windows were unnecessary luxuries. “Stop bitching back there and be thankful you’re not walking”, my grandmother barked.
Nearly overcome by the oppressive summer heat, we begged her to crack the windows and allow the air to circulate. “Absolutely not, the air blows your grandfather’s cigarette ashes all over the car. What if it gets in my eyes when I’m driving and we end up in a car wreck; is that what you want?”
Her question stumped me because it was a total coin toss, a painfully slow death from heat exhaustion or a lightning fast car wreck where the death could be instantaneous; I won’t even discuss the affects of smoke inhalation. Just as I was on the verge of screaming at her to tempt fate and roll down the windows I thought, what if I don’t die but instead am left horribly disfigured? Wracked with inner turmoil, I envisioned myself lying in a hospital with doctors surrounding my bed. I knew they would wonder, what kind of selfish brat would ask her grandmother to allow air circulation in a roasting car while someone is trying to enjoy a cigarette? I pictured them shaking their heads in judgment while saying, “She deserves to look like a rotting jack-o-lantern, why she couldn’t just be thankful she had a ride?” The windows remained shut and so did my mouth as the hot, silent and smoke-filled car barreled on.
Our family has three sets of grandchildren; each summer we took turns spending two horror-filled weeks with our grandparents at their rented lagoon-front bungalow. As the car pulled up the stone driveway, Lady VR reminded us that children were required to unpack, which allowed the adults to rest. Rest, as defined by my grandmother, meant sitting on the patio, drinking beer, ordering take-out and changing into her floral-print swim dress.
The suitcases were the first to go, they were heavy and cumbersome; unlike the convenient rolling devices of today. After the luggage came the crab traps, coolers, pillows, blankets and grocery bags; no wonder the car was so hot, it was packed to the gills. With the car empty, we decided to take a look at our room and it was then that we made a hellish discovery; the house had only one bedroom. This meant the unthinkable; we would have to see Lady VR in various stages of undress. We would be treated to her in see through nightgowns, bathing suits and changing outfits, which offered up a perfect view of her torpedo-shaped bra and matching underpants.
|I got ice cream!|
We walked to the patio where Lady VR had her head submerged in a family sized bucket of steamers with melted butter, for dipping. Ted was sitting on a lounge chair drinking a beer, chain smoking and cursing at the neighbors. Exhausted from the oven-like car ride and unpacking the baggage, we plopped down at the wooden picnic table and began to beg for ice cream.
“Please, please, please can we stop the ice cream truck? Please, we’ll be really good, it’s so hot out and we’re dying.” With my typical flare for the dramatic, I plead our case.
“Not until I’ve finished my bucket of steamers!” Lady VR barked back. “Don’t you know how run down I am from that damn drive with the three of you complaining? Now just stop it and let me eat in peace; someone better get me another beer.”
“Ugh, I’ll get you one Nan,” said my brother, the butt kisser.
“That’s my little darling,” she replied. “He is such a good boy, maybe you should take some lessons from your little brother and you might get more of the things you want.”
At that moment I hated her, she always found a way to bait people against each other; it was a tactic she used often. According to my mother, it was the same scheme she used between my mom and her brothers; now she did it to the grandchildren. My grandmother always chose a favorite, however, being the favorite didn’t last long and it wasn’t hard to fall quickly from her good graces. Also, her pick of the week was usually one of the boys because Lady VR was by nature, a tramp.
When my brother returned with the ice-cold beer; Lady VR’s gaze of approval, a bear hug and five dollars for the ice cream truck were his rewards. We could hear the bells on the ice cream truck in the distance and as they continued to get louder, we knew it was time to head for the curb. My grandmother ordered Ted to walk us to the end of the driveway because as she put it, “I’ll be damned if I am going to get stuck explaining to their mother that they were kidnapped.”
Ted was a mild mannered man who was more than happy to escort us down the driveway, as long as one of us agreed to bring along an extra beer. While Ted chain-smoked and chugged his beers, my brother and I made our most important decision of the night, our ice cream selections. I wanted my favorite; the Nutty Buddy cone while my brother ordered the famous red, white and blue, Bomb Pop.
We returned to find Lady VR, who had just finished off her steamers, relaxing with her beer on a nearby chaise lounge. My father always wondered how flimsy patio furniture managed to hold up under her massive frame but from what I remember, it did. The only disaster that comes to mind is one time when she plopped herself into her car and the back of the driver’s seat snapped off; I digress.
My brother and I were sent to the dock to finish our ice cream because she was afraid if we spilled food on the patio, we would be inundated with ants. Ted was ordered to massage her ankles as she felt the stress from the day had caused them to swell; it could never have anything to do with all the butter, beer and salt she consumed. I was quite content to eat on the dock because it offered me an opportunity to wield some big sister evilness; I lured my brother into a contest. Just as I was about to launch my plan, I heard the piercing sound of Lady VR yelling, “Stay away from the edge of that dock; I am not going to explain to your mother that you’ve drown because Ted wasn’t paying attention.”
With that, I dared my brother to walk to the end of the dock and see how many of his toes he could hang over the edge. He was apprehensive at first, heaven forbid he should disobey and be subject to punishment or worse, no longer be Lady VR’s perfect prince. I continued to taunt him; calling him a baby, brat, creep and a wuss, which sealed his fate and he crept to the end of the rickety wood dock.
“Go ahead, see how far you can hang over the edge but don’t look down or you’ll fall in,” I yelled. “Unless, you’re afraid you big baby.”
“I’m not afraid and I won’t fall in, I stand here all the time,” he spat back.
I watched as he gingerly placed his feet on the edge of the dock and slowly inched his tiny toes over the edge. It was then that I decided to sweeten the deal; urging him to try bending towards the water, like he was about to dive. I also told him; if he could hold the pose for five seconds I would be his slave for the week, a favorite wager between us.
Unfortunately, the second he leaned forward and momentum took over; he went head first into the brown, murky lagoon. Lady VR must have heard the splash because I looked up to see her charging; like a wild elephant in a swim dress. She came crashing on to the dock and blew by me with her arms waving wildly in the air. Regrettably for me, one of her arms hit my shoulder, causing me to join my brother in the disgusting water; although she later told me it was an accident, I always had my suspicions. Before I was able to get my bearings and grab hold of the dock, Lady VR reached down and pulled me out of the lagoon, by my hair.
The thing I remember most about that particular summer vacation was being sentenced to daily floor mopping while my brother sat on the chair: laughing, pointing and sticking out his tongue. Two weeks later, my grandparents brought us home; my brother had not showered or brushed his teeth for days and I had a very sore scalp, minus a few hairs.
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