Melinda warned me. The whole drive from Memphis
she kept telling me:
"She will talk your ear off-OK? Don't let her corner you-she'll ask a bunch of questions. She'll squint her eyes at you and ask you to give her dirt on me-don't cave, all right?"
Melinda's great Uncle Hal had died and had driven up to southern Illinois to go to the funeral. Melinda would have went alone, but "new" car, the stupidbluecar , was in the shop again. I agreed to drive and I thought it might be a safe way to get to know the family. "Nobody is safe around Grandma Herrington," Melinda stared out the passenger window "especially me."
It turns out the Grandma was an anomaly in this family. In a large group of quiet polite Midwesterner there had to be one hell raiser; one you want to know what I think? I'll tell you what I think! kind of person. She was it. It made her children a little nervous and it visibly scared the crap out of Melinda herself. I had never seen her too nervous to eat Dairy Queen food, but at the last stop before we reached town that exactly what she did. "I can't..I'll be sick." The Brazier burger and Hot fudge sundae didn't taste quite as good with her wringing her hands and tapping her legs against the booth. She managed one bite of the ice cream, then went to the restroom-again (it was three times in 25 minutes).
This is how it actually went after the funeral-
me, cornered, of course, by the intense elderly lady in a bright yellow dress
Hell, I know it's a funeral, but it's Spring isn't it? Did you see all those dolts talking about Hal like he was a priest-what a CROCK! (quick stares from the guests, then noticing who was talking, looks averted just as quickly). And that girlfriend of yours-she is your girlfriend-don't call her buddy OK? In my day nobody slept with their 'buddy'..Yes, I can tell about that too. See her slinking away- (Melinda had been watching from a nearby doorframe, exited the room) She knows I know. She is a sweet girl, smart as a whip, but she hates that I know stuff about her. I embarrass her. No, don't shake your head- I know what she says. She has the perfect job, I tell you that-sit behind a desk and tell people to SHHHH. Shhh, Ha, I say.
This went on for say, an hour or so, then there was a pause for a meal and we were back at it:
So what do Men do in a library? You don't look strong enough to haul books or build shelves-what do they have you do? pause here, but not long enough for me to actually get a word out...Have you worked there a while? Melinda's parents tell me you are a supervisor or something, does that pay good? I doubt it, I know how public service is-my Husband God bless his soul, was a police officer, I think I know about that.
Are your parents still married? Good, I hate seeing kids from broken homes it leads to trouble if your folks weren't dependable I can't see how you could be. She likes you, you know, Melinda, she won't say, cause she's too quiet, but I can see how she watches you, like a stack of Christmas presents somebody brought over that you can't open yet-I know. Just tell me something-look at me when I'm talking to you, Son...Do you love her enough to care for her if she's sickly? Her mom has never been real healthy and I worry about Melinda when she gets older. Don't squinch up your face-it's not cancer or something, I just want to know if you can handle adversity. Can you? I give her my best direct stare and a firm nod of the head OK.....I think you might. Now, go get that girl some food before she passes out.
Later, sitting out on the backporch as the last of the guests starts to leave, Melinda grabs my hand and whispers to me: "Did you survive-do you think we're all crazy?" I tell her the truth-that her family is fine, that her Grandmother is crazy , but she is also one of those people who can look right through you and know your thoughts. Melinda shook her head: " I know, that's what scares me... I've always felt like she was thumbing through my thoughts. " I told her that her Grandmother knows we are in love, and Melinda leaned on my shoulder and pushed my leg with her shoes-"Hey, it doesn't take Kreskin to know that,silly"
The crickets in the field behind the house kick up the volume and hoardes of fireflies come in from the corn. I hear the quiet voices of women in the kitchen doing dishes. I think we're going to sit there for a while when Melinda suddenly jumps up, eyes burning-
"Hey, I need a Blizzard! Let's go to DQ! "