The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Green Chevy Truck

By Tami R. S. Penley © 1995

Issue: Winter, 1995

The seat was hard on my scrawny ten-year old butt. My bare feet were rusty past my ankles with dirt. I had them propped up on the cracked plastic dashboard of Papaw's green Chevy truck. We're parked behind Harry's Market and Mamaw has gone inside to get our weekly Cokes and Little Debbie Snack Cakes.

It's Saturday morning in early spring. The truck window is rolled halfway down. Air, heavy with the smell of green things just bursting out, blows in and fights with Papaw's home-rolled cigarette smoke.

I study my toes and sulk. Taking Papaw's stuffed, scuffed leather billfold into Harry's to buy our Saturday morning Cokes and cakes is supposed to be my job. But this Saturday morning Mamaw left her wringer washer with its clean washing-powder scent in my Mommy's hands. I don't know what possessed Mommy to walk up the hill from our house to Mamaw 's with me this morning. I like to go up by myself on Saturdays. Saturday is wash day at Mamaw 's and I get to climb up in one of her cane back chairs and help her tug the water-heavy clothes out of the soapy water and push them through the wringer to squeeze out the water.

But uh-uh, not today. Today Mommy's there and makes Mamaw sit at the kitchen table and just watch. Mamaw tells her, "Joyce, quit making a fuss. I can do my own washing. Don't put them pants in with them towels! Go on home. I tell you I'm fine."

Mommy don't listen. She won't let me near the tub with its turning wringers, rolling together to squeeze Papaw's work shirts flat and nearly dry. "Too dangerous," she says. Then Mamaw said come with me and Papaw to the store. Mommy said Mamaw needed a rest, do her good to get out for a spell. Mamaw don't like leaving the washing, sort of pokes out her bottom lip, pouting, but she gets her pink sweater and pink pocketbook and gets in the truck with us.

Bored, I sit up and lean my chin on my arms. Down in front of the building I see Old Henry stroll up. He's wearing the same kind of blue bib overalls that he always wears, but today he is also wearing a new, blinding white cotton shirt with the sleeves rolled up past his red-rimmed elbows. His carrot-red hair is slicked back and lays in ridges behind his pale pink forehead. Scrubbed like new money he is.

Papaw looks up from studying the remains of his cigarette smoking among the first dandelions. "Humph," he grunts when he sees Old Henry.

I grin and wait.

Sure enough, Old Henry ambles up to our green Chevy pick-up with one of his best cheek-hurting grins. I love it. Papaw will give him a going over, I'm sure.

"Morning, Walson sir," says Old Henry.

"Same to you, Henry," says Papaw.

My eyes go wide. I bite my lips, feel my bottom lip pucker up between the two-ice-cream-stick wide gap in my front teeth. Papaw never speaks to Old Henry right away. He always lets him ramble on with his bull for awhile first. Lets him get good and warmed up with some of his lies, then, boom, jumps in and turns Old Henry's lies inside out making his face get even redder.

"Yes, siree, bud. I been up in Cracker's Neck near all week helping Giles Salyers get that new barn under roof. Just got home this morning. Yes, sir that's a fine barn Giles is a'building. Yes, sir. Mighty hard work, too. Yes, sir."

Henry pauses as if he's waiting for an answer. He don't get one. Papaw just sits there with his cowhide hands fumbling with his tobacco pouch. Papaw knows good and well that Henry hasn't so much as sunk a nail in that barn. I decide that he's just waiting for the next tall tale before he starts making Old Henry out to be the fool.

"Yes, sir. You ever see that new tractor they got up at the McConnell farm? Nice, mean machine it is. Yes, sir, it'll bust up new ground like a groundhog with a dog on its back. I rode that tractor and let me tell you, it rides better than a Tennessee Walking Horse. Yes, sir, Mr. Walson, sir, you need you one of them tractors to work that nice farm of yours. I'd be glad to come around and help you get her started. Yes, sir."

I pull at the elastic of my shorts and slouch back in the seat. Nothing is going right today. Papaw is sitting there letting Old Henry lean up on his green Chevy truck and tell them lies. Old Henry ain't never worked a day in his life. He walks on his squatty frog legs around the McConnell Holler road and spies on folks and sees what the farmers are doing. Then he tells his tales for all who'll listen. You can bet that Mr. McConnell didn't let him near his tractor. "Good-for nothing loafer," Mamaw calls Old Henry. "Town idgit," Papaw calls him.

Papaw usually acts right serious-like and then pokes fun at Old Henry. Not today. Today he sits there nodding and has got that same white-around-the mouth look that Mommy has been wearing since last week.

Don't know what they're all strung up about. Bugs me.

Old Henry's voice drones on, mingles in with the bees flitting back and forth among the early dandelions. I sit back up and see Mamaw come around the front of the store. Her shin bones push against the tight skin of her legs. Her face, with its high, hollow cheeks and deep-set eyes, turns to find us parked in the green Chevy truck.

I see her arm muscles rope up as she starts to step off the first concrete step leading down to the gravel parking lot. She's carrying a carton of 16 ounce Cokes and a brown paper bag. I see her waver like air coming off a hot road. Some kind of gasping sound tumbles out of my mouth. Old Henry sort of leans across Papaw, looks at my face, and then he turns toward the concrete steps. He sees Mamaw. Papaw looks at me, then Old Henry, and finally at Mamaw.

We all knew she was going to go down. I tried to move or scream. I couldn't. A breeze came through the window and it seemed to make Mamaw sway like she was a lilac bush tilting in a wind. Papaw's hands were gripping the steering wheel so hard that his tobacco brown fingertips were gray. He still didn't move.

Old Henry did. Not in time though. I didn't breathe as I watched Mamaw finally give up trying not to fall and sway toward the ground as Henry came streaking toward her with his ridged hair bouncing up and down against his scalp. He broke her fall as he rushed into her. Coke bottles went flying and busted all around them like firecrackers. Mamaw fell against Henry then they both tumbled to the gravel parking lot.

Papaw still didn't move.

Henry picked up Mamaw like she was a bundle of tobacco sticks. Her head rolled against his shoulder, but she brought her arms up to go around his neck. As he came shuffling toward the truck, I moved. I grabbed at papaw's hands and pulled them free of the steering wheel. I tugged him by his shirt collar to get him to move. He just stared at Henry carrying Mamaw and then slid out from under the steering wheel and over beside me.

I opened the door, stepped onto the running board, hooked my leg over the side and slid into the bed of the truck. Through the glass I watched Henry push Mamaw up into the truck and slide her close to Papaw's side. Then he ran over to the driver's side, hopped in and drove that green Chevy truck out into the road and headed toward Dr. Meade's house. I hadn't never seen anybody but Papaw drive that truck, but Henry drove that truck like he had been doing it all his life. I knew the way we were going. Mamaw had been going to see Dr. Meade every week for months.

Henry drove up to the office entrance. He didn't wait for Papaw to move. He just ran around the truck, opened the door, pulled Mamaw's limp body into his arms and run.

"Now, sir, yes sir, Mr. Walson, Mae's going to be fit as a fiddle. Yes, sir. Doc Meade's done said she's O.K., yes, sir."

Henry's voice seemed to relax Papaw. He slumped forward and pulled himself over under the steering wheel then hugged it with both arms. I was still sitting in the back and now big sloppy tears ran down my face and dripped off the end of my nose. I sniffed and cried harder.

Henry reached his arms over the metal sides of the truck and lifted me out. Patting my head, he carried me around to the passenger side. He placed me in the seat, shut the door, and walked around to papaw's side of the truck. Henry spoke to him through the open window.

"Doc says for you to let Mae rest here for a spell, Walson, sir. Said to tell you it wasn't her heart this time, like last week. Just a fainting spell. You go on home and get your daughter to come and help you fetch her."

Papaw nodded and scooted out from under the steering wheel to sit beside me. He picked me up and I tried to snuggle my lanky body onto his lap.

"Henry," he said, "I reckon I ain't up to driving back to the house. Reckon you'll have to do it for me. If it ain't too much trouble."

Henry grinned another ear-splitting grin and red streaks colored his face. "Yes, sir, Mr. Walson, sir. Be glad to." He crawled into Papaw's green Chevy truck, started it up and headed us toward home.