Read an Excerpt
Driving My Troubles Away
Grandpap came to live with us the day after the highway men arrived to blacktop our road. It was July—hot as cinders. Uncle Floyd called July “Wet Dog Days” because all month long the air smelled like a stinky mutt caught in the rain. But that day not even the heat could keep me cooped up inside like a setting hen. I wasn’t about to miss the excitement. We lived on one of the last dirt roads in Moon, Texas. The only blacktop roads in Moon stretched in front of the rich folks’ homes, leaving us to live with the dust and potholes.
All my life I’d heard Daddy say, “Those Dyers always thought they were better than us ’cause they lived on a blacktop road.” The Dyers got everything first in Moon—a color TV, a private phone line, a brand-new Cadillac. I thought the gravel truck making its way down Cypress Road would transform our lives into something grand.
Before Momma ordered me to do the breakfast dishes with my sister, Racine, I escaped next door and hopped inside one of Mr. Bailey’s cars to wait for the gravel truck. Clifton Bailey’s Automobile Salvage and Parts was the most amazing place in Moon. Junk cars were parked in his yard, and piles of rusty parts and patched tires were scattered about like lost treasure.
Two years ago I took to sneaking over to Clifton Bailey’s and slipping into one of his junkers. The whole while, I tried to keep a lookout for Mr. Bailey, but one day he caught me red-handed. He narrowed his crossed eyes and frowned while I sat there with my hands stuck to the steering wheel.
Finally he laughed. “Jaynell, anytime you take a notion, you just pick out a car and drive your heart away.”And I did. I drove everywhere, covering miles and miles, even though none of the cars actually ran. Usually I drove when I felt so full I couldn’t hold my feelings inside me without popping a vein. Like when Racine made me mad enough to commit bloody murder, or when Grandma died and I was determined not to shed one tear, or when the newsman talked about how one day soon a man would walk on the moon. Just the thought of that made me feel like I could bust.
Leaning back against the seat, eyes closed, chin up, hands wrapped around the steering wheel, I moved beyond the dirt roads, away from Moon, into Marshall to rescue Grandpap from Aunt Loveda’s. We’d head down to Highway 80, which stretched across Texas, and we’d be riding in a big fancy car, the kind that made people sit up and take notice, like the Dyers’ Cadillac. After our trip, we’d return to Grandpap’s homeplace.
I hadn’t been to the homeplace since Grandma died, and I missed it something fierce. The homeplace was just a little house on two tiny acres, but I loved everything inside and out. The tree house in the tall oak tree that I used to pretend was a rocket, the corner bookshelf in the living room with Grandpap’s Louis L’Amour and Zane Grey westerns, the smell of coffee brewing on the stove and Hungry Jack biscuits baking in the oven.Grandma always joked, “Ain’t no use making them from scratch when they’re twice as good coming from a can.” She’d serve them with real butter and a spoon of Blackburn’s strawberry preserves. Sometimes when she was in a homemade baking mood, she’d make M&M brownies.
Last month after Grandma died, Grandpap sat around his house in his underwear and wouldn’t eat. He didn’t speak to anybody, not even me. That’s when Aunt Loveda and Uncle Floyd took Grandpap from his homeplace on the outskirts of Moon to live with them in their brand-new four-bedroom ranch house in Marshall. Aunt Loveda said her brick home had a lot of room to move around in, which was a good thing because every one of those Thigpens was round, round, round. Especially cousins Sweet Adeline and Little Floyd, who was only named that on account of his daddy, Big Floyd.
I felt like they had yanked Grandpap from my world. I was Grandpap’s favorite. He called me Raccoon Gal because when I was little I wore a Daniel Boone hat with a raccoon’s tail.Before Grandma died, me and Grandpap spent a lot of time together. He took me fishing with him in his canoe, Little Mamma Jamma, and showed me all the spots on Caddo Lake. I knew where to find Devil’s Elbow, Old Folks Playground and Hamburger Point. Me and Grandpap had spied on alligators, watched turtles sunbathe and found our way back by studying the way moss grew on the cypress trees.Just as I pressed the accelerator to the floor, I heard Momma holler, “Jaynell, get in this house and help Racine with the dishes!”How would I ever see the world with a sink of sudsy water always waiting for me?