The “Go Home” Button

I’m now doing a commute by car to Long Island, an hour or more each way depending on traffic.  There are a number of alternate routes, some more obscure than others.  I was aware of a few of them but I’ve learned a great deal in the past few months from the Traffic

Chico and me on the farm
Chico and me on the farm

Alert function on my GPS.  It’s nothing fancy, a refurbished Garmin Nuvi, but I’ve learned to listen when it yells, “Severe traffic ahead!  Recalculating!”

It has taken me on scenic tours of parts of the Bronx to avoid traffic jams, some a lovely surprise like Pelham Bay Park or the Moshulu Parkway, which winds around in back of the Bronx Zoo, and others where I wished I had an armed guard riding shotgun with me.  It sent me through Queens in a snowstorm, winding through a few ethnic neighborhoods and then ending on the LIE (Long Island Expressway, for my non-New-York readers.)  I found out later it avoided  a car fire on the Cross Island Expressway.

All in all, it’s a learning experience, if an exhausing one sometimes.  My favorite function of all is the button on screen labeled “Go Home.”  Wherever I may be, I can touch Go Home and the satellite will guide me, around traffic and obstacles, the fastest way home that it sees.

On these long drives I get into a contemplative mood (unless someone cuts me off) and I have started wishing for a “Go Home” button in my life.  Sort of like Dorothy clicking her heels in the “Wizard of Oz,” but I’d like to be able to go through time and space to places, times and sometimes people when I felt safe and loved, or pleased and happy, or just content, and revisit them again.

I guess that’s a function memory serves.  But I would like to see Mother frying chicken, walk with Daddy to the tobacco barn, my dog trailing behind and startling birds or rabbits, or listen to my uncle Jesse (known as Fatty because he was so thin as a boy) playing guitar and singing old songs.  I’d like to eat my first meal in Paris, in a faded bistro with a fat old German shepherd eyeing my dessert.  I’d like to be back at Bear Lake in the summer on the pontoon boat with the cooling breeze of the boat’s motion.  I’d like to be there.

Until someone invents a time machine I’ll have to keep working with memory, and trying to add more to that vault of good feelings, and trying to forget the bad ones.  Peace out, and have a good week.

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Remembering Mother on Mother’s Day

Fronie Bowers Jones
Fronie Bowers Jones
I still miss Mother a lot. We made each other crazy when I was growing up, and I got as far away from her as I reasonably could. But I never left for good and I always came back. Following are some excerpts from a story I wrote for a writing class. It wasn’t really a story; it was a list of recollections. So here are some random memories of Mother, for Mother’s Day.

1. Her eyes used to be dark brown, very big. Uncle Hoy said she was the prettiest girl in the community where they grew up, which was Blooming Grove, Tennessee. In her old age, they faded to almost tan-colored.

2. She wore print cotton dresses in cheerful flower patterns. She didn’t wear pants until after Daddy died in 1977, I don’t think.

3. She fell and cracked her kneecap chasing my dog Whitey around the yard when I was 8 or 9. She was trying to throw away sticks blown off the trees by a storm. He kept fetching them back, and she yelled, “You stupid dog!” and chased him with a stick. I laughed and laughed, until she slipped on the wet grass and fell.

4. The only time she ever went to Florida, I took her. I drove from Atlanta in September 1981 and picked her up. We drove to St. Augustine and Daytona Beach. It was the coolest September on record. But she finally saw the ocean, the red and orange sunrises and sunsets, walked in the edge of the surf, and sat in a beach chair on the boardwalk with some other people, who seemed elderly to me. We went to Marineland, and she was too tired to walk from one show to another. That’s when I knew she was sick, not just getting older. She was sick ever after that. Mother must have been about 62 years old.

5. She stayed with me in the hospital for a week when I fractured a vertebra in my back. I was 10 years old, and had been thrown out of a swing when the chain broke on my side–six kids in a porch-type swing in a frame, trying to see how high we could go. I was so bored, because the hospitals didn’t have TVs then (1965?), and she couldn’t drive, so she couldn’t get to the library. She bought me every children’s book in the hospital gift shop, all the ancient paperbacks—Five Little Peppers and How They Grew, Elsie Dinsmore. I read them all. I hated Elsie Dinsmore. What a little priss!

6. When I was in high school, she made a trade with Aunt Eunice Settle (Daddy’s sister). We would can a bushel of Kentucky Wonder beans for her, and Aunt Eunice would slipcover our couch. It took both of us an entire day. Aunt Eunice’s work was done in about three hours. Aunt Eunice always got the best of any bargain going.

7. Mother’s hands were always big and knobby-jointed. She said they were like Papa’s (her father, Herman Bowers), while mine were long-fingered and thin like Mama’s (her mother, Blanche Collier Bowers). Papa and Mama both died before I was born.

8. Mother never learned to drive, ride a bike, or roller-skate. She liked to play Rook, a sort of Southern Baptist card game with no “face cards.” Good Christians didn’t play cards when she was a child.

9. Aunt Elsie was Mother’s best friend from the time they were five years old. One day when they were children Mother had a new dress, a rare occurance, and Aunt Elsie wanted to wear it. They switched dresses on the way to school so Aunt Elsie could wear it. That’s how much Mother loved her, that she would do that. Aunt Elsie was an aunt by marriage. She and Mother married brothers; Mother married George, Aunt Elsie married Jesse. Aunt Elsie’s brother, Uncle Floyd, married Mother’s sister, Aunt Mattie Lou.

The entire “story” is “50 Things About My Mother.” I wrote them in a notebook as I commuted by train to Manhattan. I’m glad I got them written down. Happy Mother’s Day to all my family, friends and readers!

Best Dog Ever

Chico and me on the farm

I grew up with dogs and cats, generally one dog at a time and, when we moved to the farm, multiple half-wild cats.  I loved them all, but Chico was the best dog.

I was in school at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.  Walking down the Strip, a slightly seedy street lined with delis, head shops and bookstores, I saw a man standing on the corner with a box of tiny puppies.  “The mother’s a purebred German shepherd, but some mutt got to her, ” he said.  “If people don’t take the puppies I’m going to drown them.”

I was stricken.  I immediately hatched a desperate plan.  I took the only puppy who was marked black and tan like a German shepherd and took him back to my dorm room.  He lived in a box under my bed for a few days.  I named him Chico, because he was a little boy and because I liked the Marx Brothers.  I took him to the vet, who told me he was only 4 weeks old, and gave him vitamins.  Then I bummed a ride home for the weekend and took him to my parents’ farm.

Mother was not thrilled when I turned up with a puppy in a shoebox.  There was no question of him living in the house–pets were never allowed inside–and the weather was cold.  Daddy built a small doghouse from bits of wood and insulated it with styrofoam.  He put a light on an industrial extension cord, put the light in a coffee can, and wrapped it in a towel, so Chico had a space heater.  He even put an alarm clock in a towel so Chico wouldn’t cry.   Then he fenced a tiny yard with loose bricks so Chico couldn’t wander away. 

Chico never looked back.  He grew into a 110-pound German shepherd, always gentle, loving and patient with all the grandchildren.  He was devoted to my parents and never bit a soul.  Chico liked to take my wrist in his mouth, shake it, and let it go.  I thought nothing of it until I saw him crack a hambone in his jaws.  When I brought a boyfriend home he would walk between me and the guy.  He didn’t growl.  He didn’t need to.

After Daddy died suddenly Chico became Mother’s guard dog and protector.  He still roamed the farm and cadged food from the neighbors.  When he was 11 years old, feeble and shaky, he had to be put down.   I’ve never had a dog since then.  I’m pretty much a cat person now.  But I’m glad I brought that puppy home.