Mar 19, 2013

Black Limo



For most, the word conjures happy times. Times to celebrate, to party, to top off  great memories of weddings and proms. Isn't one of the most exciting things that a senior high-schooler looks forward to on the Big Night is The Limo? ("Yeah, we crammed, like, 20 of us into the Limo! And Shawn snuck some whiskey from his 'rents bar, and it was , like, Freakin' AWESOME!")

My first limo ride was a little more sober. It was 1964 or so. The limo was headed to a funeral.

I was about four or five, no more than six. I don't have many vivid memories of my childhood despite the fact that my parents still live in the suburban WWII starter home I was born in. So I only know I was very young. My paternal grandfather, a "colorful character" as his son would say,  had died before I was born, the tragic and expected early end to a life of hard drinking and fast living. I've seen three pictures of him in my entire life. In each one, he had booze in one hand and a cigar in the other.

His wife, my grandmother, had been a delightful hostess at their sizable summer "cottage" in the mountains of Pennsylvania. There was always a stream of weekend friends, as the decaying guest book attests. She was slim and rather frail from the few pictures I've seen, but always looked very happy, surrounded by her family and friends. Then, her storybook world of parties and summer homes and socialites and household names fell apart when the government seized all their assets.Her husband died sometime after that from the stress of it all.

My father was the oldest of the three and the closest geographically and so the responsibility of her care fell on him. He and my mom moved her into a one-bedroom apartment in a fine neighborhood on the edge of the city, a handful of minutes from our home.We would visit her frequently. I remember my amazement at the large formal, above-ground, brick goldfish pond that reigned over the private grounds. Inside, I was fixated on a pair of purple glass salt and pepper shakers that looked like clusters of grapes lying life-like on their sides. If I ever find them in the family estate, I'm putting in a claim. And she always had these mysteriously- created lollipops with mille-fiori flowers embedded in them. She is handing one to me now as I write this.

Soon she developed ALS, or as it was called back then, Lou Gehrig's Disease. This was always mentioned to well-meaning inquirers as if it was a badge of honor to be thus diagnosed, to be related in some way to someone famous, even if it was through terminal illness. Eventually she became too weak to care for herself and moved in with us. It was strange and comforting at the same time to have this frail, failing old woman who was also our grandmother stepping falteringly around in our growing house of tumbling, crying, Boomer Babies.

Then one day, I was in a limo. It was going to a big, big yard full of rows and rows of white crosses. It was sunny. My mother, dressed all in black with a big skirt like I Love Lucy, faced me in the back seat. She was distracted and unhappy and I knew something must be wrong because she was smoking a cigarette. She had told me she only smoked when she was upset about something, so I knew this must be one of those times. And though there would be plenty of reasons after that, I never saw her smoke again.

And that was my first ride in a limo.

Hooking up with Mama's Losin' It.
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