Mother married an old acquaintance of hers seven years after my father died. My father passed away five months before my birth. So, I was seven when I got a stepfather. After Mother and Pop had been married about a year, Mother wanted to go see my older sister, who was working for the city of Boston, Massachusetts. Gloria had landed the job in her early 20s after her discharge from the Women’s Army Corps.
Mother’s good friend Dorothy had a daughter in Connecticut and her brother, Ward, had a new car, so the three of them made plans to go “up north” to visit their kinfolks. I was a big eight-year-old, almost as big as my new Pop. As I recall, they gave me a choice—stay home with Pop or go along on the daunting journey. As a lifelong mamma’s boy, you can guess which I chose. And it was a very long trip. Ward was a strange fellow who seemed to be in a perpetual hypnotic state, not requiring food or drink. He also had a very strong and high-capacity bladder. His new Dodge was obviously an idol and he wanted to keep it immaculate both inside and out.
Ward packed heat, too. It looked like a German Lugar. He slept with it under his pillow. The girls roomed together and Ward and I shared a bed in the cheap motels along the way. I am usually a pretty good sleeper, but with that gun barrel pointing at my head under Ward’s pillow, I slept light if I slept at all. During the day in the venerated car, Mother would have to awaken me for those rare food or gasoline stops or to see sights like the Chesapeake Bay. I slept on the ferry ride across it.
I was very glad to part company with Zombie Ward when we got to Hartford and caught the train on to Boston, and gladder still to see my sister. For the first few days, she seemed pleased to have her mother and little brother in her cramped cold-water flat, but it didn’t take long for her to remember why she had chosen to live so far away. Friction between mother and daughter was as thick as our drawl. My sister talked just like the rest of the people up there. Where we said “Bawston,” she said “Bahston.” Where we said “park” she said “pahk.” In other words, she was not the girl we had known and loved and I suspect she was a tad embarrassed about our country demeanor.
But, overall, she showed us a good time. We saw the sights and I slept wonderfully well without the threat of being shot. As we were leaving in a taxi to go to the train station to reconnect with the armed Zombie and his sister, the driver noticed our accent. “Where ya from?” Mother replied, “Arkansas.” The driver asked, “Have many cars down there?” Mother thought he had said “cows” instead of “cars.” She replied, “Used to milk one every day.”