Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Trip to Little Paw - Part Two

(Note: Read The Trip to Little Paw - Part One first to get an idea about the real-life story behind my novel, Lip Reader. -SG)


Washita, Oklahoma, the inspiration for Lip Reader's Little Paw, was a place I visited for holidays...



My Grandma Bartlett stood in front of a hot white stove with her back to us in the kitchen that used to be a full-fledged diner in the 20s and 30s. Picture "Ma" from John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath...





With her hard-working arms that were stout but soft, that was Grandma Bartlett working at the stove. The smell of pork grease and baking lard filled the tiny home.

"I reckon you'ns gittin' hungry 'bout now," she said, working the palm-size circles of dough on a baking pan. "We's gonna have supper in a lil' while."

My cousin and I had masterfully decorated the two-foot fake tree that sat on the end table by Grandma's front window. I didn't bother admitting I wasn't hungry because the lunch Grandma fed us two hours before was more food than I'd eaten in two days.

I attended college a half hour from my grandparents, and this was the first time I had visited them since venturing out on my own three years before. Again, this was the tiny home I had spent many Thanksgivings and an occasional Christmas...



My dad loved his parents, but he didn't always accompany us on these trips because he worked odd police hours. Christmas with him was a quick bite at 11 o'clock before he left for his patrol shift. My mom usually chauffeured me and my sisters down the bumpy, hilly roads that led to Washita. That's when I got introduced to Thrill Hill...



In Lip Reader, I write about a fictional hill that is so steep and curvy that the characters nickname it Rollercoaster Hill. While I wrote, I thought about my mom punching the gas pedal and sending us in our car flying down Thrill Hill. The rush I got from that hill and the butterflies that formed in my stomach challenged any rollercoaster experience I had had up to that point. Much of Oklahoma land I had traveled on as a girl was flat and monotonous. Southwestern Oklahoma was about as level and arid as the land chosen for The Grapes of Wrath film version...





Imagine the thrill, then, of this solitary hill near Washita. My ride to Grandma and Grandpa Bartlett's home throughout the years had been uneventful and even boring. Until I got to that hill. Then the excitement of being a ten-year-old with her lead-footed mom at the wheel was infectious. It reminded me of why I went to Washita in the first place.

The old diner house my grandparents lived in, as well as other buildings in Washita, were a fascinating study in Oklahoma Depression-era history. The one-room wood-paneled church across the street, which housed everyone from Baptists to Pentecostals over the years, was different from the cookie-cutter red brick buildings that housed the more affluent congregations I had attended. But the small church was as much a part of my grandparents' lives as their home. They lived across the road from the church, and the front window where I decorated the two-foot fake tree gave me a perfect view. I marveled at this old building that was older than my grandparents, yet continued to hold its services every Sunday. I wondered how many families had been married, buried, saved, baptized, and commissioned in that long-suffering church...



Grandma Bartlett smacked her gums and let out an approving "Mmmm!" of the cooked biscuit she had just sampled. "You'ns c'mon and eat now. 'Fore ever'thing gits cold."

I heard a hoarse grunt coming from the head chair at the table. When I walked into the kitchen with my cousin, Grandpa Bartlett sat hovered over his plate, a mug of hot coffee at his lips. He was from the school of marriage in which the women waited on their men from the first serving until the dishes had been dried and put away. Grandpa sat motionless with that mug in his hands, and Grandma pulled the mug away just long enough to top it with fresh coffee.

Grandma Bartlett didn't say anything when Grandpa let out an enthusiastic belch. That was the only sound he made, other than the smacking of lips at the fork and the occasional coughing up of chewing tobacco into the Folgers can on the floor. I forced a fluffy biscuit into my mouth.

That was the last meal I ate with Grandma and Grandpa Bartlett...



The reason I wrote Lip Reader---a book that is as much fictional as it is living, breathing real-life---was, partly, to better understand my grandparents. In the book, Grandma Bebop is warm-hearted and deaf, and she immediately develops a tight bond with granddaughter Sapphie. Grandma Bartlett was also warm-hearted and good to me, but her ears heard better than anyone in the family.

Lip Reader's Grandpa Bebop resembles a real person more than any character in the book. Grandpas Bebop and Bartlett could have been brothers. In my mind, my actual grandfather was the embodiment of what Grandpa Bebop stands for in the book. My grandfather was proud yet humble, a man of faith and temper, a harsh man with a soft core. His hearing loss developed later in life, yet deafness ran several generations in his family.

Why did I not return to their old diner house when Grandpa died four years later or Grandma two Thanksgivings after him? What granddaughter skips her grandparents' funerals, anyway? I'll be back soon with the answers.


Story Continued Here:

The Trip to Little Paw - Part Three

2 comments:

Suzanne Menez said...

This is wonderful, Shanna. I can't wait to read the next installment! Please hurry and write it!

Suzanne

Danielle said...

wow amazing and wonderful cant wait to read more....