The Ford F-150 is doing just over 55MPH on Bandera Highway heading toward town, and I’m feeling the baritone noise of hot Texas air coming in through the driver’s side window and the angled quarter glass, because sometime after the truck’s purchase in 1988 the AC went out and the rancher who drove it before we got it in 2018 would probably have scoffed at spending hard-earned cash on a luxury like cold air in the summer or hot air in the winter. “What’s that?! Cash for something you can’t even see?” is probably what he’d tell me if I were to muse aloud to him.
The scene — me behind the wheel, right hand gripping at about one o’clock and left hand wrapped around the metal divider of the valence window — makes me think of riding in Poppa’s beige station wagon in Rhode Island in the late ’60s. He’d taught mom to drive, and mom had taught me in Tootsie’s Mercedes Benz. The Mercedes always at least a box or two of chocolate Carnation breakfast bars in the trunk that Tootsie would eat after a round of golf, but my younger brother and I would eat them on the down-low. After all, our grandparents were rich. Weren’t everyone’s?
Poppa drove the three miles from the house on Spencer Avenue in Warwick — the house with a backyard like a waterfall practically down to the bay — to the farm, which was technically in East Greenwich, just over the demarcation line (the thoroughfare appropriately named Division Street). On that brief ride, we’d pass the “ghost house” on the right. The story was that you could still hear the sword of a fallen Revolutionary War officer clank down the long staircase on some blustery winter nights. I could imagine it, with trepidation, and I didn’t have enough doubt about the veracity of this claim to not think that Poppa was pretty badass just to know this. If he’d had his way, Poppa’d be taking out that phantom with his .30-06. He one he used to bring down moose and bear in Canada. No 18th century rebel in threadbare leggings would be his match.
So we’d drive and I’d hear The Beatles, “I Want To Hold Your Hand” come on the radio. We’d listen to that 2-1/2-minute song, and when it was over, I’d still be leaning out of the front passenger window, my six-year-old frame almost half over the side, belting out the chorus:
I wanna hold your ha-aa-aaa-aaaand,
I wanna hold your haaaaaaaand!
I wanna hold your hand!
And sometime after the tenth or so time repeating the same chorus into the New England summer wind, Poppa would reach over and gently pat my back.
Filterless Camel cigarette wobbling from his mouth, he’d say, “I think that’s enough.”