Wednesday, June 27, 2007


Travels with BB (Part One)...

Well, much as everyone seems to be yelling "Duck!" from the previous post, I think I need to go with one of the runners-up. It's a story I meant to tell you earlier, and I really need to get it out of my system.

You recall, a couple of posts ago, how I was able to come fairly quickly to terms with my daughter's lost ring (still not found, by the way)? Well, there was a reason for that: missing jewelry--indeed, missing heirloom jewelry--is a bit of a recurring theme right now. The lost ring was actually the second time this has happened.

The first time was when we realized the bracelet was lost.

It was a simple gold bracelet and it belonged to my grandmother, Catherine Ellen Lang. We have an old black-and-white picture of her at age 6, wearing an impossibly pouffy dress with a truly startling large black bow in her hair. But she's smiling right into the camera, and her hands are intertwined up near her face, so that on one wrist you can clearly see the bracelet that was given to her by her grandfather that year. You can't see the underside of the bracelet in the picture, of course, but I know there's an inscription there, and it reads: CEL from Grandpa, December 10, 1923.

My grandmother died in early 2000, after several hard years of suffering from increasingly severe dementia. The last time I saw her, she had no idea who I was, although she took one look at baby Thomas and knew he was her first great-grandson. That was common for Grandma at the end: She'd have these startling bursts of lucidity amidst the confusion, and when she did, it was almost always to recognize something (or someone) important. Or to give her daughters--my mom and my aunt Cathy--instructions, something she seemed to enjoy to the very end of her days.

Indeed, one of her last sets of instructions was that her cherished gold bracelet--safe at home and impossible to wear now on her swollen wrist--should go to her great-granddaughter.

"And I mean my first great-granddaughter, not the second one. She can have the diamond ring. Or the brooch. You know the one," Grandma had told my mother.

Mom knew the jewelry she was talking about, but she felt compelled to tell Grandma that she was confused.

"It's just Thomas, Ma," she said. "There are no great-granddaughters, first or second. You mean you want Thomas to have it? Or do you want Kelly to have it?" Kelly is my cousin and the first (and only) granddaughter.

As my mom tried to make sense of the request, Grandma put her hand out imperiously, palm out to shut my mother up.

"I know what I'm talking about!" she insisted. "I mean my first great-granddaughter."

"But there isn't one," my Mom said.

Grandma fixed her with a glare that just about caused the curtains behind my Mom to burst into flames. "She'll be along soon enough."

Grandma died two days later. Seven months after that, when I told my Mom that Her Lovely Self was pregnant again, Mom said, "Ah, that'll be the great-granddaughter your Grandma was waiting for."

Sure enough, the Brownie arrived the following April. We gave her "Catherine" as a middle name. And this year, on April 30, on what would have been the Brownie's 6th birthday, my Mom was planning to give her the bracelet.

But as you know, Mom died four days shy of that birthday.

I admit that in the days that followed, I completely forgot about the bracelet, right up until I got a call from the coroner's office in Elkhart, Indiana, wanting to know where to send some of my parents' effects. Apparently, when the coroner arrived at the scene of the accident that killed my parents, he secured whatever valuables he could find: Dad's wallet, their camcorder and digital camera (both in miraculous working order), a box of baseball cards Dad was bringing out for Thomas, and mom's voluminous purse.

"We did an inventory of the items," the coroner informed me. "Your mother had quite a bit of cash in her purse, as well as a couple of small gift-wrapped packages."

When he said that, my heart leapt as I remembered the bracelet. I gave him my address and thanked him kindly for taking care of the items.

The box containing my parents' effects were shipped to the Magazine Mansion at about the same time my Big Brother and I were getting on a plane together. I was finally flying home and I had asked BB to come and spend a week with my family. I couldn't bear the thought of just leaving him alone so soon after putting our parents in the ground. So he came home with me, and the next morning, when the big box arrived from Elkhart, we steeled ourselves and went through it together.

Let me say here and now that if I ever happen to die, I'll gladly do it in Elkhart, under the care of its local coroner. Not only were all my parents' items meticulously catalogued and cared for, but we found, in mom's purse, a fat wad of cash totaling over 400 dollars. I can think of all sorts of reasons for that cash to have gone missing, but there it was.

Along with two small wrapped gifts.

"The bracelet," BB breathed, handing me the crumpled package. I tore it open, only to find a rosary, a gift for Thomas' Communion, now hopelessly destroyed by the stupendous impact of the accident, its beads crushed and broken.

The second gift was a small child's book about Mass and Communion, another gift for Thomas.

We went through Mom's purse twice each, and even upended the camera cases. But in the end, we were forced to conclude the bracelet was not there.

"Maybe she never had it in her purse. She might have packed it in her suitcase," BB mused, but he didn't sound hopeful. That's because in one of the aerial pictures of the accident scene, which I had found online, you could see a small red square broken open on the highway, which I knew instantly to be my mother's suitcase. If the bracelet had been in there, it could easily have been part of the ample debris that littered that fatal part of the Indiana Toll Road that day. The bracelet was almost certainly lost forever.

And yet, even with the odds against us, we knew: We were going to have to drive to Elkhart and search what was left of my parents' car, which had been sitting in a wrecking yard for the past three weeks.

We had talked about doing it anyway, despite the loud objections of many friends and one wife. The overall feeling against us going was that we were needlessly setting ourselves up for more shock and grief by visiting the scene of the accident, by seeing with our own eyes the tangled mass of tires and metal that had been my parents' tomb. But BB and I saw it differently. Our parents had raised us to be unflinching about certain unfortunate facts of life, such as death. Growing up, whenever a relative died in our family, my parents invariably brought us along to the wake or the funeral, and we were often the only children present at such ceremonies. Not to go to Indiana now seemed like a refutation of the kind of men they wanted us to be. And anyway, this felt like the last piece of the whole awful puzzle. We needed to go. Had there been no bracelet to look for, we still would have gone.

And so we did.

We climbed into my car early Sunday morning and set off. In the back we had a couple of overnight bags and a box my brother insisted on bringing.

"Please don't tell me you've brought a gun or anything!" I said, when he refused to tell me what was in the box.

BB shook his head, not to assure me about the lack of firearms, but to despair of my stupidity. "Wait. Let's just think about this for a second. I've just flown cross-country. On an airplane. They wouldn't let me carry a fucking lighter aboard, but somehow they'd let me bring a gun? Do you even know how to spell 'numbnuts'?!? Cause that oughtta be your name!!"

"Okay! Okay! But...what the hell's in there?" I asked.

"Need-to-know basis, dickweed. You'll find out when we get there."

And getting there was going to take a while, at least 9 hours, probably more if we hit traffic. More than that, both my brother and I were inclined to drive rather cautiously. I hated myself a little to discover that I was avoiding being near any semi trucks and passed them only if I had no other choice. Something that was pretty hard to avoid on the interstate. Something that was impossible once we got within orbit of Chicago.

Having lived in Chicago for a few years, I was the obvious choice to drive that leg of the trip. BB sure as hell wasn't going to get behind the wheel; he hadn't been in city traffic in years. This was a man who complained about road congestion when he found himself waiting behind more than three cars at a stoplight. "My nerves," he said, as the highway brought us into an eight-lane expanse of whizzing cars and blaring trucks. "Too many fucking cars," he said.

Let me hasten to add that I wasn't doing much better. My city-driving skills haven't atrophied very much, but that didn't stop me from being nervous as hell. With the kind of irony that tends to govern my life, I could easily imagine driving our asses into a spectacular automotive death of our own.

But once we got through a tollbooth and the initial crush of traffic, I started to relax, just a smidge.

Which explains why I didn't notice the semi.

I was in a far right lane when it happened. A tractor trailer came up on my right, in the exit-only lane, intending to get off at the next ramp. Or so it seemed. But just seconds before he was committed irretrievably to the exit, the driver must have realized he was taking a wrong turn, because in the time it will take me to get to the period at the end of this sentence, he was veering back onto the expressway, into my lane. Which, incidentally, was itself ending in less than an eighth of a mile.

My first alert to this situation was my brother, who has a tendency to scream out words in a rapid and weirdly high-pitched voice whenever danger looms.

"FuckatrucktruckTRUCKtruckafuckcomingfuckfuckcomingBACK!" he cried.

I made to move into the next lane over before the oblivious semi could sideswipe me. But at that second, another semi was coming up in the lane on my left. Suddenly we were the filling in an impending tractor-trailer sandwich.

There was nothing for it--I stamped on the gas pedal and we shot between the two semis, clearing the narrowing gap just as the lane ended. Then we were driving on the shoulder and even that was ending fast. I yanked the wheel hard, pulling us safely back on the road. Sweat was streaming down my face, my hands were welded to the steering wheel.

"Oh Jesus, pull over," BB said. "I just shit my pants. In fact, I think I shit your pants too."

Of course, I didn't pull over. I was too busy checking my mirror as, behind me, the wayward semi dealt with our lane ending by accelerating, blasting his horn and veering in just ahead of the second semi, narrowly avoiding yet another collision.

My brother is a member of my family, and therefore is just as gifted with powers of exaggeration as the rest of us, so I had hoped that his announcement involving pants-shitting was simply a case of him suffering a hyperbolic seizure. But then he said, in a husky, distracted trying-to-hold-something-in kind of voice. "Seriously, man, can we stop somewhere, like, really soon?"

Unfortunately, we had just passed a rest area some miles back and wouldn't find another one until the Indiana border. "Can you make it? I mean, did you--you didn't really--?" I asked, taking a tentative sniff of the air in the cabin of my car.

"No," he admitted. "I didn't shit myself, but I DO have to piss like a racehorse."

I kept my foot on the gas, and told him to hold on, but we were still a solid 15 minutes from the next rest stop and meanwhile BB was squirming in his seat like a 4-year-old.

"Can't stand it," he finally said, unhooking his seatbelt to reach into the back. He pulled the mystery box forward and opened it. With my eyes glued to the road, I couldn't really see what was in there. Then I watched out of the corner of my eye as he pulled out a smaller box, opened that and pulled out something shockingly purple.

It was a single latex glove.

"What are you--?" I began, but then BB shifted off the front seat onto his knees. I heard the unmistakable sound of a zipper and glanced over despite myself. "Oh Jesus Christ!!!" I cried.

I couldn't help it; I took my eyes off the road for a second as the glove BB held swelled to unbelievable proportions, taking on the appearance of a set of cow's udders. Only purple. And full of piss.

BB gave an almost obscene sigh of relief.

"And what are you going to do with your purple piss glove now, Mister Man?" I bleated as I put down some windows (because, you know, pee stinks).

He gazed proudly at the quivering, uddered orb of fluid. "Oh, I dunno. Is the semi that almost killed us still behind us?" he asked...

WAS the semi still behind you????? LOL

And the box. Let me guess.. It was BB's infamous CSI case???
a gallon ziploc would have been better.
Okay, this was a good one to go with. Oh, my goodness! A scene out of some crazy movie. Great writing. (Still want to hear about the duck!)
Ha! That is a lot of piss!! I was going to suggest that next time you travel with some sort of vessel that would be more appropriate... except that I'm not sure that even one of those giant Slurpee mugs would be large enough.
It would be even better if the window of the semi was open!!!!
LOL! I love BB!

And of course, now I'm filled with suspense. There goes my relaxing evening ;)

I hope that you guys found the bracelet, and that the trip did what you needed it to.
I love BB too - and now I'm sitting giggling hopelessly at the end of this one. I'm glad you are telling us this though, I wondered what had happened with the semis.
I didn't vote on which story-starter to use, because I knew whichever you expanded upon would be wonderful. I can't wait for Part Two!! going to be good.
The return of the elipsis! A great sign for those of us who love you, and I anxiously await Part Two.

Oh my goodness, MM. This is one of your best stories in a long time, I think.

You had me crying early on... only to be replaced by belly laughs and shock. A little bit of awe, too... because WHO PISSES IN A LATEX GLOVE IN A MOVING VEHICLE?! BB is unmistakably the man.
OK I can't wait for part two! Is the semi still there? Hurry up tell me I can't stand the suspense.
Glad you found the inspiration to tell the story you wanted to tell. This is a good choice and an excellent Part One.
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