Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Maryland Club Coffee Can Story

During the young years of their marriage, my parents moved often to small towns all over Texas and Louisiana, following my father's job. They had some money then, driving a late-model Chevy and using their vacation time to journey even more, visiting family here and there. But my father refused to shell out for restaurant food, so my mother packed sandwiches, pickles and pie to last the trip.

Daddy also hated to stop except when the car needed gas. He believed learning to "hold it" built character. Once my older brother passed the diaper stage, however, Mama pointed out a toddler simply wasn't capable of controlling their bodily functions for four hours at a stretch. Daddy's soluton was an empty Maryland Club coffee can in the back floorboard, that could be emptied at the next gas stop.

This practice was put to an unexpected test on a trip from Houma to Bowie when my parents were driving my grandmother Sook back home after an extended visit. Sook had a short fuse for nastiness, as she called it. When my brother had to use the can that afternoon, it turned into a #2 voiding, Mama assisting him in the back seat.

But it was winter and with the car windows rolled up, the odor from that can spread throughout the car. Sook, sitting in the front passenger seat, demanded my father find a place to pull over so it could be emptied, and my father kept refusing. Finally Sook rolled down her window, they thought to freeze out Daddy and force him to comply. Daddy set his jaw and ignored her, focusing on speeding up to pass a tractor-trailer rig.

Sook showed surprising agility by leaning over the seat, grabbing the offending can, and pivoting to hurl its contents out her open window without splashback. Unfortunately, she didn't notice the tractor-trailer rig now to her right and far enough behind our Chevy to take all of the coffee can's load -- so to speak -- full on the truck's windshield.

"Oops" said Sook. Mama, who told this story often, swore she would never forget the truckdriver's enraged face as he spit out his Skoal and pushed the accelerator to the floor while taking his first swerve at the Chevy. For the next half hour, Daddy tested the combustion ability of that newish car engine while Mama clung to my weeping brother and Sook leaned out the window trying to convey her apology via a sign language that Daddy said the truckdriver clearly interpreted as further derision.

They were finally rescued by the appearance of a rare hill on that two-lane blacktop, which slowed down the rig enough to allow Daddy to get far ahead. At the next town, he dove deep into a residential area and located a gas station on the outskirts, where everyone in the car used the facilites and Daddy restored his shot nerves with an unfiltered Camel followed by a bottle of Coke with Tom's peanuts poured into the neck.

After that, Daddy stopped when we had to go the restroom. He grumbled about it, but he pulled over.