My Corn-Fed, Deep Fried Okie Romance – Part 6

“It’s Nannie,” my mom’s voice cracked and drifted over the phone.

She didn’t have to say anymore. I knew what it was about.

A few years before, when I was a junior in high school, Nannie was placed in a nursing home while she continued to battle dementia. By that point our family had been dealing with her increasing forgetfulness and need for constant care for some time. The last few years of her life were spent in that nursing home, with one of her daughters by her side nearly every day.

I had not been to the nursing home in a few months. It was December now, life at college was busy, and I hadn’t been going home as often. Reality sank in while my mother spoke with me on the phone.

I remembered the last time I had seen my Nannie. It was a weekend that I had spent at home and we made one of our regular trips from Duncan to Chickasha after church to visit. It was already to the point where she wasn’t talking much and it had been a while since she had recognized me. Most of the time, if she called me anything, she called me “Wynema,” my grandmother’s name (her daughter — we look a lot alike).

But that last time was different. My mom and Granny were standing beside Nannie’s bed and my mom was holding on to her hand, what she always did the entire time we were visiting. Nannie was very special to my mother, as she had welcomed Mom into the family as the first spouse of one of her grandchildren and we had lived next door to her and Pappy my entire life — and my parents since they were married.

I stood in the doorway of her room. I don’t know what brought it on, but there are moments of clarity in the life of someone with dementia that you don’t question. You’re just grateful that they happen at all.

Nannie looked up at me standing there and spoke (another thing she wasn’t doing much of).

“Why, Elizabeth. Come in here and have a seat.”

It wasn’t much. It was a little slurred. But we all heard what she said. Granny looked at me with surprise on her face and tears started welling in my mom’s eyes. I did as Nannie asked and pulled a chair up beside her bed.

That was the last time. Now Mom was calling me to say that there wasn’t much time left, not even enough time to get home, but that in the next few days I was going to be needed down there.

I hung up the phone and sobbed.

I logged on to AOL Instant Messenger and told Chupo what was happening. Then I gathered up the stuff I’d been working on and finished a final paper for one of my more important classes. It was dead week at OU and I had had many of my classes canceled. Next week was finals and thankfully I only had a few exams to take at the end of the week.

My pace up the South Oval was brisk, much faster than it needed to be. And it was so cold. When I arrived at the front entrance of Gittinger Hall I was out of breath and was close to losing my composure. I stood there at the front for a while and calmed myself before heading up the stairs to the third floor, praying that my professor would be there.

I ran into her in the hallway. She could see that I was flustered and asked if everything was okay. I pulled the paper out of the folder in my hands and explained.

“My grandmother is dying. I’ve got to go home and I won’t be here to turn this in.”

(Also, mark that down as the second and last time I turned something in early during my college career.)

She was sympathetic and understanding and sent me on my way with her prayers.

I made it back to the dorm room and waited on the call that did not come until the next day. Nannie had passed and I was going home.

In the meantime, I was doing a lot of thinking about what I wanted in life and what I had been settling for. It was a huge period of growth for me, the rest of the month of December, but it turns out for some people that is scary and they aren’t willing to deal with real life, grown-up commitment stuff.

Change, it was a’comin’.

The Hay Truck

I learned to drive on a farm and ranch in southern Oklahoma, just south of the Garvin-Carter county line.

Like most kids raised in a rural area, my brothers and I were taught pretty early on about the basics. As you can see from the photo above I was already adept at shifting gears at a very young age.

I kid.

But Paw Paw let most of us try out driving out in the pasture and that by itself isn’t so difficult. It’s like coloring on a piece of white paper. You can do whatever you want. It’s when you add lines to that paper that you must stay inside of (roads) that the trouble starts.

It was 1995 or ’96 and I was 11-years-old and Paw Paw needed someone to drive the hay truck from the south pasture back up to the house. My brothers were 9 and 7 at the time so there’s no question who it was left up to. Okay, maybe I can’t say that because I know plenty of 9-year-olds and some 7-year-olds who drive a farm truck, but anyway. It was me this time. And I was nervous. As most Type-A, oldest child, mother hen, aim-to-please, overachieving children tend to be when given the responsibility of driving a goodness-knows-how-many-tons-it-weighs truck with a gooseneck trailer attached, hauling 6 or 8 round bales of hay.

You know, typical.

I had my youngest brother, Ryan, with me in the truck. Paw Paw was ahead of us in another vehicle and we were just plugging along, doing fine, when the cell phone rang.

Yup, this is a tale of how cell phones kill.

Almost.

I think it was a bag phone. It was back in the day, but by this point almost everyone in my immediate family (plus grandparents) had a phone. Except not kids because THE WORLD WASN’T CRAZY BACK THEN. For goodness sake. Sometimes I think it shocks people that we all had them. My family had always lived in a rural area. Paw Paw farmed and ranched and Dad worked out in the oil field. Though the coverage was spotty (and remains so), the phones became a necessity and replaced our CB radios around the time I was in 3rd grade.

Anyway, the phone rang.

“Ryan, get it.”

“No.”

“Ryan, I’m driving. Pick up the phone.”

“Nope.”

He was fun back then, let me tell you.

I threw the truck in park (that much I knew how to do) and picked up the phone. Whoever it was had already hung up. So I put the phone away, but before I could put it back in “drive” and follow Paw Paw, the truck started to move.

The whole thing couldn’t have taken more than a few seconds. When it was over we weren’t quite on our side, but nearly. To this day I get teased for my “crazy driving” that got me into that mess. The truth was that the side of the gravel road where I had stopped had been washed out a little and the bit underneath the right side of the trailer decided to give after I’d stopped.

And turned over, twisting the gooseneck and dumping all the hay.

(If you’ve ever worked on a farm or ranch, you’re wincing. If not, let me just say that was some very expensive damage and a lot of work created for someone.)

I don’t remember if there were tears. I was too traumatized by the whole thing. It was an accident and everyone realized that. Then there was that whole BEING ELEVEN thing and I was forgiven.

But I’ve never been asked to drive the hay truck since. Just sayin’.