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The Pinto Without the Beans
By Stephanie Angela
Weekends spent at grandma’s and pawpaw’s were always a blast. I remember my small rocking chair in front of the fireplace. My cousins and I all had one and loved to rock together.
At their house, warming in front of the crackling fire, I’d often think back to when I was a small child. My mom was ill, mentally ill, and her illness flared whenever a family member died.
As a small child, I was left alone quite often while my mom worked or hung out with friends. Life was erratic then. Sometimes we lived in mom’s old, blue, hatchback Pinto. It was like a new journey every night scoping out dark areas of gas station and grocery store parking lots to camp in. To me, at seven, it was very mysterious and exciting.
While mom worked during the day, I had the whole car to myself and the entire area was my playground. I took extra special care to not mess up her car so she wouldn’t be angry.
During the hot summertime, she would park in the shade and bring me bagged ice and fresh cold water to stay cool with. As refreshing as it was, it was sometimes not enough even with the windows rolled down unless there happened to be a breeze which I would be thankful for.
I retreated at times to lying on the passenger floorboard under the glove box with my bagged ice because it seemed cooler there, I suppose because the air circulated enough through the cold engine to make it cooler.
During the wintertime, I’d be bundled up like an Eskimo with the windows rolled up parked in the full sun which I prayed would shine every day. Mom brought me hot meals and hot chocolate to drink. It excited me to see those coming, and then I would rest on the vinyl seats which always seemed to me to keep my body warmer, and then I would resume my playtime with dolls and toys in my own blue winter wonderland.
My favorite time was when we would have enough money to rent an apartment. We would have an actual bed to sleep on and a bathroom with real towels to use. I still shiver thinking about those god-awful cloth towels in the public bathrooms that you had to crank to get to a clean area of towel.
I still shiver at a lot of what happened then. Baths were difficult. We’d dry off the best we could and sometimes we’d use the the air hose that people aired up their tires with to dry our arms and legs. That air hose in the winter with semi-wet clothes on, still damp from my bathroom sponge bath, felt like a snowless blizzard being blown dry with it.
I loved being in our apartment where I could stay either warm or cool depending on the season. While mom was at work, I had entire rooms to walk around and play in. She did give me rules of what not to touch, and I obeyed them because I loved my free time and didn’t want to lose my freedom.
However, I did disobey one time. I skipped my happy self down to the pool and, of course, my big toe found the only broken glass piece around.
Mom was at work, but fortunately for me, a resident couple took me to the hospital. Unfortunately for my mom, she got in trouble with my dad and a loud policewoman for leaving me alone.
While the doctors stitched up my big toe, I shut out the arguing and my thoughts reverted back to our apartment. I didn’t want to lose living where I had room to imagine anything I wanted. Whenever mom had guests over, I was shifted to a smaller area—bummer—where I would imagine the apartment to be a whole community of neighboring cities.
I loved the bathroom the most. The bathtub was my ocean and the bathroom sink was my luxurious restaurant by lakeside where I could make as much instant coffee as I wanted and ate from my pudding cups, chips, and sandwiches from the cooler, also filled with those plastic drinks with the foil lid. There were different colors. I loved the green ones the most, and I could have as much of those as I wanted because they were very cheap back then.
It saddened me when the days came for us to pack up and move back again into the old, blue Pinto because I knew reality would hit me that I had been downsized. The fourth time this occurred, I remember feeling sorry for my mom who fell into a deeper depression each time. At least we never ran out of gas stations or grocery stores back then to sleep at because there were plenty, even if some of them didn’t want us back.
Still, mom tried her best to keep me fed and safe, and it was then I began to notice her expressions go more blank with hopelessness each passing night. She would give me doses of Creamulsion Cough Syrup so I’d go to sleep. She could think. I will never forget the look on her face as she watched me fall asleep on my favorite old pillow.
Then it happened, the tap on the window and the cries from mom as the Birmingham police picked me up and placed me in the police car.
My world shattered and my mom was gone.
I was taken by strangers with badges to dad. I knew it was ok and I’d be alright. Everyone asked me all kinds of questions, but all I wanted for them to do was to take me back to mom’s old, blue Pinto or our apartments.
I didn’t live with my mom anymore after that but I did get to see her some. We spent a lot of time together with my Aunt Adele who lived down the road from my pawpaw Brand, who we also visited a lot. My pawpaw still had my comfy rocking chair sitting in front of the cozy fireplace, and even though I was getting bigger, I still loved to rock in the tiny chair.
My sweet Aunt Adele—she was a wonderful woman and the sister of my grandma Lela, and she loved me like her own grandchild. It was at her house where my mom introduced me to something very addicting—a newspaper, silly putty, and how to smoke a cigarette.
Aunt Adele was a precious woman but not a smoker. My mom was not allowed to smoke in her house so we went on many walks. I treasured those moments, mom and me walking up and down Murphree’s Valley Road. We shared an imagination and both loved writing, and we would talk—we discussed my novice writing and her writing. Writers smoked, she said. So we smoked.
The fireplace and my small rocking chair are long gone but my memory replays those moments from time to time. I spent many sleepless nights rocking in front of that old fireplace remembering my life in the Pinto without the beans.
Stephanie does not currently have an author page but you can find her on Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/tjdsam