Just Outside of Silas

Our main job was to clean her refrigerator.

Really.

It’d been about a year since our last visit to clean the icebox and, well, grandma hadn’t done anything since then to prevent a perfect storm of chemical reactions from destroying the house, county, and possibly the western hemisphere.

So, once again, my parents and older siblings negotiated the scientific experiment in grandma’s kitchen, which likely would have made any high school science teacher, or any research chemist, jealous.

Basically, they’d throw everything out.

Everything.

Ever seen a glass jar of tomatoes after a year of bacteriological shenanigans in the refrigerator?

It’s not pretty.

After an hour or so of baptizing, purifying, and sanitizing the refrigerator, we’d drive up to the city of Butler, the largest town in Choctaw County, and buy more food to replenish her pantry and refrigerator.

And hope for the best.

I was just seven, but I suppose that the idea of ignoring the refrigerator for expansive amounts of time would have seemed fairly normal to me.

And probably most men regardless of age.

Except that I didn’t know what expansive meant.

At the local dollar store in Butler, I scored a toy airplane. It was powered by four D-cell batteries, which allowed the lights to flash and the motor to propel the plane forward as if it was taking off from a full-scale runway like Hartsfield or JFK.

Which is kinda what airplanes are supposed to do.

My Grandma stood in the dirt driveway in front of her house looking puzzled at my new toy for a few long moments, smiling, then frowning.

Clearly there was something wrong.

“Why ain’t it flying,” she hollers.

It dawns on me now that at the time she’d completely misunderstood the full nature of the toy selection available at retail establishments in the city of Butler for the lower end of the economic sector in southwest Alabama in the early 1970s.

“It don’t fly grandma,” I yell back.

Of course, the inability to fly could have pointed to insufficient speed, inadequate lift, and the red Alabama sand sure wasn’t helping things.

But I’m seven years old and I don’t even know the concept of lift, or air speed, why it’s hard for my dad to stay sober, or why grandma doesn’t know to clean out her refrigerator.

Why did we only go to see grandma once a year?

I’m pretty sure that her refrigerator needed a more periodic cleaning intervention than that.

I don’t have a good answer because I’m only seven.

Grandma gives up on the non-flying plane and is content to watch the battery-operated 747 meander in the dusty driveway just outside of Silas.

The batteries eventually give up on trying to move the tiny wheels, which really weren’t designed to work in the sand after all.

And in a little while, it’s time to load up the station wagon and head home.

As we pull out, I’m horrified to see the tires decimate much of the upper third of the landing strip, which is gonna take me a lot of time to repair.

As we head east on Highway 84, I stare back at the little church building just beyond some overgrown grass.

As I recall, the grass was always overgrown there.

It was the Full Gospel Tabernacle.

Or something like that.

The adults in my life told me that she started that church and preached there too.

My brother and sisters would sometimes attend services, if we stayed over on a weekend.

But I don’t ever remember being there for worship services.

I did hear, on occasion, a loud organ and songs flowing through the thinly built walls:

“I’ll fly away, oh glory

I’ll fly away in the morning

When I die, Hallelujah by and by

I’ll fly away”

I’m nine now.

And we’ve made the two hour drive north to Silas again.

The airstrip is completely gone now.

The grass is still high, but the little church is full of people. I’m not sure it’ll hold any more.

My dad sits in the front row with my aunt and uncle.

Tears flow down their faces and they occasionally hug each other.

I don’t know why she had to go, and I am angry that death had created so much sadness.

I’m sitting on a wooden pew off to my dad’s right and we’ve got a view of the whole place.

It’s crazy hot in here.

Apparently, air conditioning hasn’t made it to Choctaw County.

A flock of hand-held paper fans with a picture of Jesus holding a baby lamb are busily flapping their wings to provide if only a small breeze to each mourners’ face.

Like giant butterflies, they flutter but the hot humid air doesn’t surrender.

And like my seventh-grade teacher at Adams Middle School would often remind us, “ya just moving hot air around.”

I see why funeral homes have cornered the market on these noisy critters. If you’re gonna wave something to keep cool, you might as well advertise on it.

The service ends, we drive to the grave site, say good once again, and pile in the car.

The drive home is long.

And, not surprisingly, hot.

Quiet.

Slow.

There’ll be no more rancid refrigerators to explore (please, oh please, let her example be a lesson to my other living relatives).

There’re be no more dollar store airplanes that refuse to defy gravity.

But just maybe …

Maybe now she can see better

From her current view

I believe now that with just a little more imagination

Plastic airplanes

And wounded spirits

can lift to new heights

And sometimes soar.

And fly away

By and by

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