It’s a 1953 Buick Skylark. A real beauty. But not for long. In the third Nash Sisters series, chapter 1, it is demolished in front of Marie’s house. It is not the worst that happens in 1954 to Nash family, but pretty close. Marie tells how it all started.
As my momma would say, “It is hot as hell out here.” And she would be right. I can’t remember a summer like this. The weather guys said we had more days over 100 degrees this summer than any other year on record. I believe it. I looked at the thermometer hanging under the crabapple tree—96 degrees. I looked at my watch to make sure it really was morning. Yep, 96 at 11 o’clock. And that’s in the shade. I am standing under the canopy of the tree, fanning my face with my hand, rocking from side to side trying to create some breeze up my dress. Jimmy, my two-year-old, is pulling at my skirt. My fourth child is in my belly, and it’s a heavy one.
I know we had a record-breaking hot summer two years ago, but I was not pregnant then. Although I seem to always be pregnant here in my adult life. I had Jimmy in June ’52 before the sweltering heat settled over Raleigh. At this time two years ago, I was 20 pounds lighter than I am now. For sure this is the hottest I’ve ever been.
My husband, Al, likes the fact that he has a large family. But he doesn’t have to carry the babies inside ’till he is about to explode. And he doesn’t have to endure the most excruciating pain ever giving birth. We both wanted children, but that was before I understood how much work they were. My friend Susan and Aunt Annie make it look easy. They talk about all the fun they have with their children. Susan says being a mother is a gift from God. Well, after this one, because it is coming whether I like it or not, I have plenty of God’s gifts. He can stop with that bequest.
I’ll call Momma later, as I do every Sunday night. Maybe she can give me some new ideas about enduring this heat. I have tried all of her earlier ideas—put a cold, wet cloth around my neck and drape it down my chest, stick my head in the freezer while fanning with the church fan, drink plenty of cold water, sit down in a chair and stick my feet in the freezer, and never leave the shade during the day.
On our last call she said, “Heavens, Marie, you learned how to make ice cream at the knees of North Carolina’s best ice cream maker. Keep doing it and eat it all the time. It doesn’t matter how fat you get right now, you got three kids and one more coming any day. Nobody’s looking at your figure.”
Oh, gee thanks, Momma.
From the yard, I could hear the radio inside switching from news to songs. “We’re Gonna Rock Around the Clock Tonight!” was playing. It’s depressing. I will never be able to rock around the clock again, unless I am up nursing a baby. I don’t remember the last time I slept all night. Another song comes into my head. One that is more what I want. Doris Day’s song, “I’ll See You in My Dreams.” Yeah, that’s what I wish for.
I was jerked from my dreams by a thunderous noise. The ground actually shook. It sounded like a tree falling or cars crashing. Or a tree coming down on a car. I grabbed Jimmy’s hand and ran around the house to the front yard. Sure enough, there was a car turned on its side in the deep ditch in front of our house. There was smoke billowing from its hood.
My feet stopped like I had reached the edge of a ravine and if I took one more step we’d fall into a bottomless pit. I jerked Jimmy’s arm swinging him off his feet, propelling him behind my back. Jimmy shrieked, “Momma, no!”
I hoisted Jimmy on my hip and carried him to the front door of the house. Shouting at my children inside, I yelled, “Al! Mary! Come get your brother!”
I could hear the children running toward the front of the house. I opened the door and practically tossed Jimmy inside. “Stay in there, children. You hear?”
Slamming the door behind me, I ran toward the car. The neighbors must have heard the crash or Jimmy’s shout. Half dozen people were sprinting into our yard—mostly women. The men were at work.
Even though I didn’t want to, I ran toward the car. I stopped short. I recognized the car. “Oh my God, no!” I screamed.
I could not make my feet move. The red Buick convertible had its top down. The man in the driver’s seat was slouched forward. His head was on the huge steering wheel. Blood was everywhere—on the dashboard, windshield, and gushing from wounds on his head. I didn’t know for sure who it was because his face was turned away from me. He was not moving. I could not see a rise and fall of his chest. He did not seem to be breathing. I wanted to vomit.