Thinking back on that day, I don’t think I planned anything the way it turned out. Things just happened, and I was an innocent bystander. I had an overall agenda, what 17-year-old girl doesn’t? Back then, things seemed so easy. Finish high school, get married and have babies. Ah, but there’s the catch. A girl had to pursue a guy until she let him catch her. But first I had to deal with Grandma.
I had been assigned to pick her up after school and bring her back for the weekend. So this is what happened.
I pulled into Grandma’s driveway. She was waiting for me on the porch, wearing the ugliest hat I have ever seen.
“Hi, Grandma. Where did you get that hat?”
“Well, thank you dear, I’m so glad you like it. The church had a rummage sale today. It was only a $1.00.”
“And trust me when I tell you that you got your money’s worth! Are you ready to go? Do you have everything?”
We loaded Grandma’s paraphernalia into my 1957 Plymouth and headed for home. Grandma chatted nonstop about raspberry bushes and moved straight on to canned pickles. I wasn’t able to get a word in edgewise. It didn’t matter that much. I pretty much ignored what she was saying. I was thinking about the young man who should be waiting for me at home. Then Grandma spoke the fatal words. “Do you think we could stop at the drug store, dear? I need to pick up a few things.”
My heart sank. “Grandma, we really don’t have time. It’s very important that I get home early tonight.” I pleaded.
“Now, I’ll only be a minute, dear, and you know I just don’t get into town that often.”
What could I say? How do you argue with Grandma? My predetermined timetable was calculated to guarantee my arrival home before 5:00 o’clock when Lee would be there. Lee was a gorgeous, hunky, tall, dark and handsome 18-year-old boy; the current object of my affection, and Daddy’s most recent carpenter’s helper. I had a foolproof plan. Out of school at 3:30. Pick up Grandma at 4:00, home by 5:00, Lee’s paycheck in hand by 5:30 and a movie date booked solid by 6:00 PM! And now Grandma wanted to stop at the drug store.
I parked “Plymouth” about a block away from the drug store, that sat between an ice cream parlor and a massage parlor. (go figure…)
I tried to hustle Grandma along, but she moved in slow motion from the parked car, to the drug store, through the aisles, and finally up to the checkout counter. That’s when the real trouble started.
The clerk’s register tape broke. The phone rang and she described in detail, all the sale items that week. The customer’s toilet brush ahead of us had no price tag. The clerk had to find another toilet brush with an attached price tag. The customer rejected the toilet brush when she saw the price and her other items had to be rung again without it.
I rocked first on one foot and then the other, wringing my hands, watching the clock tick away the precious minutes toward 5:00 PM. Finally, it was our turn to pay. Just when I began to see light at the end of the tunnel, my hopes were shattered like spit hitting a hot griddle.
The sale price on Grandma’s hemorrhoid cream was clearly marked but the clerk had to look up the price on her enema bag. What a surprise. Grandma’s total was $6.87. She painstakingly counted out $6.87. Licking her thumb, she counted out six dollar bills, one at a time. She then carefully placed two quarters, three dimes and seven pennies, one at a time on the counter, calling the total with each added coin. “Six dollars and fifty cents, six dollars and sixty cents, seventy cents, eighty cents, eighty-one, eighty-two…” I was ready to scream by the time she got to eighty-seven cents.
We returned to the car, in slow motion. We were headed out of town toward home, driving well beyond the speed limit when my worst nightmare came true. The cars whizzed past us. Then we passed a small gray foreign car headed toward town. Lee lifted his hand in a casual wave as he passed our car.
“Damn. We’re too late. I knew we would be too late. There he goes the other way. We missed him!” I screamed.
“Who did we miss, dear? And you really shouldn’t say 'damn'. A lady never swears. When I get really mad, I say ‘bulldog!’ It’s much more ladylike!”
Grandma twisted in her seat to look over her shoulder at the cars headed toward town. I glanced in the rear view mirror and saw the rusty little foreign car disappearing down the road, regrettably, speeding away from my house. My heart constricted. I was unable to breathe. The horrible truth pounded in my ears. “I will have no date tonight.”
I gunned the engine and “Plymouth” roared toward home.
“What’s the matter, dear? Who was that? Should you be driving so fast?” Grandma’s questions made me to confess the reason for my unladylike outburst.
“It was Lee, Grandma. Daddy’s new employee. He comes to the house every Friday night to get his paycheck and then he asks me out to a movie or something. If I’m not there, he won’t ask me and I won’t have a date tonight!”
“Well, I swear! Why doesn’t the young man ask you before Friday night?”
“I don’t know. I guess he knows I’ll be there and he waits till the last minute. Now I’ve missed him, he’ll probably ask someone else.”
Plymouth’s speed increased in proportion to my growing frustration.
The tires squealed as we rounded the corner of my street, turned into my driveway and skidded to a stop.
“Grandma, this is serious. No movie, no popcorn, no making out in the back seat! Did I say that out loud? Never mind! He’s probably thinking about some other girl right this minute!” The situation was bleak. I needed a plan!
Grandma gathered her belonging, moving in glacial time. She picked up her sweater, her purse and her packages. “Where did I put my overnight bag? Oh, there it is.” The cake she had baked for dinner. The seconds ticked by…. Grandma still gathered her belongings. “No, that’s not it.” She set her purse down, and picked up something else. What could I do? He was getting away. Every second that passed, he was getting farther from my grasp.
“Get out! Get out! Get out!” I screamed, reaching for the door. “I’ll bring your stuff in later!” I slammed the door, nearly catching Grandma’s fingers as she had begun to reach, once again, into the car. Grandma’s mouth dropped open. “Well, I Shaw!!!”
I slammed “Plymouth” in reverse, spun her tires, pitching gravel in all directions until the wheels caught the asphalt. As her tires touched the pavement, “Plymouth’s” gears shrieked and, as though she understood my teenage plight, she streaked down the country road toward town, where my heart’s desire had disappeared. At the highway, mercifully, the road stretched straight ahead without a car in sight. ”Plymouth” lunged forward, 60, 70, 80, 90 miles an hour. At 90 mph, she protested and her front end began to shake and rattle and the steering wheel vibrated violently beneath my hands. I slowed down to 85 mph.
I passed a highway patrolman’s car headed out of town. The officer’s mouth dropped open as he realized the speed we were going. He flashed his lights, raced down the road, looking for a driveway where he could turn around and pursue my speeding car. Traffic delayed him and by the time he had successfully turned around, “Plymouth” was at the outskirts of town. The officer adjusted his sunglasses, gripped the steering wheel firmly with both hands, and hit the siren.
I flipped my ponytail from side to side, unconcerned by the siren behind me, as I reached the city limits and slowed the car to a mere 50-mph. Never mind, Lee was NOT getting away!
Several blocks ahead, the cars lined up at the stoplight in the center of town. Lee’s dilapidated little car sat immobile, about 9-10 cars back from the traffic light. The traffic light allowed pedestrians to cross the crosswalk, and then allowed one or two cars to make a left turn onto the main street and one or two cars to go either straight ahead or turn right.
The ancient traffic light, designed in the 1920’s when Model T’s shared the street with horses and carriages, had worked in my favor. It had given me time to throw Grandma out of the car and return the mile and a half to town while Lee sat stuck in traffic waiting for his turn to make a right turn. I thanked the long-dead City Council members who had ignored the pleas of town citizens to replace the antiquated traffic light on the only intersection in the tiny town.
The siren shrilled louder behind me and I felt compelled to turn right a block back from the traffic light to evade the officer of the law. I skirted through the parking lot behind the donut shop and turned left into the alley next to the Chinese Restaurant.
A skinny, striped gray cat balanced on the edge of a garbage can in the alley ahead. His tail gyrated, maintaining his balance as he reached one skinny leg into the garbage can where the tormenting aroma of smoldering Chinese Chicken tickled his delicate nose. The precariously balanced can gave way to gravity, spilling the cat and its contents directly into my car’s path. “Plymouth” swerved a hard left and then right and straight ahead to Main Street, barely missing the cat and the garbage can, which rolled to safety behind my speeding car.
I swung right at the corner, a good block beyond the antiquated traffic light where my “intended” and the righteous Defender of the Highway still sat stuck at the interminable light. The sound of the shrill siren receded as I raced up the hill on the outskirts of town. I was now several blocks ahead of my quarry and parked in front of the Dairy Queen.
My hands trembled as I applied a touch of lipstick, licked my finger and moistened my eyebrows, ran a comb through my ponytail, and waited the minute and a half for the rusty little car to chug into view.
Lee passed my car, glanced momentarily at my trembling Plymouth. She shivered in relief as a thin wisp of smoke rose through the cracks around her smoking hood. I innocently waggled several fingers in his direction as Lee passed my car. He glanced back to the road and then whipped his head around to look back. He turned his car and returned to where I sat waiting, breathlessly, a tantalizing smile on my innocent, virginal, hopefully enticing face.
“Didn’t I pass you on the highway not ten minutes ago, going the opposite direction?” he asked, passing his hand over his incredulous face.
“Yes, I believe you did.” I batted my beautiful brown eyes and tried to look alluring, as only a 17-year-old girl in love can, having plotted, pursued and run her unsuspecting prey to ground.
“How could you possibly be here, on this side of town? You didn’t pass me on the road.”
“I took a shortcut.”
“But there’s only one road through town. How did you get through the traffic light?”
“I didn’t go through the traffic light.”
He ducked his head and looked into the backseat. “And wasn’t someone else in the car?”
“That was just Grandma. I dropped her off at home before I came back into town.”
Lee shook his head in disbelief. He couldn’t understand how I could have taken Grandma home, returned to town and reached the other side of town without passing him on the road.
In truth, I had been blessed with good luck, raging hormones and an overwhelming desire to reach my objective. I had been blessed with an antiquated traffic light and a policeman way below his pay grade, trying to catch a hormonal teenage girl in a hot 1957 Plymouth.
Guys really don’t stand a chance. There are few forces in the world that can equal an adolescent female with her sights on a man. The power of a hurricane, an avalanche, a tsunami, a hurtling train or a speeding bullet, don’t hold a candle to the cunning, plotting, conniving, and ruthless determination of a teenage girl in love.
Well, to finish the story, I got my movie date and I got the guy. Grandma made another batch of pickles and came for dinner the next Friday night… Oh, by the way, Daddy picked her up after work.