My New Hampshire Grammy was a worried little woman – wisely worried, really, since there is indeed danger everywhere. She’d have taken last week’s Florida sinkhole death right in stride, though, adding it to her “See? I told you so!” defensive arsenal.
We’re a family of deep and constant worriers, and she as matriarch made a handy scapegoat for our own irrational hand-wringing. We’d catch ourselves getting all worked up and think, “Well, at least I’m not as bad as Isabella.”
“Yet” was always the unspoken last word.
“Watch out for your neck!’ is what Grammy shouted as she scampered across my uncle’s twilight field, waving her arms and moving at an amazing speed for a short stout woman of a certain age not given to physical fitness.
She’d been standing at the kitchen window looking out over her family, which had gathered that day to help my uncle move into his new Vermont farm. Old Vermont farm, rather; not for him the Olde Yankee Farmette that monied flat-landers were starting to put up wherever the old guard sold out to subdivision.
The move-weary adults were sitting around in the summer dusk talking quietly and recovering. We cousins were all messing around in the empty moving van, rejoicing in relative freedom from supervision. Grammy, though, had not forgotten us. “Watch out for your neck!” she sang out in her quavering little soprano, waving the dishtowel she’d been wringing and running us down.
She envisioned the back door of that van rolling inexorably down to crush us.
“Now, Mother!” said an uncle, stroking his chin, a mordant sparkle in his eye. “Those children would have to lie down on the end of that truck with their heads stretched out over the edge just so and then watch and wait while that door came down on their necks.”
She got her way, though. We were forbidden the truck, and a new cautionary phrase entered the family lexicon.
Grammy’s little red house was perched on a steep hill close to a narrow road notorious for speeding traffic. She feared for years that a car would crash into her house on some ice-swept night. We all rolled our eyes and patted her fondly on the back – until a car slid off the road one winter and slammed into her bedroom at midnight.
Having rehearsed this inevitable scenario, Grammy was cool, calm, and collected. She found her teeth, pulled her good bathrobe on over her nightie, made sure the young driver hadn’t been seriously hurt, and then brought him inside (the right way) for tea and toast while she phoned the police. She was perfectly prepared, and not especially shocked to find a Chevy Nova parked beside her dresser.
She seen it comin,’ my father-in-law would say.
In the Granite State, even fragile little red houses find themselves on pretty firm bedrock. That the ground might swallow you up in a Lovecraftian nightmare was too far-fetched a fear for anyone – even Isabella – to entertain.
“It was just his time,” people intone, shaking their heads over the Florida incident.
Let’s see. This implies that God started dripping water on a crack in that limestone thousands of years ago just to kill some poor slob who was eventually ordained to set his bed up on top of it. Is this really what a Divine Plan entails? Does God really need to bother with this sort of sadistic micromanagement?
If you are eternal and omniscient and omnipresent, though, you’re probably also bored to death, having already seen and done everything and written all the spoilers yourself. With all that time on your hands, you really could afford to watch that stone dissolve, resolving not to build your church upon that particular rock.
It was just his time, “ . . . and all that’s left is the TV cable, running down into the hole.”
After reading that for the umteenth time, I started to giggle. I pictured the poor man holding his wide-screen television aloft, trying to ascend the wire as Jack did the beanstalk, universal remote clenched in his jaws. I suppose we anchor ourselves to life with lines more tenuous than TV cables. We all try to watch out for our necks.
The earth is a smug smiling cat with a mouse in her mouth, its sad little tail sticking out like that television cord.