Friday, November 18, 2022

Brass Knuckles


    I love telling stories. I also love retelling stories that aren't mine. Stories that have been shared with me. Stories overheard. Stories that I have only become aware of because of always watching and observing others. Some stories, I will never repeat. They hide away deep in the recesses of my mind and often my heart. But those stories that are spoken of sometimes are relayed others a bit skewed. My aging mind forgets bits and pieces, words that were spoken, specific locations and even the people present. However, I find that the stories I share are important and often only meant for a person or two rather than the masses. 

    My mother was an excellent story teller and she had a superb memory. She could recall her junior high school teacher's names and her eyes would glimmer as she spoke about a treasured friend who lived down the street when she was five years old in St. Paul. She rarely needed to take out a cookbook or reference a recipe card as she stored it away after one cursory glance. As she aged, my sister and I noticed that some of the details would be edited or omitted when her memories became a little fuzzy around the edges.  

    When my sister and I were small, my mother regaled us with stories of her travels and stories of her family from when she was growing up. We always paid very close attention when she spoke of our Grandpa Joseph because he had passed away in 1962, many years before either of us were born. She spoke of his kindness, how everyone liked him and how he worked hard and was a great father. Grandpa Joseph was quite a bit older than Grandma Charlotte and that often reflected in the conversations they would have, how they parented and even in how they spent their time. Grandpa liked road trips and Grandma wasn't really a fan, but went along with his plans as she knew their three kids would enjoy any adventure. 

    Our mom often retold a story of a road trip they took out east. She spoke of different places they stayed, attractions they saw, pictures they posed for and postcards purchased. Do I remember most of the details she shared? I do not. But I wish I knew more. I will have to ask for more information from my aunt and uncle, her brother and sister this Christmas when we see each other. But what I do remember of that road trip to New York always makes me smile. 

    "Daddy always drove. ( I loved that she always referred to her dad as Daddy, even though she was an adult and he had passed away over 20 years prior.) I remember how much I liked that car and remember it felt spacious even with us three kids in the back seat driving across the country. I remember loving the city and couldn't believe how dirty it was and so much different than St. Paul and Minneapolis. Daddy got turned around right in the heart of New York City. (It probably wasn't in the heart of NYC, but that was the way she always told the story.) We seemed to drive down the same streets over and over again, but he persevered and kept peering out the windows trying to find out destination. I remember how warm it was that day and being in between so many buildings there wasn't much of a breeze. With all the windows down to let in as much air as possible, I remember Joe asking for water and Char wiping her head with the back of her hand and I kept pushing my curls away from my face. We were miserable in that hot car but tried not to complain because we knew it was stressful not being able to find where we were going."

    "As Daddy drove down a back alley, two men stumbled out of a doorway and slammed the back door of an apartment building." 

    ""Maria! Maria!"" A man called up to a second floor apartment. ""Throw down my brass knuckles!"" (The name of Maria was added because I have forgotten the name that was shouted.)

    "My eyes were as big as dinner plates. I stared at my parents in the front seat waiting for their response." Mom continued her story.

    "Placing her hand on your grandpa's arm on the wheel, grandpa took a deep breath. ""Joseph, get us out of here now. Kids roll up the windows immediately. We aren't sticking around see any brass knuckles in New York today."" My grandma Charlotte announced. 

    Do I know what happened? No. Do I wish I did? Absolutely? Did they see any brass knuckles being thrown down from the second floor apartment? What happened then? That was the end of the story. My mother ended the story there every time. She smiled and laughed to herself, but never volunteered any additional information. It has taken me until now to realize that it is a complete story in and of itself. My mom herself, may have not remembered any additional information. That story that she fondly remembered served a purpose in her mind and in her heart. The information she remembered and shared was all that mattered. 

    She told us that she enjoyed the road trip with her family. She enjoyed their company. She spoke of being protected and feeling safe in the presence of her mom and dad. She spoke only the words that mattered. 

    I have shared this story with my daughter a few times. I am sure I haven't gotten all the info right and am probably not doing it justice. But I smile and laugh to myself and remember the joy my mom experienced when she shared it with my sister and I. Her name may have not been Maria and I may always want to know what happened next, but for now, I have shared all the words that matter. 

JoAnn Grace Cook- 1945-2013

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