Louise Love Jamison Watkins had convinced my father to drive her from Yarmouth, Iowa to Tampa, Florida in their old blah beige “grand-parent” Studebaker. That was just fine until I was drafted, without a voice, into what was certain to be a nightmare. My father would drive her as far as Springfield, Tennessee, and from there I would accompany her to Tampa. Each of us would return by plane to our point of origin. Please note that neither my sister, nor any of my sweet cousins would volunteer to do their duty for their grandmother.
Louise was a very determined lady. She had recently lost her husband, also named Robert Watkins. For several years preceding his death, they had spent the winter in Florida in their so-called winter home. I imagined that this was a small functional house tucked away in a modest retirement community.
Grandma had insisted from the beginning of the planning that my father would bring her to Tennessee in a day drive and that she wanted to press on immediately and drive all night to actually arrive in Florida. That suited me fine since I assumed she would quickly fall asleep and I wouldn’t have to make small talk as we wondered through most of Tennessee, the breadth of Georgia, and the panhandle of West Florida. So with that in mind, I had the prepared myself by taking a couple benydryl tabs to induce an afternoon nap and by tanking up with a pot of coffee over a few hours prior to their arrival. However, when she arrived in Springfield, her thinking had changed and she was too tuckered to follow Plan A. She wanted to sleep and then leave the following morning. Well, my wife and I lived in a very small second-story apartment, and it only had two small bedrooms with one standard bed in each. With this change in plans we quickly decided that Dad and I would sleep together in our bed, Grandma would inhabit the guest bed, and Virginia was demoted to the couch. She had no idea that she had definitely secured the quietest draw for the night. The three doors between Grandma and Virginia nearly buffered the coming onslaught of “a two person rattle and roar.” Within moments of hitting the sheets my father began a rumble, nearly in tune with Grandma next door, making it absolutely impossible for me to sleep. My grandmother was raising such a commotion that our landlady trying sleep down stairs spoke about the event for years into the future. I spent the entire night wide-eyed as the bed shook with the vibration of the jackhammer next to me. By sunrise, I was not in a very good mood and really thoroughly exhausted.
The next morning I left with my grandmother in their Studebaker coupe that was packed as if she was moving her entire household, no room remained for any of my luggage, except for a small shaving kit. She had so packed the car so that the small attached t.v. antenna stuck out the window next to the tarp covering all the crap she had tied to the roof.
The drive to Florida was rather uneventful as we recalled the wonderful stories that we had experienced together in Iowa when I was a small child. We recounted Santa Claus showing each year for Christmas, her teaching us how to crochet, knit and embroidery. We talked about stringing buttons, sleeping with Grandpa with the utter fear that he would die right next to me, due to the long pauses between snores probably caused by sleep athmia. I didn’t mention it but I recalled that she always smelled uniquely as if her clothes were slightly soured. Come to find out their sulfur well left its telltale odor on anything that went into the wash. I did recall to her that I hated to drink the water at their house. Despite the water, I loved her pancakes that were charred black around the edges by being fried in lard.
When we arrived in Tampa I was not prepared for what was about to happen, I should’ve expected it. I knew my grandmother was spontaneous and just likely to change her mind it any moment. Grandma had committed to put me up in a hotel upon arrival. No such luck. She looked at me in the darkness of the car and announced, “You used to sleep with me when you were little boy and I see no reason why I should have to pay for hotel bed tonight. You can to sleep in a bed with me in the cabin. In those days I was rather reserved about expressing a negative opinion, particularly to my grandmother. So I began to plan in my mind how to make the best out of a horrible thing. I realized, if I did not get right into the house, into bed, and asleep before she did that I would probably spend another night listening to her outrageous snoring. Much to my dismay, I found that the Watkins winter house was really only a two-room cabin with a cement floor with a few throw rugs placed around. The bedroom was a very small, just big enough for a flimsy double bed, dresser and a small sitting chair. The other room was the kitchen with a small dinette table and two card table chairs. It was hardly what I had expected. The bed was an old wrought iron frame with of simple mattress lying upon rows of metal strips with springs on each end to keep it stable. Immediately, I had visions in my mind of trying to sleep in the sorry bed with my grandmother that far out weighed me. I could only imagine that I would be rolling toward her the entire night. As I surveyed the situation, I also noted that there was no bathroom in this “lean to” for retirees. When I went to ask about it, she said all the public restrooms were just down the driveway a piece. So I made my way down to what I found was a “three-holer”, 2 showers and three sinks. The cement floors had some type of green algae growing in the crevices. When I returned from the bathroom, Grandma was deeply involved in conversation with some of her old friends that had obviously lived there for a number years. So I excused myself and headed for bed to try to get asleep before she arrived. But when I arrived, I could not get out of my mind the picture of Grandma crawling into bed. I could not begin to get sleepy; sometimes I was angry, the next moment I was at the point of giggle. So I laid there and tossed and turned until I finally heard her arrive. She didn’t turn on the lights, thank God. In the pitch-dark room, she was obviously making her way by the braille method. My mind had it’s own lighting system and was creatively choreagraphing it’s horror movie. Shortly after entering the room I could hear her shuffling on the other side of the bed from where I was laying. She was obviously her pulling off her moo-moo dress-up and then tossing it toward the small cabinet. Next, she pulled out something from one of the drawers, giving me the hint that she was probably putting on her nightgown. At least, I hoped so. Then I heard her come back over to the side of the bed again. And I heard a scraping sound as if it were a metal pail being pulled across the cement floor of the cabin.
Next, I heard an additional tin “something” hitting against side of the pail. And then all of a sudden it was as if someone had turned on a garden hose into that pail. A bright light came on in my mind–my grandmother, 6 feet away from me, had pulled out a chamber pot and was literally using the bathroom in the bedroom.
I immediately got tickled and had to use every bit of restraint to keep from bursting into laughter. Within just a few moments my grandmother literally rolled into bed and what previously had been a flat surface suddenly became a small ski slope that drifted toward her. Moments later she was asleep and snoring rambunctiously. Again, I lied in bed unable to sleep and could only hold on for dear life to keep from sliding like a baby right up close to her side. I was so tired by early morning that I admitted defeat, recognized I would need therapy, and spent the last couple hours next to a type of Florida heat I didn’t expect.