The year was 1965. It was late fall, in the sleepy mill town of Weirton, West Virginia. Sitting in traffic with her three children, Georgiana Mendenhall was becoming agitated. This was a daily occurence on Cove Road, and Mrs. Mendenhall was in a hurry.
“This is ridiculous. I bet there is an old hoot up front, driving like a snail……I bet when we get where we can pass, there will be an old geezer up there. I betcha.”
Her daughter, Vickie, aged nine, took note of her mother’s words. This wasn’t the first time her mother had exhibited road rage. Vickie was sitting in the front seat, unprotected, and unaware that if her mother wrecked, Vickie would most likely go crashing through the windshield. Most likely.
Traffic was creeping. Vickie wished that she was in the backseat with her brother and sister. They were fighting, as usual, but yet it was always fun trying to avoid the sweeping slap that came from her mother, trying to swat at them to quit fighting while she was driving. Alone and seatbeltless in the front seat, made Vickie very aware of her situation as her mother’s road rage increased.
“Damnit the hell any way. Why are we moving so slowly. I NEED to get home.”
Georgiana Mendenhall did not NEED to get home. The woman was out of cigarettes and was slowly edging toward her next smoke. She was closer to her home than to a cigarette store. Of course, there was no such thing as a cigarette store in Weirton, West Virginia. Had there been, Mrs. Mendenhall would have worked there. She needed her Salem cigarettes, those cancer sticks in a green and white package.
Mrs. Mendenhall had no idea that she had left her pack of Salem cigarettes on the coffee table in front of the couch where she sat, inhaling the magic into her lungs. She smoked from the time she woke up until the time she went to bed. She smoked while cooking. She smoked while ironing. She smoked while smoking. She was indeed, addicted. The traffic was creeping, just as the hairs were creeping up on the back of Georgiana Mendenhall’s neck. She was ready to hit the car in front of her.
“Dear God, what is going on up there? If there is an old geezer causing this, I am going to ram him.”
Georgiana’s daughter was frightened for her life. For. her. life. She spoke not a word, however, because it would not make the situation any better. She just smiled to let her know that it was going to be ok.
“What the hell is wrong with you, Vickie?” Mrs. Mendenhall decided to take her edginess and point it right at her oldest child. “Do you think this is funny? I need to get home to fix dinner.” Vickie noted that her mother took grip of the steering wheel as if she were the Boston Strangler. The need for a smoke was becoming intense. Vickie later described the emotional turmoil in the automobile.
“Mom was falling apart. The Traffic jam was too much for her. I tried to joke with her, asking why it is called a traffic “jam” since you should be able to get through jelly. I thought it was funny, but she was having no part of it. She was ready to convulse.”
The children sitting in the back were blind to their mother’s growing need for a cigarette. They made matters worse by yelling at each other. Cheryl claimed that David was looking at her. David stated that he was not. Cheryl claimed that he was looking at her again. David stated that he was not.
And that’s when Georgiana Mendenhall lost her mind.
She began honking her horn. It wasn’t just a “beep beep” as in the Road Runner cartoons that her children loved so. It was a blare. Future writer Vickie noted the sound in a menagerie of synonyms she learned in fourth grade:
“It was a constant barrage, a cannonade, a unrelenting reverberation, vociferation, cacophonous,and dissonant.”
This did not make the traffic jam disband or hasten its agenda. Traffic was as slow as molasses on a summer day in the desert.
Vickie looked over at her mother. Georgiana Mendenhall looked like she was holding a pretend cigarette in her right hand. Beads of perspiration were falling from her brow. The horn blowing continued. The person in the car in front of Mrs. Mendenhall threw up his hands in exasperation. It was not his fault. It was probably an accident that was making the traffic move at a snail’s pace. They were in traffic for a long, long time, perhaps ten minutes. Too long for a short fused, cigarette craving murderous mom.
The traffic seemed to increase in velocity when the road turned from two to four lane. Mrs. Georgiana Mendenhall put her foot on the pedal and accelerated. She moved over into the passing lane and approached the traffic jam culprit, lingering in the right lane.
“You son of a bitch!” growled Vickie’s mother. She put her hand on the horn and the sound blared as they passed the accused. Vickie looked over at the driver. He was an old man. He was driving a purple Cadillac. A very large and long purple Cadillac. She knew the car well. She rolled her window down and waved at the driver as they came beside him.
“Hi Grandpa!’ Vickie mouthed over to the old man. He didn’t take his eyes off of the road. His hands were stationed at 10 and 2 on the steering wheel, an intense look on his face. Afterall, a crazed road ragian was trying to run him off of the road.
“Mom, it’s Grandpa you called an old geezer.” Vickie laughed.
Georgiana Mendenhall did not say a word. She was not fond of her father-in-law, and he was not fond of her. He was a big name in this sleepy steel mill town, and he could make her disappear if he wanted to. He was the same man who put his crazy wife in a “rest” home every time he took a cruise or flight to Florida. He could make life miserable for his daughter-in-law. He may drive slow, but his actions in his business dealings were swift. But, he sure loved his grandaughter, Vickie.
“I’m going to tell Grandpa that you said he was a geezer,” Vickie glanced at her mother. Her mother looked ashen. Perhaps it was the want of a Salem cigarette physically making her sick. Or perhaps it was her daughter’s nonchalant way of bribing her mother.
Georgiana Mendenhall arrived at home and reached for her beloved Salem cigarettes. Ahhhh…….. Vickie, of course, had no idea at this age what an orgasm was, but noted that her mother lit a cigarette after she smoked that cigarette.
And three hours later, Vickie and her siblings were summoned to the kitchen, where they found newly baked whoopie pies, sitting in a pile on the kitchen table. “I thought I would make your favorite, Vickie.”
Vickie knew that her silence could be bought. Whoopie pies were an impressive purchase. She also learned that traffic jams are not necessarily a bad thing.
And she learned at the tender age of nine that life is nothing more than one big bargaining chip.