Hamilton, Alabama, is a town of less than 7,000, straight out of Friday Night Lights. Most businesses had "Go Aggies!" on their marquees -- the Hamilton High School Aggies, of course. As far as national chains go, there's a McDonald's, a Wal-Mart, a Sonic, and that's about it. It's a dry county; we were advised to drive 83 miles to Tuscaloosa for wine or beer. (We went without.)
There were a lot of nice people in Hamilton; there were also many interesting characters. One in particular lived across the street. He was older, at least 65 but possibly as old as 80, few teeth, and spent lots of time sitting on his porch watching us. He had a uniform of flannel shirt, overalls, straw cowboy hat, curved pipe. When it got hot out, it was the same uniform, but no shirt. He also enjoyed riding his adult tricycle back and forth on the sidewalk in front of his house, honking the clown horn on the handlebars. (See photo below. Apologies for poor picture quality -- these were taken with a cell phone camera.)
Saturday afternoon, Steve's brother-in-law Skip started talking to Tricycle Guy. On a lark, Skip asked Tricycle Guy if he'd like to buy Grandma Sara's 1995 Ford Taurus (145,000 miles, needs a jump to start). Tricycle Guy offered $995 for the car, and Skip accepted, still unsure whether the guy could pay. To everyone's amazement, Tricycle Guy reached into his front overall pocket and pulled out a wad of $100 bills -- Skip estimated there were about 50. Tricycle Guy pulled off 10 $100s and handed them to Skip. Steve's mom signed over the title. Skip jump-started the car and drove it across the street, where it sat for at least the next four days (when we left). A few times a day, Tricycle Guy would ride his trike around the car admiring it. At no time did we see him start it up.
On Tuesday, as Steve and his parents finished up a few last things before heading home, I walked the two blocks to Sonic to buy lunch for the family. If you're familiar with Sonic, you know that it's geared toward the automobile, with menu/ordering speakers at each parking space. You place your order and a girl brings out your food a bit later. It comes on a tray that can sit on your window if you choose to sit in your car and eat. I wasn't sure what the protocol was for walk-up traffic, and I walked into the building. I was greeted with shocked stares from the low-wage workers within -- apparently customers NEVER go inside Sonic. I asked them how one orders without a car (no doubt they are still talking about the dumb Yankee without a car who didn't know how to order) and they directed me to a picnic table outside with its own menu/speaker. I walked outside to the table, pressed the "ORDER" button, and then gave my order to the same girls I'd just spoken with inside.
On the way back from Sonic, I passed one of the neighbors from across the street. She'd borrowed a $100 bill from Tricycle Guy so she could buy a bureau Steve had set outside (with a penned sign that said "$40. Pay inside."), but Steve's mom didn't have $60 change. The neighbor returned a few moments later -- with a Sonic bag and the change she got after paying for her lunch with a $100 bill -- to find another guy admiring the bureau. She came running up to the door with cash and Sonic bag in hand, saying something about finders keepers. We helped her move the bureau onto her porch and she took it from there. (She's the figure standing behind Tricycle Guy in the photo above.)
We made three trips to the Guin (pronunciation unknown), Alabama, Salvation Army, our rented pickup truck piled high with boxes of clothes, small furniture, and assorted tchotchkes. The last trip was mostly small furniture. Another donator had left an old recliner to the right of the door (a few feet away from most of our boxes), so we decided to place an end table appropriately next to the recliner. Steve then put a lamp on the end table. I took a broken lampshade across the street to a dumpster as Steve continued to add items. While walking back, I saw Steve place a throw rug at the recliner's feet, and then a console table a few feet in front of it. I was wondering what he was doing with that table when I saw him go back to the truck and retrieve a 13-inch TV. (See photo of living room scene below.)
We wished we could have seen the reactions of the Salvation Army volunteers the next morning. (Hopefully it was amusement rather than dismay at the volume of donations left outside.)
We made the best of things, but in the end, we were there for a funeral. Even I was sad to lose Grandma Sara, and I'd only known her a few years. I met her right after my own Grandma died, and I remember thinking that it was almost as if I still had one grandparent left. Grandma Sara played piano and autoharp (among other instruments), just like my own Grandma did. (My other Grandma died when I was 4, and I do remember her, but for most of my life there was just one Grandma.) After Steve left for Iraq, Grandma Sara called me at home to ask if it was true, if Steve really had gone away. I had to tell her that he had. She asked me if I had a job to keep me busy. I said I did, and we chatted for a bit. She told me to call her from time to time, but I am sorry to say I never did get around to that. I did, however, send her a postcard from a business trip, so she knew I was thinking of her. When I talked to her on the phone that time, I mentioned that we hoped to see one of her choir performances, and she invited me to perform with her group anytime. I demurred, saying I wouldn't know the music, but she kept the invitation open nevertheless.
One of the things we found in Grandma Sara's personal effects was a class picture of Steve from around 2nd grade. On the back she had written: "Steve: A Wonderful Grandson." It was a sweet gift from beyond the grave. But Grandma Sara wasn't done yet.
Next up: Grandma Sara's Last Gift.