Ancient History

“Prone But Not Forgotten”

Michael J. Moran

 

Hazel Harzinsky seemed remarkably well adjusted for a person in her condition. As a young woman she had sustained a terrible injury in a roller derby contest that resulted in irreparable damage to her spine. For the rest of her life Hurricane Hazel, as she was known on the roller derby circuit, would lay in an old fashioned hospital bed on her stomach propping herself up on her elbows.  She lived her life in the front room of her modest wood frame duplex house being tended to by visiting nurses and her sister Gracie. The front room that constituted Hazel’s world was usually overheated and always had the aroma of rubbing alcohol tinged with a hint of a recently used bedpan. In spite of this potentially depressing situation, the atmosphere in Hazel’s front room was rarely gloomy.  Her attitude seemed to be one of accepting things she could not change, or as she would put it when asked if she wished that her circumstances were different, “Wish in one hand and shit in the other and see which gets filled first.”

Due to her gregarious nature, caustic wit, and salty language, Hazel’s front room was the social center for many neighborhood women. She would entertain the neighbors with profanity laced criticisms of people she resented including the Pope, Lithuanians, and Eleanor Roosevelt. A special level of animosity, however, was reserved for two targets: Gracie’s husband, “Monk” Monkunas, and the Salvation Army Band.

Her dislike for her brother-in-law went back many years. Monk was Lithuanian and Catholic which, in Hazel’s view, was like having a scarlet “L” and “C” emblazoned on his forehead. In order to marry him, Gracie had to convert to Catholicism. That never set well with any of Gracie’s Lutheran family who probably would have had an easier time accepting Gracie becoming a Communist. To make matters worse, Monk had been a drinker in his younger days which resulted in many regrettable incidents. Perhaps the most embarrassing was the time he crashed his car into Izzy Stein’s furniture store while chasing a UFO, only to discover later that the UFO was actually bird shit on his windshield. As a result of all this, Hazel never missed an opportunity to criticize or belittle Monk referring to him most often as “that silly son-of-a-bitch that married my sister.”

The source of her hostility toward the Salvation Army Band was not as apparent as their only offense was an effort to bring some joy into her life. In spring and summer months the local Salvation Army group, as part of their ministry, traveled around to the homes of “shut-ins,” stood outside their houses, and serenaded them with hymns.  Calling this group a band is stretching things a bit as they consisted of two trumpets, a tuba, a base drum, and a tambourine, the latter two being played by the same ambidextrous volunteer. They would play slow tempo, barely recognizable versions of hymns such as Onward Christian Soldiers and Rock of Ages while neighborhood children in dirty T-shirts sat on the curb with orange and cherry popsicles dripping down their faces enjoying the spectacle. Hazel, on the other hand, did not enjoy the monthly concerts. “The goddamn ‘Sallies’ are here again. Turn the hose on those goddamn holy rollers,” she would bark. She understood that the people were well intentioned, but she felt the presence of those forlorn black-clad musicians on her sidewalk to be demeaning.

In the spring of 1962 Monk was promoted to foreman at the lawn mower factory and the accompanying boost in salary allowed Gracie and Monk to buy a 1959 Ford Ranch Wagon. It was a snazzy red and white model with both a radio and a heater. It had three rows of seats providing lots of room for the family. The second and third rows could fold down creating a great deal of cargo space. Looking at the car from her living room window, Gracie hatched a plan to reconcile her husband and sister.

“I might know a way to lift Hazel’s spirits.” she said to Monk.

”That’d be some heavy liftin’. What’re ya thinkin?’”

“That big old wagon we just bought has a lot of room in the back.”

“Yeah, that’s why I bought it, to haul stuff in.”

“Wouldn’t it be great if we could get Hazel on a cot, put her in the back of the wagon and take her out for a ride? That poor woman hasn’t left her house in twenty-five years.”

The idea did not appeal to Monk. Being trapped in a car unable to escape Hazel’s criticisms and jibes was about as appealing as sharing a sleeping bag with a rattlesnake.  “Is it legal to transport a person in a bed?” he asked. “How could we keep her from sliding around? How can we get her out of the house and into the car? What happens if she has to use a bathroom?” He raised every objection he could think of until Gracie, using an icy stare that women tend to develop after a few years of marriage said, “We’re going to give this a try so think about how we can make it work instead of why it won’t.” She had to give the same advice to Hazel who, although intrigued by the possibility of leaving the small front room, was also a bit frightened by the prospect and did not want to be beholden to Monk for any reason.

Reluctantly Monk and Hazel both agreed to give Gracie’s plan a try and began to prepare themselves psychologically for the excursion. On a sunny Saturday morning in June, neighbors gathered to watch as Monk and Gracie carried the prone Hazel out of her house for the first time in twenty five years. She held tightly to the edges of the cot yelling warnings to Monk, “Don’t drop me. Don’t tip me off this goddamn thing. Don’t let my blanket fall off.” They slid her into the back of wagon and with Gracie alongside to stabilize the cot and Monk behind the wheel, the red and white station wagon pulled away to accompanying applause of the gathered neighbors.

They drove all around town showing Hazel the new high school, the renovated town hall, the pizza joint that had replaced the soda shop where she had hung out as a teenager. It seemed that everyplace Hazel remembered from her youth had been replaced, torn down, or allowed to fall into shabby condition. This of course provided Hazel with an entirely new set of targets for her criticism. “That’s an ugly building, They’ve ruined the town, That’s what happens when Catholics and Lithwaks (her term for Lithuanians) start running things.”

“Where else would you like to go?” Gracie asked.

“How about to hell?” Monk thought, “Since I’m already half way there.”

“I used to love going to Harvey’s Lake in the summer,” said Hazel. “Do ya think we could go up there?”

“It’s only about a 30 minutes to the lake, we can do that, right, Monk? After a few seconds of silence from her husband Gracie repeated her question in a more stern tone. “Right Monk?”

“Sure, as long as I’m back in time to catch the Phillies game tonight.’

“You can listen to the goddamn game on the car radio,” complained the cranky Hazel. If you’re taking me out for a ride you should make it worthwhile.”

They traveled up old route 92 and turned onto the Mt. Zion Road on the way to Harvey’s Lake. As they approached a sharp turn in the road, a car coming in the opposite direction crossed into the path of the red and white Ford forcing into a ditch. Gracie and Hazel were thrown around in the cargo area but sustained nothing more than a few bumps and bruises.

“Everybody all right?” asked Monk.

“I think so,” said a shaken Gracie, “We just have ta get Hazel back onto the cot.”

“That dumb ass didn’t even stop to see if we were hurt,” Monk complained.  “He’s probably drunk.”

After getting Hazel repositioned, Monk started to inspect the car. To his utter disgust he found that the right front wheel was at a severe angle.

Holy Jumpin’ Jesus,” He exclaimed. “The suspension is all screwed up, tie rods, CV joints, it’s a mess.”

“Leave it to you, you silly son-of-a-bitch to take me out for a ride and almost kill me,” complained Hazel from her stomach in the cargo section. “Now what are we supposed to do?”

Monk, having about all the frustration he could handle at the moment, shouted back, “Complain to your sister. I knew it was a bad idea to haul your sorry ass around in a station wagon. And it wasn’t my fault.”

“Can you fix it?” asked Gracie.

“How? I don’t carry around an extra front end suspension” Monk shot back.

“Well I guess you’re either going to have to walk to find a garage or flag down a car to get a lift.”

The Mt. Zion Road was not heavily traveled but another car finally came along and was flagged down by Monk and Gracie .The driver offered to take one of the stranded travelers up the road to a service station.  Monk went off with the good Samaritan leaving the two women in the car at the side of the road.

About a half hour later a beat up old tow truck approached and pulled in front of the disabled station wagon. Monk jumped out of the passenger side and a grease covered, gnome-like character with about a three day growth of beard and an unlit cigar clamped firmly between his few remaining teeth clambered down from behind the wheel of the tow truck to survey the situation.

“What’s with the bed?” asked the greasy gnome. “Goin’ campin’?”

“No: explained Monk “My sister-in-law here is paralyzed and we took her out for a ride.”

“Well ain’t  that sumpum” the tow truck driver responded. “Can you move her out and sit her up in the truck?”

“No, she has to stay on her stomach.”

“Well I can’t tow a car with a person in it, especially one layin’ on a cot”

“Can’t you fix it here?” asked Gracie.

“No, First of all I gotta order replacement parts, and second I gotta get it up on a lift. This ain’t the kind of thing you can do on the side of the road. Nope, gotta tow it in.

“Well, what do we do with her?” asked Monk.

After scratching his stubbly beard the tow truck gnome said, “Maybe we can put her up on top of those tires on the back of the truck and tire her in with some ropes. Did that with a deer I shot last year.”

“You’re not tying me on the back of some goddamn tow truck” protested Hazel.

“Maybe we can call an ambulance” suggested Gracie

Monk, who saw a high deductible chewing up more of his monthly salary than his recent promotion provided was quick to say, “Ambulance crews charge a lot of money for transporting people especially when it is not a medical emergency and you’re not from their town.”

As the three perplexed people stood staring at Hazel and the broken down Ford, a familiar vehicle approached from the opposite direction headed toward town. The red van of the Salvation Army band pulled over on the opposite side of the road and stopped. Out bounded Captain Dana Albright to offer his assistance. When Captain Albright recognized Hazel in the back of the car and was told of the predicament, he did not hesitate to offer a Christian helping hand.

“We can move the base drum and tuba over a bit and we can put the other instruments on our laps and I’m sure that we can fit you and your cot in the back of our van. There might even be room for your sister to squeeze in with you. The only thing is we’ll have to make one stop to play for one of our regular shut-ins. You know better than most, Sister Hazel, how much house-bound people enjoy our little ray of musical sunshine.”

At this point Hazel turned to the tow truck driver and said, “Tell me again how you could tie me on top of those tires.”

“Now don’t be silly” said Gracie, “This is God’s way of looking out for you so let’s just get in the van and get home.”

The traveling musicians rearranged the van and transferred the grumbling Hazel to the new vehicle. Monk stayed with the tow truck man and instructed Gracie to send someone out to pick him up at the repair shop. After a stop and a sidewalk band performance on Eighth street in Snydersville, the van arrived back at Hazel’s house. Captain Albright and the others helped carry Hazel into her front room and got her into her familiar bed.

“I’m sorry we won’t have time to play for you today” said the Captain, “But we will surely be back next month.”

“Great, something to look forward to” said Hazel with sarcasm that was lost on the smiling Captain.

“Well that was a disaster,” complained Hazel as the red van pulled away. “All the special places I remember are gone, I’m gonna have bruises all up and down my arm, and then to have the embarrassment of being hauled around in the back of a goddamn Salvation Army van while they play that dreadful music on the sidewalk was just awful. I never want to leave this house again as long as I live! ”

And Hazel got her wish. The next time she left the house was a few years later in another van, this one the property of the county coroner. Her funeral was attended by most of the neighborhood women. There was a brief ceremony at Trinity Lutheran Church followed by burial at the Greenwood Cemetery. To the surprise of almost everyone as Hazel’s coffin was being carried to the gravesite, the red Salvation Army van appeared. The black uniformed occupants, a bit older but no more talented, brought out their instruments and prepared to play their repertoire of hymns.

“Who the hell told them to come here?” whispered Hazel’s other sister Clara.

“Gracie turned to Monk who, head bowed in mock reverence, could not hide the incriminating smile spreading across his face.

“Oh!” scowled Gracie, “You are a silly son-of-a-bitch!”

As they lowered Hazel’s coffin into the ground to the labored off-key strains of Amazing Grace, Monk thought to himself, “After all these years I bet she’s finally turning over.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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