The heat was sweltering in the two-story house on Esdale Lane. The only sounds in the living room were Matlock and the whirring of a small, oscillating fan by the stairs. Grandmama sat quietly in her chair counting cross stitches, and I was sprawled out on the couch reading a book.
I perked up when I heard the jingling of Pop Pop’s keys. “I’m heading out to Coffee Club,” he said, his deep voice causing Grandmama to lose count. “I’ll be back in an hour.”
“Oh, Pop Pop, can I go with you? Pleeeeeeease? Please, Pop Pop, please let me go!” I begged from across the room. He nodded his consent, and I jumped up off the couch. As quickly as I could manage, I ran upstairs, put on my shoes, and ran back down to meet Pop Pop by the door.
We walked out to his boxy car, and the passenger door groaned and creaked as I opened it. Heat that could bake cookies escaped from the car as I climbed in, and it took both hands to pull the heavy door closed. I reached for my seatbelt, and the metal buckle was as hot as a branding iron. I hot potato-ed the buckle between my hands until it cooled enough to fasten it.
Pop Pop slid into his seat behind the steering wheel, and he reached for a tiny notebook he had tucked away in the visor and a pen he had tucked away in his shirt pocket. He clicked his ball point pen, logged the date and mileage, returned the tiny notebook to its spot in the visor, clicked the pen again, and returned the pen to his shirt pocket – a ritual I’d seen him perform hundreds of times.
I looked up at Pop Pop with a “please” in my eyes, and he looked back with a twinkle in his. He reached for a small, cardboard container and peeled back the plastic lid to reveal colorful hard candies that glistened in the summer heat like stained glass in church windows. I took a moment to ponder my options and settled on a pink and green piece. I popped the candy in my mouth as Pop Pop popped the car into reverse.
“Can we listen to ‘How Much is that Doggy in the Window?’”
He rummaged through his cassettes to find the right one and inserted it into the car’s tape deck. The familiar song filled the car, and we sang in unison, “How much is that doggy in the window? Ruff ruff! The one with the waggly tail …” I giggled with delight as Pop Pop sang my favorite song with me.
As we continued singing, I reached for the only “toy” Pop Pop kept in his car, an old plastic alligator. In the heat, he felt rubbery and sticky, like he could melt any moment. I made him walk through the air a little before returning him to his home on the dash.
Within minutes, we reached our destination. I hopped out of the car onto the hot, gravelly asphalt and made sure I had everything I needed: Jelly shoes? Check! Homemade Jams? Check! A ponytail with enough swing to make Jan Brady jealous? Check! My favorite guy in the world? Check!
Pop Pop held the glass door open for me, and we walked into Donzelle’s, a family-owned restaurant in our small town, as a bell jingled behind us to let everyone know we were there. The Coffee Club members waved “hello” from their table, and a kind waitress greeted us. Mr. Russell (my best friend Kara’s daddy) stepped out of the kitchen. He teased me and flicked a dish towel in my direction as Pop Pop told him we were there for Coffee Club. The waitress and Mr. Russell both nodded as Pop Pop led the way to the club’s table.
I stood tall and straight as we reached the table. Everyone knew Pop Pop, and it was obvious they respected him. I wanted to be on my best behavior and make him proud.
“Who’s this young lady you’ve got with you, Mark?” one of the gentlemen asked as he leaned back in his chair.
“This is my granddaughter, Rachelle,” he replied. “Rick’s oldest.” I beamed at Pop Pop’s glowing introduction.
“Pop Pop, can I sit on one of the twirly stools?” I bounced anxiously as I awaited his answer.
“Yes!!” I darted toward the twirly stools and hoisted myself onto one. I began twirling, and the kind waitress walked over. “What’ll you have, sweetheart?”
“One Pepsi coming up!”
I twirled again and again until she placed a glass of Pepsi on the counter in front of me. The glass was already sweating from the heat. I took a big sip through a plastic straw and sighed with satisfaction. Coffee Club Pepsi was delicious. I glanced around the walls at the local memorabilia as I continued sipping my Pepsi. The memorabilia didn’t hold my attention long before I was twirling again.
I twirled and looked at my shoes. I twirled and looked at the ceiling. I half-twirled side to side without removing my arms from the counter. Then, I turned and half-twirled side to side without removing my elbows from the counter.
As I twirled, I didn’t catch much of what Pop Pop and the other club members discussed. I heard bits of politics, family stories, and sports related jokes. Pop Pop’s deep laugh resonated above the rest. I smiled with pride as I caught glimpses of him during my twirling. He was the smartest, handsomest, bestest guy at that table, and he was mine.
I began twirling with my tummy on the seat, my knees tucked in, and my feet in the air as I hugged the stool, and I heard Pop Pop say, “Gentlemen, I think it’s time for us to go.” He nodded for me to meet him at the checkout counter, and he reached for his wallet.
As he paid our check, I asked if I could have a dime to buy a peppermint. “It helps kids who are sick!” He obliged, and I rejoiced in my peppermint. I twisted the crinkly paper, unwrapped the peppermint, popped it into my mouth, and skipped out of the door Pop Pop held open for me.
I skipped back to the boxy car. Back to the hot seat belt buckle. Back to the clicking of the ball point pen and the logging of the mileage. Back to the rubbery alligator. Back to the doggy in the window. Back to Esdale Lane.
“Thanks for taking me to Coffee Club.”