The Evil Eye, Part 2
In the mid-1960s, we took car rides on Sunday afternoons. Gas was cheap, stores were closed, and riding around the countryside seemed better than not riding around. Mom would drive her two-door Ford Fairlane 500 with Mémé as co-pilot and the three of us girls would ride in the back seat—no gadgets to entertain us, just the promise of “lovely scenery” and maybe an ice cream cone if we were good.
When the “Ride-for-Fun” program began, Lisa was seven, I was nine, and Tina was eleven. We were three chubby back-seat blondies in a row with dreams of ice cream dancing in our heads. The car was black with a gray vinyl interior and the only thing automatic about it was the transmission. I remember one ride particularly well, not because of our destination, but because of what happened during the ride.
Mémé was wearing a hat. Every time she went outside, summer or winter, a hat completed her outfit. The hat was prophylactic. It was intended to protect her from menacing migraine-causing drafts. As an extra precautionary measure, all the windows and vents in the car were closed.
It was a sunny day and the interior of the car started heating up. I was sweating in the back seat, the vinyl sticking to my fleshy young thighs. I looked to my right and to my left. Beads of sweat were trickling down my sisters’ foreheads. I picked my leg up and it made a ripping sound. My sisters noticed and did the same. It sounded like we were tearing open Christmas presents.
“What is going on back there?” my mother said, her narrowed eyes looking at us through the rearview mirror.
Not being ones to suffer in silence, we thought it wise to alert the adults regarding the situation brewing in the back seat. And she did ask.
“Can you open a window, please? We’re really hot!” I pleaded, remembering my manners.
Mom said, “You know an open window wouldn’t be good for Mémé.” Mémé stared straight ahead, but I could see her slight imperial nod of approval.
We automatically produced a collective sister-sigh.
Mom continued, “It really isn’t all that hot. Be still and enjoy the beautiful scenery. Think about what flavor ice cream you want at Howard Johnson’s.”
The ice cream bait was a clever diversionary tactic. But I could see her flushed face. We were all trapped in a rolling crematorium. She felt it, too.
“But it’s boiling back here!” Tina argued. We were sitting fleshy shoulder to fleshy shoulder, radiating body heat like three over-stuffed hot tamales. I was sure that one of two things would happen in that black car on a sunny day with no air circulation:
- We would die of some heat-related disaster before an ice cream cone could possibly save us.
- We would fuse together and have to join the circus as the newest addition to the “Freak Show” Exhibit: Conjoined Triplets.
Either way, these two women in the front seat would have a whole lot of explaining to do down at the police station if things didn’t change in a hurry.
Maybe if Lisa begged, they would show some mercy. “Please, can’t you open the window even a little bit?” She was good.
This request was tantamount to putting a “hit” out on Mémé, but desperate times called for desperate measures. Three adorable Rubenesque blonde girls with their whole lives ahead of them versus one old miserable woman who was endlessly ill—who would you pick?
Mom looked at her mother with that how-about-it look. Sitting in the middle of the back seat, I could see her eyes in the rear view mirror. I knew pleading when I saw it. Mémé heaved a heavy sigh and rolled open her window about four inches. I smiled when I saw the window rolling down. Relief was on the way.
What happened next remains a mystery. Perhaps a NASA scientist could explain the astrophysics of it. Before any heavenly rush of cool air ever reached the back seat of the car, Mémé’s hat was sucked off her head and disappeared out the window. Unless you count vacuum cleaner mishaps, I’d never seen anything like it.
We were immobilized. My sweat stopped in mid-drip. I couldn’t believe what just happened. This was like a miracle; only miracles are supposed to be good. This was definitely not good. There was Mémé: hatless, white hair askew, a dazed look on her wrinkled face. Mom gasped. She continued driving, but she kept looking over at her mother, trying to comprehend what happened. We never tried to get the hat back. It was probably sucked into the Twilight Zone. Trouble doubles when you enter the Twilight Zone. And we didn’t need more trouble.
We each got Mémé’s best Evil Eye. I think she assumed we knew what would happen to her precious hat if the interior air pressure of the car was suddenly disturbed. She totally overestimated our aptitude in science class. If only we had allowed ourselves to spontaneously combust in the back seat of that Ford Fairlane 500, things would have been so much better.
We didn’t stop for ice cream. I would’ve had two scoops of maple walnut. Instead, I got grandmother-cursed. Again. That never would’ve happened to Opie.