I mentioned in yesterday's post that the last time I saw my paternal grandmother was when I was 16 years old. By that time I'd been living in Texas for three years with my mother, sister, new stepfather, and new baby brother, and this was the second vacation trip we'd made back to Missouri.
We spent the biggest chunk of our vacation time with my mom's parents, the ones whose home I'd grown up in. Their house was right by the campus of what was then known as Southwest Missouri State Teachers College, and, for as long as I could remember, my grandparents rented spare rooms to college students.
That particular summer their only roomer was a young student whom I'll call "Larry." Larry had just finished his freshman year, and college had been tough on him. First of all, he was away from home for the first time, and secondly, he had such a bad stutter that it was difficult for him to carry on a conversation. All in all, he was kind of a lonely boy.
From Missouri, we were going on to Kentucky to visit my stepdad's family. Our trip would take us through the outskirts of St. Louis, where Larry's family lived, and midway through our stay in Missouri, it was decided that we'd give Larry a ride home.
Bear in mind that this was in the days before cars were air conditioned, and we were traveling in July or August. The two adults, two adolescents, and two-year-old boy who had arrived in Missouri made room for a 19-year-old stranger for several hot, sticky hours.
Looking back on that trip, I can't believe our parents let us be so rude, but poor Larry had to sit in the middle of the backseat, between my sister and me. When she and I had the backseat to ourselves, we'd get mad at each other if somebody's foot strayed across the invisible center line of the car space, so once Larry was plopped down between us, his feet on the hump over the driveshaft, we each scooted over to our separate windows and didn't even attempt to have a conversation. We were hot, tired, bored, and irritable.
Mother and Daddy weren't talking much either because my little brother was sleeping, so we drove in relative silence. About halfway to St. Louis, we started seeing signs that announced the number of miles we'd have to drive until we reached "Jesse James's Hideout." The first sign was mildly interesting, but as we continued on our way, we started seeing them so frequently that each one seemed to be just one more annoying blight on the landscape. After miles and miles of uninterrupted silence, Larry broke the ice and won our hearts when he suddenly spoke up from his perch in the backseat: "J-J-Jesse J-J-J-James' Huh-huh-huh-hideout," he stammered. "N-n-n-n-no wonder they f-f-f-found him!"