Page 46 of Ford County

From her large red purse she's already pulling out a quart-size flask.

"I reckon not," Lyle says, and I relax. It's one thing to take Lyle out for a little porn, but if I brought him home sloshed, I could get into trouble.

She leans in my direction and says, "He's cute."

Away we go. I expect Miss Ruby to mention the Sonic, and within minutes she says, "Now, Gill, I'd like a cheeseburger and fries for dinner. How 'bout we run by the Sonic?"

With effort, I manage to fit the oil barge into a narrow slip at the Sonic. The place is packed, and I catch stares from some of the other customers, all sitting in vehicles that are noticeably smaller and newer. I don't know if they're amused by the bright red Cadillac that will barely fit, or by the sight of the odd trio in' side it. Not that I care.

I've done this before, at other homes. One of the greatest gifts I can give to my favorite friends is freedom. I've taken old ladies to churches, to country clubs, to funerals and weddings, and, of course, to shopping centers. I've taken old men to Legion halls, ball games, bars, churches, and coffee shops. They are childishly grateful for these little excursions, these simple acts of kindness that get them out of their rooms. And, sadly, these forays into the real world always cause trouble. The other employees, my esteemed co-workers, resent the fact that I'm willing to spend extra time with our residents, and the other residents become very jealous of the ones lucky enough to escape for a few hours. But trouble doesn't bother me.

Lyle claims to be full, no doubt stuffed with rubber chicken and green Jell-O. I order a hot dog and a root beer, and soon we're floating down the street again, Miss Ruby nibbling on a fry and Lyle way in the back somewhere relishing the open spaces. Abruptly, he says, "I'd like a beer."

I turn in to the lot of a convenience store. "What brand?"

"Schlitz," he says, with no hesitation.

I purchase a Six-pack of sixteen-ounce cans, hand them over, and we're off again. I hear a top pop, then a slurp. "You want one, Gill?" he asks.

"No, thanks." I hate the smell and taste of beer. Miss Ruby pours some bourbon into her Dr Pepper and sips away. She's grinning now, I guess because she has someone to drink with.

At the Daisy, I buy three tickets at five bucks each, no offer to pay from my pals here, and we ease through the gravel lot and select a spot on the third row, far away from any other vehicle. I count six others present. The movie is under way. I mount the speaker on my window, adjust the volume so Lyle can hear all the groaning, then settle low in my seat. Miss Ruby is still nibbling at her cheeseburger. Lyle slides across the rear seat to a spot directly in the middle so his view is unobstructed.

The plot soon becomes evident. A door-to-door salesman is trying to sell vacuum cleaners. You would expect a door-to-door salesman to be somewhat well-groomed and to at least try to have a pleasing personality. This guy is greased from head to toe, with earrings, tattoos, a tight silk shirt with few buttons, and a lusty sneer that would frighten any respectable housewife. Of course, in this film, there are no respectable housewives. Once our slimy salesman gets in the front door, dragging a useless vacuum cleaner behind him, the wife attacks him, clothes are removed, and all manner of frolicking ensues. The husband catches them on the sofa, and instead of beating the guy senseless with a vacuum cleaner hose, the hubby joins the fun. It's soon a family affair, with naked people rushing into the den from all directions. The family is one of those porn families where the children are the same age as the parents, but who cares? Neighbors arrive, and the scene becomes one of frenzied copulating in ways and positions few mortals can imagine.

I slide deeper into my seat, just barely able to see over the steering wheel. Miss Ruby nibbles away, chuckling at something on the screen, not the least bit embarrassed, and Lyle opens an-other beer, the only sound from back there.

Some redneck in a pickup two rows behind us lays on his horn every time a climactic moment is featured on film. Other than that, the Daisy is fairly quiet and deserted.

After the second orgy, I'm bored and I excuse myself to visit the men's room. I stroll across the gravel lot to a shabby little building where they sell snacks and have the toilets. The projection room is a wobbly appendage above it. The Daisy Drive-in has certainly seen better days. I pay for a bucket of stale popcorn and take my time returning to the red Cadillac. Along the way, I never consider glancing up at the screen.

Miss Ruby has disappeared! A split second after I realize her seat is empty, I hear her giggle in the backseat. Of course the dome light doesn't work, probably hasn't in twenty years or so. It's dark back there, and I do not turn around. "You guys okay?" I ask, much like a babysitter.

"You betcha," Lyle says.

"There's more room back here," Miss Ruby says. After ten minutes, I excuse myself again, and I go for a long walk, across the let to the very back row and through an old fence, up an incline to the foot of an ancient tree where beer cans are scattered around a broken picnic table, evidence left behind by teenagers too young or too poor to buy tickets to the show. I sit on the rickety table and have a clear view of the screen in the distance. I count seven cars and two pickups, paying customers. The one nearest Miss Ruby's Cadillac still honks at just the right moments. Her car shines from the reflection on the screen. As far as I can tell, it is perfectly still.

My shift begins at 9:00 p.m., and I'm never late. Queen Wilma Drell confirmed in writing that Mr. Spurlock was to return promptly by 9:00, so with thirty minutes to go, I amble back to the car, break up whatever is happening in the backseat, if anything, and announce it's time to leave.

"I'll just stay back here," Miss Ruby says, giggling, her words a bit slurred, which is unusual since she's immune to the booze.

"You okay, Mr. Spurlock?" I ask as I crank the engine.

"You betcha."

"You guys enjoy the movies?"

Both roar with laughter, and I realize they are drunk. They giggle all the way to Miss Ruby's house, and it's very amusing. She says good night as we transfer to my Beetle, and as Mr. Spurlock and I head toward Quiet Haven, I ask, "Did you have

fun?"

"Great. Thanks." He's holding a Schlitz, number three as far as I can tell, and his eyes are half-dosed.

"What'd ya'll do in the backseat?"

"Not much."

"She's nice, isn't she?"

"Yes, but she smells bad. All that perfume. Never thought I'd be in the backseat with Ruby Clements."

"You know her?"

"I figured out who she is. I've lived here for a long time, son, and I can't remember much. But there was a time when most everybody knew who she was. One of her husbands was a cousin to one of my wives. I think that's right. A long time ago."

You gotta love small towns.

*

Our next excursion, two weeks later, is to the Civil War battlefield at Brice's Crossroads, about an hour from Clanton. Like most old Southerners, Mr. Spurlock claims to have ancestors who fought gallantly for the Confederacy. He still carries a grudge and can get downright bitter on the subject of Reconstruction ("never happened") and Yankee carpetbaggers ("thievin' bastards").

I check him out early one Tuesday, and under the watchful and disapproving eye of Queen Wilma Drell we escape in my lit' tie Beetle and leave Quiet Haven behind. I stop at a convenience store, buy two tall cups of stale coffee, some sandwiches and soft drinks, and we're off to refight the war.

I really couldn't care less about the Civil War, and I don't get all this lingering fascination with it. We, the South, lost and lost big. Get over it. But if Mr. Spurlock wants to spend his last days dreaming of Confederate glory and what might have been, then I'll give it my best. In the past month I've read a dozen war books from the Clanton library, and there are three more in my room at Miss Ruby's.

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