I Am Rosemary's Granddaughter Chapter 3: Too Far to Drive

Too Far to Drive

We left the campus at three-thirty, ready to take a six-but we usually made it in under four-hour drive from Knoxville Tennessee to Starkville, Mississippi. The drive took us through Southeast Tennessee, then Alabama and Mississippi. We sometimes made stops in Birmingham and Tupelo before heading south to Columbus, where my grandmother lived.

It had been our fourth trip together to see my grandmother and our second to Starkville. Michael's parents had wanted him to attend Mississippi State because every generation of Nelson went to MSU's agricultural department but he chose to go to Tennessee with me. He was a fan of the football team and he also had some kind of project he was working on, so it worked out.
The drive took us close to the foothills of the Smokey Mountains and, for the most part, the southern wilderness of no radio reception so we spent most of the time either talking or in silence. Not the "I'm mad at you" silence, but more of the "let's look at the scenery" kind of silence.

“Is she still expecting us?”
“Yeah, she said she have some dinner ready when we get there.”
“Gotta love your grandmother’s cooking.”

My grandmother, Rosemary Novoselic, was the MacGuyver of the kitchen. She could take four ingredients that you should never put together and come up with something unique and flavorful. She hardly ever made the same thing twice and when she did, there was always something just a bit different. Tragically, I can only make ramen and perhaps perform a few wonders with an espresso maker, so I guess you know whose cooking skills I did not inherit.

She liked Michael the first day she met him and she was the only member of my family who actually knew that Michael was more than my "best friend". She figured it out one day when she saw us standing in the field, holding hands. she said we were "too friendly looking" and asked how long we had known each other "like that".

"Do you still want to go to the game? I could leave you with your grandmother if--"
"No, no I want to go,"
"Whatever you say, Pinocchio."
"What about keeping tack of the team's wins?"
"I only do that for your dad," he replied as he waved me off.
"So you really don't follow the game? You don't like football anymore?"
"I like football...I'm just not going to be able to enjoy it because of this project."
"Which Danny's making you do."
"But, since you'll be with me, it all evens out."
"Were you testing me?"
"You passed."

I wanted to slap his arm, but I also didn't want to go careening into a ditch on the side of an Alabama highway.

"So if you're not going to watch the game, why are you going?"
"I'm going to watch the game, through the laptop's webcam."
“I thought you’re not allowed to record football games for broadcast.”
“I’m not really, broadcasting...I’m just capturing it and sending it through the internet to see if it’s possible to stream without excessive lag over a cellular connection.”
“I didn’t understand a word of that.”
“Perhaps I can try out for a part in your next play?”
“No, you’d be too much a distraction.”
“Because of my great acting ability?”
“I was thinking more of your butt, but if you want to call it your great acting ability, go right ahead. You’re not going to get an argument from me.”

We arrived in Columbus a little after eight. Actually, my grandmother lived on the outskirts of Columbus in an unincorporated area of the country called Steens. Her house was at the very end of a long street that terminated at the driveway. She lived there for over forty years, and for fifteen of those by herself after my grandfather passed away.

When we had come down in the past she would put Michael to work; he didn't mind helping as he said that, one day, we wanted a place like it, but bigger...and a larger barn and a tractor with some weird sounding name. He knew how to operate the tractor; how to fix a fence, and what buttons operated the remote control to her TV so he was usually ready to work for the first few hours if he had to.

Michael had not even turned the lights off when grandma opened the door to greet us.
I, of course, ran full tilt to her. Michael caught up with us eventually, as he carried two bags and a backpack.
“Kristi, thank you for coming out."
"No problem."
Grandma broke away from me and turned her attention to Michael. I took the bags from his grasp.
"Hello, Michael. How are you?"
"I'm good, Mrs. Novoselic."
"You hungry? I have some supper waiting for you.” No one in my family ever dared say "No" when asked that and Michael learned quickly.
"Thank you."

It was after eight, but she two plates of salted ham, potatoes and spiced apples, you know, typical southern-country...stuff--hot and ready for us.
Usually, Grandma would sit at one of the chairs at the side and talk with us for a bit about the weather, her cats: farm/barn cats...cats without names but with attitudes.

"How’s school going, Michael?"
"It’s doing well, getting the core classes out of the way."
"It’s all right; a little stressful. I’m okay though."
"I’m sorry, I-I have something for you two. I’ll be right back."

She left us to get up and Michael stood up for a moment, before he sat back down. There it was, the southern charm.

I never tried to guess the things my grandmother wanted to show me. She could bring out a photo album of pictures from 1892, a new recipe for pimento and cheese that scalds your tongue on contact or a dollar bill with John Wayne's picture on it (one of my Grandfather's treasured items). She once sent a pair of shoes that had so much sparkle they would cause blindness if worn in the sun. I got to wear them once...and because they were heels I fell flat on my face...I still have trouble with pumps.

"We need to figure out how to cook like this."
"We'd be better off hiring a cook."
"No, we can learn. Will do it all."
"Go out and kill a wild pig?"
"Wild? No, you raise it and fatten it up yourself."
"I'll make sure there's a spider web in the corner to help him along."

The phone rang, interrupting Michael's thought, which was probably along the lines of "I have no idea what that means but if it makes you happy..." Grandma had a rule about the phone: if she hadn't answered it by the second ring, then pick it up and answer it because she hated trying to use her voicemail.
Michael obliged and answered the phone.
"Novsoselic Residence. Yes sir."
Michael turned to me and mouthed: "your dad" and I tried to avoid choking on my water.
“Yes sir, we have a game in Starkville.
Again, one of Michael's good/bad points was that he was a terrible liar and usually told the truth.
I motioned with my hands, translated, I said: "No, no, no! H-to-the-double-L, no I'm not here."
"He went to the store."
I gave Michael a thumbs-up for that. Kudos. Excellent use of the Pinocchio skill.
"Yes sir. I will tell him. Thank you. Yes, sir, I hope we win too. Goodbye.”

He hung the phone up as my grandmother slowly walked her way back into the kitchen. She held onto a small black box and a Polaroid camera.
“Who was that?”
“Dad.” I replied.
"What did he say?"
"He wanted to make sure we got here okay," Michael replied as he stood and waited for my grandmother to sit down.
"I told him you were coming down. Michael, stay right there for a moment."
She sat down in the chair across from me and handed the box to Michael.
"Open it, please."
Michael looked at the two of us for a second and then opened the box.
“Now I know that what you bought is important, but I hope you’ll like this. The only catch is: I want to hear you tell her.”
I had no idea what he was looking at, I had suspicions...but, again, for all I knew it could be a pocket watch or something.
"Whoa," he whispered.
"What is it?"
"Michael, close it," Grandma stated. "Kristi, stand up."
We were now standing opposite to each other.
"Okay, so--"
"Kristi. Shush."
Michael kept the box closed and then walked closer to me. He then reached out his hand and took mine.
"Kristina Allie Novoselic?"
"Yes, Michael Thomas Nelson?"
"I've loved you since I first saw you. Since that day I wanted to know all about you as there was something special about you. I promise that I will--
"Yes," I replied...with the feeling of wanting to leave the room with him right now boiling up.
"Kristi, let him finish," Grandma stated-which made me cool my libido, a little.
"You make my days brighter and I can't think of anyone else I would want to spend my life with."

Michael had shortened down the impromptu proposal he had given to me over a year earlier. I didn't mind; I hoped he would improvise a bit more, but instead he went for the jugular and lowered himself to one knee.

"Kristi, will you marry me?
"My valiant knight, of course."

He opened the box and took out a white gold ring with a large stone embedded into the band. It was most likely older than the two of us. Michael then removed the first ring he ever gave me and switched it out for the newer...or, older one. I didn't look at the ring as he placed it on my finger; only his eyes. He glanced back and forth between my hand and my face but after it was on he looked at me.
We held an expression we had a lot of times--and tried to hide it when he had to. It was the one that told of everything you want to say to the other person. A sonnet would not suffice; a poem could not be up to par; and a song, has not enough notes to compose.
A camera flash, followed by a "whir-click", broke the mood, slightly.
"That was beautiful."

When I first met Michael, a flash of a different kind had gone off, a flash of anger. We didn't meet on very good terms and by that I mean we nearly came to blows to the head. It wasn't beautiful...kind of comical now...but...

Michael Nelson's first day at Highland Academy was on October 23rd 2001. He arrived wearing the traditional black slacks and polo shirt that all students were ordered to dress in but he also had a belt buckle that was not officially noticed until Thursday. I saw him in a few of my classes, as did Karen Anne (he was in her math period) and we ignored him, as his mannerisms made me think that he probably had a can of dip somewhere in his locker or in his car, pickup, er...saddlebags?....along with the obligatory spit cup in the form of a Dr. Pepper can.
His Garth Brooks-isms "Ma'am", and "thank you" were. Just. So. Out. There. No one under the age of thirty talked that way anymore. I didn't make fun of him but I didn't acknowledge him either. I mean, come on: the thin, artsy guy had nothing in common with the Alan Jackson wannabe so we stayed on distant and opposite sides. KA once struck up a conversation with him in Math...no, actually, he just said, "good morning" to her when she walked by him to get in the room.
I wasn't put off by it.
He then said "Hello," and held the school door open for her.
I had a slight issue with that.

He then had the gall to say, "good morning" to me on a day I had severe cramping. He just passed by in the hallway and said "good morning"..it was more like "good mawnin" actually. I wanted to ask "what proverbial hole in the barn wall Nashville school did you come from?" but held back the venom.

I forgot all about him over the weekend until Karen Anne mentioned him on a phone call Sunday afternoon. Normally, one should allow their girlfriend to talk about anyone at any time, as long as it was tasteful and polite...not gossiping or spewing BS about someone behind their back. She talked about how he lived with his grandmother most of his life out on a farm and just recently moved in with his uncle to live in the "big ol' city"
"When did you talk with him?
"We kind of had a free period Friday."
"Oh," I replied as Karen Anne went on about how her friends were talking all about him.
"He's a pretty nice guy."

I wasn't sure how to interpret that phrase: he's a pretty nice guy. I wanted to think she was saying he was a nice guy. A chap who would help you out; a friend in low places. However, I was reading into it more so about how he was a "pretty, nice, guy". Yes, he was a tall, farmer's tan man and there was no way that Karen Anne could deny that if I asked her; but I didn't. I may have been a quasi-confused about my gender identity teenager, but I wasn't stupid.

The scales tipped on Monday though when I ran through the inside of the gym, as a shortcut to get to theatre. Normally, there was never an issue, as there was a walkway on the side of the gym for that purpose but on that day there was a floor hockey game in-session.
The class was in a frenzy chasing a small, red, plastic puck around the floor. Feet stomping and mouths yelling out like they were deep into a Viking raid with hockey sticks instead of broadswords.

The fury of battle must have been so intense that someone lost their weapon of choice and it flew out in front of me. I was running at the time and so we collided and I fell to the floor.
The gym fell silent for a moment, did they think the worse had happened?

Nope...it took less than five seconds before someone started laughing...or it took that long for me to start hearing it.
I got up off the floor and witnessed the implement of my current social destruction. I grabbed it and felt a bit of rage building up, like the power of the PMS goddess flowing over me.
"Who does this damn thing belong to?" I thought as I scanned the gym floor, looking at all of the guys mocking me.
"Sorry, little fella," a voice I recognized said.
I turned to my side and saw him, Michael Nelson.
"You need to hold onto your stick."
"At least he's got one!" Someone from the floor yelled.
"Didn't mean to trip ya up," he replied as he looked me in the eyes.
"Yeah, well you did."
"Kick his pansy ass, Nelson!"

Michael reached out for the stick but I interpreted it as a grab at me so I moved the stick and tried to hit him with it. He moved back, deflected the strike with his left and grabbed the stick with his right, effectively disarming me. I was shocked and extremely fearful as time flowed like molasses. What would he do?

Michael stood where he was, but two other guys ran in from each side and slammed me down to the ground. I tried to fight, but nothing was going to work. I really couldn't fight back, not against two people while pinned to the floor; I would more than likely have to take the abuse.

"Let 'em go." Michael ordered as he dropped the stick.
"I said let him go!"
The gym fell silent again as Michael grabbed one of the guys and shoved him to the side. The other rolled out of his grasp.

Michael looked at both of them before focusing his attention on me. He was in the correct spot to smash my head in with his foot.
"He's got a problem with me. We'll settle it like gentlemen, not like wild animals."

Michael held his hand out to help me up. I grabbed it and felt a shock to my chest as he pulled me up. For a split second, I wanted him to pull me in completely--wrap both of his arms around me right there. It was a sonnet that I wanted to come true, right there for no sooner met but we looked, no sooner looked but we loved, no sooner loved but we sighed, no sooner sighed but we asked one another the reason--and that would've been what I wanted to do, but--knowing how kids in a private school could be--I just hyped up my bravado.
"Thanks," I replied as I tried to avoid making eye contact with him again.
"When you want to talk about this?"
"Well, I--"
"What's going on here?" the coach had finally made it back and I took the chance to run out of the gym without another word.
"Nelson, what happened?"
"Just playing the game, sir."

* * *

I woke up in bed alone, which was normal when we stayed at my grandmother's. I slept in the front room and Michael in the middle. It was strange waking up by myself, as he was there earlier in the night but....
He wasn't in the bathroom or in the middle room so I had to assume he was in the kitchen, but he wasn't there either.
"He's outside, Kristi."

I walked to the sliding patio door and looked out to the fence and there he was, fixing a broken section. I had no idea where he found the hammer or nails but there he was, sans shirt, repairing the damage. Come to think of it, the wood looked new too, like...
I walked through the house and looked out the front door: the car had been moved and the rear windows were opened. And to think I could never get him to go get me an iced cappuccino at 4:30 PM, much less at seven-thirty on a Saturday morning.

"Yes, dear?"
"Do we have any pepper bacon?"
"Yes, I'm getting it ready now."
I walked back to the patio door and, I guess I got lost in looking at him because the next thing I knew the door opened up and there he was.
"What were you thinking about?"
"Things I can't talk about right now."
"I could tell," he replied as he took my hands.
"Oh really?"
"Yep, you’re drooling a little."
“I am no-“
He moved forward and kissed my cheek.
"You need a shower," I commented.
"Yeah, I know. The fence is back up, Mrs. Novoselic. It's gonna need some primer. I wouldn't use a whitewash."
"Oh you got it fixed?" Grandma's eyes widen as she walked away from the stove and over to the door. I took her place at the stove as she stood next to Michael.
"Thank you, Michael," she gave him a light hug.
"You're welcome, ma’am."
"Go take a quick shower. Breakfast will be ready in a moment."
"Thank you," he replied as he nodded to me and walked out of the kitchen.
"So, have you planned a day?" Grandma asked as she went back to the stovetop.
"We're still going over dates."
"You should have it here."
"I think Michael would take you up on the offer," I answered as grandma placed a shallow plate of scrambled eggs on the table.
I ate lightly--not ignoring that Michael was in the shower, but grandma's other kitchen rule was to eat now and she would make more for anyone who walked in the door.
"I have something else for you, Kristi. It's in the closet in the living room."
"Okay," I got up and walked into the living room and passed a freshly-showered Michael as he went into the kitchen. Grandma pointed to a chair and invited him to sit.
"I made more eggs, bacon and some biscuits."
"Thank you."
I opened in the closet and looked around at several bags on the floor.
“It's in a bag on a hanger!"
I had missed that one. It was either a jacket, coat or something else. I took the hanger off and brought it into the kitchen.
Michael already had two slices of bacon between a biscuit and had taken a few sips of coffee.
"Open it up, Kristi."

Grandma's surprises usually came in threes. The ring (which I had not taken off since receiving it). Whatever the mystery bag contained and something later on...maybe.
"She's going to love this," Grandma said as I tried to remove the red plastic without ripping it. Failing at that, I tore it open.
Within the bag was a short dress and blouse.
Were these surprise two and three or two-point-five?

"Go try it on, see how it looks."
I nodded and then walked out of the kitchen and into the first bedroom.
The dress and blouse were laid out on the bed.
I had second thoughts about wearing it.

I had always been so comfortable wearing my jeans and dark color shirts and these were so colorful. I thought maybe Grandma had accidentally watched an episode of "Extreme Makeover" and was dropping a major hint. I removed my t-shirt, unbuttoned the blouse and put it on instead.
The reflection in the mirror was strange...perhaps it was the shorts in combination with the solid colored blouse so I took those off and removed the dress from its hanger. I moved to the door and quickly locked it, mostly out of habit when my parents would barge in at the wrong time. The skirt was a little big, but it was something I could work with.

I looked in the mirror again and tried to touch up my hair. Still wasn't good with doing anything with it. It was down to my shoulders but I did very little with it, except to let it go where it wanted to. The brush on the dresser beckoned to me.

I opened the door, took a deep breath and recalled doing similar things when I was younger: putting on a runway show for my grandparents, even though my grandfather thought it was peculiar to see me walking past him in the living room in dress pants, like some miniature version of RuPaul or something.

Stage fright never bothered me: I never paid attention to the audience--they all just faded into a kaleidoscope of eyes watching a character. However, as I took a step out of the room, there would be four...or three and a quarter--grandma was not wearing her glasses--eyes staring at me. I closed the door as quietly as I could but the sound reverberated off the wood floor and the next thing I saw was Michael's eyes looking at me.

I tried to ignore them. I really wanted to have them become a blurred soup, lost in the darkness of a theatre gallery, but they were still there, looking at me.

I stepped up into the kitchen and Michael stood up.
"Oh that looks so cute on you," Grandma said.
"Thank you."
Michael still kept looking...or more like staring.
"What do you think?"
"You look beautiful."
"Yes, you do look beautiful, Kristi. Turn around."
I took a step back and turned around on command.
"That looks wonderful on you."
"Are you wearing that to the game?" Michael asked with sincere look in his eyes. He wouldn't care if I wore a gorilla suit or nothing at all. He was leaving the decision up to me,
"You should, Kristi," grandma agreed.
"Yeah, I think I will."
"Looks great on you," Michael replied--failing to hide the lust in his eyes.
"Thank you."

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