“She gave SO much of herself and was always thinking of others and she suffered so. Why we have all this cancer nowadays I’ll never know.” He looks out the window and sadly shakes his head as he thinks aloud: “And sometimes you wonder if God has really anything to do with it.”
They ride in silence before the lady asks if Eddie is headed back East.
“Oh no,” offers Eddie. “I’m on my way up to Delaware… my sister’s daughter lives there with her two kids. Ever since she came over to Bloomington for the funeral, she’s wanted me to visit so I finally said “what the heck.”
“Delaware's a beautiful area,” offers the lady, “my father lives about five miles west of town.”
She thinks for a minute.
“I’m renting a car to head up there,” she offers, ”can I offer you a ride?”
“Thank you no,” says Eddie. “My niece expects me to be getting off the COTA bus at Crosswoods and I don’t have any idea where she lives. I could be wandering around for days.”
They both laugh.
As Eddie rises from his seat a bottle of Levadopa, for the treatment of Parkinson’s Disease, falls out of his pocket. The lady hands it to him.
“I hope you enjoy your stay,” she says in a concerned but pleasant voice.
“And you too,” agrees Eddie with a tip of his cap. “It’ll only be just for a couple of weeks though.”
They both amble off the bus and go their separate ways.
Across from the bus stop a bubbly 30-something gal is waving at him. As Eddie walks towards her she meets him halfway.
“And you said you'd never make it in one piece,” Mary DeLuca laughs.
She places her arm inside of his affectionately and chortles “So, how ARE you?”
“It wasn’t that bad of a trip,” grins Eddie, “and I met some nice people along the way” as he lugs his suitcase over to a 25-year-old lime-green Volkswagen.
“They say that this is a classic now but to me it's cheap transportation and it's great on gas,” offers Mary. “Do you see what they’re getting per gallon now?
“Yeah, agrees Eddie, “and I thought we won the war.”
They buckle up and chuckle as the Volkswagen pops a backfire in protest as it heads north on Route 23.
“That’s my Greenie Bug!” laughs Mary.
Greenie Bug scoots past Walmarts and DollarTrees and Krogers and countless auto dealers.
Eddie lets out another sigh and gazes out the window. A concerned woman in her early sixties across the aisle leans towards him.
“Are you all right?” she softly whispers.
“Oh yeah,” smiles Eddie slightly. “I was just looking at a few memories.”
The lady nods knowingly in agreement. “She was a beautiful woman.”
“We were married for 43 years,” Eddie says thoughtfully. “She’s been gone now for two years.”
“I'm sorry to hear that. I know how you feel… I lost my husband a little over four years ago.”
“Life sure can throw us a lot of curveballs,” smiled Eddie, “doesn’t it?”
“Yes it can but sometimes I think God has many different game plans for us. A lot we can’t understand because we’re just the players.”
Eddie shifts in his seat and glances at the lady.
Taking a right to go by the Library she adds “best library you’ll find anywhere. They’ve got everything in there.”
She turns north, cuts through a couple of side streets, and then into a trailer park.
“It’s seen it’s better days but the owners are up there in age and they haven’t been well lately. The location is great and the people here watch out for each other.” She pulls up alongside a small but well-kept mobile home.
“I found this about three years ago just after Ken took off south with his new girlfriend. It's nice but I'd really like to have a house of my own.”
“Have you heard from him lately?” asks Eddie.
“He calls at Christmas for the kids...”
Eddie nods knowingly. “Out of sight, out of mind.”
“Sissy seems to accept it but Steven is withdrawn.”
As they both get out of the Bug the door opens on the trailer and a 16-year-old Sissy DeLuca comes bounding out. Eddie leans back on his heels and smiles.
“By God she looks just like your mother did when she was that age!”
“Hi Uncle Eddie!” she says excitedly. “Mum, Callie just called and I've got to get over to the Fairgrounds!”
Mary shakes her head and turns to Eddie.
“She helps a girl named Callie Murphy race horses.”
“Harness horses?” asks Eddie.
“Yeah, didn’t you use to work with them?”
“Well yeah…way back when I was a kid.”
“It must be in the blood then... she loves her horses,” laughs Mary. “And at least she out with people.”
She looks at Sissy.
“Where’s your brother?”
“Where else,” answers Sissy. “In his room playing some stupid video game.”
Eddie brings his suitcase in as Mary walks down the small hall and sticks her head into a room. Eleven-year-old Steven is playing a video game as he wears a headset, oblivious to the world.
“Steven! I’ve got to take your sister to the track and you’re coming with us!”
Steven begrudgingly shuts off the game, gets up, and walks to the car.
Both he and Sissy get into the tiny back seat.
“Hallo Uncle Eddie,” he mumbles before going back to playing a game on a handset as they drive off.
Eddie just looks at Mary, raises his eyebrows, smiles, and shrugs.
Mary takes her backroad shortcuts to get to the Fairgrounds.
“What’s so urgent that you have to get over here?” she asks Sissy.
“Callie is racing at Scioto tonight and said she said that traffic on 71 was backed up for miles. She and Pete had to leave early so she wants me to put away the horses they worked this morning.”
“How many does she have?” asks Eddie.
“Only five right now but she’s always looking for another one.”
Greenie Bug chugs into the Fairgrounds gate just as three grooms Hank, Frenchie, and Yee Haw are walking out.
Hank, a 50 plus well-weathered devotee of the horses, stops and stares as the packed Beetle putters by.
“What the hell are they lookin’ for,” he mutters, “a phone booth to cram into?”
Frenchie just raises his eyebrows and twists his mouth as Yee Haw grins widely.
Mary stops the car at the empty security booth and waits until Charley Simmons, the 70-year-old guard, hurriedly comes out of the nearby office, and rushes over to check them in.
“Sorry,” he apologizes to them, “but Mother Nature was calling me.” He gives Eddie a knowing nod.
Sissy leans forward from the backseat.
“Hi Charlie! This is my Mum, my Uncle Eddie, and my brother Steven. We got to go over to Callie’s and put away a couple of horses.”
Charlie recognizes Sissy and smiles. “Hello, there young lady! Callie said you’d be by. That traffic jam on 71 is on the news… a two hour delay at least! I hope they make it in time!”
“Me too,” agrees Sissy, “Cryin’ Ryan looks like he’s the best in there tonight! First race.”
Charley’s ears perk up as they drive away and he reaches for the sports section to check the entries.
They drive past the Coliseum, several barns, and a large impressive stable all decked out in green and gold awnings.
“Now that’s quite the riggin’,” says Eddie.
“Yeah, that’s Mel Hopkins’ Stable,” agrees Sissy. “He’s the leading trainer in Ohio and Indiana. I think he’s been up here since before they had cars!”
“He must have a few years on me then,” grins Eddie as he gives Mary a wink.
Mary laughs but Steven is still absorbed in his video game in the backseat.
The group pulls up to the old but neatly painted barn and climb out of the car. Eddie stretches and inhales deeply as he looks around.
“I haven’t been on the backside for close to sixty years,” he says to Mary as Sissy goes over and studies a note on the wall.
“Steven,” growls Mary, “put the game down and come out here!” He begrudgingly takes his headphones off.
The four horses have light blankets on and are munching on hay. They look at Eddie indifferently when he pokes his head into their stalls.
“I just got to do their legs up in alcohol and grease their feet,” says Sissy as she starts to take the sheets off, “the harnesses can wait to be cleaned tomorrow.”
Eddie instinctively begins to wipe off the equipment. “I can get them today,” he smiles, “no problem.”
Mary is impressed.
“Gee Uncle Eddie… you look like you know what you’re doing!”
“It’s been quite a few years,” he laughs.
One horse juts his head out of his stall and rolls it wildly.
“Why’s he doing that?” asks a perplexed Steven.
“That’s Bert,” grins Sissy, “he’s a loveable pain-in-the-ass. He thinks he’s the star of the barn and if you don’t pay attention to him first then he raises all types of fuss.”
Bert jiggles his head up and down wildly in protest as Steven steps back and laughs out loud.
Yee Hah opens the door to The All American Variety, a small convenience store just about a half mile from the Fairgrounds gate as Hank and Frenchie follow him in. The owner Nick looks up from The Athens News, smiles at them, and speaks with a thick Greek accent.
“Hello, how are you, my friends?”
Yee Hah gives him a wave and a wide grin, walks over to the cooler, and gets a case of beer.
“Hey Nick! Gotta get our supplies.”
Hank pushes Frenchie out of the way and quickly gets a case of Genesee.
“Now gaddamit Frenchie, move it! You can’t be standin’ here with the door open warmin’ up the beer as you try and make up your mind!”
Frenchie just scowls and flips his head.
Nick grins widely as he cashes them out.
“Now you three… don't you get into no trouble tonight! Nick don’t wanna have to bail out my best customers!”
Yee Hah stops and dofts his hat. “Ain't misbehavin'!” he laughs as they head out the door and down the quiet side street.
“Hey Hank,” says Yee Haw, “how long has Nick been here?
“Hell I don’t know,” says Hank. “I know when I don't have a dime in my pocket he’ll always spot me a ten. I think he bought this place about 12 or 13 years ago. He told me that he was a war orphan in Crete and had kinda a rough time but he’s solid as gold.”
They turn onto Pennsylvania Ave and walk towards the gate and wait as a large beer truck from Olentangy Distributors goes by.
“Y’know,” says Hank, “someday we outta hijack that muther-in-law!”
They all grin widely at the thought of it.
As they walk up the gate Charley scoots towards the office again.
“That man HAS to have the weakest kidneys of ANYBODY I’ve ever seen,” says Hank with a shake of his head. “What he ought to do is go over to the New Albany Medical Center durin’ the huntin’ season and have them transplant a moose bladder into him. They’re about the size of a damn suitcase… gotta hold at least 12 gallons!”
Frenchy just shrugs.
“Why,” smiles Hank, “he'd NEVER have to leave the booth! That’s what he needs,” he adds in realization, “a gaddamn moose bladder!
Charley hustles back into the booth as just the trio goes by.
“Then,” says Hank proudly, “everyone could say ‘there’s that damned moose-bladdered son-of-a-bitch now!’”
The trio is grinning widely as Charley waves them in.
Hank is all smiles as he calls out “How you doin’, Moose!?!
Charley just nods ‘hello’ and gives them the thumbs up.
“Lots of stores,” says Eddie in wonder.
“This area is really being built up," adds Mary, "this used to be all cornfields just a few years ago.”
Turning north onto Sandusky Avenue they arrive in Delaware center.
She points to a restaurant sign “Burns” hanging overhead as they go by it.
“That's where I work,” she says proudly. “Famous since 1868. And they don’t burn anything… that’s just the original owner’s name. We've got our regulars that come in like clockwork. And it’s a good crew.”