Jugaad

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From the Oxford English dictionary: jugaad, n.                                                    [‘A makeshift automobile constructed from inexpensive materials.’]

Because of my mother’s need to lighten her burden after my dad left, Melanie and I rented a house alone.  I was just out of high school and Mel was fifteen.  I drove a Honda scooter that could barely carry two up a slight incline.  Still too young for a driver’s license, Mel bought a ’51 Dodge for two hundred fifty dollars. 

Its humped contour, combined with the brush-painted lilac exterior looked like a lurid Easter egg rolling down the streets.  The driver’s door handle and latch were broken, and exiting meant Melanie had to coax her window open and undo a brass slide bolt screwed to the outside of the car.  

Every night that summer, we cruised Kansas City in her car with an unspoken permit for good girls gone awry.  On one of them, we attracted five boys in a three-tone rumbling jacked-up jugaad.   While they followed us down Main Street, our friend hung her torso out the front passenger window.  Before long, a dark green sedan with two women materialized beside us.

“Pull over, you little whores,” the Medusa haired passenger yelled.  

Melanie and I looked at her and sang our go-to for disapproving adults: ‘What a drag it is getting old.’

“If you know what’s good for you, stop your car.”  Mel sped up.  The Dodge sputtered.  The driver forced her to jump the curb onto the empty sidewalk.  The only thing The Dodge’s tires had in common was baldness, and within seconds, two were flat.

She hit the brakes and I said, “Keep going, Mel.”

“I can’t drive on the rims!”  We learned that from our mother.

“Who cares about the rims if we’re dead!  Go.  Go!”

By then, Medusa was outside our window.  “Get out of that heap.”

Nearly petrified, I managed to lean toward the window and say,  “What could you possibly want.”

“I want you to get out of that car.”  In an unfamiliar work type uniform, she stood taller than our mom who was six feet, one inch.  “Where is your mother?”

“None of your beeswax,” Melanie said.

To no avail, the woman grabbed the dead door handle.  Her rage prevented her from noticing the slide bolt right next to it.  I reached across and opened the passenger door, shoved our friend out, and as we scooted across the seat to follow, our tormentor captured a handful of Melanie’s luxurious tresses.  

“Steph, she’s got me!”  Turning back, I gave the woman’s wrist a quick karate chop, she let go, we stumbled onto the sidewalk and into the arms of the boys from the jalopy.  In all the commotion, we’d forgotten about them.

As motley as their car, all five circled us, including a Vietnam vet on crutches, one leg missing.  The oldest, tall, dark, and Buddha soft, grabbed the swinging passenger from behind.  She thrashed and screamed, “Little whores, they don’t know what they’re doing.”  

“They’ve got the message,” he said, barely above a whisper, “You need to stop.”  As if hypnotized, Medusa collapsed and the episode came to a close.  The boys drove us home and Melanie quickly replaced the Dodge with a red Volkswagen Beetle.

Back then, I believed our independence and luck were beyond cool: they were epic.  It took many years to recognize our nocturnal forays for what they were: a need to be seen.  Otherwise, we never would have collided with the viperous Medusa and her particular desperation to exercise adult supervision.   

Photo by Marissa Bridge

 

Humblings

 

IMG.jpeg                                                       Yours truly in the third grade

Born into a family of unusual names, or so I proudly felt in my early years, none of us ever had to concern ourselves with others possessing the same fore or last names.  My parents, Sol and Jacqueline Urdang, named us Stephanie, Melanie, Nathan, and Gretchen, in that order.

In the third grade, a few weeks after the beginning of school, without understanding her impact on my vanity, a friend at lunch said, “There’s a new girl and her name is Stephanie.”

“No, there’s not,” I said, naively confident since I’d never before met another.

“Oh, yes there is, and she has long black hair all the way down to her waist.”

“I don’t believe you,” I said, staring at the floor of the cafeteria.

“Whether you believe me or not, it’s true.  She’s from California and her hair is beautiful.”

“What’s her last name?” I had a bad haircut but I knew for sure she was not an Urdang.

“Shush, here she comes.”  I saw the blanket of glistening hair swinging in the wake of the new girl, and so did everyone else.  At eight years old, she was a force of nature.  My friend turned in the direction of my ear and whispered. “Stephanie Cassandra.”  I left the cafeteria furious at I didn’t know what.

The third grade was many decades ago and since then, I’m relieved to say I have met a few Stephanie’s without one ego collapse.  The latest was in October of this year.  I was at a doctor’s office and when I heard my name being called, as I followed a Latino girl in her thirties to her desk, she looked over her shoulder and said,  “My name is Stephanie too.”

“Oh,” I said, “what a nice coincidence.”

We sat at her desk as she was filling out papers to prepare me for my time with the doctor.  Without asking if I even had any siblings, she said, “What’s your sister’s name?”

“Melanie,”  I said, purposely avoiding mentioning Gretchen because she died twelve years ago of smoke inhalation.  Memories and words on the subject don’t come easily, especially to a stranger.  Stephanie didn’t respond so I said, “What’s your sister’s name?”

“Gretchen,”  she answered.

Twenty Five Years of Trees, Sixty Plus of Sisterhood

IMGMy sister, Melanie, and I before we knew what was happening, although being almost two years older, I was beginning to.

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 Melanie’s side yard in Northeastern Pennsylvania where she is a weekend gardener of purples.  This Japanese Maple has been dessimated by storms a couple of times, but this year, shaping it was easy.  That’s my job every Spring and I am most proud to contribute to her beautiful vision of country life.

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As sisters who know everything about each other, so alike in some ways that we are taken for twins, yet so different too, we live in a combination of fierce love one minute, and then a clash bangs in and we slide down a slippery jagged slope of unspoken grief that only families can do.

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Forever united, we stand apart like two trees on one ancient estate.

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And miraculously, in spite of lengthy history, our happenstance upbringing, and distinct universes, we are civilized creatures who recognize in each other, the magic Maples that grow inside.