My grandmother had this friend named Beulah who smoked like a dragon.
She had the yellow fingernails to prove it.
And the leathered skin.
Beulah had the voice of somebody who’d been smoking Camels for decades, the scratchiest, most guttural voice I’ve ever heard.
A combination of Carol Channing and that woman who played the bailiff on Night Court.
It hurt to listen to Beulah speak.
“Well, Thelma,” she’d say, as she took another drag off her cigarette, and then a coughing fit would ensue before she could dispense any unsolicited advice to my grandmother.
A cloud of smoke seemed to follow Beulah into my grandmother’s kitchen where they’d sit and talk at that aluminum table, kinda like the cloud of dust that followed Pigpen around in the Peanuts comic strip.
The smoke didn’t matter much, though, when my grandmother could no longer bend over to trim her toenails and Beulah would drive her 1964 green Ford pickup down to the house to cut them for her.
After Beulah died my aunt and uncle bought that old pickup.
The summer before I got my driver’s license my aunt decided I needed to learn to drive a standard, so she took me for a drive in it out in their pasture. Lined up in the cab with my aunt and two younger cousins,
we looked like the Culhanes from HeeHaw.
Back in those days the gearshift was on the steering column, so as cramped as we were I always hit one of them when I thought it was time to shift gears. I had to concentrate to remember to push in the clutch when I shifted gears, to let off the gas when I was supposed to, and then to accelerate again so it didn’t die.
It died a lot.
But we sure laughed a bunch that day.
I never got the hang of driving a standard, but I’m glad I got to drive Beulah’s pickup.
Some mighty sweet hands had shifted gears on that truck.