Cruising Memory Lane: Grandpa's Graham drove a schoolgirl's high sense of shame
March 29, 2013 4:15 AM
Jim Mendenhall/Post-Gazette illustration
By Patty Gunnett
When I was attending Lincoln High School in Ellwood City in the early 1950s, we students collectively held our breaths when the dreaded knock came on the classroom door. We hoped the principal was not summoning one of us.
A well-behaved student, I was surprised and very scared one day when the office helper said to my teacher, "Mr. Shepley would like to talk to Patty Poholsky." My legs wobbled as I started down the long flight of stairs leading to the first floor offices.
Mr. Shepley greeted me with sad news. My grandpa, my mother's father, had died and I had to go home. I loved my grandpa and was sorry to hear of his death, but also was relieved I wasn't in any trouble. My sister was also called out of class and we silently walked home together, almost a three-mile hike.
Since we didn't have a car, my family rode the train to my grandfather's hometown of Sykesville, a tiny, friendly community in Jefferson County. A small funeral was held in my grandparents' home. After lunch, we got back on the train for the long ride home, with the silence interrupted only by my mother's tears.
After weeks of grieving, my parents were informed that they had inherited Grandpa's black Graham. "What's a Graham?" I thought. Then I realized it was the ugliest car I had ever seen, but my parents welcomed it with open arms because it would be the answer to our walking everywhere.
In the spring of 1953, my senior year at Lincoln, my dad would come to pick me up in the Graham when school let out. Walking with my friends, I noticed him parked by the curb, waiting for me. It was so embarrassing to be seen getting into such a hideous car, so one time I pretended not to see him.
One of my friends said, "Patty, isn't that your dad?"
"Yes," I sheepishly responded. "I would rather walk home."
That surprised my friends, who knew how frightened I was to walk across the high bridge over the Connoquenessing Creek to get to my house. But my goal was to keep from being seen getting into such a monstrosity.
My parents were strict on most things, so it was a surprise they never said anything to me about ignoring my dad. Were his feelings hurt? Why wasn't I grounded for a month? I never asked.
When we traded in the Graham for a more reliable, nicer car, my mother cried for days. As I look back, she wasn't crying because the car was being traded in. She was crying because a part of my grandpa's life would no longer be part of hers.