Squeaky and the Blizzard of ’78
Frederick Fuchs. Yeah, I remember
him. But nobody could pronounce his
last name when he came to Elburn, so they’d just call him Uncle Fred, or Uncle
Freddie. He wasn’t really related
to anyone in town, so I’m really not sure why we called him Uncle anything.
Course, when I knew him, people called him Squeaky.
Reason being, he used to carry around a small bottle of WD-40, this
metallic lubricant that people used to smooth out squeaks and quiet noises down
with. If there was a squeak, or a
grind of some kind, you’d just ask Squeaky.
He’d fix it. Fix it like
it was winter 1978, the worst snowstorm I ever seen. Definitely the worst Elburn’s ever seen.
Closed school down for a whole week.
So counting the weekends, we got nine days off.
Reason they closed the school was that the buses wouldn’t start.
Or they’d start, but no one wanted to drive them on the roads.
Randall Road in particular. Randall
Road went out of town and climbed the biggest hill in Elburn.
The hill that separated the rich kids from the poor kids. So, the bus drivers, who were for the most part poor,
weren’t the least bit disappointed not to work that day.
They never really said anything, but I knew they didn’t care too much
for most of the rich kids. Reason I
know this, one time, Delilah Pan, this black bus driver who drove us to school
in the mornings, some afternoons, but mostly mornings, couldn’t get Margaret
Mays to stop crying one day. Delilah
had this little metal box, like a radio clipped to her belt, with a wire that
went into her blouse through the space between the buttons. I never asked her
where the wire went, but she said it helped her heart stay happy.
She even wrote the words “Mr. Happy” on the outside of the radio with
an indelible marker. Well, Margaret
used to sit directly behind Delilah, so she could watch the speedometer and tell
Delilah not to go over forty or she’d tell her daddy.
Her daddy was a Lawyer in Elburn. Kenny
Flaghart was pinching Margaret the whole ride back, and she was crying louder
and louder, right into Delilah’s ear. Delilah
kept fidgeting with the knobs on Mr. Happy, leaning forward and clenching her
teeth. Didn’t matter how many
times Delilah told her to be quiet, Margaret just cried louder and higher in
pitch. Then, when Margaret was
getting off the bus at her stop, old Delilah Pan waited until the last second
and slammed the gate door shut, just
before she was off. Clipped
Margaret’s leg right at the knee. I
was still on the bus when the ambulance came.
I’ve never heard anyone scream that loud before.
At least, not a person. Some
animals on our farm would squeal and cry right before daddy would chop their
heads off, but Margaret, I thought was the loudest I’ve heard.
Ever. Everyone on the bus
just stopped what they were doing and didn’t say anything.
It was like I had earplugs on, and I felt like I ate something really bad
and had to throw up right then and there. This
burning liquid creeped up my throat and just stopped, afraid to go
any further. Well, Delilah
told the police that the door got jammed, and she was distracted by the kids all
hollering in the back of the bus. But
the paramedic who found Margaret’s knee-cap twenty feet from the bus, in the
Jenkin’s front yard, had a different idea of what happened. So Delilah and Mr. Happy lost their jobs that day, and
Margaret May got her knee-cap sewed-in and came back to school the following
week. But she walked real funny
ever since. Not even Squeeky could
have fixed that.
next day, our morning route was taken over by Squeaky’s wife, or wife-to-be I
guess, Haddy Mouwth. Not
“mouth,” like on your face, but m-o-u-w-t-h.
Haddy was our afternoon bus driver sometimes, but now she was our
full-time morning driver. Haddy and
Squeaky were supposed to get married in the spring, as soon as they saved enough
money between them. Reason I know
this, is that ours is the first farm on the pick-up for school, which means I
gotta get up a half hour earlier that Johnny Morton, who’s the last stop.
So I get ten minutes of listening to Haddy talk about her and Squeaky
before we make it to the next stop and pick up Deenah Potts.
So I sit back and stare out the window as Haddy tells me about their
plans for the future, and how she’s gonna stop driving buses soon, cause she
wants kids and all. She’d always
start by telling me how she had to shake Squeaky over and over to get him up,
then what she’d make for breakfast, and how she’d leave and he’d still be
in bed. She called him a lydock,
but I never knew what that meant. Squeaky
didn’t have to be up until eight o’clock, and be at work down at the Mill
until nine-thirty. I wanted to work
at the Mill so I could sleep until eight o’clock.
My dad told me laborers only worked there, and that I should go to
college so I could do something better with my life. Haddy wasn’t ashamed or anything about Squeaky’s job.
In fact, she said he had the most important job at the Mill.
Squeaky’s job was to sweep all the floors between shifts.
And the floor at the Mill had to be spotless, or one of the machines
could suck-up a wood chip or a screw, which could make them shut down, maybe
even break. So Squeaky, in a
round-about-way, kept the Mill from breaking down, just like he’d stop a
squeak or a metal grinding noise with the WD-40 he kept in his pocket.
early that morning on the first day of the blizzard, Haddy probably made
breakfast while Squeaky just slept as usual.
See, I only know the facts after this point from Mr. Potts.
He’s the editor at the Elburn Herald, our town’s newspaper.
He’s friends with my daddy. I
heard them talk about it one night while they smoked their pipes out on the
porch. “Not for anyone’s
eyes,” I remember him tell daddy. “Not
even the Lord’s.”
of the bus drivers didn’t know that school was going to be closed that day,
including Haddy Mouwth. She walked
out her front door at 7:15am, like she always did, leaving Squeaky’s breakfast
on the table, with another plate covering it to keep it warm.
She got into her bus and warmed it up for five minutes, like she always
did, and backed out and drove down the road.
And like she always did, she looked in the rear-view to wave goodbye to
the house, but because the snow was falling so thick, she couldn’t see more
than ten feet behind her. More
importantly, she couldn’t see Squeaky chasing after the bus, calling out her
name and waving his hands. While
Haddy was warming up the bus, Squeaky got a call from the school board, telling
Haddy not to pick up the children because school was going to be closed.
He chased her a quarter mile away from the house, but soon ran out of
breath. Haddy always complained
that he smoked too much. Mr. Potts
said it wasn’t so much the slick roads that caused the bus to skid down the
hill, but rather the inability of the hydraulic cylinder that’s connected to
the brake pedal, to send enough fluid to the calipers, to squeeze the rotors
that stop the bus. After the story
ran in the paper, I asked Bob Wenders, the mechanic down at Stewey’s Service
Shop, how brakes were supposed to work. I
didn’t know, and unfortunately, Squeaky didn’t either.
the day before the blizzard started, Haddy complained to Squeaky that her brake
pedal was really hard to push down, and that it would sound like metal grinding
on metal. Squeeky was racing
outside with his WD-40 before Haddy finished her sentence. He was out there, upside-down, poking around under the
dashboard for hours. After he was
finished, he’d made it so that pedal would push easier than pressing your
finger into a stick of warm butter. The
metal grinding noise was gone, but so was the connection between the pedal shaft
and the hydraulic cylinder. Squeaky
put so much WD-40, the two disconnected everytime you pushed down on the pedal.
Especially when Haddy pumped the brakes going down the snow-covered
hill-pass, out where the rich kids lived. She
pushed so hard, the pedal snapped off, just like the trees and bushes that were
mowed down by the sharp edge of the bottom of the bus as she skidded sideways
down the hill. I saved the picture
in my scrapbook. It’s black and
white, but you can see how the bus wrapped itself around the telephone pole like
a boomerang. It pinned her like a
smushed sandwich between the shattered windshield frame, and the metal
safety-pole behind her seat. They
put that pole there to act as a kind of guardrail between her and the kids’
seats. The bar was supposed to save
the kids in the event of a collision. I
remember it had a little sticker on it that said “Safety First.” But it didn’t save any kids that morning.
All it did was stick out of the left side of Haddy’s stomach like a
huge broken pencil. It took three
fireman to yank the pole out from her gut, and they had to leave a section of
the windshield in her throat, because they thought it would stop the blood from
leaking out all at once.
were right about the windshield. Her
blood didn’t leak out in the bus, but it did in the ambulance.
Haddy Mouwth died on the way to the hospital.
She wasn’t a bus driver anymore. I’d
never see her again. She’d never
see me either, or the kids she wanted to have with Squeaky, the husband she’d
never marry. Mr. Potts told daddy
that the little bits of shattered glass from the windshield were sprayed into
her eyes, so she couldn’t see. And
with her throat filled with the windshield, she couldn’t speak.
I guess she could only hear what was going on around her.
Thirty-eight minutes passed from the time she crashed into the pole to
the point where she died in the ambulance.
I wonder if she was listening at all.
Squeaky learned about the brakes, he disappeared. No one saw him in Elburn County for over two weeks.
When I went on my usual route, collecting for the paper, I stopped at
Squeaky’s out of habit. I almost turned around when I saw that the door was opened a
little. I gave it a push, and it
swung open with such grace, just gliding on the hinges without a squeak, creak
or grind. It was silent.
And so was Squeaky’s body, lying face-down in the living room, with a
bottle of WD-40 in his hand. The
lubricant had a very special smell to it, like stale beer when a little is left
at the bottom of a can, and it lingers in the air.
The smell was all over the room, but strongest at his mouth and
fingernails. He must have drank the
entire bottle, or what was left, because even his skin smelled like it.
As I waited for the ambulance, I smelled the WD-40 all over, and followed the scent to each place it was the strongest. The hinges on the front door first. I noticed a small pool of lubricant that collected on the hardwood floor below the bottom hinge. Then the living room doors. A pool collected by its hinges too. Every door in fact, had these little pools of WD-40 lubricant under the hinges. Then I started to notice the little pools all over the house. Wherever there was a hinge, it was accompanied by a little pool. One hundred thirty-nine little pools to be exact. I pictured Squeaky, locked in his house for two weeks, spraying WD-40 on every crack and metal connection he could find, thinking about Haddy and the brakes. Haddy and the hill. Haddy and the hill and the brakes and the telephone pole. And boomerangs and hinges and chasing the bus down the street, a quarter mile down the street. Too much snow, too many cigarettes. Too much WD-40. Too much on Haddy’s brakes, and too much in Squeaky’s stomach.
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