Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’” filled the car as we cruised down route 95 on a Saturday morning. My five- year-old legs, not yet able to reach the floor, jumped to the beat as I tried to imitate my sister’s foot-tapping motion. My dad tapped his hands on the steering wheel and bopped his head while the breeze from the open windows blew wisps of hair around my face. My sister and I sang along, unaware of any missed pitches while simultaneously feeding our baby dolls “food” from our diaper bags. Soon, the wide expanse of the highway turned to closely configured apartment buildings and duplexes, and I kept my eye out for the yellow house with the little wrought-iron horse carriage on the door.
Entering the house, our noses were welcomed with a smell specific to my grandmother. Nana walked in gingerly, slightly stooped, yet maintaining a smile that had us all fooled. My sister and I ran to hug her (she always said we gave the best hugs) and proceeded to the kitchen, where we climbed onto the plastic-wrapped metal-framed chairs. We sat and waited, anticipating the question my grandmother always asked, to which she knew the answer. Would you girls like some chocolate milk? she finally asked after exchanging greetings with my dad. We nodded our heads in unison as she gave us a knowing smile. Using the table for support, Nana slowly rose out of her chair and shuffled to the counter to prepare her famous chocolate milk. When she brought it to us, there was always a neon-colored “swirly straw” resting against the side of the glass. Who knew a narrow tube of plastic could bring so much joy to two people? But every time, our eyes widened at the sight of such a fun drinking device. I could have sat like that indefinitely, watching the perfectly blended chocolate milk race and twist through that neon- colored straw.
13 years later, Nana is no longer with us and I live in a different state from my dad. Still, on those rare occasions when the opening guitar chords to “Free Fallin’” penetrate my crowded mind, I am reminded of those Saturday mornings and the best chocolate milk I ever had. I never knew of Nana’s enduring pain from arthritis and sadness over the loss of her husband, or the immense stress she felt about her finances. I never realized how lonely she must have felt as she grew older and time robbed her of her former physical strength. Simple tasks like going to the supermarket proved to be more and more taxing each day, yet Nana always had those swirly straws, a simple token of love for me and my sister and a symbol of the type of person I would like to be.