It was a magical time, as most pleasant childhood memories tend to be. Grandpa's Cadillac was bright turquoise, shiny and wide like a small marine craft. His hardworking man hands would coil around the steering wheel, then loosen up after a few dozen miles had passed. That was when he'd start tapping and drumming along to our singing.
We'd pass by the Morongo reservation and the dinosaur park that was home to a T-Rex with a greasy spoon inside. The old Caddy would ease past the Almond Roca store - all pink and brown and full of deliciousness - before following the curve in the highway away from Palm Springs and towards Yucca Valley. I knew we were close when we zig zagged through the dark brown hills, just before the roadside fruit stand. Mimi would holler, "Oh Papaw, don't forget the scrawberries!", because intentionally mispronouncing things was fun. And Grandpa would pull right up to the entrance of that old fruit stand, so close I could smell the dirt and melon rind.
I'd look up at Mimi, so impossibly tall and glamorous in her maxi skirts and wide brim hats. She'd wink and speak in a sing-song voice to me about the scrawberries. And the wad-er-melons. With each fruit came a different name that made me light up with giggles, and I'd watch her old hands load the fruits into my basket. If we took too long, Grandpa would duck in to scratch his head and say something like, "Man alive!" or "Woman!". It never made any sense to me, but it would sure speed up the process.
After helping me secure my apron, Mimi would wash and cut all the fruit. My eyes would widen and stretch, so as not to blink while watching her deftly maneuver a paring knife to create perfect apple spirals. Next were the scrawberries, so fragrant my mouth would water. I'd be struggling with my small, clumsy hands around a butter knife while Mimi laughed and clucked about her latest adventures in senior living. Every once in awhile, she'd reach over and correct my technique with the softest touch of her hand.
As the evening wore down and we'd get ready for bed, Mimi would use those veiny old hands to brush and braid my hair. She'd scoop me up into her lap and sing our special song. Then Grandpa would materialize from the kitchen, a glass of buttermilk in one hand and Mimi's cornbread in the other. We'd watch the Lawrence Welk Show and Hee-Haw before nightly prayer. Sometimes I would peek between my fingers to see Grandpa and Mimi holding hands, heads bowed in reverent invocation.
And just before I fell asleep, Mimi would cha-cha over to my side of the pull-out couch to tuck me in. I'd cross my hands over a very full belly and obediently close my eyes when she said to. The lamp next to my head would click off, and Mimi would sink down on the mattress in order to kiss my forehead. "Goodnight, baby girl. I'm right down the hall if you need me. You don't need to be afraid of anything", she'd whisper. I could still feel the warmth of her hands on mine as the crickets sang me to sleep.