NONFICTION – A Safe Place by Marcella Yakalis


The seats in my grandfather’s red Ford pick-up were overstuffed and ripped. He kept a loaf of white bread and a jar of peanut butter under the passenger seat at all times. In the summer, I ran through the sharp, overgrown grass that my father didn’t have time to care for and climbed into the sticky seat, sticky fingers my ultimate goal.

When my grandfather was not in the truck, I would sit in the driver’s seat of the red beast while he worked with my father and uncle. I did not touch the radio, but I gripped the thin black steering wheel, so much unlike the ones in trucks today. My eight year old lungs filled with dust from NYS RT 9, from France in 1945, from Poland in the 1890s. The kids that were better off in my town had forts, or swing sets. I had the cab of a truck.

My grandpa read dictionaries, devoured Merriam-Websters to make up for everything he didn’t have to say. In his healthier days, before I hit puberty, he would be at my house every day after I got home from school. He talked to my mother for hours, and replaced the father she lost at twenty. He often served as babysitter, if mom had to go somewhere, and sit he did. On the couch, in the recliner, in the rocking chair, and in the truck.

He sat in his truck with Bill. Bill lived a mile up the road from us and was as close to Otis Campbell as the North could get. Bill would crack a beer, and in their matching flannel, he and my grandfather would sit for hours, heat absorbing in their flannel and the steel of the truck.

“Did I ever tell you about the time I saw a soldier walking down the road with a nurse on each arm?”

He told me the story early on, about the ghostly soldier he’d seen on our road years ago. We lived down the street from a cemetery that hadn’t been used since the late 1800s.

“Grandpa, Mom told me you were drinking with Bill that night.”

“I am tellin’ you!” he went on, describing the soldier and the beautiful nurses. He liked to tell me stories like this when he was at our house, or when I sat with him in his truck. That particular one was his favorite.

Once, when my mom accidentally locked me out of the house, I sat on our front steps and cried so loudly that my grandfather heard me from my uncle’s house up the hill. He drove down in that red pick-up with his beagle Jackson (Jackson number two was the one I knew, but all his dogs were Jackson)

“Well what is wrong?” He asked, rolling down the window as he drove up.

“Mom’s not here and I’m locked out!”

“She’s not? Well hop in, and keep me company.”

I gained more than just memories in that truck. As a kid I gained one of my worst habits, coveting food and finding comfort in it. Grandpa had a sweet tooth and liked to eat out of cans. Peanut butter and white bread were staples, along with cans of peas and corn that he kept tucked away under the seat. I ate vegetables in excess, but not the ones I should have eaten. But I was his girl, the baby, and it didn’t matter that I ate two peanut butter sandwiches before dinner and whatever candies he chose to produce from his pockets. As long as it was in the truck, it stayed between us. In adulthood, I still occasionally find myself opting to eat from a can instead of getting a bowl from the cupboard.

Someone told me that when my grandfather died in 2004, my uncle had to be removed from the room by force. When my father came home to tell me, it was the only time in my life I saw him cry. My grandpa had just come home that day from a stay at the hospital. My mother had driven him home. He  fell at my uncle’s house, in the bathroom, and was already gone by the time the ambulance got there, but not pronounced officially dead until he was taken to the hospital. Ten years later, my uncle’s house still smells like him, like wood smoke and old flannel. I haven’t stepped in that house in almost ten years.

After he died, my uncle used his truck for work for a while, until it was no longer fit for the road. I never got to drive it, but sometimes, I still dream about sitting in it, looking in the crooked rearview mirror for a soldier and his favorite girls.


Marcella Yakalis is  from upstate New York, and is an MFA candidate at Columbia University’s School of The Arts, where she is concentrating in Non-Fiction writing. Her work has appeared on and Catch and Release: Columbia’s Online Journal of Literature and Art. She writes at and tweets at @marcellakomisky.

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