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Lange: The Runaway Beer Wagon

12/02/09 7:55AM By Willem Lange
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(HOST) Inspired by the recent National Day of Listening, commentator Willem Lange has the story of his great-grandmother and the run-away beer wagon.

(LANGE) My immediate ancestors - Langes, Walthers, and Brendels - were remarkably close-mouthed about themselves.  I don't know why; but almost the only stories I ever heard were from Mother Goose, the Bible, the Brothers Grimm, and Hans Christian Andersen.

Great-Gramma Lange, though - a tough old cookie who worked right into her 90s - was nanny to me and my sister, and did tell a short story now and then.

She often sat on a stool beside the sandbox our father'd made us around a tree in the sidewalk on Lancaster Street.  She monitored our play - sand, after all, is a volatile substance in the hands of children - and read the newspaper.  I sometimes had the feeling that, tough as Gramma Lange's life had been - widowed and left with two sons at an early age; cleaning, laundering, and sewing to put her sons through school; refusing to quit even after they could take care of her - she felt that we little kids didn't know how good we had it. She credited our mere existence on the earth to something she'd done about 60 years earlier.

She told us how on a summer day she was walking with her older son - my future grandfather - a very small boy at the time.  As they crossed the narrow truss bridge over Normans Kill, on the south side of Albany, a runaway beer wagon with four big horses came thundering down the hill toward them.  (It would be a beer truck: a symbol of evil.)

There was no time to run, and jumping was out of the question; Normans Kill is shallow and rocky down under the bridge.  "So," she said, "I just picked up your grandfather, held him outside the railing above the stream, and squeezed myself in as far as I could.  The only thing that hit me was the hub of the rear wheel, and it didn't knock me over.

"If it hadn't been for that, you wouldn't even be here today."  She settled back on her stool with a satisfied look, resumed reading her Knickerbocker News, and left me to consider the cosmic implications of my great-grandmother dodging a runaway beer wagon over half a century before I was born.

This is Willem Lange in East Montpelier - and I've got to get back to work.

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