Lettuce in the Car

Since I can’t find anything remotely funny to write about today, I thought I’d revert to that old standby, my crazy Grandmother, Etta.  As I’ve mentioned before, my brothers and I got into phone-tapping and bugging for entertainment purposes in a very big way an the aftermath of Watergate, so much so that one of those paleolithic 1970′s suction-cup microphones was hooked up to one phone or another at our house much of the time.  And having a crazy person like Etta as part of your family visiting three times a day and calling on the phone at least that many made for miles and miles of great tape, the best of which we played all the time; they became folkloric sound bites that required no explanation.  Which brings me to the tragedy of “Lettuce in the Car.”

In the summer of ’76 or so, we were preparing to have a predictably disastrous picnic somewhere with our cousins, and Etta, as we did most years for some unfathomable reason.  We were seven kids in all who got along quite well, and this was before my aunt and uncle got progressively crazier and more Etta-like, which they unfortunately did, so including Etta at a non-holiday event in those days was the kiss of death.  It would bring out the worst in everyone, and in those days we didn’t yet appreciate the concept of looking back and laughing.

As usual, Etta arrived early, hours, in fact, before the planned departure time.  Not to help, of course, but to berate my mother for her unpreparedness and helpfully point out what worthless, insolent children she was raising, while Joan labored over her potato and macaroni salads and such.  Etta’s sole contribution to the rather demanding endeavor of feeding a dozen or so people at a remote campsite was to bring a head of lettuce.  Over the course of the morning, my aunt Jicky called, and when Etta picked up an extension to avoid feeling left out, my brother Andy, upstairs, wisely picked up the receiver and hit “record.”

What happened next, Joan and Jicky getting into an Etta-induced fight and cancelling the whole thing, with Jicky hanging up and leaving just Joan, Etta, and the tape recorder on the line, was unexceptional, and probably would never have been remembered.  But just as Joan hung up the phone, Etta said, plaintively and with some resentment, “I’ve still got my lettuce in the car.”

Of all of our many recordings, none survived Etta’s death, the dispersal  of us kids, and the oncoming obsolescence of cassette technology, but we still had that tape, and played it for everyone who would listen for many years thereafter; it was so popular that Joan kept it in her car, until it was stolen in the mid 90′s and some crackhead bozo tossed the whole tape box out, probably because Joan’s other tapes indicated questionable musical tastes.



  1. mikeinportc says:

    this was before my aunt and uncle got progressively crazier and more Etta-like,

    Uh-oh! Maybe it’s hereditary? We’ll have to watch for the signs, CH. What’s your bottom line, for …….uh,…being sent to the vet? ;)

    ” I’ve still got my lettuce in the car. “ Lol!
    That could be the “Job-Creators”‘ motto. Better copyright it (quickly!),so that you can charge exorbitant royalties. ;)

    • cocktailhag says:

      It’s undoubtedly hereditary; my sister got it, and I think my cousin’s daughters have a touch, as well. It’s a curse.
      I wish we’d made copies of that tape….