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Trapped in the Dumbwaiter

Trapped in an Elevator with Reenie

Most of my family members from the younger generation have either gotten married already or sworn never to take the plunge as it were. I can remember my own view of marriage back in the day when I was young, handsome, and could still fit into a pair of pants with a 34 inch waist without having a full third of my prodigious belly hanging over the belt buckle. My wife has to constantly remind me to “check my fly” as I often grow exhausted in the effort to squeeze that little round button into the tight little slot without straining my back in the process. By the time I have that mission accomplished the thought of having to wrench that little brass tongue up those little brass teeth seems to be another mountain to climb. Anyway…I did manage to get my 200+ pound bulk into my khaki pants with my shirt neatly tucked in and both button and brass zipper snugged up.

Getting back to my view of marriage…I used to tell people I thought marriage was a fine institution…but who wants to be in an institution? After sowing more wild grains than that Quaker Oats guy, I did manage to settle down, and have been married to the same woman for going on 39 years. The tradition of welcoming others to the sea of matrimony in hopes they know how to swim is an important ritual with plenty of advice to go round. And so it was that one of my wife’s cousin’s sons was “getting hitched” to the wagon of love and friends and family gathered round to celebrate their nupitals. What the heck are “nupitals” anyway?

The young couple seemed very happy and having already spent some time in each other’s company without killing each other felt they could take the next step and get married. I actually lived with my girlfriend and her two children from a previous engagement for several years before deciding to formalize our relationship. Both of us worked for the same school system, and when the kids started school and started drawing family pictures in bright colored crayons, Mrs, Lantz the kindergarten teacher had to ask who the guy with the mustache and yellow hair was. “That’s the man my mommy lives with,” was the reply, which doesn’t sound very nice when your credibility as a school psychologist is on the line. So I proposed. Several times. She was non-committal.

Now I had never been married as I explained above, telling friends that women and girls were very much like ice cream and came in different flavors, and sometimes I was in the mood for vanilla, other times chocolate and on a rare occasion some pistachio. My fiance’ was more like Neopolitan with a little of all three flavors and then some. Since I had never been married and she had been, she was reluctant to take the plunge, but she finally gave in to my winsome charms and we got married.

I adopted her children and raised them as my own, and even jumped back in when our granddaughter came up for adoption. So I have adopted and raised three children and glad to do it.

But I need to return to the real reason for this story, getting trapped in the elevator with my wife’s Aunt Reenie. Having been in the family for going on 40 years, I got to know her husband “Uncle John” (Cassell) brother to Coletta’s Dad George Cassell. Funny thing was, on her mom’s side five out of her six uncles were all Uncle John’s, or “Johnny’s” distinguished only by their surnames, all but one of those ending in a vowel, one “o”, three “a’s” and one “i”. One Johnny’s last name ended in an “s” …go figure.

Anyway, the Uncle John Cassell (no “ee” on his name- he was an attorney after all) was an attorney for State Farm Insurance (They’re a Good Neighbor) and had a smile to beat the band, wavy hair and bright eyes that drew you in, engaged you. He had a strong handshake, no dead fish shake from him, no he demonstrated his strength of character by his grip. He could tell a joke and he always made you feel like you counted. Anyway, his passing left a huge gap in the lives of his three children; Mary Irene, Mike, and David. But even wider a gap, in the life of his beloved wife

“Reenie,” a derivation of “Irene”. They were married for decades and were devoted to each other and their children. They were also dedicated to their careers, Reenie was a teacher and John of course an attorney. He was missed at the wedding, a seat that could not be filled. Still Reenie knew her presence was essential to the wedding of her grandson and she dollied herself up and made her presence known, arriving from her home many hours away in Ohio. Her carriage to the site of the “nupitals” was a big yellow school bus followed by a golf cart (didn’t want to ruin the lawn). And Aunt Reeniw did shine with a bright green dress and full head of silver hair. After the ceremony she caught another ride back to the site of the reception (on the golf cart) and made the rounds greeting guests. If only she could keep track of her little white purse! Seems every time she turned around it was somewhere else, until one of her devoted fans retrieved it with her flowing silk scarf.

Then it was time for the dinner on the upper floor of the barn. With so many steps in between, the host motioned to the elevator in the corner of the barn. The stall that used to house a cow or maybe a Kentucky Derby candidate now held a small 4 x 4 foot elevator. The contraption had a steel door more like a garden gate, not like a bank vault - foot thick door with the rubber contraption to keep from breaking arms, no just a little old steel door with a latch. No roof, but a solid floor. No walls other than the ones you could watch as the thing made its way up. Some of these things are called “dumbwaiters” more meant for freight, but in this case adapted for human use. Three of us climbed aboard, the hostess, Reenie and me.

I guess the hostess “Selena” I think was her name, didn’t think I was capable of pushing the black button clearly marked “UP” & “DOWN”. Reenie kept repeating the same thing, “I don’t like elevators. I don’t like elevators.” I was on board to reassure her that this sure beat the stairs and she would, we would be just fine. “I really don’t like elevators,” she repeated. She wasn’t scared, just resolute… about not liking those things.

This contraption was so slow, I asked if they paid the hamsters on the wheel powering this thing in rabbit pellets or real grains. Although the distance to the next floor was maybe ten feet, this thing moved so slow I thought the married couple would have already given birth to their first child 10 months down the road already. Then the contraption stopped. The lights on the UP/DOWN switch started blinking intermittently. Selena flipped the button up and down, the thing would move a few inches, only to stop again. Ten minutes had now come and gone since we boarded this thing and it was obvious it was not cooperating. Selena decided to climb out. Now, there was no roof on this thing, and we were about five feet from the top, but she just stepped on the railing and out she went. I offered her a leg up but she was a big girl. A strong girl, and handled the climbing out just fine, leaving Renee and I in the elevator. “I don’t like elevators,” she said, and I was beginning to agree with her.

Now on top looking down on us like two wild animals in a zoo enclosure were several people, employees of the venue and such. “Got a ladder?” I asked, but they were intent on getting this thing to the top. “How about a hand crank?” I offered. Selena was on her cell phone to someone, who appeared at the bottom working the UP/DOWN buttons from there. Selena from on top. I got yelled at when I tried to actuate the one inside. I put my hands in my pockets. Another five minutes, then ten convinced all present that this thing was NOT going up. How about trying to take it DOWN. That worked for about 20 seconds , then; flashing lights and stopped dead. “Hey. I got an idea,” I shouted up. “Why don’t you try shutting the power off to the elevator, wait a few seconds and power it up again, you know like your cable box?” Selena asked whomever was on the other end of her cell phone conversation if this was a feasible idea. Apparently he okayed it and the lights went out, then back on again, and suddenly, seamlessly, the unit was making its way DOWN to the bottom floor from whence we came. Slowly ever so slowly we continued down down until touching the bottom the dude waiting there was able to open the steel door allowing us to step into FREEDOM.

Selena promised to come down with her golf cart to pick Reenie up, but after five more minutes of waiting, she never showed. “There’s the golf cart,” Mary Irene offered, “I can drive one of those.” “And I can walk up those steps,” Reenie insisted and up she went.

When we crested the top step, everybody was already up there, at their tables, waiting patiently for the matriarch, the Groom’s Grandmother to arrive who was now among the missing until she appeared at the top of the stairs to a tremendous round of applause and cheers! She made it, the dinner can begin.

Renee made her way to her table and I did the same out of breath and explaining to everyone at my table that we weren’t lost, we were STUCK IN THE ELEVATOR THE WHOLE TIME! I find I rather agree with Renee… I don’t like elevators.

Frank L. Miller 06-19-22

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