Possibilities

 Today I accompanied my mother to a meeting of her old lady beneficent society. It seems that I have reached an age that now qualifies me as eligible for membership in old lady clubs. Today was not the first time I had been dragged off to one of these meeting, but today was different. Today a gal I went to highschool with was also there We were in the same class, Adeline and I. Friends even, in that desultory fashion of people whose common bond is mostly the fact that they don;t fit into any of the other groups. She was my superior in the constant class war that is highschool. She always looked a bit more put together than I did, projected a more collected demeanor, came off as just a bit more polished. She was a better athlete and usually managed to blend into the background better than I. She came just a bit closer to fitting in and by senior year had carved herself a nitch of mild acceptance in our small school. This had required her to distance herself from me, but I don’t think that bothered her much. It really didn’t bother me that much, by then I had bigger things to occupy me.

After highschool she went to work in the office of the local mill and a year or two later married the owner’s son. They are still married to this day and have the requisite 2.5 children, house, dog, etc. She now lives in a house that is not more than a mile from the house she grew up in. I ran about the earth, lived in 7 or 8 different states, married and divorced 3 times, had 5 kids, worked a couple of dozen different jobs, own nothing and am living in my parent’s house again with no visible means of support. We have had very different lives. So when I saw her at this meeting, I rather impulsively said, “we should get together, have coffee or something. I would like to see you again and maybe chat awhile.” She looked taken aback and immediately distanced herself saying, “well….you can see me at next months meeting.” In a tone that suggested that might be too much contact and that I was a needy, whining person clutching at her skirts.

What I would really like to tell her at this point is that my interest in her is not so much in her personally, but in the circumstances of her life. I have a story in the back of my mind who’s centeral character is a woman who still lives in the town she was raised in and has always done the expected and predictable thing. Since I never did I am having trouble imagining it. Do you feel deprived? resentful? Do you feel like you missed something or do you not know that there was anything to miss? Is it a case of not missing what you never had? Or was it a conscious choice, rejecting all those possibilities for a safe life? A steady, even existence? I guess I am not going to find out from her. Part of me, the resentful, mildly rejected part, would very much like to tell her that my interest in her was more intellectual than personal (ie I wasn’t trying to be “friends”).

The larger part of me just feels ever so slightly sad. I’m really not sure why. Nothing about her life (about which I know nothing, but surmise much) is overtly pitiable. She has kids. A husband. I assume she has known, knows, will know, many joys and sorrows. Love, agony and suspense. All the biggies. Perhaps she has never had any curiosity as to what lies out there, beyond the bend in the river. I cannot imagine that, but I can admit that it may be And yet I am sad. Perhaps because I, having known more about possibilities and risk, realize more sharply what it is to pass one up.

 

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Alone

Alone

Crossing VanBuren

 

We crossed VanBuren Street the other day. We were momentarily in the town I lived in as a small child, just passing thru. On our way to more important events, more salubrious climes. When I was a little kid VanBuren was the busy street a block away from the back water of 13th street, where we lived. 13th was an odd street. It went halfway through town, but only in fits and starts. No stretch of 13th was more than 5 blocks long. It dead-ended a lot, but it would always start up again a block or two past whatever obstruction it encountered. Growing up on 13th taught you the value of perseverance.

Our stretch of 13th was 3 blocks long. We lived on the corner of 13th and some ‘L’ shaped street that didn’t go anywhere and never resurfaced in other parts of town like 13th did. I no longer remember its name. Its function was to cut up the space between VanBuren, our house and Dixie Creek into a square that more houses could be built on. The houses were already there when I was growing up. Van Buren Street defined one edge of my world as a kid. It was a “busy” street, a wide pristine boulevard with white, uncracked, level sidewalks, and we weren’t allowed to cross it. Or even walk along it without the protective presence of a grown-up in tow. The other edge of the world was another “busy” street, but it was not as busy. I walked along it to get to school, carefully staying on my side of it until I reached the sanctity of the crossing guards who provided safe passage to the school on the other side. That street held no mystery for me, although I did see the occasional dinosaur on it while walking to school in the fog.

VanBuren however, was the gateway to the world. The grocery store we shopped at was several blocks down VanBuren. Comic books and candy bars (for a DIME) could be purchased there, which we did anytime we had collected enough pop and beer bottles to pay for them. We were a major force for clean roadsides. Sometimes on Saturday mornings my father would take one of us kids with him and go there to purchase ‘butterhorns’, a giant danish like pastry with a butter-cream center that still makes my mouth water. Apparently it is the only place that ever made those, as I have never had one since. It was walking back from there, pulling a red wagon full of groceries, that my Mother stopped one day and sang me the song about the “one-eyed, one horned flying purple people eater”, in an effort to explain the name of the city bus line (purple buses with “People Eater” in bright yellow letters on the side) to me. Next to that was a drug store that sold eczema cream and where I purchased my first ‘dippity-do”.

We drove down VanBuren when we went “down town”. There you could go to the 5 and dime, the green stamp redemption store, monkey wards (where I got my first bra, a red letter day indeed) and Bob’s 19 cent hamburgers, the height of haute cuisine and only patronized on birthdays and other special occasions. As far as us kids knew there was no inside seating. The movie theater we went to sometimes in the summer (after carefully saving enough bread wrappers or soda caps or whatever was required to comply with the promotion) was down there as was the newspaper office where my mother sometimes purchased the “end rolls” of unused newsprint for us to color on. If you went far enough you came to Averey Park, where there were deer to feed, a retired locomotive to climb on and a small, sad zoo with monkeys that smelled, a mina bird that talked and a kinkajoo, which appeared to be some sort of South American raccoon, but had a very exotic name. VanBuren Street led to all things good and interesting.

Went I reached junior high school I was deemed old enough to cross VanBuren alone. Walking to my new school was going to require it. I was given strict instructions about my route and told which corners I was allowed to cross at, (the ones with lights and cross walks) and turned loose. I felt terribly important and grown up. I passed the grocery store and the drug store every day and was sometimes given money for a small errand. It was on one of these that the dippity-do was acquired. I began to make new friends, some of whom lived quite far from 13th street. Crossing VanBuren had opened the wider world to me.

We moved away at the end of that year and I never really thought about VanBuren again until the other day, when we drove across it in such a cavalier fashion. I wanted to say, “Stop! Go back!” and spend some time hunting up our old house, our old neighborhood, but I was afraid I would no longer be able to find it. Or worse, that I would find it and it would look small and shabby and VanBuren would have become ever so slightly seedy. Or even worse, that it had all been torn down and replaced with something modern and cold in shiny glass and polished concrete. So I said nothing and VanBuren receded into the distance, becoming tiny and vanishing in the rearview mirror relegating itself to some backwater of nostalgia where it can remain untarnished forever in my mind. I have moved on from there, gone many places, accomplished much, become perhaps, an entirely different person, but I will always remember that the start of the journey was, crossing VanBuren.

 

A Closer Look

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Farm Country

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Santa Lives In Arkansas

Once upon a time in Arkansas……It was just after my first divorce. The kids were little. Under five. I was down to one job, my second job having let me go because they no longer needed the help. We had no money. I could barely manage to keep us in bacon and beans. They’d cut the water off a couple of days before. Christmas not only looked bleak, it looked nonexistent. I’d made the kids a paper tree out of some notebook paper and a paper chain, the tree’s star was cut from more notebook paper, all colored with their crayons. Christmas dinner would be cornbread and white beans, flavored with the last of the bacon. I had 3 eggs and thought maybe I could make a cake. No frosting though. We didn’t have any powdered sugar.

Before I went to work on Christmas Eve, I let them hang up their stockings. A couple of my old knee high socks. I figured I could buy a few candy canes out of my tips that night on my way home. My hope was, since they were so young, they wouldn’t realize that there should be more. I dropped them off at the sitter’s, thanking her again for the imposition of caring for them on this holiday eve. Promising, again, to come back for them as soon as I could. I got back in the car. You had to slide over from the passenger side because the drivers side door had been bashed in in a wreck and wouldn’t open. It was that way when I got it. But hey, it had been a free car, given to us by a friend of my ex’s. I ran my stockings on the slide over….sigh.

Work was surprisingly busy. I was a cocktail waitress. You’d think people would go home rather than be there on Christmas eve. Fortunately for me the holiday spirit made them slightly more generous than usual. Tips were pretty good. I was going to be able to buy the kids each a cheap toy maybe, plus candy canes, and still get new stockings! At last it was time to go home. I cleaned the floors and we locked the door. In a fit of generosity my boss told me I didn’t have to come in the next day. I was grateful–the sitter was going to charge me extra for working on Christmas–but nervous about missing a day’s money.

I stopped at a convenience store (in those days that was all that was open at midnight on christmas eve) and bought the kids each a cheap plastic toy and a candy cane. I even got them each a candy bar. What the heck, new stockings could wait. It was christmas. Besides, I thought I had another pair at home that had one good leg left. I could cut a leg off each pair and make do. I hid the kids stuff under the seat of the car and went to get them. The sitter was pleased to hear that we would both get to spend the next day with our families.

I spent the ride home recalculating my finances to take the loss of tomorrows pay into account. It was going to be tight. I shouldn’t have spent that money in the convenience store. A few tears sneaked out. It was SOOO hard. My poor kids. Maybe I couldn’t do this. What was going to become of us? Perhaps I should take them to the Children’s Home and just give up. They certainly deserved better than I was able to provide. Despair sat beside me on the seat and held my hand. Discouragement winked at me from every set of flashing christmas lights that we passed.

When we arrived home I carried sleeping children into the house and laid them on my bed so I could arrange their “christmas” before they woke up. I left their coats on them. It was cold in my room. We only had 2 gas heaters and neither of them was in my room. As I headed outside to get the bag of hidden loot it dawned on me that the living room was not as dark as it should’ve been. I looked down the room and THERE, on the table where our poor paper tree had stood was a 3 foot christmas tree. It had lights! And decorations! There were stockings! Red fuzzy ones. And they were full of stuff! Candy and oranges and peppermint sticks!

I turned on a light and investigated. Not only was that stuff real, there was more! Scarves and mittens and hats for everyone. A coat for the youngest. Secondhand, but nice and warm looking. She’d about outgrown hers. There was a nice toy for each child and in bags, a frozen turkey and all the trimmings for a real christmas dinner to be made. When the kids got up they found me crying over an envelope that had been sitting in the branches of the tree. It had my name on it. Inside was $25 and a receipt where someone had paid my overdue water bill. The water was on. I had checked. We had a wonderful Christmas.

I never did find out who did this. No one ever admitted to it. Therefore, Santa MUST live in Arkansas.

What Do You Wish For?

I wish for

everything

and nothing at all

for happiness

and love

for peace

and sometimes for money.

I wish for sunny days

and rainy ones so I don’t have to water the garden.

for good health

and more grandchildren

for time

and trips to the beach

I wish for the things we all want

ordinary wishes

fueled by the plebeian dreams

of my prosaic mind

 

Hello, Bill!

I had one more errand to run and then I was on my way home. It had been an exhausting week at work and now here I was doing errands for them on my own time. Traffic in New Orleans was normal, snarled up like a string bag. Just as I pull away from the pharmacy window, armed with the requested medicines, my cell rang. Exasperated I snatched it up and barked,”I just got it and I’ll be there in a minute!”. “I hope so,” replied the voice of my neighbor, “You need to talk to this sheriff,” he added, without pausing for breath. “WHHHHAAAT?” I gasped, nosing my car into a parking space in the drug store lot. Then the deputy was on the phone, asking if I knew Susan _____. I told him she was my roommate. “What on earth has she done?” I inquired, shocked to my shoes. Susan was not the sort of roommate one expected to have dealings with the police. She was quiet, recently widowed, diabetic and rarely left the house for anything but a Dr’s appointment. He told me that Holder Homes was about to hook up the trailer I lived in and haul it off! The sweat that sprang out all over my body had only a minimal connection to the breathless heat and the fact that my a\c was broken. After conversing with the deputy, a nice lady representative from Surity Bank, my neighbor and then the deputy again I felt I had a grasp on the situation. Seems that Susan had not been paying her house note. What’s more, she had prevailed on the neighbor to take her to the bus station a day or two before, saying she was going to care for an ailing elderly aunt. I assumed she would not be returning. Convincing the assemblage to leave my house where it was for the 3&1/2 hours it would take me to drive home I zipped through traffic back to work, kind of flung the bag of medicines at my relief, babbled some incoherent nonsense and jumped back in the car to head for home. I’m sure that trip was my fastest ever. My car was probably mistaken for a low flying jet by casual observers.

The lady from the bank was nice, but definite. Susan had not paid a note for many months. Since her husband’s death, it seemed. The fact that her sister-in-law’s husband worked for the bank is the only reason a repossession had not been done months before. She was sorry, but there was no more time. She was willing to sell it to me, unfortunately the price was about twice what it was worth. I declined with as much regret as I could muster. It was a very small amount. What if I agree to clear the place out, I said. It was the right choice. Susan or her husband, or somebody had been something of a horder and except for the rooms I used regularly, the rest, and the shed outside, were pack floor to ceiling with furniture, old magazines and heaven knows what. The bank lady jumped at my offer, negotiating a time span of 3 weeks, which gave me two useful weeks, as I would have to work one of them. I waved the lady out to her car, picked up the phone and began rounding up help. My daughter was a given, my friends were good souls and the neighbor loaned my a pick up truck. We began making trips to the dump the next morning. In any spare moments I looked for a place to move to.

Finally a new house was found, the junk was nearly gone and I was beginning to pack up what I was going to move with me. Early one morning, before anyone had showed up to help, I began packing up things on a bookcase I planned on taking. The bookcase had been Susan’s, but most of the things were mine. One of the exceptions was a small, black square-ish box at the back of the very top shelf. I had always assumed it was a speaker for the surround sound system that she had forgotten about when she’d sold the system a few months back. As I wiggled it off the high (for me) shelf with my finger tips I thought it felt awfully heavy for a speaker and rather too much like plastic. Getting it within my grasp at last, I hauled it down where I could look at it. On the top of the box was a tag, “remains of William H. _______”. It was Susan’s dead husband!

I put the thing down rather abruptly on the coffee table as I collapsed onto the sofa. Staring fixedly at the box I said the first thing that came to mind, “Well, Hello Bill!”. My mind was spinning its wheels, slipping gears, as I wondered what on earth I was going to do with Bill. About that time my daughter walked through the door, “What’cha doing?” she said, strolling across the room, dropping her keys on the table as I pointed at the box, apparently stricken dumb by astonishment. She picked up the box for a better look. It plopped back to the table rather suddenly as she joined me on the sofa, staring at the box. It occurred to me, having seen pictures of Bill in the past, that it had probably been many years since he had been the recipient of so much concentrated feminine attention. “Naomi, meet Bill,” I said, “Bill, Naomi”. She laughed a bit raggedly and said, “What are you going to DO with him?” An excellent question I thought. “I could give him to you,” I told her. “Nope” was her instant response. Sighing I got up and together we moved the coffee table, with Bill on it, to one side of the room and commenced packing.

Bill sat there for the rest of the move, the subject of nearly all of the conversations in that house. Conversations with everyone who came to help and some who came just to look. There are those who feel compelled to check the veracity of every story. Many ideas for his disposition were presented. Putting him in the river, or on his garden behind the house. Scattering him on theTrace, or into the wind off the river bridge. Mailing him to a random person in an old address book we found in Susan’s bedroom. Taking him to the movies or a ball game and just leaving him in the seat. Even the dumpster or a good flushing. None of these seemed right. Some of them were disrespectful, others probably illegal, and as for the rest, well, I’d never known him while he was alive, so I just didn’t feel qualified to choose his final resting place. Besides, I was sure I’d heard Susan speak of his children by a previous marriage. They might want him. I was positive they would want him more than I did. I was beginning to have unsettling dreams in which I had to lug Bill around with me for the rest of my life due to my inability to decide where to put him. The solution, when it finally came to me, was, like all perfect solutions, elegantly simple. When everything was moved out and the place was “broom swept and wiped down,” my last act, after placing the key on the kitchen counter as I’d been instructed, was to place Bill next to it with a note attached to him directing the recipient to deliver him to his brother-in-law at the bank. I wished poor Bill well as I walked out the door and sincerely hope he ended up someplace nice.

 

From the Hill

From the Hill

Silouette

Silouette

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