Thursday, August 19, 2010


I think today should hold a lot of House-Righting and Dish-Washing and Clothes-Folding, for I’ve sadly neglected all three this week. It’s a sort of jumbled chaos downstairs, with so many things out of place, and so I’m headed off to a big I-Tunes Fest of Sense and Sensibility to entertain as I work.

Perhaps when things are a bit more serene and livable, some time out in an arbor chair, with the overhanging limbs and the hot breeze giving the proper reverence and setting to Faulkner---he’s always a Summer read, I think. You get the tastes and the sweat and the sheer overlying weight of the weather to set the stage, as well as the theme.

I may continue reading As I Lay Dying, swapping the genteel pomp of the Dashwoods, with their soft intrigues and misunderstandings and loves lost and honor-well-served, for the grim, homemade-coffin trek to bury Addie Bundren amongst her Own People.

And it's not a sad book, as you'd think---it's just a well-told journey, seen by six different sets of eyes. It’s tiny glimpses of each family member as they gather for their Mother’s last days, as they take her home to her family graveyard, told in small moments of their thoughts---tiny half-page blips, sometimes, like the eye of a camera panning a crowd and snapping this one and that for that one brief moment.

I've known ALL these people, especially in my childhood, when the old times still lingered and the old ways were still the norm---the sitting-up-all-night, the wakes and the singing, the gathering of the men in the stomped-down yard, passing bottles and time with a quick wrist-swipe at each, whilst the women tended to things in the house.

I can remember four all-night-sit-up-with-the-deads in my own home of my childhood---the shining metal caskets were wheeled in through the front door, through the vestibule arch, and parked square-ways right in front of the big double-windows of the living room like a new piano. Quiet voices, bowls of potato salad set down on the kitchen counter by kind neighbors, the scent of bouquets of garden-cut blooms set head and foot of the casket, the pile of hats on the hall bench, as the men removed them to honor the house and the dead, passing by on the way to the kitchen for a cold drink. For the first time, I was allowed to click the lock on my bathroom door for my bedtime bath, and I wore the new nylon robe from two Christmases ago, for the five steps to my room.

Even the names in the book are notional and obscurely odd: Anse, the shirking, whining father, and Cash who builds the coffin in full view and sound of his Mother’s bedroom window, and Jewel-who’s-a-man and Dewey Dell the only daughter, and Darl and small Vardaman, whose name is at least recognizable as a small town in my state.

They are of their age, of the wagon-and-horse, of the overalls-and-sweat and dipper-and-bucket age, pondering or mutely accepting or cursing the fate which set them in such a hard place, in such times.

And I’ll go out into the quiet breeze, sitting with a pitcher of well-iced tea, reading in the afternoon, knowing these grim, enduring people, smelling the scents of their journey and their trials---remembering it, being FROM it, but not OF it. Not any more.

Monday, August 2, 2010


It’s an old Southern custom for folks of younger generations to address their elders by their first names, with Miss and Mr. appended, no matter what their marital status.

Miss Laura Beth Upchurch (mid-sixties, widowed in her forties) drives over to Miss Ardyth May Jessup’s (mid-eighties, also widowed, just in the last few years) house every Wednesday. She “takes care of” Miss Ardyth May two other days during the week---Mondays, when she changes the linens and gets her into the tub on that big white chair, as well as doing the week’s other laundry, dusting and righting the area around her big auto-chair in the den, with its surroundings of uplifting books, pens, newspapers, spare eyeglasses, big-drink thermos mug (filled with ice water and emptied three times every day), Tums, a box of Kleenex and the big roll of Charmin set on the lid of the adjacent potty-chair. There's also the days-of-the-week-sectioned box of carefully-counted-out medicines which goes with Miss Ardyth everywhere---even to the bathroom, whether she is to take a pill or not. It rides in a little cushioned basket inside the basket of her walker.

Fridays, Miss Laura Beth gives Miss Ardyth another good tub bath, and washes her little dandelion fluff of sparse white hair, getting ready for the weekend and church-if-she-can-make-it.

But Wednesdays---Wednesdays are the days that Miss Laura Beth and Miss Ardyth May drive to The Walmart. It’s THE DAY. They would not miss it, and have driven over through rainstorms, a very alarming water-over-the-road moment once last year, and even an unprecedented ice storm, in which the roads were almost impassable, and the few customers in the store were waited on by the manager and his wife when nobody else could get to work. Worse than the trip through the slick roads, however, was the absence of Miss Ardyth's customary Corn Dog---SHE got there; why would an 18-Wheeler have trouble?

The two ladies sometimes also take a short stroll through Goodwill, for it’s on their way, and Wednesdays flaunt the fading, flappy banner: SENIOR DAY WEDNESDAYS 30% OFF. They go there first, for what if there were something really good and they MISSED it?

They make their way up and down the aisles---Miss Laura Beth at a pretty good clip toward the “Plus Boutique” to finger the poly-pants and floral blouses, flipping them out neatly like small bedsheets against her bosom and hips in front to check for size. Miss Ardyth May clops her walker through the purses and craft items, looking for gifts for her grown children---mostly picture frames, for those catch her eye every time, and she already has two boxes of them in the guest room closet, sandwiched like books between single-torn sheets of Bounty. The two dozen purses ranged above, each noosed around a coathanger, hang like tiny sides of beef in their cool gloom, awaiting a holiday.

And then they go to The Walmart, making their way in past the Greeter, checking the buggies for a full-plastic flap on the baby-seat and four good wheels. Those things MATTER.They stop immediately in the Ladies Room, where Miss Laura helps Miss Ardyth in and out and helps her freshen up after.

They stroll a bit, looking for the perky yellow face, checking out ranks of shampoos, over-the-counter medications, the nine TV screens all blaring Price Is Right---the varying quality and reception causing Bob Barker’s tan to range from George Hamilton to Boo Radley.

They shop a bit, pick up the things on their list, then head for the Garden Department, where they seat themselves in the comfortable chairs ringed round a wrought-iron patio table. They have quite a few sets to choose from, but these chairs are THEIRS--the chairs are a taupey-beige woven sling with black wrought iron---very elegant and strong. It’s where they sit every week, whilst customers pass by and speak and perhaps stop for a hug or a chat.

Miss Ardyth Mae is a retired music teacher, and her pupils some of the most faithful admirers one could wish---every Walmart visit is occasion of bright, happy exclamations of “Miss ARDYTH MAAAAY!! Is that YOU, you Sweet Thing? I’m so glad to SEEEEE you!” as she smiles from her nylon-webbing throne, receiving her subjects in the most regal manner.

Along about noon, Miss Laura is dispatched to the snack bar. She orders Miss Ardyth’s customary Corn Dog and Diet Coke and her own small cheese pizza, no sauce---a nod to her own IBS. They set out their lunch and eat daintily, still keeping watch for approaching friends and visitors. Every passerby is greeted, either with fond recognition, a friendly “Hello,” or a cool nod, for they know everyone in town.

Occasionally other ladies in their age ranges will join them, setting up shop for a long afternoon of conversation and banter; the news of the county is thoroughly sifted and discussed, as are church happenings, Club bulletins, social occasions and thorough reviews of newcomers and gossip and the latest family news.

They're an odd little bunch, these Ladies of Wednesday, these merchandise-squatters with big purses and slow, graceful speech; it's as if they have no homes, or are exceedingly wealthy, having rented out an entire floor for their private party. And the store manager would no more mention it to them, or worse---their children---than he would fly.

With the makeup of the group, there are fits and starts to the conversations, as first one then another has to be excused to the Ladies, and then she has to be "caught up" on what she missed.

Around four, they all start gathering up their things to head home. They’ve gone out for the day, lunched with friends, swapped recipes, gossip and crochet patterns, and have had quite as good a time as a much-younger martini-lunch crowd in Manolos. They all head home, refreshed and fulfilled, replete with a week's shopping and social obligations and need-to-know all at once.

Wednesdays at The Walmart Social Club---there’s one near you.