The Tale of Godot & Godette

Readers know the truth. Closing the cover on a well-told tale is one of the most satisfying experiences in the world. 

Breathing a sigh, caught between worlds, still oblivious to the clamor of unmade beds and untended gardens vying for their attention, readers linger at the threshhold of half-remembered lives, hesitant to turn from the vibrant, constructed world they entered with such anticipation, happy to have discovered all the pleasures of diversion, insight and beauty it once allowed.

Still, as I set aside the story of Godot, my self-effacing little cactus with the extravagant blossoms, I was content. The history of his rescue, the drama of his against-all-odds determination to bloom and the glory of his flowering had been recounted, and it was time to move on.

From all appearances, Godot was equally satisfied. As his blossoms faded and fell, he didn’t fuss or complain but re-dedicated himself to growing quietly in his corner. Life went on, as life does, and all was at peace on the porch. Continue reading

Godot Gives It Another Go

“What’s happening with Godot this year?” she asked. Startled, I said I didn’t know. I’d paid scant attention to my little patio friend since April, when inspections revealed no sign of activity in the cactus pot – no new growth, no buds, no blooms. By the beginning of May things still were quiet and, as happens in so many families, the quiet and well-behaved one was left to fend for himself.

Of course, turning your back on the quiet one can be dangerous. Left to their own devices, there’s no telling what they’ll get up to. Continue reading

Zero’s Chances

Sometimes it grieves me that so few photos remain from my years in Liberia. The realities of West Africa at the time – inadequate film storage, poor processing, the nature of the film itself – have resulted in most photographs fading into darkness, leaving nothing but indistinct smiles and a memory. The traditional blacksmith who forged iron “country money” is gone, as are the piles of cocoa pods, the gaggle of “money buses” with their marvelous painted slogans (“God Bless the Woman that Born Me”, “The Wicked Will Fall”) and stacks of Russian waxed toilet paper in the Gbarnga store.

Still, there are treasures. In one photo, my father stands next to a village chief, both men solemn with the responsibilities of formal gift-exchange. In another, my mother follows my father along a narrow bush path, watching him as he tries to pretend he doesn’t see the line of bare-breasted women coming from the village to greet them. Continue reading

The Raising Up of Dale T

No one seemed to know how Dirty Dale got his name, and Dale wasn’t telling.

Gladys, who came in off the rigs to put her cooking talents to work in the cafe she purchased after years in the oil patch, had plenty of opportunity to watch the locals in action and she watched Dale a lot. She insisted his nickname came from his good-natured willingness to pursue every female in sight. It was a reasonable assumption. No matter how oblivious, uninterested or irritated the woman might be, Dale’s confidence was absolute as he slid into the seat next to her or leaned against her car.  “Hey, darlin’,” he’d say. “I’m here to improve your life.” Lord knows he tried. Continue reading

Art and Life Say “Howdy” and Shake

I hadn’t meant to linger, but when Hazel caught me just outside the post office doors, there was nothing for it but to say good morning and fold up the to-do list.  Like everyone in town, I knew the truth Hazel freely confessed. She came to the post office as much for the socializing as for stamps, and when she bumped into you, she expected to be humored.

That day, it was my turn.  We covered her loss at the weekly domino party (“they cheated”), the small size of her figs (“not near enough rain”) and the relative merits of oilcloth versus paper table coverings at a picnic. She’d just begun dissecting the virtues and faults of her grand-daughter’s new boyfriend (“polite enough, but not much use on a tractor”) when a fellow I recognized but didn’t know by name parked his truck and ambled up the sidewalk.

Hazel fairly beamed. “Harlan!” she said. “Why aren’t you out with them cows?” Harlan just grinned. “Now, why would I be spendin’ time with a bunch of old cows when I can come here and spend time with you?” Turning my direction, Harlan touched the brim of his hat with a finger. “Mornin’, ma’am.”

Hazel always remembered her manners. “Have you met this young lady?” “I can’t say I’ve had the pleasure,” Harlan said. “I sure haven’t. We’ve howdied, but we ain’t shook yet. Pleased to meet you, ma’am.” The introductions made, we proceeded to shake hands, right then and there. Continue reading

Heading Home

Given a choice, my mother preferred not to travel. She enjoyed being in new places, visiting family members and taking in the occasional entertainment, but she despised the process of getting from point A to point B. Packing for a trip was agony – so many decisions needed to be made!  Even getting the house cleaned and put in order before leaving created high anxiety, but it had to be done. What if you died on the road? Certainly you wouldn’t want strangers roaming through your bedroom, running their fingers over a dusty night stand and telling one another you were slovenly.

As for those hours in the car, there weren’t enough magazines, knitting projects or books in the world to overcome her impatience. Sometimes she seemed to be thinking, “If only I could close my eyes and discover when I opened them this misery had passed.” Other times, she put her feelings into words: “If I’d known it was going to take this long to get there, I would have stayed home.”

Now and then someone with an inclination to tease would call her “Dorothy”, and everyone understood the reference. She’d just laugh and say,  “If someone gave me a pair of ruby slippers, I’d be out of Oz in a minute. Being able to click my heels and go would make life a whole lot easier.”  Continue reading

The Poured-Out Heart

Slender and freckle-faced, as plain as his name, my first true love preferred Western shirts with mother-of-pearl buttons and fancy piping, even though he mostly wore soft, plaid flannels or, in warmer weather, crisp cotton with just a hint of his mother’s starch.  On the first day of fourth grade, when alphabetical luck decreed we sit next to one another in Library Class, he happened to be wearing a blue-and-white check with a single pocket and short sleeves.  Forever after, it was my favorite.

As so often happens, proximity bred friendship. When the librarian told us it was time to share books and read to one another, I read with Tim.  Encouraged to search for shelved books by Dewey decimal number, we searched together.  Entrusted with the responsibility of choosing our own book report partners, we chose each other. Continue reading