Sunday, July 1, 2012

Clap, clap, clap

Children are God's ever replenishing reminders to adults--reminders of what is important. My niece Ana is one of the brightest little memorandums in my life. Last I saw her was when I flew home for her first birthday, 3 months ago. Since then, I heard phone tales of her first steps and her first words and her transition from baby to little girl. I heard about what a happy child she was. And when Ana and her parents came down to visit me last week, I witnessed that all they told me was true. The child smiled nearly incessantly. From her waking moment of bouncing and laughing in her playpen, every little thing made her happy. Pick her up, she clapped her hands, grinning toothily. Set her down, same routine. Walk down the street and see a dog--party on. Put her in front of a mirror--clap clap, clap. Every little thing called for celebration. So often I find myself not looking forward to tomorrow. I hate Wednesdays because they're hump day. I hate Mondays because they aren't Saturday. I hate Sunday because Monday is the next day. I hate Thursdays because they aren't Friday. In simpler terms, I dread life most days. Celebration is out of the question. One of my favorite new movies is Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium. Quirky, simple, elegant--the movie reminds me of all the important little things that only one who has mastered the art of living would know. My favorite line comes right before Mr. Magorium dies when he tells his faithful worker Mahoney, "Your life is an occasion--rise to it." Life is an occasion that we're all invited to. And we've got so much to celebrate, starting with this day, this moment. On days when I'd rather cry than be brave and laugh and on the days when I don't even want to crawl out of bed, much less clap my hands, I hope to remember my little niece, with her open-mouthed grin, watching for reasons to slap her chunky hands together--clap, clap, clap.

The Desk

Mom is planning to buy more new furniture. Each time I come home to visit it feels that our house is a revolving furniture store, with fresh models of chests and tables and chairs and decorations But I wasn't prepared when, last week, Mom pointed to the desk. In a tone that spoke of long standing animosity, she said, "That monstrosity's going next. Since Joey's going to school this year, I won't need it." And she told me of her plans to set her new entertainment center against that wall in its place. In truth, I think she's always thought the desk transgressed her interior decorating style. My heart dropped a little as I looked at the simple oak desk. I don't even remember when it became a part of our house, but my dad built it, one of the pieces of furniture that had helped ignite my dad's love for woodwork. It was simple, with three side drawers and one long top drawer. With three shelves and, just above the desk under the bottom shelf, a light that always blinked three times before coming on. The desk is all corners, scary to have children around. More than once I've nearly ruptured a kidney by backing into the thing. And heavy. It was the piece of furniture my most dreaded lugging around during the frequent moves of my childhood. But it went with us to North Carolina, to Maryland, and back to two more moves in South Carolina. The desk set the tone for the rest of the furniture in the room to which Mom assigned it. Because once in place, the thing wouldn't be moving. When Mom said so flippantly that she was getting rid of it, I felt as if she had decided to send a family member to Goodwill. From my first memories, the bottom drawer always stuck, an obstacle that didn't impede me from pulling it open with all my strength to discover the comic books in there along with the pack of my dad's colored pencils, as well as a horn of some animal that he had begun to scrimshaw. remnants of his former life as an aspiring artist. The drawer smelled of ink and leather, the smell of a life shoved in the drawer, forgotten so that he could earn a living for us, leaving behind his ambition. Later the desk became command central for my home school years. Scattered with Mom's lesson plans, with pens and pencils, stickers and charts, text books and binders, it was always the place I referred to for answers. Most recently, however, it's a catch-all for dried up pens and broken pencils and the snack wrappers my brother's refuse to carry ten more feet to the kitchen trashcan. So I guess I can't make a good argument for my mom keeping it. Except to think, "But it's the desk." At the risk of sounding sentimental, I asked, "What will you do with it?" and ran my finger across the pointy edge, now a bit dull from age. "Chris is coming to get it. He hopes to pastor a church soon. Says it will be great for his office." I'm glad to know who's inheriting the desk, that it will be serving a noble purpose. But I kind of hope I'm there to say goodbye when my dad lugs it out for the last time.


Bouts of homesickness attack me sometimes when I'm 500 miles away from my hometown where I grew up. But I rarely crave the familiarity of my parents' house or my friends' houses, or even my beautiful town nestled at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Oddly enough, the location my melancholy most reliably craves is our local grocery store, Ingles. Ingles is a run-of-the-mill grocery store chain in the south. Some of the store locations have a pharmacy, and almost all of them have a movie rental section, a deli, bakery, meat counter, and florist. There is absolutely nothing exclusive about them; I could just as easily buy groceries at Bi-Lo or Walmart or Publix. But a visit home isn't complete without at least once meandering the aisles of the Ingles store about 2 minutes from our house. I make excuses to stop in and eagerly agree to run out to the store for Mom, just to walk through, smelling the faintly sour odor of the dairy aisle, the mint gum and Windex at the registers, the pungent aroma of the coffee aisle, and sweet smell of the fruit section. Hugging myself against the chill, I stroll through the freezer section, and at the meat counter I inspect the chicken gizzards and cow tongue and other body parts of livestock that only rednecks would eat. I gawk around to see how many cashiers are still there who have been working at Ingles for ten years, at least. And for some reason, like a metal detector, my fondness seems to grow the strongest when I'm in the dog food aisle, though I haven't quite uncovered the memory connected to that emotion. But why would a grocery store hold any sway on my emotions? Especially when there's nothing special about it. Maybe it's just the familiarity fostered by all the 'runs to the store' for that item Mom forgot to get, and Wednesday evening trips for gallons of milk after church. Maybe it's all the times I scrounged for quarters and went to buy a USA Today as a teenager, eager to read about other parts of the United States. Maybe it was the mystery of living in a small town, where you never knew who you might see when you turned the corner to the canned goods aisle--be it an ex-boyfriend, snobby church member, or neighbor. Or maybe it's because when I was home-schooled, the grocery store was the one place we went consistently, representing a small venue of unpredictability. Even now, when I feel that life has become too mundane, or I can't bear facing my lonely apartment, I'll take that road I've passed a million times, just to see what's at the end. Or drive to the end of Palafox Street to see what the fishermen are catching at the pier. Or ask a random stranger for a story. At all times keeping my eyes open for any little adventure that might pop up, always hoping that one is just around the corner. The small ones are usually the best. Perhaps that's why Ingles is so dear to my heart--because it will always represent that first awakening of small time, anytime adventure for me.