Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A Digression from the Ordianry

The past few days' absence was due to an unexpected trip to Arkansas. We left because of a "family emergency," which, of course, is usually a euphemism for "somebody died." In this case, that someone was Chris' maternal grandmother, who passed away last night. I didn't know her at all, so I honestly don't feel like I should say too much about it. I have been told that, back in the day, she was a voracious reader who used to send Chris outside to do whatever [go fishing, it sounds like he did a lot] while she preserved summer's bounty for winter consumption. On the surface, that sounds a lot like... well, me. I'm sad that I came too late into his life to know this person who helped to shape his childhood, just as I'm sad that he missed knowing my mom's parents. But it would be silly for me to try and eulogize... and so I'll ignore that aspect of the trip and focus on some other interesting Arkansas observations.

I have long been a car voyeur,* looking out the window and catching little glimpses of other people's lives, wondering what their stories are, what it would be like to live where they lived. When I lived in the city, I loved driving down Lake Shore Drive at night, especially in the winter, when you could see into all the illuminated windows of the lake-side apartments with their sophisticated furniture and imagine the people who lived there. Even in the suburbs, I think about that... although it's not often too exciting... "Can you imagine what it must be like to have impatients growing in your yard? Look, those people have a republican campaign sign... what must it be like to live in a family like that?" But of all the places I've been, Arkansas holds the most mystery for me. Little Greek villages? Impoverished Caribbean children? New Yorkers? For wondering, none of them hold a candle to these folks. [And I'd like to say, here, that I am describing with great respect, and if it appears otherwise, I apologize.]

So driving to Chris' grandma's house, you leave the highway and before long, you turn onto a gravel road. Some of the residences on this road... OK, here's one. It's a one-story red brick home with a corrugated metal roof. The roof hangs off the front creating a sort of porch, from which hang about 100 wind chimes of all sizes, shapes, and colors. A large part of the yard is fenced and running around in there is a pack of toy dogs. Tiny ones, like daschunds. I saw maybe six of them. Do they breed these little dogs? Just think they make really good pets? I don't know.

Further down the road two kids -- about ages 3 and 5 -- sat on the front steps of an old trailer. Surrounding them in the lawn was the debris of several lifetimes. A sofa, fluffy and brown, though not necessarily originally. A lawnmower, recently used, stopped in the middle of mowing. A mangled trampoline. The rusty pick-up and tires you'd expect. The list goes on. And I wondered... what do those children DO all day? I mean, since they clearly can't trampoline. (Several hours later, we drove into town and I discovered the answer. Apparently, they sit on the steps without moving all day, because they were still in the exact same places.)

The other crazy thing about this drive is that these kids, living in a trailer -- and I don't mean a prefab home, I mean an actual trailer -- as likely as not have neighbors that have a big stone home with the disjointed roof lines of new construction and a manicured lawn. Or, you know, an antebellum mansion. If there's a wrong side of the tracks, then the trains are cris-crossing the area like mad.

Just before the turn for Chris' grandma's street, there is a taxidermist. His advertisement is a hand-painted sign, orange on wood. I'm not entirely sure who sees the sign, but either there's more traffic than I'd expect or word of mouth is good for the taxidermy business, because I guess this guy's been doing that since Chris was a kid. He dumps the skeletons down the road and vultures come to pick at them, which I saw last time I was in Arkansas. Right in the middle of his yard there's a thing. I know that's not very helpful, but I don't know what it is. It looks like a submarine, except that instead of a periscope, it has a chimney that smokes all day. I can only guess at what this is for. I don't think you need it for taxidermy -- at least, I didn't cook anything when I had to taxidermy a specimen for a class once. But maybe it has to do with eating the meat? Waste not, want not.

Those are some of the characters I got to wonder about as we drove to Chris' grandma's house. (All that's visible of that from the road is the end of the driveway. Not too interesting for other passers by to daydream about.) At the house, I did see some things that actually fit in with the normal topic of this blog... plants, dragonflies, spiders, and such... but I think I'll save that for tomorrow, along with an update of what's happening here, not that I know. It was dark when we returned.

*not that kind. Just in the sense of observing from the outside.

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