I have absolutely been having the most interesting day.
Okay. I write that and then I think, really Mary? and then I think, hell, yes!
For me, at least.
On my walks lately I've been seeing a man also walking whom I've never seen until recently. He walks with a golf club and always wears sunglasses and he's the one who laughs when he sees me and tells me that I walk fast. Today we actually chatted a bit and he said that since he's started walking he's lost weight and no longer needs medication for his blood pressure or Type 2 diabetes. We agreed that walking is a very good thing and went on our separate ways. I was listening to a book of essays by Ann Patchett called "This Is The Story Of A Happy Marriage." Most engaging and interesting but then I switched over to the Diane Rhem's show which today was a discussion on another book I've read and loved recently, Anthony Doerr's, "All The Light We Cannot See." So I was in a bit of literary heaven as I walked past blazing overgrown bushes of azaleas and the Cherokee roses and the dewberry vines, thick with blossoms and I went the route today takes me into the woods and by the fields and by the pond and down the path which is littered with trash dumped by assholes and then down the road by the horse farm named Lloyd Subdivision Road. This road is wooded and lined on both sides by modest and well-kept houses and I speak sometimes to one of the women who lives on the road at the top of a small rise. Her name is Shelly and she walks too. She was out raking her yard today and I stopped to say hey and before I knew it, I was up in her yard and we were truly talking.
My god! I learned so much from her!
She grew up in Lloyd, had fourteen siblings, twelve of whom survived. I can't remember how we got onto the subject but she began to tell me about some of her siblings and damn if she's not the sister of not only the man I talked to today but also to a man I always thought had the name of Bubba, but no, he's Willie, and also, The Sheik, who is in all reality, called The Sheik, which I thought was just a name we'd made up because back in the seventies when I lived in Lloyd before, he always wore a head-covering that resembled something a man from the middle east would wear and as I have mentioned before, he still dresses in a most sartorial fashion.
Shelly's family has had its share of woes. House fires and car accidents and illnesses. Willy lost his leg in a hit and run and the driver's defense, when they found him, was that he wasn't trying to kill Willy, but someone else entirely. The Sheik has had several heart procedures and has lost an eye. The man who walks with the golf club (I've already forgotten his name) also lost an eye in a fight. Now I know why both men wear sunglasses all of the time.
I told Shelly that I often see The Sheik up at Miss Liola's and she said that yes, he goes by there frequently as do many of the local fellows because Miss Liola is the "alley cat mama."
I loved that! The alley cat mama!
They check in with her because she cares about them and because they care about her.
We discussed gardening and yards and she told me that her grandfather had a plantation where he raised and butchered his own hogs and beef and grew everything he needed. He ground his own corn meal, made his own cane syrup, had his own honey bee hives. He lived to be a hundred. She herself grew up taking care of all of her siblings, making soap with her mother from beef fat and lye, pulling sweet potatoes, peanuts, picking greens, blackberries, and beans. And hell, I don't even remember what all she did. She told me that she was working outside once and a man stopped who'd known her mother and said, "You'll never be half the woman your mother was."
She replied, "If I have to have over a dozen children to be the woman she was I'm not interested."
I think she said she has one child. And she certainly did say that it wasn't fair for children to grow up in a family that big. That none of them got the care and attention they needed. That she was carrying babies around when she was five and that her body suffers from it now.
"I had no choice," she told me. "There were so many babies and Mama worked."
I said something about how some people claim that god will never give them more children than they can handle and then I worried I might have insulted her because she does invoke the name of God in conversation but in this instance, she agreed completely with me.
"God gave us some common sense, too," she said. "We should use it."
I was just completely blown away to have had this conversation with her. I feel like I know so much more about the history of where I live now and she feels like such a kindred spirit. I certainly did not work nearly as hard as she did when I was young- I mean, there's no comparison- but I did help raise my siblings and we both love our yards so much and are so much happier to spend time outside than in. She said that she gets so tired from working in the yard some days but then she goes in and takes a hot shower and makes a cup of tea and just sits and looks at her yard and I knew exactly what she meant.
Okay. So I am more apt to make a martini than a cup of tea, but the experience is much the same.
She's retired from whatever work it was that she did for most of her life and I think that she is very content now to live in her house at the top of a hill, working in her yard, taking her walks, still worrying about and fussing over her brothers.
And I know more about Miss Liola and the guys I see almost daily and oh! also she says that the subs from Papa Jay's are out of this world and she bought one yesterday to eat for her lunch today but she ended up eating it for breakfast because it was so good. Another thing we agreed on was that Lloyd can benefit greatly from that little store and that we both hope he makes a go of it.
Here I am now, home, and it is such a beautiful day and I had thought to go to town to run a few errands but no, I just want to stay here. I counted nine red-winged blackbirds at the feeder and although that is fifteen less than is required for a pie to set before the king, it was a goodly plenty. They are singing their melodious songs and my chickens are scratching, Maurice is napping in her border grass nest, I got beautiful things in the mail, and although my legs and hips are aching as they almost always do, I think of Shelly and how she told me that she too, hurts all the time and we agreed that we have done things to our bodies that we are now paying for- using them from early ages to do what had to be done- but that we are both still strong and capable of doing what we want and need to do.
She is sixty-eight. I am sixty. We are both women who have lived lives and who still are. We both live in Lloyd, Florida. She has told me things today that I will ponder for the rest of my life. She has answered questions I have wondered about forever.
Ann Patchett is waiting for me to tell me more of her stories. The hen house has been cleaned out, there are clothes ready to hang on the line.
None of this sounds like much, perhaps, but it is my world and today it seems full of everything I could need or want.
So yes, it's been an interesting day. And I am so glad to be here in it. A good day to be alive.