November 20, 2008
I did something today I haven’t done in a long time. On the way into work this morning I stopped in at the corner store, situated at the intersection of highways 166 and 5 in Douglas County. Way back when, I stopped in there several times a week to get two eggs and a side order of bacon for two bucks. A bargain…
There is a lady named Brenda that works behind the counter in the store. She is loud and brash, tiny and gray headed. When I came through the door there wasn’t anyone inside except her, and she was busy flitting around refilling the food warmer with breakfast fodder. The familiar blast furnace level of heat and the smell of freshly sliced onions met me, mixed with a hint of Pine-sol. The heat and smells of this place always send me soaring back to my grandmother’s kitchen. Watching in awe as she put the finishing touches on a main dish before making the entrance to the dining room. I walked to the counter; she looked up and beamed a huge grin… she squealed out in her too many cigarettes an hour voice, “Now where the hell have you been?” “Work, home, walmart, and the book store.” Was my answer… it rolled off my tongue without a second thought. I asked how she had been, steeling myself against the tide of health issues that I knew I was about to be hit with, and she did not disappoint. When the last of the litany was tossed out ending with a long sigh, she then asked how I had been doing…”bout normal” She laughed and began telling me all about the goings on around the store for the last several months. I was a bit disturbed by how she seemed to know the exact date of my last visit, yet found a strange comfort in it.
When the last detail of the store owner’s machinations for world domination were spilled and my bacon and eggs were prepped, bagged, and waiting, I reached in my pocket for the two dollars and fifty cents (the price went up in my absence). For no reason at all I asked her, “Where are you headed in life Brenda?” Without missing a beat she replied, “Just waitin’ for that glorious morning when the alarm clock goes off to find me already gone and walking hand in hand with my husband wrapped in the grace of God”
That just simply struck my soul. I stared at her for a moment as her eyes told me that she seemed to have said something a little too personal… Years of dealing with construction workers had honed her wit and prepared her mind to be ready to hear all manner of foul speech bantered back and forth around her. Yet, she was obviously not prepared for words that might slip from her own mouth. After a couple of seconds she attempted recovery by taking a stab at a joke, “You see, nobody could dance like Rodney, and darlin’ it’s been a long time since I went dancing.” But that seemed to push her farther into a place she wasn’t comfortable being near in the presence of another person. She looked quickly down at the counter and took out a napkin from her apron pocket, I took that as my signal to grab the paper bag of breakfast and head out.. As I reached for the door knob, she mumbled something to me I couldn’t understand, I looked back at her as I opened the door, stepping aside as people came in. She didn’t look at me, but with amazing speed recovered from her emotional moment with a skill that would’ve impressed any seasoned thespian. She raised her head and greeted the group with a loud, “Hey y’all, what are you up to this morning?” You would’ve never known the depth of emotion that had just encased that room.
I walked out of the door, but couldn’t help stopping in front of the big window to glance at her through the hand painted words. She looked back at me and smiled, slowly shaking her head… then bit her lower lip and gave me a rather good stink eye as she pointed at me, shaking her finger in admonition for my breaking through her wall of toughness. I smiled and gave her a helpless shrug as if to say I’m sorry… She just shook her head and turned away to get the orders being shouted at her from the counter.
The look she held in her eyes as she thought of her husband is something that I will carry for a long time to come. A secret to guard close for use as a shield in times when I think there just is no love left in this world.