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LITTERTwo of my aunts used to run a country store down at the lake. It was more than that really; you could get everything from an ice cream cone to a new wig made on site. The ice cream was more popular.My Uncle Bill and Uncle Fred would man the porch. They were pranksters by trade and both had retired from their hobby of teaching. They spent most of their summers, even before they retired, in rocking chairs on either side of the stairs leading to the front door. No one could enter the store without going by at least one of them.They were harmless and fun and part of the reason people stopped in. Both of them always carried a notebook and a pen. One of their favorite pastimes was to write short little poems about everyone that came by, especially tourist and anyone new. They were usually funny, or cutesy, and short. Occasionally someone would justify something serious, but never hurtful. Mostly they were along the lines of: Red in her hair and on her toes, but neither as cute as ice cream on her nose.They would tear them out of their notebooks and give them to the person they were written about. Occasionally, someone would keep one and cherish it, but mostly they ended up in the trashcans inside or blowing across the parking lot. I worked there summers growing up; me and Big Tony. We were the only employees. Big Tony was about forty, deserving of his nickname, and a bit slower than most folks. In thinking that is. He was a hard worker. We would take care of the trash, sweep the floors, restock shelves; whatever my aunts needed. I liked working with Tony, he smiled a lot and never had a harsh word for anyone or anything.Years later, after my aunts and uncles had passed on along with the store, I would stop in and check on Tony as often as I could. He lived in an assisted living place and seemed to enjoy it. We would take walks and occasionally go back down to the lake and fish.One day he decided to show me his room. It was neat and clean, just like he had always been; bed, chair, table, TV. The usual set up. But covering the walls were hundreds of pieces of notebook paper that I remembered so well. Each one had a small, hand written poem about someone that had passed through that store: discarded, left behind."Tony, how did you get these?""I used to pick them up. Out of the trash, off of the parking lot.""Why?""Besides you, they are the only friends I have."My visits to Tony become more frequent. When the time came, I collected all of his 'friends' into a scrapbook and made a copy. The copy I kept, the other was in Tony's hand when they closed the lid.
Excellent, Mark!! Super concise and detailed! Your characters are so well developed. Really enjoyed this, thank you! :)
This poem that I published in The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature in October 2011 is a bit about going local and what becomes of it. The lines look a little savaged here, but the ideas are intact. Simple Directions from Southern ElderA farmer’s market you’re wanting? There’s one by the old fair grounds. There was a time when you could buy farm goods all along these roads, sold at stalls right along the way, fresh bread and eggs, jams and jellies, every kind of vegetable and fruit, honey and ham. I sold some myself, my wife too when she was alive. My specialty was corn, silver queen and golden harvest, the best around. So many cars stopped that traffic snarled, and our stalls were closed until they collected us at that market. It’s just openon Saturdays and Wednesdays, you know.Yep, the farmers market. You want to go back toward town—not much of a town really, but now with a stop light, a bank, and a post office the size of a postage stamp, and, yes, a McDonald’s. We used to just grill our burgers at home and they were better too, you can bet.You’ll pass an Esso station, even that’s Exxon now, and turn right by a barn with three silos. That used to be owned by Sadie Newell, but she died and it went to her daughter and then was sold right quick. Young folks don’t want a farm and dairy life any more. That place used to have two barns but now there’s just the one. Fire, you know. Lucky they didn’t lose everything, and you can bet that ‘un lit up the night sky. Some said it was lightning, but I ‘spect it was teenagers smoking pot in there that sparked it. Kids today.So yeah, you turn right there and follow that road down to where the Missionary Baptist meeting house used to be. There’s a foundation and the sign, but the building’s gone. Their new preacher got a dream sign that they’d prosper only near flowing water, so they dismantled that church, put it on trucks and drove it across the river, where it sits today, right near a spot that’s just mangy with water moccasins. Go left at the church sign to a two-lane windy road and that will take you right past the old fair grounds and your farmer’s market. We seldom use that spot any more, since we built a bigger fair ground a decade ago. Old folks like me liked the old grounds, but the young folks and new-comers liked more rides and exhibits and the like, but that’s change for you. The only thing we can count on. Jane Shlensky