A Hard Remember
I loved sitting outside in the morning before I went to work. I was determined to take in as many sights, smells and sounds, tastes and touches as it took to firmly lock the memory of those mornings into place.
It was becoming ever more clear that I had lost most of my memories of my life before we left Oklahoma and came out west. The memories of Stewie's lifeless body and of Guinnie's sad eyes were carved into my brain, as were the gray skies thick with grit, the tiny beads of sweat on Guinnie's feverish forehead, and the cold feel of the dirt that covered her grave. I could never forget the memories I had of Thurman helping me wrestle her casket up the hill using Stewie's rusty red wagon.
Then there were the sounds of tense silence broken only by our labored breathing as me and him sunk deeper inside of ourselves than someone should ever have to go. It was as if we were seeking permission from the absent Lord of All Creation just to make a simple decision about what we needed to do in order to survive the desolation with our ability to make some sense of this crazy fucking world intact.
The things I couldn't remember anymore were the good things of our life as they dealt strictly with Oklahoma. There was this little creek not far from our house that was straight out of a fairytale book. The water bubbled and laughed its way past an overhanging of tall trees; the water danced on top of rocks and slid around boulders as it ran down from the foot of the mountains, down unto the hill, past our little cemetery eventually emptying into a large pond about three miles south of our house.
I had set up a little temple in a small clearing. There were sunlit places to sit on warm white rocks and watch as the water waltzed, and also places where sunlight leaked through the forest canopy and created a church of light and shadow that often stole my breath away. It was holy there, a place where I could think that there was a lot more to life than the grim stare of a cold unfeeling father who never smiled, a place where the sounds of running water and singing birds rhymed with the soft-hearted voice of my mother.
It had been the cradle of my fondest memories, and yet, ever day I woke up in California, the less I remembered the things that made it holy. I could still describe how it looked to an artist, but I was losing my ability to take the memory and raise it over my head.
By taking my coffee outside and sitting on the back porch in the morning taking it all in, I knew I was trying my best to both recreate a small temple of my own, and to reestablish a sense of holiness in my life that would make living it a bit more meaningful and necessary.
Old man Jenks had proven to be something of a prophet, or maybe that tumble in the sack with Martha Canary had shook loose something inside of him that he never knew he had, but when he said that new life for me might be waiting tables in a restaurant on mainstreet, he proved to be a visionary.
Her name was Jeannie Lazarus. I first laid eyes on her when I went to eat breakfast at the Concord Cafe. I walked in and right away noticed a spunky little waitress in a tight white dress with a lightly freckled nose and a saucy tongue sassing a tall truck driver who was giving it back as good as he got.
I went and sat down at the end of the counter in the front. The six stools were covered with thick red vinyl that matched the red linoleum on the counter top. There were posters of the specials the cafe was running lining the sides walls alongside some pictures of country music stars like the Carters, Uncle Dave Macon, and Jimmy Rogers.
I picked up a light green, grease-stained paper menu and acted like I was reading it as I listened in on the spirited debate the waitress was having with the truck driver.
"Damn it all, Jeannie, I can see you ain't gonna be happy till you take every dime I got."
She laughed, "Not even then, Earl. I'm going to send you home and make you borrow more money from Edna, and I'm going to take that from ya too."
"Hell, if I get out of here alive what makes ya think I'ma comin back?"
"The pie, Earl. You know you love Susie's pie."
He laughed again, then rose from his seat and tossed two quarters down, "I can't argue with ya there. That's good pie." He looked over and saw me and told me, "Son, if ya know what you're doing. You'd hightail it on out of here. This un's crazy." He pointed at the waitress.
She made show up being upset, but she really wasn't. She pretended to hit him and shoo him out the door. He laughed and waved at her before disappearing out the door. When he walked in front of the big window in the front of the cafe, he bent over looked inside at me, pointed to the waitress and circled his right index finger around his ear like she was crazy. She made a gesture for him to leave.
"What can I do for you, Mister? How about some cherry pie?"
I looked up from the menu into the prettiest green eyes I'd ever seen. They were so pretty that they made the words I meant to say stick to the roof of my mouth like peanut butter. I took a deep breath, relaxed my shoulders and tried to calm myself down before speaking. In the second before I spoke, the words changed, and I decided to go bold.
"Let me think a bit on that there pie, Sweetie. But the first thing you can do for me is go to the lady's room and take off that silly green eyeshadow you're wearing."
She reacted like my words slapped her right across her cheeks and they instantly turned pink. They also took the sass right out of her, and it was her turn to be tongue-tied.
The best she could come up with was, "How rude! I never..."
I cut her off before she could finish, "Girl, you have prettiest damn green eyes I've ever seen on a woman, but that damn make up don't do a thing for them. Besides, I plan on asking you out on a date, and I don't date women who wear green make-up on their face."
It was risky move on my part, and I held my breath a little while I waited to see if it would work. I could tell that she wanted to get angry, but then she started thinking on the other things I told her and calmed down considerably.
I think she decided to give me a chance because she answered, " Well, I'll take that advice under consideration. In the meantime, can I take your order?"
I looked up straight into her eyes. It was a bluff. Inside, my heart was beating like a hummingbird's wings, "How's the biscuits in this place?"
She regained her composure, and I could plainly see a hint of mischief creep into her eyes, "They ain't as good as my Mama's, but they're passable I reckon."
"Well, since your Mama ain't cooking, they'll have to do, I guess. I take two eggs over easy, some bacon, a cup of coffee, and some of them biscuits that your mama didn't cook."
She wrote it all down and started to walk away. I couldn't help notice that she looked as nice leaving as she did on the approach.
I let her get almost to the open place in the wall that opened into the kitchen and called out, "You never did answer my question."
She turned around and gave me a smile that would have melted the butter in a cold box, "I don't believe you ever asked me a question."
There were times when spring back to the Oklahoma hills and juices and hidden energies came oozing up out of the cold ground. The trees would shed their wintry coats and start to stretch their arms and awake, and the grasses, and the pretty flowers too. The snow on the lakes would melt and the waters would resume their downhill journey.
There were no holy streams in Concord that I could see, just a bunch of irrigation ditches and a wide path of cracked, dark asphalt painted with white stripes that ran through the center of the town on its way past a small cafe where there was a girl with a lightly freckled nose, a pair of beautiful and mysterious green eyes, and a smile that could melt a heart of stone. Yet, it proved to me that those earthly forces that brought back the color to an Oklahoma hillside and made frozen water run down hill, could also perform their magic of bringing the dead back to life in the dusty villages and towns of California.