Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Bookfield, Salt of the Earth - Part 1

The first day that I rode my bike well outside of Athens and its suburbs was an exciting one. I left in the early morning when the sun was just up over the horizon and the shadows were long. I watched as I passed by the last clusters of houses I had already visited and ventured into open country. Traffic was suddenly scarce and it was quiet, the quiet that one only notices when in the country. The road was visible ahead of me for miles as there were only spots of trees here and there bordering the lush green soy bean planted fields. Thick kudzu camouflaged the telephone poles and anything else that dared to stand upright on the roadside.

I next passed fenced grazing fields populated by black, Angus cattle. The bright sun shone down on the bulls’ horns and they bellowed and made mock charges towards me as I sped by. I stood on my pedals and bellowed back with all of the force in my diaphragm. The bulls stared back at me and pawed the ground. Somehow, doing this gave me a feeling of elation.

Eventually I came to a cluster of houses that seemed to be a small village. I stopped at the very first house. The lower floor of the house had white clapboards on it, while the second floor had evergreen colored shingles. A middle aged woman with partly graying hair answered the door and after my approach she let me in.

“Please dear, sit down. I want to tell you something.” There was a hushed and respectful tone in her voice. “I don’t know if you heard about the recent tragedy here in Watkins.”

“No, Ma’am. I haven’t. Why don’t you tell me about it.” I answered.

“Just last week, the Booth’s little girl was hit by a car and killed.”

“That’s terrible! How old was she?”

“She was nine years old. But that’s not all. The young man that hit her was her cousin and he was driving drunk. Now he’s in jail and facing charges. You need to understand that this is a very small town and everyone here is devastated by this tragedy. I myself am distantly related to the Booths. The whole town is in mourning.”

I tried to take in all that this woman was telling me. It was truly awful and I felt sympathetic and my heart sank. All I could think of was the movie Paper Moon where Tatum O’Neal would try to sell Bibles to folks who had just lost loved ones using their recent loss as a hook. I realized just how cold and uncaring it would be to try to sell books to bereaved people.

The woman continued to speak. “Please understand that I am not judging what you do. I think there is benefit in selling Bible books. But please find it in your heart to skip this town. Now is really not a good time, and I doubt whether you would make any sales anyhow.”

I responded quietly. “I understand what you are saying. I think that you are right and I just hope that the people of this town can find a way to live with this loss. Thank you for letting me know.” She smiled and politely showed me out.

I walked down the grass of her front yard and picked up my bike. I stood in front of this first house on the edge of this small town and looked toward the town center. It seemed that I could see almost all of the houses in town right from where I was standing. Maybe there were twenty. The houses were bathed in sunlight, but all their window shades were drawn. The streets were quiet. No one was out gardening; no children were playing. The morning breeze had died. I felt a black presence over the town as if when I looked straight into the clear blue sky I could see right through the atmosphere to the dark vastness of outer space, and the nothingness beyond.

Tears welled up in my eyes. I pictured the little girl dead in the road and felt the town’s shock and loss. I had decided to skip selling in this town. I would ride through quietly, out of respect. Perhaps I could return toward the end of the summer and see if life had returned to normal in Watkins.


Ryan said...

i so love your stories. u ever thought about writing a book about your life?

Sue said...

Bookfield is my book. I cannot publish it for money, or I loose my company disability. That is why I have a blog. Glad you are enjoying it Ryan! :)

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