PlazaJen: Passion Knit

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

White Dove

For whatever reason, the more noteworthy characters in my hometown have been rolling around in my head the past couple of weeks. There's Jack, who had a physical disability that caused his chin to smash down onto his chest. He worked at the gas station and was very animated, which compounded with his permanently hunched/surprised expression, made for a lot to look at. There was Marvin, who was certifiably NUTS, and terrified every kid in the town. Well over six feet tall, he strode around town, yelling at anyone who got near him. It was a big thing to dare one another to run up to his porch. Just so you don't get any ideas about how brave I am, don't worry: I never did it. What made Marvin really stand out was his year-round overcoat, on the back of which he'd hand lettered, "If it weren't for handguns, we'd still be British subjects". Hand lettered with electrical tape. The pieces that came off left behind shadowed letters, since the sun had lightened the overcoat from years of wear. He was somethin' else.

But the real talk of the town was the Garbage Lady. Cecilia Something. She and her husband lived in a trailer, in the more questionable trailer park in town. (There were two.) I don't think they really had jobs? I would see her, as the school bus drove into town, rooting in the trash barrels in front of the grocery store. She filled a large black trash bag with her discoveries, and she also didn't have much to do with kids, beyond yelling. Looking back, I'm sure she was horribly taunted and villified by older kids, but to me, she was just plain scary. She smelled something awful, and her face, forgive me, but the only way to describe it was rather troll-like. Long, unwashed graying hair framed her face. Her lower jaw jutted up and out, pushing her lower lip higher and gave her a comical look. She wore old cat-eye glasses, and, unfortunately, she had whiskers. There it is: whiskers. There weren't many occasions I was close enough to see them, maybe two or three, but boy, those whiskers sure were vivid. Made an impression on MY young mind, you could say.

One of those whisker-viewing times came on a Saturday in October, when a small group of us were trick-or-treating for UNICEF. After much deliberation, we decided to try her trailer. It was curiousity, really, and we were feeling brazen. She let us in, and we saw that every horizontal surface in her home was covered in trash. COV-ERED. I don't really remember if she gave us anything, maybe pennies, small change - I know she gave us a lecture on how she didn't have much, but she also didn't stop talking to us and we eventually started to feel trapped. I mostly remember thinking we shouldn't be taking anything at all from her, because she obviously needed it. Around the same time, I remember attending a Democratic Party meeting with my parents, in the basement of the Farmer's Mutual building in town, it was 1976, and Jimmy Carter was running against Gerald Ford. Those meetings were a blur to me, being 8 years old; I mostly recall animated voices & the smell of strong coffee. But Cecilia came to one, and had a long conversation with my dad, in which she (oddly) informed him of her CB handle: White Dove. I know later we laughed, because goooood lordy, those truckers had no idea from her handle who they were talking to.

And that's really it, isn't it, that missing piece that keeps us from understanding people? Not knowing or being able to fathom their needs, motivations, etc.? I still don't understand her world, how someone could live a complete life in a town of 700 people, with no visible means of support, where going through the trash every day is your routine. Yelled at by teenagers, an icon of fear to children, yet, there she went, every day - rummaging through the trash, waddling back home to her husband and apparently, onto the airwaves with a moniker that allowed her to connect with other people, if at a distance.

It's funny, because when I lived there, I absolutely hated my hometown and its smallness and simpleness, yet it is so rich, in its colloquial-ness and oddities, like a small handmade marble that, as you turn it, catches the light and flashes color in a new way you didn't see before. Don't worry: I'm not going back (they don't have cable modems, for pete's sake), but I do like to indulge in the memories of some of the more colorful incidents & characters that populated that little speck of land in Iowa. I remember a mixture of admiration and mostly embarassment, watching my dad spending time talking to the Garbage Lady. I know now, he was being kind. His is the bar I hold for myself, in trying to be good, in trying to be kind to others.

Ahhh, White Dove. I hope she was happy.
posted by PlazaJen, 6:50 AM