I make my way east on Smith Road from our rural Ohio township, heading toward the nearest small town for this week’s errands — library, local market, fabric store. These last few tumultuous years I crave peace, so I don’t click on a podcast or audiobook. I drive in the quiet of my own thoughts. (They are not all that quiet.)
It’s a gorgeous autumn day. Leaves are at their peak and stand out against vivid blue skies. Temperatures are an unseasonable 67 degrees. Even my light sweater is too warm.
On my left I pass a place that still yanks at my feels. For years an old house with a rotting roof stood there, surrounded by weeds and junk cars. Despite its decay, this was a home. It lifted my spirits to see laundry on the line and light in the window. That house surely survives in the memories of those who lived there. It also hangs on in a poem I titled, unimaginatively, “House On Smith Road.” Here are a few of its lines:
There are people who keep going
past all predictions,
chewed up by cancer
or rattling with emphysema.
They hold things together
for the daughter struggling
with heroin, the spouse
wandering through dementia.
I think of them as this house
slides ever closer to the ground,
plastic flowers still blooming
on that brave tilting porch.
The old house was knocked down a few years ago and another home stands there now. I wonder if the new residents sense the energy fingerprint left by everyone who ever lived there – the old farmhouse most recently but also all who came before, back to the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, and back before them to the earliest peoples.
Hills I drive over were carved by glaciers thousands of feet thick. The ice sheet was so heavy that earth’s surface is still rebounding from that long-ago weight. Between these gentle slopes lie fields of dry soybeans and baled hay brilliant in the sunlight.
I wave “go ahead” to a woman turning left on Columbia Road. I let my eyes rest on a house that captured my attention each election year. The yard was always festooned with signs for both Republican and Democratic candidates. Many times I’d see one sign blocking another, then the next time I’d see a bigger sign replace the blocked sign, like a checkers game played with opinions. It always gave me hope to see people with such different politics sharing one home.
I find myself behind a school bus and wait as it drops children off every few driveways. Little children in the back make silly faces in response to my finger-waggling ears.
Finally I arrive at the store. A man sits in the pickup truck next to me, windows up, engine running. I get out, pull on my mask, walk past another vehicle parked and running, this one with a young woman on speaker phone who talks in loud angry tones.
I go in to collect bounty sown, harvested, and held by many hands before mine: bananas, dates, walnuts, coffee, lentils, soap, wine, oatmeal.
I get in line behind a frail elder who hangs on hard to the cart handle, his middle-aged daughter solicitous as she unloads. A man with the name Eduardo on his tag never stops ringing up groceries as he lifts a hand in salute to this elder he calls “sir.” They talk easily and I notice the older man straighten into his height.
When it’s my turn I tell Eduardo the respect he showed a stranger made my day. He tells me as a teen he worked at a nursing home. “Only in housekeeping,” he says, “but the people living there treated me like family.” I tell him worked at such a place too, starting at age 13. In the few minutes it takes to pack my rumpled cloth bags, Eduardo explains he is far from his grandmother in Puerto Rico but hopes she finds respect everywhere. “We have much to learn from our oldest people,” he says.
Back in the parking lot the woman still swears into her phone, the man still waits, both cars running, and I hope they too are finding beauty here in the hours we have.