Friday, July 11, 2014

Day 244 - July 2nd

Thomasville, AL

I topped off my water at the church then hit the road. I knew it was going to be a good walk because the shoulder was wide and the trees were tall and close to the road, casting ample shade across both sides of the highway. That’s all it takes nowadays to have me clacking my heels together.
A man stopped to chat with me on the road. His name is Dana but everyone calls him Boudreaux. Nicknames are popular in the South; “Bubba” “Red” “Coach” “Cornbread” (no joke). He offered me a lift into town and you know what? I actually took it. There’s a calculus that takes place whenever I’m offered a ride. My default answer has always been “I appreciate it but I’m intent on walking the whole way” but in this instance, Thomasville was only 10 miles away, I had a bunch of work to accomplish at the library, and I genuinely liked the guy. Lately I’ve been wondering if I’m not missing out on great characters when I turn down rides. There are several people I remember who asked if I needed a ride and I still wish I had piled my stuff into their car and talked with them. In Gail, Texas, a cool cowboy with dark shades, a pencil moustache, an eagle feather in his worn leather hat and three super chill dogs lounging in the open back of his beat up truck. I forget his name. It was probably Hawkeye or something badass. And outside of Austin, Texas when I was with Julia (HOO-lia) there was this crazy old hippie who hollered at us from across the road in his gleaming steel blue convertible. Who knows what outrageous things that fellow would have said? No one, that’s who because I refused the ride for no real reason other than these oddly sourced principles of walking every step, which I’ve already infringed on anyways. I should just give up the whole damn thing. I see those as opportunities lost and I traded them for empty miles because of my no-riding principle. Sigh* I need to be more discerning.

Anyway, Dana was an interesting guy, supping at a beer at 9 in the morning and listening to a police scanner. He has a stout, stocky build and he wore spectacles that were completely dwarfed by his impressively large, muscular facial features. He tossed me a couple Gatorades and I drank one as we detoured on one of his errands. He had to pick up a motor chain for something or other, maybe a lawnmower. As we drove along a dirt road he retold the time he came across an old man fumbling about in the middle of the road for his bushel of papers the wind had scattered.  Dana got out and started helping him when a red Corvette pulled up behind his car. Dana waved her around since the road was clear but the woman wouldn’t move. Then he saw her get out, fiddle around a bit then fall over. He ran over to help and found the enormous woman had fallen assbackwards into a puddle of her own urine! She apparently had been attempting to squat and pee because she couldn’t hold it any longer. In his efforts to haul her to her feet, Dana managed to get urine on himself and had to go home to shower.
We pulled up to the mechanic shop and I met a swell guy named Shannon Tucker. You could tell immediately from his face and the gentle, composed way he carried himself and took off his glasses to peer out at me that he was a good, honest man, the best of men. I took to him right away. We talked for a time and then I took off with Dana to Thomasville. I learned from Shannon that he used to be a big deal in college baseball, Auburn’s star pitcher and designated hitter. I thought that was impossible but apparently he still has a few records standing. He left me at the library with a couple more mini-gatorades and I sat down to work for several hours.

I accomplished quite a lot but I’m still backlogged from my time in Chatom which was quite a major experience. I find it incredibly difficult to write when all of my energy is devoted to absorbing in the newness of what I’m seeing and hearing at homestays. But the need for groceries dragged me back out into the hot sun and I found a Super Foods where I loaded up on good food that would keep me going for the next hard miles to come. Outside I sat down next to an old black man named Harris (HARR-is, not the Anglican HAIR-is) Curry and he was a hoot. The whole time he was telling me how worried he was for me and that he wished I wasn’t walking around all by myself because it wasn’t safe and that hooligans were going to come driving past, then turn around, beat me up and take my money and valuables. I told him he sounded like my mother! 

Because it was late afternoon, my main interest was getting outside of the city limits to find a campsite. I wasn’t having any luck though and the way the sun was wearing me down I was beginning to wonder where I would get more water. I needn’t have worried though because just then a car pulled up and I saw a woman smoking a cigarette and two little girls in the back. She was proffering a shopping bag with goodies. “We saw you back a ways and thought you’d like some water, Gatorade, bologna sandwiches and some apple sauce.” I of course was delighted and gave them my card. Her name was Brandi. After they drove away, not 100 paces down the road, I found the perfect clearing in which to camp, I kid you not. Imagine if I’d stepped off the road right then; they’d never have found me! 

This turned out not to be the case, however. I had pitched my tent, poured over the goodies in my bag—they’d even included a metal spoon for the apple sauce—and begun to fan my naked body with a t-shirt, windmilling it around in such a way that naked cross-country walkers do when they’re alone in the woods trying to cool off, when I see Brandi’s car pulled off the side of the road, in clear line of sight of my exposed body. I boomed with laughter then because that’s all you can do when you’re in such a position and shame is never really the proper response when someone stumbles in on you naked. 

“Hey, do you want to come to supper with us?”
“Yes, but hold on, I’ve got to get some clothes on. You’ve caught me in an intimate moment!” I shouted back. I secured my tent against the rain that looked to be brewing and I hustled over to the car wearing the new field shirt my mother sent me and a hair loop for my long-ish hair. The two girls in the back seat Kaitlyn and Chelsea were hiding their faces behind their books and giggling, embarrassed. “Let’s go!” 

Brandi took off, seatbelt-less and smoke streaming from her window; that’s how she rolls. We arrived at a mobile home and inside, supper was underway, red beans, Conecuh sausage, rice and cornbread. Perry, the head of the house, is 68 and works as a truck driver. He’s got a sparkling humor but sad lines around his mouth and the whole time we talked he looked at the TV. His wife, Carol, is sweet and hospitable but the same sad lines were there too, the underbite of her mouth etching a persistent frown there. Her mother Linda was living in the mobile home too. Her health is not good. She’s only 14 years older than Carol who is 50-something, but she has been treated for sepsis and has a titanium knee. Her feet are swollen, her hands covered in bruises, and her skin tears easily. Linda’s husband, Pat, developed a staph infection in his lower back 4 years ago and is now paralyzed. They care for him in a back room and aides come during the weekday to bathe him. 

Carol invited me to stay with them and I agreed. Brandi took me back out to the campsite where I hastily gathered my gear, dancing constantly to shake off the abnormally large mosquitoes. Honestly they were about the size of a quarter. I’ve never seen bigger. Brandi and I detoured to a gas station so she could get more Newport Menthols and I picked up a bag of Hot Cheetos. As we drove she gave me the lowdown about the family and they were difficult things to hear. Brandi isn’t actually related to Carol or Perry but they are essentially family to her. Her stepfather killed her mother when she was fifteen and when he got out of prison he killed himself. Her dad was never in the picture. Brandi is a single mom with two kids Chelsea and Jakolbe who I’d later get to know and was delighted to learn they are exemplary children. Brandi is holding down the fort for her own, but not all have seen the same protection. Kaitlyn, one of the girls who I first met in the car, is the daughter of Jaime—Carol’s and Perry’s daughter who I’ll discuss later on. Kaitlyn’s father is also not in the picture. Sadly the story of the absentee father is one I’m hearing frequently. The most heartbreaking fact is she was raped when she was 6 by her cousin who is currently in jail for robbery instead of his most heinous crime. 

All this came at me in a storm of casually dropped information from Brandi and I returned to the house with a peculiar heaviness. These are people who have never had it easy. The dimness of the mobile home took on a grim attitude and I watched Carol slip into a fitful, murky Xanex-induced sleep in the armchair. Perry came out of the bedroom to prod her awake and she fought sleep for a minute or two then slumped into the armchair again. She eventually made it to her own bed as I made moves to crash on the couch. I wasn’t able to process everything I’d heard at that moment but I felt the need to stay and learn more at the expense of my comfortable notions about the world.

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