When I was a kid, my mother never had enough money to fill the tank on her old Chevy with one missing back fender. She would pull into Percy’s garage and buy a dollar’s worth of gas at a time. In those days that would last us a while and she’d parcel out the funds and do it again. I think about that dollar’s worth when I need to fill up my own tank, the one in my imagination.
For many days I have rationed my time in order to meet a writing deadline. The book has held me tight and now it’s done. I’m thinking about a personal retreat. I want time to watch the huge flocks of geese that cohabit Colorado in the winter. I want to walk without the dog. I’m thirsty for the sight of birds and tree tops, not just dog pee on the trunk.
Yesterday, while said dog was with the groomer, I was busy saving a dollar’s worth of poems that didn’t work, copying into my journal lines and images that might some day be useful. I tore up the old copies, stacking the scraps on the table between me and the woman reading in the next chair. At one point I thought about my noisy ripping-up and apologized to her. That apology was a door into her life story.
We’ll call her Josephine: she’s in her early eighties, a tiny woman, threads of gray in still dark hair, dark eyebrows, deep-set eyes. She reminds me of my aunt. Even her accent was familiar. Sure enough, another easterner. She grew up in an orphanage in New York, placed with her two siblings when her parents separated, her father remarrying, her mother falling into depression and hospitalized. No one would relinquish custody, so she was never eligible for adoption. When she was old enough to work she was fostered out for the benefit of the families she served, a nanny in one, a house maid in another, an assistant to a woodworker in the last. Finally, she ran away, moved west, had six kids by an abusive husband, divorced, put all six kids through school, took one course at a time at CU and educated herself at the same time, graduating after ten years.
Head injured as a small child, she cannot drive. As she says, “Can’t get around the block,” because she has no spatial visualization. She cannot recognize faces. And she cannot write because she cannot describe a scene, so she tells her story to a few people who will listen and not try to edit the story for her. I was happy to listen. Thanks, Josephine. You are just what I needed, a full tank of fuel to run on.