Sunday, February 23, 2014

American Idle


I developed a talent for idleness early. My widowed mother had to work so she left me with an aunt who had a son, my cousin, a little older than I. He was a late sleeper. Mother would drop me off at my aunt’s house and most mornings I sat an hour or so under the Chinaberry tree out back waiting for Tom Alfred to wake up. During this time, I would pick up sticks and lay them straight, peel twigs, pet French Harp, the yellow cat, draw in the sand, climb the Chinaberry tree, re-straighten my sticks, check the tadpoles in a number two washtub, check my sticks again and peel me some more twigs.

It took a while to merge back into a life of activity after Tom Alfred awakened. Where I was introverted and laid back, he was extroverted and hyper. He always had a plan that did not include sitting in the shade, no matter how many sticks needed picking up and laying straight. He liked to pester his daddy’s chickens with pea gravel, stick bubble gum to French Harp’s feet to watch her antics, call out the names of cars as they went by. (Before there was such a variety of automobiles out there, this activity was fairly common: 1939 Chevy, new Packard or Hudson, 1947 Crosley, 1938 Nash, and the most common, late model Ford coupe.)

The one activity he liked that matched my proclivities was swimming. We had two favorite places to engage in this refreshing summer activity. First, because Tom Alfred’s daddy was well positioned in the oil business, we had permission to swim in Charlie Murphy’s private swimming pool behind his house. (That is the Murphy Oil Mr. Murphy, you know, as in Wal-Mart gas?) Sometimes as we swam there, Charlie Murphy himself would come sit on the pool furniture and watch. He was missing his left hand. When I asked Mother about this affliction, she said he wore his hand off counting his money. This revelation struck me as kind of odd until I figured out that there is no way he could have done so. The truth came out when Pop told me that the man had lost his hand in a sawmill accident when he was young.

The other favorite place to swim was Dokie’s Pool, a public facility to which admission was a quarter. I did not like the name of the place, but it was fine if you liked screaming and horseplay. I did not, but Tom Alfred did, and I had strategies to find places to surface dive away from the moiling “fun.” After swimming at Dokie’s, Tom Alfred always said the same thing, “I wish it would rain cherry phosphates and candy bars.” That statement would herald a stop at the drug store for these refreshments. I was on a budget, but he would sometimes share.

Today I find that I still have that talent for idleness, but I know in my heart that I must move around, breathe hard and get fresh air every day. And, here in Washington, Arkansas, there are plenty of places to do that. I have not had a cherry phosphate since I was nine.

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