COMMENTARY BY WILLIAM CARTER: Another side of Our Town
By William Carter, Columnist
There is a man – his face brindled by four or five days of unshaven grey – wearing a heavy winter coat and standing next to a trash can right outside the tobacco store, scratching at a lottery ticket. He growls/mumbles a curse when, apparently, whatever he hoped would be revealed is not revealed and the multi-colored piece of cardboard flutters to the stained concrete between his feet.
A sharp rap on the smudged, plate-glass window behind him draws his attention to the irate lady manning the counter inside.
“Pick it up, Wayne! I ain’t gonna tell you again! Pick it up!” she yells – her voice muffled by the glass and her face bathed in red from a neon Budweiser sign - punctuating each word with a sharp jab of her index finger.
Wayne mumbles/growls again through a plume of cold-doctored, 8 a.m. breath, but obediently retrieves the only-moments-before-worth-$5-but-now-worth-nothing scrap of trash from the ground and throws it in the can then sighs and trudges around the corner of the building, across the cracked parking lot, and then disappears into the one of the oldest, not very charming, neighborhoods along West Main that border what is considered to be the prettiest part of Our Town.
Wayne’s neighborhood is a neighborhood of small, single-family, decades-old, brick homes on less-than quarter-acre lots and is not a tourist destination and will not be pin-pointed on the glossy, four-color maps handed out at City Hall or at the Chamber printed with breathless blurbs about dead generals or artisan foods or fascinating facts but is, instead, one of those neighborhoods we hardly – maybe even don’t want to – notice as we drive by on our way to shinier places. It is a neighborhood where those folks who take care of the rest of us live; those folks who make the beds and mow the lawns and drive the buses and sweat over the stoves and clean up the messes and tend to our young ones and murmur to our old ones.
Inside the tobacco store, through the barred door with the hand-printed sign that says “Absolutely NO ONE under the age of 18 allowed inside!” a line of eight or nine people patiently waiting to be checked out snakes through the racks of off-brand snack foods and buy-one-get-one bags of chips and ice-filled coolers of 24-ounce tall-boys. On the back wall of the store are coolers stacked head-high with energy drinks and sodas and beer and competing on the counter are boxes of novelty lighters adorned with Confederate flags and legal speed and stamina-guaranteeing “goat weed” and fruit-flavored cigars and rolling papers and beef jerky and scratch-off lottery tickets.
At the front of the line is a tiny, elderly lady who looks as if she doesn’t belong but who is there every Wednesday morning about this same time. She is dressed in the same purple pantsuit with the ruffled collar buttoned to her chin and held tight with an ornate, oval brooch and clutched primly to her chest is a large pocketbook adorned with owls. As she does every Wednesday, she tells the lady at the counter about how when she retired 30 years ago from one of the local elementary schools, her “babies” gave her the pocketbook and the brooch and how her husband died only a year later and then she orders a carton of Virginia Slims and always says “oh, dear” when she finds she is a couple of dollars short and every Wednesday that $2 or $3 is made up from the eight or nine of us standing in line behind her and then she’ll murmur her thanks and then make her way out the door to disappear into the neighborhood behind the store.
The tired lady behind the counter calls me “Hon” – she calls everybody “Hon” - and produces the “two-cans-of-Grizzly-fine-cut-wintergreen-please” I ask for and then we say all the mindless things to each other you only say to people you know nothing about but who are still part of your life in that weird, daily way and then she taps on a gallon jar in front of her that is half-filled with nickels and dimes and quarters that has a photo of a baby taped to it – different from the picture of the family who’s house burned down a month ago – along with a hand-written index card detailing the baby’s urgent need for a liver transplant and I put my change in the jar and the lady behind the counter nods as if she expected nothing less.
Back in the truck, I sit for a few minutes and watch the world go by.
It may not be quite as pretty from where I’m sitting…but it’s Our Town.
William Carter is a longtime Franklin city employee and published author. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted on: 1/9/2013