06 April 2013

The Grace Matrix

What a wonderful day!

Totally unexpected, a day like this, in Holly Springs.

Usually, if a day begins with an alarm-clock prompt I'm off to an iffy start. I prefer waking up on my own and, most often, an alarm clock means I will spend the day doing something I have to do for money. Today I needed an alarm because I stayed up too late last night (online backgammon...a second addiction...just what I need).

I set it for 8:45 for a 10:00 appointment to hook up with the Preserve Marshall County and Holly Springs group to clean slave quarters in preparation for next week's Pilgrimage and Back of the Big House tours.

I could not get out of bed immediately. A dream had worn me out in the too-few hours of sleep I snatched between 3:30 and 8:45.

I lay there long enough to allow the dream to drain; then I got up and made coffee. Did NOT turn on the computer. I was able to reach full awakeness, remember to pack the rakes and brooms, work gloves and water bottle in the car and be the first one to arrive at Craft House where we were to gather before heading out to finish last Saturday's work at the McCarroll Place before moving to the Magnolia to deal with the quarters there. Nothing here is more than 10 minutes away. It does make commuting easier, wherever you're going. No traffic and short distances.

At Craft House, the kids were finishing breakfast in that eat-a-little-play-a-little way that kids do on Saturday mornings. Amelia is 4 (though she is as tall as many 6-year-old girls I've known); Towns is 2 (also tall). Such dear children. I said "Good morning, children" when I entered the kitchen. Amelia dropped her eyes and hid behind her hair. Towns, a full-on Redhead, stuck out his lip and whipped his head around to look away from me -- and make sure that I witnessed the gesture.

"Say 'good morning' to Miss Alex," Dad instructed. Neither child complied. I was hoping we could move through that apparently obligatory power-play so many parents feel they must make when I meet their children. It's usually well-intentioned and definitely not abusive but it reminds me of my own childhood in a small town, being forced always to perform in public according to adult conventions and etiquette. The world looks and feels so different to children than it does to adults. Whenever possible, I prefer being with them when they're allowed to move through the world at their own pace in harmony with their own rhythm of engagement.

By the time I left 20 minutes later (the other members of our work crew called; they had gone directly to McCarroll's and would not being stopping at Craft House), Amelia and I were chatting and playing with Rainbow -- a little brown-skinned female creature in a pink and purple wheeled vehicle, one in a series of characters named for flavor treats at Hansen's Sno-Bliz in New Orleans. "I love her! She's brown like me!" I said. When I told Amelia how much I loved Hansen's and New Orleans, she directed my attention to the azalea bush outside the kitchen window, dripping in Mardi Gras beads. She'd helped create the display.

Towns is obsessed with pirate stuff and recently had a birthday. He wanted my full attention on a lunchbox-style "treasure chest" he'd received as a gift but he preferred I didn't actually hold the box. When his attention shifted to something else, Amelia retrieved the box and brought it to me -- partly moved by generosity, partly by her big sister sense of proper behavior and partly because she's a little envious of the box and wanted a chance to handle it herself.

Towns also had a book about pirates which included lyrics (but no recording) of a pirate song. I made up a tune on the spot and launched into a pirate-ly performance. Both kids were riveted. When I finished, Mom and Dad were laughing. Dad said, "Alex I have to hand it to you. They didn't ask you to stop singing. They always tell me to stop singing. They only had eyes for you." I responded that among all the children I've ever sung to, I have never heard a child say "Stop singing!" All the kids I've known love singing. Listening to it or singing along. And I love singing with and for kids. They give all of themselves to the experience and express their total enjoyment with none of the self-consciousness that so many adults suffer around making music.


At the McCarroll place, it was just grunt work executed at a a comfortable pace in beautiful weather. Last Saturday we worked in pouring rain. Today I picked up a thousand (exaggeration) beer bottles, two (true) Wal-Mart bags of human feces, 500 (exaggeration) empty Doritos and Fritos bags and a ton (yes, exaggeration) of other kinds of trash scattered about the grounds. Working with a 60-something married couple -- warm, non-proselytizing, hard-working, easy-laughing residents of Holly Springs (!) -- and Chelius & Jenifer, we
made the place ready for next weekend.  As we worked, and during a little break we took before forming a caravan bound for Magnolia, we talked about the mayoral race. It felt good standing in the sun with other people, talking about life in "our" town.

Over at the Magnolia, more work. More talk. F&G own this great pink antebellum home where the film Cookie's Fortune was shot. A church group was touring the mansion while we worked on the adjacent slave quarters. I washed windows and confess they looked great when I finished.

Both last week and today, cleaning up the slave quarters, I felt close to the unknown Africans in America who had lived in the building. Standing on the dirt floor at McCarroll's Place, I pondered who had stood there, perhaps in the same spot, 150 years before I arrived. I thought about how Sojourner Truth never journeyed south of the Mason Dixon line. While one black woman who, like Amelia's toy, maybe looked like me stood in this dirt dealing with her life as a slave, Sojourner  (who also looked like me) was living a very different kind of life. A free woman by her own exertion, traveling and advocating for racial and sexual equality, in song and word. They would have been unaware of each other's existence as particular humans but perhaps aware of each other as passionate notions ...

For the last 20 minutes at Magnolia, more standing in the sun with people who live in "my" town. An uncommon sense of ease. A distinct awareness that we were getting to know one another, an awareness of that as a process, and also awareness of how relaxed and genuine the whole thing felt. F&G have a 7-year-old daughter and want to hire me to give her piano lessons.

I went home to clean up and put the tools back in the shed. Examining the new lawn mower (old-fashioned human-powered style...love it) I noticed a nut was missing its bolt and decided to go to the hardware store to purchase a replacement and then on to Christ Church for some piano time.

I actually entered the store, interacted with the clerk -- including a conversation about the best oil to use on the mower blades, returned to my car, drove to church and played piano for two hours before realizing that my pants were completely split open in the back! I had a vague memory of feeling coolness back there earlier in the day....good grief! Walking around town with my butt hanging out and unaware of it!

Back at home, after mowing the backyard, I dined on the last of a magnificent batch of potato salad I threw together earlier in the week (gave half of it to my neighbors down the way the morning I made it) and listened to Shannon's (McNally) latest CD, "Small Town Talk." I met her for the first time at the meet-and-greet last night and she gave me a copy. Lo and behold! I really like the CD. (You should look for it and get it. She is Holly Springs' claim to fame right now.) And I really like her, too.

So the picture:  homemade potato salad and MS-made music on a Friday night after an alarm-clock-launched day of picking up other people's shit, hanging with kids, playing Debussy well and walking around town with my butt out. And it all adds up to one of the best days ever in this town I've complained about so much. I have no explanation for this. It's just more Grace. Yesterday it came as an explosion of light and sensation; today it's just standing in the sun with neighbors, sweat on my brow. "I once was lost..."