She put on a jacket for the first time this season. Fall is always late to show in Alabama. It’s her favorite. She loves bluejeans and turtlenecks and cardigan sweaters. She loves autumnal shadows.
She walked across the park where she works. She opened the doors to the schoolhouse and saw little children sitting in rows, practicing arithmetic on slates. She saw the older girls helping the younger students. She saw the little boys daydreaming about recess. She didn’t see any older boys. They were harvesting with their papas.
She opened the doors to the church house, and “Shall We Gather at the River” bellowed out, all four parts. She saw three generations on one pew. She smelled the fried chicken, brought to share after preaching. She hoped the sermon would be light on hellfire and heavy on love your neighbor.
She raised the flag by the gazebo. She apologized to Old Glory for her lack of adeptness. She was respectful in attitude, but her process lacked poetry. She blamed the fact that she wasn’t a Boy Scout, or even a good Girl Scout. She thought about the United States of America and pondered if most folks are as troubled as the ones who get the attention. She wondered where the loud ones find the energy for the anger. She laughed — and cringed — about the time the sun pierced her eyes as she pulled the ropes to lift the Stars and Stripes. And how the men and women from the Army came that day to volunteer. And how she greeted them one by one at the gate with a cheerful “Thank you for your time and for your service!” And how she was so proud to be there. And how one of the soldiers asked, “Why is the flag upside down?”
Oh, good Lord.
She unlocked the farmhouse and watched the wind nudge the empty porch swing back and forth. She heard the donkey and the Pineywoods cow declare their delight at the softer temperature. She thought:
Perhaps I would like to have lived 100 years ago, in a time sandwiched somewhere between the Civil War and the Great War ... I like staying home and working around the house with all my babies nearby ... I like moving slower and more purposefully ... I like avoiding makeup and pulling my hair back ... I despise modern Christmas chaos ... I could keep the women at the quilting bees in stitches (she finds herself funny) . . . I wish I had lived next door to my sisters. Our children could have played outside together every day. Taking care of Mama and Granny and Aunt Betty would have been easier. Not easy. But less difficult. From a distance, life seems to have been simpler. Not simple. But less difficult. Definitely, she thought, I’d like a turn-of-the-last-century life.
With indoor plumbing, of course.
And air conditioning. She’s never experienced Alabama in August without AC, and she’s too old to start.
Oh! The mosquito truck! The South must be dusted weekly in summers with mosquito spray!
But that’s it. That’s all she needs. She can revert to hard-copy books and lined-paper journals and walking to the country store. Easy peasey.
Oops. She forgot about the Chick-fil-a drive-thru. And cute-and-comfy shoes. And Excedrin.
Well, if she could have those things, she’d move back in time tomorrow.
At the end of the day, she locked up the farmhouse, said goodbye to the make-believe schoolchildren and silenced the imaginary parishioners. She folded the flag without letting it touch the ground.
She picked up Chinese on her way home.
After supper, she changed a load of laundry, took the trash to the road, and eased into a long, hot bath with an ice-cold glass of sweet tea. Later, she grabbed her iPad and tucked herself into a bug-free bed. She scrolled through Facebook and wished happy birthday to friends she hasn’t seen in years, then browsed Netflix for a new show to binge.