Dimming of the day

Dimming of the day

I love Freecycle.

In Atlanta, I discovered free-sharing network when I moved from a house to an apartment in 2005. You list things you’re glad to part with for free; people email their interest and come pick them up. Way easier than a yard sale and just as fascinating to see who needs or wants which particular item.

In the three moves that followed, I used Freecycle to find — and then share — moving boxes more than items. In Lafayette, I didn’t sign up to find or unload anything. I just wanted to see what the locals were looking for (clothes, bikes, furniture) or getting rid of (paint, kittens, building materials). Over the months, the poetry of some of the longer entries has struck me, especially if you air out the words. Because no money is changing hands, people tell it like it is. Here’s a bit from today:

I have a handful

of used


and household items

to give

someone. I will

list them below.

–Fry Daddy that


old grease in it,


a large container

of old peanut oil.

The oil


be rancid and

I don’t know what to do with it.

If someone is using

old grease

for a biofuel

or oil lamps,


would work for that purpose.

The peanut oil in the jug


be fine for cooking,

but it’s open

and it’s expired

(though the container is full,

it has been opened).

The Fry Daddy



in working condition

and was used




It has a lid

for storage.

It’s just been


in my cabinet

for years now,


after the first couple times

because I had to



when I fell ill

a few years ago.

It’s dirty

and needs cleaned.

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When an old friend asked me if I’d write something for her blog about moving to a small town, I wasn’t sure what to say. I’d been thinking about the difference between Atlanta (where I lived for 26 years) and Lafayette, Indiana (where my husband and I moved in April) for weeks. But I hadn’t yet organized my thoughts and wasn’t sure where to begin.

I didn’t want to talk about not missing Atlanta’s traffic. Though it’s true, it hardly seemed worth writing about. And I didn’t want to count the ways I missed my friends and the luxury of being able to meet somebody somewhere for a walk or movie or drinks at nearly anytime of the day or night. Also true, but not very interesting.

And then I met Dwight.

This morning, he walked into Oliverio’s – the greasy spoon about a mile from my house that I’d finally decided to check out. I looked up from my book when the door opened and he smiled on his way to the counter. With his full head of white hair and slow walk, he looked to be somewhere in his 70s. He had on a dark blue plaid shirt that looked to be flannel and black pants. We exchanged that nod polite strangers use and for a second, as he walked by my table, he looked as if he might speak. But he didn’t. Just took his seat at the counter and started talking to the waitress as if he were a regular and his order – oatmeal with brown sugar and milk – was something he got all the time. 

I turned my attention back to my eggs and potatoes and book, looking up only to nod whenever the waitress asked if I wanted more coffee. At some point, she placed my bill at the end of the table. Before I’d found the right place to stop reading, Dwight grabbed the slip of paper and headed for the register. 

“This is on me!” he said over his shoulder, to which I replied thank you and aren’t you sweet and that was so kind. I was surprised and touched and a little flustered. It wasn’t like we were all weary businesspeople sharing quarters in the kind of crowded hotel bar where you wouldn’t be shocked to have the bartender put another round of whatever you were drinking in front of you, noting it was compliments of the gentleman over there, who he’d point out with a subdued nod and if you accepted it, you wouldn’t be surprised if the gentleman appeared at your side to try his hand at small talk. This was a breakfast dive, nearly empty. Two plumbers ate breakfast at the far end – I’d noticed their truck in the parking lot on my way in – but the tables around me were empty. The manager and cook chatted in Spanish and the waitresses dusted the blinds and wiped the menus with damp rags.

But here was Dwight, who stuck out his hand told me his name on the way back to his spot at the counter. I said mine and we shook hands. He had deep laugh lines around his eyes, which were the blue of early morning. He didn’t ask me where I was from or say anything else. Just let go of my hand and sat back down on the stool.

I thanked him again, grabbed my things, left a tip and headed to the car.

I sat in the parking lot for a minute and thought about unexpected kindness and the pace of small-town life. Just yesterday, I’d stopped in an office supply store to buy packs of reading tabs and wound up learning about the owner’s life and family and places he thought I should see.

It’s the people who keep surprising me the most. The woman at the copy shop who takes way more care with my orders than I’m used to. The guy at the camera store who has all the time in the world to talk about film. The post office worker who, if no one else is in line, will talk about stamps or his volunteer work or where he and the wife are going on vacation this year.

I decided next time I stop for breakfast at Oliverio’s, I’ll get there even earlier. That way I can be at the counter when Dwight arrives and tell him this time, breakfast is on me.

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Lights exploding – in crashes and booms – woke us to the storm early Monday morning. It wasn’t one of those polite climatic conversations where lightning flashes and thunder responds, and they give each other room to breathe and you can tell whose turn it is next all the way through.

This was a tirade of electricity, a torrent of blinking lights. The blasts were so fast your eyes couldn’t adjust. They rained down without rest.

The flood of water, by contrast, was steady. It soaked every thirsty place.

By daylight, the air was clean and cool, the kind that begs you to come out and walk.

Taking stock of the post-storm world reminded me of my family.

For every lightning-zapped tree – some of which will snap in two, taking out a whole house or car with them; others that escape with just a slice of their skin peeled off, which time will probably heal – there are dozens of flowers that lay in wait, heads bent and faces hidden, until the quiet aftermath gives them a way to bloom.


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Some remote magic has brought my mother back to me through her things.

Red leather journal from 1949, her name embossed in gold on the cover. Daybooks where she recorded the details of family life in tiny notes: the weather, what we ate, which child had a doctor appointment, what letters she wrote, what bills she paid, what my father was mad about that day. Letters she wrote to him on onionskin, thick sheets of personal stationary, delicate foldable airmail one-sheets.

Also: three old cassette tapes she’d used over and over to record her private thoughts. Cheaper than therapy, she says, a place for her to clear her head, sort out the thoughts and feelings that otherwise tumble around in her brain and feel too heavy to bear.  On one tape, my brother walks in while she’s recording and she lets the tape roll. She’s talking to herself. Don’t you talk to dad, he asks. Of course, but this is different. This is just for me. Since no one will hear this, I can say whatever I want. (Since face to face with those she loved, she often found she couldn’t.) On the tapes (now copied onto mp3s), she’s unfiltered, unedited, raw.

Given how many times I’d wished to know the *real* her — the things she was afraid to say; the fury she’d swallow and claim not to feel; the real fights followed by real peacemaking she would not have with me — these hiss-pop monologues are a miracle of captured space and time. She’s still alive and holding nothing back. She says what’s made her mad on this day, what she can’t figure out, what she doesn’t know if she can bear. She steps out from behind the screen of The Perfect Patient — finally! — to complain about the disease that was erasing her by seconds, inches, days. The nurses loved her uncomplaining, cheerful side but I wanted to shake it. I wanted to hear her sorrow and fear. I wanted the woman not the saint.

More than once she confesses her longing for Someone to Listen, someone to be right there with her when her husband is raging or mute and her children are spinning off into their closed teenage worlds. She’s not looking for anyone to fix what can’t be solved, she says, or figure anything out. She just wants to be heard. As I play the tapes — on walks, at the office, in the car — I join in the conversation from time to time, with words of encouragement or agreement or tears.

It may be years past when I made my wish, when she made hers. Both came true. She’s talking, I’m listening.

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What the garden made


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