I am spending a few weeks in Mississippi while my mother recovers from knee surgery. In true Tyson fashion, she is doing great and she needs me less than I imagined she would. I drive her to physical therapy every day. I cook, and sometimes my aunt joins us for dinner. I feed the cats and take out the trash. I remind her to take her medication. It’s all pretty ordinary, although in Mississippi nothing is ever dull. My Sunday New York Times was not delivered until nearly 11 a.m. because the carrier “was just feeling lazy” that day. Last night the electricity went out in the middle of a big storm and we ended up going to bed at 8 p.m. I read for a bit by flashlight, which made me feel like I was back in junior high school reading horror novels under the covers after bedtime. At night, tons of alien-faced geckos skitter across the front porch. The dogs in this neighborhood run loose and seem confused about why I keep my little dachshund on a leash. Yesterday we drove past a large vulture feasting on some dead animal in the middle of the street. I encountered a cockroach the size of my palm and found that I’d lost all bravado in the face of such horrors.
Many days I go for a run and I encounter a woman who walks the streets every morning. She is thin and speedy, pumping her arms and smiling as she takes her daily constitutional. Sometimes I run past her and she says, “You go, girl!” This woman told my mother she walks every day because she has to walk. It’s not that someone has told her to do it; it’s that she is compelled to put one foot in front of the other at a brisk pace every single day. She walks in the center of the street. There are no sidewalks here and the other choice is to keep to the edges where the asphalt slopes into the gutter. If a car turns into her path, she will move over into the nearest yard and wait for it to pass. She could be younger than 60 or older than 70. Her hair is completely gray, but her body is strong and upright. Mama told me about her before I met her. She is the neighborhood eccentric. In the South if you can’t point to your neighborhood eccentric, you probably are the neighborhood eccentric.
When they first met, Mama mentioned that her husband had died recently. The woman assured my mother that she didn’t have any intentions to die. Instead, she said, she planned to fly. Like Enoch, she explained. She told my mother people would know she’d flown away by the puddle of her clothes on the ground.
Now this is the kind of story I love.
I looked up the story of Enoch as it’s been a long time since I attended Sunday School. Here is the gist: Enoch was a man who always walked with God and so God spared him the suffering of death. God called him home when his time was up and he flew into the heavens. There is a similar story about Elijah being swept up to heaven in a whirlwind, but I can see where this woman chose Enoch as her inspiration. It is more impressive to fly or float up to heaven than to be lifted by a whirlwind, particularly in Mississippi where cars, homes, and large animals are relocated by big storms on a somewhat regular basis. Anybody with the bad sense to stand in the street while a tornado sweeps through could end up like Elijah.
If I go for a morning run and don’t see this woman, I find myself looking for her clothes. She always wears the same thing—a long-sleeved white shirt in cotton or linen and a pair of loose-fitting pants. I can picture just what they’ll look like in a puddle in the center of the street. I guess her tennis shoes would be there too. And her socks and underwear. Today is trash day in the neighborhood and I jogged past an overturned trashcan this morning. Something silky and white spilled out the top of a bag. It might have been a woman’s slip or a pair of underwear or just an old square of fabric. Nonetheless I laughed out loud because my first thought was of the walking woman. Of course her clothes would not be mingled with trash, I realized. And they would surely be found square in the center of the street. That can’t be her, I thought. Sure enough, as I returned to my mother’s house, I spotted her chugging towards me, arms pumping. She waved and I waved back. I did not tell her about my close encounter with some other person’s discarded clothing. Still, I bet I’ll be checking the street for signs of her ascendancy the entire time I’m here. I know it sounds crazy to say so, but I would dearly love to see a puddle of clothing in the middle of the road.
I’ll keep you posted.