And to Think That I Saw It in Paducah, Kentucky

This was the type of winter that I can’t stand. It was cold and wet, but not the good kind of cold and wet that leaves your yard with inches of fluffy clean white snow and sends you deeper under your blankets for extra sleep. Nope, this winter was just gray, and as you drove home at night it sleeted or rained just enough to warrant the use of the windshield wipers.  The wipers would then proceed to skip and squeak because the windshield just wasn’t wet enough. But on March 8, 2013, that all changed. On this day it was 50 degrees and sunny. The world just looked a little different and you could almost see Mother Nature at work. I left work on my lunch break and decided to start my annual hunt for long spring skirts.

While in my car I noticed that there were lots of people on the paved but uneven sidewalks. The warmness had people moving and they were an odd lot of people. The first person I passed was an elderly black man with a cane and a black hat pulled low over his eyes. He crossed the street in a most leisurely manner. In my mind he had worked for the postal service for years. He had been a good employee but had hurt his back and was forced to retire early. He was bitter at first because the job helped him to pass the time. See, his wife died a few years ago from diabetes and he hasn’t gotten over it yet. He isn’t sure he ever will. So now, every day, he walks to pass the time. He walks with a leisurely manner and thinks of that first June he and his June ever spent together.

The next person I saw was a young man walking with a guitar. The car in front of me stopped and pointed at the young man with the long brown hair. The boy with the guitar stopped and turned to face our cars and started strumming. He faced us with all the bravery in the world. His long frame seemed to take an almost defiant stance as he strummed and the man in the car in front of me slapped at his passenger to get her attention. I wondered about both of their lives, the young man with a guitar and the man with a shaved head driving the car. Maybe they had been friends in high school, but had turned into adversaries after the man with a shaved head had made fun of the guitar boy’s dreams.  Perhaps, they had been neighbors growing up and this was their moment to reconnect.

At the Post Office I passed a woman wearing a red parka and her head and face were entirely wrapped with a black scarf. The only skin that showed was around her eyes. It was as if in the middle of Paducah, Kentucky, this woman made the decision to put on a burka and shield herself from the sun. I had put aside my pants and made the decision to force spring by wearing flowing skirts. As if by sheer will I could coax the sun out and cause the temperature to rise into the 70s. She had wrapped herself tight in winter as if she wanted to hold down the sun like a child fighting to hold a beach ball under the water. She and I were having a duel of will and desires. I need the winter to be over. The sunlight will bring an end to the funk that I have been feeling. My nights won’t seem so short and when I leave work the sun will still shine. The lady with the parka with only her eyes showing will eventually be forced to embrace the sun. I hope that the next time I pass her she will have thrown off the heavy coat and put on her sunglasses. I hope, for no reason at all, that when she drops that parka and scarf underneath is a shirt of bright blue.

These are not the only people I noticed that day. Walking past the library I saw a man in white tennis shoes listening to an actual tape player and singing along. I imagine his tape collection at home filled with oddities and a loose Iron Maiden cassette with no jewel case. A man with a bandaged face, who has received endless $1.00 bills from me, shuffled past a fountain on his way to an oasis that I hope houses his real life. Downtown Paducah, Kentucky, is by no means a sprawling urban area that I dream of living in, but it does feel a little like my very own Mulberry Street from Dr. Seuss fame.

I create little worlds for them in my head. I think about their joy and pain. What led them to be standing on the sidewalk on a day that I happened to drive by. I hope they are happy and I wish I could tell them just how much they each mean to me, but they will never know that for a few minutes on a warm day they were the stars of a play that only plays in my head.


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