I grew up in a household where watching “the soaps” was just part of the day. I thought of it as the adult version of a nap: eat lunch, watch the soap, go back to regular life. Regular life…which seemed pretty good after watching an hour of backstabbing, husband stealing, plotting, addiction, the occasional murder, sweet revenge and children who went from newborn to high school grads in just two years. Oh, and we can’t forget true love. Love which won out after a rather excruciating round of trials and tribulations, often involving kidnapping, double cross, the self sacrifice of lying for someone else’s own good and perhaps a touch of the paranormal. I never figured out if I quit watching because I was a kid with other things to do in that time slot or if the alien stuff seemed really silly, even to me. Plot lines came and went, the only constant the soothing voice of McDonald Carey paternally intoning, “And so are the days of our lives.”
I didn’t realize I’d maintained the storytelling aspect of soap operas until today, during my commute. As a bluebird flit across the hood of my car, I discovered that living in the country means I don’t just see “a bird”, I recognize each species. By flight, or call or attitude…hey, you ever tried to motivate a buzzard to move when it’s dining on flattened possum? Hawks float and glide on an invisible playground of air, while Bluebirds have a happy little skip in their flight, bringing to mind the Disney version that cheerfully hung curtains. I learned that deer have a stunning red winter coat unlike the light brown version I know. And if it runs like a fox but is twice as big, it’s a coyote breaking my mental rule of never seen in the light of day.
My commute isn’t boring because I’ve turned it into a series of “the rest of the story” moments. A few years ago a piece of land which had formerly been fenced for cattle was planted with a septic tank, light pole and brand new mobile home. Soon a young couple appeared, doing all those first home things while never more than kissing distance apart. Down the road, just over the county line, an older black gentleman who reminded me of Uncle Remus was building a small brick home with such love and care I wondered how long it’d taken him to save for it. I came home one day to find he’d proudly put up a sign declaring “My One Acre”. Up and down the road I watched crops follow their life cycle from seed to harvest. I admonished the young couple’s dog to stop laying in the road to nap, even if the traffic was sparse. I saw graffiti spring up on a small bridge: I heart Mandy. I subconsciously noted spots of interest along my way. No matter how many times I pass, time will change them.
A year after the mobile home was planted, I saw the Woman waddling up the steps under the weight of a first pregnancy. Down the road the Gentleman’s cultivation had resulted in a yard filled with beautiful, colorful flowers. At 9 months end, a new color was added to my route: a pink balloon dancing cheerfully from the mobile home mailbox.
It’s amazing what you notice, even when you don’t think you’ve been paying attention. Will we get enough rain in time to unfurl that corn? How many soybean plants have those 3 deer eaten this week? Funny, turkeys look spastic when they run away. Uh oh, Mandy is history, her name crossed out of someone’s life with spray paint. Hmmm, the Man is the only one I ever see in the yard any more. I’m glad the Gentleman is sitting down to water today because it’s so hot.
Will Rogers said, “Not everyone can be a hero. Someone has to sit on the sidewalk and clap as they go by.” Well, I may be the one physically moving, but I’m like a cheerleader on the sidelines of their lives. Whispering unheard words of encouragement when the toddler crossed the now lush lawn, looking ironically like the Woman who’d waddled the same path before her birth. Thanking the Gentleman for giving me a mental vacation in an oasis of color as I crossed the county line toward home.
I use to laugh at people who watched soaps…those who seemed addicted, HAD to know what happened next. I didn’t realize how sucked in I’d gotten until I began noting changes in my daily drive story.
One day I noticed the Man wasn’t mowing anymore. No, an older man was doing that task, one who approached the Woman as if she was his daughter. The dog was gone and the graffiti had been buried under a coat of white paint. I hadn’t seen the Gentleman sitting underneath his favorite tree, admiring his yard with a smile, in over a week. Little by little I received hints, but none were good. The Man’s truck was no longer parked in the yard. As the Girl ran up the steps on her sturdy 5 year old legs, I saw an alarm company sign by the front door. What had happened? A fight? Had the strain of raising a young family led them to divorce? I didn’t even want to contemplate that someone so young could’ve died.
A week later, I realized there was a ramp now leading into the Gentleman’s house. The chair sat empty under the favorite tree, leaving me feeling a little empty too. About a month later, my heart dropped. In the front yard was a red lantern, sign of a death in the family. I found myself hoping the Gentleman didn’t live alone, that perhaps he’d planted the beautiful yard for someone inside the house who couldn’t get out. A week later, I saw his station wagon at the end of the driveway and my heart lifted. Seeing the driver was not him, it fell. When I realized the station wagon wasn’t coming back, I was shocked when a tear fell. I just hoped he hadn’t been alone at the end…especially when he’d quietly shared what he had with me.
The Woman and Girl come and go with smiles. They have a cat now. The “My One Acre” sign remains and for some silly reason, I’m glad no For Sale sign has cropped up to keep it company. I drive along, waiting for the next chapter. Wondering, wondering.
And so are the days of my life…on the road.