She took a nap between church and mid-afternoon for she wanted to catch her breath a bit before sitting out of the storm winds and watching the people come and go from the rock school building she helped rescue into a senior citizen center.
For the first hour or so, I thought the 99-year-old woman might have left the town for her future home next to her husband who died many years ago. It was awkward to ask the question because the mood of the town danced light. More kids than live here had come to visit for the day. The winter came only as a soft whisper across the plains. The grass grew green. The cattle looked fat.
Everyone at the party took time to peek out the door and watch the youngsters scramble and shout across the ghost of a schoolyard. People laughed with a little more hope since the last time I was here. Inquiring if the community’s matriarch were still alive wasn’t the best conversation starter at a party designed to raise money to help a town live.
Finally, I asked. Finally, she came.
Hours later and another state away, I am sitting in an 1892 saloon. I won’t have to sleep in my car as the storm roars because of a slight twist of fate and a little bit of luck. Another reporter snapped a few photographs at the party, and as journalists often do, he wanted to know about my territorial invasion. Then, he softened with a few war stories and told me about a historic hotel with vacancy some 35 miles away, which around these parts, is considered “just down the road.”
In the morning, I am stopping by the newspaper office and so I can hear about the woes of a weekly editor. A favor returned. A source discovered.
“I bet she doesn’t take no crap of nobody,” says one of the construction guys at the table just out of my reach.
I think he’s talking about me as I work on a beer and wait for the sun to go down so I can take a decent photo of a neon sign blinking the message “Eat Drink” out the window. I can’t decide if I like the photo better with just “Drink” or “Eat Drink” or maybe “At Drink.” I forgot that this is Mountain Time so my computer and body say it’s nearly time for sleep when it’s really prime for dinner. My day started at 3:40 a.m. with an annoying rainstorm, a bad headache and a lame windshield wiper.
The old ranch woman probably didn’t take much crap off of people for more years than most people will ever live. I know she let many things drip off her shoulders until the clouds went away. People look up to her because of it. Today, she held the hand of a stranger – this stranger – for quite some time as she gazed around a room full of people she knew.
“I am still hanging in there,” she said.
She is also still wearing pearls.
I am sitting in a restaurant saloon wearing clothes that I’m pretty sure look and smell like something left out in more than one rainstorm.
“Ask her,” says another male voice from the table nearby.
They’ve been whispering about what might have brought me here. They spin some fairly good yarns. As I take another swig, I try to act more literary than I am. Really, I’m more like a lint brush. Cat hair. Cafe conversations. Strange road trip sightings like that camel sticking its head between the barbed fence on the way down and that man with an ATV in the bed of his pickup and an overhead camping rig riding in the trailer he was pulling.
Life lint. You can either throw it out or save it for another writing day.
Back at the party when the music died down and the children seemed just shy of cranky and the storm growled in the distance, I hustled out to my vehicle to find an elderly Hispanic guy standing really close to my back tire. He was smoking a cigarette and leaning to the right because his left leg bore a crusty layer of homemade bandages worn on the outside of his pants.
“It will rain,” he said and pointed up before gesturing down.
My grandfather used to say he could feel rain in his bones. After I turned about 45, I started to believe him.
“We need the sky rains badly,” said the stranger with the bad leg. “You go before the–” He clapped and tugged on his pants.
A senior citizen bus pulled up so he climbed aboard. We were going to the same town so I decided to follow his lead. Two minutes later, the bus pulled off the side of the road. There are no shoulders on Panhandle roads. If someone veers to the side, you need to curve out and keep going. As I looked in the rear view mirror, I saw what looked like the Hispanic guy get off the bus.
I don’t think his bandaged leg forecast the storm. I think it was his bladder.
About the time I saw Moses, it started to rain.