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Marianne, the one with the carry-on-luggage-charm
There had always been this rundown dirty farm on the edge of town, just past the well on the hill. Ever since I had moved here I have asked people about this lonely old farmhouse slowly withering from its solitude and I got many a story on it's past. David Ambourgh recounted to me one sunny day over ice-tea at the Oak's Diner that there was historical evi-dence that it dated back to before the civil war and that there lived a white old man there who poured his heart and soul into supporting the war. He would go around asking for do-nations for 'our blessed soldiers' and when ever you would refuse he would go on a ram-page about treason and that this was 'god's war', his false teeth loosely dancing to his spit-ting rant. No body much liked him David says. It wasn't that no one in town was against the war at the time, I mean this is the South, it is just times were hard and people preferred to support their husbands and sons through the mighty power of prayer. Blessed be he. To say the least when they lost that war he was devastated and locked himself away in his farm to hide from the impeding shadow of the Negroes (his own words). Ironically not many African Americans ever did move into out quite town. After his death, which no one really noticed, till he hadn't gone out to fetch water from the well for a good week, the local town mayor moved in to that farmhouse. And well after that I had to go to another source, Bea-trice Gretcher, who fought her arthritis with some stitching as we talked. No one much lived there after that town mayor died, except for the oak tree that started growing on the right side of the house, framing the house with the well. A Northern family then moved in, 'real Yankees' said Beatrice, the husband had been a reporter in Boston and wanted to move out to the country for his later years. He and his wife embraced the small southern culture that was so cared for in our town till they also died and their kids, not wanting to come down to even see the place argued over whoever would sell it till it eventually became forgotten. I asked Beatrice if the children never came down to the farm how did she hear that they disputed over it, to this she responded. 'Us woman have our ways darling', punctuated with a practiced wink. Well the wars came and went along with the ever passing seasons and then some veteran came down and took over the farm, this is from Lugean Artser who use to sell chewing tobacco to the veteran. Every now and then a little girl would be seen at the farm, the veteran's daughter, who would come visit just every couple of months from Colorado, where her mother lived. That was the only time the old veteran would walk around town gaily, when he had his little girl holding his hand and leading him along. Well like we all do, he passed on to our heavenly father and the little girl was never seen again, nor did anyone else live in that lonely farmhouse until Marianne came. Now before I continue on I would like to point out how no one, not even Lugean could remember a name of one of the past tenants, except of course Marianne, but who could forget her name?
Marianne, the one with the carry-on-luggage-charm
It was around spring when Marianne came, I remember the annual blossoming flowers and the end to the winter wind that so dramatized that small town of mine. No matter how much we would complain about the wind, inside with hot chocolate while our shutter's banged on our walls tarring their paint from their wooden skin, we would always come to miss it when spring came. Don't get us wrong, we are not backward crazy Christian folk, like those in Utah, we love the spring, but something about this town that everyone has in common is that everyone has allergies, and well no matter how monstrous the wind was, no matter how much rain it brought, no matter how many plants it uprooted and how much paint it pilled, it kept away those pesky little spores. I say around spring because our winter wind just quietly dies away while spring slowly creeps in, so we don't notice winter is gone, till we miss that cup of hot chocolate every night.
I've asked around, trying to figure out exactly when Marianne came, I was preoccu-pied with the pregnancy of my first child to really notice anything at first, but it seems eve-ryone was preoccupied at that time. Shame really. I guess we can't pride our selves on be-ing the ideal relaxed little town we always wanted if we fine we can't even remember when a new face came in, specially a face like hers.
Well the first I saw Marianne was when she went on to Larry McGregors' to buy a cow from him, she walked right down the main road, that lead up to the run-down-farm, and she just went on straight to McGregor's like she had lived here her inter life, she didn't look at anybody but the path in front of her. The thing I remember most about her, that day, was her dress, it was such a carefree looking dress, carefree is the only word I can find for it really. It went down to about midway of her shines and was black and purple, and I guess you would call it lacy. It was a summer dress, sleeveless with, oh what do you call them? thin straps over the shoulders. I put so much detail into it because every thing she wore was a carefree dress like that, not always black and purple mind you, but always just a carefree looking dress like that one. The only jewelry she wore was something on her left arm, what it was I couldn't say at the time, and a wooden-bead-hair-band, that held back some of her dark brown hair, but a good part of it just waved in front of her face like how her dress waved around her legs.
Oh yeah she had a tattoo on her right shoulder blade, it was a bird made out of some words. That was all I cared to notice, I mean I was seventeen at the time, I just wanted something different in that town, and a chick with a tattoo was it, you could see it cause the dresses she wore always showed them off. Well shortly after that I ran away with David, to California, so I don't know what really happened after that. A lot of s*** has happened, I haven't kept in touch with anyone. But yeah I remember her name, Marianne.
I had just moved in, I was writing a book and wanted a quite place to concentrate, little did I know that in that small Southern town with apple pies sitting in the window would I find someone like Marianne. The first I saw her was when she was sitting at the well reading a book, which she often did, either at the well or that old oak tree that framed the other side of the rundown-farmhouse. There was a light wind, not like the winter winds that come through here, but a light one that toyed with her hair and fiddled with the pages of her book, she calmly held them down, like she liked taming the wind blown pages. I de-cided that I should talk to her, but how? No one in town had talked to her, I asked around. Most seemed perfectly happy to talk about how she walked her cow through town, she must be the only one to still milk cows. I asked McGregor what she said to him when she bought the cow. He simply said that she was wanting a cow to be as independent of the world as possible. Though since she had just moved to the run-down-farm the plants she planted had no time to grow, forcing her to take weekly trips to what use to be Artser's Groceries. I realize that I call it Artser's Groceries when really it is Five and One, but no one wants to call it that, to the annoyance of the unwell known manager, I guess I picked up the name through osmosis. So I decided to go to Artser's everyday until I could just happen to run into her.
In the ensuing days I unwilling began to paint Marianne in my head taking what things I knew of her, her tattoo, her dresses, how she sat at the well or the old oak tree and convinced myself I knew how she would be. We would be in the same aisle at Artser's and she would reach for something, maybe Campbell's, and I would remark, 'Oh yeah that to-mato soup is really good' and she would say 'Oh really? I've never had it I just wanted to try something new' with a bright smile, maybe her teeth would be a little less than perfect, to give her some flaw. And our conversation would stem off of there and next thing I would know I would be moving into that rundown farm house, half of the rooms she would be working on, paint everywhere and I would help her fix it up, fall in love, and write the best book of my life. This dream ran through my mind every time I did my rounds at Artser's and one day I ran into her, tête-à-tête, and I had never been so scared in my life. I felt dumbstruck, like a tween who had dreamed her whole short life of meeting her crush then him running into her in the hallway at school, he was the new kid.
It was a cloudy day, nothing like the perfect day that it was in my dreams where af-ter talking about soup we would go outside and mark about the beauty of the world and fall into similar trains of philosophy about life. Life likes to do that, disappoint you in good ways. When I walked into Artser's that day the monotony of what I was doing hit me, going down the same aisle everyday, so I decided to start off in the candy aisle, and as I turned into that land of sweets there she was, Marianne tracing her hand over the individual boxes, as if feeling for Braille. I was shocked, I knew what I wanted to say, but it seemed so ridiculous now that I didn't want to do it, but the fear of regret pushed me on. I walked slowly up and said.
-Oh I love those. She looked at me with her right hand on a box of cookies, she had normal eyes, for some reason I was expecting the most exciting eyes I had ever seen, but they looked so average, dark brown I would say. She pulled the box out; it was a box of Scooby-Doo cookies.
-Really now? She said with a slight smile putting it back.
-Ha yeah I know, its weird… At this she turned looking the other way, I quenched some then went on. So you're new in town?
-Yeah. She said without looking back. At this moment I realized she was barefoot. She then paused and turned around. And you?
-Yeah, I actually live in New York, but I ran down here to be able to work on my book better. She nodded her head turning back around and then circled into the next aisle to check out. My first encounter with Marianne, and in one frail swoop she crushed the dreams I had of her. And yet gave birth to new ones.
Maybe I am happier with dreams.
That must have been, god twenty years ago? I was little, maybe about five I guess, before I realized that people could not like each other, I remember those days well.
Ever since I could remember I had always wanted to play on that old oak tree by the run-down-farmhouse, my mom would never let me for two things, one it was not lady like, and two we did not know the land owners, so it would be trespassing. But even as a five year old I heard about when Marianne moved in, and the first thought on my mind was 'yes I can play on the tree!' I did not go over right away, I tried to be patient and waited a couple days, till she got her cow and her first trip to Artser's, where occasionally I would get free candy. After deciding that I had given her ample time to settle in I sneaked over to the oak tree. The day I choose, I remember, was a bright spring day, there were some flowers growing on the hill leading up to the oak tree, I remember this because I picked some of the flowers on the way. I might have been tomboyish but I knew to give welcome presents. Well that day Marianne had chosen to read by the well, sitting in the warm grass with her back perched up against those old moldy stones. As I walked up I remember she looked up from her book, and once she saw whom I was, the sun was in her eyes, I remember her squinting, she smiled.
-Hello. She said as I came near.
-Hello, how are you today? I said, I remember smiling, the sun was shining really brightly.
-I am very good thank you for asking, and you darling?
-Oh so so, but I brought you these flowers. At this she gave a wide smile and put down her book with out marking the page, I remember that cause I thought it was silly, you would forget where you were.
-Why thank you so much. She said as she got up to walk over and accept my flowers I noticed a toe ring on her left foot, the one just next to the little toe, it was the first time I saw a toe ring... I have one now. Why these are beautiful flowers. She said. Thank you oh so very much it was very nice of you. I am Marianne. She said holding out her hand for me to shake. At that moment I was to shy and merrily shook her hand with a red face. After that I had no clue what to say so I just stood there, until she asked. Is there something you would like? You can ask darling.
-Can I play on that ole oak tree Ms. Marianne?
-Yes you can if you never call me Ms. again, just Marianne. That surprised me, no grownup had ever said that, was she a grown up? I couldn't tell her age.
-Okay Marianne! I said then ran off to the tree.
While in the midst of climbing my tree I looked back to see Marianne by the well, holding the flowers instead of her book, watching me gently, not like she expected me to fall, but just like she enjoyed watching me play on that old oak Tree.
I just realized today as I was walking through the airport what it was that was on Marianne's wrist: a carry-on-luggage-charm of a cross.
Marianne. I walked up that hill one day and she was up sitting in a tree of all things! Well I asked her if she wanted to come by for some tea with the Mrs. as a get to know you, you know. And she accepted but she never came! About a week after me and the Mrs. were sitting around an extra glass of tea we received a letter from Marianne humbling asking for our forgiveness, she apparently had forgotten all about it till just that day.
I was playing opera one afternoon with my windows open. It was summer time by then and Marianne had become part of the norm in out town everyone had their experi-ences with her. I had yet to enjoy such a memorable time, until that afternoon. I forget which song was playing, it was one of my favorites and well I looked down at what ever I was doing and when I looked up there was Marianne in the window watching my record player, I don't even think she knew I was there.
-Why hello there. I said. She blinked her eyes and looked up at me.
-Oh hello ha ha sorry I was just so drawn. I love this song.
-It's no big deal dearie, why don't you come in and have a drink? She looked at me for a second smiled and said. Alright, thank you.
I found it interesting as she sat there sipping her tea that I was the first one to have Marianne into her house, I felt sort of legendary. My husband had invited her over once be-fore, but she supposedly 'forgot'. When I brought this up she said. Oh that was you?! Well I am so sorry, it really did just slip my mind, but if I knew you had music like this I wouldn't have forgotten! I smiled when she smiled, there was something about that smile.
-My ex-husband use to listen to Opera. She said out of the blue.
-Oh I didn't know you were married once. She nodded her head.
-Yeah once a long time ago, we were young. I love opera but I like jazz too, but whenever I tried listening to it he would get furious and say that opera was all that we needed. You know I think lovers of Opera can be the most ignorant of music lovers. No of-fense to you. She added in quickly with a smile, her hand rested on my knee in reassurance.
-Ha none taken dearie. I smiled. Then I asked the question, I just couldn't help my-self. So is that why he is your ex?
-What do you take me for a lady that would break up with a guy cause of music? She said with a serious face before she broke into a smile. No I am kidding. The real reason is that well I really wanted to have a kid but he really didn't. And well once we got divorced he went of to war and got himself killed.
-Oh my. I was shocked by how she was just unleashing this whole history of hers, when she hadn't really talked to anyone, except that child that plays on her oak tree.
-It's okay. Wait I am sorry I shouldn't be saying this. Then she stood up to leave but I pleaded her to stay saying it was alright. She sat down like she was hopping I would say that.
-Well.... When I got news of his death I decided to find God, and well I did and be-cause I was so grateful to God I decided to become a nun to serve his glory. And all that jazz.
-You were really a nun?!
-I really was. She said nodding her head. She then took another sip of ice tea and continued on. Well all was going good I was satisfied with my life as a nun until one day we decided to take a trip to New York, to try to save a few souls. Well while in New York we decided to also take a look at the museums, God never said we couldn't enjoy art. And we went to the Jackson Pollock exhibit, that actually I had always wanted to see. You see I use to be a painter long before I even met my husband. And I saw Pollock's number one, and at that moment I saw my whole life. And I almost fainted at that moment I was just so shocked by my life at what I have lived what I haven't done, I ran straight out of that museum and came here to find what it is that I need in my life. My dad use to live here a long time ago. He left me that old farmhouse in his will. Bless his soul. I was so shocked all I managed to get out was:
-What a story! I remember you as a child, very happy. She lightly smiled at this. Then I started to regain some footing and I might be an old woman but I know when someone needs help. But tell me dearie, have you found what you were looking for out here?
Well after this meeting, she left shortly afterwards with out telling me anything else. I got the town together and told them her story and told them my idea to help her. To get her canvasses and paint material so that she could start painting again. This was the only thing I could think of. At the town hall, down the street from Marianne's farmhouse we all voted and decided to get some money together, in secret to get her her art. Well it was ac-tually quite easy, this being a Southern town we have big hearts, and it took just a couple of well placed speeches about gift giving at Sunday church to get most of the money we needed. And well I feel like the town found what ever it was that Marianne was searching for by getting the money together. I mean truly everyone coming together for someone, who was really a stranger. A stranger we would never forget that is.
Oh man you should have seen Marianne when she got her art supplies. Being as I was the most recent one from a big town, New York , I helped get most of the art supplies. And since my crush on her had not died it gave me great joy to see her so happy. She took the supplies straight into the barn, the same barn with her cow that she milked every morning. Nobody really knows how long it took for her to paint it, we all kind of lost track of time. She kept up her usual appearances at Artser's and her well, always the well now because that little girl would always being playing on her old oak tree. It rained a lot during that time to come to think of it. Wow I must say a year passed truly, a year for my dreams to go ever deeper over that Marianne.
The painting Marianne made was unveiled in the only place there was to be an un-veiling, the town hall or county court house, what ever you might call it. It had a peculiar name, Worllock, she gave two reasons for it. One was for its similarity to Pollock, and the other was a surprising story. When she was married, which apparently she was once upon a time, she and her husband, now these are from her lips, use to joke about what they thought a good child's name would be, this was, she said, before they got serious, and well they liked Worllock.
No words can describe that painting. All I can say is what I saw in it.
Every soul that had lived in that house, from the confederate patriot to Marianne herself.
Our winter winds banging our shutters while we sipped some nice hot chocolate re-mincing of the past spring that was so soon to come.
How happy I was with David.
Marianne, the life we could have... in my dreams.
That old oak Tree, and well Marianne herself.
Having friends over for some ice tea.
How we came together to give Marianne this, this painting.