Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Small Town Theater

Stuart and I are on a date...two laps around the block....cell phone in hand. From a distance we see an older person studying the ground. Around here, weeds can bring on an anxiety attack.

"How many grams in an ounce?"

Stuart and I...engineer and educator...do not have an answer. None is expected.

"28 grams. This is 3.6 grams." The little man straightens up and holds out a tiny red radio-controlled airplane. "It doesn't fly right." He works the levers. The plane rises silently to eye level and bucks in a lazy circle. He brings it in for a landing."It's out of balance. I like to fly it slow and I can't because it's out of balance... You'll have to excuse me, I left my teeth in the house... I just got out of the hospital...spent 89 days in there. I'm weak...very weak... Maybe if I cut the wire and slide the engine up a little that might balance it. Hate to do that though...might break it." He studies the plane for a minute.

The little man fiddles with the controls again and the plane lifts off. It sails smoothly around us while his words continue to gallop by. "You work north of here don't you? Pensions aren't what they used to be. Won't be nuthin' left in twenty years. I'm not worried...be dead by then. You on the other hand...might be just like my grandparents. They had nuthin'... nuthin'... Might get another one of these planes. They make one that's three grams...lightest one built...Nice to meet you. "

The small man goes into his house. We don't know his name.

We turn the corner. Three girls and a tiny dog are coming our way. We recognize the dog before the girls. Oscar is Henrie's friend. Abby is spinning round and round swinging something. As she comes closer, we can see that she is holding a belt. Metal cutouts shimmer down its length. The gigantic buckle swings freely at the end. Abby does not look up. She hums and spins and talks to her belt. Her mom and her sister, Jenny, keep out of its path.

Conversation is more two-sided this time but we must watch out for the belt.

"Jenny just got back from a field trip to Shiloh."

"Oh, how far is that from here?"

"About two and a half hours by bus, ma'am. We saw monuments and toured the battlefield. They have a bookstore there and I got a hat."

"A union hat! Careful, Abby, you're getting too close." Abby's mom does not move to take away the belt.

I know autism. A real battle would rage if Abby were to be deprived of the belt. Abby is almost as big as her mom and they are three blocks from home.

"Careful Abby!"

Whack! The buckle catches me across the middle. I walk around to the other side of Stuart. Abby steps back four steps and keeps spinning.

"Some kids bought Union ones and some bought Confederate ones. We had a battle on the bus ride home."

The Civil War lives on in this part of the country.

We say our goodbyes and start for home. The sun is setting and the kids are waiting for dessert. One lap will have to do tonight.

We walk in silence for a while. Loose stones crunch under our feet.

I look up at Stuart. "Do you feel like we just watched some sort of weird play?"

"Well hon, when you live in a small town for long enough it doesn't take Broadway to entertain. Little things become a whole lot more interesting."


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