I'm used to dealing with such things. Plastic grocery bags snagged on shrubs, door hangers wedged between perennials, sheets of newspaper crumpled at the foot of a tree.
The wind always blows a lot around here and it leaves behind remembrances in the form of once airborne garbage.
I was sweating, but for tidiness sake I took the time to pick up the piece of paper. I began walking back to the house.
When I hit the sidewalk I could contain my curiosity no longer. I stopped, wiped my brow, turned the envelope over.
There was something funny about that Franklin D. Roosevelt stamp. I hadn't seen one of those in a long time. For that matter it had been decades since first class postage in the U.S. was only 6 cents.
The postmark told me that the piece this mail had passed through the post office in 1970.
The other thing was that the letter wasn't mailed to my town. It had either blown in from somewhere far away or one of my neighbors (possibly) had possession of it for some reason and then tossed it in the trash and then the wind pried it loose.
I was still sweating. I hurried indoors.
I set my find on the kitchen table and began examining it.
A thank you note.
I opened it up.
Right away I noted the unusual names. From another era: Nim, Edna, Van, Sue.
Ah, thank you for the baby gifts!
I wondered what had happened to the "darling" silver spoon, fork and cup.
A bigger question: what happened to that baby? Did it turn out to be a he or she? (In 1970 it wasn't possible to know in advance with a sonogram). Now 41 years later, could that child be one of my neighbors? Live in another town? Be deceased?
What about the "favorite" aunt and uncle? What had happened to them? Or that mom who was so thoughtful and correct in manners to send out a thank-you note?
What I had was a tangible piece of evidence that something once surely happened. The rest consisted of unanswerable questions.
It seems like I have a lot of unanswerable questions in my life, especially (and obviously) since I started the Van Winkle Project.
Soon I will receive answers to a few big questions like what happened in Arizona in January, the Middle East in February, in Japan in March, in the American Midwest this spring...
But I don't expect to get an answer to the mystery of the Merkel, Texas thank-you note that the wind deposited in my yard. That's all right with me. At least it brought a man hungry for news some old tidings that he could chew upon while he awaits the main course.
A man who continues sweating every time he goes outdoors, a man who continues being grateful for the air conditioning indoors.
You see, the really inescapable news for anyone living in these parts isn't a piece of trash or such. It's that we're having the worst heat wave in anyone's memory. I allow myself to look at the corner of the front page of the local newspaper when I retrieve it in each day. I figure that's not a violation of the VWP since this is news I'm living in the midst of.
Here's what I see:
As far as anyone knows these days of 100+ degreee F. heat are not going to end in the foreseeable future. This is a problem. Since there's been no rain, every field of burnt up grass could potentially spawn a wildfire. The wind has been averaging 15-20 mph every day. When the wind catches the flames, the fire spreads...
The awful weather is the reason why I was sweating in the front yard where I found the windblown piece of mail. I was trying to keep the landscaping alive in the flowerbeds by hand watering with the garden hose. Due to water restrictions, I can only use the automatic sprinkler system on Thursdays and Fridays.
In this heat, the plants need water every day.
But at this point I have to say many of us humans seem to have wilted as much as the lillies. There has to be some way, some place to cool off...
|Fossilized walrus ivory carving with gold nugget |
by Keith L. Haley.
You know what? Next time you hear from me I'll be writing from Alaska. Seriously. - V.W.
COMING: Impressions of a Northern State