THE USUAL NOTE FROM LB: From the summer of 2002 to the spring of 2010, Gwen the Beautiful and I were the proud and often exhausted owners of a beautiful Ozarks property we called Cloud Creek Ranch.
In many ways, the ranch was paradise. But it was a paradise with a price that started going up before we even knew it existed. Here’s another Monday musing about our adventure and the lessons we learned.
Oh, and if y’all detect any irony, please believe me when I say it comes straight from the universe and not your kindly Uncle Larry B.
by Larry Brody
Going into town being the trek it is, whenever I make the drive from Cloud Creed’s Mountaintop to Paradise I try to go to as many places and get as much done as I can.
In that way, yesterday was no different from any other trip.
But in another, it was way different indeed.
First, I went to the Beauty Salon on the Square to pick up some dry cleaning. The closest dry cleaner is forty miles away from Cloud Creek, and even when gas prices were lower that added a healthy surcharge to the cleaning transaction. Fortunately, the cleaner has delivery places scattered throughout the country’s various smaller towns, and the Beauty Salon is one of them.
As long as I was in a place created for the express purpose of making people look better when they walked out than when they came in, I got myself a quick haircut and some enjoyable conversation for a good price. Which is to say that my hair looked pretty much the way I’d hoped it would when Laurel the Haircutter was done, I heard about her coming-at-any-moment grandchild (and the fact that this would make Laurel a grandmother at 34), and I forked over just one measly little ten-dollar bill.
From there I tooled over to the discount store where Maya the Good works as a part-time manager, looking for some dog toys. Specifically, I wanted a frisbie for Dixie, Our Secret Agent Bred Lab. The store had no frisbies, though, so I settled for a ball made of a petroleum substance masquerading as rubber.
My next stop was Paradise Pharmacy, which is more variety store than drugstore. It’s a lot like Walgreen’s, but not Walgreen’s as currently constituted. More like Walgreen’s 50 years ago, when I was a kid. Small. Faded. Mazelike. Crowded with fascinating products I’d thought had been discontinued long ago.
A frisbie, however, wasn’t one of ’em. Oh no.
I picked up a prescription Gwen the Beautiful had called in earlier, decided to let myself go with some chocolate milk. Chocolate whole milk, not that thin, watery, two percent stuff. That’s what made it letting myself go.
Then, armed with my two purchases, I went to the checkout counter…and something that’d never happened to me before nailed me right between the eyes.
As usual, I counted out exact change. It’s a game I play with myself, seeing if I can get all those pesty pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters out of my pocket at a randomly chosen time.
The day was a bright one, so I wore clip-on sunglasses over my regular ones. The combination of the sunglasses and my increasing farsightedness (the glasses are for distance viewing only) made it almost impossible for me to see the coins in my hand, but I faked it.
The Checker, a pretty 18 year old so new at the job that her smile was genuine took what I handed her. Counted. Pointed to one of the coins. Looked back up at me.
“Oh, honey, I’m sorry,” she said in a sweet, understanding voice I hadn’t heard since I was six years old and buying my own ice cream cone for the first time.
“This isn’t a quarter,” she went on. “It’s a nickel. Do you have a quarter?”
I stared. The Checker misunderstood.
“The quarters are the bigger ones,” she said.
Time stopped. At that moment only two people existed in the world. A young woman trying to be gentle and kind—
And the doddering old codger who was so out of it he couldn’t even tell his change apart.
I saw the situation for what it was:
A Big Moment.
A Big Bad Moment.
And, for that Big Bad Moment, I felt the way I had when I was six years old and buying my first ice cream cone and listening to the sweet lady tell me I’d gotten it wrong.
No! I thought. No! I’m not an old man! I’m young and virile and handsome and smart and I know the difference between a quarter and a nickel! I swear!
But all I said was, “Thanks, I’ll remember that.”
When I got home, I told Gwen what’d happened. “Reckon I’m not the man I used to be,” I sighed.
She said, “You are to me.”
She held out her arms, and I stepped into them with ease.