Gifts

April 8, 2014 

On the Genehouse walk it was a day of gift finding. Climbing down Clifton Terrace Road on the east side, I came upon a dead box turtle. I knew it was dead because the elaborate shell markings had peeled off from the hard, mound-shaped oval, leaving the exposed area chalky white. The marking, as thin as paper and diaphanous, was in three inch by one-and-a-half inch scabs, each slice of art eerily resembling an x-ray of a human hand.

Just steps into the River Road section, I found a huge neck vertebra four inches long and three wide, the bone white and austere and the nerve canal the size of a dime. I held the bone vertically and the west wind made a whistle of it. Farmer Orville—he was the last gift of the day—said it was a cow bone. I asked how a cow came to be on the river and he said it was a miracle.

I met Flash the wiener dog pup and his mistress with three teeth, whose southern accent was untranslatable. I just nodded and said Yeah every few seconds just to be sociable. Flash was squirming in my arms and licking my bald head. How would I explain that transgression to Scout the Cat?

Stroke Hill was drenched in daffodils and forsythia and dandelions. Indians thought that yellow flowers were reflections of the sun, a portent of fertility and seeds to come. I don’t doubt it.

Orville, his five-foot-two body lost in baggy clothes, was wearing heavy work gloves and a grey shirt with his name sewed onto it. Reba the shepherd dog was wearing a coat of fine sawdust. She licked the right lens of my sunglasses. Nothing says spring like dogslime. Reba and Flash the wiener dog sitting in a tree—but I digress.

I said I could use a shirt with “Gene” sewed on it so I could remember who I was. “I got at least 30 of these,” Orville said. “Enough to last me till I’m 120.” He laughed his wheeze of a chortle and glanced toward the kitchen, a sure tell that some philosophy about women was about to erupt, and be on the alert for Quilt Queen.

“Men? Wear shirts to cover they nakedness, Gene. Women . . . go for flash. The wife wants me to git rid of the Orville shirts and put on some finery. Shee-it.”

Ah men. Ah women.

“I’m going on a road trip for a week,” I reminded my friend. “I’m lecturing on Indian history. And some younger woman will be in the audience, and she’ll be overwhelmed by my handsomeness and my speech will hypnotize her and she’ll want to come back with me.”

Orville glanced at the house. “Don’t make that mistake.” I laughed until snot came out of nose. “And wear a regular shirt—no flash. And drink lots of Saki.”

Huh?

“My baby brother was in China and they threw a banquet for him? and he said every dish was worse than the other. He said they eat squares of pork fat—it’s a delicacy there. And he couldn’t refuse, he was sellin them stuff, so he’s feastin on raw things, fat things. So he drank Saki until he couldn’t taste anythin. It is the secret of life—Saki.”

“Don’t eat raw things, fat things. Drink Saki.” Letter from the Apostle Paul, to the Ephesians.

No problem.

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