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Saturday, January 07, 2006


I tend to be absent-minded.  Forgetful.  The kind of person who forgets her keys often, only I don't.  I am so afraid of this tendency I have to not be entirely aware of my surroundings that I have developed little habits that keep disaster away.  My purse, for example, is always in contact with my body in one way or another.  If I have to sit down, instead of simply putting my purse on the floor and possibly forgetting to pick it up again I wrap the handle of the purse around one knee.  The physical contact of it comforts me, actually soothes me, because I know that as long as I can feel the pressure of that purse strap around my knee all is right.

If I don't take my purse with me somewhere, I'll put my keys in my pocket.  Sometimes I forget which pocket, though - pants pocket, jacket pocket, right or left pocket, inner or outer pocket of my heaviest winter coat - there are so many pocket options that sometimes I spend a frantic twenty seconds patting at myself in desperation, afraid that this is the time I have locked us out of our car or our house.

Twelve years ago Bill and I were living in Idaho.  I grew up in southern California so these Idaho winters were a challenge for me.  But this was my third one and I was starting to get the hang of things.  I'd get up early every Sunday morning for my volunteer job at the food co-op.  I worked in the bakery.  Three hours each Sunday morning spent kneading bread dough and running freshly-baked loaves of whole wheat bread down to the shop and lining them up in the bakery cases, being careful to leave the doors ajar so that the warm bread wouldn't steam up the cases too much.  Even washing the dishes seemed more life-affirming there.  Ken always kept a big empty yogurt container filled with honey which he plunged into the sink of hot water, to soften the crystallized honey.  I'd be washing the knives, bowls, measuring cups and spoons and the honeypot would be bobbing away in the dishwater.  I was always a bit wary that the sudsy water would leak inside the honey container and ruin it but it never did.  It always bobbed just above the water line and I was the only one who ever seemed to worry about it.

Ken was exactly the kind of guy you'd expect to be making whole wheat bread in a food co-op.  He wore his long blond hair in a ponytail.  He was quiet and thoughtful.  He had been hard to get to know at first because he took every comment and question to heart and treated it as if upon his answer rested the fate of something very important and very fragile.  I had been going for at least two months before he started laughing at my jokes, albeit warily and cautiously.  His wife Rachel was a doula.  I'd only met her once but she wrote a column for the co-op newsletter wherein she prescribed varius herbal teas for whatever ailed a person.  I'd been trying raspberry leaf tea for a few months.  It was suppsoed to help ease menstrual cramps, along with increasing a woman's fertility.  We were about to start trying to get me pregnant, so it was with great interest that I asked Ken questions about Rachel's doula work and her theories on homebirth.

This one winter Sunday there had been a terrible storm predicted.  When our alarm had gone off at 6:00 am Bill had looked out the window and seen it, seen the stormcloud in the sky, and suggested that I skip the bakery that morning.  But I couldn't do it.  I would have stayed home from my paying job, an office job at the nearby university, without a second thought but my three hours in the bakery each week were like therapy.  I loved the way I felt alive the moment I stepped through the doors.  The bins of dried beans and grains all in a line, the earthy colors of peas and lentils and beans black and white and brown and mottled, they represented the kind of sustenance that the sickly fluorescent-lit aisles of the grocery store did not.  There was no excess and garish packaging here, little packaging at all.  It was no-frills food and that was calming to me.  I needed my weekly bakery work more than Ken needed me, I'm sure. 

I assured Bill that I would be fine and headed into town.  By the end of my shift the snow had started to fall.  I did my weekly shopping, having just earned with my work a 30% discount, and as my groceries were being bagged the phone by the cashier rang.  It was Bill, telling me that the snow was coming down hard and that I should stay put.  "But I just bought groceries!" I answered.  "I have milk! Cheese!  I can't just... not come home!"  Bill was uncharacteristically insistent that I not risk driving in this snow (he himself will drive under any conditions), so I agreed to wait a bit.

I wandered the co-op.  I read the current newsletter.  I bought a muffin, one that I had made an hour previously and carried down on a big tray with dozens of others.  Whole-wheat lemon.  I leafed hrough the holistic magazines.  I started to fret about my perishable items.  Outside I could see that the snow was definitely falling, but it didn't look any worse than other snowstorms I had driven in.  I decided to do it.

It really wasn't any worse than any other storm.  There was no traffic on the highway.  It was calm and peaceful and the swirling snowflakes always just ahead of me were mezmerizing, like driving into a snowy tunnel.  At times it almost seemed that I wasn't moving at all but that the snowy tunnel was what was moving.  At other times I couldn't see the lines on the road all that well, but I had driven this highway so many hundreds of times that I knew it by feel.

As I turned off the highway and into the little unincorporated little hamlet where we lived, the snow got deeper.  No one had driven on these gravel roads, nor had the plow been through yet.  I applied a bit more pressure to the gas pedal and forged on ahead.  I was within walking distance of our house now; if I were to get stuck the worst-case scenario was that we'd have to walk a ways with our groceries, and then wait for the plow to unstick the car.

I approached the even smaller gravel road that our house lay on and turned right.  The snow was really deep here.  My little Ford Escort would have to really work to get through this, but I decided that every foot closer I got before getting stuck was one foot less to carry the groceries.  I applied even more pressure to the gas pedal - it was almost to the floor - and gripped the steering wheel tightly and held on while my little car burrowed its way through.  As I approached our house I could see Bill standing at the front window, his face agape with astonishment.  I'd never seen him direct that expression at me before.  It was part shock, part admiration, and a lot of, "You're crazy, woman!"  Even as I swung the wheel jerkily to bring the Escort to a rest in our drive, I was smiling giddily, proud that I'd shown Bill that I was worthy of Idaho winters and didn't need to be coddled or babied.  I felt I'd arrived, literally.  I'd proved my mettle.

I lowered my head as I got out of the car, slammed the door shut behind me and ran into the house.  Laughing, I announced, "I brought home the (veggie) bacon, now you can bring it in from the car!"  Bill shook his head in surprise, still wearing that look of slight shock.  "I can't believe you drove in this!" he laughed.  "My GOD, but you're stubborn!"

"Yep.  I can be."  I feigned nonchalance, shruggung.  "I've got stuff to do.  I couldn't hang out in town all day."

"Ok, ok.  I'll bring in the groceries.  You're right; you earned it."  He smiled at me and held out his hand.  "Where are the keys?"

That was when I realized that I'd locked them in the car.  I'd been in such a hurry to get in from the snow that I'd slammed the door behind me before going through my pocket-patting routine and the keys had been left on the passenger seat, right where I'd tossed them after shutting off the engine so that I could grab the muffin I'd brought home for Bill.

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