Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Turnaround

"That commenter, Judy, who said maybe you could write a book about the people you meet while running," says Virginia, "makes a good suggestion."

Here's something from 7+ years ago.

I run like the wind.  Four miles uphill has earned me four miles down, gradual, easy on my knees.  I glide like an eagle.  Perhaps a runner’s high feels like this.  I lean into a good pace, picture my legs cranking circles on a mountain bike.  I am Bill Rodgers and Greta Waitz, heading for victory.  The gravel road turns rocky, ridged and rutted.  Spring rains persisted into summer, then fall.  Had to make up for five years of drought, and they did.  Road crews got behind. It will take them longer to catch up.  I wish the reason:  they ran out of prisoners.  Fat chance.  The war on drugs drags on longer than the war in Iraq, so far.  I bet we could beat it with eighty billion dollars well-spent.  This diversion does not bring me down, but I slow to avoid twisting an ankle.  I spot a well-aged man standing next to a Mazda pickup.  (I used to think my Volvos were un-American, but now they are Fords.)  If he and I were grapes, we would be raisins.  He appears to be gunless, something I like to know before I become too involved.  Tell me, do folks lock their firearms to the racks in their windows? Or might that slow them down too much?  One by one, he lifts plastic milk jugs from a neat pile on the ground and sets them in his truck bed.  Water gushes from a three-inch metal pipe drilled into rock.  I have noticed it before, never touched it.  Giardia are not my friend.  He ignores me, maybe he does not notice me, until I ask, “Is it good to drink?” “Oh yes, I’ve drunk many a gallon over the years.  My daughter lives in Roanoke and hates the taste of city water.  Whenever I visit, I take this to her.”  I cup my hands and sip.  I had forgotten running makes me thirsty, left my water belt at home.  I am not nearly as smart as some people think.  The water is cool, tastes shiny, wet, not special.  “Comes from an artesian well,” he says.  “Folks at the old quarry put it in.”  He eyes me closely, “Do you live around here?”  I tell him where and he nods, “I know you. Played piano a couple times at the Methodist church.”  Fast friends, brothers I suppose, we introduce ourselves.  And he is hungry for company.  “I used to work for Mr. Burks, who owned your cabin long ago.  I was a boy, fifteen, sixteen.  Had to pay me cash, I was too young.  With six kids and a house burned down, we pitched in, taking work wherever we could find it.  He had that place fixed up real nice.  ‘Course anything looked good to me back then.  He had lots of company, Saturday nights.”  Two octogenarians had already told me about those parties.  Bring your own bottle, leave your guns at home.  Not that everyone did.  Gun control was no more popular then than now.  “Did you go?” I ask.  “Hell no,” he says, “I was too young.  I just kept the yard looking sharp. Were you in the service?”  “No,” I almost wish I could say yes, as if military service were a game, something I know I could do well, but my parents told me war is wrong and it took.  “I was, but I didn’t care for guns.  Never liked hunting, not like my brother, passed away now, who hunted all these mountains.  Traveled all over the South, I did, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina.  They never sent me overseas.  Well, I better be going.  Want a lift?”  He has finished threading a rope through the handle of each plastic bottle and ties the loose end to his tailgate.  I resume my run.  He slowly bumps behind me.  The cloud-studded blue sky turned gray while we talked.  Perhaps I should have accepted the ride.  The road smoothes and my new friend passes me, yelling out his open window, “You run faster than I drive, don’t you?”  A mile later, drops begin to fall.  I am warm and they refresh me.  I love the smell of rain.  Hard to believe it trickles down to the artesian well and becomes tasteless.  The rain stops and starts several times before it gets serious and pours.  In minutes I am sopping wet. I feel like a girl in a wet T-shirt contest.  No, I am too self-conscious, though that’s silly up here where cars seldom pass.  But a chance is enough for me.  I start to mutter.  Don’t like it when my shoes squish with every step.  Prime time for blisters.  Bill Rodgers has abandoned me.  I’m running slowly and I want to be home.  The colored leaves were beautiful when the sun was shining, but now they drip brown all over me.   I’m almost home, and I slow to a walk.  I’m glad to be done, feel the coolness of the rain. My pink legs tingle with goose bumps.  I could run naked and no one would ever know.  I step onto our deck and untie my shoes.  Lay them upside down on a bench.  Take off my socks and wring them like dishrags.  Same for my shirt, and my shorts.  Standing in the rain feels good.  No neighbors to disturb, no policemen nearby.  I am home.

            James Pannabecker
                October 30 – November 3, 2003

No comments:

Post a Comment