Essay: A joy-filled day on the town
Memories of a Saturday out with a favorite aunt.
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It is the train station, however, that my aunt loves, with its intricate timetables, stacks of luggage, and smell of diesel. Anyone in town can walk two blocks and catch a daily train to Jackson, Miss., then on to Memphis, Tenn., or St. Louis. I exist, my aunt tells me, in a universe far greater than this tiny burg, this river town in Louisiana.Skip to next paragraph
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In an antechamber next to the bank lobby, we pass a bulging newsstand just like the ones in the movies. It looks as if it could fall over at any minute, filled with the paraphernalia of urbanity: magazines and newspapers, cigars, cigarettes, candy, gum, toothpicks, maps, nail clippers, Louisiana State University football pennants, digestive aids.
Somehow, at age 9, I realize that all this richness – the sights and wonders of downtown – is being given to me by my aunt.
In my grandmother's narrow office, I run straight to the window to lean out and search a mile away for the miniature version of my house (until my aunt and grandmother fly after me, close the window, and threaten me with instant death to even think of taking one step closer).
I know that somewhere in the distance, one of those Monopoly houses is my house, my backyard, my room. But how to mark off the steps, how to calibrate the distance between these two irreconcilable spheres of existence?
My grandmother's hair is gray. She's dressed in a dark-blue, pebbly-looking suit and square, dark shoes. After a few minutes chatting with us, she smiles, hugs me warmly, kisses my cheek, tells my aunt and me goodbye, and then at the last second, gives me a 50-cent piece for the candy counter downstairs. On the way down, my aunt contributes a half-dollar of her own. I feel like a sultan, imagining rows of Milky Ways, Baby Ruths, lemon drops, and candy corn.
During the ride home after visiting my grandmother, we sit near the front of the bus. My aunt is talking to an acquaintance she has just run into. Or maybe talking to the bus driver – she will talk with anyone, white, black, stranger, friend – an ease and garrulousness acquired from years of riding Greyhounds coast to coast.
The Louisiana heat, along with the rumble and sway of the bus, would ordinarily rock me to sleep against her, except that I want to revisit Tarzan in my mind. The bus ride home always does this – evokes in me a replaying of whatever movie I've just seen. Scene by scene, I roll the plot through my mind, reliving Tarzan's jungle acrobatics, his battles with lions and human villains.
I do not have the words to say so, but I know that some secret knowledge has been passed on to me by my aunt concerning pleasure – movies, hamburgers, train stations, newsstands – concerning plenitude, one of the names for joy.