L. Robert Veeder
Here’s an unusual confession. I have a curiously deep love of going to the grocery store. Before Kara can even mutter the sentence, “Oh shoot, I forgot; we’re out of….” I’m halfway to the car. It’s the normalcy, the domesticity of the whole thing, I think.
I hated prison. It sounds like such a stupid thing to say. Of course I hated prison. Everyone hates prison. I guess though that in retrospect one thing that it did give me was an unusual appreciation for the otherwise mundane- like grocery stores.
In prison the yard would only be opened as long as there was
enough light to see- security reasons; They had to be able to see us. That’s
what they told us at least. During the summer months it wasn’t so bad. But
during the winter months as the days got shorter, well, I detested the winter
months. If it snowed we weren’t allowed outside because we might fall and hurt
ourselves, but even on those rare occasions when whoever was in charge of
custody decided that we’d be fine, the clothes we wore, the coats that covered
us were too thin to be of much use, so being outside was a sheer act of will
and determination anyway. It was just easier to go inside and suffer the noise,
the incessant shouting, the roar of hundreds.
The yard was opened and closed throughout the day. First yard happened around eight in the morning- give or take. Again, this was somewhat determined by the whim of whoever was on duty. Around eleven o’clock or so they would announce that the yard was closed and all inmates had to return to their assigned units. For my own part I’d typically lie in my cell and read, there was so much solace to be found in a good book and the local classical station. As the clock ticked closer to lunch grown men would start hoarding around the door. I have no good reason for this, but I absolutely hated it. I mean I abhorred this behavior. I love my dogs, but that is what this was. It was the behavior of dogs, who always seem convinced that for some reason or another they would not get fed. They would pace with anticipation. The food wasn’t good, and every one of those men would complain about it while eating it. That didn’t matter though. This was what mattered. That they got there first. I knew men, friends of mine, men whom I actually liked, that would stand at that door for hours so that they wouldn’t have to wait in line. And I just hated this. It didn’t make any sense to me then. I didn’t know why it bothered me so much to bear witness to. I still don’t quite understand it, but that was real. I hated what it said about us. I resented the inhumanity in it all. For some reason I found it gross, and pathetic, and so I refused to take part in it. I refused to even look.
Instead, I would lie on my bunk with my little a.m./f.m. radio cranked as loud as it would go and try to forget it. Try to out-human the whole thing…quite unsuccessfully, I should add.
So, I think that’s part of my love of the grocery store. I’m continually enchanted by how tamed I feel. It all feels so normal, and relaxed, and then there’s the wonderful comfort of being surrounded by choices, just an endless array of choices, and colors. My god the colors! But then it’s the people also, just languidly picking through all of this. I see a mother trying to contain her rampant and excited child, and two friends who have bumped into each other unexpectedly in the aisles. An older man with worry on his face, what if he picks the wrong one, whatever it is, spaghetti sauce, panty liners, toothpaste. And somehow or another I find that I fall deeply in love with these people, this spectacular one-act play in slow motion that lasts all the way back to the car.
Oh, the beautiful Ordinary! How much you were lost on me before those days.
Then tonight after dinner Kara rushes out of our little home to
meet her book club. She’ll return tonight excited and fulfilled. I’m happy to
have time alone with our daughter, Story. She asks for a little more pasta and
pesto. My five-year-old daughter actually says this: “Please, Daddy. Could I
have a little more? Just a smidgen perhaps?” Those saccharine words actually
pour over her lips spilling out onto the floor. I almost slip on her charm. I
explain that of course she can have some more, but she has to hurry because it
is time for her bath, and then bed. I say, “I’ll work on cleaning up while you
eat, okay?” She agrees of course.
At the sink washing dishes I look out the window at a wistful, grey, mid-autumn sky. A chilly nightfall. A fire in the woodstove. My daughter happily chattering away behind me while the sink is running, and I realize that this is one of those moments; I realize that I will not ever forget this moment.
There is nothing particularly unusual about this moment. It is bedtime for my five year old. It is a day like any other.
It is this: the splendid awareness of space.
This, Kara’s book club, our simple fulfilling dinner, this soft and uncomplicated evening, was the life that I had been craving all of those many years, and now, here it is. It is actually happening, in all of its glory and splendor!
I read Story her books and lie next to her as
her busy brain settles into its well-deserved slumber, remembering,
remembering, remembering and cherishing…
This soulful, simple, splendid life, with a little wood to keep us warm on a quiet autumn evening.