Sunday, November 07, 2004

Mabel Ray's Smile

In 1969 I was 8 years old. It was my hometown's 75th anniversary of being a town and my dad was mayor. But being 8, I was relatively unaware of social roles: I knew who I liked and who I liked were those people who treated me like a person, who had a smile and a word for me when we met.

One of those people was Miss Mabel Ray. I don't know how old Mabel Ray was in 1969. We always called her Mabel Ray, never just "Mabel", never "Miss Ray". It was, "Here comes Mabel Ray," or "There goes Mabel Ray," as she seemed to walk everywhere, and at a good clip too.

I liked Mabel Ray and wanted to know about her so I sometimes asked questions of my mother about Mabel Ray, but my mother never told me much. Maybe she didn't know much more than she told me. She cleaned for somebody and lived by herself and that was all I knew about her life until that day in 1969 when I learned a bit more than I was prepared to process and thus took a step on a path of real learning.

I chose to sit by her at one of the festivities at the 75th anniversary celebration in 1969. I tried to make conversation and having only my mother to model my conversation on, I told Mabel Ray that I liked the dress she had on and asked where she had gotten it. Mabel Ray blushed. I was confused. In my mother's world, that was as mundane as talking about the weather. I didn't understand the significance of the exchange that was to follow for years, but I remembered it word for word: "Honey, I got it at the second hand store in Norton. That's where I get most of my clothes." Despite my confusion and Mabel Ray's embarassment the conversation continued because we liked each other. She told me how every once in a while she caught the bus to Norton and I believe the word she used was "traded" because I saw in my child's eye the green stamp store when I knew we sometimes traded stamps for items.

I loved Mabel Ray but that day I realized that she and I didn't quite live in the same world. The world of my parents was somehow removed from that of hers, and as a child I obviously lived in the world of my parents. I didn't understand but I took notice and I started paying attention.
It was just recently that I realized my path has finally taken me, at least in some respects, to Mabel Ray's world! Someone asked me where I had gotten the shirt I had on. "Oh," I replied, "I think it is Lands End but I didn't buy it there, I bought it used. I pretty much buy all my clothes used."

Except that I am not ashamed of it. I have no need to consume for consumption's sake, or to impress anyone at all. At times in my life I have not known how to greet strangers or kin with a welcoming smile like Mabel Ray did but I am finally learning that too I hope.

Real riches are on the inside and the more the focus is on the outside the more impoverished the inside is. Thanks Mabel Ray for your wonderful teaching. And for your smile.

1 comment:

Echo said...

Thanks for your compliment!!! I love to read your work too because you live like I would love too.

Sweet mountain lady, cowgirl, it has been too long since I wrapped my arms around a wet horse and breathed in the wild scent of that particular freedom.