Sunday, November 26, 2006

[no subject]

You don't need a blog named "Corn Chips and Pie" to tell you that time passes quickly, more quickly than any of us can understand. But blogs exist to generate superfluous syllables. So.

When I lived in Washington, D.C., I knew a beautiful lady named Cora. She was born in Maryland, on a tobacco farm, during World War I. At the very end of her life, when she had lost almost everything she had ever known, she somehow retained her kindness and social grace.

She had Alzheimer's, and went through periods in which she could remember the dress she wore when she learned her father had died of a heart attack (she was in a cornfield with her sister), but could not remember where she was. She was in a nursing home with flickering fluorescent lights and yellowing linoleum, surrounded by caring but numb Ethiopian nurses.

Thus, when she expressed sincere bewilderment at the disappearance of tobacco farms and the ascendance of strip malls in Maryland and Virginia, it was plain that Alzheimer's was not to blame. "What happened to all the farms?" she asked, wide-eyed. Memory loss? No. She remembered every year of her life up to around the turn of the century. She spent most of her life as the maid for a piano salesman. "A Jewish man. He was always very kind to me. As white people go, I have no complaints with the Jews. Always very kind."

No, she remembered everything: the second world war, the postwar boom, the civil rights movement, the sneaky creep of incomprehensible technology. But she could not understand how the landscape of her childhood-- of her adolescence, of her adulthood, for God's sake-- could be so transformed. I myself only have anecdotal evidence of this. Once was a sorghum field, now it's a Linens & Things. You got it; you got it. But just drive west on 66 from DC. Or explore 'round Gaithersburg. Even if you never saw what came before, you will get a feeling in your marrow. An unpleasant feeling.

But the ethics & aesthetics of suburban sprawl are totally irrelevant. Cora was utterly bewildered, scared even, at the changes wrought upon her world. And she died-- Cora died alone, through no fault of her distant relatives who did their part-- alienated and dizzied, but with a subtle, straight-backed defiance. She broke institutional rules by using Scotch 3M double-sided tape to mount prints of fruit-bowl still lifes. She complained about the unruly sycamore trees, left untrimmed outside her 5th-floor window. She clucked and shook her head at coverage of the DC sniper. Muhammad and Malvo were sniping from former irrigation ditches, from outbuildings, from stands of fencerow dogwoods.

Cora never got married, and convinced me that she was happy with the decision. There was one man in particular, a man with whom she'd had a 15-year relationship, but it just was never quite right. He'd died. Her old boss had died. Many of her relatives had died. Time just flew right by, and she never really got a handle on things, and now there was an Outback Steakhouse in her daddy's back 40, and there you go.