Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Saddest Thing - According to a Hippie

I wrote this last summer, and then never posted it.
It's kind of pointless, I guess, but it amused me. :)
~ Mary

Yesterday I was running errands, going to home visits all over the rural Ozarks.
I ran out the door at 7 am, with a rice cake and a date cookie to sustain me for the day.
Now it was early afternoon and some food sounded good. Maybe Subway? Except there was no such a thing in any of these little towns... I passed one after another. Most of them had a dozen houses and a post office. I would be doing good if there was a gas station that sold some candy bars and peanuts - certainly not a sustainable and reasonably healthy lunch.

As I passed the stop sign for the next little town, it looked as though perhaps there were more than just a few houses down the street. So, I pulled off the highway and wandered through small-town America for a bit. It was all so classic - a few little antique stores and handcraft shops; an old man leaning against the wall under the awning of a little shop smoking a pipe.
A few old cars and battered pickups rattled through the town. But nothing was open. This was a Monday, and all the stores had signs taped in the windows that said, "Open Tuesday-Friday."
I sighed, wondering why the whole town decided not to do business on Mondays.

And then I saw it - a little health food store set back from the crumbling sidewalk! A faded orange "OPEN" sign hung in the window. Maybe I would find some lunch here! Certainly they would have plain yogurt or.... something. I pushed the creaky door open and stepped inside. As usual, the smell of herbs, spices and bulk foods permeated the atmosphere.
Nobody was in sight. At the counter, a few papers hung here and there proclaiming, "Fresh organically raised lamb!" or "Homegrown vegetables - Call Marla."

Then a little lady appeared out of the back. Thin, stringy white hair hung down her back over her organic hemp blouse. Her Birkenstocks looked worn and well-loved. Her flowing skirt looked like it belonged in a field of daisies. Most notably though, her little brown face looked aged and etched with care. It was thin as was the rest of her.

"Are you looking for something?" she asked helpfully.

"Oh.. no... I'm just... looking. Nothing in particular," I replied, hoping that she wouldn't expect me to buy something if I didn't find lunch material among the bags of stone-ground rye flour and packages of dried mango.

"Do you live around here?" she inquired a bit puzzled.

"No, I don't. I live over by ___."

"Oh!" she said, this time with just a bit of interest rising in her slow, tired voice. "So you must know ___ ?"

Actually, I didn't know her aquaintance.

She sighed again. "Oh..." as she continued watching me glance across the shelves.

I tried to make conversation. "So... have you been in business here for a long time?"

"Since 1974. We - well, I mean my husband and bunch of other hippies - all moved here back then and started this kind of stuff. There was a whole bunch of us - we all lived together. Just a caravan of cars and buses, and we lived out of those. We all lived on wheat germ and vegetables and homemade bread. We were all healthy, and spent plenty of time in the sunshine and fresh air. But it's all changed.... " and her voice trailed off as she looked out the health food store window wistfully.

"It all changed. I'm the only one who hasn't changed. Everyone else eats white bread and has a pot belly. It's the saddest thing I've ever seen in my life." Each word seemed to drop heavily, wearily, sadly.

I suppressed a chuckle and stared hard at the basket of freshly dug sweet potatoes at my feet lest she see my amusement.

She tapped her hands on the counter. "Yes. The saddest thing I've ever seen... It's the old hippies who used to eat alfalfa sprouts with me who are sipping pepsi and beer now. They don't even care about healthy bodies anymore." Then her voice rose to an angry pitch: "And they're the ones who know better!! It's really depressing to go on with life when nobody else lives for your ideals anymore."

And then her phone rang, and customers walked in and needed her help, and I had to buy something for lunch and leave lest I be late for the next prenatal. I wished that there would have been time for me to say something - anything - about the essence of life and what really matters and is worth living for. But, she was busy and I had to go, so I left the little wiry brown lady in her store full of stuff to keep her fading earthly body together a little longer.

I just had to chuckle as I drove away. What a perspective. The saddest thing she knows of in life is pot bellied people eating white bread and drinking pepsi.

Maybe sometime I'll see the her again, or maybe I won't. I honestly don't even remember the name or location of the little town where I found her health food store.

But I remember her. I still think about her sometimes. And I still wonder if she weeps over her white bread eating friends.

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