Tildy McWallen ran her life the way she ran her mouth – full speed ahead. It isn’t that she wanted to; it just sorta worked out that way. Her Momma reminded her constantly.
Don’t. That’s all she said. Just Don’t. Smokey Joe said the same thing. Don’t.
Eat food so fast.
Spill words out as if they rushed down a waterfall.
Climb trees after a rain when the branches are slick.
Sing songs with made up words.
Talk to the cows like they actually understand.
Tildy chuckled deep inside. She knew better. She didn’t climb trees after the rain. Not anymore. Once she tried on the big creek willow and slid down the trunk, smacking her butt on the hard ground. She apologized to any bugs she didn’t have time to warn ahead. And cows did understand. They even answered back.
No one knew what to do with her life. But everyone sure tried.
Smokey Joe was adventuresome about it. Last year Smokey ran her for County Commissioner. Tildy thought it a great lark. Momma was appalled. Tildy wasn’t sure what she would do with it if people chose her, but she would give it a whirl. She wasn’t picked, so she let it go and moved on.
Life. It came one moment after the other like beads on a string. Like the yellowed pearls Momma wore at weddings and Josey Rawlin’s funeral last summer. Like morning dew drops sliding down to drip off a leaf.
What would evening dew drops do? Move up the leaf? Tildy knew if they did it would be because Mom Earth was bored and wanted a change in her life. Tildy knew Mom Earth breathed because she felt her breath in the wind. Sometimes it felt sweet, like breath from a newborn lamb’s bleat. One summer it felt angry and raging when Pullman’s valley burned, flames sweeping up over the hill just beyond the creek. Tildy understood. She knew Mom Earth had to let it rip now and then. Tildy did too. One day she ran through the woods frantic to scream at the very frustration of being alive. She dove into the creek and hollered her anguish into the swirling water, birthing froths of bubbles that raced to the surface to escape her. Mom Earth embraced her sweetly, cooling her with the caress of her arms. Mostly she listened and understood.
When no one was there for Tildy to talk to, she sang. Whatever came to her mind. Songs of joy surged up and out, sending messages out to the birds that sang and swooped in rhythm with her heart.
Smokey Joe always waved “hey” when she visited his machine shop. Mostly he chuckled as she became the people they both knew, taking on their voice and manners while he guessed who. When he had a bad day and looked grumpy, she always tossed Mrs. Richner’s whines into the mix. She would hitch her pants up high like Mrs. Richner wore hers, and then she would wring her hands, twist her imaginary wedding ring and release a staccato roll of complaints. “Jody won’t make those kids mind. Pokey messes inside that house like it was outside. Bindweed is ruling over the cow pen and Ben won’t get after it. And my belching! It just won’t quit!” Then she let out a long, loud exaggerated burp, repeating it until Smokey grinned. Then she knew today she had made a difference. That was her life. Make a difference EVERY day.
Her words. A scritch under Pokey’s chin. Hugging one of Mom Earth’s boulders. Whistling at a bird. It was all about this. Breathing in Mom Earth’s gifts and breathing out gifts to others. Tildy knew. She had breathed this way, moment by moment for twenty three years. Some days that breath was rough like creek water struggling over jumbled rocks. Another day, like today, it flowed smooth. When she thought about other people’s frowns it was rough. When she thought about the moment she was at and how to breath a gift into it, it flowed.
Tildy gazed out ahead, into the space between the dirt road lined with careless field clover, and the blue summer sky with gathering thunderheads. Into that space of road she glimpsed Mrs. Richner’s walk. That woman was bewildered with life. Tildy took a skip and headed up quick. She knew just what to do.
Ellie’s Note: from time to time Tildy shows up in my mind with things to say. She introduced herself into my awareness when I was on a road trip and we’ve been friends ever since. Hope you enjoy her!
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