Front St. Arts
Hunt for Steel
At the Pond
A Miracle Maker
Just a Girl
Run of Hollow
Man of Earth
Tractors Are Us
Preface & Reader Response
"I won't lie to you. My mama used to say, 'Don't lie because you have to remember what you said if you do.'"
by Jerry Murley
At the window, Celia pauses to observe preparations for the parade. Sixteen feet above Main Street, Celia waits, amid her housework, for the spectacle of the year. On most Saturdays she labors quietly for hours, purging, ordering, cleansing, to maintain her home in the oldest building in town. But on parade day, she's privileged to the highest vantage point: a front-row, pigeon's-eye view of the colors and bands and grandees in street-level reviewing stands, those masses stepping lively and waving in unison as if they mattered and what they did mattered and the people they smiled at mattered, too.
Celia works in a solvent factory outside her small Southern town. She is one employee among 35 older, often illiterate, men and women in a non-union shop. Her office is a ten-by-ten-foot windowless hut erected near the front wall in a large, open, metal-clad, uninsulated warehouse. Her hut has no ceiling, except for the exposed girders and light-blue metal roof of the building hovering a full twelve feet above the walls of her work space. The only light comes from one of the suspended, ultra-bright fluorescent fixtures that illuminate the warehouse work areas, casting dark shadows in the recesses. Solvent fumes circulate freely with no ventilation in the hut – and little or none to speak of in the factory.
Celia handles inventory control for the factory, but she does other jobs as well, such as weekend shipping and cleaning the restrooms. Once on a visit to the company restroom, she found herself in a stall eye-to-eye with a three-foot chicken snake. She's been wary of that eerie spot from that day to this.
Celia is fond of saying, "I won't lie to you. My mama used to say, 'Don't lie because you have to remember what you said if you do.'"
Work is more than a responsibility for her: it is the defining characteristic of a person of her standing. "I remember when I came to the plant," she says. "I had been laid off from my job. I remember how people looked at me and treated me differently when I didn't have a job."
Celia lives in a apartment on the top floor of the two-story commercial building that she inherited from her mother years ago. She and her husband restored the building when her husband was fit for such things and still around for her. Now she practically lives alone. She shares her upstairs dwelling with her brother, who works on river barges. But he is barely home four days out of a month. "My utility bill most winter months is $700," she says. "I don't think the utility company ever bothers to read my meter. What could I do by myself that uses $700 in utilities a month?"
Her apartment presides over a storehouse of her mother's things – her past – stuffed in particular places on the first floor. She lives comfortably, closeted with her keepsakes and collections. Hers is an open mind, but her feet, though strong, are not inclined to travel far. Celia is content with her own company. Seems a train of objects and people, threading back in time, circle her ceaselessly: a carrousel of memorabilia, family members, acquaintances, and newcomers pass and nod politely just beneath her gaze.
One summer, when her mother was ill in the hospital, Celia missed the parade. Only then did she discover how the event relates to her, how it marks the cycles of her life. More than Christmas or Thanksgiving, the parade recalls earlier, carefree times: it is all the commotion without much meaning that lends significance to her. What – or who – is in the parade matters little. It is the combination of everything marching right under her windowsill that makes the world flesh and blood – and hers – for just a few hours a year.
Celia has not given up on anything though. She is not in a dirt hole near her mother yet – far from it. She's got her patch of ground and is proud of it. She's ready to move to new things, she says, and sees herself headed there. She sees herself as youthful – and perhaps a touch above the people about her who don't see her, in spite of their airs to the contrary.
"I want to change," she declares. "I get bored easily. If you don't grow, you die. At the plant, they keep saying, 'Why do you want to go to school classes.' That's just me: I want to learn. I want to do better things."
However, Celia's not about to march in anybody else's parade. She wants to see those who do march and let them know that she is watching, waiting her turn to step gracefully before the crowd and share respectful gestures with people who as yet cannot even imagine her boundless capacity.
In the late-morning heat, the caravan of relics, memories, passers-by, dreams, and things to be done fatigues her. The pleasant sensation of an irresistible nap sweeps over her. A swirling haze softly dances behind her eyelids. Sweet abandon subdues the pageant within, a brief passage till the parade recommences.
* * *
About The Artist:
Jan Hulme Shepard studied art and education at Memphis State University in the late 1960s. Having worked many years as a human resource trainer for businesses and government, Jan is keenly interested in human potential and forthrightly challenges obstacles to personal fulfillment. Jan is deeply involved in spiritual exploration, particularly as it relates to healing.
Though her principal residence is rural, Jan spends as much time in urban surroundings. It is an understatement to say that she is highly mobile. Jan has traveled far: working with Yupik Alaskan Natives, studying Qigong in western China near Chengdu (just weeks before the earthquake of 2009), and visiting Maui.