'Anything It Is That Makes You Smile'
The days move quickly past in Cody, horses running down hill. A night at Ruffin and Michelle's flat in town becomes a few days staying with Scary Mary. Mary had owned a few shops in town that carried the unusual, the tie-dyed, beads and a fun comedy of oddities that didn't exactly blend in a town of bronze grizzly bears, cowboy boots, and elk ivories set in rose gold. Her 'hippie' shops were both called Scary Mary's. Though the stores closed after a run the name stuck with a town of endearing friends. Mary is a sweet soul perhaps a dozen years my senior, growing younger daily. No sooner had we met than I was offered the figurative key to her bead collection that she once used to sell, and a flat lawn in the shade to throw a tent under. Beads are one of my weaknesses, that and the art of puttering through a day, night, and down through morning. The first necklace I make is for Mary. I add a few sterling beads I bartered for in Taos, New Mexico and a tip from an elk antler found on the walk, polished and drilled then wore for a thousand miles. Mary is thrilled sporting her new necklace everywhere under the umbrella of her smile. I showed her the sheath for my spear this morning in passing. "Oh, you gotta bead it,"exclaims Mary as if to say,"What are you thinking, It's naked!"
This morning I make pancakes for us after tumbling down the stairs from the room I'm lent. The upstairs air is already down sweater warm in July, eliminating all fear of sleeping in too late. Today I'll call the horse ranch to confirm my stay there in a bunkhouse while in Cody, or the flat by the creek on the same ranch. Mary has become a happy laugh that I enjoy, and I know that we will spend more time together just turning over stories while the coffee beans swell under spring water as I come and go from downtown throughout the next week. There are so many threads to this walk, so many faces and voices that sculpt their hands into all that I thought I knew about America and people, and mostly myself. I know only that we all have the power to shape each other for better or worse with a look napped sharp like chert so I move my eyes carefully. Mary is good people.
When I left Thermopolis and Jessica Monday completed the interview she was writing about The Walk for the local paper Jessica stepped forward gracefully with intent; a soft voice moving closer from behind her beauty. I watched as she tied a red thread to the shoulder strap of my backpack while she set her eyes in mine. "When things get hard, when you feel alone, look at this red thread and remember that we are connected."
I have signed up to be in the Cody parade. Questioning vanity, I shrug softly into my shoulders, to myself. The walk demands that I step forward, never remaining just a witness. I will sweat with the hundreds marching so I too can feel I've earned my draft at the Irma when we all we smell is horse manure under our boots, urine on hot tarmac and sweat cooling our clothes. The last parade I was in, not counting the military(which was one long parade whenever we got stateside with bullets still in our pockets), was when I was peddling a red bicycle beside my older brother Steve's bike in Falls Village, CT, down the hill past Lee H. Kellogg School. I could smell the Suave in my brother's hair that reeked of spit sweat and strawberries, and the pelt of cut grass smell coming up from the manicured lawns in town. It was 1976 and flags were bucking in the wind from everything that could hold a salute or a birch dowel choked with twine and worthless yellow-clear tape that had string running through it. From our handlebars taffeta paper ruffled in small skirts and we were flying though town on tires we couldn't feel turning. It was 1976 and the nation was, for a day, smiling red, white and blue. Vietnam was freshly over and we had the world sitting by the side of the road in Falls Village CT. Everyone was waving at us like it was Christmas and they were believing.
Later that day I saw my first naked woman at a secluded swimming hole two miles out of town just down the bank from where I lived. She was tall, maybe twenty and a haunting street across from too beautiful, wearing just a lazy smile lit up bright, like her blond hair mimicking the shimmer of the river water moving light around us. She let me cover her with my eyes. She let me try to wiggle out words and blushed for us both when I couldn't, then she gave me her eyes again, softer this time. She was my summer of 76,and has been every summer since. She was walking across the water toward me with her long hair waving like all the flags of Canaan, and I was wishing that I had hair under my arms, and that I was suddenly taller. She was walking toward me with her eyes saying everything is going to be alright and I was believing.
"Here"s a wishing well
Here's a penny for
Anything it is that makes you smile
Every Diamond ring
Everything that brings
Love and happiness into your life (Emmlylou Harris)
I wanted to thank her with the appreciation of being a thirteen year old boy welded to her grace by my eyes while trying hopelessly to look away, failing ever so perfectly. Without words I think I did thank her. It was then that I knew that I had been right in believing as a child that making love to a woman was two souls singing back and forth in words nobody else could hear. It was the bicentennial year of 1976, I was thirteen, and I would never be the same, nor would all the water in the world. In two years I was to leave home forever, in five years I was parachuting throughout Central America in the middle of the night with weapons exposed and the smell of thirty men vomiting burnt into my battle uniform because we had flown under radar for the last hundred and fifty miles, banking low just over treetops until we all lost the fear of dying, of wanting anything in the world but to fall from those planes so the taunting of death would bite us through or release. When it the years in the 82nd Airborne were over and I was young too tired for being in only in my twenties I went back to that swimming hole, back to the swimming hole where the farmhouse used to gaulk from the hill, and could hear her sing in the moving of the water, "Anything it is that makes you smile...love and happiness into your life."