Flakes, Flowers, and FluffPosted: February 13, 2008
At daylight the snow began to fall hard. The street and sidewalks were white, and rooftops were covered, like frosting on a cake. From my upstairs office window, I watched the snowflakes float and fall, so soft, pure, and peaceful. The whole world outside my window was white for a while.
I was reminded of the dance of the snowflakes when I stopped in Publix this afternoon. There was a shiny grand piano in the Flower Center at the entrance to the market. It played by itself — the keys plucked a melody on their own, marching up and down, reminiscent of the rhythm of the falling flakes. The piano was surrounded by bouquets and vases of roses — pink, yellow, red, white — for Valentine’s Day tomorrow. I stood in the aisle for a moment and watched people shop for their sweethearts — old men, young men, boys, men in work clothes, men in suits, women — buying flowers and chocolates and cards. It was uplifting, the polka of snowflakes and the curling of rose petals.
Since I’ve been writing so much about the past, growing up in the 50s and 60s in the “most southern place on earth,” the Mississippi Delta, this day of softness and white brought to mind something from back then. The white of cotton and the hum, hiss, and bang of the compress on Memorial Drive in Cleveland. It was about six blocks from my house, a long, low, red, wooden series of buildings that made bales out of ginned cotton.
On cool fall evenings during cotton picking time, I’d leave my bedroom window open and listen to the compress churning with urgency. My bed was on the southeastern wall of the back bedroom, the same direction as the compress. The window was at the end of the bed. When all the lights were off — and after my sister stopped throwing bobby pins at me from her twin bed — I’d switch positions and put my pillow at the foot. But I’d prop my chin on the sill and look out into the blackness. I was lulled by a sprinkling of stars above, a heady scent of honeysuckle from the back fence, and the sound of crickets outdone by the hissing and clanging at the compress. God was on his throne and all was right with the world then.
It was my world, and I was safe and secure in its sounds … wrapped, wombed. It put me to sleep.
By day, I could see the highways and back roads lined with cotton fluff after it blew off the trailers during transport to the gin. Until I followed the marked path out of that place, I didn’t begin to see the real world, for mine had only existed at my fingertips, a hand closed up, like a boll.