Coda JONI TEVIS
WHERE I LIVE, in upstate South Carolina, May brings wild roses blooming in pink
clusters on the roadsides, and June fills
the ditches with tiger lilies. What I love
best is driving those back roads early on a
Wednesday to the jockey lot outside town.
Every week, people park their vehicles and
walk across a little bridge, either to hunt
for treasure or to get rid of what
ever’s weighing them down.
The o=erings spread there ask,
What do you believe? and What’s it
worth to you? Once, a woman with
a cigar box stacked with cash sold
me embroidered hankies, neatly
pressed, for a dollar apiece: one with
Texas bluebonnets, one with pink
posies. “If I didn’t like you,” she
said, “I’d double the price.” I believe
it, and believe, too, the woman with
the ball cap covering her shaved
head: “I’ve been known to smash
something in front of people,” she
said, “just to prove they can’t have it
Where are they now, the old regu
lars? Gone to glory, maybe, or Florida, the
man with racks of dipdyed dresses from
India, the groovy couple selling paperbacks
from an old school bus, the man with the
oxygen tank handing out gospel tracts by
the boiledpeanut stand. Gone the hand
painted sign for the Automatic Bible,
whose mystery I never uncovered. Now
there’s a new old guy in a straw cowboy
hat, gap toothed and hickory brown from
sun. He leaves his stu= out all week, cov
ered with a tarp to show his ownership.
Rainwater stands in chipped jelly jars;
ax handles flake and peel. In the breeze,
kudzu shivers as it crawls over the riprap
dumped to slow the creek from eating its
banks, and on the bridge over it, people
come and go, loaded down with bags.
I pass the big old oak tree where that
guy used to sell Red Sovine tapes — corn
ball, but my sister and I cried for Teddy
Bear, and shivered at “Phantom 309”:
He gave his life to save that bunch of kids.
Amazing how a dime cup of co=ee in that
song could be so haunted — and so cheap.
Stu= at the jockey lot is that way. Like the
quilt top pieced from brilliant squares
of scrap fabric. Two dollars. The woman
selling it said she had to get away from
her husband, start over somewhere new.
“Just take it,” she said, eyes tired, and I
did. But every time I’ve unrolled that
blanket for a picnic, she’s taken her seat
on its edge, invisible, legs folded, smoking
a Cheyenne and staring at the grass.