A Tin of old beads
Life was mundane back then for a child of nine or ten. I can smell the fuel as it wafted through the sliding glass door. After school and in the summer time my hours were filled with that smell of gasoline. I recall that it seamed everything smelled of it. There were times that it would even fascinate me to pick up the stock of candy bars and intermingled with the wonder of the chocolate was the diesel pungent a poison of memory. He is still in my mind sometimes standing above me like the character Poppy the Sailor Man, elbows skinny against the massive forearms that threatened me daily. That worn tired face of a man aged to be burdened with such daily labor. “Mucking the stalls’ of the car wash out back he would lift those massive grates and grasps the two handles of the post digger, those scoops of goo.
He wore coveralls that are what the jump suits were called back then. He was naked underneath them except his ‘skivvies’ he called them. He was not a man to have pants and a shirt like other fathers. This man was my step dad. He adopted us three my sister brother and I when was only 6 years old. He was an old merchant mariner retired. They lost everything though in the move from Washington State to Utah. At least it seamed so. Mom got the job with the Flying J gas station. So early to rise and daily to the grind the two of them ran the service station on one of the main drags in Ogden Utah. That is where this story began.
Each day the one or the other or most days both would be found there. Mother and Father absent the home, or rather the home exchanged to the smell of the service station. I remember the house but the days at the station seamed more. It was my sitter, my nanny as it were. Filling the soda in the cooler and counting the penny candy. For a dime one could have a bit of a field day. Candy bars were a quarter not much more and yet fewer choices then the penny candy. It was dusty cause it was kept at the bottom of the display where the children like me could sit on the dirty linoleum floor to count out the booty. Tootsie rolls, bit o’ honey those were some of my favorite. There were the tubes of candy coated cocoa all colors like jewels. I could just sit for hours and look at it. Often I did. For inventory would have to be held. I wonder even now if mom was just finding a way to keep me occupied, however I do recall the inventory late nights. I would be cold and tired. They had to keep me there until one or the other would ‘relieve’ the other to go home and fix supper. Then a plate would be left to warm. Very few meals had them both together. Sometimes the warm plate would be taken to the stall and we would sit and visit while the ‘on duty’ parent would eat a bite or two between customers.
Oh the hours, the family extended became the regular customers. It was the way then that the customer was always right, this until they would walk away and we would speak of the annoyance. Many a day someone would be rubbing the top of my head kindly. Looking up to those warm smiles often were highlights that made me feel that I belonged to a greater circle of life. Some folks were downright creepy, but they were few. This was during the 1970’s when gas was less than fifty cents a gallon and that seemed high. Names like Nixon and words about war would buzz around my head. Current events were hashed and rehashed (spoken of over and over) all day long. This is I think where my interest in the world around me began. Wanting to be included in those conversations, wanting to understand what the fuss was all about.
I was born in 1961, the last of a quiver full of kids mostly by different fathers. One even had a different mother. One of the eldest had a different biological mother and father. So the mix of mutts so we were called left me always a lesser citizen than most. So it seemed to me when the crisp suits came in. Those were the men who just pulled in to use the urinal and a fast “fill er’ up’ would ya? Those who had fine dresses and fancy hair in ribbons were like China dolls to be admired. My hair was a mess, cut of as to ease of care for a mother who had no time to care even for her own self. Mother who wore what was a weight of care upon her bones as a suit of obesity. Now there were others like me who knew that air of superiority. They were the Native Americans, mostly spoken ill of and expected to be intoxicated as if that were their lot. They were poor often as a white man might see it poor, but even I as a child saw a sort of wealth lost and over looked. I never saw color as a bad thing. I saw it in the eye. It was where I took stock of a person. Did they look me in my eye as a lesser? Did I see a pity that was not disdain, which is often how my dad looked at me? The best was when they were distracted but when they looked at me a natural smile would come over them as they liked what they saw in me. It made me feel beautiful they became beautiful too. That was the way the elder woman looked at me that day.
I was sitting on the floor counting the penny candy. It was warm as I remember and the cool floor felt grimy but somehow refreshing on my legs. She was there her presence like a tangible kindness. I think I was admiring the colored balls of candy in the plastic wrapped tubes. Maybe it was the beads on her soft shoes and the tassels of leather that fringed the ankles but she saw my eye catch the colors. I smiled. A natural smile as when one finds deep pleasure and the depth of beauty becomes a pool. I just dove in unashamed and reached out to touch them. No words or few. Just soul to soul appreciation. It is not a memory of words spoken as it was of hearts melting in a flash an instant of time. Even now the memory is one of an Ora not so much actual recollection. I wanted to see her again. As it was with all of the customers a pattern emerges. On a particular day at a regular time almost expectantly they would return to fulfill the appointed lot. So one day she would return.
”I have something for you” her voice came to my ear, reaching out to me was her aged hand. It was so skilled hours were written upon it in ages of day. These were hands of use and purpose. Not like the China dolls hands they were for luxury. I wish I knew her name. It would be one like Mina or May. She was as a woman of sage, wise and knowing kind gentle even quit present within her own eyes to me. When she would look at mother or others she was sheltered withdrawal behind those walls of safety from the storm the onslaught of demeaning nuances left by slanted smirked judging faces. In her hand was an old tin can. Black painted worn with a lid that lifted off a good quarter of the way. Now it was only five inches tall perhaps two and a half inches around. It shook as a rattle muffled but musical in a way unlike any sound I knew of. The old tin was cool to the touch and a little heavy for its size. Eagerly I watched as she showed me how to pull up the sliding lid. It might have once been full of baking powder when it was new. Once those containers really were made out of tin, not like the cardboard with plastic lids one finds now days. She must have painted it black or all the letters had long worn off. It showed the use I had that old tin for 40 years or more, now I think it gone forever.
In that tin was found treasure. To a child yet even this woman the treasure served for a life love of beading. It contained her long life of beading, for it was her scrap bead tin. Once before this generation that tosses everything into the trash bin, folks saved. We saved everything for ours were the parents who lived or better said survived the great depression. They learned hard lessons on the waste of the land and the effects there of. She had saved every one. Now these were very tiny beads called seed beads for just reason. The colors were as endless as the variety. These beads became the story of my life. Tossed away by others but never by a true artist a creator of beauty saved everyone. She saw the value in me as well for to me this Elder gifted such a treasure. Given to me with a knowing a soft face tanned with time into softness. Suede that made rough those weathered raw hides worn by my parents and most other people in my life. It was then that I hoped my face might stay soft as to my countenance. Time makes it hard to stay so. Trials often make lines look unkind.