Alabama plainsong

  • ISO: 400
  • Shutter: 1/100 sec
  • Camera: NIKON D1H

Tuscaloosa, Alabama

I often wondered what it would be like to have an older brother.

Someone to share half-melted Snickers bars with while huddling on cramped, dirty steps watching the adults downstairs. Someone to whisper, “Pssttt!!! You awake? I can’t sleep,” in the middle of the night, knowing that my eyes would be open too, staring into the blackness. Someone to scruff my hair, tease me, wipe my tears away, keep a steady hand at my back to reassure me when things got hard.

I wanted someone to look into my eyes and say, “I know. I KNOW. I know every corner of your mind because we share the same history. We are cut from the same cloth. Your past is my past; your hurts are my hurts; your joys are my joys; your breath is my breath.”

As I wandered the dusty rows of the farmer’s market this morning, the sunlight caught my eye, directed my gaze to an elderly man and woman shelling pink-eyed purple hull peas. Their movements were quick but unhurried, casual yet deliberate. Without thought, they worked in tandem, never stopping to look at their hands, rarely glancing at each other. From time to time, one would speak and the other would smile as they continued with the monotonous task.

I misread them to be a long-married couple, but really I should have known better. Her movements were his. Fluid motion. A well-choreographed dance that only a lifetime of practice can create.

When I learned that they were brother and sister, I instantly was transported to a thousand wooden porches across Alabama — wide slats of heart pine worn to a smooth luster here and there like a patchwork quilt, wisteria winding its way lazily up whitewashed columns, bare light bulb hanging from the porcelain socket in the ceiling, the sound of cicadas adding bass to the dull percussion of the peas hitting the bottom of the bucket.

How many summer afternoons did they listen to the plink-plink of rain on a tin roof as they shelled butterbeans in silence, watch for the dust cloud that foretold of a visitor coming for supper, shoo the dog away from the freshly shucked corn?

I pondered these things as they allowed me to hover inches away from their hands with my macro lens. If they wondered why anyone would find their work so interesting, they were kind enough to not make note of it.

Their hands were good, strong. Hands used for tending crops, preparing meals, soothing babies in the middle of the night. Once upon a time, they probably held hands and skipped through one of the many muddy rivers that populate this state. Did his hands ever reach out to pluck a coppery red braid as the preacher droned on in the Sunday sermon? Did her hands ever smooth a washcloth across his face, wipe away the disappointment of a day too hard, a night too long?

Only they know the answers, and though I might have asked, there are some things they would never tell me — secrets she will carry for him to her grave, secrets he will protect for her until his last breath.

I walked away with the image. But the story went into the bowl with the peas.

Music: The Losing Kind by John Doe

Pic of the day: “Red” by Jessyel at Daily Snap.

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