Home 2 (USA). The deep country of Northern California, with the folks. There is this new tradition that developed in my absence. The front porch. Every evening after work the lady and man of the house coalesce their daily grinds in a reprieve of laughter over bottles of wine. The evening scene takes place on the front porch, an upgrade from the lesser ambient back porch. Huddled between rows of walnut trees, and looking out to rows of olive trees, rice fields, and alfalfa, this is where the farmers of California’s top crops pass in their oversized, roughed-up and crop-dusted Chevrolets for a sip, a secret or a sultry afterwork Chard and soup talk. Meanwhile I take refuge in a 7and7 and a pack of Lights, eavesdropping on the latest climate affects on local soil, or the latest divorce, or new baby, or predictions on the fish and game front. All to the soundtrack of Fall harvest.
In the midst of this sarenade of an eveneing bout, a woman well over 70 years of age takes her evening walk. Ten years ago, on the same front porch I sat pondering schools, careers, lovers and rules as the same tractors (same drivers, same farmers, same smells and dust) all made their rounds. And, the exact same woman took her evening stroll. I remember her dramatically thin figure and bright pink pantsuit with matching kitten heels. She also sported a fitted cap with a flower, drowning in her Chanel shades and magenta lip smack. This was not your ordinary walker. Not even your ordinary lady over 70, and certainly not your ordinary resident of a small town at the latitude and longitude of the great farming abyss. Oh no. This was Rhoda. For these ten years in my coming and going during seasonal visits, not a trip went by without catching a glimpse of Rhoda in her high-brow get up at sunset (rain or shine). Sometimes, when I was away, I would be Skyping with my mother and she would always make a point to mention if Rhoda was passing. Rhoda, was like an elusive family member.
But Rhoda did not know that she was Rhoda. We on the front porch knew very little about her. Oddly enough, there were no ancestral red flags to pin her to, and we couldn’t scrounge up a surname. She was a fast walker, and a non-looker. She never waved, nor nodded or smiled. She seemed almost blind on a conveyor belt, or a magnetic course that just carried her to and from start to finish. Effortlessly. Always at a steady pace, a quick one, she was in sight for a mere 20 seconds before fading past the neighbor’s fence. Stopping her in her tracks even to say hello would be intrusive, completely inappropriate. We would never know who she really was.
This recent trip home news poured like wine amongst the three of us front porchers that Rhoda was in fact, not Rhoda. She has another name, according to a local snippets. Where did we arrive at this name for her in the first place? We began to wonder. I began to seriously wonder about this mystery woman. And that for 10 years our awkward but seemingly distant family member was almost an alias, under a name (for reasons unknown) of assumption. The past two weeks my new mission to discover WHO IS RHODA has been stagnant. Continuing the evening front porch ritual in hopes to slither into a neighborly conversation with this senior citizen of distinction, I am still at a loss. I can’t catch her! By the time I’m seated she has faded past that fence. Or if I give up and walk inside, I catch her on her in my corner eye returning, but off into the distance. By the end of this month Rhoda will be had. New name and all. I’ll be logging updates.
10/20: Today I returned from the post office 5:30 PST and Rhoda had just passed. As I popped my trunk to grab my gym bag, a turquoise jumpsuit and safari hat caught my attention through the willow trees. It was distant. She had passed. I waited attentively for her return. 2o minutes passed. No Rhoda on return. Back tomorrow! (note: that material collection was not up to par for Rhoda. Though I’m positive it was in fact Rhoda, even from afar, I noticed a sight decline in her posh over 70. Maybe she’ll make up for it later in the week.)