Emporia, Kansas, is hot today. The mostly brick and concrete downtown is a throwback to 1953. The weather feels like I’ve just jumped rope in the attic.
I am sitting on a bench, counting cars, eating soft serve ice cream.
I’ve lost count.
I remember my redheaded father bringing me to Emporia as a kid when he had errands to run. I had to hold his hand when we’d cross the street. He’d waltz into a hardware store, and talk to the old men behind store counters.
The old timers all talked the same—they added “now” to the ends of their sentences.
“Okay, now,” an old man might’ve said, messing up my ugly red hair. “Be a good boy, now. Listen to your daddy, now. Hear me, now?”
“Bye, now,” would be the typical farewell greeting.
And my father would always return their goodbyes with: “Alright, then.”
My father could make conversation with a fire hydrant. He was especially chatty with total strangers. And they would usually open right
up to him. I don’t know how he did it.
Maybe it was his red hair that made him so easy to talk to.
A green Chevy truck pulls to the curb. A teenage boy leaps from the driver’s seat. The boy is all business. He helps an elderly couple from the vehicle.
The old man wears a camouflage ball cap. He can’t seem to move one side of his body. A stroke, I’m thinking.
The old woman’s silver hair is in a tight bun. She is every farmer’s wife since the Eisenhower Administration.
Together, they all hobble across the street in a three-person clot. The teenager supports them both with lanky arms.
The boy is moving nice and easy, making sure they don’t trip.
They are only inside the store for a few minutes. Then, they exit.…