Monday, February 3, 2014

Stood Tall

“On the first snow fall of each year,” any Elmwood citizen would tell the stranger, “Gladys Minkle takes her heels off and runs barefoot through the snow.”  The tradition had started when Humphrey had been courting Gladys years ago.
 “Humph, if you really love me and want to marry me, you will do something downright silly!” Gladys had commanded.  With that, she threw her pink shoes off and leapt from Humphrey’s chromed sedan into the Elmwood City Park, covered in freshly fallen snow.  Humphrey Minkle did not hesitate for one moment.  In his haste to get out of the car and remove his shoes, Humphrey slipped on the ice, giving Gladys a head start.  “Humph, when you run hard enough and dance even faster, you can’t even feel the cold of the snow on your toes!” Gladys had giggled. 
Gladys Minkle had grown through the years and had become the matriarch of Elmwood.   Nobody could remember a fourth of July without Gladys’ handmade fudge.  There wasn’t a living soul in the greater Elmwood area who hadn’t shared a root beer with Gladys at the Country Store granite counter on Main Street and 1st North.  Everyone talked to Gladys about their childhood dreams, recent successes and adulthood mishaps.  She knew all the juicy community details that could fill volumes in the county courthouse vaults.  From Old Man Henderson's recounting of the Carter twins terrorizing his ginger cat to Bob McVander’s creative card playing that some called cheating, Gladys knew it all.

Every Wednesday at exactly 11:25 a.m., Gladys would arrive at the Polly’s Parlor, the most popular hair salon in Elmwood.  Polly would greet her at the green bejeweled door with a grin, cup of steamed hot cocoa and the Elmwood Journal.  Three lumps of sugar were customarily swishing in the chocolate drowning with cream: Gladys never skimped on the sweet things of life. 
The streets of Elmwood had never seen Gladys without her rooster dink pink Cadillac Coupe De Ville and powder blue synthetic alligator skin purse.  Gladys always had perfect posture and stood tall at 5 foot even.  After her hair was perfectly trimmed, curled and poofed, Gladys would have Sheila fill in her red acrylic nails and Gladys was out the door.
  As she strutted down the smooth cement walks of Main Street, Gladys was known for picking out the pieces of Elmwood that did not fit the city’s standard.  The occasional crumpled soda pop can in the swept gutter was more than Gladys could handle.  With a teacher's purpose, she would march into the nearest store along the trimmed row of store fronts and demand the owner to follow her.  She watched as the store owner, red faced, removed the piece of litter.  Satisfied, Gladys would continue on through the daily life of Elmwood. Gladys stood tall at 5 foot even and expected everyone else to keep Elmwood's posture erect.

Gladys’ late husband, Humphrey Minkle, had served as Elmwood’s mayor for 19 years before his untimely death in the 1976 Veteran’s Day Parade.  Since that tragic day, Gladys had served on the Elmwood City Council as the Honorary Voice of Mayor Minkle.  Her immense contributions of time to the Elmwood community took the place of her barren womb.  Gladys and Humph had never been able to have children, but found room in their hearts for each of the children of Elmwood.
 The children have grown; many stayed close to Elmwood and have children of their own.  Gladys tenderly crocheted each newborn a Minkle blanket.   She placed her mark on each new Elmwood citizen with a soft kiss on the forehead and a whisper of the Elmwood City motto in their ear: "When you run hard enough and dance even faster, you can’t even feel the cold of the snow on your toes!”
Heels clicking on the well kept linoleum of Elmwood Elementary School, Gladys spent the rest of her Wednesday afternoons tutoring in the library amongst books that gave life to imagination.  It is common knowledge on the telephone wires of Elmwood that Gladys Minkle will pick up her week’s laundry at Harry Heimer’s Dry Cleaning and Press Shop on her way home from educating Elmwood’s youth to stand tall, run hard and dance even faster.
The adolescent Elmwood population was the only demographic who ever showed the town’s guarded hesitation with Gladys.  “Sally, your breasts are the Lord’s creation, stop putting them on display to the world,” she said with a smile as she passed Sally Corner last week.  “Tommy, if I see your under britches one more time, I’ll have to call your mother,” she said with a smirk as she tugged Tommy Jones’ sagging jeans up with her painted nails.  These subtle attacks on the young adult inhabitants of Elmwood were constant reminders of the bar set by Elmwood’s beloved matron: Stand tall.

That Wednesday evening, Gladys arrived at home, parking the Cadillac in the same red brick garage that she had ever since 1941 when she and Humph said “I do”.   She rushed through the trim brown door, eager to confirm her weekly Thursday appointment at Kent’s Klean Kars.  After placing her phone call to Kent, Gladys inspected her living room.  It was just how she had left it. Rows laid down by the vacuum traced the rich creamy carpet.  The rose colored pillows perfectly positioned on the sofa brought out the pinks in the portrait above the modest oak mantle.  The portrait was of Gladys and Humphrey.  She had always been fond of the mischievous twinkle in her oiled eye.
 The evening light had faded, and Gladys drew the thick paisley curtains closed in the quaint living room.  She often stood at the tall curtains, once they were spread across the window, and fondly gazed at the space in front of her.  The thick legged Winchester leather armchair was where Humphrey had read the Elmwood Journal newspaper ever morning while eating a bowl of ice cream.  Next to his throne at home stood Gladys' plush rocking chair.  Much smaller than Humphrey's, Gladys' rocker remembered being rocked forward and back over the years as Gladys listened to the excited voices of Elmwood over the telephone telling stories of running barefoot through the snow and never feeling the cold. 
But that night Gladys did not take any phone calls from her many admirers, well wishers or troubled friends.  She had been more tired from the day's adventure in town than she had remembered being on any other Wednesday in December.
The three paneled mirror that Gladys stood at was not original to the house.  Humph had it put in a few years before he passed away so that Gladys could get a better view of her snow white hair.  That night her hair was in perfect form.  As tradition had it, she applied a generous amount of pearly maroon lipstick on her lips in her nightly rituals.  Humph would have told her how beautiful she looked if he was there.  As she turned out the light in the bathroom, she made a mental note to write Dean Charles another thank you letter for putting that mirror in and for always being such a sweet, tall standing boy.

The next day, Gladys did not arrive at Kent's Klean Kars at 10:05 a.m. like she always has. 

Thursday at 11:00 a.m. the bingo caller at the Elmwood Community Centre looked for Gladys, but did not see her.

By noon, half the town of Elmwood had reported to Sheriff Monroe that Gladys Minkle had not been seen or heard from all day.

"Gladys Minkle was the grandmother that I never knew," said Kent of Kent's Klean Kars. "Gladys helped me learn how to read when I was in the second grade," said Harry of Harry Heimer's Dry Cleaning and Press Shop. "When I was down, Gladys' red fingernails always brought a smile to my face.  Boy, could that woman wear red," said Polly of Polly's Parlor.

The funeral service had been planned for Saturday.  Elmwood had closed down at one p.m. so that the entire town could attend Gladys' memorial.  The snow had begun to fly in flakes the size of small sparrows as the citizens of Elmwood were arriving at the familiar stone church.
 "Today, we are here in this chapel to celebrate the life of Gladys Minkle," said Dean Charles of Elmwood. "I brought with me something that you might recognize," he said as he pulled a shabby crocheted blanket onto the pulpit.  "Gladys made this blanket for me when I was born.  Who in this room has one of these?" Dean asked the silent congregation.  With his simple prompting, the majority of the audience raised their hands.  "Gladys has left us standing on our own and can't give us each hugs every time she sees us." Dean paused as he struggled to keep his composure.  "But these memories of her  love can give us her warmth every day."
  Judge Thatcher stood at the raised pulpit after Dean returned to his pew on the second row.  "I have known Gladys Minkle since the first grade when I moved to Elmwood," he said.  "When she was found, peacefully sleeping in her bed, her hair was beautifully done and her lips were freshly painted.  It was as if she wanted to be dolled up because she would be seeing Humph soon to dance again.
  As the community of Elmwood one by one paid tribute to the Gladys' friendship and life, the snow began to pile thick on the crisp grass outside the narrow glass windows.  The Carter twins, now 9 years old, were restless and fighting.  They climbed up into the arched window seal and looked at the white flakes soaring past their smashed noses.  Their mother pulled them down as the funeral procession headed into the small courtyard cemetery where Gladys would have the honor of being buried next to her husband, Humphrey.
 The snow increased its intensity as the solemn crowd shuffled out the chapel doors.  Elmwood city now surrounded a small hole in the ground that would soon be the final resting place for their Gladys.  The powder blue casket lay over the exposed chasm, but the on-looking mass of Elmwooders, noticing the first snow of the season, knew that was not the end.
Old Man Henderson was the only person there that moved.  The entire city watched in the silence of the snow as Old Man Henderson slowly bent his rickety body and unstrapped his black therapeutic dress shoes.  “We all know the legend of Gladys’ and Mayor Winkle’s first snow fall together,” he grunted as a silly grin spread across his stubborn face. As he stripped his worn stalking off his withered toes he continued, “I’d be willin’ to bet that each of us here has been chastened, jabbed at or been given advice that we didn’t want from Glady.”  Once his feet were fully naked and exposed to the cold he let his toothless grin shine while saying, “But, jeepers, she’s dead! Let’s celebrate the way she would have wanted!”  He plunged his feet into the pure white powdered that had surrounded the tombstones and stood up as tall as he could.
Old Man Henderson began dancing in the great white flakes, marking a happy trail through the snow.  Following his lead, the youngsters slipped off their shoes and raced around the hallowed site.  Within minutes, the entire town of Elmwood was barefooted, running and dancing in the swirling crystals. 
If an outsider had been there that day in December, he would have thought Elmwood had pumped moonshine into the drinking water.  The crazy behavior of Judge Thatcher and Kent of Kent’s Klean Kars, both respectable men, would have been a sure sign of too much drinking to an innocent bystander.  But the people of Elmwood knew why they were running and dancing faster than ever before in the freezing snow around them. Gladys had taught them well.
  
As the great people of Elmwood polkaed through the winter wonderland, their feet were not cold.  They basked in the glow that Gladys Minkle had given to them, given to Elmwood.  That day each person stood as tall as giants as they said thank you to Gladys Minkle.

Gladys Minkle
1919-2004
She stood tall at 5 foot even

6 comments:

Melissa Jones said...

This is a beautiful tribute to you grandmother. I wish I had known her. You brought tears to my eyes. Don't stop writing in this blog. You have a talent. Talents were meant to be shared. <3

kym said...

Beautiful.

kym said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lee Cannon said...

Melissa, thank you! So often my voice is what people hear as the talent in my life, not my writing. I am blessed with incredible people in my life who let my voice touch them through so many mediums

Anonymous said...

This is still my favorite piece of your writing, Lee.

Pam

Naomi said...

Another job well done Lee... thanks for the memories!