I cruised past the long line of cars waiting to turn left, my GPS lady urgently begging me to change lanes. As she switched tactics and instead encouraged a safe U-Turn, I realized that I had missed my entrance to the flea market for which I had been looking and into which that parade of vehicles also sought entrance. The GPS lady took me to a back gate and I eased into a parking space still warm from a battered station wagon filled with laughing children.
The scent of freshly-picked citrus hung in the mild winter air. I had thought the place to which I had driven would be an indoor antique mall. Instead I found an entire humongous parking lot filled with tables and booths, between which cheerful ladies and their patient husbands pushed two-wheeled shopping carts and strollers filled with toddlers clutching sections of fresh orange.
I stopped at a booth to examine a salt grinder. I held it aloft with an inquiring look to the proprietor. He gestured to a woman behind me with a baby swaddled on her back. Un dólar, she said, smiling and patting the child with one hand while she held the other in my direction. I paid and returned her cheerful grin.
I maneuvered around the other shoppers, breathing the fragrances of roasted peppers, cut pineapple, and over-ripe plantains. One man called out to me over a hand-held microphone, Señóra, Señóra, he sang, drawing me towards him. He offered something fried and doughy and sweet, describing its essence with a rapid flow of Spanish. I shook my head, then nodded to an old woman beside him as I kept walking.
I stood in front of a long bin of mandarin oranges still warm from the sun-drenched orchard. A young woman held out a bag and said, un dólar por libra. I filled the bag with the small ripe fruit and watched as she weighed my selection. Dos, she told me; and I could not believe that a dozen fresh mandarins would only cost two dollars. I paid without hesitation and stashed the fruit in my tote. Next came potatoes, un dólar por libra, and then tangerines, also un dólar por libra.
I sat in the car peeling an orange and watching a family nibbling on cones of shaved ice. The flea market had not been what I expected when I set out in the morning, but the smells of that holy bounty filled my car and I had no regrets.
I found the indoor antique mall twenty miles further east and in a neighboring town. I wandered its aisles. I found rusty metal house numbers and sorted through the bin until I constructed the lot designation where my tiny house sits. I chortled at my good fortune. Numbers are easy to find, at six or seven dollars each, new at any local hardware. But letters! And old, with a beautiful patina, presumably rich with age and history.
A man sorting his merchandise asked if I sought anything special. I started to describe the Carolina stepstool that I wanted. He instantly knew the very item and beamed. I have one in my storage unit, he told me. I could have it for you by Wednesday, in my shop over in Houston. I must have looked stunned, because he laughed and assured me that he wasn’t talking about the Lone Star state. He thought a moment, then offered, Near Turlock? I shook my head again. I told him where I lived, and he gave me a general idea of where he meant. We agreed that he would send a photo of the steps. He described their manner of converting from a ladder to a chair; he talked about the wood and its finish; he named a price. My smile grew wider.
I came home with a salt grinder, a rusty G, a bright copper 8, a hobnail lamp, a section of old wrought iron rail, four yellow potatoes, and a bag full of the freshest citrus you could ever imagine eating. I am not entirely sure where I was all day, but they certainly spoke my language.
It’s the twentieth day of the eighty-sixth month of My Year Without Complaining. Life continues.