One-hundred and sixteen miles south of Chicago I pulled off the highway to get a cup of coffee.  I stood beside the Prius in frigid air which told me that I’d already traveled a hundred miles or more out of a mild Missouri winter.

A thin man in a heavy flannel shirt darted past, with a hood pulled snug over his ears.  His eyes shifted to me as he came even with my car then forward towards his own vehicle just as rapidly.  From where I stood, I could not hear the highway noise.  In fact the whole parking lot wore a shroud of silence.

I walked into the building wondering why the faces of every other customer held nothing but fatigue so close to Christmas.  In front of the coffee machine, I contemplated the half-inch of tepid sludge in the dirty pot.  To its left, an automatic cappuccino machine boasted of caramel and vanilla.  I thought at least that might be hot, though filled with chemicals.  I took my chance.

The cashier ran one hand through a swathe of greasy hair just before I handed him my five.  The crumpled bills he placed on the counter sat between us for a few minutes while I debated whether to put them in my wallet.  In the end, my fear of offending him won out and I gingerly lifted them, folded them on themselves, and shoved them in the outer pocket of my purse.

I told him Merry Christmas and backed away, yielding my spot to a woman with no upper teeth and a fistful of quarters to pay for a package of donuts.

Outside the wind had raised.  A Muslim couple held the door for me and I couldn’t help thinking the woman’s head scarf made sense this time of year.  Thank you so much,  I said, and the man nodded.  In a soft voice he told me to have a good day.  The woman said nothing but flashed a radiant smile with dark red lips and blindingly white teeth.  I carried her cheer to the car and buckled into my seat, pushing the start button.

Emmy Lou Harris flooded the cabin.  I sat for a few minutes listening with my eyes closed, head leaning against the steering wheel.  When I looked around, I noticed several people peering into the car. I flicked my hand up,  mouthing something unintelligible.  They exchanged a glance but walked away.   I put the car in reverse and pulled out of the lot, heading for I-55 and points north, where my son waited.  Close to the city I came upon a toll and tendered the grease-stained dollar bills.  The attendant shook her head but handed me back two quarters.  I drove on before she could voice her disdain.

It’s December 23rd, 2016. Eight days remain of the thirty-sixth month of My Year Without Complaining.  I’m writing from my son’s desk, in his apartment in Evanston, Illinois.   We have a full holiday planned.  I’m tired, but I’m here.   I made it.  Life continues.


steve-and-emmy-louTo hear Steve Earle and Emmy Lou Harris singing “Goodbye”,
click HERE.

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