The small market that I manage packed itself into a pick-up truck and relocated for a day to the nearby state park. Vendors started arriving at 8, as the wind whipped in fierce waves between the pavilion and a grove of towering trees.
The tents raised themselves. Merchandise sorted itself onto tables. Signs swooped from pole to pole and flags fluttered. I watched the practiced motions of my cohorts from a table on which I’d spread a cloth and a banner announcing the sponsor of the day’s events, a tiny not-for-profit that I struggle to navigate through the rocky waters of a tight economy.
Eventually the wind gentled. Customers began to turn into the parking lot from the stream of traffic crossing Three-Mile Bridge. Now and then the bridge tender lowered a barrier that stalled the flow of cars leaving the Delta at weekend’s closing. Still, I watched; hobbling from time to time when duty called — soothing a small incident, directing folks across the pavement from point to point, checking on the music. Most of my work takes place before the opening hour.
I used to strain to get photographs as the visitors eased around the aisles of the market. In our normal location, I can do a bit better. Here, with our outward-facing square, I can only see the booths directly across from where I stand. So mostly I lean on a wooden pillar and count cars, wondering if the greater visibility of the state park’s outermost site will increase sales.
Two ladies approach the tables from which a neighbor and I sell cold beverages. One asks about the watermelon juice. I gesture to the Mexican restaurant’s set-up, where a fat carafe of pink beverage sparkles with shards of ice. Her companion eases a walker forward and touches a dewy can in front of me. What’s this, she inquires.
Before I can answer, the first woman says, That’s White Claw, it’s got alcohol in it, you don’t want that. I hold my tongue. It’s true the fruity product that we feature alongside Bud, Coors Light, Sierra Nevada, and cold water contains some beer. I wouldn’t drink the stuff, but more because it tastes cloyingly sweet to my palate. But the glance between the two ladies alerts me to an underlying current of which I want no part. I reflect a moment, and then agree that, yes, there is alcohol in everything we sell except the water and the foil packets of apple juice that we keep for kids.
The lady leans on the handlebar and spares a small upturn of her otherwise pursed mouth. The taller lady turns away and walks over toward the menu board at the food vendor. I point to a small incline and suggest that it might be too much for what seem to be somewhat flimsy wheels on the woman’s gait aid. She shakes her head, thanks me, and moves away.
I watch as they order food. I notice only one glass of watermelon juice making its way to the table at which they have decided to sit. But the walker slowly returns to the beer sale station. Its navigator lifts her head and meets my eyes. I think I’ll have one of those White Claws, she says, and tilts one hand from the bar to give me a neatly folded five-dollar bill. As she returns to where her plate of tacos waits, I find that a slight gloominess of which I had been aware has slipped away from my tired soul.
My smile widens as I watch a son patiently wait as his mother browses a rack of kimonos. My own son turned 32 just a day ago, and he’s been on my mind. Memories of fairs that we attended in his childhood flow. As I lose myself in the memories, the pleasant day continues to unfold. The wind dances in the trees; the sun shimmers on the grass. Beyond the fence, white peaks rise and fall in the Sacramento River, reminding me of every river by which I have lived — the mighty Mississippi, the wide Missouri, the ancient Buffalo, the soothing waters of the south branch of the White River that cut across my land in Arkansas. I wrap my arms around my body and let the summer air soothe me. By the time my friend Michelle Burke arrives with her duck on a leash, I’m positively beaming.
It’s the eleventh day of the one-hundred and fifteenth month of My Year Without Complaining. Life continues.