You’re Speaking My Language

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.

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