Sunday, December 23, 2012

looking for why's...

A dirt track and other surprises        Often I am asked about my writing, “Where do you get your ideas?” Or, “How do you find (or see) these connections?”
Usually, I answer, “I don’t know,” with a shrug. I truly don’t know, but it happens so often even I think I should. This piece is one of those.
Late in the evening last week, after a busy day helping holiday shoppers and putting my shop in order for the next day, I went to the Old Dutch market to buy a steak. Ravenous, I hurriedly found one and almost ran to the checkout lane.
“Barry, how are you?” asked the woman in front of me. She was paying for a cart full of groceries.

Although I hadn’t seen her in years, I recognized Sybil immediately. She had the look of someone who was doing many things all at once; while paying, she appeared to be racing to the next.
“Can I help?” I asked her, since my package would fit in my back pocket.
She demurred as I held open the door. At her car, a PT Cruiser, I stopped as she opened her rear door. I could see why she didn’t want my help. Full as Santa’s sleigh, I had no idea where she would stuff six or seven grocery bags.
But she did. We talked about her family, about her Mom, how her health is slipping. I commiserated.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about you lately,” she said, without explaining why. She said it in earnest, as if thoughts of me may have come in a vision of sorts. “Yes, I’ve been thinking a lot about you,” she repeated as she hopped in her car. “Please give your Mom my regards.”
Although I had never met her father, famous racecar driver Wendell Scott, I imagined that she favored him. Her grin, her drive, and her intelligence; she must have been, I reasoned, his favorite tomboy. Chances are that it will be another few years before I’ll see her again.
That’s why I couldn’t begin to explain why she would have been thinking about me. By the next day, on my way to Hillsborough, NC to visit the Eno Gallery and my friends there, Mark and Tinka, I had compartmentalized Sybil’s remarks.
Surrounded by art in a gallery I loved to visit, I was greeted by a retired exec from Chapel Hill’s NPR affiliate who was standing in for Mark and Tinka. Since she and her husband had moved back to Hillsborough, she’d become a volunteer staffer at the gallery; I’d met her before.

“How’s retirement?” I asked, more than just a little envious that it had allowed her to spend time surrounded by art.
For twenty minutes, we talked about life without having a job she had to wake up to every morning. “Now I can work on my pet project,” she told me.
I didn’t have to ask her what that was. But I wasn’t expecting what she told me.
“I’ve been devoted to saving the old raceway, a dirt track that was important here before it’s last race about fifty years ago.”
I wanted to say that she didn’t look like any racecar fan I’d ever seen. An attractive and sophisticated woman, I found it easier to picture her as a docent at a Rodin exhibit.
Excitedly, she told me that the site has finally earned its historical registry and will be preserved for generations to come. “The last weekend of September, we have a Racers’ Reunion at the Celebration of the Automobile,” she announced triumphantly.
“Where is it?” I asked. I wondered how I could have missed it. For decades I’d visited Hillsborough without knowing the racetrack existed.
“About a mile from here,” she said, as she wrote directions.
Although I’d never known it was there, I knew exactly where to find it. Five minutes later, I was on my way. I had to visit the place, especially after she told me about their recent festival. Wendell Scott’s family had been the featured guests.
Under my feet, I imagined Wendell’s car sliding around narrow curves, only twenty feet wide. The packed surface was a mix of sand and dirt; the infield looked like an overgrown park or a forest that needed thinning. By climbing up the gently sloping banks on the side of the tracks, I saw the Eno River, a watery border of the property.
And I felt at home. Maybe that’s why Sybil had thought of me. Her Dad had known my Dad. Her brother and I had long been buddies. Maybe she was thinking of people and places that reminded her of home, of those wonderful days when everyone was up and running and trying to make changes in the way things were, changes that mattered and that needed to be made. Maybe that was it, I reasoned, as I checked my e-mail this morning, never expecting the surprise that would greet me there. 

This came as a gift from my younger daughter:
My picture's on the front page of Saturday's New York Times!!! I was praying at the Western Wall with Women of the Wall, practicing a bit of civil disobedience. Did anyone happen to save a copy?

                                    B.Koplen 12/23/12
                                    Happiest of holidays!

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