It was a cold Friday morning. For a ‘not so small town’, we have only one full service post office. Well, I read that the population is twenty thousand. It has a main street. Does it matter if it has a main street? Maybe. Some of the older residents tell stories of how vibrant the main street used to be. Used to be? It is now a desolate place. Let me get back to my story.
I walked into the post office building early on Friday morning. My goal was to be their first customer for that day. I placed twenty-five priority mail envelopes on the counter to relieve my aching arms. Twenty-five prepublication books to be mailed out to wonderful reviewers. Reviewers are lovely people that hold my fate on their hands. Maybe their computer keyboards will determine my fate. Their ‘epistle’ about my book will influence potential readers. Sorry to digress again.
Exactly at the appointed time, and not one minute before, the postal attendant opened his window. “Good morning,” he said, with a smile. I love cheerful government workers. “How are you, sir?” I said, or maybe asked. Who cares? I spoke. He looked at the pile of priority envelopes I had, and sighed. I understood his dilemma. Earlier in the week, a postal worker informed me that they have to enter the addresses on priority mails electronically. Electronic entry automatically assigns a package to a ‘postal zone’. The mails are sent to appropriate zones first.
Half way through my pile, he realized that all the envelopes were addressed to ‘Book Review Editor’. “Wow! Are you an author?” he asked with an interest. “I’m not sure, but it’s my book,” I replied. He picked up one of the envelopes and looked at the destination address. “New York. What a lovely city,” he exclaimed. He sighed with a smile on his face. I was confused. He entered the address ‘Electronically’ before he asked, “What are you doing in this small town?” Unsure of what to say, I smiled.
What does he know about me? I’ve lived. Boston, Detroit (old Detroit), Nashville, Indianapolis, Memphis …. Yes, good old Memphis. A stroll down Madison Road after twelve hours of trauma cases. On Beale Street, we danced the evening away and tried to forget the tragedies associated with trauma medicine. It was 1985 and medical technology was not as sophisticated. I felt tears roll down my face. I had not thought about Memphis in twenty-nine years. The last day of my trauma service did me in. A twenty four year old man lost his leg from a motor vehicle accident that day. He asked his girlfriend to find a better man than him. We wept for his loss. I walked down the Mississippi river embankment and wailed like a child. I wiped my tears.
Melancholic Memphis. I remember an old man playing his guitar and singing of heartbreak in Beale Street. Dementia took away his memory but spared his musical skills. He could play guitar and sing blues but could not recognize his family. The price we pay for aging.
In Memphis, when my past began to fade from my mind, I walked to the banks of the river and closed my eyes. The subtle sounds from the Mississippi River took me back to the banks of the river Niger, where I used to belong. Even after you emigrate, your home stays with you. The burden an immigrant faces. Memories of my past.