Memories pile steep this time of year. The sun hangs in the sky for more than fifteen hours. More years rest within the vaults of my mind than will span future horizons. Long June days remind me of Minnie Diver, an 83 year old woman from Floydada, Texas I met in June 1977. Minnie helped me appreciate the beauty of long days and cautioned against drinking them in too fast.
I met Minnie briefly during our week of VISTA Volunteer training in San Antonio. But there seemed no reason to spend time with the oldest volunteer in our 150-person cohort. I was too busy hanging with my roommate Bob, from Walla Walla Washington; Tracy, who tied T-shirts into a midriff exposing knot; and Terry, a San Antonio native who snuck us out to nightspots and provided a reverent tour of the Alamo. Minnie was assigned to my South Plains work site; I would have time for her later.
That time came on our first day of orientation in Levelland. The schedule included an early lunchtime picnic in the park. A few metal tables sitting under corrugated roof sheds. Barbeque chicken whose sauce stuck to my fingers. Mayonnaise-based salads that stuck to my belly. A hot, dry breeze that stung my cheeks yet barely managed to shift the stubbly brown grass.
When she was finished eating almost nothing, Minnie licked each fingertip, daubed it with a paper towel, stood up and looked west. Her features expressed the resolute dignity of a Willa Cather heroine. Her skin was fair despite a lifetime facing into the Texas wind. Her snowy hair fine as the cirrus clouds that vainly tried to shroud the gigantic blue-sky dome. Her white shirtwaist dress puckered at her shrunken breast, cinched her narrow waist, and fell in aimless pleats.
The sun sizzled the tin over our heads. Her eyes scanned the edge of the world, where ten more hours of daylight beckoned. “You have to brace yourself on these long June days. It can be trial to maintain your strength.”
Minnie’s words drew my eyes in the same direction. I saw the South Plains for the first time when my eyes paralleled her own. There’s nothing there, just flat land and sky. Everything is there, flat land and sky. I felt the strength, possibility, and weariness, in so much expanse.
I had always considered long days an unconditional gift, payback for too dark winter. But Minnie had witnessed the season’s pass four times more often than me. She knew that every day, long or short, carried blessings and catastrophe within the sweeping sun and the shifting stars. Her words made me ponder, for the first time, that a life of action might be well tempered by passages of observation and reflection.
Cotton fields in the South Plains of Texas