Mindy Melton – has been performing the seemingly easy, but sometimes difficult task of humaning since arriving on this plane in Sewanee in 1976. During this time she has experienced numerous successes, her failures being exponentially more. Having spent most of her life living in various locations of the surrounding area, Mindy dropped out of Sewanee in 1994, eventually leaving the mountain for a five year hiatus in the St. Pete area of Florida. Having held many positions, including that of mother and servant, she has been the sole proprietor of the frame shop on the corner for the past eight years where she relishes her placement within the community and her freedom to freely write of her experiences.
It was Baker Staub who first dismissed my poverty. I can still see her long, bony, and punkish gait. I met her at the skatepark. There she was in her ripped jeans and worn converse. It was hot in that concrete building with no AC packed full of sweaty kids moshing to whatever death metal band was playing. We decided to walk across the street for a bag of ice from Red Food. I watched her slam it down on the ground several times to rip it open and start drenching herself in hunks of it. Then she took it back to the show and threw it at grateful faces. We were immediate friends.
When my mother pulled me up to her house for the first sleepover, I didn’t want to get out. I’d never seen a house like that, and that was just from the outside. All I could think of was the unbelievable comparison to our $125 a month farmhouse that my parents could barely afford. Walking in was worse. To this day, I’ve never seen the likes of such a beautiful smooth mountain stone floor leading to a sunken living room with the finest leather sofas, and high arced windows overlooking a small waterfall.
Baker’s mom walked through in her dressing gown with a glass of white wine in her hand, kindly introduced herself while telling us what time to be at dinner… And at dinner was lobster, fresh Maine lobster, in a rather formal setting with other guests.
Baker never let me forget. She’d laugh and say, “Remember, when you kept asking me if it were really okay for you to be there?”
In today’s age, where just about everything is accessible, one may not understand my being overwhelmed. It’s amazing at how much has changed in a little over two decades. Especially considering that it was basically the same for so many generations. Poor was poor as in we’d only gotten a window air conditioner, microwave, and vcr about two years prior. It had been a good year and a better tax return. We didn’t eat out. It was not affordable at all. If we did, once or twice a year, it was fast food… And that was a big deal. It was beans and taters for life. And education? Forget about it. Nobody goes to college. You get a job in a factory and you stay there as long as you can stand it… And you pray, you pray that your car doesn’t tear up; that nobody gets sick; that you don’t get laid off. Oh yeah, and anybody with several hundred dollars more? Well, they’re better than you, and they’ll be snooty about it.
To me, Baker’s lifestyle was unreal. The car, the forty dollar a week allowance, the freedom, etc. Baker was kind. She shared, and she didn’t care that I never had any money. Through the years, we’d sit cross legged on the floor for hours playing backgammon (more precisely acey deucey) or spades. We’d drink coffee while listening to music and talk about everything new and exciting that we wanted to explore… And we fought, argued, and disagreed. Eventually, one of our falling outs cut a rift that never quite healed. Upon her death after much distance, I thought that I could assist her aunt and mother cleaning out her closet. When I saw those converse and that little embroidered jangly belled purse along with a few other cherished items after nearly fifteen years, I couldn’t do it.
It’s funny to think of all of the characters throughout the years; the trends, the fads, the broad spectrum of circles that I’ve run short arcs on from time to time. Sometimes when I really feel the urge for something new and refreshing, I go to the city. The hipsters have gotten to the point that all the bearded guys with glasses are hard to tell apart. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve spoken to such an individual only to have them look at me in distaste, almost scorn, as I’m obviously not of their genre… And I have to laugh, but I could almost cry. A world that at one time I saw becoming inclusive, so accepting and vivacious is regressing back to so jaded, judgmental, and rude… And even I now am stumbling.