One step is all it takes to begin a journey, whether it’s a thousand miles or only one.
When I was a little girl I walked a thousand miles through Citronelle. With no one to look after me, I stayed at Mama’s office. More accurately, I strayed around Mama’s office.
Left to my own devices for hours on end, I walked. I always left her office and went south on North Mobile Street. At the corner, I would wait for the revolving time and temperature sign on the bank to do a complete revolution so that I would be in the know.
Turning left on State Street, I would walk a block past the First Presbyterian Church, which always seemed curiously locked up tight and in which I have never stepped foot to this very day. Come to think of it, First Presbyterian is probably the only church in Citronelle that I’ve never attended. But I digress.
On past the church at the next corner was Main Street, anchored on the south end by Newberry’s Department Store. I would usually wander in to examine the new clothes and shoes and admire all the lacy, embroidered handkerchiefs displayed in a long, glass case near the front. It was air-conditioned in Newberry’s.
Then on past the thrift store, which was always hot and dark and musty-smelling, past Mr. Carl’s barber shop where the men would all be gathered to talk, and past the Benson’s flower shop, which always smelled of funeral.
On to Terrell’ five-and-dime for a visit with Mr. Buster, the owner. Terrell’s had everything from toys to costume jewelry to crochet thread to candy. Sometimes I would get a Sugar Daddy, or some wax lips, or candy cigarettes. You have to be careful with candy cigarettes, however, lest you be perceived as trashy.
Back out on the sidewalk, I would always stop to talk to Gladstone Trotter, who drove the cab. Gladstone ran his business from the only pay phone on Main Street, and if you needed a ride, you called that number. Rain or shine, summer or winter, Gladstone could be found leaning up against the storefront waiting for a call, usually surrounded by a few other fellows who would stop to chew the fat. I’m here to tell you that a little girl can learn a lot listening to what men say when they think she is not paying attention.
On northward to the Courtesy Food store. As shoppers moved in and out through the glass doors, great gusts of cold, cold air smelling faintly of onions and Pine-Sol would momentarily refresh me. A quick peek to see who was bagging groceries that day, then on my way.
Down through the alley by Andrew’s Hardware, where I always cut through so as not to have to pass the liquor store to get back to Mobile Street. Lord only knows what kind of degenerates would be at the liquor store. I listened to the preaching. I knew. Best for a little girl to avoid it altogether.
Back on Mobile Street, I always checked for want ads in the Post Office in case I might recognize someone, then I would meander next door to the Citronelle Rexall Drug to see if there was a new Richie Rich comic book. If I had a little money, I might get a vanilla Coke from the soda fountain. If not, I would smell all the perfumes while singing the Enjoli jingle.
Walking south on Mobile Street toward the prisoners washing the fire truck in front of the jail, I would arrive back at Mama’s office, my journey complete — at least until tomorrow.
Although I didn’t realize it at the time, every step in my ritualistic, block-wide odyssey was a lesson – lessons I still rely on every day. When to talk. When to listen. When to explore. When to to be careful. Who can be trusted. Who can’t. People are all different. People are all the same. Get by. Get along. Trust your instinct. Trust yourself.
All in the span of a block, walked.