October 13, 2007
At the recent reunion of the Marietta Johnson School of Organic Education, a.k.a. The Organic School, people came into Fairhope from all over. I expected to have a couple sharing one of the little bedrooms upstairs in my cottage, a student teacher in the other, and a man living in the little room at the back of the garage for the duration.
As it turned out, the only one who was able to make it was the man in my garage. Playing hostess to him as well as partaking of all the events of the reunion weekend and giving something of a lecture at one of them (plus reading a chapter from Meet Me at the Butterfly Tree at another) gave an offbeat dimension to my participation in the proceedings.
He turned out to be in some ways typical as a product of our unconventional school, but for the main part, a man like no other. He likes to go which ever way the wind blows him, and this has taken his windblown persona in many directions. A delightful raconteur and observer of details, he carried big blank notebooks with him wherever he went, asked questions of everybody, and wrote down almost every damn thing anybody said. He was quick with a quip, but quizzical about many of the answers he got. I had a wonderful time with him.
As it turns out, he's a retired environmental consultant who has decided to relocate from the grey Northwest (Anacordes, WA, where he says "everybody is nice nice nice -- so nice I had enough,") to the desert country of Azo, AZ, to be part of an artists' community and develop his talents in art. He lives quite comfortably on almost no money, reads omniverously, and writes all the time too. He was complimentary about my writing, and made good suggestions too. He read When We Had the Sky and suggested some rewrites I shall use.
He and I had long talks in which we enlightened each other on the ways of the world. We both have had varied and amusing experiences and enjoyed each other's company enormously. I took him down into one of the gullies that once were so popular for youngsters in Fairhope. I introduced him to a local restaurant where he warily ordered crab gratin and was amazed that it actually had a lot of crabmeat in it. He said in the Pacific Northwest they don't put crabmeat in their crab dishes! Hmmm...that must be quite a trick. I introduced him to the Lower Alabama specialty of fried crab claws and he was quite taken with it.
Mostly he was looking for himself, the young self who had boarded at the school in the 1940's. Some women remembered having had dates with him and told him how much fun he used to be -- one time he went to the Country Club with one and walked a few miles in the wrong direction going home until somebody found him. Reunions are good for this kind of exploration, and he is nothing if not an explorer.
He's been married a few times, has grown sons, and takes a lot of time off to visit old lady friends and make new friends of all ages. He says his exposure to Organic Education put him on the path of discovery that has been his life. He didn't want to leave the school by the time his parents decided he didn't need it any more, but it really never left him, and he seems to be searching for more than the old landmarks and contact with people now shadowy in his memory.
I enjoyed the diversion of having this character in my garage. He stayed on a couple of days after the reunion broke up, and after he left I received a phone call at 9 P.M.
"I'm in a youth hostel in New Orleans," said the voice. "I'm having a wonderful time. It's $17 a night and full of young people. We're all drinking and singing."
Wherever he is, I'm sure he's having a wonderful time.