The News ≠ Life
When I got old enough to pay attention to the News and actually started reading the newspaper, I was depressed for months. I might be sitting in the shade of Sister Alma Rose’s massive grass-green porch with its grass-green wicker furniture on a quiet summer afternoon… drinking Mr. Truman LaFollette’s sublimely fresh and delicious lemonade with slices of lemon floating in the frosty glass… looking out over the rich farmland in the valley of the Turkey Hill River to the mountains beyond… and Sister Alma Rose might be hand-stitching a hem and whistling or humming, oblivious to all but the beauty and the soft breeze… and there I am, frowning about all the pesticides and herbicides polluting the valley and the river. Or I’d fret that any day now some big, heartless conglomerate would buy up all the farms and knock down all the charming old buildings in Hilltop and put up two or three Walgreens and a Home Depot and a Hooter’s. Unless everything got vaporized by a nuclear bomb first.
I’d watch the sun sink into the mountains, turning the dazzling blue sky to golds and reds and purples, and all I could think about was the ozone layer or the possibility that Planet Earth might lie in the path of an asteroid, or maybe I mean a comet, zooming toward Cincinnati at approximately one skillion miles an hour and landing — THUD! BOOM! — So long, Cincinnati, which has just become teeny, tiny airborne particles of dust, Styrofoam, and polyester, blocking the sun and causing everyone in the western hemisphere to die from sunlight-deprivation poisoning or from inhaling pulverized truck parts or something.
Such was my cheery outlook the summer I was eleven. Mama and Daddy were worried about me. I overheard them discussing my moroseness one evening. They were sitting on the porch swing, holding hands and rocking gently, back and forth, back and forth on the swing, and I was just a few feet away, cross-legged on the ground, leaning against an old crabapple tree and watching the sky, keeping an eye out for asteroids and nuclear missiles. It was dark, and Mama and Daddy must have thought I’d gone to bed, because they weren’t even whispering.
Mama said she thought my problem was “hormonal changes,” and Daddy made a choking noise in his throat and said, “She’s not old enough for… um… THAT, is she?” Mama laughed and told Daddy that she was just my age when THAT happened, and then they started talking about something else, but I felt microscopically better, knowing that Mama and Daddy were more worried about my hormones than they were about the Apocalypse.
But I still felt as if I were carrying around this tentacled, viscous lump of worry, so I spent almost all my free time with Sister Alma Rose — because I always feel a little safer with Sister Alma Rose — instead of with Pablo and my other friends, most of whom were also eleven and presumably struggling with their own hormones.
We were playing Monopoly on Sister Alma Rose’s porch one day, and I was mopey, and losing the game besides, and finally, in a snit, I toppled my heaps of Monopoly money and asked crossly, “Sister Alma Rose, do you read the newspaper? Because ever since I started reading the newspaper, I’ve been in a bad mood.”
“Why, Fanny,” said Sister Alma Rose calmly, “I gave y’all half of an angel-food cake with strawberries and whipped-cream frosting, from a recipe I found in the newspaper, and y’all weren’t the least little bit cranky.”
I smiled a little and said, “Sister Alma Rose, you know that I’m talking about the News, not the recipes and the sorghum futures. The News is full of greedy people behaving badly, and it’s beginning to seem like everyone in the world, just about, is greedy and behaves badly, of course not you or Mr. Truman LaFollette or Cousin Dulcie or Mama or Daddy or my brothers or Dr. Deirdre Barstow or most of the people in Hilltop… but everybody else.”
Sister Alma Rose set her lemonade down on a pretty green-and-cream-colored crocheted coaster and took both of my hands in hers, and I just about fell off my chair because the hand that had been holding the lemonade was ice-cold.
“Miss Fanny,” she said, very seriously, “the News is not Life. The News is sordid little patches of Life stitched up so it looks all of a piece.”
She was quiet for a minute, and then she said, “Miss Fanny, I think it’s time you and I paid a visit to the Cavendish-Stolarskyjs’.”
And then I really did smile, because there is practically nothing in this entire universe better than a visit to the Cavendish-Stolarskyjs’.