the museum of americana

a literary review

Inventory — Nonfiction by Caitlin Palmer

 
A black ash tray with scalloped edges for tapping off embered ends.

Platte maps hung with crisscrossing lines of territory and road and elevation, so many lines.

Papa saying, Here, and laying a thick, oil-stained finger somewhere near the bottom right. Here’s our property. I’d never thought of us as being in the south of the county before.  

The gazebo in the one-stop town where they used to hold memorial dances for some battle in the Civil War. There weren’t many battles this far north in Missouri, maybe only the one.   

The one-stop shop was an ice cream parlor. Annie was the old woman’s name. I forget that of her husband. Farmers would go there to linger over long lunches, but I remember mostly they came for the ice cream, and the pie.   

If you went the other way on the long highway, the next stop was a Ma and Pa’s gas station. A one room grocer’s store. Grace and Noble were the owners’ names. The floors were the color and texture of silt. The two lived in quarters off the back. A housewife could go there to get baking soda on a moment’s notice. My sister and I would get taffy.

The time Mama said, No, stay in the car, when we stopped there once because it had just rained and it was very muddy, and we had our church shoes on. But my sister and I liked to play Troll by the little walkway that went to the shop. And sometimes there were kittens there. So we got out to play Troll, and Mama just looked at us because she never spanked us, but we didn’t get taffy.

The time Mama said, No, don’t drive any closer, when Daddy drove us to the Mississippi River because it flooded in ‘93. He backed the truck right up to the water’s edge so we could skip rocks in it, but Mama thought the brown, swollen water would encroach upon even the truck, as well.

The time Mama said, Go, when she was crying on the floral sofa, when she thought she’d lost her job in town and I was older, and had made plans to travel. She said to go and leave them all.

The old bucket scales from the gas stop of Grace and Noble’s that my father bought at a sale when they closed down. He couldn’t imagine them going away. He’d measured things on those scales his whole life. So they sat in his shop, and measured its dust and utility, its entropy and dark.

The tin file cabinets stacked in the machine shed that were his father’s, because they were his father’s, because he couldn’t throw anything away. How it was fitting that on the day we threw out old journals from the house and boxes for Valentine’s Day cards we’d made out of tissue for school, he went through the trash and took them out and stored them in those filing cabinets. Once he came to me teasing that I’d thrown out checks dated from some birthdays ago that totaled eighty dollars. When I pouted that they were no longer good, he wrote me out a check for the total.

The combines that he parked in the machine shed, between the row of filing cabinets.  

The sale when his father died, when he bought the cabinets, and many other things, and watched many other things go. I watched through blurry eyes. I was sad, it’s true, but it was cold that day, a cold that hurt the eyes, and there were rare and sinking snowflakes in the air. Mostly I was confused by everyone’s movements, and felt that it was a very serious time.

The clock on the wall that tells the time, at my Grandfather’s house, because we kept the house. It has Roman Numerals on it, and a swinging pendulum, and a glass beaker with a flue curving up with rosy liquid in it, like honey.

The liquid is only water, no magic. It shows barometric pressure. I don’t understand this, only that in the case of a tornado, the pressure drops so low that the water will rise in the flue and drip out. I’ve not seen it.

The modulations of it are small, it’s hard to notice, but like all else there is a rising and a falling.
 

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The price of corn has fallen. The cost for a radio’s gone up. The ocean level every year rises; the shop patrons and shopkeeps and memorial dancers sink in their graves—my Grandfather, as well. I don’t know what others say about it, but the horizon rises and falls, to me: when I drive to that place, it lets me in. In leaving it resolves into a wall.

Hedge City, Missouri, Grace and Noble Foster, ca. 1955. (image courtesy of Mary Foster Hensley)

Hedge City, Missouri, Grace and Noble Foster, ca. 1955. (image courtesy of Mary Foster Hensley)

 

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PalmerCaitlin Palmer is a native of Missouri. She has lived in Europe, Greece, and southern Bayou, but cycles back to the Midwest as a touchstone. She studied Creative Writing and Magazine Journalism at the University of Missouri and aims to pursue graduate study. In 2014 and 2015, her prose was displayed with regional photography and art at the Columbia Art League Gallery. Her work is forthcoming in Midwestern Gothic. This is her first publication in a literary review.