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Thursday, December 12, 2013

Levitt Shell & Cotton

Cotton blossoms in Henning, TN
A funny thing happened as I drove out to Mud Island one late Saturday morning: I saw things flying through the air everywhere, like great big allergens just waiting to cause a giant sneezing fit.  My afternoon plan was to sit outside at a cafĂ©, read, study for the RD exam, and have a cold drink.  With my allergies, this plan suddenly seemed impossible…  However, I wondered, “Why did I not see all of this air debris at my house 13 miles away?”  I can thank the Mighty Mississippi River for my answer, and more specifically the barge traffic upon her.  It is cotton season, and all of the large and small flying puffs was cotton blowing off of the barges!  Thankfully I successfully sat outside for over 3 hours, with only one incident of cotton inhalation, momentary watery eyes, and a fit of sneezes.

Memphis has a great “shell” in midtown, Levitt Shell, an outdoor amphitheatre.  Young Elvis Presley took the stage here on July 30, 1954, in what historians have called the first-ever rock ‘n’ roll show.  Built during the Depression, it served as an orchestra performance venue in the 1930s and 1940s.  Today they put on more than 20 free summer concerts for the people of Memphis.  On this same Cotton Saturday, I packed up my bamboo mat and headed for a seat on the grassy knoll for my inaugural experience.  I was greeted by 5,000 other Memphis residents, many packing picnic gear and adult beverages.  The Memphis Dawls played, backed by various string players, and the Memphis Doctors Dance Band. They sang and played fun toe-tapping current tunes and covers from the 1940s.  Halfway through the night, dusk started to approach everyone embraced the relaxation and entertainment.

The Memphis Dawls on stage

Sitting by myself, I see this cute-as-can-be curly-headed blonde girl no older than 3 years zig-zagging through people’s chairs and blankets.  I watched her approach towards me in a lemon yellow dress, momentarily locking eyes with each stranger that she passed.  Her lips whispered some small word, inaudibly.  She passed by me, same fleeting eyes, same word.  I watched her as she walked by, waiting for her to fall into someone’s arms sitting on a picnic blanket.  No one reached out; cute smiles greeted her as she continued to wander.  Twenty seconds passed, and before I knew it, my feet were moving under me as I pushed down the ruffles of my own skirt.  Suddenly, I knew instantly what was happening, as others just admired her traveling cuteness.
“Are you lost?  Where is your mommy?”… “Come with me to the front, we’ll find her.”  She had no desire to follow me towards the front tent, despite offering out my hand several times.  She was sweet, confused, thankfully not yet scared, but not interested in following me.  Finally, I stumbled upon the magic words, “Do you want to get on my shoulders and look for your Mommy?”  A faint yes and head nod.  I heard and saw it, but everyone else around was only wearing a “sweet little girl” grin on their face, still oblivious to what was happening.  Thanks to the help of a neighbor picnicker, I had her up on my shoulders and we walked through the crowd.  I briefly processed that people were looking at me as if I was the lost mother, with slightly critical eyes and a passive smirk.  We walked slowly, her hands in mine, turning often, eyes peeled on the crowd.  In less than four minutes, but what felt like ten, I saw a woman tripping over people running towards us, hands clasped over her mouth.  Mom!

I ducked down so that the mother could lift her little girl off my shoulders, briefly touched her shoulder, but could feel that I was not part of this reunion.  I backed away, walking lightly back to my bamboo mat.  Just as the reunited mother, I felt a flood of emotions rushing through my head.  Pain.  Fear.  Sadness.  Relief.  Elation.  Overwhelmed.  I had flashbacks of this exact same event 6 years ago in France, but on a grander scale.  In a word, I was becoming more overwhelmed despite the reunion.

During the summer of 2007, I was living in Lyon, France, and was on long weekend holiday in Paris for the end of the Tour de France.  Walking down the Champs-Elysees with friends among >100,000 people, I passed by a ~3 year old American boy roaming lost on the street.  Before I knew it, he was on top of my shoulders to better scan the crowd for “Mommy & Daddy.”  He didn’t know their first names, his home city, anything.  My friends ran for police, anyone, that could reconnect this boy.  Thirty anxiety-filled minutes later, I was bowing my head down as the panicked mother scooped him off my shoulders.  We all walked away; I never saw them again.  My emotions were tremendous during those 30 minutes, and I had trouble coming back down for a few hours.  The same thing happened again at Levitt Shell, but for only an hour or so, seemingly elongated by people clapping for me as I walked back to my mat.  The rest of dusk, then dark, set in.  At the end of the show, I walked comfortably back to my car, emotions comfortably returned to baseline.

Cotton blooms in Henning, TN
The rising Mississippi on Mud Island (May 2013)
with my Mom
Cotton blooms

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