For 18 years now, I’ve saved the slip of paper with an ancient piece of verse copied in blue ink — my handwriting — in my kitchen junk drawer, which is pretty remarkable when I stop and think about it.
For one thing, the contents of the drawer are fairly standard and stable — a tack hammer and set of screwdrivers, spare light bulbs, packing tape, safety pins, batteries of various sizes and paperclips and (for no logical reason) the hand-copied verse. And consider this. Since 1998 I’ve lived in four different dwellings in two different cities. The other contents of the drawer have the common denominator of being tools or items I need and must have occasionally, the verse has no real purpose for being in the drawer. Except it stays, and it stays because every time I open the drawer to retrieve one of the useful items, I can’t help but divert my attention to the words, which I find ever so cheering and comforting. Where else could I keep the paper that it would furnish such a simple pleasure?
“Loveliest of what I leave behind is the sunlight. Loveliest after that the shining stars and moon’s face. But also cucumbers, that are ripe — and pears, and apples.” The author of the prose is Praxilla, a 5th century B.C. Greek woman poet and lyricist. My source for the piece is Dr. Catherine Cowell, one of my speech professors at Angelo State in the early 1970s. The prose was included in Dr. Cowell’s obituary in 1998, and I copied it then and have kept it all these years.
So when I run across the paper in the drawer, my pleasure isn’t only from reading the words and acknowledging their truth, it’s remembering Dr. Cowell. She was a fine and lovely person and though I hardly knew her outside of class, her influence on me has been huge. There was a calmness and sophistication — a serenity — about her that I, as a young college student, coveted and could have made my own had I known how to let go of my silliness and urgency to do and have and be; to listen instead of talk, accept instead of criticize, wait instead of rush.
One of the charming things I remember about Dr. Cowell is her patience. She listened without judging, and with empathy. We must have said things in class she knew to be foolish and brash, but she didn’t dash them with criticism. She encouraged our discussions.
My senior year at Angelo State I was engaged to be married, and pretty much in a hurry to graduate so I could pursue the happily-ever-after of my life I was sure was going to follow. One day, after class, I stayed to talk to Dr. Cowell, about a paper I’d written. She told me, off the subject, how we never know what life will bring. Her happily-ever-after went far and awry of her plans, she said. She’d divorced and raised her children as a single mother. At nearly 50, she’d gone back to school and earned her doctorate.
I’m not sure now what her exact words were, but there was something in what she said that years later, facing my own disillusionment, I remembered her wisdom and allowance.
Sometimes life isn’t what you think it is. It just is.
What did I learn in her classes? Well gosh it’s been 42 or 43 years now, so I can’t quote real textbook knowledge. But I remember different assignments. One, we were to make a list of 20 smells and the emotions they evoked. I remember one of the guys in the class listed the smell that was a standard for near-downtown San Angelo every afternoon back then — bread baking at Mrs. Baird’s Bakery. I remember putting rain, bacon frying (good smells) and gasoline (yuck) on my list.
We made similar lists for each of the senses and now all these years later, I remember to make myself stop and savor moments and scenery. I don’t keep lists, exactly, but there are the familiar sights, sounds and smells that evoke the sweet memories, and the little things that are part of each day’s routine I simply appreciate anew and am glad to have again. And it’s in the moment of pleasure, when I am enjoying the processes of stopping to watch, listen, smell and savor, I appreciate so much the person who first insisted we stop to enjoy life at its simplest and most basic levels.
Editor’s note: Candace Cooksey Fulton is a freelance writer, formerly of Brownwood, now living in San Angelo. Her weekly columns are published Sundays in the Brownwood Bulletin and Thursdays in the San Angelo Standard-Times and are unique for each paper. She can be reached at email@example.com.