Chicklets. Two mates in a box. Before sugarless gum.

Gumbolt’s stone steps climbed off of Katonah’s main street. That’s where the candy was. Gumbolt’s was painted black and inside the dust on the wooden floors released a golden smell, musty like a den. Even the candy had dust on it. The owner’s frock of white hair framed her face. A wart balanced on the tip of her nose and, if I could remember her eyes, they would be steely gray – colorless –and mean.

Candy had gone up to five cents apiece, and I was at a stage in my life when boxes of Bazooka bubble gum were more enticing than the single pieces that she sold. A box of Bazooka would last me an hour. By the time I was finished reading about neckless Bazooka Joe and his pals, the cavities were burrowing through the enamel on my teeth. Even though I was beyond the price hike of penny candy, I followed my father’s sweet tooth into the store with my sister. We never needed the time that other children needed to choose our candy. Our father had trained us well. Move in, get to the sugar source and consume.

He had also trained us to be honest to a fault.   

On this particular day, Mrs. Gumbolt was planted behind the counter. I was convinced that she was a witch. I knew this because there were other witches in town. I even told Mrs. Harper that she looked just like the wicked witch from Oz. It wasn’t an insult; it was a statement. It was knowledge that I thought she needed. I knew that Mrs. Gumbolt was not a woman who needed to know who she resembled, besides her darkness was not that easy to define.

The rule always was that we could get one piece of candy. It was unspoken; it was honest and it was. I got my gum. Dad probably got something that nobody would want, and Carlie got red licorice because she knew that I hated it. When we got to the car; wrongness penetrated the windows. Whenever Dad turned toward the back seat of the Rambler, I knew something was wrong. Usually, he would just take his arm and whack at us so as to not take his eyes off the road. This time, he turned around before he started the car, just as Carlie was unwrapping another piece of candy.

He marched her back to Gumbolt’s before I knew what was happening. Carlie did not even beg for mercy. She was too busy contemplating the dark journey that she had to make from the car, across the main street, up the concrete steps, through the black screen doors, across the dusty floor to the candy counter. She had been willing to take the risk of stealing candy and facing Mrs. Gumbolt.

Her courage astounded me.

Her defiance frightened me.

Her dishonesty baffled me.

Wonder and Grace

Eight deer leaped and bounded across my way this morning. It was 6:45 on a back road in Hancock and my heart leaped with wonder. As they ran with me — I on the road, they in the parallel field — I saw a woman walking toward me with her dog. I raised my hands pointing to the deer as if she could not see them.  Like me, she was alone and I was so excited we could share this beautiful sight.

Sometimes when I run everything is in tune. Early in the morning I wake up and wait for the sun to start to rise. By the time I reach the top of the hill its glow spreads over the purple mountains and the beauty of the scene almost always surpasses the same scene from the run before. The earth beneath my feet is hard this morning and I can still see my Saturday footprints etched in the dirt after a one-day spring thaw. The depth of these footprints matches those of a deer that had wandered by before me on the same warm day. Our footprints are frozen together until the next thaw.

As I crest the next hill, my breathing is as even and smooth as the steps that I take. When the rutted dirt turns to pavement, my stride lengthens with ease. I run past a farm which is awake. A dog charges me, yet my heart refuses to skip a beat. I am assured that his owner will not let him cross the line.  Unchallenged, the dog retreats and the control I have over my body and my fear amazes me.

Then I see the deer — their tails up high. What is driving them so gracefully through the frostless field? I will never know. Single file, they move like a long streamer flowing from side to side. They dart across the road without concern for us and skip through the leaves and the brush. Never stopping, I search the woods, but the deer are gone without a sound, leaving me alone again to wonder at their grace.

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