Of chicken scratch on paper sacks

It was just a glance. A snapshot of two men talking, across from each other in the booth in the store whose right door frame could use a little grease. The newspaper was in front of them. Last night’s debate was the headline, and also led their conversation.

I just happened to breeze through, grabbing a drink.

But then, I thought of the snapshot all day, and of the ways we gather. Right now we’re gathering around words and pictures on a screen. More than 40 years ago, I watched my grandfather and his friends gather around an old stove in the back of his country store about 45 minutes from here. Being young and female, I must have noticed two things because I never ventured into the sacred circle: They were old, and they were men. They had the wisdom.

As one man talked, Granddaddy held a small brown paper grocery sack, tallying up sales. Or what people would owe him come payday. Chicken scratch, we call it. He sharpened his pencils with a knife. He kept records and receipts in his own way. He and my grandmother and their children never went hungry because he had the store; and I know he kept many a neighbor fed, too.

If only history and walls could talk. Their gathering was a regular occurrence. What did those men talk about? As important as the land was to them, it likely included talk of weather. Did the men in the store today come to any profound conclusions? My guess is no; and the subject of the conversation doesn’t really matter. (I asked my husband what he thought the old men talked about, and he said, “Old women.”)

What matters, I think, is that we gather. And keep gathering. And inviting others in, even if one of us has to take time out to write chicken scratch on a paper sack.