Kiki Lowenstein and the Watermelon Festival, Part III

Part II – Recap: In an attempt to repair their friendship, Kiki and Mert decide to take a road trip. But hurt feelings don’t mend easily, and the two women get off to a rocky road start. The sight of the Arch in the rearview window changes their moods for the better, but it’s a long ride. Will the two friends be able to paper over their problems and move on?

Instead of taking Highway 64, we took Route 50, the back roads, to Vincennes. When we got to Carlyle, Illinois, we both needed a potty break. As we pulled into town, the number of cars towing boats surprised me. Then I saw a sign for Carlyle’s beaches.

“How could that be?” I wondered out loud.

“It’s Lake Carlyle they’re talking about. It’s Illinois’ largest man-make lake. A spillover from the Kaskaskia River,” Mert explained. “Makes it a prime spot for bald eagles to nest. Keep your eyes on the trees. Look for a white baseball up there. That’s the eagle’s white head.”

I forget sometimes how educated she is and how much she knows about the world. When you’re friends a long time, details fade. Maybe this trip was exactly what we needed to get back to admiring each other. I hoped so.

Walmart’s iconic blue sign beckoned and soon we were inside, grabbing carts. Cruising up and down the aisles brought back another dose of harmony. I tarried in the craft section, seeing what yarns and scrapbook papers were available. Mert disappeared. I thought nothing of that. After all, we weren’t joined at the hip. I found the restroom at the back of the store, then I wandered around, found socks on sale, and pushed my cart toward the food section. A bottle of Ménage À Trois wine was on my list, as was a variety of cheeses, crackers, grapes, carrots, hummus, GrapeNuts, cashews, almonds, and a bag of trail mix. By the time I finished, I had enough food to feed an Artic expedition. Next I went to the bathing suits. There I found a half-price suit in a style that I hoped would be flattering. I also admired the large, bright flowers on a white background. With any luck, I wouldn’t look like a whale who had rolled in wallpaper.

I still didn’t see Mert, but I spotted the checkout lanes and tooled over toward them. The clerk solemnly rang up the goods, never smiling once, no matter how cheerful I was or how much I tried to engage her in conversation. The purple streaks in her hair brought out the red rims of her eyes. Probably the poor child hadn’t gotten enough sleep the night before. I played my “Benefit of the Doubt” game, offering her the benefit of the doubt and conjuring up all sorts of reasons she was in a grumpy mood. About the time I handed over my credit card, Mert guided her cart up to the conveyor belt.

I did a double-take. Her cart was filled to overflowing with diapers, shampoo, baby toys, baby food, canned goods, cereal, popcorn, dried milk, baby powder, deodorant, kitchen cleansers, laundry detergent, fabric softener, and three books for babies. My mouth probably dropped open, but I quickly recovered and helped her unload her haul onto the moving belt. The total on the purchase astonished me. Mert didn’t seem fazed. She handed over her credit card and went to work tying the tops of plastic bags shut to prevent spillage. Without commenting, I helped the clerk load the filled bags back into Mert’s cart.

Blinking away the bright sun, we strolled outside, pushing our carts to her truck. I’d forgotten she had a storage deck that locked. Once opened, there was plenty of room for all our purchases. Mert even set my perishables and hers inside a small cooler that held ice. At that point, I retrieved my small overnight bag. “Can I put this in the locker?” I asked. “I’d like to get it out from under my feet.”

“Sure.”

Once finished, we climbed back into the cab of the truck. Mert pointed us toward a gas station. “There’s sandwiches here, or we can go through Mickey D’s drive-up.”

Inside the gas station was a cooler stocked with food. I found an egg salad on whole wheat that looked delicious. Mert got a roast beef with Swiss cheese. We both grabbed a bag of Sunchips and bottles of water. Back on the road again, we munched happily, although my curiosity finally got the better of me. “Why all the supplies? You certainly bought a lot of stuff.”

“Corva’s fallen on hard times. She’s taking care of her grandbaby, Jillian, who ain’t but six months old. Since she lives on social security, making ends meet is hard. Iff’n it weren’t for government assistance with her healthcare, she’d have to do without her meds.”

My heart ached. “Poor woman. That’s very kind of you to help her out.”

“I got everything in the world going for me. My son’s in school. My daughter is married. I got a good paying job. Corva was married to the world’s biggest butthole. He was a farmer who owned most of the acreage you see as we drive by. However, he liked to load up his Harvestore with grain and not sell it. That’s common among farmers, you know? They get sorta personally attached to the grain. Clint did. Corva nagged and nagged him to sell, but he kept passing up opportunities. Then the market had a downturn. Clint lost a ton of money. He had a heart attack while he was out in the field. When he died, Corva found out he owed money everywhere. She lost the farm, which meant she lost her house and car. She’s been squeaking by ever since.”

I knew what it felt like to worry about money. I also knew how it felt to learn your husband hadn’t been honest with you about your finances.

“That’s awful,” I said.

“Yup. Then their daughter got addicted to painkillers. Didn’t quit when she was pregnant. Had the baby. And guess who’s left to pick up all the pieces? Corva.”

~To Be Continued ~