This is another moment taken from my field notes. Follow the link below to hear Merci’s voice.
“Merci and I have eaten many potatoes together. Sweet Potatoes. Starchy Potatoes. Purple Potatoes. Fired and Fried. Baked and mashed. Boiled and peeled. Mama Merci never ceased to apologize for making potatoes. But everyone knew that this was one of the best parts of each day. A time to relax. A break from the fields. A time to talk smack. And this was that part of the day when everyone took delight in my awkward words and hesitant speech. My inappropriate questions. My make-shift grammar. My strange hair. My obvious association with Tom and Jerry. Eventually, this small child, Merci, would take me outside. She showed me her fields. We patiently shared language and made fun of each other’s botched and honest efforts. This child of a King took me under her wing and taught me so very much.
The song I have included with my Merci blip was sung by the most amazing Merci, herself.”
I lived for 7 months with a mountain community of chocolate farmers In Sulawesi, and it completely ruined me for chocolate.
I spent so many hours with it. When the fruits are harvested, they seem innocent enough. They resemble large bean pods. Green before ripened, yellow when they are ready to be chucked from the trees. The cocoa pods are then piled on a tarp in the middle of the family garden. A few people gather round and prepare for some rather dirty work.
We cut open the fruit to reveal what can only be described as slime nuggets. The air becomes rancid. It smells of vinegar and cocoa. Bile. Not at all appetizing. We thrust our hands into the pile in an attempt to remove the pod membrane and other debris. It feels like brains. It feels like running your hands through intestines. Soupy and sour. After awhile, your hands are stained a deep chocolate brown. The pods themselves remain an unsettling cream color.
The result of this process is eventually laid to dry in the sun. A day later, the pods are as dry and brown as your hands. The smell is divine.
I never met a single person on the mountain that enjoyed eating chocolate. They all hated it.
By the end of June 1915, our Edgar was left waiting in Chicago, Illinois by one Miss Elsie of Pueblo, Colorado. After I share this postcard with you, we might very well be the only people that ever knew about Edgar’s anxious message to Elsie that summer. It is impossible to say with any certainty how their story ended or who was privy to what occurred. In any event, I have started this narrative in the middle of where it should have began, and so here we will start with the real beginning:
My relationship with Elsie began a few years ago in the book section of a local thrift store. I was scanning the usual junk for something to bring home when I ran into a box of old and discarded postcards. I ran my fingers through them briefly and picked one from the pile. It was from Elsie. In fact, they were all to or from Elsie. Within the space of 30 minutes, I knew the name of Elsie’s sister. I noticed that she sent funny postcards about the weather to her husband. In the 1940s and 1950s, Elsie traveled to places like Kansas City, Missouri. Austin, Texas. Miami, Florida. Bismark, North Dakota, for God’s sake. In the summer of 1952, our heroine followed a huge thunderstorm from the middle of Colorado all the way to the east side of Nebraska. She drove everywhere. In my imagination, she is still travelling the country in a vintage convertible with horn-rimmed sunglasses and a baby-blue scarf tied around her head.
I bought Elsie’s postcards.
Eventually, the names of the people that were important to Elsie became familiar. One name stood out as odd and out of place. Our Edgar. I only have a few pieces of correspondence from him in the collection. My favorite is a postcard. The picture on the old card is of Commercial Avenue looking North from 93rd Street in South Chicago-1915. On the backside, Edgar wrote to Elsie:
“Dear Elsie, I am still waiting for an answer. Please don’t keep me waiting much longer. Edgar.” He sent the card for a single penny.
Was Edgar asking Elsie if she planned to return home for Christmas? Was he a cousin inquiring about the number of cattle being raised over the summer? Was he a gangster? A Doctor? Did he want to marry her? Anything is possible.
I prefer the gangster story. In my version, Elsie is Bonnie. Edgar is Clyde. They met through mutual friends when Elsie came home to the city for a few months in an effort to take a break from her home in Southern Colorado. She was a city girl at heart. She was already leaning towards bobbing her hair. They fell in love immediately and had a torrid love affair (Are love affairs ever explained as anything but torrid? Absolutely not). Elsie left Chicago in May, promising to return in the Fall. It’s a pretty good story…in my head.
Elsie did eventually change her last name. She moved to Northern Colorado. She had children. She was unusually prolific with her postcards. Somebody was unusually careful about preserving them, and somebody eventually dumped them at a local thrift store to be sold at 50 cents a piece. The only thing that can be said for Edgar is that he never married Elsie, and we will never know how long she kept him waiting.