The woman held a cigarette in one hand and a fly swatter in the other. No big deal, really, unless I paint the rest of the picture: She was selling hot dogs to the public.
Every now and then, my husband talks me into joining him at one of his favorite fishing holes, somewhere out there in Ozarks territory. I have an odd love-hate relationship with these outings, mainly because I don’t care at all for catching fish, ticks and poison ivy. But I do enjoy the beautiful scenery, where the human population is sparse and natural rolling vistas seem endless.
I especially love the surprises, like when we find ourselves sharing the road with a wildly jostling, speeding Amish buggy (apparently teenage drivers are the same across cultures). Or when we see a frail baby deer trotting along a gravel road at high noon. And most recently, when we spotted real-life lily pads along the edge of a glassy pond.
On these trips, during these water lily moments, I often have the sensation that I’m walking through a sun-dappled Monet painting.
And at times, I feel like I’m on one of those you’re-being-pranked reality shows.
Enter the Hot Dog Lady of our last rural escapade. After the fish stopped biting, we decided to drive around the countryside and see what was going on. By this time it was hot and the sun was glaring. The sweet morning was over.
We stumbled upon a “swap sale,” which is kind of like a community garage sale without garages. Or shade. These events are normally held in open fields where people display all kinds of stuff to unload for a few bucks a piece. Basically things like Aunt Bessie’s curio cabinet. (RIP Aunt Bessie.)
I don’t think there could ever be more crystal candy dishes in one place than at these events. The same for old tools and lamps. And VHS action movies. Hello Bruce Willis. Did I mention crystal candy dishes?
And whoa, wait, shotguns. I wondered. Was this legal? Selling guns like that? Were they real? Where was I, in the Wild West? It was too stinking hot to figure out what was what.
So hot that we quickly meandered toward a nearby air conditioned antique store. And there she was, beneath the front awning. Hot Dog Lady. I now know flies adore hot dogs more than anything. Because this woman, who was likely late Aunt Bessie’s sister, had a death grip on her bright blue plastic fly swatter. She smiled at us, then “Thwack.” We tight-smiled back just before her next “Thwack.”
She appeared to be more obsessed with killing flies than selling her all-American fare (not that we were clamoring to buy it) because she circled her table in pursuit of more airborne enemies. That’s when I noticed the lit cigarette in her other hand. Thwack, thwack, drag. Was this legal? Selling food like that? Was she real? Where was I, in the Wild West of hygiene?
Stunned, I walked into the antique shop with my husband. We weaved through shelves and shelves of even more crystal cut candy dishes, wondering where all the Aunt Bessies had gone. I thumbed through a few vintage Betty Crocker cookbooks and odd label vinyl records featuring folk singers in gingham and bouffants. It was an alluring time capsule, but I had to get out of there. My mind was overloaded, and the hot dog/smashed fly/cigarette ash combo platter wasn’t helping.
Later that night I looked at my shots of the day. I was thrilled to see my little cell phone held a decent capture of the Monet scene I had walked into. And I asked myself, was this legal? Experiencing beauty like that? Was it real? Where was I, in the Wild West of my own dreams?
Reach Denise Snodell at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @DeniseSnodell.