Print this pageAdd to Favorite


Marbles, the Tolstoy Tango and the Bridge Over the River Try

“If you want to be significant, you need to be insignificant…”

The few words weren’t given, or taken, as any kind of rude offering or anything like that. Marble just stated such in her plain, clear voice as she leaned over to pour Randy’s coffee.

She broke into the conversation, which she occasionally is known to do, if she feels that the ‘boys’ are off track. Only Marbel can throw out a few words in a casual way that unravels a story folks can ponder for ages.

It was the usual breakfast crowd down at Tanker’s Café that Tuesday. If you want to find out what’s really going on in Parrot County you at least need to make your presence known there once a week. Most of the regulars make it once a day. If I could, I would eat breakfast there every morning, but of course I would never get much done the rest of the day. So, Tuesday is my usual weekly venture into the heart of Fandango Crossing’s town proper, and the lessons waiting to be learned within-if you listen closely.

The men sitting there at ‘the Table of the Elders’ were deeply airing their opinions about some cosmic order of things. They don’t often venture into such weighty terrain. Usually they just talk cows, corn, tobacco or express opinions about a new place to eat that just opened up. But, occasionally, the ‘river of thoughts’ overflows its banks.

Now an outlander might assume that most of the café’s crowd has nothing better to do than sit around and talk about seemingly irrelevance. But they would be wrong on two accounts. First, within that casualness of the meetings exists the complex cement that holds the tiny community together. Secondly, these guys get up mighty early and accomplish half a day’s work by the time most city folks are thinking about what to put in their coffee.

Marble knows men are thoughtful creatures by nature-they need to ponder invisible things, looking for some kind of manageable order they know deep inside defies order. These cosmic things tend to build up inside, like the annoyance of a dead bug’s splat on your windshield; you think it might go away on its own, until you finally realize it needs attention and get a wet rag to wipe the dang mess off yourself.

I was first introduced to Marble by Natty Spoonful. He told her of my previous occupation back in the big city as if she might be impressed. She wasn’t. She looked at me with those eyes that projected confidence without a blink. She decided to go easy on me that morning and simply commented, “You mean you only have one job.”

It was a reference that most everyone in Parrot County has many jobs to make ends meet throughout the variety of seasonal tasks to be done. Her comment was also meant as a poke in the ribs; like I shouldn’t be relying on what I had done yesterday, rather what am I going to do today of any real value?

When I first met Miss Marble Stippel I thought I misheard her name, Mabel, Marla or Marsha? “Nope, it’s Marble-like the round glass things you play with,” it was explained to me by Syd. Of course I needed to find out how she got such a name.

It seems in her youth she cornered the Parrot County marble market winning most every game from the boys. Eventually, back in those days, if you needed an extra marble, the dollar store was not your best bet; you probably had a better selection buying one from Marble-she had a two gallon glass jar filled. She still has that jar today-I guess she has her reasons. She could probably tell you a story behind every victory of each glistening trophy- she is just a natural storytelling anyways...always telling stories.

When she was eleven it was her rebellion for an English writing assignment that began her pondering the irony that words could be a friend rather than the enemy. And, within every nook and cranny of life lies a story to be told.

Looking back she never would have thought she would be blessed, or cursed with such a skill for storytelling. She hated school early on, seeing it as a boring endurance test, justifying the pain as if it might build character which she could apply to something more useful later in life.

Back on this particular day she resented having to waste her time on the assignment about ‘How do you relate to nature.’ She calculated the potential punishment before proceeding with her first urge and decided, ‘what the heck’. So, she wrote:

A peach ain’t no orange apple

And a bear ain’t no big raccoon

And if you don’t know

The difference ‘tween either

I suspect it would be right

For folks to call you a big, fat orange buffoon

Mrs. Hardaway asked her to hang behind after she dismissed the rest of the class. Marble waited for her penance. The teacher handed back her poem without expression, “You have a gift missy.” It took a beat or two for Marble to realize she was actually being complemented, only then to hear the words that would echo hauntingly for too many years to come, “… but you don’t have anything to say. You need to spend the rest of your life searching and figuring out what you should do with this gift.”

At that moment, and at many more to come, she wished Mrs. Hardaway would have just paddled her real good and left it at that. But she didn’t. She cursed her for that itch of a guilt she could never scratch satisfactorily-though Lord knows she tried.

For her story-words are never any kind of formal thing; just a natural extension of daily communications. Like the time she communicated her thoughts about marriage, handing that folded piece of paper to Daniel and Shelia Mackley one morning. The whole county knew the two were getting ready to split up. It read:

Maybe we were wrong

It’s together we belong

Though it’s hard enough to love

It’s even harder when you’re gone

Love’s not something that you try

Until a new thing comes along

Love is something that needs to grow

Only years will make it strong

Everyone thinks the poem was originally about some mysterious, lost love in Marble’s past, but it wasn’t. It was just a busy morning and she wanted to give her two cents worth of encouragement to the young couple before it was too late. She didn’t have time to sit and chat so she just handed them the paper along with the breakfast bill.

The couple is still together years later-so it must have made some impression.

Actually, the words were something she had been working on about her pet canary that flew away, but nobody needs to know that-especially Daniel and Shelia.

Marble and I have chatted on occasion. I guess I can now call her a friend. She understands the frustration in always creating something new. “Just think how frustrated the Man must be… I’m sure He still is tweaking this mess down below,” she would muse as she points her boney finger toward Heaven.

I learned two ideas from her recently. Actually I had always pondered the gist but she reinforced them in the clarity of her simple country philosophy; along with some spices accumulated from her worldly ways.

One was her term, building the ‘Bridge over the River Try’ and the other was the ‘Tolstoy Tango’. The two help visualize the nature of ideas and journey of a skill; both always needing to move forward when sometimes they seem have no natural momentum on their own.

She will tell you that she writes every day; not because she wants to, but because she has to. Kind of like dancing the tango, I guess; if you don’t use it, you lose it.

She believes that Tolstoy wrote six to ten hours every day of his life. It was a self imposed discipline of which he never faltered. She didn’t say whether or not Tolstoy ever tapped her on the shoulder, as she waded through her daily paths of trying to be ‘wordly’ inspired, and ask her to tango.

Sometimes ideas just knock you off your feet- a flash of inspiration where you can’t get the words down fast enough- turrets of a waterfall that you are trying to capture with a Dixie cup. But that is more of the exception.

Most often ideas come as shadows in the mist, formless, shapeless things with only the simplest of notions and without any concrete themes or identity for any story to claim.

It’s then when you need to dig down deep, feeling your way blindly in the murkiness of the unknown, trying to dislodge the simplest idea, you yank something from its’ nestled hiding place-it may be gold or it may just be some old rock. In a way it’s really kind of like joys and hazards of Catfish Noodling.

To use another fishing term, that Marble is not sure Tolstoy invented or not, ‘You can’t catch fish if your worm’s not in the water’

Marble explained to me her ‘bridge’ doctrine about the long-term perspective of the value of all the ‘stuff’ you create in a lifetime. She knows that anyone would be a liar if they said that they didn’t assume the current idea they’re working on has the secret potential of being the ‘big one’- the break-through from obscurity to fame.

In Marble’s bridge, all ideas rendered are connected somehow, the big ones and even those tiny insignificant ones. Word by word, like stick by stick, you construct the ‘Bridge over the River Try’, never knowing when, or if, it will ever reach that other side.

“Perhaps the bridge you are building is not even only for you?” Marble wondered. “Your bridge might be for someone else to complete and cross someday-who knows? And maybe the bridge you have always been building really was begun by someone else before you-you just picked up where they left off.”

Marble was over fifty when she published her fist book. When the publisher asked her if she had any other material around Marble replied, “Oh, about two hundred books worth.”

Tolstoy would understand.