How I Met Melody
When you hold an apple in your hand and stare across the grass to a wash basin
at the edge of an alfalfa field so far away, something wonderful may happen. If
Saturn is in Libra, or the wind is out of the West, or if the sky is blue like
the butter lady's hat and you sense a soft thing inside the apple down near the
seedline, then the chances are better. But it's still not likely.
I assumed I would remain in a suburb of Canton, Ohio, where I grew up.
This was the place where electric clippers turned hedges to shrubbery, and where
lawn mowers shot clippings into canvas bags. This was the place where men in
absorbent ''robes" emerged from their "homes" on Sunday
"mornings" to pick up their "newspapers."
I worked at a hospital as an orderly then, my future about as sterile as a
new bedpan wrapper. I assumed I would marry a blonde nurse and that she and I
would dance at formal hospital functions. We would have a couple of kids-a boy
and a girl-and the boy would spill chocolate milk on the day-care carpet. The
girl would say, "I'll tell mom!" then do something feminine
with her ponytails. It would just be a matter of time. Then the kids would argue
with mom about whose fault it was that the milk got spilled, while I made
shrubbery and wrestled with the bag attachment. And with my "robe," my
"home," my "mornings" and my "newspapers," I'd
become everything the "Pilgrims" hoped I'd be.
So now I want to know how likely it was that a girl who lived so many miles
from me on a black dot the McNally people called Plymouth, Ohio, would
eventually cause me to wash my car. The picture of her on the wall at Miss Anita
Wagner's home was the first domino in a long line of black things with white
dots on them. It fell and forced me say, "Is she for real?"
(Anita Wagner had been a patient at the hospital where I worked. I cared for
Anita in her convalescence. This means that I did wheelies with her in her
wheelchair and cut her chicken. Then I ate parts of her cake and chicken and
visited her when she went home. And there on her living room wall was a picture
of a beautiful girl. "Is she for real?" is exactly what I
asked. These really were my first words when I saw you, Melody.)
Anita said, "She is for real. Her name is Melody. She's my
cousin. Here's her address. Why don't you write her?"
Maybe I will. But I don't know. Slow down. How can I know yet? Maybe I
will, maybe I won't. First I have to go home and find out where Plymouth is. I've
never heard of it. If it's too far away, forget it. Plymouth could be down near
Cincinnatti. Or in the Hocking National Forest. Or out near Mantua, for God's
I went home to check. According to Rand McNally, Plymouth lay within
coordinates F-10 on the Ohio map. These coordinates, then, would decide
whether or not my socks would ever be folded.
I started with "F." This coordinate put Melody in the top fourth of
the state, north of Columbus and south of Cleveland. Fine, but how far east
or west? "10" would tell.
"10" began at the top of the map, east of Findlay, west of Wadsworth.
My right index finger slid north at coordinate "10," my left finger
slid east on "F." The fingernails of my index fingers met at Plymouth,
Ohio, a mere 70 miles west of my location on Route 18.
I drooled onto the map fold and said, "Not bad." I saved that map
and see now that the staple has rusted.
I wrote Melody a letter and sent her a picture of myself, finally
understanding why my parents put me through braces.
Then a letter came in return. It was from Melody. Melody liked my letter and
my teeth. Two days later, I called her. We talked a little bit, and then:
"I'd like to meet you," Melody said.
"I know what you mean," I said.
"Would you like to come over Saturday night for homemade pizza?"
"Yes. Would you?"
I need to talk about summer now, about a ribbon of rural highway called
Highway 18. I need to talk about a song on the radio called Ebony and Ivory.
I need to remember the rolled-down windows of this period, and cotton-type
clouds that could not have contained rain. I need to remember me being
twenty-one, and how excited I was to be less than forty-five minutes from Melody
I drove through towns on Route 18 named by confused frontiersmen heading west
without water. I drove through Roll, Sweetster, Cocolamus and Dismore Bridge. I
was to turn left at "the ugly green house in Becket." There was only
one house in Becket as far as I could tell, and it matched Melody's
description. I turned left at the landmark, a little nervous. Well, I was at
coordinate F-10, a mere mile from Melody's house.
I remembered Melody saying, "If you get to the railroad tracks, you've
gone too far."
I never did see those tracks.
What I did see was alfalfa fields stretching forever, and barn-ball arguments
doing the same. I saw beams from the moon and hawks attempting coasts into
Wabash County. I saw a place of porch swings in need of greasing, where one man
got a line, and another got a pole. I met some of the lankiest farm boys south
of Becket. And here was a place of hand-waving integrity where hedges grew free
and grass blew anywhere it wanted to.
Shrubbery was from some other planet.
A lanky farm boy with no shirt answered the door.
"Hi. Is this where Melody White lives?"
This individual soon became known to me as Melody's brother Matt. But at this
moment he was a nuisance of limited vocabulary.
"Good. Then I'll come in."
I sat on the couch and waited for Melody, who came down the stairs shortly
before I married her in that very house.
So it's little wonder that I stood in Melody's back yard one summer day of
my twenty-first year, and caressed an apple in my right hand while eying a wash
basin at the edge of an alfalfa field so far away. Little wonder that I told
Matt (who was standing next to me chewing the stiff end of a weed) that I was
about to throw the apple into the wash basin.
"Not from here, you ain't."
It was exactly what I wanted him to say.
I could illustrate with protractor and compass the arc of that apple. I could
describe, to this day, how the sun caught the apple on its way to the basin. I
could recreate for anyone, with wild hand gestures, how five birds parted to
allow the apple's trajectory. I could say exactly how the apple felt when it
rolled off the last part of my index finger. Matt can still describe the sound
the wash basin made when the apple landed in the center of it, and the look he
saw on my face when he could finally pull his eyes from the edge of that famous
As for me, I'll just say that I married a girl most people only dream about,
a girl of auburn hair let go and long, with a face like everything that has ever
been. I married a girl who liked to sit on a porch swing a few hundred yards
north of good rail line I never got to.
I married Melody in 1982 and loved her so much that I moved her to coordinate
F-8 in Big Lake, one coordinate east of her former home, two coordinates west of
Maybe the frontiersmen had water after all; it could be that they stole
watermelons. An angel dressed like a painter turned the ugly green house in
Becket white. Matt has turned into a deep-voiced man of letters who now wears
shirts, has muscles and can whip me in barn-ball.
Melody? Honey, Melody has been worth every coordinate.