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Due South

Dispatches from Down Home

Due South by R. Scott Brunner
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Now in paperback — the enormously popular essays Fannie Flagg called “as charming and welcome as an early spring down home.”

As satisfying, soothing, and occasionally suprising as a plate of turnip greens with a dash of pepper sauce, Due South is a book to be read and savored.
Random House Publishing Group; July 2001
ISBN 9781588360298
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Title: Due South
Author: R. Scott Brunner
Numbered Days

In the chill of January, she numbers her days.

She stands there at her back door—her gaze alternating between a view of the rear pasture through frosty storm windows on the back porch and one of those freebie wall calendars emblazoned with the Bank of Evergreen logo. On that calendar, with a felt-tip pen, steady of hand, she records the events of her life—those sublimely quotidian activities and images that mark her existence.

She's been doing this for as long as my wife, her granddaughter, can recall. There's always been that calendar hanging by the back door, its squares filled with things that, to her, are worth noting: what she sees through those windows, for example.

January 3 — Rained, 2 deer in the pasture
January 18 — Snow, 1 or 2 inches; feed birds
January 25 — First day out since Saturday, saw 2 fox
February 17 — Tulips break ground, windy, 60°
March 29 — Snake on back step

In addition to her fastidious reports of peripheral flora and fauna and the day's weather, she also notes phone calls and visits and diversions; along with her own activities, the life events of anyone to whom she's close are duly reported.

February 20 — Ed, Sharon & kids stopped by; didn't hear bell
March 27 — Tax seminar; enjoyable
May 13 — Salad for WMU social
June 21 — Walked with Doris
December 9 — Alan P called to say happy birthday

Perhaps her devotion to that calendar springs from a biblical admonition: "Teach us to number our days . . . that we may gain a heart of wisdom." Or maybe it's a by-product of coming up in the Great Depression—makes her treasure the simple blessings of each day and want to record them. After all, tomorrow may not be so generous.

Hence her thriftiness, which she wears like a good polyester double-knit pants suit. In her house she stockpiles dime-store finds, hides away useful sundry items in bureau drawers or in the dusty nether regions of closets seldom accessed, to await the day when she will need that set of porcelain demitasse cups or remember someone else who might. She even saves food. In the large upright Frigidaire freezer that sits on the back porch abide morsels of something from a 1994 church social, along with long-forgotten leftovers from some Reagan-era Thanksgiving dinner, patiently awaiting rediscovery and thaw for a midsummer night's supper. In her cleaning frenzies she finds things she forgot she even had, and her calendar is likely to note the rediscoveries.

April 5 — Located picture misplaced at Christmas
May 8 — Found lost items: old churn and oil brushes
June 19 — Cleaned out old magazines and clothes

The only thing you won't find on her calendar is headline news, current events—well, not usually anyway. There are rare exceptions, always rendered tersely, incisively, with her own spin on exactly what is most important, most awful, most wondrous, about the event.

August 31 — Princess Diana dies in 4 a.m. Paris wreck
November 19 — Frost this a.m.; 7 babies born (in 6 minutes)

I imagine she pondered that last one long after the evening news was over—sat there contemplating the meaning of those seven new lives and their six-minute delivery, and the crazy, awful, wonderful world they'd been born into. I imagine her playing that story over and over in her head along with the other events of the day, like she does most days—scanning for God in life's details and, more often than not, finding Him.

Year after year the ritual is the same, for the very reason that each day, each person, each activity, to her is not the same. So pen in hand, she numbers her days, marveling at the wonder of her existence, and finding joy in the view from her window, the company of family and friends, and the occasional rediscovery of forgotten dime-store treasures.