Saturday, March 21, 2015


Travis Keene is a forty-something man, slim and dark-haired, with a little dress shop on Main Street.   The other stores in town are called “dry goods stores” or “clothing stores” or even “department stores”---which they might deserve, for there certainly ARE departments delineated throughout the stores---the Men’s and the Ladies’ and the Children’s sections, with a small side-room or other areas with shelves and racks and tables of shoes for everyone.

One store still stocks “dress material” on wide bolts down one wall, with a notions section for buttons and thread and such, and the scents of gabardine and taffeta still perfume the aisles.

But Mr. Keene’s store has always been called a Dress Shop.   The ladies of the town and several surrounding towns and communities shop there for special dresses---for Country Club doings and sometimes weddings and other fancy occasions.   Even the women who would think nothing of flying to Dallas to Nieman Marcus for a whole Spring wardrobe drop in more often than you’d imagine, just to see what’s in and what is new.

He has an eye for the becoming, the flattering, and the well-made items, stocking a variety of evening wear and dainty accessories, as well as what has always been known in the stores in the big-town-two-towns-over as “Better Dresses” for afternoons and teas and club meetings and church convocations, when your best foot goes forward and your shoes should shine.

He still travels several times a year to fashionable places, to keep an eye on what is fresh and COMING;  he and his Mother used to fly to New York once or twice a year just to get away and to keep up with trends.  They stayed in lovely hotels and had tickets to Broadway shows, with one afternoon reserved for tea at the Plaza, for that was where she and his father had honeymooned. 

Travis is a nice man, still living in the house he was raised in---a lovely small-columned two-story over on Belleview Street.   He came home from college to tend his Mother in her early days of MS, and has a wonderful reputation amongst the ladies of Paxton, for his tender concern and gentle care as she grew weaker over the years, just whispering away as they still kept their social calendar and their Season Tickets to the Memphis Symphony and the Opera.

He helped her dress every morning, as she always had, in smaller and smaller sizes of pretty dresses or a demure skirt and blouse, her stockings rolled just beneath the knee on her ever-thinner legs, her watch and her rings spinning on her fragile bones, and a lacy handkerchief in her pocket.   She passed the days in that beautiful sitting room with its pale-green silk wall-cloth and its shining small chandelier, at times able to sit up in her favorite chair, and at others tucked up onto the chaise with a light throw over her feet. Her favorite moments in life were the days when Travis played for her.

The living room of the house is a tall room, with the ornate iron stairway up to a matching balcony---a sort of mezzanine effect all down one side of the room, suspended over the first floor, with doors opening off into bedrooms, another sitting room, and a library scented with old books and well-polished wood.

At the far end of the room, rising to the ceiling twenty-some-odd feet, is a smooth-wood wall, satin-varnished, and pale as heart-pine.    It was especially constructed at Havlon Bright's carpentry shop, in four pieces which were transported on a a borrowed glass truck, standing against the sides like the big show windows that had had to be replaced in Edelstein’s Dry Goods when Old Mrs. Prather hit the accelerator, not the brake, trying to diagonal-park in front of the store.  

(Nobody was hurt in the accident at Edelstein’s, and it was talked of as a miracle, because Miss Avis Little was in the very front of the store, right by the glass, looking at a table of sale shoes.  The glass rained all around her, and the brick wall bowed in a little bit, but she only went to Doc’s office to get the glass out of her hairdo).

Against that tall wood wall stands Travis Keene’s Hammond organ---a big church-size one with two ranks of keys and lots of stops and diapasons and tremolos, and with an immense footboard which he can fairly dance upon, both feet flying, as he spins out those DEEP bass notes.     He is a lifelong Methodist, but he’s played the huge pipe organ at the Presbyterian church in a nearby town for years, and his yearly recital the first Sunday in December is marked on many a calendar, county-wide and in a big radius around.

Sometimes, on a Spring Sunday afternoon, with the windows open and the sheers drifting softly in the breeze, you can hear the gentle notes begin, a small nocturne feeling its way into the light of the day.   Then, perhaps Clair de Lune, of the ethereal octaves, or Brazil, with the bright tempo and infectious rhythm, then a Gospel tune, and perhaps Ole Man River, the whole depth of that tall room resounding and channeling the notes like the shell of an amphitheater orchestra.
When he moves on into the haunting notes of Traumerei, the whole street seems to take on a different air, with the hedge-trimmers stilled and the swish of the brush on shining hubcaps slowing with the tempo; the two Mahan boys  raise their heads from beneath the hood of the 74 ‘Cuda they’ve been restoring for three years, and their grimy hands move gently to the familiar tune---familiar to them because of long-time hearing, though they have no notion of title or composer.  

Big ole Bubbas out stretching their halftime legs, grabbing another Bud from the patio cooler, sit down to take in the melody like cool water, never thinking to scoff or make light of the miracle floating across their hedges.   And later, they never know just WHY they’re smiling as they gather up the empties, even though their team just lost. 


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