Mr. Raymond's Jingling Jangling Wagon
Mr. Raymond had so many pots and pans and other metal objects hanging from his pushcart he could not move it a couple of feet without the noise alerting the folks on Mulberry Lane that he was on his way. He was the Mulberry Lane peddler and philosopher whose wit and wisdom offered his customers not only something they might need or want, but also warm-hearted attention to lighten their somewhat mundane lives.
Raymond Gibson was a black man with a reputation of kindness that had earned him respect and recognition from the Mulberry Lane residents. He had goods for sale or trade, or sometimes to be given for free, on his cart; anything from soap to skillets. Every day he pushed his cart down Mulberry Lane all the way to the river. Mulberry Lane, lined with Mulberry trees, extended from Frazier Avenue to the Tennessee River, where the ferryboat loaded up trucks and cars to shuttle them over to the city.
Well into his seventies with white hair and beard, Mr. Raymond wondered how long he would be able to keep up the rolling store he loved so well, a store that hardly rendered any profit other than the camaraderie of his neighbors on Mulberry Lane.
The clattering noise was music to the folks on Mulberry Lane. They listened every day for Mr. Raymond’s jingling jangling wagon and welcomed him and his wagon to buy something or simply just bid him a good day. Most had the small amount of money it took to buy something from his rolling store. Some would purchase on credit, but if they did not pay, Mr. Raymond seemed to forget because he never wrote anything down.
The idea of the rolling store came to him one day while cleaning out his garage and kitchen cabinets after his wife had passed away. He had so many cooking objects and other things his beloved wife had hoarded in the thirty years they were married. Fixing up an old pushcart, he loaded the wagon down with brooms, mops and cooking utensils, magazines, books, a motley assortment of odd and ends. Then he began his daily ritual of pushing the wagon down and back Mulberry Lane.
Today Miss Sadie Brown had gathered some things she wanted to trade to Mr. Raymond. She wanted a radio if he had one on his cart. The one she had stopped working and she missed hearing her programs. Upon hearing the jingling jangling from his approaching wagon, she placed a couple of spatulas, a small sauce pan and some silverware in a pillowcase, and moved swiftly outside. She hoped that her collection would be enough to get her a radio.
“Good morning Miss Sadie,” Mr. Raymond said as he stopped his cart at her walkway.
“I've got some things here that I would like to trade for a radio, if you have one,” she said with a smile.
“It just so happens I have a radio with your name on it,” he said as he reached into the many objects on the cart and handed her a small portable radio.
Sadie took the radio looked at it intently.
“I don't see my name,” she said turning the radio over. She looked up at Raymond.
“Well maybe it fell off,” he said.
“You're funny today Raymond,” Sadie said, still smiling.
“I'm funny everyday,” he said, looking at her with a smile.
She smiled back at him and handed him the pillowcase. Not looking into the bag Mr. Raymond placed it into the wagon.
“Thank you, now I can listen to the Grand Ole Opry.”
Mr. Raymond only laughed at her comment as he watched her return to her front door and go inside.
The morning sun was warming up the day fast, and he knew it would turn out to be a scorcher. The old wagon was getting harder for him to push and he thanked God there were no hills on Mulberry Lane. Often Raymond missed his wife. His soul filled with melancholy and he seemed to dwell on the past. Somehow, the everyday task of his rolling store did not help as much as it did when he first started it. He sometimes heard her calling for him, as a whisper in the wind. He hoped that he would hear her voice calling to him for as long as he himself lived.
His route ended at the last house on the right, the closest house to the river. Miss Della Palmer lived there with her cats, Big Babe and Little Babe. Miss Palmer always invited him for lemonade. They would sit on her veranda and drink lemonade, eat cookies and watch the traffic load onto the ferry for the crossing over to the city. Little Babe and Big Babe were nearby, nonchalantly grooming themselves.
“Sometimes I wish I was a cat,” Mr. Raymond said as he took a sip from his cool drink. “Just sit around in the sun and yawn and stretch and sleep all day.”
“Well if you were a cat you wouldn’t be able to push that wagon, now would you?” Miss Palmer asked him.
A light-hearted laugh erupted from somewhere inside his soul.
“Well actually, that old cart’s getting hard to push.” he said. “I might ought to retire, and spend more time fishing.”
“Then where will we get our commodities?” she said, trying to sound serious.
“I expect you’ll survive without me,” he said as he took a long drink, emptying the glass.
“Well Raymond, we love your character and charm. You would surely be missed,” she said as she poured him another glass.
“Nothing lasts forever, Miss Della,” he said, looking up at her with sad eyes and a burdened spirit. “Even things you love; sometimes they go away much too quickly.”
Raymond watched the cats stretching and playfully pawing at one another. There was a long pause as his attention was drawn to the ferry boat that had just left the bank with a load of cars. Another ferry boat was approaching.
Miss Della watched him, as he seemed to be hypnotized. After returning to reality, he looked at Della and smiled.
“I really miss Martha. We were married for thirty years. I sometimes hear her calling out to me. I swear I can hear her voice,” he said with misty eyes and breaking voice as he labored with shaking hands to sip his drink.
“Raymond, listen, you do hear her voice and it’s coming from somewhere deep inside your soul.”
“Well I don't know how much longer I can do this. I mean I enjoy seeing you folks everyday, but like I said, nothing lasts forever. I need a rest. Sometimes I think about ditching this old cart into the river,” he said.
"Well take a few days off, Raymond, and come down here and fish.”
A sudden calm enveloped him as he gulped the last of his lemonade.
“Well I guess I'd better be going. I might make a dollar on my way home, or give one away,” he laughed.
Miss Della’s eyes misted as she watched him get up, walk to his wagon and push it out on the street. She sadly knew that times were changing when Mr. Raymond turned the jingling jangling wagon abruptly and moved quickly toward the ferryboat and pushed it aboard. About midway across the river he unleashed the barrier chain and pushed the wagon into the water. The wagon was at long last silent. No more jingling jangling. A strange calm settled over him. Dismay and relief both seemed to hover on the surface of the water where the wagon sank.
A few days later, the evening sun cast its red and orange light on the ripples as waves splashed on the shore. Raymond sat there watching the bobber bounce in the ripples with his fishing line. Although faint, he thought he heard the jingling jangling noise of his inundated wagon. He felt awed and enchanted by the moment.
I needed more time to fish, he told himself, that’s why I did it. He was trying to convince himself that his abrupt action of ditching the wagon into the river was justified.
Dozing off, he slipped silently into a world of no return. A peaceful exit from life came as he heard his wife calling his name softly. He saw her this time, plain as day. She was standing there in the mist. At the edge of the water. Taking his wife by her hand, they both walked into the waters of the river together for ever more.
Folks of Mulberry Lane sometimes hear Mr. Raymond’s jingling jangling wagon although it lies at the bottom of the Tennessee River. They hear it moving up and down Mulberry Lane, a faint noise echoing somewhere in a new dimension of time and reality. It is a comforting noise, a sound of peace and love. Somehow Mr. Raymond is continuing his daily trek down Mulberry Lane with his Martha at his side.