Alaska Notebook: The waiting room

November 27, 2013 

The waiting room

The waiting room was almost empty. No surprise given the early hour. The clinic would not open for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, a steady stream of staffers came through the door cheerfully greeting colleagues already at their work stations.

I signed in at the front desk and took a seat near two women who arrived ahead of me. The older woman, probably a Medicare patient, was leafing through a magazine, the younger was reading a paperback copy of John Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath."

The younger woman, probably in her mid-forties, was dark haired, dark eyed and chunky. She wore a lavender cotton top and multi-colored baggy pants.

My curiosity overcame me. "So how do you like the book?"

"I just started," the woman replied, her words revealing she had no teeth. "I don't know what I think. Never heard of the guy who wrote it. I just finished 'The Count of Montecristo' by Alexander Dumas and liked that."

"You like to read?"

"I always wanted to read. But then there was my kids, my family, all kinds of things that took up my time. Now I have time."

I asked her if she used the library.

"They just had a book sale, and I bought 50 books, including this one."

The woman explained that she wants to read "Gone With the Wind." She liked the movie. Vivien Leigh was so beautiful, the woman said. "She also was in another movie I saw. What is it? 'A Boxcar Named Desire?' "

"You're thinking of 'A Streetcar Named Desire,' " I said, swallowing my surprise. "Did you enjoy it?"

"I did," she said. Then, over a couple of minutes, she told me that she would like to return to her parents' farm in Texas and read all the time. The farm offers a quiet life, unlike Anchorage, a city of distractions.

"Michael? Michael?" A young female staffer holding a clipboard entered the waiting room looking for Michael. I got up, waved at the staffer, and told my neighbor "I hope you enjoy 'The Grapes of Wrath.' "

"Me too," she said. And I walked from the waiting room amazed by a woman whose hunger for books survived years without nourishment.

-- Michael Carey

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