Roy isn't really sure when he realized his love for dirt, but he thinks it was sometime back in the sixties. As far as he can remember, it happened one afternoon in July when he was out raking a small mound of black dirt beside his garage. He recognized, upon close inspection, that some weeds had grown into the dirt and felt, for the first time as he will tell you, that "the very forces of nature were conspiring to rob my dirt of its divine majesty."
It was that day, Roy says, that he began to seriously care for his dirt - began an all-out campaign to see to it that no thing, living or non-living, would interfere with its beauty.
"First, A dug up ma dirt," Roy says. "Then A shaped it, rolled it, raked it, watered it, sprayed it fer weeds and bugs, and covered it afore nightfall. Done that fer three weeks, atill A was sure it was just as pure and black as any dirt A ever seen. Then A lifted off the cover so's folk from everywhere could enjoy it. Nights A would bring out ma lawn chair, set it up aside the dirt, and jus watch how good it looked. Give me a feelin a pride's what it did."
For thirty years Roy has enjoyed his dirt. He still sprays it for bugs, but not for weeds. No, he burns away the weeds with small flaming canisters that he keeps in his garage.
"Spray fer bugs - kills em right away," Roy says. "Spray fer weeds, ya gotta wait. I ain't one fer waitin on ma dirt."
Some folks, like Roy's wife, believe that he is insane. When she left fifteen years ago, it was because of the dirt. Sometimes when Roy is out by his dirt, he thinks about it.
"Damn woman had crazy ideas. Wanted me ta dig up ma dirt and plant flowers there. Couldn't reason with her no how. Told er this ain't soil - it's dirt!!! It ain't meant fer plantin - it's meant fer watchin. Told er ta let the soil fer them sissies down ta the flower shop ta plant in - DIRT IS A MAN'S THING TO ENJOY. She went stormin out, right about the time A was headin down ta spray fer bugs, and I ain't seen her since. Couple weeks later, she sent some short little grey-haired fella ta pick up her stuff. I don't know nothin else. Don't care neither. Just wanna be left alone with ma dirt."
Roy's wife, now living in the suburbs of Buffalo, New York, with a retired agronomist, tells a different story.
"I don't know whatever got into Roy. All of a sudden one day he was DIRT crazy. Didn't wanna do nothin but look after his dirt. Wouldn't work, wouldn't eat with the fambly, wouldn't come to bed. Just nothin but that damned dirt. I know Roy took a likin ta his dirt. But a man's gotta have more in his life than jus the things he takes a likin to."
Roy sees it differently. "A say if a man's got a passion, then that passion oughta be his life. Why, sometimes on a moonlit night, A look deep inta ma dirt and A sees rocks shinin up at me - jus twinklin theirselves at me, and A feel there ain't no greater heaven for me in this world. That dirt don't yell at me or pester me none, don't question me none - don't do nothin but sit there and be all the dirt it was ever meant ta be. There ain't no purer feelin than that."
Folks in town side with Roy's wife. Eli, a stone mason down the road, thinks Roy's a nut. "Imagine a growed man gettin hisself all fangled up with dirt," Eli says. "Don't make no sense. It's like a man gettin hisself all worked up over stones - er wood er sumpin. Jus stuff ya work with. Ain't got no people behind it."
Jed, a carpenter in town, feels much the same. "Sometimes I drive by and see ol Roy out there starin at his dirt - I don't know what the hell he's lookin at. Hell, I never seen nothin but dirt. But ol Roy sits starin in there like he sees sumpin special - like he's lookin at bacteria or sumpin. I say that bug spray ruined his mind."
And Sam, a postal clerk, had this to say: "I ain't one to say nothin about nobody. But that Roy - he ain't right. Spends almost his whole pension on bug killers. I know. Everyone of em comes right through this door. I don't like to say nuthin - but that Roy, he loves that dirt like a man goes after a woman. Now you tell me if that ain't wrong."
Ben, an old friend of Roy's sees it this way: "Yea, I usta go up ta old Roy's place. I usta sit there and look at his dirt. But Roy gets kinda funny around his dirt. Don't wanna do nuthin but look at it. Don't wanna talk, don't wanna play checkers, don't wanna do nuthin but look at his dirt. I don't go up no more. I'll tell ya - I used to like Roy's dirt - liked it a lot. Roy kep it jus as pretty as anything I ever seen. But sumptin can't be pretty if its jus all bottled up. I mean, suppose you and me was watchin a sunset, and I couldn't tell ya how pretty it was. What would be the good a keepin all that joy from bustin out? I mean, ya don't really feel no joy from sumptin until ya let it bust out. It's like havin money - if ya don't spend none of it, it's just like ya ain't got any. That's like ol Roy. He might just as well be lookin at dung, cause the way he misers up his feelins fer his dirt don't do nobody good."
Roy disagrees. He sees a weakness in Ben's character. "Ben - sure," Roy says. "Usta come up here all the time ta look at the dirt. Stopped comin, though. Liked it well enough, but wanted to talk all the time. A say a man's gotta talk all the time he must be trying ta convince hisself a sumptin he don't believe in the first place. Old Ben, he'd wanna talk about the color and the texture and that stuff. I don't care about nuthin but the way it looks. Anyways, ya can see all that other stuff fer yerself. Ain't no need ta sit there and talk about it. Dirt ain't fer talkin - it's fer watchin!! Anybody talkin ain't watchin with all his might - so they probably don't see as much. That's what keeps em talkin."
For almost 25 years, Roy's dirt has been a source of endless joy. Over the years it has blossomed, Roy will tell you, not like a flower, but like a vine. In truth, it has. It has gotten dirtier. It has aged with time, and fermented as one would expect dirt to ferment.
Roy has found fulfillment in his dirt - just as it is. Sometimes he sits in front of his dirt and wonders where he will be buried. He hopes he can be buried in his dirt, but he is not sure.
Sometimes, in the peace and solitude of the evenings, he wonders if he has not spent his life building a burial ground. A place where he can continue his solace. But he does not know. And so he continues to sit, and to watch, as the stars turn overhead, and to count the glistening stones in the moonlit black.
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