Fly Lady & Walker Mary

While J.C. and I were out for our drive the other day we passed through a town where J.C. said the Fly Lady used to live. According to J.C., the Fly Lady sat in a lawnchair between two downtown businesses, a fly swatter in her hand. She swatted flies both real and imaginary, non-stop, all day long. The town where Fly Lady resided has a population of about 1,200, so most everybody knew where she would be each day—between the flower shop and the hardware store—and that she would be swatting those flies. J.C. is from a nearby town, but even she knew the story the locals told about Fly Lady:

Some time earlier, her husband had gone out for that proverbial pack of cigarettes and never returned. Fly Lady, distraught, heartbroken, sat downtown and swatted the flies away, waiting for him to come back home.

The way the locals’ story of the Fly Lady seemed to explain the woman’s eccentricities, render them normal and human, reminded me of Walker Mary.

Walker Mary lived in the small town in Indiana where I spent the second half of my childhood. This place has a population closer to 20,000, but, still, everybody knew who Walker Mary was, because we would see her whenever we went out to pick up a pizza, or drove to the ballpark, or the grocery store. Walker Mary walked everywhere she went, from one side of town to the other, day and night. She was probably close to sixty, but she had the tanned, muscular calves of a thirty-year-old. She waved at the cars driving past her a little haphazardly, straightening out her arm and then setting the thing to spasm over her head, her wrist jostling from side to side in this way that made me think of a butterfly trapped in barbed wire, trying to fly its way out.

The story of how Walker Mary came to walk everywhere went through a few mutations over the years. In one version, her son had died in a car crash. In another, it was her husband. The story, though, that most people later agreed on and told was this: Walker Mary had been driving to the store one afternoon, her Yorkshire Terrier standing on her lap, sticking its head out the open window. There was an accident of some kind, and the dog had been thrown against the windshield, and had died. And Walker Mary thus vowed never to drive again.

Though these “rural legends” aren’t exactly what I would call riveting storytelling, I’m a little drawn to them—maybe because in the town twelve miles from here I have a relative who is the local crazy, and I’m curious to know what stories people tell about him and about how he got to be the way he is. I don’t know if that's the whole of the reason, though. There is something about the humanity behind these stories people tell that I’m kind of drawn to.

I realize this “phenomenon” most likely occurs only in small towns, but I’d be curious to hear in comments (or email) about your own local legends, and the stories behind them. Drop me a line if you have something to contribute--I'd love to hear from you.

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