There’s a man in a southern town who makes gumbo every day.
He wakes and washes, takes the bus to the store he works in.
He spends the day adding to what he added to the day before.
All day long he does this and the gumbo never varies.
It did vary at the start, whenever the supermarket decided,
or a member of the middle management of the supermarket decided,
that amongst the prepared soups they would henceforth offer their customers gumbo.
He reminds us a little of the train conductors E. B. White wrote of.
The men for whom there is a modest celebration when they hang up their whistle
after thirty or forty years of going up and back on the local line.
He makes us think of all this journey without real travel.
The man in the southern town has read E. B. White,
or at least the collection ‘One Man’s Meat’
wherein Mr. White comments upon the singularity
that attends these train people as regards their customers
feeling a certain sentimental attachment to them that
by and large, most folks hearts don’t conjure when the butcher
decides to hang up his knives or a local lawncare specialist
puts down his scythe for the last time.
He didn’t recognize himself in the piece, nor do most of us perhaps,
but then in the main we have little personal connection
with the sanctity of train schedules (or the making up
of gumbo by the monstrous daily gallon).
It must be said that if the store decided one day
to stop offering their customers the option of gumbo to purchase
there would be an outcry and perhaps discussions of boycotting
the place altogether, but this will never happen.
The gumbo is prodigious in its popularity and a pretty profit
is made by it directly and by all the other purchases that people make
because of coming to the store in the first place because of the gumbo in question.
However, if the man who makes it each day,
following the same steps pretty much exactly,
because that’s the gumbo the way that people like it,
was replaced (as this man indeed once replaced another man
who was the previous in the line of men who have made the gumbo)
no one -save his wife at best- would spare a thought for him
or wonder absently to other shoppers all waiting patiently at the deli counter
whether shouldn’t there really be a gathering of some kind
or even a ceremony of appreciation (if that isn’t, on second thoughts,
perhaps going a little too far).