June 14, 2012
The air is growing thicker with humidity and can be seen when viewed from a short distance. Heading out into the woods to search for pieces to carve has become an exercise of early morning or late evening hours only.
The heat has moved in along with the humidity. Dogs laze about during the afternoon hours without moving, waiting for the moment the sun goes down so they can pick up where they left off with their meanderings about the place, on missions of utmost importance, yet understood only to themselves. The principle carving has moved indoors during the afternoon hours as the bane of southern summer living has arrived along with the heat and humidity.. Insects..
A veteran of these seasons knows what that means, insects of all shape and size are cruising around looking for any meal they can sink their teeth into. That usually means me, even hanging clothes out on the line calls for a good lathering of bug ointment. I go for the generic repellent and ignore home remedies or the latest fad in anti insect salve… the cheaper the better, and I ain’t going to rub any sort of poultice on myself, at least while conscience…
Buried deep in the woods off the back yard a few days ago I was concentrating on cutting a nicely twisted limb from a tree. I was paying little attention to my surroundings. Head bent, back aching, sweat dripping… the usual position for wood shopping. All sound was gone from me as I sawed while concentrating on holding the limb just right so the bark wouldn’t be harmed. When the limb finally gave up the ghost and I had climbed down from my perch, and I stood upright brushing the bark and sawdust off of myself, I was caught by a sound that ripped me away from the spot with a jerk.
It was official, summer had arrived, regardless of what day of the month the calendar or the farmers almanac says the summer solstice happens, it was here. Instantly I was riding across countless summer days as a child of the south. The daydream became real as I could smell the mixture of sweat, sun tan lotion, salt marsh and bug spray… images flashed in front of me in rapid succession of a life long since passed. A childhood filled with endless days of sunburn, beach vacations, and laughter. I looked to my left and could catch a glimpse of the creek at the bottom of the hill that I had spent countless hours damming. That took me immediately to the sound of a screen door slamming shut as kids passed through in a desperate race to the front yard, my grandmother stepping out of the kitchen, with a dishrag and pan she was drying in hand, to yell out, “Ya’ll quit slammin’ that door!”
I moved on to the neighborhood around Martin street where I lived until I was in the second grade, the games of hide and seek that took place every night. The endless loop of Martin, Stallings, Gordy place, and Ozmore street that I made all day long on second hand bikes. Dirt roads that I maneuvered down in bare feet on my way to ponds to throw rocks or spy on girls swimming.
My next stop was my grandfather’s house on any given Sunday. Sunday dinner was a required event for the family. My father’s parents house was for holidays, but Pa’s house was for Sunday. Listening to the old wood box radio while waiting for the food to hit the table, then it was outside to drop rocks down the well to wait for the plop as they hit the water so far down it was hard to imagine such depths. The day would turn lucky if we made our way to his shop, where he still had all of his tools, half buried in sawdust that would never see his shadow again.. That place was a kid’s paradise, you never knew what sort of treasure you would turn up in the thick sawdust on the floor…
The call to come to the table for dinner was an event that was like your birthday and Christmas rolled into one because you knew what was waiting for you. Home made biscuits, pot roast, ham, collard greens, fresh corn, cornbread, lima beans, mashed potatoes, fried sweet potatoes, pinto beans, fresh sliced tomatoes, fried green tomatoes, slaw made with tons of mayonnaise and pepper - the way it should be, and gallons of tea so sweet the spoon would stand up in it if left alone… All prepared by the hands of fine southern, Christian women, that would hover about the kitchen during the cooking to shoo you out, mainly so you wouldn’t repeat the volumes of gossip that were bandied about, but oft denied in the cornering…
I rolled on through the memories as I visited with the family at the fourth of July barbecue, lord, what an event. Days in the making, weeks probably. No smokers were here, this was real barbecue, direct fire cooked, with painstaking attention paid to every detail. Hand made sauce in varying degrees of flavor and heat were available to douse the perfectly cooked over hickory coal meat.. I stood by the huge tree that still stands there as an eternal sentinel over that sacred ground. My eyes passed from the frenetic movements of my grandmother, to the detail oriented speeches of my grandfather as he stood over my older brother’s shoulder teaching him about the fine art of making Brunswick stew in the ageless old cauldron I was afraid of as a child. I saw my great uncle Woodson handing out lemonade from the huge tub he made it in, constantly asking, “What ’chu think about that?” with each cup passed along. Woodson’s wife Irene’s laughter split through the afternoon heat like a knife, as I turned toward the fire where a large group of people were standing, I saw her slapping her thigh as she was listening to my father and his brothers entertaining the crowd with stories of their youth. I looked from face to face as I drank in the countless memories of these smiles. The ever present twinkle in my father’s eyes was dancing that day, just as I had seen it do on so many occasions. My uncle Donald’s bald head was gleaming as he laughed, slapping his knee and pointing toward his brother Thomas, accusing him of some sort of malfeasance… Thomas’ voice rang clear with years of southern training, as he belted out with, “Boy, you ain’t worth a shit are you?”
The breath caught in my throat as I watched my own siblings come crashing through the yard, headed toward the lemonade. They were much younger than they are now, no worries lined their faces. They joined the passels of cousins that were all gathered around the table as hands started dipping cups in the huge metal tub as even more sugar was reached for. The dirty, sweat covered faces brought a smile to me as I looked over each one of them, so young they all were. Secret discussions of plans that were being laid out were flying about and an atmosphere of pure energy was crackling in the air as my mother walked out of the end of the building. She was closely followed by my father as she called out, “Cut that out you heathen!” as she side stepped his advances. He grabbed her from behind and enclosed her In his arms. As he nuzzled her neck, trying to steal a kiss, I stood in awe of the pair of them. Five children and endless years together hadn’t dampened their love at all. They had worked all of their lives endlessly providing for their kids’ every whim and desire. My mother was involved with every sport that came along and my father devoted his time to family, work and church.
Tears began to come as I was swept along to visit a lunch table at an elementary school I attended. I listened to the twelve year old boys gathered around as they deftly spoke of the girls at the other tables. Conversations, which at that age, always gave over to more important issues, such as lurid bodily functions took place… I saw animated speeches given, with full sound effects, about everything from the latest episode of happy days, to the detailed description of the kid throwing up in the class across the hall from us… I was in heaven.
I was taken then to countless cookouts at my parents house. Steaks, hotdogs, hamburgers, ribs, salad, baked potatoes, coleslaw, toasted bread, people jumping on the trampoline, playing pool, playing video games and pinball… I watched the familiar faces move about, laughing as they talked in that all to well known sing song southern drawl. Home made ice cream was having salt added to the ice as the watermelons were being cut and the tea and coffee were freely dispensed.
Music seemed to flow more freely during the summer, laughter came easily as people talked and enjoyed the pleasure of each others company. Fireworks, craft shows, cookouts, family reunions… All these things seemed to be more prevalent in that world. A world where living in the road wasn’t yet an idea, where children had no devices to guide their imagination, where people were more accepting of each other, flaws and all, where twelve and fifteen hour days gave way on the weekends to fun and family, where dirt spots in the yard were coveted as places where hot wheel cities manned by star wars action figures could grow and thrive.
The visions of that lost world passed as I was brought back to reality, brushing the memories away from my face like a gathering of gnats you walk through. I headed back up the hill, still smiling as the tears dried on my cheeks, with the faces of those who aren’t here anymore dancing alongside of me and the sound of their voices thick in my ears. I rounded the corner of the house as my son James and his cousin Bailey ran out of the door, well equipped with military packs, camo clothes, and Halloween costume Mario brothers hats on their heads… who knows why. I shook my head at the sight of them as they tore across the front yard toward the woods. Before I knew what I was saying, I yelled out to them, “Hey.. Y’all don’t slam that door!”
I stopped cold in my tracks as new tears began to flow down my cheeks. James called out to me with a response I couldn’t understand, tossing up his hand as a signal that he had heard me. I stood there for a few minutes watching them rip up the hill into the trees, hearing their laughter dance through the same woods I played in as a child.. I heard my father’s voice, backed by all of my grandparents… “Full circle, boy… it always comes back full circle.”
I closed the door slowly behind me, with the last sound from outside playing in my ears… cicadas, they do indeed bring the magic.