Sunday, July 10, 2011

Time Travel

Ten thirty in the morning and I'm covered in a film of sweat and whenever I go indoors I sigh a silent prayer of thanks to John Gorrie, mad inventor of the ice machine and air conditioner. Well, sort of.
If not for him, the population of Florida would be about 4,000 and half of those would die yearly from malaria and there would be no Disney, no Seaworld, no....
Wait a minute!

Oh, y'all. I don't know. I'm blog-bogged. I'm life-bogged.

I think I need a vacation. Not a stay-cation. A VAcation. Hank, what is the root of that word?

I need to get my ass out of Dodge, as hard as that may be. Take some pictures of something besides my chickens, my phlox, my yard-long beans.

When Liz was here on Friday night we got to talking about the summers that I used to take the kids down to St. George Island. We rented a two-room apartment across the street from the beach and the first summer there were no houses blocking our view. It was pretty plain, pretty basic. I slept on a futon in the kitchen/living room and the kids slept in the other room. The "yard" was a gravel pit with nothing growing in it but sandspurs and there was nothing to do but go to the beach, read, dance to Jimmy Buffett and the Gypsy Kings, watch TV (we did have basic cable), eat chips with salsa and go play Bingo once a week at the Fire Station.
It was a sort of heaven.
The big treat of the day for the kids was letting them walk up to the store to buy chips and candy. Or even better- to the ice cream place. Oh yeah.
That was a far superior thing to do for them than to go to the beach in their opinion. I had to drag them to the beach every morning.
"Come on, kids! Maybe we'll see the dolphins!"
They'd look at me like, "So the hell what? We saw the dolphins yesterday. And the day before that. And we'll see them again tomorrow. Leave us alone."
At night we'd all get on the futon and I'd force them to listen to The Wind In The Willows. I don't think we ever got through that book. Really, they were too young.
The first summer we were there was right after my friend Sue had died. I was in a profound fog of grief. I spent hours crocheting tiny bags of string. I have no idea why. I have one left. It hangs in my bathroom and I wonder what is in it- all the tears I cried that summer, all the glimpses of the Milky Way we wondered at in the nighttime sky, the image of it like a smear in the inky dark? My grief, my slow-coming-back-to-life there in the unbearably hot days, the mosquito bitten nights?
What if all of that is in that tiny bag like a parallel universe which does not constrain itself to the known facts of size and space as the one we mostly live in?

I don't know.

One weekend when Mr. Moon was at the island with us, I was walking out of the surf and expecting a flat surface, I put my foot down wrong on a tiny ledge and at the same time a wave hit me. I felt a flash of something, as if I'd been punched hard, and thought that perhaps a shark had grabbed my calf but looking down, I saw nothing at all. Just my leg. But I knew something had gone terribly wrong. Within minutes I could feel that flood of brain-morphine hit me and I told my husband that I'd done something to my leg.
"What?" he kept asking.
"I don't know," I kept saying.

Within an hour the calf had bruised to the color of night and swollen and I hobbled up to the house, put ice on it and wondered what in hell I'd done.

Ripped the muscles somehow, it turned out. Not that I ever went to the doctor. It took months to truly heal and turned every nasty color in the crayon box. That calf is still thinner than the other one, if you look closely.
It was the summer of the OJ murder. I spent hours on the futon or the bed at home, watching that trial. I have no more idea what that was about than I do about why I crocheted tiny bags.

It was just a summer of...being...and if tiny bags and a celebrity murder and a mysterious ripping of my calf muscles were involved, so be it. I did not worry over much about any of it. Just as the body will provide pain relief on its own at times of injury, so will the mind provide a sort of anesthesia too, I think. And I was in the perfect place for that to happen.

People came down to visit us. Liz did and she made a picture that I still have in my office.

She took the kids off to Apalachicola and they bought things to make me a birthday dinner and it was beautiful.

My friend Mary Lane from childhood came down the next summer and spent a few days with me there. We floated in the warm Gulf one night for hours, naked and with the moon shining on us as we talked about all the things we had not been able to talk about to anyone, ever.

One summer I bought a tiny charcoal grill and began to cook almost everything on it, including the vegetables there in that gravel pit of a yard. I made the children go collect the tiny periwinkles and I made broth with them and then used that for soup with potatoes and onions and celery and sometimes a piece of bacon. They didn't like it but I did.
I bought shrimp from Doug, the guy who sold it out of a cart and he could head a pound of shrimp faster than I could open a jar of horseradish. Two hands at once, and he popped those suckers off and they were the best shrimp ever.

It was healing. All of it. The sun and the water and the moonlight and the stars and we'd get ready every spring by going to the Dollar Store and buying tiny strings of lights, beach floats, citronella candles. I'd pack up the van and we'd pull out of Tallahassee, head down to the island. I burned incense in that van. When we got to the island we'd stop at the Blue Store for ice and then we'd pull up to the Starfish, the place we rented, and we'd unload all our shit and I'd make our beach nest and sometimes I'd burn sage because I needed every sort of healing, purifying, belief I could get.

I think that place cost about $275 a month to rent. Hard to believe.

Anyway, yeah. I'm thinking of that today. I wonder if I could live like that again with nothing but constant mystery and magic. I wonder if I would be able to see it like that now. I wonder if I would die of boredom.

I don't know but right now, today, I'd like to give it a shot. For a few weeks, anyway. Try to shed my crazies, or at least to taste a different, saltier flavor of them. Walk the beach for hours, watching for dolphins, watching the light make the water a different picture every time I look at it, watching the island weather come and go as dramatically as anything I've ever seen. I know there is no abandoned building with a roof deck anymore where I used to go to watch the sunset closing my eyes and listening to the great chorus of cicadas as they began to sing, hearing the way the entire island reverberated with their calls.

There is nothing abandoned on St. George any more. There are so many houses, there are shops, there are bike paths, there are families of tourists and I seriously doubt they have Bingo at the fire station.

Nothing stays the same. The old man, Wayne, who was our neighbor there at the Starfish is probably dead now. He used to sit in a chair in front of the building, slowly drinking his beer, and he would talk to the girls gently as they played the game of house they invented in the palm tree. He was an old, harmless alkie, and his son lived with him. Sometimes the son would go and sit in his car, just to get away. Every few years the son would go to Amsterdam and that was a wonder to me.

Well, in this last hour I have gone there again in my mind. I can practically taste the nasty-delicious Crystal Lite Raspberry drink I made up in the thermos every morning. I can see the Terrazzo floor of that apartment, hear the noisy AC, the cicadas, the cries of the gulls, the waves as they hit the shore and sizzled up into water-smoke.

But then I blink and here I am again and that's okay too. Lloyd is not a bad place at all and the birds are calling. In a few weeks I'll be leaving to go to Asheville. That'll be a place to go, to be and I'll see my baby.

Tomorrow Owen will be here- the child of that little girl I used to take to the island who complained so bitterly about having to go take a walk on the beach after supper every evening who one day swallowed a sandspur. My goodness- has it been that long? So long ago that Lily was just a baby herself, almost?

How quickly endless days turn into memories that fit inside a very small crocheted bag. But the water still washes the shore, I am sure. The sun still sets with firey glory. The cicadas I am not sure about but I hope they still sing and chorus. The girls are grown, the mother is a grandmother, Wayne is probably dead. The Starfish is a tattoo parlor now, or something like that.
But in my memory, it's still all there, perfect and waiting for me to revisit any time, Doug ready to pop the heads off shrimp, Mr. Bean calling out the Bingo numbers, us walking home in the dark of a summer night, stars overhead, my littlest children still small enough to hold my hand as we walked and the quiet of the night after the children went to sleep.

There for me anytime I need a vacation.
I close my eyes and it is there and I am there and I wonder if there will be a twenty-years-from now when I'll close my eyes and fly back to this day, or this time, when I live in the heat with the great live oaks, my husband, the promise of my grandson coming tomorrow, the boy who puts his arms up and says, "Mer-Mer," which translates in French to "Sea-Sea."

"Remember when we had chickens?" I hope to think I'll be asking Mr. Moon, perhaps as we sit on the deck of our house in Apalachicola.

He'll nod. And we'll stare out to the water and I'll think about the trees here, the green, the perfect eggs we receive every day.

Time travel. Time tripping. Mind flying over years and houses, babies and oceans.

Remember? Remember? Remember?


  1. Ah, MM. We are so very alike in how we look at the past. I often will force myself to look UP when I'm walking down the street, forcing myself to appreciate walking down these very streets and to grip their memories into my hands so I can open them up later and press my palm to my cheek and remember.

    It'll seem sweeter, then.

  2. Time travel is awesome. . . .thank you for that reminder that great trips are just a blink away. Off to Barbados and St . Lucia right now as I close my eyes at my kitchen table. . . . . .Which reminds me--did you see those lovely photos Angella posted from St. Lucia? Talk about time travel.

  3. this is just utterly lovely.

  4. Beautiful.

    And it just occurred to me right this second that va-ca-tion means "vacate." Leave. I need to as well.

  5. know what i think about that little bag......

    i love it is what!

    love, y

  6. I remember those summer things that we had to do and I grumbled about...but now I would do almost anything to be able to go back. I wonder how your kids feel about those trips now.

  7. If you'd ever like to be published, you could with this. This is transcendence for the reader. For me. Thank you for doing that to my brain. :)

  8. Wow, I am in awe of your wonderful stories. Please keep working on that book you're thinking of.
    Thanks for he trip to the beach, you certainly took me there.


  9. So very beautiful. Those memories of other times and places are what make the difficulties of today bearable. We used to go to the Outer Banks and rent a broken down cottage for a week. It was wonderful. I can still remember the excitement of riding in our old jeep along the beach. It is good to go back in time as long as we keep one foot in today.

  10. Such a beautiful post Mary! Your writing is always amazing. My Daddy used to make soup out of those little periwinkles too only he called them "donaks". We used to love to collect them when we were kids.

  11. SJ- I know how sweet it is. As time passes I know how quickly it all goes. It is good to take note. It is.

    gradydoctor- I did see those photos! My god, I love that woman!

    Madame King- And that makes everything better. Those words. Thank-you.

    Elizabeth- Of course! Vacate! Leave the premises! Yes. Time. Yes.

    Ms. Planting- If I ever make another, I'll send it to you.

    Mel's Way- I think they look back on them with great fondness.

    Maggie May- High praise. I love you.

    Carolyn- I already wrote a book about that part of the coast. It will never be published, I am sure.

    Syd- How can we help but keep one foot in today? I am glad you have those memories and I know you make more all the time.

    Lois- We also called them coquinas. In Latin they are Donax variabilis. They are beautiful, aren't they?

  12. Vacation: late 14c., "freedom or release" (from some activity or occupation), from O.Fr. vacation, from L. vacationem (nom. vacatio) "leisure, a being free from duty," from vacare "be empty, free, or at leisure" (see vain). Meaning "formal suspension of activity" (in ref. to schools, courts, etc.) is recorded from mid-15c. As the U.S. equivalent of what in Britain is called a holiday, it is attested from 1878.
    And my backup plan if I had decided not to try college at this point was to move to Eastpoint and work in a gas station for a year.

  13. This is so beautifully written. Thank you for sharing it with us.



  14. Ms Moon, you are such a WRITER. And at the same time you give me hope for me and my family. I love you.

  15. Nice to hear your reminiscence about going to the beach. The closest one we have that we like going to is Pisa Italy, 11 hour drive, Ugh! We go camping for a week or two and sometimes Diane sends me back to work on the train and she stays a couple more weeks. No computers, no electronics (except music) and lots of boredom. We go to the library alot, there is an american base with a really good library. So relieved to know my children are not the only ones that have to be dragged to the beach every day. I have to remind my 4 boys that if a girl ever invites you to the beach you better not act like you're acting now; because you won't see her again...

  16. damn, woman.
    this is so so good.

    and can I tell you that it gives me comfort to know that you feel so deeply, that you would grieve the loss of a woman to your core and not for just a week?

    sometimes I feel like such an outsider in my real life.

    thank you for that again and again.

  17. Absolutely wonderful and beautifully written. I love this post. You are amazing. Your holidays sound perfect. I want to come and see you next summer. I love you Mary xx

  18. Christina- You are welcome any time.


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