Wednesday, February 23, 2011

14 Days of Safety

Heraclitus supposedly said something that one can never step into the same river twice. 

Bob Dylan made sure we knew that you don't need a weatherman to tell which way the wind blows.

Both were in my mind this week, as the whole TSMK clan schlepped across the US to spend a few days in the land of my youth.  Not quite a land of milk and honey - more one of sweet tea and pecan logs.

Most of my family is no longer there.  I have extended relations in the area, but most I probably couldn't pick out of a crowd.  The older ones I was close to have all passed away.  The younger ones have moved away.  But Mrs. TSMK's folks still live in the area.  And so we make something of a regular pilgrimage to see her mom and dad.

Her mom lives on the St. John's river.  You can't quite see the paper mill from her house, but Bob was right; weathermen need not apply. 

We drive past the mill to go and visit her dad, who lives a bit closer to where we grew up.  It is a sprawling complex with a cheerfully morbid sign out front that tells you precisely how long it has been since there was an industrial accident at the facility.  In all the times we've visited, we've never seen it reference more than 21 days.  Think about that the next time you're squeezing your Charmin.

On the last day of our visit, I excused myself from the family to run an errand.  Before we'd left home, I'd done a bit of web-surfing to see if there were any interesting yarn shops nearby.  As it turns out, there was one about 30 miles away that looked fairly interesting. 

I set out for the store with the iPod plugged into the disappointing stereo of the rented minivan, looking forward to an hour or two away from my wonderful, but somewhat loud, sons.  I turned out onto the dirt road leading away from the house and dialed up the playlist we'd recently created for a party at our house: pizza and homebrew in celebration of the anniversary of the coronation of Charles the Fat as King of Italy.

Have you forgot that once we were brought here we were robbed of our names?  Robbed of our language?  We lost our religion, our culture, our God.  And many of us, by the way we act, even lost our minds.

The road stretches in front of me.  On either side, single-wide trailers and stick-built homes on cinderblocks.  In the distance I can see vultures circling.  I hope they're not looking for me.

Yo ye Pharaohs, let us walk through this barren desert, in search of truth, and some pointy boots, and maybe a few snack crackers.

I stop at the flashing red light where the two-lane meets the county road.  Looking to my right, I see an odd sign at the intersection.  My pulse increases slightly and my palms start to sweat.  Am I the only one here without a gun?  Do I need to be packing heat to go to the yarn shop?

Though I might be straight as an arrow, he's busy shaking hands with my monkey.

The county road is flat.  Seriously flat.  Flatter than the water I cross during my work commute.  Almost as flat as the affect of the waitress at lunch yesterday.  The one who looked like she desperately wanted to be Sookie Stackhouse.  Who called us "you'uns" and deftly executed the triple-negative: "y'all don't want no refills neither?"

Left alone with big, fat Fannie.  She was such a naughty nanny.  Big, big woman, you made a bad boy out of me.

The rental is foreign.  I realize this with a start as I sit at a stop light.  I'm surrounded by cars but mine is the only one not sporting a domestic nameplate.  Possibly also the only one without a bumper sticker espousing either family values or a conservative political candidate. 

I don't want no lonely lustful woman's irate husband after me.

I stop at a familiar green logo.  As I walk through the door, I can smell the coffee.  It smells as it does in Seattle.  The decor is the same, only the pastries have been changed.  I place my order.  I place it again.  Failure to communicate.  I'm speaking in Seattle.  He's listening in Green Cove Springs.  I slow down and order a third time.  He chuckles and asks me where I'm from.  What do I tell him?  Am I from here?  I was originally, but now I'm not so sure.  Heraclitus was right.

And did I mention she's a world famous billionaire bikini supermodel astrophysicist?

The coffee is delicious.  My mood is lifting.   

You shouldn't come around here, singing up at people like that.

I arrive at the yarn shop. It is a nice place. The knitting selection isn't huge, but it is tidy and they have some interesting things. They are friendly. Quizzical but friendly.

Another man comes in the shop. An older guy. Does he knit? No - he's just following his wife. The shopkeeper offers him a comfortable chair and a copy of either wine spectator or field and stream.

I pick out a few items - including some very cool sock yarn that I've not seen before. One skein is an astonishing shade of green. I look forward to wearing those socks to the office in an act of sartorial disobedience.

After a brief discussion with the clerk about the merits of knitting socks with circulars or double-points, I get back in the rental and start heading back to the river.

Getting my dinner from a garbage can.

Back on the main road, it seems like everywhere I look I find a warning about trespassing.  Is this really a significant problem?  Are there people lining up to trespass on parcels of sand and scrub pine?  Do people hop over fences to purloin mangy-looking dogs?  I'm confused.

You keep trying.  Ended up in the middle.  Had an enigma - ended up with a riddle.

I pull off the main road and make my way back in through the oaks and spanish moss.  With the wind coming from the north, I lower the windows and enjoy the breeze.  I can't smell the mill. 

First one says she got my child, but it don't look like me.

I pull into the drive.  Refreshed by my errand, but wondering about my place.  Am I still Southern?  Was I ever?  If I'd stayed here, instead of moving west, would I have a concealed weapons permit or a bumpersticker?  Would I work in the paper mill?  Would I still enjoy sashimi?  Would I still knit?

And then I step back, take it all in, and realize that my place is crystal clear.  I am here.  Now.  These oaks aren't going to climb themselves.

1 comment:

  1. Probably my favorite thing you've written.

    (long time lurker, etc.)