LONGLEAF STORIES

full circle in the hundred acre wood

I envisioned a quick Saturday afternoon run to the grocery store to pick up supplies for supper. Buck’s plan was a little more complicated. Two hours later and the Publix parking lot, a mere five miles from home, was nowhere in sight. His route took us on a surreal drive to memory lane. When he turned left instead of right (toward the store), I knew he had something else in mind. Some itch he wanted to scratch. After 35 years together, I don’t need a road map to know we’re going off the grid.

The detour wasn’t far, really, but it might as well have been on another planet, or at least in the early part of last century. Buck’s destination was an old fish camp down on the Escambia River, a place where his parents had a rough cabin back in the early 1940’s. A homemade sign pointed the way to the fish camp. We left the pavement and entered the land that time forgot. Buck was like a coon hound, nose to the wind.  Good thing the old black Lincoln was already covered in springtime pine pollen.

We passed a half-hidden clay pit on one side or the road. Old azalea bushes gone wild and patches of daffodils suggested spots on the other side of the road where an old homestead might have been. We came upon a sign: “Pay Station Ahead. Prepare to Stop.” No friendly “welcome to the fish camp” stuff. From this point on, hot wires were strung on either side of the road, adding to my growing feeling of foreboding. What were they for? Then I saw a couple of horses, and wondered if this rag-tag entrepreneurial venture included horse riding as well as boat launch and picnic fees.

Another half mile or so down the dirt road, we came upon a red “Stop!” sign, with  “Pay here” scrawled below it and an arrow directing us to a cabin-ish dwelling a little further up on the right. I was startled to see several folks sitting at a dilapidated wooden picnic table. A stout woman with a wild pile of red hair pinned in a messy topknot was poking food at a  lanky baby the color of the red clay yard where he lolled nearly naked in a stroller. A pewter-colored part Pit yard dog with a weirdly human expression trotted over to check me out when I lowered the window to let the folks know we were just passing through and going to turn around. A skinny man with a black beard and a billed cap stared, expressionless. The woman smiled, though, and used her spoon as a pointer. “Y’all can go down to the point and look at the river.”

“It’s okay?” I said.

“Sure. Go on down to the point,” she said. The bearded man never blinked or twitched. The strange toddler stared, too, in a very un-baby-like way that I’ve been unable to forget. Something Hieronymus Bosch about that kid.

On the way back, Buck stopped the car and pointed over to a tree-shaded area on my side. “That’s where our cabin was,” he said. “The water’s just a few feet away. You could walk out the back door and go to the dock. I had a little skiff and could scull to the main river. There used to be another cabin next door, too.”

By the time we passed the “Pay” sign again, several more yard dogs and men who looked like clones of the first had assembled. We waved and drove on back to the 21st century. I felt a little dizzy. Guess time travel can do that to a person. Something about the re-entry.

One more unscheduled stop as we were headed in the general direction of the grocery store took us to a side road off a side road. It was a house Buck built for his first wife and young children back in the late 1960’s. We passed it slowly, turned around at the end of the road, then sat for a few minutes to see how the home had weathered the years. He looked, and finally spoke. “You know, in it’s day, that was quite a nice place.”

I’m glad we ate spaghetti last night. I needed the grounding quality of pasta in my belly. Even so, the strange baby and the pewter dog were in my dreams, along with terrifying untraveled narrow roads over mountain passes so frightening I couldn’t drive them alone.

Buck is scheduled for a nuclear stress test and echo-cardiogram early tomorrow morning. I try not to read anything into yesterday morning’s perambulations or last night’s dreams.

Way back  in 2003 when I first started blogging, I wrote a post about how fine minds sometimes deteriorate with age. That post didn’t make it through the various shifts from Typepad to WordPress and God only knows how many different blog names as I cycled through my periods of feeling comfortable out in the full frontal ether of the Internet for awhile, then ducking and running for cover. When I found it this morning in a box I could label “Dusty and Almost But Not Quite Forgotten,” I was struck by two things:  one, it’s 14 years later and I’m a hell of a lot older; and two, maybe precisely because of that fact, it’s more relevant now than it was then. Back in 2003, I was more of an observer of what I considered the older set; now I’m right in the middle of it — not the gated country club part, but steadily aging (lots better than the alternative). So instead of placing this post back into the archives of the way back machine, I’m putting it here as a place marker and reminder to stay sharp, girls and boys, stay sharp. Makes the trip a lot more fun.

Gated golf course country club retirement communities strike me as a kind of adult congregate living facility for rich old folks, where people dine while drunk, put their meds right out on top of the table and the hired help still treats them like the Someones they once were.

I’m sorry. That was a sharp-tongued paragraph. It was my distress talking. Visiting some dear old friends who live in this environment, I had a visceral, negative reaction to the surroundings. Not their fault, and no reflection on their fineness. Seeing people who were at the top of their game only a few years ago, now being passively waited on at round tables in an elegant room, still having the same conversations about their last big deal upset me. Mainly the talk was about the glorious past. When it turned to the present and future, once it got beyond the golf game, for those who play — some only drive their cart around, chauffeuring a small, expensive dog — the smell of fear mingled with the after dinner coffee and brandy. And it got to me.

Here’s the thing. When the mind of a young person is wasted because of unavailable opportunities, one may legitimately say it is society’s fault. But an aging person with a fine mind who allows it to deteriorate despite the absence of organic disease, bears the responsibility themselves.

I imagine a hand-forged, finely balanced chef’s knife. When used daily and honed regularly, the chef can let the knife do much of the work. I’m no chef, but I do have one favorite knife. It’s always sharp, reliable and feels good in my hand. If I am going to be anywhere in the world with a kitchen and staying for more than a few days, that knife goes with me. Left in a drawer, seldom used, it would quickly become dull, useless and forgotten.

Remember the old movies where the hero is running through a labyrinth of caves? He (and it was always “he” in the old movies) inevitably winds up in a room where all visible means of escape have been closed off. Suddenly a creaking sound alerts the hero that the stone ceiling is moving slowly, inexorably, toward the floor where he will be crushed unless he finds a way out fast.

Getting old is kind of like that. And I don’t mean over 40 old. Sorry, kids, that ain’t old.  I mean past 75, 85 and 90. Where increasing numbers of us are headed every single day. We had better figure out how to deal with it. Retiring from active work at 65 and conveniently dying at 70 after a couple of cruises and a week in Vegas isn’t real world anymore. Used to be darn near automatic. We’re retiring earlier and living longer. Much longer.

And unlike the movies, the door that finally opens to get us out of the room is not the one most of us are hoping for.

 

 

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Scanning decades old photos from the pre-digital era is a strange bit of drudgery that can leave a person over stimulated and emotional, drained, tired with a crick in the neck . . . and hungry as hell. I guess it showed in my body language when I shlumped up to Buck’s work space around 1:00 o’clock Tuesday afternoon. “I think I’m going to fix a veggie burger. Want something?” (I swear the man is an air plant.)

He glanced at me, refocused and looked more intently, then put down his pen. “Let’s go to the waterfront and get a crab cake,” he said.

“Now?” I mean, I was really hungry. “I’ll need twenty minutes just to get ready.”

He continued to fix me with those wise, steady eyes.

“Well,” I broke and smiled. “Maybe fifteen.”

What can I say? The man knows things. Like when I’m overwrought and overworked and need some fresh air and a break from my self-imposed projects. He knew what he was looking at and he knew just the medicine.

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The Oar House is a local fish house and drinking place for locals, tourists and boaters. It sits on Bayou Chico at the mouth of Pensacola Bay and shares views and water access with MarineMax Pensacola at Bahia Mar. Pensacola Yacht Club is just down the way. It’s a great spot to hang out. No need to take a chill pill. It comes with the soft January breeze. Still shorts and tees weather, but pleasantly cool under the shady Tiki roof. At 2:00 p.m., the crowd is gone. Just the way we like it.

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Yeah, I see the brown edge on a lettuce spear and there’s too much iceberg in the mix for my taste, but the crab cake is hot and freshly made with just enough binder to hold the Blue crab meat together. I drizzled on the mango dressing and enjoyed every bite. Marina life reminds us that perfection is over-rated. It’s the moment that counts.

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I must have been a marina mouse in a former life. Or maybe we all feel at home in such places, where adventure still seems possible and the pull of the outgoing tide is strong.

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Daily Word Prompt: overworked

 

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Don’t even ask.

 

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Okay. I’ll tell you anyway. Some of you may have seen one of these St. Joseph Home Selling Kits. You may have even used one. I was emptying out some drawers in my study recently and found the one in the picture. It was sent to me by a nice lady I talked to on the phone a couple of years ago when Buck was being treated for lymphoma (now in complete remission) and we were thinking it might make sense to sell our home in Pensacola and move to the Jacksonville area to be close to his doctors at Mayo Clinic. I was researching all the options, including a cursory look at one of those Life Care communities, and she was director of sales there.

So now, unrelated to lymphoma, our house is on the market and it seems to need a little oomph to attract the right folks to come fall in love and make us move.  A few days ago, our realtors and some of their associates and clients got into a lively discourse about the St. Joseph Home Selling Kits on Facebook. I thought, well, why not? So I buried St. Joseph, upside down poor guy, out in the winter brown front yard.

I came back in and told Buck he’d better start packing, because I had just set in motion a series of irrevocable events and the house was good as sold.

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I’ll let you know what happens.

Anybody else ever do this?

Contrary to what some might imagine, even the Duchess of Longleaf (moi) must arise from her life of studying ancient texts while reclining on a white leather chaise and being fed peeled grapes by the Duke to, (oh it pains me to say this), clean the damn mansion. I’ve changed the blog header from those evocative, but dreary, dead pine trees (thank you, Hurricane Ivan), to the gorgeous cone-flowers from last summer to cheer me while I work.

I just learned that taking a butcher knife to the large corrugated box that brought Lou’s most recent 34 pound bag of dog food is a great warm-up for the task ahead and really, quite satisfying. Normally Buck the Duke takes a huge machete to empty shipping boxes and slashes them into even pieces that will fit in the recycle can, but this morning he has not yet arisen and this particular empty box has offended my eye, thus, the butcher knife. Lou retreated to her kennel in the Lodge to allow her mistress’s strange mania to pass. All in all, not a bad upper body workout!

I fear I’ve let our three days of bleak winter here on Florida’s Gulf coast get to me, and have scattered old New Yorker and Harper’s magazines, along with continually in progress novel chapters that I will one day as God is my witness finish, and temporarily forgotten that some fine morning our realtors will call and say that an oil tycoon or shipbuilding magnate wants to come look at the house. In an hour.

I don’t want to be like one of those biblical maidens who failed to keep their lamps filled with oil. So, to work! Catch y’all later.

 

Several years ago I watched a woman, head of some agency or other, testify before Congress. No, no, I wasn’t there. My viewing privilege was courtesy of C-SPAN. I ran across my scribbled notes today.

All the muscles in her haughty face turn down.

She sits straight, one hand over the other, swallowing as though her mouth is dry.

Cords in her neck stand out. Angry.

Her hands flutter up like birds.

 

Fast breathing visible through her perfect ivory sweater, thin chest enveloped in a charcoal pinstripe suit.

She looks like an afghan hound.

Capping/uncapping her pen.

Not a ghost of a smile.

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