LONGLEAF STORIES

full circle in the hundred acre wood

FRIDAY MORNING’S SKY has begun to lighten. A strong wind is bending the tall pines, escorting colder temperatures. The panhandle of Florida can go from t-shirt, shorts and sandal weather (yesterday) to where’s my sweater bring in the plants temps (tonight). A freezing reading here often feels ten degrees colder because of the high humidity. I see my own ghostly reflection in the darkened window. It smiles back. We toast each other with a mug of fresh ground French Roast coffee, strong enough to balance the nutmeggy sweetness of my pumpkin pie breakfast.

Another Thanksgiving has passed, the miraculous annual refurbishing of my soul has occurred, and I am ready to move forward. But first, a retrospective. If you are a lover of straight lines and tidy endings, be forewarned. This will meander, ramble and may not arrive at a definable point. It’s an after-Thanksgiving walk.

As a child growing up in a Southern Baptist home, my mother and others ridiculed “the Catholics” for their symbols and rituals — among other reasons, all of which made them interesting and exotic to me. Seventeen years ago I was confirmed as an Episcopalian — “Whiskypalian” in common parlance among “the Baptists” since they have no specific prohibition against strong drink and drink real wine at communion; in the protestant spectrum closer to Catholics than Baptists. The first time I attended Christ Church in Pensacola, Florida it felt like my first religious experience, despite a lifetime of being herded to church. It’s a place where I can tell the Rector of my doubts, and he might tell me of his. The symbols, rituals and sheer beauty are what I prize most, and kneeling to attempt prayer breaks up my veneer just enough to get through to me and kick up the volume of that still, small voice.

Tuesday night I looked through old cookbooks and food magazines from Novembers-past, sticky notes fluttering from the tops of pages, my comments scribbled on them. Wednesday morning early, armed with the shopping list, I kissed Buck, scratched Maggie’s ears, and left the woods for the neighborhood Albertson’s grocery store. “We’ve missed you!” “Glad you’re back!” These greetings from the folks who work at the grocery store take me by surprise.

On the way home, I stop by Floral Tree Gardens nursery. A huge tractor-trailer has just arrived with fresh spruce trees from North Carolina. The staff gathers around like excited children. We share smiles and I leave with a flat of bright yellow pansies and a huge Christmas cactus loaded with tiny buds.

Buck and Maggie have gone to buy corn to feed the deer. Man and dog ride off in the pick-up truck, Maggie sniffing the air from the passenger side window.

All afternoon and into the night, we continue working on our little cottage in the woods, Buck rescuing the garage from sheet rock dust, and me baking pies, cornbread for the dressing, shelling shrimp, and polishing old silver. The silver belonged to Buck’s late mother, my much-loved Lois. She and her sister, Ann, lived together in their last years, two elegant, tough old ladies who had both survived breast cancer, widowhood — Lois, twice — strokes, heart block, kidney disease and heartbreak. My first Thanksgiving with Buck, me newly divorced, him with the ink not quite dry, was at Lois’s home on Bayou Grande. She and Ann polished the old silver to a mirror finish, made fresh ambrosia with Indian River oranges and pink grapefruit, seafood gumbo, and roast turkey with many and varied accompaniments. Dessert was tiny scoops of vanilla ice cream served in stemmed crystal coupes with a splash of Amaretto liqueur.

I was making off with their darling Buck, the only child, and they intended to take my measure. Those old gals scared me to death.

Years later, when I sat beside a gravely ill Lois, holding her hand and stroking the thin, porcelain skin, bruised by the awful sticks necessary to check arterial blood gasses, she gripped my own hand strongly and focused those intense brown eyes on mine. “You and Buck aren’t going to fall out of love, are you?” My left hand went to touch the side of her face gently. “No, Lois, oh no. You don’t ever have to worry about that.”

Lois and her sister, Marguerite at our home in Cottage Hill, 1994.

Lois and her sister, Marguerite at our home in Cottage Hill, 1994.

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