Yesterday I felt like a strong silk cord moving through time, stringing pearls all along the way. I arose at 6, when a thin ribbon of light was just visible under the drapes over the sliding glass doors, and slipped quietly out of the bedroom. Buck’s even, deep breathing continued undisturbed.
It was 7 when I left the house to pick up Julia for school. She is our youngest granddaughter, a tender child with a bruised heart for the world (especially bunnies). We made our way to the interstate highway and carefully threaded the early morning going to work needle of distracted drivers.
Downtown Pensacola looked especially lovely to me yesterday. We have had lots of rain lately, afternoon thunderbumpers that rattle the windows but don’t last long; just long enough to keep water bills lower and the acquifer replenished.
Yesterday was Julia’s third day in the fourth grade. When Julia’s granddad and I married almost 25 years ago, there was one little grandson. Now that young man is almost thirty, Julia will be ten next month, and there are five others in between those two. Seems incredible that so much time has passed and that those “babies” have become interesting, complex folks.
My next stop was Joe Patti’s Seafood. At 8 in the morning, their parking lot was virtually deserted. Perfect. The briny air was almost cool, and I stood at water’s edge for a few minutes, cloud watching.
I thought about how Joe Patti’s was closed for months after 2004’s Hurricane Ivan demolished most of their business, and what a celebration it was for us and others in the community when they opened their (new) doors again.
Their parking lot has always been a great pelican, seagull, boat and people watching spot. Today, there was a fellow leaning against the building, hands jammed down in his pockets, staring intently at the water as though it might be full of tea leaves and he was trying his hardest to read them.
Joe Patti’s is divided into two parts. One side is a gourmet shop that is surely the equivalent of a kid’s candy store for adults. This morning, the floor was still damp in spots from where it had been mopped. I found myself laughing at the dizzying selection of olive oils with fancy names and fancier prices, and jars of olives stuffed with everything from garlic to anchovies and, Lord, even blue cheese. I like the big containers of olives on top of the deli counter: Nicoise, Gaeta, Kalamata — their names alone take me on a trip to the Greek isles.
These folks are smart. They turn out loaves of rustic Italian bread, French and whole grain baguettes from dawn to dusk. The smell of that bread and the feel of a crusty hot baguette through its paper sleeve is one of the food world’s greatest marketing tools.
Then there is the main area, where a staggering array of whole fish and fillets, vats of shrimp, tuna loins, snapper throats, smoked mullet, oysters in the sack or by the pint shelled and ready to go are spread out on beds of ice.
Farther down the line is a heap of blue crabs just steamed in Old Bay seasoning this morning, and on beyond them are rows of plastic containers stuffed with luscious lump crab or cocktail crab claws.
On weekends, you have to take a number and stake out a spot firmly, lest you get swept away in the tide of funky beachgoers, tourists with their large styrofoam containers, church folk, and multigenerational families all come to town. But at 8 o’clock on a Wednesday morning, I don’t need a number and the friendly, knowledgeable woman who helps with my selections has time to chat companionably about the fish and the weather.
Tropical Storm Fay is flooding other parts of Florida (Melbourne and St. Augustine where my blogging friend and gifted photographer Fletch lives when he’s not roaming the Smoky Mountains, and some other towns look like they are in danger of floating away). Every storm is different. Sometimes it’s the wind; sometimes the water — whether the falling from the sky type or storm surge. We have been told to expect a lot of rain this weekend. Our local newspaper says Fay is “stolling toward Panhandle.”
Even the prospect of a storm makes me hungry; makes me want to batten down the hatches, and cook. I left Joe Patti’s with two pounds of shrimp, ten scallops, a half dozen steamed Blue Crabs and (of course) a loaf of that just-out-of-the-oven rustic Italian bread.
Later in the day, Buck and I went over to Pensacourt to work out, a practice that was a thrice weekly part of our regular routine until I broke a metatarsal bone several months ago. This was our first day back. Buck headed to the weight room. I signed up for one of the treadmills, hopped on, stuck plugs in my ears and began listening to the 1968 vintage Van Morrison album, Astral Weeks.
There was a woman on the treadmill beside me. When she sneezed, I reflexively said “Bless you.”
“It’s these allergies,” she said. “They’re awful. My face is all swollen and my eyes are puffy.”
I removed the ear plug from my right ear and looked at her. She was in that indeterminate age somewhere between 45 and 55, light brown hair pulled back in a pony tail. “Have you tried Optivar eye drops?” I asked. “They’re prescription, but they are great.” She shook her head and I stuck the ear plug back in my ear.
“My husband died three years ago today,” she said. “It happened on our anniversary. He was 49.”
Uh oh. I took out both ear plugs and laid them on the magazine holder hooked onto the treadmill. Looking at the woman more carefully, I could see that her face was indeed swollen, but I thought it might have been from crying rather than allergies. “Was it his heart?”
“No. Cancer,” she said.
“Well,” I looked at her directly. “You’ve really been through it, then.”
She nodded. “I got remarried in June,” she said and gave me a bleak look. “It’s been a big adjustment.”
She continued. “When my husband died, my diabetes just went crazy, out of control. But I did lose 40 pounds and have kept it off. I got hypnotized back in November, and that has helped some.”
I searched for an encouraging word. “You’re doing the right thing here,” I said, pointing to her feet moving on the treadmill, “something good for yourself.”
“Yes,” she sighed, “but it’s so hard to be happy. Well, my time’s up. Will you be here tomorrow at the same time?”
Pondering the implications of this, I said, “No. I don’t think so, but if I am, I’ll say hello.”
“Great!” she said and broke into a quavery smile. “I just love people.”
I watched as she made her way out to the parking lot, shoulders slumped, head down, and then stuck both ear plugs back into my ears, switched from Van Morrison to a wild and crazy mambo album, cranked up the volume and walked fast.
Buck and I returned home and were just about to take a cool off swim when he spotted a large skink sprinting across the tile floor.
“Oh my goodness, it’s the skink that’s been living in the crack in the concrete between the old house and the new construction! Can you catch him and put him outside?”
Buck has captured skinks in the house before, but this fellow was well-fed and lively. Once his presence in the house became known a month or so ago, I started cutting up red grapes and fragments of Romaine lettuce leaves and dropping them into the hole where he had made a temporary home. I didn’t know if he needed water, but just in case, I left a tiny bowl of water on the floor nearby. Apparently, he (or something else) liked it, because the water kept disappearing. I knew he needed to be back outdoors, where all the good bugs and other skinks are, but he hadn’t made himself available for rescue.
In the scuffle, the skink’s break-away tail came loose, but I opened the front door and Buck put the critter onto the bricks near the grass. I had gone to fetch the camera to take a picture of the skink, when Buck called out, “Come look at this!” He pointed to the skink’s tail, which was madly wiggling. Turns out that is a of nature designed to fool predators in to thinking they still have hold of the skink while he makes a dash to safety.
Finally, it was time to play in the kitchen. Buck and I decided to steam the blue crabs lightly in a wok just to warm them. Then we spread newspapers out on the coffee table in the living room, and he gave me a refresher course on opening the shell using the “key” on the crab’s underbelly. We removed their shells, and the spongy “dead man” tissue, broke them in half and ate the warm, tender, messy crab. No butter. No sauce. Eating crabs takes time and makes you feel like you have eaten more than you actually have. Nonetheless, Buck and I had already put the scallops on ice for another day, and decided to fix a small plate of shrimp (sauteed and marinated in lemon juice, dijon mustard, garlic and capers) and slow-roasted tomatoes. A few slices of Joe Patti’s warm rustic Italian bread completed our feast.
We fed Maggie a bite of crabmeat and a shrimp. She napped nearby on her mat, while Buck and I basked in the joy of the day. I snapped my fingers to illustrate some thought. When I did, Maggie misread the signal and leaped up into my arms, 65 pounds of nine year old chocolate Laborador retriever, which resulted in a goofy grin on me (which you can see) and a loving smile on the cameraman (which you can’t)!