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Monday, July 18, 2016

A little boy in a Batman cape and mask blew the cobwebs off of a memory drawer titled “Summer 1966-1969 ”

When we baby-boomer’s woke up to that first day of summer vacation, we had two options. Either go outside to play or just go outside. “If you don’t find something to do out there, I’ll find something for you to do in here.” the phrase was a resounding echo down both sides of the street. Short of a family trip or a week of summer camp, there were no reprieves, 8 long hot weeks of home living.

I was a yard girl though, you didn’t have to tell me to go out twice. Or to go to bed for that matter. My mattress was a magic carpet, top bunk suspended Zen. I’d conjure up new adventures while lying as close to the screened window as I could on those sultry nights. A trickle of breeze would be both the universe’s confirmation of tomorrow’s plan and permission to close my eyes.

My toes started turning to the front door the moment daylight crept into the window. I submissively performed whatever chore or ate any horrific gruel set before me just to get outside quicker. I would peer out of the window every few minutes, the sight of one child in the street was the promise of ten in the next half hour.

We all looked the same, dusty feet, play clothes, scraped knees and bare feet. Sidewalks and yards were littered with colorful flip lops, names scrawled across the bottom.
Yesterday’s hopscotch grid was still etched out on the sidewalk, one smooth pebble in a square, hastily left when the call for lunch or dinner rang out.

Our snacks didn’t have little straws that poked into them or paper that peeled back to reveal velvety cheese and pretzels or pepperoni. Nope, we had wild plums, blackberries, green apples (belly ache), peaches and wild muscadine grapes. If nothing else was available we would suck Honeysuckle and chew sour grass (sheep’s sorrel.)

Dinner time was predictable for most of us. It seemed every mother on the street had the same recipe book. There was spaghetti night, casserole this or that night, fish night and then clean out the frig night. Anything that could be squashed into a concoction was baked in the newfangled Bundt pan. Dessert was fruit cocktail sunk to the bottom of a bowl of jiggling Jello.

Then there was that dinner. The one that kept us from clamoring “What’s for dinner?” all
livelong day — meatloaf Tuesday. An icky ketchup, bread and hamburger menagerie that
to this day has to be described with the apology “Not your mother’s meatloaf.”  

Our morning’s started with the parading of Huffy bikes and scooters. Some of the rebel’s would hop a curve onto the pavement with a watchful eye out for “the parents.”
The girls sat on steps quietly until other’s joined them, or sat cross legged in the grass (if they could, I couldn’t) for hours while talking, braiding each other’s hair, weaving flower chain necklaces from clover or folding chewing gum wrappers into bracelets.

On adventurous days we’d explore or start secret password clubs. One way for the older kids to rid themselves of the younger.
One of my favorites activities were the scavenger hunts. One of the kids had a Red Ryder wagon which we filled with dirt and traipsed through the woods on a mushroom hunt, quite possibly creating the first variegated succulent planting. The same wagon was used to scour the roadside and ditches for discarded glass soda bottles, at 3 to 5 cents a pieces they were worth their weight in candy cigarettes and fireballs.

We spent the day doing things that would have parents locked up for child neglect today. Mostly un-supervised and half-naked we were tree climbing, throwing lawn darts, crawling through ditches for craw-daddies, rolling down hills inside cable wheels, swinging on willow branches, riding pines and drinking water from old brass house faucets. And yes, gasp — I do remember hiding in a rusty old refrigerator while playing hide and seek.

We’d wander off in all directions during the day but always seemed to coral back together at some point. Things that brought us running were bike wrecks, someone getting a “whoopin” or a parent hollering “Watermelon” with no more fuss than laying it out on a picnic table and whacking it into chunks on newspaper. I hate watermelon but I love how it made everyone happy.

Animals were a big part of our outdoor experience. No one spayed and neutered cats or dogs back then (not a good thing) and ALL pets were outside pets. Even as kids we knew this wasn’t humane. But we, the kids were their saviors as much as we could be. Our eyes and ears were tuned to the swollen bellies and quiet mews of kittens and puppies. We’d find them quickly, in barns and shed rafters or under houses. Turtles were the boy’s favorites, they’d sneak them into the house inside their pants or under a dirty shirt.

We had team sports, no uniforms required. Badminton, dodge ball (with a deflated ball) because the only kid that had a bike pump was spending the summer with his grandma, four square, softball (without gloves) and old tires for bases, leap frog, king of the mountain.
Small team ground sports were pick up sticks, marbles, checkers, tiddly winks, Chinese jump rope, Twister, cowboys and Indians and the girls played clap clap.

The days whittled by long and slow until late in the evening when the parents would start calling us for dinner. One by one the gang dispersed. No one really wanted to be the last one outside so when the crew was down to 2 or 3 of us, everyone went. Scooters and bikes lay strewn in the yards while dinner was consumed, some trickled back out at dusk to retrieve their stuff at the command of their parents. And then the day was done. Except for the Whippoorwill or the occasional slap of a screen door, the clinking dishes in dim lit kitchen’s were the last sounds we’d hear. Fireflies became nightlights as the curtains drew on another summer day.

It wasn’t always pretty on those side walked streets, but I choose to remember the good.   Mostly it was the stuff inside the house that scared us. The daddy that drank too much, the mama that was too fond of the belt, the hungry ones, the d-i-v-o-r-c-e, the sister that went to live with aunty for 9 months. It was all real in the yard, nothing was sugar coated except for our Kool-Aid stained bellies. But — when we were together outside, this mish mash of kids of all ethnicity, we took care of each other.

I’ve thought of our ragtime crew often;
Cricket who heard that if we put lemon juice in our hair and brushed it in the sun for an hour it would turn blonde. Now that I think back on it, I realize it was a blonde joke.
Debbie, whose dad was the sheriff and whose mother provided the best summer snacks.
Andrew, a wayward young fella who stole peaches from a neighbors freezer and gave them to us all. I still feel guilty about that, but they were the best damn peaches I ever ate.
We weren’t normal, we weren’t abnormal, none of us. We were children, which may possibly be the last remaining word to describe a collective group of people that is unarguably appropriate and politically correct. We appreciated the differences we all had. Not everyone’s mom had a red Kool -Aid pitcher.

I was transported back to those summer days while on the streets of Charleston a few weeks ago. A friend and I walked out of Fast & French after lunch and were saying our good-byes when we saw a little boy in full Batman regalia, cap, mask the whole shebang lying face down on a street gutter. Was he looking for the joker? Catwoman? It made me want to shout “Holy hideout Batman!”

I thought back on that little boy later, about my summer’s too. His suit transformed him, but his mind transported him. I believe with all my heart that imagination was by far the best toy I ever had.

.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Living Small Part #3

Living small part 2 left off with me on the I-95 following our home to it’s final resting place 1 hour away. The semi-truck wheels slung mud onto my windshield from the bog down we just left on the flooded Santee. I switched on my windshield cleaner and wipers to remove the muddy remnants of the 1000 year flood of Charleston and it’s surrounding communities. We are on our way to a sister tributary, another river that had been just as flooded, the next river to kiss the sea, the Edisto. My nerves couldn’t take the ride behind the little box home and I sped ahead of it.
I was waiting for the mover’s at the road. I told them that it was boggy as heck. They gauged it and told me that they had one shot and needed to know exactly where I wanted it dropped. I guided the first 18 wheeler with my hand to back up. The crew knew they didn’t have much time to play since the wheels were sinking already, they started throwing heavy concrete blocks around like Nerf balls underneath. The cab released the load and started spinning out, we had deep ruts in the yard for a while.
When they pulled out, it was a hot mess. We had no steps, the previous mover (that ripped us off) dropped our front porch off on the land and left it 20 feet from where the home is sitting now. Little use to us, Don and I aren’t builders, but we have Goggled our way through a lot of projects lately.
We got the electric company to give us temporary power on the land so that we could use a generator and tools. We tackled the steps, it took us most of a day to do what a carpenter could do in 3 hours. But you know what? We know we did it right and we finished it. We left that land tired and quiet many a day for the ride back to Mt. Pleasant.
During the hardest part of these trials, I am sure those silent rides had questions for both of us. What the hell are we doing? We have a good business, a nice suburban life and convenience at our fingertips. But the truth stared at me in Don’s worn and creased brows that would furrow themselves further if we didn’t get off of this track.
I drove down a long dusty road that led to the Edisto River one day. My soul needed water, still water. I sat on the Cypress studded bank and cried. I cried because my house didn’t look like the pictures I took of it as it sat on Santee River, a quiet little cook house with a nice front porch. I cried because I could see tires below a home that was once covered with beautiful river rock stone and a porch that once held a swing and rockers now sat like a frigging monstrosity apart in the yard. I cried because we were killing ourselves to recoup the money we gave to someone in earnest.
Even though I am in part 3 of this series I can tell you that every single second of that pain and worry and sacrifice was worth it today.
I don’t know that we knew where to start when we drove out to the home. Don pulled a piece of the carpet away from the center ridge to see if there was damage from the storm it sat in. We kept pulling, it felt good to pull it out, that dank dark carpet. The rest of the day was kind of like shedding skin, we ripped out the ugliness of the last few months and threw it into that monstrosity of a porch that sat outside. From that moment on I new that the porch would never be reattached.
During this transition time, I was talking to a friend and told him that we were moving into our place hell or high water by Christmas. High water had already came and hell felt near. But, I meant it. Even Don asked me repeatedly, “Are you sure about this?” We won’t have water yet, we are 1 ½ hours away from our jobs.”
“No, I am ready.” I replied.
The week of the move, Christmas week. We nixed the professional moving company to use a young man I met during the worst part of our moving fiasco. He mowed the land while we weren’t there and was going through a challenge of his own. He called to say that he had lost one of the movers and there was now a crew of two, but they could do it. I didn’t notice until hours later that the other mover was limping. He broke his foot the day before! They played games with each other most of the day. Laying snake skins they found in the shed in each other’s paths.
That first night was eerily beautiful. The big California King bed, the biggest thing in our small home was both familiar and not, we slept a little tighter together, Snowy and Don and I in our new home. We died to the world, I was so exhausted I could have slept in a foxhole in Vietnam.
Well the part I told my friend about “hell or high water” was partly true. Although we had power, we had no running water. It was the last week of December, I called and vetted well and septic servicemen. Scars from the earlier thievery had us leery. The most recommended well technician was booked out for 6 weeks. Challenges were met accordingly. We put out buckets to catch rain water for toilet flushing and bathing. Offers were numerous from friends to stay at homes or bathe etc until we were set up. Except for a few occasions we declined appreciatively.
Our mantra every single day was, “Do the next right thing.”
I gleefully looked forward every morning to our one luxury. Daily ground and percolated coffee beans. We brushed our teeth minimally with ice cold water. Each night we would boil water for our bird baths. But the thing we missed the most was the continuous flow of water on our bodies. I would go to either my sister’s or my niece’s once a week. Don wasn’t as eager to participate but was missing the running water himself.
On a rare warmer night (48 degrees) in January, Don asked me to boil a little more water than usual, he wanted to feel the water run over him as he washed.
You haven’t lived until you’ve stood on back porch under a full moon and poured water over your naked husband. The white bar of soap glowed in the moonlight. I waited by with a large towel to cover him.
Our heat came from a few electric heater’s, they kept us quite toasty. It would be months before our a/c heating unit would be connected. We worked hard and encouraged each other day and night, striving to make sure the load wasn’t more than either of us could bear.
New Years Eve, 2016. It is 82 degrees! I search the house for my old church fans. It was a quiet day in the woods. That evening, almost the very second that the sun fell over the tall pines and the darkness crept in, I was jolted to my feet. Wth? Armageddon?? An explosion that shook the ground.  Don explained, obviously the country boys idea of fireworks is to shoot propane tanks??  Shotguns rang out in the distance along with a few bought fireworks. Happy New Year to us!!
Right before bed time we heard the tapping sound of water on the roof. We ran to get the 5 gallon buckets in place at the eves of the house. We are using 6 gallons of water a day, for flushing, cooking, cleaning. It rained for 3 days, it filled those 5 buckets continuously!

Our evenings after work were very quiet and peaceful. An old grandfather clock tick tocked louder than I ever remember it before. Our big flat screen TV sat quietly, a black abyss in the living room. We read a lot, talked a lot, laughed a lot.

I handwrote chapters of my book. I had to re-write them later, they were dark, like spewed demon flies from the depths of my soul. They had to come out to make room for the good that I wanted to replace it. About 3 weeks later Direct TV installed the little dish that brought the world into our foursquare, just in time for the Superbowl. Those must have been some strong prayers Don! We found the TV to be loud at first, intrusive even.
Internet was not quite as quick. I admit that I leeched off of other server’s when we would go to populated areas.

And then one day almost 8weeks after the day we moved in, a truck pulled in the yard with lines and a pump for our well! Let me tell you, when they tapped in and that geyser of clear cold water shot 15 feet in the air, I was one happy girl. I was dancing inside but actually wanted to go stand under it.
I am grateful actually for the time we had in those hard weeks, they were necessary for the appreciation Don and I have for what is normally taken for granted. I’ll leave you with a line from Living Small IV.
“I turn this knob, and water flows all over my body.” Don Brabham.
 
                                                                                                                                                                                                                               
I’ll leave this segment of Living Small with a few country revelations.

Deer are a different color here than they are at the coast.
Un-lessen is a word. In a sentence it goes something like this. “You need to buy mo of that un-lessen you want to come back soon.”
We won’t ever need fire-starter again.
Turkeys’ don’t like their picture taken.
I can brush my teeth with 4 ounces of water.
Dollar General is the grocery store
There are two types of wine/arsenic for sale in my town. Wild Irish Rose and Mad Dog 20/20. Un-lessen you drive a half hour to the big town.
You can get a speeding ticket for going 38 in a 35.
Deer are outnumbered by coon dogs.
Entire houses can be consumed by woods.
Rust is the new red.
Gizzards and liver’s are sold at gas stations.
Quiet is quieter. All is well.

Living Small—Part 3

Living Small—Part 3

Friday, February 12, 2016

Living Small II

I sat staring at this blinking cursor and asked myself “Should I? Should I tell this story in it’s entirety? Do I really want to re-hash it?” I am still friggin' raw. But—this is a series blog, writing is therapeutic for me, and if the events of the last 6 months save one person the trial-and-error we’ve gone through, I’ll feel better about it. Okay, so let me pour a glass of liquid Band-Aid and we’ll begin.


I’ll start with a re-cap of where I left off in Living Small Part I. We’d just re-evaluated our goals for sustainable living. After researching shipping containers, campers, and tiny houses we started looking at modular, it seemed the logical choice, being middle-aged. If I had “gotten” this earlier, we would have a small living community by now. Anyway right now, a modular is the quickest route to get off the wheel, well—as soon as they take the tires off the home. 

We went to dealerships to check out some new model’s. The first criteria for our purchase was that it would be paid for in cash, same as the land. After a few lots we decided to scratch new, the cost was more than our allotted cash. So—we entered the no-mans-land of used modular's. 

For a month we followed leads on Craigslist. Let me tell you, mobile home selfies are misleading as hell. I nearly fell through the floor of one property and feared a snakebite on another. 

I rode back-roads for miles, looking for those crooked little signs that said mobile home for sale. One Saturday morning last May, a new listing popped up. A lake-house modular on the Santee in Eutawville. My sister and I went to check it out. Good bones, solid, small and, as the little bear said in The Three Bears, it was Just Right!



The owners were wonderful. They explained that originally the home’s purpose was for entertaining and a temporary residence for business contacts but they recently decided to build a home on the site. I could see its potential. And—they were throwing in the most tacky décor I had ever seen in my life for free. A resin cast toilet seat with embedded hollow point bullets. What The Hell?

We shook hands that day and I came back 2 days later with cash. Our acquisitions sat on two different rivers, exactly 55 minutes apart.

Now all we needed to do was find a mover. Piece-of-cake right? Well, apparently, the world of mobile home moving has become a seedy profession. I called 22, that’s right…22 movers! Sixteen of which were no longer in business. The six left on my list were undesirables to say the least. They gave quotes sight-unseen, had a longer list of what they wouldn’t do than what they would, and had other dis-qualifiers like you would not believe. There are reasons that this profession has declined morally, but that’s another story.

I narrowed it down to the three worthiest of the non-worthy. I felt led to one particular mover, because he did all the right things, (in the beginning.) He met me at the site to give a quote, talked knowledgeably about the procedure, signed a contract that I wrote up, and assured me that the date we were looking to move could be achieved.  I made a huge deposit. You don’t want to know. One thing that was cohesive in mobile-moving jargon was the price. It was going to be upwards of 10K for a 55-minute move. We didn’t see that coming, but here we were. 

In two weeks I was packed and ready to go! Don and I were settling into the comfortable possibility of not owing a soul for anything and staying that way for the rest of our lives. We were Googling solar panels and grids, Don gets a chicken coop design book ordered. I started declining any invitations to anything because the move was imminent. It was June 15th,  the last day either of us felt peace for six months.  


We were one hour away from home in Eutawville, the mover was doling out periodical phone calls to let us know of progress. The Move was the first of next week! And then I got a call—“Mrs. Renae, So & So’s truck alternator went out and we have to rent a truck to haul this or that, I need a check to cover the cost.” he said. I wasn’t suspicious at this time, being contractors ourselves, we know stuff happens. 

“Okay, we will give you the second draw, since the move is next week anyway.” I told him. Work commenced and I felt like we were okay; moving along again. 

A few days before the moving date, I got a call. The mover said “It’s raining here.” 

Now, I am like Doppler Radar, Doppler can’t move without me. 90% of our business is exterior. I am the best weather barometer in these parts. I replied “There’s no rain anywhere near us or Eutawville.” He told me that they would resume work the next day.

Living Small Part II

Living Small Part II