Another day, another story!
Reflections during Lent in Real Time.
The baby has arrived! Ginger called me to the back of Parnassus Books today and said - Hey, River - take a look at this!
The surprise were the boxes hidden away of Confessions of a Christian Mystic which OFFICIALLY arrives April 2. There is a sneak preview party at Parnassus Books March 29 at 6:30 and books will be available.
Me being laden with allergies that do NOT belong to me. I don't know whose allergies these are but I don't want them. This is the kind of thing people go to the doctor to get a shot. I have never been that person but I am the proud owner of a new box of Allegra because that generic stuff I took this am did NOTHING! Tomorrow I have high hopes for a different kind of day.
In the meantime - Catherine was kind enough to let me grab her and ask, Will you hold my book? And she did! And I am dancing for joy - on the inside - because today I was more like . . . a slug. That's how I'd describe me. A slug. BUT ---
Confessions of a Christian Mystic is BEAUTIFUL. I must give kudos to Hachette/Faith Words for doing an OUTSTANDING job and from someone who loves books, printing, publishing, first editions - Oh, MY. I'm a little bit over the moon about.
Mama said - It's bigger than I thought it would be. (Insert your favorite emogi here. ) For me - it was the moment where you are just glad that the baby is healthy. And then you look at the baby and decide it's the most beautiful baby in the world. Because that's the way Mother's are. All babies are the most beautiful. It's creation and new life and glory be.
And - here's another thing. You would be amazed at the difference between an advanced reader copy known as an ARC in the business and holding the REAL DEAL. It's like holding a baby doll and someone saying - this is kinda, like gonna be like your baby. But then the real thing arrives and realize, No, that was nothing like holding the real thing at all.
I started reading Confessions and was surprised at the words. The stories. The honesty. The revelation. The passion. The truth. And, yes, the beauty of it. It is an odd, little quirky work about growing up a little southern gothic girl (that means the stories that surrounded me were of a particular literary genre nature) who was born to be a southern novelist and who believed in signs and wonders.
I read a chapter aloud titled, The Dream Readers and wanted to shout with how much I loved it and how it captured this slice of my growing up, being at my Grandmother's house and the women of the family who believed in Jesus and about signs and dreams and forebodings.
Then I turned to a chapter about the full moon and watching it on a winter night, whispering prayers, being filled with a strange and wondrous Peace and I began to cry. At my own words. Again. I decided to not try to read that chapter aloud.
There's a letter to a friend about being southern and a believer that includes an entire PROLOGUE from a Novel-in-progress, letter to my granddaughters about death and faith and living, a letter to friend about Divorce, a short-short story about a man who sees a light at the window, a chapter where I imagine Death being a train we catch and the angel of Death being a bartender who pours memories and revelations in a glass - one tiny, final sip of this thing called life.
And I fell in love with this story in all it's Southern Gothic, Christian Mystic storytelling ways. In love I tell you. Which is exactly the way a new mother should be. Someone ready to whip out a photo and say - let me tell you about my baby.
I was bold and inspired in the telling. I pray to be so now in the revealing. It's time to take this baby on the road and bring her out into the world to meet you. I do so hope you love her.
God bless and keep you on this March night full of stars and wild with story.
All of it. The clean underwear and the dirty underwear. The bad underwear and the Calvin Klein favorite underwear. Last night we came home and he had gotten into the trash and looked like this (Kevin stand in because he now has more hair and his eyes are much prettier and amber which makes it harder to scold him). I had a thought for just a second - Kevin might get into the trash if you leave it there but then I was trying to help mama out the door to the football game with her purse, her secret bag, my purse, and so forth and that's just more commotion than a brain can manage. I left the trash. I came home to this. But this is nothing compared to the destruction of my underwear.
You would think if you are down to two pairs of underwear and there is a pattern that you would recognize it and not do this again but not so. My life seems to run at LUDICROUS SPEED. Yes, ludicrous speed! So when I suddenly need to lock rescue dog Kevin in my room because he can be whack with his little odd wire loose and there is twenty seven and half people in the living room and some of them are small children screaming and running around with sharp things part of my little brain says - you know - it'd would be a good idea to lock Kevin the rescue in your bedroom. So I run upstairs with him and do that. The part of my brain that says - You know, he has eaten ten pairs of your underwear so you might just want to close your closet or move that basket of clean clothes somewhere else. NO! That part does not speak at all as I am running back down the stairs. It kicks in when I go up to let Kevin out and all the wild little wolf pack are gone and he is standing on a mountain of rags that were previously underwear with all the important middle parts in tact.
I want to yell BAD DOG!!! Very BAD Dog! But Kevin the Rescue has heartworms and is going through treatment and supposed to be taking it easy and I don't want to give him a heart attack even though right now he is sitting in the middle of all the destroyed underwear like he is Jackson Pollock and has gone on some wild, artistic binge liberating me from all my contraints and is darn proud of it - so I say, Yes, of course, this is all my fault. I should have prepared better for this moment.
Which led to the GRANNY PANTY incident.
I had a doctors appointment to follow up with my real doctor because I had gone to the local clinic when a forty eight hour virus tried to kill me and take me out of this world by making me throw up my toes while at the same time make me feel that eight gorillas were playing ping pong with my body as the ball and I went to clinic and climbed up on the table and the nurse turned the light out while I curled up on the table. She said she was keeping it out of my eyes but I think she was trying to ease the moment the doctor walked in and saw me so he didn't scream. So he says - Oh, MY! And I grunt something. And, he says when is the last time you felt this bad? I say Sixth Grade because It wasn't hard to remember the last time you felt that bad. And he says you are very sick and I'll give you a shot so that you can keep from throwing up your toes and send you home. And oh, by the way - you have also caught Bronchitis from taking care of your Mama so I will give you some horse pills. Just see if you can keep those bad boys down. Then I fell off the table and left my car in the parking lot because sister got off work and came to get me because I couldn't drive home.
Then I went to follow up with my regular Doctor like I was supposed to and I was getting dressed and went to get UNDERWEAR but they were all rather artistic at that point and since I wasn't trying to go on some kind of radical match.com date I thought I'd just go downstairs and borrow some clean undies from my Mom so I say Hey Mama - Kevin ate my underwear and she says AGAIN? and I say yes, and I think she is trying to tell me, You should put up your underwear . . . when I grab an old pair of hers that is white and stretched out and come up to my arms pits. And Then I go to the doctor on my lunch hour so they can pat me on the head and send me home.
The doctor says, I see, when I tell her about the virus and the bronchitis and the coughing and she says now - take off your clothes -all but your underwear and get on the table. I try to tell her this is not important and she just acts like a doctor and leaves the room like I will do what she says. So I take off my clothes and put on the paper and climb up on the table while she talks in the hall to a nurse about another patient for a looongggg time which she doesn't normally do but I keep thinking - well, that person must be very sick and even though I am on my lunch hour and really in a hurry I will be patient so I sit on the table cross legged Indian style with the paper around me and I realize at that moment I am wearing white granny panties that come up to my armpits and bag around my drethers and that I want the doctor to not think I just don't care anymore that I haven't given up all hope of romance. But then she comes in with her scope and tells me to breath and breath some more and in and out breathing and I almost pass out so she says - Let's take a break. So I stop breathing. And then I breath some more and she tells me I have Pneumonia and she is giving me STRONGER HORSE PILLS. And because I find out that I have PNEUMONIA which my grandmother always said - then you will get the Pneumonia and die. No one in my grandmothers lifetime ever seemed to get the Pneumonia and survive I realize that I could die with my mother's granny panties on and it's all because I rescued Kevin and he eats all my underwear.
And I was late for work so I forgot to tell my doctor about this and I'm sure now she thinks I just don't care.
On the backside of Father's Day I have to write about what was heavy on my heart yesterday. It was father's day and this is a photo of my father better known as my Daddy and my sons who knew him as Pawpaw. He sits on his boat which after 22 years in the Army (including twelve years in Airborne) was the best place to be. Those cocky little kids on the boat were the best present I ever gave him.
All of our growing up years on Panama City Beach were spent making weekly pilgrimages a stones throw back up in the woods to Holmes creek. This eight acre little spread was down on the water lined with Cypress. The creek was filled with fish, nested by long legged herons and swamped enough to hold a few alligators. It was the beating of my Daddy's heart. And, now - it's gone.
This property has been in the family for generations. My great-grandaddy pulled the ferry across the creek with his old horse, Maude. Back then the creek was just slightly wider and cars would ferry on and ferry off. Years later my daddy as a young man would be one of the first on the crew that built the first bridge that went across. My young years were spent exploring the creek and like every kid and cousin for miles around hanging out under the bridge was a part of that ritual into adulthood. We read the names scratched underneath. Who hearted who. Years of graduation. Simple things. No F-bombs. Nothing crude, lewd or something you'd find in a bar at 2 am. Just kids being kids. The ground underneath the bridge was filled with piles of sandbags filled with cement that had solidified into a thing of it's own. This mound. Which is where we sat listening to the rare car coming a long way off and then thump, thump, thump as they slowly crossed the bridge checking the water.
Checking the water has been a part of that ritual of growing up. Is it high? Getting higher? Reaching flood level? Is it low? Are the fish biting? If they are - what's biting? Catfish, shellcrackers, mullet? What you usin' to catch'em?
When I was a little girl this tiny place was an actual working farm-ish. There were plenty of chickens, a big pig that always had little pigs back in the pen, a horse named Maude (still alive) and a barn we called the corn crib. There were barn cats which meant barn kittens that were beautiful and ferrel and meant to be mouser's not cuddle cats. ON more than one occasion we caught one and took it home to our house where they learned not all cats are born to be barn cats. It's where my sister had a little horse, where old Maude went wild one day with me riding her bareback, where family reunions were held down by the water but where ever day was a reunion. It's where Memaw worked hard and then watched her stories then we would all take a nap with the box fans in the window cooling us in the heat of the day.
Our Memaw cooked three meals a day the old fashioned way. That means with a stove. Her's being gas and an oven that turned out seven layer peanut butter cakes that we would fight for. The supper meant fried chicken and peas, fresh corn, and cornbread. Or fish caught that day from the multitude of folks that paid to launch their boats. When my great-grandaddy was alive he had a few boats he rented out for the day. The last chore of the evening of his was to bail those boats out and pull them to the shore.
My Daddy was raised here, in this place. My sister and I also. My sons, her children. My grandchildren have visited, played in the creek, listened to the stories. All of them. Of the Christmases past and of old lying Uncle Eddie Lewis and of so many silly wonderful simple days.
I once asked my Daddy where of all the places he'd been in his Army days was the best of all of them. Without hesitation he said - right here - with a grin that was his trademark. He was serious. If a person can be a place itself then Daddy was the creek.
As we got older a slew of teenage friends went with us spring, summer, fall to paddle the creek. Kids swam near the bank and we hang out in this paradise that we took for granted because it always had been and therefore always would be.
When Daddy died there was a comfort in knowing that as long as we had the creek, we had him. That somehow having the creek tied us to the past of every good thing. It was our north star and our touchstone. Our taproot. it tethered us to our lives and to each other.
But times, they do change. Old people die. Sometimes way too soon and too young. The Corn crib barn fell to ruin eventually. There hadn't been a hog in the hog-pen for twenty, maybe thirty years. Maude died finally before Grandaddy Skipper. Memaw passed away. The little house that had housed a multitude and fed an army every week got older and tired like people do. Even though it was propped up and nailed and had a new tin roof, it still leaked and sagged. It was ready I think to give up the ghost.
We have a few photos that all belong in a big immortal album but they are yet to be collected. Of us growing up and then our children posing down by the water or running across the sandy yard in a game of something born straight out of imagination. The photos that are missing are ones that are still in my heart. The time my sister and I were on the boat with Daddy, fishing just there at the edge of the bank on a quiet summer day. The dragonflies flitting at the waters edge. The wind stirring the surface so that I'd lift up my pole, check my hook, plop the red cork back down. Daddy would say - It's just the wind, not a bite - but I couldn't tell the difference. I was more aware of the song of the cicadas, the sun on my shoulders, the sound of my mother a lullybye softly as rocked one of the baby's to sleep, the melody but not the words lilting and finding their way to our ears.
I once told my mom we could tear it down and build something new. Maybe just put a little trailer there. She said that she wouldn't even want to be there anymore without the house there. It wouldn't feel the same.
Last night I dreamed of I was driving in storms, lost and trying desperately to find my way home. I finally pulled over and asked someone to help me. "I have to get to North Florida," I told them. When I woke I understood. My crush and longing from yesterday filtering into my dreams.
The creek was sold last week to a lovely family. Word is they are distant relatives, that somehow if this is actually possible their people owned the creek before our people did and then the families married and so on. I hope this is true. It helps take the sting out of the heartbreak.
It was time. It had to be done. But as much as my sister and I, my sons, my niece and nephew and kept a stiff upper lip - I'm afraid we've come undone. At least for Daddy Day. Maybe this week we'll all get back on track. I hope so. There's things to be done.
As a writer I know that all our memories have not disappeared but will now cross over into the place of myth. Where the power of story grows stronger with each passing year. Nothing can take away this from us. Our stories are ours to tell and tell well. It's the way legend's are born and men like my Daddy live forever.
Once upon a time there once was a Creek - and that story is never-ending.
But if you happen to be out for a drive in North Florida and find that you've wandered your way back up in the woods, turn down Miller's Ferry Road and drive till you come to a bridge - you'll know the one. When you cross please do us a favor, slow down to a crawl, roll down your window and check the water. Honk the horn twice to let folks know you've arrived. That you are crossing that bridge, making your way home.
Thanks so much for reading, liking and sharing with friends.