I have witnesses. Let’s establish that fact. Most of my major oh no moments have had someone in the wings to say no. She did that. She really did. This woman is obviously not me. But I don’t have a photo of the day that I blew part of my hair off from lighting a gas oven after I had let the gas build up a litttttle to long while talk to my sister. We were telling important stories. She was listening until she heard an explosion and a scream and then. Silence. I was living in Pensacola attending the University of West Florida and studying Theatre. It was the morning for Dr. Yolanda Reed's Playwriting class which always made things more interesting. My sons were so young they weren't in school yet. They hung out with their gypsy mom and went to rehearsals with me and went to daycare when I was in class and when I was studying for midterms or finals they went to Panama City to hang out with Nana and Pawpaw at the creek. They ate a lot of Ramen Noodles and PBJ's. To their credit, they rolled with it.
And they got to witness on more than one occasion their Mom doing dumb things. Every family has it's stories. I've given them material for a lifetime long after I'm gone.
My sister and I can not have conversations that are a result of both of us being to tired to speak and our plates too full. We've gotten pretty primal with it. Down to a few grunts that we understand. A shorthand for communication. We understand one another. But back in the day we had looooonggg conversations on the phone catching up and telling stories. In detail. When I lived in Kansas City we once talked through an entire episode of some mini-series - for three hours. This was back when there were such a thing as long-distance charges. Then our Daddy got the bill. My younger sister was still living at home and the phone bill of course was still a Daddy thing. Then he went through the roof. But we took our storytelling time seriously. Which was really just us having a nice, long visit. Frequently. Catching up. With what had happened just the day before. In detail. Now when I hear Mama telling me a story that includes all the - And he said, and then she said, and then he told her and she said - I think - and people ask me where I got inspiration as a writer. We are made up of story. Completely. I find it odd when I get stuck somewhere and people are actually managing to have a conversation that doesn't include a story about something.
And on this day I was in the middle of a story when I started the gas on the stove to light the oven and since the pilot light was out I had to strike a match and stick it into the oven where the little flames would ignite. Only being in the mid stream of a story I kept talking after I turned on the gas. And, talking. And, talking. Then I lit the match and opened the door. This is where my sister heard the explosion, my scream, and the sound of the phone flying across the room and hitting the wall.
It's a few minutes before she hears anything else, she keeps calling me, yelling hello, wondering if she needs to call 911 and I pick up the phone and in an exasperated voice say - my hair.
FORGET ABOUT YOUR HAIR!! Are you burned? Are you alright???? She was screaming at me in that kind of frustrated I just thought my sister was dead but she is just complaining about her hair kind of voice.
Yes, I was ok. No, unbelievably I was not burned. But I did have a new-do. The distinct smell of singed hair all around my face. I had bangs where I didn't have bangs a moment ago. A shag where I'd been unlayered.
It was just a stupid thing. A human error caught up in a story kind of thing. No loss of life or limb or eyesight. But there had been a moment.
I"m just fine," I told her. The hair continued falling around my shoulders.
"Jesus, sister. Just, Jesus," she said.
Yes, I inspire people to pray. But not always for reasons you might imagine.
I went on to class, made it almost on time, and declared I blew up my hair. The smell alone as a witness.
My advice for the day - Don't stick your head in gas filled ovens - with or without a match.
It's most important that you keep living your story. And that you survive to tell it.
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.
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