Wordscrap from an August, 2007 travel journal . . .
It’s 9 o’clock eastern standard time on The Grand Strand, Litchfield-By-The-Sea, Pawley’s Island, South Carolina. I am sitting on a rented condominium balcony looking out on the beach where I walked the past two hours, from the gray mist of humid pre-dawn to the bright heat of an August morning on the Atlantic ocean. I sit with my feet up and sip black coffee in between bites of Medjool dates and almond biscotti.
It’s easy to tell which people are regulars at the beach and which are visitors. I see an older woman in butter yellow shorts and t-shirt wearing a golf visor. She locomotes up the beach in a slow-motion imitation of a power walk, arms moving at the elbows that would have been a swing had there been any speed to it. Her feet lift slightly as she walks, like something in the sand is prickly to the bottoms of her feet.
This guy, I never do see his face. He lurches side to side ahead of the woman in yellow; a beefy, bowlegged man wearing black fat man shorts. A messy tangle of black hair leads down the back of his neck to sprouts of salt and pepper hair on his shoulders and back.
The man in hot pink Spandex swim trunks and tank top is hard to miss. He is so weird-looking I long for a telephoto lens. I run inside for my birder’s binoculars. He looks like a piece of modern urban sculpture: dark skin with Asian features, facial hair trimmed so intricately it looks like a landscape artist has decorated him. He is wearing black goggles and has some type of high-tech paraphernalia on his head, possibly headphones. He stands in a slight crouch facing the ocean, elbows pulled in close to his sides and forearms up 90 degrees, palms up, fingers curled into fists. It looks like a martial arts or tai chi pose, frozen.
There is a young boy sprinting down the beach with the unselfconscious grace and perfect running form of a natural athlete.
I see the energy imprint of myself, walking a good pace, but not so fast I can’t stop to bend down and observe as tiny pastel coquinas burrow into the wet sand or to photograph a gaggle of gulls and the mast of a large sailboat on the far horizon. A medium length pony tail sticks through the back of my pink “Life Is Good” ball cap, and light gray Nike running shorts cover the bottom half of my blue and black maillot.
Found these paragraphs from January of 2007 in an old notebook I used to keep for writing grocery lists and other miscellanea. “Dave” is not my friend’s real name. He’s feeling better these days; has found some joy in a grandson named after the lost boy.
Dave has always been loud, a little raucous, and as good-hearted and honest as they come. He stands 5’9″ and probably weighs 200 pounds. Since fighting a losing battle with the brain tumor that killed his 18-year-old son a few months ago, Bob feels more out of control to me. His hair is longer, all gray now, thick curls straggling out the back of his working man’s cap. I guess he shaves occasionally, but he bears an unshaven, grizzled look, and when he laughs, it is a mirthless, bitter bark.
Dave still coaches kids’ softball and I think it is there his sweetness and patience — maybe even his sanity — are restored for a time on sunny, warm afternoons.
I keep my distance most of the time when he’s doing electrical work on our house. I brew a pot of coffee for him and leave a cup on the counter. He could use the comfort of a Holy Spirit, but is so angry with God that he is blocked from receiving that sustenance. He is trapped. I don’t know what to say and am afraid to put the drill bit of conversation into the raw marrow of his pain and see him blow to pieces and fly apart, or shrivel back into a dark tunnel of grief.
He knows now that nothing matters; at least, he believes that nothing matters. And that leaves him not knowing how to live anymore.
I stood in the pantry last week after he had been in there working. It was hours later, but I smelled a mixture of cigarette smoke, stale clothes, possibly the faint odor of beer expressed through the pores of skin, and the acrid smell of loss mingled with despair. He is the living picture of sackcloth and ashes.
Restored lost archive. Originally posted July 31, 2007.
The flat-edged stainless steel of my kitchen knife moved over the slice of whole wheat bread, making shiny swirls of creamy peanut butter.
I was time traveling, a child in my mother's kitchen before the termites got into her head. Give her a bowl of butter cream frosting and a cake and she could create a masterpiece, layer by layer, her own flat-edged knife crafting smooth architectural sides, swirls and curlicues. She wielded it like an artist's brush.
Buck called out to me, "Want some milk with that peanut butter sandwich?"
Waked up. Awake. The sandwich tastes dry in my mouth. I can't drink enough milk to choke it down.
I do not bake cakes.
Current note (from May 17, 2010): I scanned the pre-digital era photos below into my hard drive recently. They were taken around 1987, a few years before Mother died. They are painful for me to look at, not only because of her condition: Alzheimer's and other health problems; but because I was totally wrapped up in my own life and did not participate in her care as I should have, or made her life more comfortable, as I could have. No excuses. Reality bites. This is for the record.
Hot flashes, the plague, or maybe falling in love.
Too much sugar for a dime, now that the time I have yet to live is shorter than the time I have lived?
Doesn't matter. Feels like passion, and the well beckons.
Two times out of three when my brothers and I would ask to do something spontaneous and fun, Mother would say, "No, that's too much sugar for a dime."
End of discussion.
I never knew what it meant, beyond "No."
Googling the phrase turns up a small cache of interpretations, some cheesy song lyrics, and a few references in novels. The most interesting was in a book called Dead by Popular Demand: A Harlem Noir featuring Devil Barnett, by Teddy Hayes. The title alone is worth posting. One of his characters tells a story about the phrase that made me laugh. It involves a man giving his wife a dime to go to the store to buy sugar. She comes home with a quarter's worth. This happens more than once. The man doesn't want to directly accuse her of having an affair with the shopkeeper, but doesn't want her to think he is a blind fool, either, so the next time she brings home a quarter's worth of sugar that she only had a dime to pay for, he says, "Hey, baby, that's too much sugar for a dime."
When I was a scrawny little girl, and Mother said, "That's too much sugar for a dime," I expect it meant she didn't have the energy to take on some activity that took up a lot of time and didn't make any money, but to my child's ear, it simply meant "No."
When we fly, Maggie stays at Cain’s Dog House. It’s a clean kennel with colorful murals painted on the wall, the Animal Planet on TV, and a coterie of friendly staff. Maggie, the ambasadog of goodwill, has become known there and is a favorite. When we picked her up Monday, November 19, following our trip to Montana and Wyoming, she wore a blue gingham bandana and was shiny from her Saturday bath and daily brushing.
As we were leaving, a young woman said, “Oh, I almost forgot. Are all those toys and the blanket in Maggie’s kennel hers?” Well, none of them were, but over the ten days, she amassed quite a horde using her best political skills. What a dog! Maggie for President!
Man, this is great.
Sitting in bed, laptop on its Dexia Rack, headset on, listening to Marianne McPartland’s Piano Jazz on NPR, just finished some very chocolaty ice cream. Buck to my right, his spoon scraping the last of the cold chocolate cream.