Methuselahs In Our Midst

Every now and then a story rings the doorbell and grabs you by the throat. My stomach hurts this morning. I have chills. I barely slept. Hell, I was sobbing about it last night, for God’s sake. Babbling about Native American spirit guides, power animals and mythical symbolism and trying to turn my head off for a few hours to get some sleep.

 

Maybe even some perspective.

 

Fat chance.

 

You probably won't be surprised to learn that Harold is right in the middle it.

 

This one feels like a tsunami and is bigger than a blog post. I'm going to go off and hole up with a legal pad, a Diet Coke, some saltine crackers and a case of Tums.

 

 

 

Harold Has A Premonition

Most of the time, I can make coffee in the dark, barely conscious. But yesterday, I started to brew it with three scoops instead of two, and today, when I walked over to fill my mug, I found that I had brewed up a nice big pot of hot water.

I've got a bad case of "Harold" on my mind.

Harold and his wife, Louise, live only a few miles from our place here in the longleaf pine woods of northwest Florida. He helps Buck with a variety of projects, and watches over things when we're out of town. He knows this forest, with its pines and hardwoods, spring-fed creek, deer, turkey, coyotes and at least one wild hog, like the back of his scarred up hand.

Harold doesn't have much formal education, but Buck says he is "smart as a tree full of owls." He is also one of the world's great storytellers.

Harold is a man whose backcountry vernacular hasn't been homogenized into standardized bland. His stories are not regurgitated from the watered-down stuff of the Internet, but dramatic, front-porch originals wrenched from the heart, guts and bowels of his own hard-working life as a farmer and heavy equipment operator for logging companies in the south.

Some of you blog old-timers, 2003 or 2004 vintage, might remember the Harold story I'm going to reprise today.  I've been holding back all the Harold stories to whittle on and develop for a life in the wider world.

But Harold hasn't been well. And now, he's had a Premonition.

 

 

Snakes and Snails and Puppy Dog Tails 

"Boys are made of snakes and snails and puppy dog tails. Girls are made of sugar and spice and all things nice."       (childhood singsong)


 

Harold came in from the deer woods and knocked on our front door just as Buck and I were revving up our laptops in preparation for the stock market opening bell.

“Didn’t see a thang, nary even a track or a scrape.” I handed him his usual mug of coffee, and he sat down heavily in the dining room chair I had pulled up close in anticipation that he would tell us a tale or two before leaving.

I went out to the garage to put a load of towels in the washing machine, stopped by the coffee pot for another cup, eased past Harold and Buck, and slipped into my black swivel desk chair at the writing table. Harold was already in full story-telling mode.

He and Louise had been over in Alabama at their hunting camp. Some nearby target shooters and someone trying out their New Year’s Eve fireworks had messed up their hunt. That sparked off a whole set of memories, mainly of childhood games and adolescent misdeeds.

He and Buck talked about the various types of fireworks, legal and "un," that a boy could get hold of around here fifty years ago. From the little bitty one inch long ones with a short fuse that don’t do anything but make noise, to cherry bombs that blow up a mail box.

Sipping my coffee, I thought about how girls would never do any such foolishness as that. We had our own foolishness, but it was quieter and almost never got us into trouble. 

Harold told us about the time he and some of his friends, all about ten years old, had several packages of the itty bitty poppers. They would keep them hidden under a galvanized bucket, and when a car drove by, pull one out, light it real fast and toss it under the car. No damage, but a satisfyingly loud "POP!" Then they would run to the back yard, returning seconds later for a repeat performance on another car.

They hoarded those little poppers like gold.

One day some young boys from across the street came over to Harold’s house and he shared a couple of his poppers with them. “They didn’t have nothin’,” Harold said, suddenly serious. “Course, none of us had nothin’, but at least we had them little firecrackers to play with.”

One of the boys lit a fuse, jumping and dancing with delight when it popped on the sidewalk. Harold lifted up the edge of his bucket to fetch out another one for one of the boys. The boy lit the fuse quickly and got so excited he tossed it away. It landed right under the edge of Harold’s bucket, which was still tilted up. Harold started to chuckle as he told this part.

Well, that action lit up some of the other fuses, and the bucket took on a life of its own, popping and dancing off down the sidewalk. Harold was laughing so hard by now, he almost seemed to be crying, arms pinwheeling around as he illustrated how that bucket full of firecrackers jumped and bucked all around.

This led him to recall the pranks of teenagers in his neighborhood, long after he and Louise had set up housekeeping in rural Escambia County, Florida. He told about some of the local boys who would blow up mailboxes with cherry bombs or come through an area taking a baseball bat to the galvanized metal boxes.

He talked about old man Purdue, whose mail box was a frequent target for awhile. “He didn’t bother nobody unless he got raggedy drunk; then he got plum ugly. But if you called his wife, Miss Lucille, she would come get him.”

Anyway, old man Purdue finally had enough, and hatched up a plan to take care of those boys. According to Harold, he emptied out his shot gun and filled it with rock salt. Then he found a spot behind some bushes near his mailbox. It took three nights of waiting, then “here they come.” The boys swung their baseball bats into his newest mailbox, laughing as they smashed it to the ground. He waited until they were finished and just starting to head on down the road. Then he rose up from his hiding place and blasted the south end of the north traveling boys with the rock salt in his shotgun.

Old man Purdue went around to the hospital emergency room where one of the boys was getting bandaged, and told his father what he had done and why. According to Harold’s story, the father made his son apologize to the old man, and drop his pants for a couple of lashings from the father’s own belt, bandages notwithstanding.

The whole business sounded brutal, and I winced listening to it. But the young man in question went a few rounds with Harold, too, for conduct unbecoming a gentleman, and yet the two became friends later in life as the unruly boy matured into a grown man.

Harold and the boy, now middle-aged, were crying together at the boy’s mother’s wake earlier this week, his father long gone.

Harold said the boy’s mother was “the goodest old soul you ever seen."

Maggie Waits

Maggie waits 1

He will be back soon. I will wait at the door.

Maggie Waits 2    Somebody's walking out of the woods. Is it Buck?

Maggie & Harold 11-27-08

Well, it's Harold; not Buck. But Harold's here, ready to scratch my ears, and Buck's still in the woods.  What's that old song? Oh yeah. If you can't be with the one you love, love the one you're with.

Thanksgiving Day 4:45 A.M.

A small rectangle of intense light begins to flash. A few bars of music called "Eurotrance" plays. Stops. Plays again louder. Then again, even louder.

Ah. It's the dulcet tones of the Alarmberry, telling us it's time to get out of bed. In 30 minutes, our friend Harold will be at the front door, his little red pickup truck shining up the dregs of night.

I watch as Harold and Buck walk out into the woods,  their camoflauge disappearing into the trees, a seasonal ritual from their youth. Harold will be back about 8:30, eager to slip off his boots, take a seat at the kitchen bar, drink coffee and tell me stories while we wait for Buck to return.

Time for me to put on the coffee, cut a slice of my traditional Thanksgiving Day breakfast, pecan pie so sweet it can make your teeth hurt. The caffeine and sugar jolt me wide awake and ready to chop up those sweet little yellow squashes into a pot of boiling water.

Yellow Squash 11-27-08 

These were near the bottom of the bushel basket at Bailey's Farmer's Market. They're a little bruised. Notice the one propped up by the cooking pot. It's actually two grown together. If I could save it, I would. Anytime I find a mother and baby or two lovers cleaving together, like these squash, or tiny, fully-formed pepper fetuses inside a bell pepper, something within me clutches.  

Squash cooking 11-27-08 

While they cook, I'll saute' a chopped onion, and reduce a dozen saltine crackers to crumbs with the help of an old-fashioned mortar and pestle that I've had for more than twenty years. Once the squashes are tender, they'll be drained, mashed, mixed with egg, onion, cracker crumbs, salt and pepper and baked in the oven. It's a delicate taste, nice for a Thanksgiving Day side dish, but also a wonderful stand-alone comfort food supper 

Love

IMG_0831 What else can you call it, but love, when a friend test drives his brand shiny new heart pacemaker to pick blueberries and leave them at your door? Harold "struck" yesterday morning. Buck and I found the berries just in time for breakfast.

Peel-em and Eat-em

Folks here call the local newspaper "the mullet wrapper."  It's good for shrimp shells, too. Buck and I enoyed the dregs of a long, lovely sunset while we peeled shellfish and dunked crab in hot, lemony butter.

Our friend, Harold, had gotten out of his hospital bed to get his wife, Louise, to dig some new potatoes from their garden and bring them over to us a few days ago. We sat with them and cursed the docs, praised the nurses, and listened to Harold's commentary on his newly installed pacemaker.IMG_0564

And last night, we enjoyed those little 'taters, boiled, then sauteed for a few minutes in olive oil and chopped garlic.

The Come-Back Cactus

When Harold and Louise chain-sawed their way from our gate to the house after Hurricane Ivan so we could drive all the way in when we returned from Scotland, they walked all around, assessing the damage.

One thing they found was a Christmas cactus plant. It had been hanging, forgotten, within the shelter of a big oak’s branches. The top of that oak was blown out, turned into a projectile that took out a nearby pine. Harold and Louise found the cactus some 200 yards away, tumbled, broken and out of its container.

They returned the plant to its pot, pressed it together as well as they could, and hung it back on a remaining branch of the oak.

The cactus bloomed nicely, but unspectacularly, last year. Look at it now.

IMG_0910

We who live in the path of hurricanes are the lucky ones, I think. Earthquakes and tsunamis provide little warning.

Stick To Your Ribs

9:15 on a Saturday morning at Longleaf Preserve

How good this feels, to sit on the screened porch where I’ve been for a couple of hours drinking coffee, listening to the soft scrape of pen and hand moving across paper as Buck writes in his daily journal. He has not missed a day since he began. I love being out here, old dog stretched out on the scrap of carpet that we use for a foot wipe by the front door. I love it, despite the grass pollen that turns my nose into a dripping faucet and makes my eyes swell and itch.

Built 2000 (expanded 2005), at Longleaf Preserve, near Pensacola, FL
Built 2000 (expanded 2005), at Longleaf Preserve, near Pensacola, FL. I note the damaged pines, which means this photo was taken after Hurricane Ivan in September of 2004.

I just finished reading Natalie Goldberg’s book, Thunder and Lightning. Good, and some helpful insights. She lives somewhere around Santa Fe. Who knows? Maybe I’ll run into her when we’re there later this month. I impulsively signed up for a 6-weeks long on-line writing class called “Stop Thinking About It: Just Write.” The teacher is Susan Freeman. The first assignment is to write 200 words on the words “lunch hour.” I did, and am actually fairly pleased with the result. It’s about time, control, and living in the moment. I think it hangs together and is coherent. Finished it yesterday and am anxious to type, print, edit and send it on out along with the memo telling Susan a bit about myself that she requested of all the students (all five of us) and some notes on ideas I’m working on/thinking about at the moment.

I’ve never tried to write a description of a person or dialogue. How, for instance, does one describe a person such as friend and property “overseer,” Harold? I was thinking about that yesterday while Buck and I were sitting at the hexagonal glass-topped table on the screened porch eating our luscious breakfast of lightly nuked mixed berries on a whole grain waffle with a side of skim milk.  Hearing Harold’s pick-up truck door slam, I stepped inside to fetch him a cup of fresh hot coffee. He stepped into the screened porch with his typical, ludicrous greeting to Buck. “Hey, old man!” and to me, “Hey, Miss Beth!” He accepted the preferred New York-designed pseudo safari look mug with undisguised pleasure and made his way over to settle into a chair opposite us. I didn’t offer Harold a waffle or berries. He’s made it clear on previous occasions that he already ate breakfast — a real breakfast, mind you — one that will stick to your ribs: sausage, “aigs”, biscuits and cane syrup. “Naw sir, thanks for the coffee, Miss Beth, but you can keep that California bird food. Don’t you never feed yore man nothin’ good to eat?”

Buck says Harold is so fat because all that “stick to your ribs” food over the years has stuck to his ribs and just stayed there and built layer upon layer.

One thing, though. Harold is squat and fat, but his fat is not the loose, jiggly kind. It’s tight fat, or firm fat. I don’t know exactly what to call it.