Growing Up in the South – The Morning Swim

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Note: Part Two of our Growing Up in the South package. As you can see, the south of my childhood wasn’t all honeysuckle and ham. There were evil elements afoot – though I was quite well protected from them in a suburban sort of way. The newspapers still carried separate classified advertisements for “colored” and “white”, though the segregated water fountains disappeared before I was old enough to remember them. Over the years I’ve retained that peculiar southern ability to selectively remember good things while filing unpleasant episodes away in a special place. In that place they are accessible enough for tempering of character, but far enough below the surface to save umefrom being psychologically scarred. Of course, there were episodes of honeysuckle and ham as well. Despite all of its shortcomings, the South could be a wonderful place to wake up in the morning.

The first sunlight focused on a small spot directly between my eyes. It wasn’t unpleasant at all, but warm and inviting. It caressed my head and made me feel sleepy and content. I lay there – eyes closed – and felt my body awake part by part.

I could hear a mourning dove far in the distance. A plaintive hoot as it called for its mate. I could hear the breeze in the pines, all soft rush and whispering. The smell of pine mixed honeysuckle and eggs, bacon, and coffee from the house next door. Over in the corner, a small fan turned gently, puffing sporadic breezes my way. It felt cool on my sweaty back. I sat up slowly and looked to the East. The sun was well past the horizon though it was early. It was going to be a scorcher.

I walked barefoot and cutoff-clad to the dock behind the house, sat down and dangled my feet in the murky lake water. Small schools of crappie swarmed around and nibbled hello to my toes. I slowly slid into the water. It was that perfect temperature where you can’t be sure where skin ends and water begins. Not too hot, not too cold, just right.

Diving under, I went into a different world. I felt weightless and alive. I swam about like a happy porpoise, slowly kicking my legs more to move water past my skin than to propel myself to any particular destination. It was so quiet I could hear nothing but my heartbeat in my ears. I slowly drifted to the surface and took a breath of air, annoyed at this particular drawback of mammalian design.

With my lungs filled, I crossed my legs and sank slowly toward the bottom. A few feet down I passed through the temperature layer so common in muddy Southern lakes. Near the surface the water is warm and inviting, a few feet down it turns prickly cold. Arriving at the bottom I came to rest in some cool, soft mud. I could feel it around my feet and legs.

I tilted my head up and opened my eyes. Through the green murk I could make out the color of the early morning sun. Just as my lungs began to ache for a return to the surface I saw a shadow pass over. Still wondering what it was, I began a slow rise to the surface. Just as I reached the temperature layer I heard a loud splash and looked up to see a rapidly diminishing movement. Kicking hard I reached the surface and looked skyward. There, heading into the morning sun, I saw an Osprey with a fish dangling from its talons.

It’s been a long time and I still find myself missing the low salt marshes and pines. It seems a magical place now, though I don’t remember it being anything but hot and boring when I lived there. I suppose it is just more of that peculiar Southern ability making itself known to me.

12 thoughts on “Growing Up in the South – The Morning Swim

  1. Rebecca,

    Welcome back. I hope you had a fabulous holiday and thanks for the props.
    You get two paws up from me too. Give your care taker a lick for me.
    Miz B,
    Glad you’re fascinated, but if you read any of my actual “poems” your opinion would probably change. I burned most of the ones I wrote when I was young because I was so embasrassed by them.

    These past few posts seem to have sparked some unusual interest. Given that I’m editing these out from some old letters I’ve written, I’m not sure I could keep up the pace as a regular feature. Still, it’s a nice change of pace for me and apparently for you.

    My best to the in-laws 🙂

    Thanks. Isn’t everyone douing the “Lard’s work”?

    Breathe! Breathe! I don’t want to be responsible for any drownings.

    Thanks to you, and to everyone else, for the kind words. I don’t always have as much confidence in my personal writing as you all seem to have in it, so it’s nice to get a pat on the back.

  2. Good? I’ll tell you how good it was. While you were sitting underwater, I found myself holding my breath and intently curious about the dark thing on the surface. Not good – excellent!

  3. Nice stories here, O.P. Looks like you’re doing ‘The Lard’s Work’ too. Or is that Willie Nelson doing that…?

  4. Rev,

    I see you’re killing them with kindness. You gotta learn to pace yourself Rev. Burning the metaphorical candle at both ends is bad for the ticker.

    And yes you are nuts. It’s a tough job, but somebody’s gotta do it and you do it so well. Just don’t admit to packing yourself off the shrink or the voxday folks won’t be content with your virtual hide, they’ll come hunting for a literal pound of flesh and you need that to keep the internal organ, um…internal?

    Good luck m’good man. You’re doing the Lard’s work.

    I don’t know, Selina might be a little uptown for the deep south unless you’re going for the deep antebellum vote. Put some petticoats on it and dip a little honeysuckle to its neck and you got it. It shore is a purdy name though m’am.

    You should visit. If you ever go, let me know. I’ve got lots of suggestions from fabulous roadside attractions like the Giant Teapot in North Carolina to truly wacky things to see and do. Best place to meet interesting people you ever saw child, lawd it’s true. And foooood! Umm, umm, ummm…good eatin’.

  5. Someone once told me that my name (first and middle) sounds like a Southern Belle name. Selina Jane.

    I would love to visit the South. I’ve only every drove through.

  6. Doug,

    Thanks. I felt I was getting a little stale so I decided to mix things up a little. These past few day have been made of things I already had laying around, culled from letters to friends mostly. I wasn’t sure how people would take it, but most of them seem to like it, even if it isn’t as custy as usual.

    I know what you mean. I’m even related to some of those “colorful” folks. The south was where I got to see Jim & Tammy Baker before she wore makeup and they made it big and were still puppetmasters on a local kid’s show. I used to live down the street from Pat Robertson and see him in the local grocery store. Lots of other little insanities too.

    As for the possums and gators, I’ve been know to have a nibble of both myself.

  7. I’ll tell you what I miss about the south: the weird people. I miss how religion seemed to function in the supernatural sense against all logic. I miss seeing Urban Legends close up. Down south, I saw televangelists, desperate christian housewives, Cajuns who ate possums and gators, and drove without a license…I knew a girl who swore her best friend became a vampire before her very eyes, and another girl who swore that Jesus kept her from being abducted by a UFO. I met people in strange cults, and frequented odd booksellers. I miss the color of it all.

    But then, I have the internet now.


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