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.