Thursday, August 5, 2010

Fern Forest Hiatus

Last week I took a break from Fern Forest to fly to Florida with H for some family bonding. My three brothers are scattered across the country, and I don’t see them very often, so Arizona brother Butch suggested we get a condo in Melbourne Beach and visit our older brother Ron, who’s been struggling with Meniere’s disease. Call me crazy for leaving Vermont in the summer to spend four days in the Sunshine State. Do not doubt that it was hot. But there was a beach and water and a moon full enough to watch a huge loggerhead sea turtle inch her way toward our patio one night to dig a hole and lay her eggs.

(These are the tracks she left in the sand.)

No matter how old I get or how many books I publish or how many years I teach at a university, I’m still “Sis” when I’m with my brothers. Growing up, Ron’s seat was next to mine at dinner and daily I got in trouble for squealing when he pinched my thigh. He pinched my thigh three times during our visit. He always had a fast car and still has an expensive sports car and a three-wheel motorcycle (his vertigo was under control enough to take me for a spin)

as well as a bass boat and an airboat. Ron doesn’t understand why I live in such a godforsaken hippie state instead of Florida, the conservative holy land. He is, as you might have guessed, a Republican. His middle name is Wayne, named for John Wayne, and he has never outgrown the idea that he's got some cowboy in him. He has a license for a concealed weapon and carries a pistol in a holster custom designed for the gun and his iPhone which has the BANG!BANG! app. Ron was Mom’s favorite. Butch is the most good natured of the four of us, and he cracks silly jokes, makes fun of me because I sing off key (he's a singer/actor/radio announcer/member of Arizona Repertory Society) and reminds me that he was voted “most talented” in his high school class (I was voted nothing). Politically, he’s independent. Butch was Mom’s other favorite.

My brothers like barbecue, so that’s what we ate,

(Butch, Ron and wife Mary, moi, and in front row, Ron's daughter Lori (who flew in from Joplin, MO, to see us), Ron's mom-in-law Doris, granddaughter Kiley, son Kevin and his wife Amy.)

and ice cream because we were always hot,

and we drank sweet tea. All three of my brothers are teetotalers, but I enjoyed a couple glasses of wine with my sisters-in-law, Butch’s third wife and Ron’s fourth.

On our last morning, H and I rented a car and started up the East Coast, stopping first at Hilton Head. The beach there is not as nice as Melbourne and the island was crowded. We had one sleep and moved on to Charleston, where we had lunch with one of H’s Harvard Classmates, photographer Tom Blagden, a northern boy who after years in South Carolina still marvels at southern cultural idiosyncrasies. In the early ‘70s, Tom and girlfriend Lynn (now his wife) visited Rosebud Farm in Australia, and Tom helped me with the details of a chapter of my book While In Darkness There Is Light that describes being stranded for three weeks on Houghton Island in the Coral Sea. Forty years later over lunch at a harbor restaurant they recounted the hunger and dehydration, the arguments about how to keep a dozen people alive on a dry tropical atoll, and the fragile rescue by a passing freighter. Tom and Lynn live well in Charleston, and the Houghton Island experience makes them grateful every day for their good fortune.

On the road again, we crashed with a cousin in Longs, just north of Myrtle Beach, and the next day stopped for coffee in Wilmington, North Carolina, a college town and port city between the Cape Fear River and the Atlantic. If I were to leave Vermont, I’d point my nose toward Wilmington, which has a beautiful UNC campus and a cute downtown. And it’s a blue state. But we didn’t linger long because we were expected at my third brother’s beach house in Nag’s Head. Don is the oldest of our clan, and he’d rented an eight-bedroom house on the beach for his family—three kids and their kids and their kids’ friends and three dogs. The summer he lifeguarded at a lake, Don taught me to swim by saying, “Don’t put your feet down or the snapping turtles will bite off a toe.” He was a high school football hero, voted most popular in his class, is still married to his teenage sweetheart and lives in the house she grew up in. H and I made nineteen in the beach rental (not counting the two Basset hounds and the Aussie shepherd), but it was capacious enough that we didn’t bump into each other. I respect how close Don’s family is. They all live in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., and get together on every holiday. H and I presented them with a big watermelon we had picked up on the way and slept on a pull-out in the foosball nook.

(Watermelon vendor in NC.)

I hope I remember to pay that $25 parking ticket I got in D.C. in my haste to grab my favorite brew, the bourbon stout at District Chop House and Brewery. I grew up just outside Washington and got my undergrad and grad degrees from George Washington University, and I love the energy of the city. My son Bryant is an attorney doing document review there until he lands a permanent position with a firm. After work he met us at the Chop House before scurrying off to his softball game on the Ellipse. H and I wandered down and tried to find his team—“I’d Hit That”—among the dozen games between the White House and the Washington Monument.

I’d Hit That was at the corner of Fifteenth and Constitution, an intersection filled with tourists speaking foreign languages and softball players dashing between cars to retrieve a wild toss. Bry’s a pretty fair ball player and one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet, but after the game (which I’d Hit That won) he couldn’t spend much time with us because he was dashing to play in a late hockey game, where, he later reported, he scored a goal and got an assist. I’ve become content with an occasional glimpse of him.

By the time H and I wound our way 1,900 miles from Florida to Fern Forest, we’d touched base with nearly all my family. H owed me this trip for all the New England reunions he’s dragged me to with his family, and he was a cheerful traveling companion.

But there was no time for reflection. The gardens were weedy, the grass wanted cutting, the mail was piled high, and we were expecting treehouse guests. But the trip reminded me of who I am—a transplanted D.C. gal with a hint of the south who learned from her brothers how to spiral a football and not throw a baseball like a girl. I can’t carry a tune and don’t carry a gun but I can hit a wine bottle with my Daisy from sixty feet away and I can tread water all day long. Thanks for all that, brothers.


Butch said...

Finally! I got mentioned in a Louella Bryant blog. My life is now complete. Thanks, Sis!

Louella Bryant said...

I added a little detail about your many talents, bro, and H was disappointed that I didn't say anything about MB. I'll save her for our trip to Tucson blog.

王辛江淑萍康 said...

Knowledge is a treasure, but practice is the key to it.................................................