Fun Enough Outings Near Charleston International Airport (CHS) for Those Too Impatient to Wait Two Hours for a Delayed Flight in a Soul-Slaying Cafeteria-Like Space Where You Can’t Purchase Alcohol

Chances are if you’re waiting at the so-called International Airport in Charleston, SC for a loved one’s arrival from a cancer treatment junket in Houston the day after you discover water dripping from a lighting fixture over your breakfast bar (the consequence of two tropical storms within 6 days having bitch-slapped[1] the barrier island you call home), you might come to the conclusion that your karma sucks, that the odds of your loved one’s arriving on schedule are about the equivalent of Donald Trump’s announcing he’s dumping Melania for Caitlyn Jenner.

if only

if only

And in my case, you’d be right.

Of course, I could have just sat there among those perhaps Pentecostal women in their fusty Little House on the Prairie outfits and watch them stare into their cell phones, or I could decide to make Amoretto Sours out of lemons, to grab the jazz combo by the horns, to get the hell out of there.

It was 7:30, and the flight was now rescheduled to arrive at 9:00.

Go west, Old Man.

map

Okay, here’s my advice if what happened to me last night happens to you.

Exit the airport and head straight past the Boeing plant, past the 526 on-ramps, straight on International Avenue towards Montague. Keep going until you see the first brightly lit strip shopping center to your left located on Tanger Outlet Boulevard.

That’s where we’re headed, to La Hacienda, specifically into a small barroom inside the restaurant.

the bar inside La Hacienda

the bar inside La Hacienda

I sat in the fourth stool from the left.  Two stools over sat a diminutive African American who reminded me of a hatless Thelonious Monk and to my right stood a tall Ricardo-Montalbán-looking cat who was drinking one of these:

cerveza-rita-small-corona

 

I ordered a small Dos Equis on draft and paid in cash.  Thelonious was reading a newspaper, working on some chips, the bartender conversing with Ricardo in Spanish, so I decided to leave my beer on the bar and boogie over to Mr. K’s Used Books and Music, conveniently located two stores down.  The joint is brightly lit yet cavernous, feels more like a library than a bookstore.   I found the non-fiction section and bought a copy of David Sedaris’s When You Are Engulfed in Flames.

Back at the bar, Thelonious had been replaced by a different African American, a handsome twenty-something wearing a baseball cap cocked to one side and sporting gold caps on his front teeth.

So I reclaimed my seat and flipped to an essay entitled “Solution to Saturday’s Puzzle.”  The essay is about Sedaris refusing to change seats on a flight to Raleigh as a favor to a woman “wearing a T-shirt and cutoffs” so she can sit with her husband.  The woman is the opposite of gracious. Once in the air, she takes off her shoes, and Sedaris, who’s doing the Saturday Times crossword, notices “her toenails were painted white and each one was perfectly sculpted.”

Eighteen across: “Not Impressed.”

Eleven down: “Whore.”

I wasn’t even looking at the clues anymore.

I chuckled a couple of times, but when I hit this paragraph, I let loose one of my godlike laughs:

It’s always so satisfying when you can twist someone’s hatred into guilt — make her realize that she was wrong, too quick to judge, too unwilling to look beyond her own petty concerns.  The problem is that it works both ways.  I’d taken this woman as the type who arrives late at a movie, then asks me to move behind the tallest person in the theater so that she and her husband can sit together.  Everyone has to suffer just because she’s sleeping with someone.  But what if I was wrong?  I pictured her in a dimly lit room, trembling before a portfolio of dimly lit X-rays.  “I give you two weeks at the most, the doctor says,  “Why don’t you get your toe-nails done, buy yourself a nice pair of cutoffs and spend some quality time with your husband.  I hear the beaches of North Carolina are pretty this time of year.”

The fellow with the baseball cap to my left said, “You sho seem to be having fun.”

“This book’s hilarious,” I said.

Just then my cell rang.  The scoop with Judy, my beloved, is that even though an hour ago her flight was circling Charleston, it had to turn around to refuel in Charlotte.  She was calling me to let me know they were getting ready to take off for the thirty-minute flight.

“But I’m having fun at La Hacienda,”  I whined.  “Why don’t you just take a cab home?”

She laughed.

“I’ll see you in about half hour,” I said.

The man to my left said apropos of nothing that he had beer at home but no liquor and that he just wanted a taste of liquor before he went home.  He was drinking something cranberry-colored in a short glass.

I asked the bartender, who called me señor instead of sir, for the tab and told him to add the fellow’s drink to it.

“Thank you,”  my friend to the left said.  “That’s a blessing.”  He shook my hand with the lightest of handshakes.  He finished before me and tapped me on the shoulder to thank me again as he walked out.

I asked Ricardo about his drink, which was essentially a margarita getting slow-dripped by a pony Corona.  It’s delicious,”  he said with an elegant  Spanish accent.

“Well, so long,”  I said once my Dos Equis was history, having successfully resisted the impulse to say “adios.”

When I hit the airport the arrivals sign now said the flight would arrive at 9: 30, but just then I got the text “landed.”

So I waited for Judy, who eventually appeared, wearing her wig, trudging exhaustedly.  Over at the baggage area stood the five pioneer-clad sect members.  I told one of them that my wife could literally see the island where we live when the plane turned around to head to Charlotte, that it was like a Marx Brothers movie. They found the entire episode amusing and were happy now that Emily had joined them.

And Judy’s bags were the first two off.  Maybe our luck was changing.


[1] I’ve searched the Dewey Decimal System of my pre-digital vocabulary for a better descriptor than bitch-slapped, but pounded, drenched, scraped, etc. seem too much or too little or too inappropriately concretely rake-like, so I’ve opted for an admittedly sexist cliché rather than going with the weaker synonym backhanded.

Deserts of Vast Eternity

TIME.2No one’s left to answer the questions I have about my first memories, scenes that take place in the gas station/house of my maternal grandparents in the year 1954 or 1955.

World War II has been over for ten years now.

I am two, maybe three. My grandparents, my aunt, maybe my uncle, live in a building that’s part commercial enterprise, part domicile. It’s not a home — or even a house – but the Station. What should be the front yard consists of a narrowing triangle of concrete featuring an island of gas pumps, the apex of the triangle marking the fork where Highway 78 splits into West 5th North Street and Richardson Avenue.   Diesel smells hover as cars swish by night and day, day and night. Out back, a wire fence encloses a treeless dirt yard where an unfriendly German Pinscher prowls.

No nature boy, I-and-I.

It seems at the time of these first memories that my mother and father are living at the Station, too. The upstairs, if subsequent recollections are correct, consists of one ark-like bedroom that has two or three beds and a stand-alone sink. There must be a bathroom downstairs, but I don’t remember it.

My first memory ever is of my parents’ leaving each morning. I descend the steep stairs terrified I’ll fall. I lead with my right foot, step after step, right foot first, until I’m about four steps from the bottom. Then I leap into my father’s outstretched arms, and he slings me around in circles. I don’t want my parents to leave me, but they do, and I spend the rest of the sibling-less day in the domestic section of the building while my grandfather pumps gas or fixes flats and my grandmother works the counter cash register. I can remember feeling sorry for myself as I sat sideways on the bottom step with my knees up. I remember thinking that the day would never end.

Of course, it did, and the one after that, and the one after that . . .

At two-and-a-half, I’d experienced fewer than a thousand days, so in that frame of reference, a day looms large. Now, I have weathered approximately 22,630 days, 1,885 full moons, 62 Christmas Eves. Yet, even though my frame of reference of a day has shrunk 2,000-fold, the days – especially, the weekdays  — still seem long.

Tick-tock-tick-tock-tick-tock . . .

But not the years — the years zoom past like cars on a freeway.

Blink, just like that I’m engaged to be married and attending a party with my mother during her 25th high school reunion weekend. My former classmate Emma Jo Mellard is there with her mother as well. We make small talk, comment on time’s winged chariot’s terrifying swiftness.

Blink. I’m swinging my sons in circles above my head.

Blink. I’m looking at a photograph on Facebook of members of my high school class who attended a 45th reunion last weekend (just hours ago I was at the 40th it seems).

These classmates are wizened, unfamiliar, old.

O what shall I do with this absurdity –

O heart, O troubled heart—this caricature,

Decrepit age that has been tied to me

As to a dog’s tail?

Blink.

A Rural Funeral

Funeral ProgramWhat they call Main Street in Jackson, South Carolina, isn’t what I would call a street — it’s more like a road running through farm fields, past a row of handsome houses standing on generous lots subdivided from what was once a pecan grove. The only businesses I saw: some type of mechanical repair shop with a hand-lettered sign and a defunct “Super Market.” There appear to be more churches in Jackson than businesses, at least on Main Street. We’re talking the Deep South, the Bible Belt, country music, V-8 engines, spiritual people.

I was at Jackson to attend the funeral of my first cousin Debbie, Uncle David’s second daughter, and although as a youngster I asked God to bless Elaine, Debbie, Pamela, and Scarlet each night as I recited “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep,” we rarely got together in childhood and virtually never in adulthood, unless we were visiting the terminally ill or, like yesterday, laying a departed family member to rest.

For whatever reason, my branch of the Moore clan isn’t close — even my siblings and I don’t see each other often — so it isn’t surprising that I can count the memories of visiting my cousins on one hand. However, when we did get together, we had a blast playing pick-up sticks and softball or listening to German-born Aunt Maria play her accordion. We simply enjoyed being together because there’s something about blood, about seeing hints of your features stamped on someone else, knowing you have sprung from common roots.

Elaine Ackerman Moore

Elaine Ackerman Moore

Roots like our irascible great granddaddy Luther Moore (“I’m deaf and blind so there’s no need to come up and talk to me!”), our sweet great grandmama and great granddaddy Ackerman, whose daughter, our grandmother, the beautiful Elaine Ackerman Moore, died before we were born and for whom my father and Uncle David mourned for the rest of their lives.

Blood, like they say, is thick.

Perhaps the most memorable event of our cousinhood occurred when Mama sold Uncle David a pony my father had bought and tried to keep in our backyard in a subdivision not zoned for farm animals. This pony was the equine equivalent of Homer Jo Roberts, Summerville’s town bully, who once punched 24 different people one night at the Curve-In Pool (I was one of them) because, as he later said by way of apology, “ Whiskey and beer don’t mix.”

This pony kicked, bit, brayed. I doubt John Wayne would have the courage to put a saddle on him. More problematic was the pony’s penchant for busting out of the make-shift fencing Daddy had erected by nailing some 2x4s to trees in our backyard. This transformation of our backyard into a farm helped to solidify our status as not-ideal neighbors (we also had tied to a tree in the backyard a wingless Ryan PT-22 airplane that we had to crank once a week to keep the engine from freezing). Neighbors were particularly unhappy when the pony got out and trampled their flower beds or deposited unsought fertilizer on their lawns.

So, Uncle David to the rescue. He drove from Jackson to Summerville with a horse trailer and relieved us of the nightmare, or, if you will, night-pony, whose behavior seemed to have improved remarkably the next time I saw him in Jackson safely enclosed behind well-constructed fencing.

I learned at her funeral that my cousin Debbie was a devout animal lover and had left behind two beloved dogs, Smoky and the Bandit. I already knew of her generosity because when Daddy was dying, she took off work and stayed for days with Mama. While she was there, she fixed mama’s broken washing machine and rewired the utility room. Debbie was a first-rate mechanic who could repair anything, who could replace the floor of a trailer, who could hold her own working beside anybody.

However, until yesterday, I had no idea of the breadth and depth of Debbie’s generosity. I learned it through reminiscences delivered during the service by her nephews, a niece, and a co-worker. I learned of material gifts galore and also of the gift of time devoted to others, the gift of love bestowed.

For example, when one nephew had to sell his beloved yellow Camaro, Debbie insisted on buying it herself so she could, unknown to him, leave it to him upon her death. I learned of her extraordinary work ethic, her meticulousness, her courage in butting heads with authority figures (a Moore trait for sure), her stoicism in enduring with grace the ravages of cancer.

I also learned of her sense of humor, an attribute that she kept right up to the very end.

For example. during her last week on earth, she was helped out of bed into her wheelchair, donned a wig, and when the nurse came in, Debbie asked her what she had put in her IV bag.

“Nothing special, just the regular.”

“Well, look what it’s done,” Debbie said. “Whatever it was, It made all my hair grow back.”

What I learned most profoundly is how much I had missed by not really knowing Debbie. Watching her nephew Steven manfully deliver an eloquent, heartfelt eulogy, I felt love manifested palatably in that sanctuary. The entire funeral from start to finish underscored the power of love and faith (something I certainly lack). How moving to hear Debbie’s brother-in-law Jeff sing to the accompaniment of his own guitar a medley of “Amazing Grace” and “My Chains Are Gone.”

On the front of the program for Debbie’s funeral are the words “Love is my gift.” How fitting.

The Parakeets’ Funeral

1957-Ford-Station-Wagons2Way back in the early 1950’s, when my consciousness slowly awakened and started taking note, you couldn’t drive up to a gas station in your spanking brand new Ford station wagon and fill her up yourself. No, when you pulled up to the pumps, you were met by a worker in overalls who would not only provide you with fuel, but also check your oil, fan belt, and tire pressure. He would clean your windshield, take your cash, and bring you your change.

My mother’s parents owned such an establishment called the Nation Station and actually lived in its confines. When you entered the front door, you encountered a white-washed wooden counter and a cash register; behind the counter a sheet-like curtain separated a space where tires were stacked, and beyond that was a door leading to three rooms, a hallway with steps, a “living room,” and a kitchen.

Those steps led steeply up to the bedroom — I only remember one – a cavernous barn-like space with a sink that stood out in the open. There my ornery Scots-Irish grandfather, a bantam rooster of a man, as ruddy as a crake, would apply frothy cream with a brush and shave himself with a straight razor that he would snap shut with authority when the ritual was over.

Red-Necked Crake

Red-Necked Crake

The sleeping arrangements were peculiar — a less decorous narrator might call them perverted.   I don’t remember where my grandfather slept. My grandmother slept with my aunt Virginia, who was only six years older than me.*  A ratlike (redundant?) Chihuahua named Perfidia also shared the mother-and-daughter’s bed. Why they would name a dog the Spanish word for “faithlessness” is beyond me.  “Here, faithlessness!  Come faithlessness!”

I do know why “Fiddy” slept in the bed with them, however. It was for medical purposes: Chihuahuas were supposed to be good for asthma, which periodically plagued my grandmother, sometimes resulting in stays at brown-bricked, one-story Dorchester County Hospital. I can see her now, encased in an “oxygen curtain,” gasping for breath.

In addition to Perfidia, my aunt kept two parakeets whose whistling provided a sonic counterpoint to Fiddy’s high-pitched yelping. They resided in a cage near one of the windows and spent the long, long, days of my fifth year pecking at bells and suet (and, of course, defecating).

One day, when Virginia got home from school, she discovered to her horror that both of the birds were drenched and behaving oddly. She went into a frenzy — and for good reason. My toddler brother David had right before her arrival given them a “bath” with a Black Flag insecticide sprayer. Of course, Virginia directed her inchoate rage at David rather than her bedmate mother who had left the poison within a toddler’s reach.

il_fullxfull.298559756We have no idea what David’s motives were. They could have been altruistic (the birdies looked like they needed a bath, though in that case mangy Fiddy seems a more rational target.) At any rate, I’m fairly certain David didn’t make the connection between spraying the insecticide and killing its recipients. Though I might not be giving him enough credit. Virginia could be pretty mean.

So I stood around and watched the birds have spasms amid the Euripidean howls from Hecuba Virginia.   There was nothing anyone could do. How much does a parakeet weigh? What antidote was there? Eventually, the spasms ceased. The soon-to-be uncolorful birds lay still on the newspaper lining the bottom of their cage.

No doubt the Station sold cigars because Virginia had used a cigar box for the birds’ coffin. Behind the Station (whose front yard was a slab of triangular concrete narrowing to the intersection of two highways) was a small area with one fairly substantial tree. Beneath it Virginia dug a hole and buried the gauze-wrapped birds side-by-side like Abelard and Heloise.   Dirt thumped upon the lid of the cigar box, Virginia said a few words, and a marker was erected.

She told me that in a few months we could dig them up to see their skeletons, but thankfully, we never did.

My Uncle Jerry and Jack Delk in front of "The Nation Station" in the 1950's

My Uncle Jerry and Jack Delk in front of “The Nation Station” in the 1950’s


* Though grammatically incorrect, “me” sounds so much better then “I.”


 

Going Back in Time Down Highway 162 South

drowning treesBecause we don’t work from June through July, Judy Birdsong and I tend to take trips to far flung places like Chicago, New Orleans, Lisbon, Paris.

We had planned last summer to head out on a whim in late July to a yet-to-be-decided somewhere, like Nova Scotia or the Pacific Northwest, but just after the 4th, Judy was diagnosed with PTCL-NOS, a more-often-than-not fatal non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

I’ll spare you the Lifetime movie of our dealing with uncertainty, calling our sons with bad news, the cheery waiting room posters pushing upcoming studies for the recently relapsed. To make a long, painful story short, after four rounds of in-hospital 96-hour continuous EPOCH chemo, Judy’s last PET scan came back “completely normal.” Although the process is far from over, the quick disappearance of the cancer bodes well for a permanent cure.

Time, then, to celebrate. We hadn’t vacated town since last October’s Leaf Festival to see Dr. John and the New Orleans brass band the Soul Rebels*, so we decided to drive down to Edisto last Sunday before Judy’s fifth round of chemo** and visit Botany Bay, 5,000 acres of what once were cotton fields from plantations that are [cue “Tara’s Theme”] no more.

Botany Bay’s main attraction, though, is a three-mile stretch of pristine beach whose bleached dead trees succumbing to the assault of the encroaching ocean serve as poignant symbols of what the ravager Time has in store for all of us. The copious shells that crunch under your feet and decorate the trees along the strand like grave ornaments offer their own testimony that time, time, time, ain’t on our side.


*Click HERE to see a video of Judy, the Soul Brothers, and Dr. John in action.

** She still has two more rounds of chemo, a stem cell transplant, and perhaps radiation before it’s over.

 The Drive Down

Rantowles

This trip down to Edisto took us right past the first house owned, a brick-veneer 3-bedroom ranch-style monstrosity custom-built by a good ol’ boy who couldn’t believe we were taking out the red and orange shag carpet he had just put in last year. We didn’t have the heart to tell him the red sink in the green bathroom was also slated for removal. The house’s redemption was that it overlooked Logbridge Creek, which connected to the Intercoastal Waterway. The view from the backyard and bedroom bay window was like, as my friend Steve Rey put it, a cover off of South Carolina Wildlife.

Judy and Me at our first house in Rantowles

Judy and Me at our first house in Rantowles

So Judy and I detoured right down Chaplin’s Landing Road to check out those digs of yore.

Guess what?

It’s changed. Our old dirt road is now a paved street lined with handsome houses that make our original seem like an embarrassing uncouth great uncle, you know, the one who wears suspenders that clash with his flannel shirt. A large Beware of Dog sign graced the busy front yard with its un-pruned Azaleas, garden do-dads, and array of automobiles.

Hollywood

Once we got back on Hwy 162 headed towards Edisto, we discovered that things haven’t changed that much since the early ’80’s, in fact, haven’t changed much since I was a boy.

Lining the road stood small modest domiciles, a mixture of wooden cottages, manufactured homes, and dilapidated house trailers. Business establishments include Parry Ruth’s Beauty Parlor, Youmans Natural Gas, small engine repair shops — lots of family owned businesses. The one incorporated town you pass through, Hollywood, hasn’t suffered the ever growing proliferation of traffic lights that plague the Charleston area. However, I don’t remember this antique store whose outside sentinel certainly headembodies the theme of the post.

Nevertheless, on the drive down, I felt as if I were once again in the Old South, here where black country folk seem to outnumber white country folk, and what a pleasure to see brothers and sisters in all of their finery chatting on the steps of an AME church.

Well, a couple of things had changed. The house trailer we remember perched on concrete block stilts is gone, along with a full sized mattress that hung like a hammock with four chains dangling from the boughs of a giant live oak, each chain attached to one of the mattress’s four corners.

Hollywood to Botany Bay

churchOnce you’re out of Hollywood, you enter even deeper into the disappearing South, pass through tunnels of moss-festooned live oaks, transverse bridges offering marsh vistas, pass a generous sampling of white-washed churches of various denominations. Genteel establishments like the Old Post Office Restaurant closed on Sunday stand as mute reminders of days gone by.

 

The Beach at Botany Bay

Natural Resources runs the Preserve, so you have to stop and sign in. The friendly ranger, who looked like he might be a volunteer, provided us a map and warned us of what not to do (collecting a shell can cost you a $470 fine), and gave us a brief history of the plantations that once stood on the property.

The beach is being engulfed by the sea, which has created a sort of graveyard of entangled trees, some blanched white and prone, others with beautiful swirls of root wood, other’s standing alone in the ocean like a crazy old doomed King Canute.

A variety of shells carpet the sand, but a chambered nautilus I saw not among the Darwinian litter.

tangleHow wonderful to be alive on this island of the dead! How wonderful to know the little that we know.

The Plantation Ruin Tour

Ain’t nothing left to speak of — an ice house, a tabby tool shed, dikes, and part of a plantation house’s foundation.

I couldn’t help but think of the slaves on this Sabbath, their only day off, nothing much to look forward to.  Their cottages used to line the Creek, according to our map.  Evil.

The six mile dirt road drive was pretty enough, but after four so hours of unrelenting beauty, I longed for the familiar squalor of Chico Feo’s.

We hauled ass home opting for the short cut via Toogoodoo Road where you can go 60 and not encounter another car for miles and miles.

shellsbutterflies