We're back YET AGAIN from the vast reaches of I-65, having run down to TN on Sat., spent the night, partaken of a LONG buffet of Southern cookin'---when you walk into the restaurant and see a long pan of paminna cheese on the salad bar, with the mile-high meringue of a still-warm nanner puddin' leading the parade---well, that's just lagniappe on the sundae of picking up your grandchild. And when the hotel clerk is a smiling young woman in a silver-gray uniform who looks as if she turned from the mirror at the Merle Norman counter just that minute, chirping out a cheery, "How're Y'ALL? Y'all doin' all right?"---you know you're HOME.
At dinner, we were in company of an entire convention of Vets who were actually AT Iwo Jima---honorable companions, indeed. And how we slept, drugged with the warm green hug that Tennessee throws around you from one state line to the other---awoke to 40-weight Southern coffee, the scent of deep-salt bacon wafting through the transom clear into our room, with birds calling us out to a sunny, sunny day.
The kids were coming from home, and so were not expected until two, so we took in a little bit of the flora and fauna around the area---hiking upsy and downsy trails with long tendrils of grass and other greenery swishing our ankles clear up to our knees (I can still check for ticks a mile away---just turn around this way, please). We explored the ruins of an old house, stood where they might have sat to eat breakfast, where she might have looked across her sudsy dishpan, dreaming her dreams through the small window. We snapped pictures of tall, ethereal orchidy-blue things small as a fingernail, but clearly showing an ORCHID in the magnifier; we collected a huge dustbunny of seeds from the expired head of a thistle big as a sunflower. I love thistles in any form, and I just kept finding another and another, and calling him on down the path for more pictures. And so we met our butterfly.
Our softwater showers, lingered in for the cascade and the cleanfeel, were forgotten as we trudged the small inclines and felt our skins glow in the unaccustomed South-air Heat.
Our travelers arrived, whizzing down that ribbon of highway that we had watched avidly from our chosen shady picnic-spot. The small two poured squealing from the van, tumbling across the lawn toward us, with the little one struggling to hold on to her purse, her snuggle-toy, and her balance. They may have been beaconed by the table, which was alight with bright bags---two for the birthday girl and two going to a baby shower for their Mom. The biggest bag, a blazon of oranges and eye-searing yellows and greens, with birthday wishes in many languages---omtowmbow a big ole bag that could cover a Volvo---rolled out a Tonka-yellow dumptruck with a bed that would hold a peck of picked-up sticks and rocks.
In the pictures of their arrival, our littlest is running so swiftly to get to us, only air can be seen beneath her small sandals. That kind of enthusiasm from a child is a great blessing, akin to and better than a knighthood or a title.
We played on the playground, finding a neat window-niche which we imagined into a little store, and sold each other our caps, our sunglasses, the cups and eating utensils right off the table. I fished out my Library card, and whoever was storekeeper whisked it through the air on the ledge, and we signed the air receipts for our purchases with the flourish of a twig. Lovely shopping trip.
And their Ganner, not to be outdone of his Deep-South afternoon, had chilled a huge watermelon in the corner of our chilly room, THEN, when we had to check out three hours before their arrival, had scooped gallons of ice from the machine into a BIG black garbage bag, put in the watermelon, wrapped the whole thing in his big waterproof poncho, THEN in a big piece of indestructible black foam he carries in the trunk. He'd klept six knives and forks from Chic-fil-A as we traveled down, so when all the present ooh and aah, all the truck-rolling and filling and dumping abated a bit, he got out that icy melon, whipped out his trusty, ever-present pocketknife, and we had a wonderful, chilly feast under the Tennessee shade. And you'd be amazed how delicious a feast goldfish, pretzels and cold watermelon make.
A two-hour visit, then back up that long highway with our girl, singing Scout camp songs in the backseat (she went to her first campaway this year) and stopping for a judicious shopping trip at several Truckmalls, which feature the latest in dolphin-jewelry and animals-in-or-as-purses, as well as the neatest dispensers that will squirt out vanilla or cherry in unlimited supply to flavor your Dr. Pepper. She spent Sunday night here in her old room, reading her new Anne late as I always did and do---her lamp still gleamed down the hallway as this old Granny called it a night.
A LONG tour of the garden and lawn, coffeecups in hand, with gatherings of one green tomato, one small fat cucumber, two crisp little pendants of greenbeans, along with a tiny wind-dropped apple and a clip from each pot of herbs. We smelled them all, rubbed them between our fingers, inhaled the morning fragrances---I can remember seeing her lips making "thyme" and "marjoram" and "oregano" as we named them off and inhaled. She liked dill best, and could eat a pickle RIGHT NOW. So we went and got one.
That was two years ago, and we used the picture as the cover of a little family book I gave out for Christmas that year. The memories are still as vivid as the greens and purples, and bright as the butterfly.