Sunday, October 30, 2011

Nonnie Travels, Part 3

Nonnie Travels, Part 3

I never woulda done it on purpose, of course. My plan was to amble south and west from Black Mountain, North Carolina to some point in central Georgia for a night, and then, the next day, on to the Florida panhandle, where I live. I would drive along what I think of as "soft highways." I avoid Interstates to the best of my ability. As soon as I get on one I want off it-so there's little point in trying them. This has taken me many years to learn. I'm a good driver, I think, but I have issues-see Nonnie Travels, Part 2, if you're curious about those-it's right under this post. I did avoid the four-to-six lane, beat up, loud, unforgiving zoomers for the most part. I followed through on that part of my plan, anyway.

Self-navigating with my follow-roads-that-point-south-or-west-or-both rule, I ended up in the southern Appalachians, on two way roads with a hair-pin turn every two seconds. Nobody else around for long chunks of time. The roads had signs with numbers and "south" or "west" posted every now and then, but since I couldn't look at my maps,(I love maps and had lots of them with me) they weren't very helpful. I'd flash by the infrequent shoulders and pull-overs and think, "oh, there was one." Once on this path, I had to go on until I came out somewhere, turning around just didn't seem doable. Hell, I couldn't even think about changing the CD. My hands were too busy. Really, I felt like I was driving with my arms. My entire body. Still, early Tom Waits was rather good company for this drive. He and I had a blast.

Driving up and down and around mountains, in October, on the kind of day that deserves all the best weather words thrilled me and gave my six-year old Buick a happy shock, too. Okay, maybe I wouldn't recommend the sort of morning I had to fellow heart patients, but man, it was fun. I had red, yellow, gold and green trees, dappled sunlight, miles of dense forest and then panoramic views of somewhere (didn't much matter where at that point, did it?) and I was counting only on myself and my trusty car, with Tom for additional spirit. I never woulda done it on purpose, what with my issues, and my promises to be careful, but fate gave me a gift…and a boost. I'd even gone south and west after-all, albeit not very far south or west, mostly up and down. Sort of like swinging. Huh.

This is the Windsor Hotel, dressed up for Christmas, in Americus, Georgia.
I stayed here on my way up to Black Mountain, and again on my way home. Great place. No fooling.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Nonnie Travels, Part 2

Nonnie Travels, Part 2

When I signed up for the Road Scholar program, I did so because I needed to leave the house. I have a dicey heart and Myasthenia gravis and neither of my bugaboos waltz with the humid heat of the Florida panhandle in summer. I decided to go to the mountains in North Carolina in October. Book talk, Appalachian music and humor were on the schedule. Deciduous trees. Cool weather. Not a trip to Paris, maybe, but what with everything, maybe just right.

Indeed. My room at the Inn overlooked a small lake and a  mountain. The leaves came through and God, they were beautiful.
No phone. No TV. Great bathtub. Mornings we had Annie Hall (I know) and Nancy Lewis leading us from writer to writer-many thanks to both of you. Evenings we had Appalachian storytellers, musicians, each others' laughter. I rested most afternoons or took gentle walks around the lake. Oh, and I had to replace my cell phone. I'd lost the charger somewhere on the way up, and there weren't any chargers being made that fit my old phone, at least not in Black Mountain, and I ended up having to buy a whole new deal with a contract and…still, a couple of hours out of six days isn't bad, right?

I was surrounded by kindness. Struck by gentility. No phonies. If there were any hidden agendas, I didn't find them. I relaxed with this group. Mine was one cane among many. We were in our sixties, seventies, and well into our eighties, and we enlivened  each other. I got out of the house, got into the mountains, and got to know interesting people who've seen around the corner, who get the joke in the hapless pomposity of "Do you know who I used to be?" I learned to say Appalachia,"apple at ch'a," and that road trips like this are good for me. My next one (poets) is in the works.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Nonnie Travels, Part 1

Before leaving for my 10 day trip to North Carolina for a Road Scholar program, "Southern Writers and Banned Books":

I almost cancelled. (too much chest pain-too tired)

On the way to North Carolina from the Florida panhandle:

"Is this Bonifay?"
"Yes ma'am," the cashier said in a sad, sad voice.

Mamma horse and her colt running flat-out across a pasture,
cows, goats, peanuts, cotton, pecans, sod, brown dirt, red dirt, dirt for sale

Old mansions, (the new ones are around Atlanta I guess, but I didn't go there) gun-shot shacks, tidy small towns with town squares or circles and big churches with long names, railroad tracks with right and wrong sides, the Tricia Yearwood Parkway

yard sales everywhere (I mean, everywhere!)

"Where's everyone going?" I asked.
"The Fair!!!" she said, and handed me my change for a big-gulp  coffee.(Everyone in the Perry, GA. traffic snarl knew but me, and clearly I shoulda.)

front yard sign: "Jesus"

The Windsor Hotel in Americus, GA. Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter go there for dinner sometimes. William Jennings Bryan,  Al Capone, Robert Bly, and Stephen Colbert stayed there. Not bad for a small town hotel.
from a  balconey at the Windsor Hotel

Dining Room, Windsor Hotel

Lost in a mall-crazy loop around Athens, GA.  Lost in one-way streets in downtown Athens, GA.  (It's all true-what they say about the way Southerners give directions.)

Missing my brother Drago, who was home alone at night and didn't like it. Sam and Blossom, our cat and dog, were with him, of course. Excellent companions, the best, but they don't sit at the table with you or watch Chris Matthews.

Springhill Suites are decorated with lots of lime green. Dunno. Springy?

Mountains! (Those others weren't mountains. They were hills. These are mountains)

Montreat, N.C.
Assembly Inn, Montreat, N.C.
And then:

Finding Black Mountain, N.C., (home of Black Mountain College from 1933 to 1957-now there's a story) without a hitch, hardly, unloading my stuff, steering the fucking cart (sorry, but there are times it's the best word) loaded with my stuff to my room at the Assembly Inn at Montreat Conference Center.  Settling in. Dinner with people I liked right away. Feeling fine…and proud of myself.

(to be continued)

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

A Head Full of Flowers

A Head Full of Flowers

“Okay, Lilah, time to move on,” the young cop said to the bundle on the bench.
“I don’t feel so good,” it said in a weak voice.

“You gotta get off the bench, Lilah. It’s already 8 am. I can’t let you sleep here. This is the Upper East Side for chrissakes.”

“It’s a public park. I’m public. And park plants share.”

"Yeah, you're public. You eat in public. Sleep in public. Central Park's not your bedroom."

“Well I can't sleep in my own bedroom. I can't find it anyway." Lilah sat up and rubbed her eyes. She was hungry and sad. She slowly finger-braided her long dark blond hair. 
"They made me leave." She spoke to the dirt path, barely loud enough for Tom to hear. She never said a word to the other cops. This one didn’t scare her.

“Come on, Lilah. Get yourself together and move to some other guy’s beat. I don't have time to hear your life story."

“I’m remembering myself this morning. Most mornings I don’t, but today I remember that I used to teach third grade.”

“Right. And I used to be a Rockette.”

Lilah looked at Tom then and flashed him a smile. A blue foulard necktie belted her baggy yellow t-shirt and there was a pink and green flowered scarf around her neck. She wore black cotton pants that had faded to a greenish-gray. Red flip-flops dangled from her filthy feet.

“I was a teacher. But my Philodendron began to laugh at me, tease me, call me names. The English Ivy was growing too fast. It was going up the walls. You know? And then one day my Calla Lilies told me all the houseplants wanted my apartment to themselves and that I should go for a long walk. So, I did.” Lilah started coughing and pulled a man's whitish handkerchief out of her Macy’s shopping bag.

Tom looked at Lilah’s dirty face more closely. She’s young, he thought. Mid-twenties, maybe. She’s schizo-not a drunk. I’ll be damned.

“When did your lilies tell you to go for a walk, Lilah?”  Lilah?”

“Oh, I don’t know. There were Tulips here, near this bench. They’re dead. See? No Tulips. I'm trying to find my sister's place. She’ll know how I can get my apartment back from the plants.”

Lilah, carrying the Macy’s bag and another from an A&P supermarket, got up and walked alongside Tom. She liked the sound her flip-flops made if she swung her feet up before putting them down and flapped with every step.

“Where did you live, before you moved onto my beat?” Tom twisted to look at her.

“Around someplace. I’ve been looking, but I haven’t seen it again. Bye!” Tom stopped as Lilah abruptly turned to her left and headed into the park, walking quickly and without flapping.


Lilah patted her almost full belly. She never asked for money. It never occurred to her to do that, but a white-haired lady had given her five dollars so she’d bought two warm bagels from Sid, a vender she liked. He’d slapped cream cheese on them, because he said she needed dairy.

She hadn’t made it back to her bench until after dark. Today was her day to walk from E. 86th and Fifth Avenue to the river. Her sister, Haley, lived on one of these streets. Haley had houseplants, but Lilah wouldn’t have to go near them. If she ever found her sister’s building, she  would just wait on her stoop until Haley showed up.

Lilah’s brain was full of voices that rarely told her anything useful. She could’t concentrate with all that chattering. Begonias and Impatiens were arguing about how long they had until the first frost. Lilah curled up as tight as she could and tried to sleep.

"Okay, I get it. Cold is coming. We have to be inside someplace before the cold starts. Stop yelling at me!” Lilah pounded her feet on the ground. She was sick of the Purple Coleus nagging her to find Haley’s place. The morning was gray and cool. She wrapped her arms around herself and swayed side to side. Water. She needed water and every plant in her head was telling her they were thirsty. Lilah stood up and looked under the bench for her flip-flops. 
“Where are they? My shoes-they’re gone!”

“No, your shoes are right under that bush, Lilah,” Tom said.

Lilah straightened up and saw the nice cop pointing to a Boxwood in a hedge that bordered the Fifth Avenue sidewalk. She saw her shoes and laughed. She’d completely forgotten that last night the Begonias told her she’d better hide them before she went to sleep.

“ How ‘bout you come with me to a police station on the West Side?  I’ve got my car, you don’t have to walk. It’ll be okay.”  Tom said. He had a schizophrenic cousin and badly wanted to help this woman get off the streets. He didn’t think she’d been off the radar long and if she’d taught school, they’d have her prints. 
I don’t get this, Lilah thought. Is this bad? Don’t any of you stupid flowers know what I should do?

“Why aren’t you wearing your uniform? Where’s your gun?”

“I’m off today. We’ll go talk to a lady named Colleen. She looks for missing persons. You’ll like her.”
“No. I’m not missing. My apartment and my sister’s apartment are missing.”
Lilah heard Old Rose, who rarely spoke, say in a teacher-voice, “Go with him, Lilah. You need help.”

“Can you get me some orange juice?” Lilah ignored all the high-pitched voices saying bad things about orange juice. They wanted water, but she was clear about wanting cold, tasty, orange juice.

“I can do that. I’ll get you a big glass. But you have to come in my car with me, because the place I know with the juice is over near Colleen’s station.”

“I’m supposed to look for my sister’s on E. 87th today. I think. Maybe it’s 84th. Or 86th.”
Lilah was swaying from side to side and lightly stamping her still bare feet. She didn’t know what to do. She looked at Tom and noticed he had green eyes, like all the green in her head.

“It’s time, Lilah. You need to find your sister and this man will help you. You’re sick child, and you aren’t taking care of yourself. Go with him.” Rose’s voice cut through the chatter and Lilah stopped moving and stood still. Then she put out a scratched, dirty hand, and Tom took it. He picked up the A&P bag, and Lilah picked up her Macy’s bag. She got her flip-flops from under the Boxwood and flapped them loudly as they crossed Fifth Avenue, heading for Tom’s car, orange juice,  and maybe a chance.

first published in The Write Side Up (C.W.Smith)