Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Why We Live in Maryland

Yesterday I cut my finger and required a jaunt to the emergency room. Stuck for three hours waiting to have a steri-strip, Neosporin and a tetanus shot, I began to read a book I'd held onto for over a year. "The Liar's Club" by Mary Karr. Like me, she is an East Texan but she's a generation older and the narrative from her non-fiction memoir paints a richly raw world that I found familiar.

I recognized the tall grasses that stunk near the beach, and the brown surf and the men drinking beer as they seined. I could smell the petroleum air of Baytown and see the once brightly painted but now chipped and faded wooden bars and stores that peppered the Southeast Texas coast sparingly and now not at all, owing to the recent Hurricane season.

As I waxed on and on about these little slices of memory that the book evoked, my husband who had waited up for me, (a gallant gesture of solidarity at 1:30 a.m.), shook his head. Having been caught up in the visions of seeing jellyfish and the story about the snake my uncle cut up with a children’s toy metal hoe, I didn't grasp that what for me was poetry, for him was prose.

"Give me a snowy winter and moderate summer where I can go out in the afternoon and tend my garden. I don't want a summer where I sweat." I was almost shocked that he didn't understand the allure. But maybe it was the hour.

The conversation continued the next morning as he looked over his garden before leaving for work.

Neither one of us consider Maryland "home," because home has the stars that you grew up with, and the little places like Jimmies --where my beloved would go to eat lunch by the beach with his father and grandfather. Home is where he went to pick fruits at a local farm with his mom, and the lake where he and his brother would catch sun perch, and the field where a very mean cow once gave him a scare, now a series of townhomes. Home has the streets where your best friend drove too fast. It was where you made bad trades in baseball cards because you wanted the complete set. It was where you built forts out of snow that were six feet high and walked home with your shoe laces untied because the teacher wouldn't help.

I shook my head. Connecticut. To me everything in that state seemed something one had to be "in the know" to find. There was a certain place to get pastries and the place to get hot dogs and bread and flowers. I had now been to many of the places he talked about, and they were fun and I liked them but like the places I considered jewels in the book, these were invisible to the non-native, untraceable, inscrutable. No one would find it if they didn't already know, "This is where you go to get crabs and feed hush puppies to the alligators afterwards." "This is where you go if you want the best Pizza on the planet." You could experience it via the other person's memories and create your own, but the depth, the poetry did not always convey. I did concede Pepe’s was the best and I did love the nooks and crannies type experience of one of kind places that Connecticut still held.

But like him, for me this was prose, not poetry.

So he only knows of that street where I got a warning from a policeman because five of my best friends got out and did a mock fire drill by running around the car three times after a CYO dance. And I have seen from the safety of our car, the mountain he and his friends accidentally found themselves on while hiking, the one called "Mount Lamentation" because of its high poison snake population.

Neither one is quite comfortable with the extreme climate elements the other one holds as part of what is "normal." Clear cold snappy air after August and plenty of snow and ice all winter as versus "squinting in the shade," and the bulk of the year and having that toasty air that late summer sometimes saturates with, and so we reached a place which is the spirit of compromise; Maryland.

There are days now that evoke South East Texas, and in January, sometimes he goes outside without a coat, spreads out his arms, breathes deeply and says, "Yes." "This is how it should be."

In writing, one is supposed to sit down at the chair and open a vein. Apparently, the left first finger of my hand had the blood in it that channeled "Home."


Karen said...

Your descriptions are gorgeously evocative ... I can taste the salty air!

MightyMom said...

ummmmm, counting my blessings that hubby gave up Conn and came here for me!!

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