Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Kiss My Grits

I was born and raised in South Carolina, and for that reason, bugs know better than to mess with me. However, my Yankee husband, Babe, starts scratching and fidgeting when the outside temperature edges over 65 degrees.
“That mosquito almost ate me alive! This damn humidity will kill me if the bugs don’t get to me first! Sand gnats? A nuclear warhead couldn’t blast those critters away!”
When he gets to what the Florida Yankees call no-see’ums, I pack and pout and stay like that all the way up to his hometown in Western Pennsylvania.
Once there, we lug our stuff into our cabin, which more often than not is when we discover there’s no water. It’s been a long drive and I’m so cranky my cat disappears under the bed and may never come out again, but Babe is deliriously happy. He puts a grin on his face and looks pretty much like The Joker in Batman.
“Don’t you feel it? Huh? Don’t you? Huh? No humidity!” Next thing I know he’s spit-polishing his nine-iron.
I make up the beds with fresh linens, cram the refrigerator with food and clean the toilet that flushes only when it wants to. By the time pale slashes of cool, mountain sunshine garnish the inside of our cabin, I can almost manage to smile.
Babe is setting up a golf match before I’ve had my first cup of Starbucks the next morning. Gulping down breakfast like it’s his last meal, he brushes past me with a wink and a pat on the butt, which does nothing to improve my mood.
“Ten o’clock tee time!” he quips before leaving me alone with pale slashes of sunshine, a paranoid cat and a temperamental toilet.
Southern to the bone, I feel like a foreigner this far above the Mason-Dixon Line and long to be down South where I belong.
After several days of homesickness, I figure there’s really no point in wallowing in misery, so I volunteer to read my Southern stories to residents at a local retirement home. Because I am a ham, I read them aloud, savoring the smiles on the wrinkled faces of my captive audience. Most of them are charmed but there is one exception.
Mrs. Beekabolly’s dark eyes stare straight ahead, making it impossible for me to wrench a smile from her. For years, she was a librarian so I wonder if she may be trying to shush me. I try to ignore her but her eyes keep me coming back for more shushing. I begin to think it might even be a North/South thing. What if she holds me personally responsible for the Civil War? It happens.
Autumn comes early to Northwestern Pennsylvania and by mid-October the leaves on the ground resemble an Amish quilt. Faded bathing suits that hung on the line all summer are brought inside and packed away for another year. Five consecutive cool nights send a clear signal that it’s time to clean out the refrigerator and start packing. Woo Hoo!
I no longer hold out any hope that Mrs. Beekabolly will ever cotton to my jocularity, but just in case, I save my most humorous story to read on the last day.
After the reading is over, I am warmed by the hearty applause from the group of seniors I have come to know and learned to love. I hug them all and silently pray that they’ll still be around when we return.
I am preparing to leave the nursing home when Mrs. Beekabolly taps me on the shoulder. She’s holding out a brown paper sack, her spooky eyes still boring into mine.
“This is for you,” she says without smiling.
“Why, Mrs. Beekabolly! Aren’t you sweet.” I’m stunned.
“Open it,” she commands.
I put my hand inside the sack and pull out a five-pound bag of Jim Dandy Grits. “What’s this?” I’m grinning like a fool but she continues to glare. No surprise there.
“Its grits,” she says like I’m stone stupid.
“But why?” It’s no secret that Yankees totally hate grits.
“Got ‘em over in Altoona. If you freeze ‘em, they’ll keep till next summer.”
“Next summer?”
Her face softens and a gentle smile graces her tight, lizard lips. “While you were reading your stories, I heard homesickness in your voice, so I figured if you had a bag of grits up here waiting for you, it would be the touchstone you need to bring you back.”
I’d have bet anything that Mrs. Beekabolly had been trying to catch every one of my grammatical errors. But that wasn’t it. All summer long, she had been listening with her heart.
We look at each other and something sweet passes between us.
“Thank you, Mrs. Beekabolly. I’ll see you next summer.”
“Then you better write a bunch of new stories, Missy,” she quips. “I’m old, but I’ve got a memory like Jumbo the Elephant and I can’t abide reruns.”
A thin smile touches her lips again but I catch it and hold onto it as she strides out of my life for another year.

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