Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Kiss My Grits

I was born and raised in South Carolina so bugs don't mess with me. However, my Yankee husband, Babe, starts fidgeting when the temperature gets over 65 degrees.

"Dang these mosquitoes. They're eating me alive!"

"Danged humidity will kill me if the mosquitoes don't get me first!"

"A nuclear warhead couldn't blast these sand gnats away!"

When he gets to the no-see'ums, I start packing and pouting and I stay like that all the way up to Pennsylvania.

Once there, we lug our stuff into our cabin, which is more often than not, when we discover there's no water. It's been a long drive and I'm so cranky that even the dog keeps her distance.

Babe is deliriously happy. He grins like the proverbial cat with canary feathers stuck in his teeth. "Don't you feel it? Huh? Don't you? No humidity!" Then he plops down in his recliner to spit-shine his nine iron.

I put fresh linens on the beds, 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 begin to garnish the inside of our cabin, I almost manage to smile.

Babe is on the phone setting up a golf foursome before I'm out of bed the next morning. Gulping 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.

I am Southern to the bone and I feel like a foreigner in this place way too far above the Mason-Dixon Line. I so want to be back down South where I belong.

After several days of homesick sulking, I find no percentage in summer-long misery so I volunteer at the local nursing home where I'm allowed to read my Southern stories to the residents. As I read them aloud, I'm delighted at the smiles and chuckles on the wrinkled faces of my audience. Most of them appear charmed by my attempt at humor, with one exception.

Old Mrs. Beekabolly's dark eyes stare holes in me and I can't seem to figure her out. I know that for many years she was the town librarian so I get the feeling she's about to shush me as though we're all in the library. I even fear her attitude may be a North/South thing and that she holds me personally responsible for the Civil War. I try to ignore her and most of the time, I do.

Autumn comes early to Northwestern Pennsylvania and by mid-October, the fallen leaves resemble an Amish quilt. Faded bathing suits that once hung on the line all summer are brought inside and packed away for another year. The cool nights signal that the time has come to clean out the refrigerator and start packing.

I no longer hold out any hope that Mrs. Beekabolly will cotton to my jocularity. However, I save my most humorous piece to read on the last day, hoping at least that she wouldn't glare at me. After the reading is over, I'm warmed by the hearty applause from the little group of seniors I've come to know and learned to love over the summer. I hug each one of them and silently pray they'll still be around when I return.

They all leave and I'm preparing to go home when I sense a presence behind me. It's Mrs. Beekabolly and she's holding out a brown paper sack. Her spooky dark eyes bore once again into mine and I don't mind admitting that it's downright scary.

"I got something for you," she says without smiling. "Why, Mrs. Beekabolly! Aren't you sweet." I'm stunned.

"Open it," she commands.

I reach into the sack and see a five-pound bag of Jim Dandy Grits. "What on earth?" When I look up, I'm grinning like a chessie cat.

She glares back at me. No surprise there. "Its grits," she says as if I am stone stupid.

"But where did you get it? And why?" Everybody knows how much Yankees hate grits.

"My daughter bought those grits in Altoona. If you put 'em in the freezer, they'll be there when you come back next summer."

"Well, I declare. But why did you do this?" Her face softens and a gentle smile graces her heretofore tight lips. "I heard homesickness in your voice every time you read. I figure these frozen grits up here waiting on you might be a touchstone to bring you back."

I'd have bet the bank that old Mrs. Beekabolly was listing all the mistakes in my work. Instead, she was listening with her heart.

We look at each other for a long minute and something passes between us.

"Mrs. Beekabolly," I call as she is leaving. She turns to face me. "Thank you. I'll look forward to seeing you when I come back."

"Then you better write a bunch of new stories, Missy," she quips. "I might be old, but I've got a memory like Jumbo the Elephant and I don't like reruns."

A thin smile touches her lips, but I catch it and hold onto it as she strides out of my life for another year.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Written by: Cappy Hall Rearick

Cappy has two new ventures in writing going which are both monthly columns, along with working on two new books! The magazine that "Puttin' on the Gritz" will appear in is ELEGANT ISLAND LIVING and their website is: EIL is a newish magazine and their website may not be at full speed yet. The Charleston newspaper she writes for is called LOWCOUNTRY SUN. I don't believe there is a website for this paper, but if you're in Charleston, grab a copy and look for Cappy!