A minimal summer flow...
Unmistakable indicators abound in the South to remind the outsider that “You’re not from around here.”
“Good Morning!” I greeted her no differently than I would anyone else or anywhere else except a bit more enthusiastically now that I am away from the daily grind of work. Neither she nor her co-workers are too busy behind the deli counter; no ticket dispenser is set up on top of the counter in case of a mad rush.
The middle-aged woman in a black apron and ultra thin elastic white cap associated with food servers returns my salutation with a smile. “Hi there!” Her Southern drawl dribbled from her lips.
“Can I please have two pounds of the Genoa salami?” Phillip and I were doing some shopping to stock our hosts’ refrigerator in fear we will both eat them into the poor house.
“Why sure, honey! Just a minute.” Then she disappeared long enough for me to ponder what happened to her. I looked around. I was the only customer. I had already sent Phillip for a gallon of milk and a dozen eggs. I was in no hurry and I did not raise my eyebrows or throw my hands up in the
At least he is at a safe distance...
air in protest.
Upon her return (she hadn’t changed into a new uniform or even an evening gown), I was eager for her to fill my order. She inserted her hand into the chilled case and then withdrew it just before grasping the salty luncheon meat I so greatly craved. Five seconds later, she walked back to where I was staring at the pre-sliced turkey and grabbed my attention. “Now darling, you know we have three types of salami, Hard, Special, and Genoa. Are you sure you’re OK with the Genoa?” The pace of her words were as slow as they were sincere.
That’s what I ordered, isn’t it? I dismissed what would be an annoyance back home and countered her gentility with, “Genoa will be fine.” She removed the stick of salami from the case and walked to the meat slicer so lethargically I could feel my newly shaven beard from this morning start to push forward through the pores of my face. Was this women intentionally trying to torture me? She pulled back the guide to carve off the first succulent oval, but before the blade made contact with the meat, she stopped.
I rolled my eyes. If
That first step's a dandy...
this were New England, she’d be fired right after a mob of demanding soccer moms strung her up by three of her toes. “Honey, woouulld yoouu lahke me to slahse this theeeen or a leetle bit thiiicker fer ya?” Only in this part of the world can people take a naturally stunted utterance of a word like ‘slice’ and make a three-syllable monstrosity. My eyes drifted across to where the processed cold cuts hung in neat yet uninspiring packaging. I might not get out of here before sunset, I thought.
“You choose”, I replied sternly, but not too forceful for her to perceive my impatience. Then she went to work, finally. Well, sort of, if you want to call it work. Watching her slice the week’s worth of lunch caused me physical pain. Cricket matches don’t take this long. Phillip came back with his errand, though I had to remind him not to put the milk on top of the wheat bread.
Three weeks later and a quarter pound into my order, she mysteriously stopped upon realizing that two pounds would create an unmanageable stack on the receiving tray below. Again, she walked over to consult with me and gain
A Little Boy's Imagination...
my approval before continuing. She was slicing salami, not designing a $1,500 suit or landscaping my backyard. “Now, you’re gonna need to know that I’ll have to put these two here pounds in separate packages, awright?”
I nodded while resisting the temptation to carry out a vengeful reign of verbal terror, then invented a reason to leave the deli area. Being delayed and tortured is one thing, but using food as a weapon to exacerbate my agony was too much for me to take. I was nearly on the brink. “Ma’am, I need to go pick up a few cans of lighter fluid and some matched to set myself on fire to pass the time. I’ll be back in a little while.”
I worded it a little differently, but you get the point.
Phillip and I walked into a bookstore at the local outlet mall. I adore bookstores. He as a ten-year-old he would mindlessly follow his father off a cliff like a lemming. As with other bookstores in the South, this one, though smaller in floor space, had similar traits. I always make my way to the travel section of a bookstore to get lost and fantasize in the guidebooks of countries I have never heard of (very, very few) or cannot pronounce (again small, but slightly more numerous). Upon a quick scan, I discover there is no travel section. This was going to be a quick visit. Chances are my debit card would stay securely in my wallet. To abate boredom, I assign Phillip to peruse some pre-teen books that I could order for him later. Why buy retail when you can order at Amazon? Phillip vanished behind a shelf or two and I came across the Bible section of the store. This is not a grouping of publications under ‘Religion’, ‘Theology’, or ‘Christianity’. Just bibles, a confirmation of how deeply buried I was in the belt after which the The Good Book is named. There were all sorts of Bibles on hand: large print bibles, bible study guides, illustrated pop-up bibles for children, family bibles, men’s bibles, Pentecostal bibles, and bibles on CD-rom. The store’s selection dwarfs all others, including the shelf of history books, most dealing with the Civil War with a slant towards Dixie. I considered buying a copy of a leather-bound edition to replace the one I have at home in microscopic print. I grabbed it at the dollar store between jars of pickles and a cheap plastic spatula (the local Cumberland County pastor may forgive me for that one day). I needed something a little more respectable to accompany the majestically bound Vedas and Koran on my bookshelf at home. I let it go for another time and gave a tug to Phillip’s shirt as I left. Without having spoken a word while inside the store, a voice cried out while we were exiting, “Y’all have a nice day!”
It is hard to rival the drive through the glorious scenery on the folksy back roads of Tennessee’s Cumberland Plateau. Dignified Baptist churches anchor sleepy hamlets whose only apparent signs of life are the rumbling of industrial trucks that haul a recent harvest of quarried limestone to market. The rusted and abandoned skeletal remains of the semis’ predecessors sit silently as front yard decorations, often resting on cinder blocks. U.S. Highway 70, the perfect antidote for the impersonal yet practical asphalt of Interstate 40, swerves east to the slumbering community of Ozone. Over the past thirty years the name has never vanished from my memory. I recall a Polaroid photo of a neon blue cascade I once took of the falls of the same name. Fast forwarding over a generation, it is but a modest stream whose flow has been diminished by the summer season. It gently plunges about one hundred feet over a limestone platform into a collecting pool. The waterfall is accessible to the public without the slightest inkling of any warning, retaining wall, fence, or legal disclaimer. It is possible to walk right up (in my case slither on my belly) to the precipice alongside the stream and peer over. I fight off the instincts to imagine how a fall would impact the skeleton of a human body. People have gone over, I have been told. In one case, a survivor’ bones did not shatter, rather tibia and humerus simply spiked through the skin causing the victim’s height to be reduced by four inches when his recovery was complete. The terrifying thought was enough for me to pull Phillip way from the upper stream, though he was not close to the edge.
“Phil, how are the pictures coming?” He did not hear me. The digital camera he calls his used to be mine before I upgraded. He uses it prolifically and often has his full attention engrossed in the viewfinder. He has climbed up on the side of the stream for an angular shot of the upper falls, having managed crossing the stream by jumping along the tops of small exposed boulders. Ozone Falls is a little boy’s paradise of exploration, albeit risky in places.
“Good, Dad” he cries out without making eye contact with me.
“I have an idea. Let’s walk down and see what it all looks like from there. There will be better pictures to take for certain”, was my hook to convince him without dictating orders.
“OK.” He led the way down the shaded trail of sharp natural rock steps to the bottom of the falls. He skipped down with the agility of a mountain goat, flippantly ignoring my warnings of “Be careful!” and “Slow down!” I on the other hand descended with the technical grace more often associated with a rhinoceros on a pair of ice skates.
Once below, youthful wonderment took over. Unconcerned about needing someone else in his company, he was free to roam, touch, and imagine. I sat on a piece of rock and relished in having accomplished an axiom I have long held dear: low effort, high reward. I didn’t have to do much, just be there.
Ozone Falls crashes onto jagged rocks with the spurting sound a shower head would make when corroded with hard water and lime. Gently floating mist wafts in the filtered light and lands on my arm, providing relief from the stinging sun. The collecting pool has no immediate outlet, rather it flows underneath the karst floor I let out a colossal fog horn blast into a Kleenex to clear my nostrils. The nasal explosion ricocheted off the stark, concave, and overhanging canyon walls. A few dozen yards away Phillip cowered in embarrassment at his uncouth father, the first in many years of future incidents I am sure. Having lost the concept of time, Phillip skipped stones, pushed driftwood about, and photographed the features of the falls, both real and borne of his imagination.
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