FAIRHOPE—I am having supper at a bar, watching baseball. The food is superb. The baseball is not. The place is crowded.
Louis Armstrong is singing overhead, “What a Wonderful World.”
I love this song. I wish I could tell you how much I love this song. The elderly man to my left loves the song too. He is singing along. His date is not impressed.
“I’m on a date with my granddaughter,” he tells me.
He looks ninety years old. His date is ten. She’s eating a cheeseburger.
He finally winks at me and says, “My granddaughter hates it when I sing in public.”
I finish supper and follow the sidewalks, carrying a to-go box. It’s sunset. The live oaks hang over the winding streets, and there is an epidemic of pink flowers.
No matter where you go in this town, the bay is nearby. I stop and sit on a park bench to admire it.
I wrote a college essay about the Mobile Bay once. Ships have been sailing this water since the 1500’s. Hernando de Soto and his men first named it “Bahía del Espíritu Santo.” Which, when translated literally means: “Dude, I Think We’re Lost.”
It’s a beautiful sunset. I see a boat with running lights glowing. I hear the distant sound of music. The Temptations, I think.
The squirrels in the trees are trying to fit in the rest of their steps for the day.
The sky is wild, with vivid cloud art that would make Picasso look like a hick.
Though, I have never particularly cared for Picasso. I suppose I’m not smart enough to appreciate such high-brow art.
I’m a Norman Rockwell man, myself. I once made a weekend trip just to see a Rockwell exhibit in Birmingham. I spent two hours admiring his work. I went back the next day to view it a second time. He means that much to me.
Fairhope would have suited old Norman. The storefronts downtown. Rambo’s Auto Service on the corner—the gas pumps still have spinning numbers.
Fairhope Pharmacy’s painted brick wall is pure Mayberry. The potted ferns, Greer’s Market, the picket fences, elderly men taking granddaughters out for date night. It’s all here.
A young couple passes me. They are arm in arm. I hear the young woman talking to her husband.
“I think we should paint the room pink,” she says. “And if it’s a boy, we can always change it back to blue.”
“I dunno,” he says. “Couldn’t we paint it blue, and always change it to pink?”
“No, blue’s a dark color. It’s harder to cover up a dark with a light. Don’t you know anything about interior design?”
My guess is no.
After the couple comes and older woman accompanying a girl on a bike. The girl wears a helmet bigger than her body. She is cuter than a duck in a hat.
She is peddling, panting. She waves at me.
The lady shouts, “Don’t go too far ahead, Jessica! You could get hit by a car, Jessica! Don’t fall, or I’ll give you something to cry about! Quit waving at that stranger and watch where you’re going!”
It is an adult’s job to worry. Some happen to be particularly good at their job.
“Look at the sunset, Grandma!” the girl shouts.
“Hey!” the woman shouts back. “Are you even listening to me, Jessica?”
I sincerely doubt it.
Sometimes, I wish I could remember every single thing I ever saw, tasted, touched, or loved. Like Teddy bears, old Fords, the chapel I was married in, and old dogs. But the older I become the more I forget, and it’s a shame.
The other day, I ran into a man I grew up with. Jimmy is his name. I couldn’t remember him. I looked right at him, and forgot his name. I was so embarrassed.
If I’ve forgotten names, what else have I forgotten? The taste of warm Nehi Soda after baseball practice? Or what about the way your mother kisses you when you leave town for the first time? Or the name of your pet frog in third grade, do I remember that?
So I’m taking a picture right now. With my mind. I want to remember every bar waitress, park bench, and young couple with child. Every little girl on a bicycle, each boat blaring party music. And the Bahía del Espíritu Santo.
Maybe one day, if I look long enough at everything, I will understand it.
I see the old man from the bar, and his granddaughter again. They stroll past me. They hold hands. She walks fast, and he struggles to keep up. I hear him breathing heavy.
Finally he stops and points to the sky. “Isn’t that a nice sunset, honey?” he says.
She throws her arms around his waist. They hug. “I love you, Granddaddy,” she says.
And I think to myself.
What a wonderful world.