We are sitting on a porch overlooking the Choctawhatchee Bay on the first day of autumn. It is one of those accidental porch-sitting sessions where everyone ends up on the porch, but nobody planned it.
I am in a rocking chair, feet up. My elderly mother-in-law (Mother Mary) sits beside me doing the same thing. My wife is sitting cross-legged on the floor.
Our eighty-pound bloodhound wanders in circles, looking for something to chew, bury, or pee on.
Nobody is talking in complete sentences because there’s no need for coherent thought right now. The rules of porch-sitting are loose.
“Lord,” says Mother Mary. “Look at all these mosquitoes.”
“Yeah,” says my wife.
Every porch conversation in West Florida starts out with mosquitoes. It’s our tradition. But once you’ve covered mosquitoes, you can talk about anything.
You can talk about the time when a mosquito flew into your uncle’s shorts and bit him in his unmentionables, so he slapped himself in a place where a man should never swat himself.
Or you can talk about the time Mother Mary got malaria from a mosquito bite and had a high fever, then started singing Broadway songs at the dinner table.
Or you can talk about—why not?—that time Johnny Cooper dared you to eat a live lizard tail when you were in third grade.
Which is what I start talking about.
“So did you?” Mother Mary interrupts. “Did you actually EAT a lizard tail?”
“No, but I pretended to.”
“How do you pretend to eat a lizard tail?”
“I had gummy worms in my pocket, so I slipped one into my mouth and let it dangle, and I pretended to gag.”
“Gummy worms? Did you always carry gummy worms in your pocket as a boy?”
“No ma’am, but God was on my side that day.”
My lizard-eating stunt went down in history. To this day, people still think I actually ate a lizard tail. I can be in the grocery store, or in line at the DMV, and someone will recognize me for this act of bravery and sincerely ask if I forgot to take my medication this morning.
“Look at the water,” says my wife, staring at the bay. “Isn’t it beautiful?”
“Sure is,” says Mother Mary. “And so calm.”
“I love it when it’s calm.”
“Remember when we all took that cruise to Alaska? And Jamie got motion sick?”
“I was so sick,” says my wife. “It was awful.”
“I got to see a glacier,” says Mother Mary. “It was great.”
“I didn’t see anything,” says my wife. “I was too busy puking my butt off.”
“Don’t use that word, dear.”
“Sorry. I was ralphing my butt off.”
Mary says, “So if cruises make you sick, why’d you keep going on more of them?”
“I suppose I just kept hoping that the next one would be better, so I gave it another shot.”
But the next cruise was not better. Take it from me (devoted husband, mediocre fisherman, Capricorn, and occasional dishwasher). I have been on multiple cruises with my wife. Each time our boat departed from the New Orleans port, she turned Sea Foam Green then leaned over the railing and…
I am the kind of person who cannot be around a nauseous person or else I become nauseous, too. Eating lizard tails? No problem. Being around people who vomit? Forget it.
So my wife had to take anti-nausea medication on our cruise. It made her drowsy. All she did was sleep in the cabin while I explored the ship.
It was big fun. I did everything. I rode the water slide a thousand times, I made friends with bartenders. Each morning, I attended the various hobby classes. I learned how to needlepoint, weave baskets, and I did yoga with a bunch of ladies who were celebrating their seventieth birthdays together.
After hours, I would visit the karaoke bar as a spectator. I would sit in the back, watching old men attempt to sing “My Way,” by Frank Sinatra, and “If You Think I’m Sexy,” by Rod Stewart.
But nothing could top the group of white-haired seventy-year-old birthday girls. They wore feather boas, plastic tiaras, and danced to “Rolling on a River” by Ike and Tina Turner. For their grand finale, one woman fell face forward into the audience and lost her dentures in someone’s vodka cranberry.
This was before cellphone video cameras, otherwise I could have made a lot of money.
“I’d love to go on another cruise,” says Mary.
“Never again,” says my wife.
“Rolling on a river,” I add.
My wife says, “You know what I’d like to do? I’d like to see the Redwood National Park, and Yosemite.”
“Well,” I say, “I think I’d like to see Canada one day. I hear it’s beautiful.”
Mother Mary stares at the bay. “Do you know what? When you are my age you don’t need to travel anymore. My house is my favorite place on earth. And this bay, oh… Just look at it. What could be better than having my daughter and son-in-law right here on this porch beside me? Tell me what could be better? This is gonna be a great autumn.”
“Yeah,” says my wife.
A lizard crawls past me. I decide not to eat him. Just this once.