It’s a perfect summer evening. The world is moving slow. It’s hot. The sounds of the world are music. Crickets. Insects. Frogs galore. And the magnificent sound of my redneck neighbor, Jerry, four-wheeling his pickup truck through the mud on the property behind mine, shouting “THAT’S WHAT I’M TALKIN’ ‘BOUT, SON!” out his window.
I am eating strawberries because summer is coming to an end and I don’t want to forget it. The strawberries were good this year.
So were the tomatoes. I ate a lot of tomatoes this summer. People gave them to us wherever we traveled. And we traveled a lot, doing shows in various places.
A middle-aged couple in Palatka, Florida, attended one of my shows and gave me real homegrown tomatoes that were the size of footballs.
In Birmingham, an elderly man gave me a trash bag full of Purple Cherokee heirlooms.
In North Georgia, someone gave me a cardboard box full of Better Boys that his mother grew. I carried that box on a road trip across the Southeast, the Midwest, and into Texas. I took these tomatoes to every state we visited until they were gone.
Also, this summer I got a tan. Which is kind of a big deal for me. I haven’t had a tan since I was nineteen and someone rubbed pigmented lotion on my arms and legs for a beach wedding. My skin turned the color of a seasick carrot.
I do not tan well. I am a redhead. I have two shades. Winter Pale, and Red Lobster.
This summer, baseball has been exquisite. I have watched the Atlanta Braves play in all sorts of unlikely places while traveling.
I saw them on a TV in a New York City hotel after spending the day translating Northern accents. And in Washington D.C., where my wife and I took a taxi to see them play downtown. In Phoenix, Arizona, I watched them play in a rundown bar, sitting beside a stranger.
Baseball is a simple game, and very slow. And I need it because it makes me feel like I am back home.
I never thought I’d miss home when I started travelling. In fact, long ago I couldn’t wait to get away. Not because I didn’t like my hometown. But because bulldozers messed it up.
I remember when home was nothing but woods, water, and mosquitoes. But things changed. Real estate developers moved to town. They built an Olive Garden. An Outback Steakhouse.
Soon the whole world was overtaken by yuppies in Land Rovers who drove like bats out of hell and got mad if their Mocha Frappuccino Pumpkin Spice Lattes were made with two-percent instead of skim.
Shopping malls went up. They tore down the fishing rodeo docks where I got my first kiss. Now the tourists come from all over the world just to zipline between our high rise condos.
But even so, I love my home.
This dirt will be under my fingernails forever. For better or worse. I am part of the Choctawhatchee Bay. And I still know where to find the quiet places in the woods, where the wild strawberries and blackberries grow. The yuppies will never find them. They’d never get past all the sand spurs.
That’s what these strawberries remind me of. One bite and all my summers come back to me.
Like the summer when I asked Lynette Gold to a local dance, and she said no. I was hurt. Crushed, actually. I never wanted to show my face again.
Then, Marie Warren asked me to the same dance. I couldn’t believe it. I thought it was weird for a girl to ask a boy to a dance. But Marie assured me this was okay. She said it was sort of a Sadie-Hawkins-style transaction, completely legal according to the bylaws of teenage-hood.
So I went with her. She taught me how to two-step with a bunch of other Methodists. Her mother drove us home. And before we parted ways, Marie asked me if I wanted to kiss her cheek.
I said, “No, that’s okay.” Because I knew she was only being polite.
Then she got forceful.
“I’m telling you to kiss my cheek,” she said. “Do it now.”
I did. She smiled. And we both knew nothing would ever become of us. Because I was not interested in her and she was not interested in me. But being nice costs nothing. And it pays dividends for a hundred thousand years to come.
That’s what Marie was. She was nice.
I didn’t go home that night. I was too riled up. A kiss will do that to a boy. So I wandered into the woods. I sat for a while. I picked a few blackberries from a ditch. I don’t know what I was thinking. Probably the same thing I am thinking right now.
Tonight I am thinking that summer doesn’t last for more than a few minutes. I’m thinking about these crickets. These frogs. The beautiful sounds of evening. The bay. And how sweetness is its own reward. And…
Hark. I am interrupted by the sound of my redneck neighbor, Jerry, riding his truck through the mud like a rented mule. Screaming obscenities.
At least Jerry isn’t a yuppie. I think I’ll go offer him some strawberries.