I do not tan. I am a redhead. I have two shades. Winter Pale, and Red Lobster.

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.

Well.

At least Jerry isn’t a yuppie. I think I’ll go offer him some strawberries.

10 comments

  1. Steve - September 5, 2019 8:57 am

    I passed through that same bay six weeks ago headed to the gulf to go fishing. We were getting passed by half million dollar “fishing” boats. But they weren’t real fishing boats. If these boats don’t have a five gallon bucket filled with stinky bait, it’s not a real fishing boat. I guess those half million dollar boats were the Range Rovers of the bay. I bet Jerry has a five gallon bucket, but his boat is in the backyard and the grass around it hasn’t been mowed all summer!

    Reply
  2. Melanie - September 5, 2019 11:09 am

    When I die my next stop had better be a land of endless summer just like you described or I am not going. Summer is the best. ☀️🌎 thank you for helping me savor it as much as possible, Sean.

    Reply
  3. Joe Patterson - September 5, 2019 12:36 pm

    Thanks the Gulf has changed not for the better like all our home towns

    Reply
  4. Dan Wise - September 5, 2019 1:29 pm

    My Father James Wise had a wonderful sense of humor. One of his favorites was intentionally finding unique ways to mis-pronounce names and places. Thus Choctawhatchee came out as Chocta-what-chee.

    Reply
  5. GaryD - September 5, 2019 1:45 pm

    I’m tired of Summer. I’m tired of the humidity, the mosquitos, the house flies and I’m especially tired of all these dang gnats! But you know what? With the grace of God, I hope I’m still around for next Summer to experience it all again! Life is wonderful in the South.

    Reply
  6. Linda Moon - September 5, 2019 3:54 pm

    Neighborly redneck Jerrys are preferable to yuppies. But here’s where you and I part ways: I’m counting the last few summer days of 95-99 degrees here in early September that will eventually turn into a cooler, colorful Fall. I’ll keep swimming until it’s too cold to get into the water, and I extend an offer for you to join me!!

    Reply
  7. Edna B. - September 5, 2019 4:03 pm

    I’m going to miss summer. This year was just so hot. Temps are really nice now and I’d love for it to stay this way till next Spring. You have a wonderful day, hugs, Edna B.

    Reply
  8. Dee Cullen - September 6, 2019 1:21 am

    Sean, that’s what I’m talkin bout!

    Reply
  9. Shelton A. - September 6, 2019 4:01 pm

    Sharing is caring.

    Reply
  10. Karen K. - September 6, 2019 6:39 pm

    I can relate to your two shades of tan “Winter Pale, and Red Lobster”
    In fact I have two nicknames. Some call me “Sharkbait”, especially in Hawaii. Others call me mayonnaise legs. Even in the shade I get as red as a lobster when it is 100 degrees. But I still love summer and strawberries.

    Reply

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