Friday, September 27, 2013

Josh and Marjorie

A Trip to Marjorie’s

     Our wet, warm winter had coaxed the ancient azaleas to prematurely don their Easter raiment.  The days were dawning earlier each morning, and the Gulf was still pleasantly holding back the humidity that was to haunt the remainder of our spring and summer.  Florida was in that liminal state between cool and hot that the local TV meteorologists call Chamber of Commerce weather.  I was antsy, my calendar was free and it had been requested that I spend some time with my grandson. 
     Josh is at that awkward age when the skin blemishes, parents are the paramount irritant, and nobody is capable of understanding what it is like to be him.  He is artistic, athletic, intelligent, fifteen, and completely disinterested in everything but girls, skateboards and surfing.  His mother has been dogging me for months to intervene before his grades become a long term problem.  I would have to do what I could.
      Whenever it is time for me to sweep out the mental cobwebs of life’s tedium, I take a leisurely drive north to Cross Creek and the estate of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings.  It makes for a quiet day of introspection and the perfect place for reconnection.  I called Joshua a full week in advance to make sure his date book was clear and that his parents wouldn't object.  I knew he would never ask his mother, so I did.  He would rather be reported missing than talk with his parents.  I had also futilely sent him a copy of Rawlings’ short stories and asked him to read a few for some background and a point of reference.

Josh today at 25
     The drive up I-75 was mostly mute.  I brought some of my classic rock and roll CD's; he liked them better than his own compilation of digital downloads.  The conversation wasn’t much more than a few grunts as he approvingly skipped through the tracks.  He wasn’t much company until we stopped in the time-trapped village of Micanopy.  The dusty streets lined with century-old cracker architecture, the sweeping beards of moss dangling from stately oaks, the festive colors of reawakening gardens, and the scent of a hot lunch platter, at last stirred the larynx of my anguished progeny.
     I kept the conversation light.  He had read only a couple of pages in the book, but those sounded “pretty cool.”  He doesn’t like reading.  We explored the numerous antique shops.  No, he hadn’t painted or drawn anything for a while.  I showed him some of the buildings that had been used as movie sets.  School is okay, except for the homework.  We stopped to enjoy the air, freshened with the scent of wild honeysuckle.  Couple of girlfriends, but no one special because they always want to spend his money.
     We climbed back into the car and drove the long country road to Cross Creek.  Josh was intrigued by the history chronicled by the docents during the tour and the sensory experience of what it would have been like to live in the old Florida of the 1940’s.  I sensed a kindled fire.  We strode the grounds, the orange groves, the gardens, and the walking trails that meander through the farm and adjacent woodlands.  I explained the factual differences between the movie Cross Creek and Rawlings’ written account.  We talked about the famous trial and how it ruined Marjorie’s writing career.  I showed off her collection of books garnered one-by-one from the authors who at one time had been her house guests.
     I hoped that the atmosphere of this remarkable place would inspire my young scion.  All I could do was open the door and leave it ajar.  He would have to decide whether he would venture through its portal.
     We ended the day at a nearby restaurant named for Rawlings’ Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Yearling.  It boasts of an authentic Florida cracker menu prepared in accordance with Marjorie’s Cross Creek Cookery.  For entertainment, they employ an old African-American bluesman who sings, unamplified, from the middle of the dining room with just a guitar and a harmonica.  He plays the post-depression period music with the emotion of someone who had lived through it.  Josh was marveled even as he explored the tastes of alligator, frog’s legs, catfish, and soft shell crab.  He tipped the old man generously: my money, of course.
     On the ride home, Joshua curled up on the back seat and slept, just like he had when he was a baby.  I couldn’t help but hope that the light that I had seen in his eyes would continue to burn in spite
of his pubescent hormonal mania.  I really wanted to see him draw again, or maybe write, or at least read.  He doesn’t need tutelage.  He needs inspiration.
     The next day, my daughter called asking more advice about Josh.  Now all he wants to do is sit around the house playing guitar and blowing his harmonica.

     Well, at least that’s a start.

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