December 14, 2006

Jiggetty Jog

I’m home again, home again.
The funeral was good.
Things were done right.
I am tired.
I like simple, declarative sentences.

On the way in, we passed the White Oak Grocery Store. It’s about twice the size of a 7-11 or Tom Thumb, and less than half the size of a regular grocery. You can get flour there and motor oil and when I was a kid the cold drinks were in ice barrels as their only refrigerated case was full of milk and bologna.

The White Oak has a cluttered porch and the paint is peeling in a particular way that tickles my spine with deja vu. I can’t explain it, but the building seems organic at this point. It is part of the landscape. It’s been standing in Northern Alabama for decades, and I bet if the hand of God had come down and grabbed the White Oak and lifted it straight up, I would have seen that it had grown a tap root, stretching miles down, punching through the dirt and then the slate and granite, so deep the fleshy tip would have been singed by magma.

When I was little, my brother and I (and whatever cousins were available) would pile into the bed of Uncle Bobby’s truck and go to the White Oak, riding like a pack of happy dogs, unstrapped and unsafe and uncaring. Uncle Bobby bought us pop rocks and RC cola. And fireworks, which were illegal in Florida.

Back then my brother and I collected Smurf figurines, and we would take them all to Alabama and get a METRIC TON of Black Cats bombs and bottle rockets and have Smurf wars. The BIG bottle rockets had good thrust, and we could bind prisoner Smurfs to the pole and shoot them up into the sky and explode them and watch them drop flaming back down to earth. Then we’d go out and find the bodies.

Every girl at school collected Smurfs---it was a big thing for a few years --- but I was the only one whose Smurfs all had melty looking burn scars and blackened limbs, their eyes scorched off their faces.

I haven’t seen or thought of the White Oak in twenty years, maybe more.
I had completely forgotten it existed.
Imagine that as a child you dreamed a tap dancing lobster in fishnets and a top hat. And then one day, when you were in your thirties, when you had FORGETTON the dream, you drove down the road, and there was your dream lobster standing on the curb beside a beer bottle, just hoofing away.
“Hello my honey, hello my baby, hello my ragtime gaaaaaaaaaalll..”

Seeing the White Oak was like that. It felt exactly that improbable. I could taste the faint, sweet ichor of a banana moon pie on the back of my tongue, like the ghost of moon pies past was stroking my gag reflex.

It occurred to me again that I have never yet written a novel where I DIDN’T murder someone in Alabama. I think of Jim Beverly, haunting the Kudzu. The Girl Who Stopped Swimming is set in the Florida panhandle, but I cross the state line before I let anyone shoot anyone else. You can’t just go around SHOOTING people you know. Not in FLORIDA. Even in Between, Georgia, there’s a minor character who killed a man in a bar fight gone bad that took place in the state that calls itself The Beautiful.

Oh and it is beautiful, too. It is, it is. I spend my Alabama days now in Birmingham and Montgomery and Mobile---I had forgotten North Alabama, forgotten the shape of its horizons, the blankness of its deep greens and browns and grays, and the flat, exact way the buildings all look slightly abandoned to the landscape.

They buried my grandmother in rich dirt, thick and gummy with clay. Good Alabama dirt, deep sienna brown and dotted with white stones. I watched the big machines whir and jerk, spooning it over her, covering her until she was safe, until she was blanketed and gone.

Posted by joshilyn at December 14, 2006 8:42 AM

I have memories of a store rather like that near my maternal grandmother's house in deep southeastern Kentucky (near Hatfield/McCoy territory). I don't know if it's still standing or not because I haven't been back to that town for years. My grandma died a few years ago and I really said goodbye to her years before that, as she'd had advanced Alzheimer's. But I bet if I went back there now it would still be there and I bet it would look just the same.

Thanks for sharing a slice of your childhood that helped me remember a slice of mine.

Posted by: DebR at December 14, 2006 8:54 AM

Stevenson's grocery store where the floor sagged and the lemon cookies and Bob's peanut butter crackers were kept in gigantic glass jars with lids that made a clinking sound when you put them back on the top. . .bare feet on a wooden plank floor worn smooth by years of other feet, including my Daddy's, walking over them in work boots and Sunday shoes and bare, calloused soles from traversing the gravel road to get there.

Posted by: Roxanne at December 14, 2006 9:31 AM

I'm not sure whether reading this makes me want to go to Alabama, or want to stay away. What with all the shooting and all.

It's not the same thing at all, but your description of the burnt and melty Smurfs reminds me of a Christmas a few years back. My nephew was two, I think, and I'd baked gingerbread men to hang on our tree. He kept taking them off and eating an arm or a leg and then dropping them on the floor. Then we'd hang them back up. By the time Christmas rolled around our tree looked like a gingerbread holocaust.

Posted by: Aimee at December 14, 2006 10:46 AM

When I was a girl growing up in Tallassee, Alabama, in the small community of Riverside Heights, every day when I would get off of the school bus, I'd walk up the hill to the house, get on my bike and pedal down to the corner store. I'd get Doritos and Chocolate milk (a combination which made a reappearance when I got pregnant) I'd say put in on mama's credit and then I'd plunk the stuff in my basket and ride off to the river to munch away while reading the latest Trixie Belden novel.

I haven't killed anyone yet...but there's still time.

Posted by: Angela at December 14, 2006 10:46 AM

Although I've never been in the White Oak grocery, it's a landmark for me as well. That's where you turn (opposite from Leighton) off the highway to go home along County Line Road from the Tri-Cities. Alabama is beautiful and particularly the countryside of NW Alabama. That's where my home, and my heart, are.

My sympathies to you and your family for the loss of your Grandmother.

Posted by: Deborah P at December 14, 2006 11:27 AM

I have never been to Alabama, outside of Joss' books and imagination. But doesn't every child have one of those country stores in their memory? If not they should and have been sorey abused. Remember the huge wooden pickle barrel? and brine jars of pickled eggs? and Slim Jims? and Adams sour apple gum.

Posted by: Cele at December 14, 2006 12:08 PM

My little sister was obssessed with smurfs- she even had the smurf treehouse. It never occurred to me that I could shoot those little suckers into space. Very 'Sid' from "Toy Story!"

Aimee- that is one of my favorite holiday memories. Remember we called it the serial killer Christmas tree? How festive!

Posted by: Laura at December 14, 2006 12:36 PM

"They buried my grandmother in rich dirt, thick and gummy with clay. Good Alabama dirt, deep sienna brown and dotted with white stones. I watched the big machines whir and jerk, spooning it over her, covering her until she was safe, until she was blanketed and gone."

I cannot think of a word to describe this paragraph. . .gentle? Loving? Careful? Sad? Final? Beautiful.

Posted by: Roxanne at December 14, 2006 1:39 PM

I'm sorry about your grandmother. Very poignant description of the clay/dirty.

Posted by: Sally at December 14, 2006 4:49 PM

Or dirt, not dirty.

Posted by: Sally at December 14, 2006 4:52 PM

Yep, took me back aways also. I grew up in a small town in Central California--maybe not as picturesque as Alabama, but the memories are the same. And there was a little store up in Strawberry that we always went to when we went camping every summer. It was a real treat when Dad would stop and we would all pile out of the back of the pick up and he would treat us to ice cream sandwiches and candy sticks...

I buried my grandma almost 14 years ago and I still miss her like the blazes. Hugs to you...

Posted by: Sheri at December 14, 2006 6:19 PM

I love reading your southern descriptions. I'm born & bred in New England, didn't even make it out of state for college. Your small store reminded me of the small store within walking distance from my aunts' & uncles' houses, where my mother grew up, in the same town as us, mind you, but just far enough away that we couldn't walk to the store from our house. I was the youngest cousin, and I'd tag along. We'd get penny candy, and the old men crowded the store, talking Italian, and probably placing bets in the back, no, I'm sure they were placing bets. I was so young, I'll have to ask my older sister if she can tell me the name of the store. But I remember feeling bereft when it closed and disappeared.

Condolences on your grandmother.

Posted by: amy at December 14, 2006 8:47 PM

"and now for something completely different"--apropos of absolutely nothing except I finally read your blog from the beginning "Testing. Mr. Husband." up to now, and when I saw this cartoon I thought, "Kimmie!"

Posted by: Elena at December 14, 2006 9:21 PM

Condolences on your grandma's death.

I so love that places like the White Oak still exist.

Posted by: Edgy Mama at December 15, 2006 8:24 AM

If you want to hang out in that store without having to write it yourself, it's also in John DuFresne's Deep in the Shade of Paradise as the Black and Lovely. And bless him, he's from Massachusetts; sometimes converts fall in love hardest.

Posted by: rams at December 15, 2006 8:55 AM

Your last paragraph about your grandmother disappearing under the Alabama dirt has made me tear up remembering the funerals I've witnessed. She may have been viperous but you sound like you still miss her terribly. My sympathies to you and your family-- especially your mother.

Posted by: Elizabeth at December 15, 2006 11:09 AM

Welcome back. I'm glad you got what you needed.

Posted by: Mir at December 15, 2006 12:25 PM

my condolences to you and your family.

My granddaddy had a country store in south Georgia, a conglomerate of several described here. He sold gas & kerosene out front, bottled coke inside to the left - in coolers, but next to the milk cooler. one center display, with colonial bread - his doors were screen doors with the colonial bread logo. the right side had the candy counter, with penny candy behind the glass. he sold hoop cheese, he sliced souse, bologna, bacon to order and his storage shed was an old burnham van off of the chassis. he also sold wallets, shoe strings, doan's pills, prince albert in the can, sweet dental snuff, shotgun shells, potted meat, had the cookies in the jars described above, the comment above about old worn wood floors - he had them too. He sold sugar to the local moonshiner after dark and he let my 11 year old self drive him home in his truck while he took a nip.

His store is gone now, as is he. times like now I miss the hell out of him and his store. I'm glad to hear there are a few left.

Posted by: bob at December 15, 2006 2:25 PM

May you derive a small comfort in knowing, you and your family are in our continued prayers, during this holiday season.

We buried an Uncle 5 years ago, on New Years Day.. a year later, my brother(48)...and NYr's... just isn't the same celebration's become an anniversary of death, and that's hard to shake...

Very difficult to bury a loved one during christmas..

Feel the LOVE!
with loving kindness, and condolences,

Posted by: North at December 17, 2006 1:12 PM

Glad you are home safely.

Guess what arrived in my mailbox this week? The Spanish version of Gods. *grins*

Posted by: Heather at December 17, 2006 10:34 PM

loan until payday

Posted by: loan until payday at December 22, 2006 2:54 PM