... '70s memories
He was changing tires for J.C.Penny. He always pronounced it "Pennay" to give it more elegance, I suppose. It was 1976. Summertime in Florida. It was hot!
I remember standing across the street from the garage where he had a temporary job .. watching him. He gave everything he did a sort of grace. Everything he did had a certain polish. Perhaps it was because I was so in love with him, but even changing tires he looked like a man who knew what he was about and he accomplished it with style. I continued to watch as he spun on one knee on the cement floor, as he drilled the lug nuts in place, as he popped on the shiny silver hub caps.
I remember I was wearing a red halter top, bell bottom jeans and leather sandals as I stood under a single palm tree on a traffic island, watching his every move. The ground under my feet was sandy and not at all like in New England. I didn't immediately see the long military line of fire ants marching single file along my sandal strap and relentlessly up my leg!
We had met days, maybe a week before, at the annual arts festival in West Palm Beach. I had arrived recently, divorced, with all my worldly possessions, consisting mostly of a car full of children and hope for a new life. A new beginning. It took me three days to drive I-95 south with no motel stops along the way. We held our collective breath that I would find a job during what turned out to be the "off season".
But Florida was paradise. Coconuts, avocado and mango were ripe for the picking! We ate them until the juice ran down our chins, until we were sick! I picked oranges for three days with migrant farmers. Nine dollars a day and all the oranges we could eat.
I was not a very good waitress. At the end of a busy early bird special I was feeling very anxious. My kids were doing God-knows-what. I was trapped in a dippy waitress uniform trying to squeeze tips from the bargain eaters after forgetting the rolls, or the clean fork .. whatever. I was frantic to return to the little house I'd rented. Eager to count heads.
The house was relatively empty since our furniture had not arrived. Even with little food in the kitchen cabinets, to us the house was a tropical palace. We strung sea shells on fishing line and hung them on the empty rod over the sliding glass door. How exotic! That and the flimsy screens were all that kept out whatever might like to come in. Poisonous snakes were not uncommon, nor were the two-legged type. But it was hot and we left the sliding glass doors open.
There were exotic plants too. Empty lots were full of palms and mysterious air plants hung from the trees. Free! Swimming was warm for the first time in all our lives. We all got tan. We all got thin.
After one particularly tough day at the restaurant, I was talking to the chef, a wonderful, warm woman. She invited me to the annual arts festival which was a cultural expression of all the local residents. She pressed five dollars in my hand for gas. So I went.
It was crowded and I had difficulty finding her but just as I turned to leave, I heard her calling me. She introduced me to a group of her friends and to a man who carefully repeated his name, adding that he had always wanted his mother to name him "Davey Crockett."
And it was love.
March 7, 2008