It pains me to say this, but Susan, my sister-in-law, Alabama native and a rabid fan of Crimson Tide football, might be right. On more than several occasions this summer, she had the temerity to interrupt my incessant whining about the Georgia heat and humidity to tell me, “Come November, you’ll be freezing.”
“Ha,” I said.
Myron Cope used to say, “Double Oy!” Well, I said, “Double Ha! Triple Ha! Quadruple Ha! And for good measure, Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!”
Sixty-some winters north of the Mason-Dixon haven’t been wasted on me. I know cold, and I’m sure there is nothing in west Georgia weather that comes even close to cold. Back in Bethel Park, when it got up to forty in February, I’d take off my jacket on the way home from Memorial School. “Put your jacket on,” Mom would say, “you’re going to catch your death of cold.” “Ha!” I said, and went coatlessly on my way, never once catching my death of cold.
At dinner Wednesday, Catherine played the part of Mom.
“I see you’re going to the concert tomorrow,” she said.
“Yep, I am.”
“Well, it’s at Lakebottom Park, and it will be outdoors,” Catherine said in that tone of exasperated patience mothers have when talking to a child who should know better.
“It’s starting to cool off at night. You better wear a sweater or a jacket,” she said.
“I will dress appropriately,” I assured her. “A long-sleeve shirt should do,” I thought as Catherine went back to her table.
Thursday morning, the thermometer bottomed out at sixty degrees. In Ashtabula, sixty degrees is a respite. In the fall, it is a respite from the heat; in the spring, it is a respite from the cold. When I slid the sliding door open Thursday morning, sixty degrees was chilly. Chilly enough that as I went out for my morning constitutional, I plucked my jacket from the hook where it has been hanging since I arrived here in March. I didn’t intend to wear it, but I thought it would make Mom happy as she watched me from the other side if I used a little foresight and took the jacket along just in case.
Fifty feet beyond the door, I donned the jacket. Humiliation followed. Randy, one of the maintenance men, spotted me and yelled, “You cold?”
“Just a little chilly,” I said.
Randy was wearing the standard issue blue T-shirt that Covenant Woods provides its maintenance men. He didn’t appear uncomfortable and didn’t have a jacket lying nearby. When he was younger, Randy said, he spent a winter in Wisconsin installing drywall in an unheated building.
“When I was up there, they asked if I wanted to go ice fishing,” Randy said. “I told them, ‘Hell no.’ But if they asked me now, I’d go.”
“You fool,” I thought.
It was at that moment I realized I had, in just six short months, become a weather weenie of the first order. Randy, born and bred in Georgia, in a T-shirt on the first really cool day of fall, was thinking of going ice fishing on Lake Superior. And there I was – a man who had stood on Lake Erie’s shore countless times, ignoring the wind in my face as I gazed at the frozen expanse that stretched to Canada – trying to remember where I put my gloves and hat.
I thoroughly enjoyed the concert at Lakebottom Park. It’s called Lakebottom because the ground there was once at the bottom of a lake. A few people said they knew people who remembered when the lake was there, but no one seemed to recall when it was drained. Judging from the height of the trees, I imagine all those who once frolicked in the lake are now frolicking in the hereafter.
The event was called Swing into Fall, and the group doing the swinging was the Cavaliers Orchestra, which, according to the program, has been playing big-band music in and around Columbus since 1946. As she was getting me off the bus, Annie asked if any of songs that night had a special meaning for me. Dad controlled the radio in our house, and the music he loved was from the Big Band Era. Everything the Cavaliers Orchestra played was familiar, but song that brought back memories was “Over the Rainbow.”
“Me too,” Annie said. “When I was a kid, we watched The Wizard of Oz every year.”
We also watched the movie every year, but that’s not what I was remembering. I was thinking of the year Russell got The Wizard of Oz soundtrack album for Christmas. He was four or five at the time, and he played that record constantly for several years. As he listened, Russ drew hundreds of pictures of Dorothy, Toto, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion and the Wicked Witch of the West. There is nothing more fascinating than watching a fascinated child. They are moments I will never forget.
Friday, we went to Wild Animal Safari. We each received a brown bag full of food for the animals. Then we got on an old school bus from which the glass in all the windows had been removed. As we drove through the park, the deer, pigs, giraffes and other herbivores came up to the bus, hoping to get fed. We were warned that the giraffes stick their heads in the windows and will grab the food bags from the unwary. We were all wary, and no one lost their bag of food.
After the tour we had a picnic lunch. There was a family from Pakistan at a nearby table, and Helga regaled them with stories of her time in Pakistan. Name a place – anyplace – and Helga has been there. Or so she says. In my less kind moments, I think about getting a group together to discuss a fictitious place while Helga is nearby and seeing how long it takes her to jump into the conversation and tell us of her experiences there.
Interesting goings on at dinner last night. Sue, who is in the process of moving out, said her “ex from Alabama” would be coming over Sunday to give her a hand with a few things. “Ex from Alabama,” I thought. “Does she have an ex from every state?” It was difficult, but I resisted the temptation to make a smart-ass remark. And in time, it all became clear; she also has an ex here in Columbus, and she told us the story of their wedding.
Sue and her ex from Columbus were seventeen when they crossed the river to Alabama in order to wed. The trouble was, a seventeen-year-old needed a notarized statement of parental consent in order to get married in Alabama. Not wishing to tell their parents, Sue and her soon-to-be husband came up with a plan. Sue’s dad was a notary, and he worked for the city. One weekend, Sue walked off with her Dad’s key to the government center, and she and her beau went downtown and let themselves in. They made their way to her dad’s office and, using his seal, notarized their forged statements of parental consent. Then they went to Alabama and got married. In Georgia at the time, you could not attend a public school if you were married. So the newlyweds kept quiet about their change of status until the end of the school year.
“I’ve always been daring,” Sue said. “Daddy never asked how we pulled it off. But he had to know.”
While Sue was telling her tale, a little scene was playing out in the dining room. Evelyn, a cantankerous, opinionated woman of ninety-one has sat at the same table every night since I got here. Most of the people who also sat at that table, however, have gone elsewhere. Evelyn must not like her current tablemates. Last night she settled in at the table where Jim usually sits. Jim, I would guess, is ten or fifteen years younger than Evelyn, but every bit as cantankerous and opinionated.
Jim was a few minutes late, but the woman who eats with him every night – I don’t know if she is his lady friend or just a friend who happens to be a lady – was in her usual spot, and the seat Jim normally occupies was empty. When Jim came in the dining room, he went directly to the salad bar, turned to go to his table, spotted Evelyn there and went instead to the table where Evelyn has been eating lo these many months. Not a word was spoken, but I think a message was delivered.
I lodged my first complaint last night. About ten-fifteen I was roused from slumber by the town drunks – William and Richie – who were in Richie’s room next door. I tried to ignore their conversation, which consisted mostly of the “F” word, but after a half hour I called the desk. Seconds before the aide arrived to break up the party, William said, “See you tomorrow, buddy boy.” Then I heard the aide tell them that needed to keep it down, that there had been complaints. William left without complaint, quiet returned and I went back to Dreamland.