Wednesday, July 09, 2003

My best friends on earth were coming to visit. For one night. In February.

I had spent the week cleaning. I'm not the best housekeeper and there have been times that I worried that my friends would get together and hold an "intervention" concerning my sloppiness. I welcome visits since they do tend to get me out of the yard and in the house where I should be mopping and cleaning toilets...or something. The weather had broken a bit and it was a good opportunity for me to get as much of the saw dust and wood mess off of the porch. It was still very cold so I neatly stacked half-logs so we would have plenty of wood. My friend, Tree, was not someone I wanted around the chainsaw. I knew she'd have to try it out if I had to use it.

Tree and I met when we were in college as freshmen theatre majors. She was short, dark and exotic looking and affected a maroon baret. I was tall, waspish and pompous and affected really horrible boots and clove cigarettes. It was the late 70's and we were two small town South Carolina girls determined to be cool beatnik-esque artistes. For some reason, we fell for each other's act and became the best of friends. It wasn't until after many years of friendship that we discovered how vulnerable we each were during those many insecurities we were hiding under those silly fascades.

We smoked pot in those days. It wasn't the scary pot they have now. Mostly, it was really weak weed that smelled bad and God only knew where it came from or what was in it. Tree and I, in our wanna-be coolness, were determined to be accomplished pot smokers. The truth is, we were both cheap dates. It didn't take much for us to become silly, paranoid and hungry. In fact, we could be all those things without the benefit of mind-altering drugs. During our "study" sessions, we'd pass the joint back and forth until we were both insensate. We'd roll our eyes outside of each other's company and say..."Man...she sure can smoke some WEED!" In 1979, this was a huge compliment.

It wasn't until years later that we admitted to each other that we had never intended to smoke that much marijauna. Each of us was trying to be polite, for God's sake. We had, somehow, taken our mother's etiquette advice for tea parties and morphed it into pot smoking decorum. It made absolutely no sense and it made every sense in the world. We would never truly escape where we came from and who we were.

I think our friendship really cemented after our college days. Both of our mothers were dying of cancer and we leaned on each other...whispering over the phone lines of things too horrible to speak of. Things that made others wince to our faces and turn away. Friendships like this are not made, but rather wrought on an anvil of pain and experience. We have served as each other's memory for the times too painful to remember.

I also laugh harder when I'm with Tree than at any other time. Many times at the same things that caused so much pain when they were happening. In hindsight, we always seem to find the sweet, rich, dark humor that hides just underneath a catastrophe or a fiasco.

Tree lives with her partner, Lorna, in a lovely old Victorian in Atlanta. They have been together for many years and I've grown to love Lorna as much as Tree. Lorna's gentle elegance is a perfect foile for Tree's intensity. Lorna and I have built our own history together. During one visit to my coastal home in South Carolina, we sat on the dock chatting as the sun set over the marshes. We have huge bugs in South Carolina. An enormous horsefly landed on Lorna's forehead. She was completely unaware of it. "Ohhh...hold still!", I said. She did, looking at me with a confused look on her face. I walloped her so hard on the head I nearly knocked her out. I think the horsefly got away, leaving me no proof of my good intentions. The funny thing was that Lorna did, indeed, hold perfectly still...even though it must have been obvious I was about to whack her.

I may have lured them on a bit. I'd waxed poetic about the stark beauty of the mountains in winter. How with all the kudzu gone that you could actually see the rockfaces. I don't think I mentioned the "solid sheet of ice". I did tell them that we pretty much lived by the weather report here. This is true. I recently got a weather radio for just this purpose.

It was late afternoon when they arrived. Their new dog, Misha, took an almost immediate liking to my big lab, Aegis. She snarled at him and his heart was hers. She's the sort of dog that shows her affection by curling her lip, then coyly showing her tummy. Aegis is defenseless in the face of such subtlety. He's the sort of dog who will sell his soul for a tennis ball. As the freezing drizzle starts to fall, he escorts her down to the frog pond.

We stayed up late and talked. We told the pot smoking story for the billionth time and giggled like school children. I kept the fire stoked and the house warm. We ate, we drank martinis, we talked shop. I couldn't help but feel sad when we all turned in for bed. They would return to their big city life, a life I had removed myself from, and I wanted them to stay forever. They are the friends that I honor with my lonliness.

The morning broke with that breathtaking clarity that mountain mornings have. The holler below was sparkling and moist with plumes of mist rising like signal fires over the mountains. They ask me if there are fires down there. People often ask this when they see the odd separation of clouds and air here. Sometimes when the wind blows right, the clouds descend on my house and you can almost grab a bit of cloud for your very own.

I pile Tree and Lorna into my jeep and take them to show them my "neighborhood". We bump down Old Fifteenth Road by Big Creek to the Christie Mission. On the way, they comment on the wide array of junk vehicles standing around everywhere. In some places the old cars are the only evidence of someone's one-time home. The house and people are gone, but the Packard remains...waiting for some long dead driver to come back home and start her up. I'm not sure why people collect junks here. It has to be just as difficult to get them here as it is to take them away.

We go up to the Christy Mission. This is the original place made famous by a book about the adventures of Leonora Whitaker, a missionary who came to teach in the Appalachians during the turn of the century. They later adapted a television series from the book. The original structures are all but gone now. Only hand painted signs mark the foundations of the various buildings in the book. Every time I go there, I'm struck by how small the footprints of the houses are for what was once a thriving backwoods community. Some of the local folk are critical of the landowners for trying to turn the mission into a "tourist attraction". But I'm sort of glad I can drive up here and look around. I wonder what Leonora would think of the area today. I think she would find the people had not changed that much, though the roads are slightly better.

We explore the last remaining log cabin and the weather turns once again. More freezing drizzle. The streams are angry and turgid from all the rainfall. I wonder if Tree and Lorna can imagine the sparkling clear water that babbles gently through these brooks most of the time. We head back to the house and they prepare to get on the road.

They took the interstate through Knoxville on the way here. On the way back, they decide to take the route through Asheville and South Carolina, on my recommendation. The weather clears again and I don't even think to turn the weather radio on before they leave. We say our goodbyes and Aegis and I sadly watch their Subaru go down the drive. I go back to my chop wood, carry water, watch TV existence.

An hour and a half later, I am curled up with a cocker spaniel on each hip reading when the phone rings. It is Tree and Lorna. They are barely outside of Asheville attempting to drive through driving sheets of sleet. It's so odd here how it can be perfectly beautiful just over the Tennessee border and a complete mess in North Carolina. I turn on the weather radio to find that a huge ice storm is bearing down on Asheville. I advise them not to turn back since the worst of the weather is behind them.

I am torn with guilt. After all of my fine talk about living by the weather report, I've sent my best friends off into a raging weather pattern. I feel I have not only been a bad hostess, but a dangerous one. I didn't even think to pack up food for them. I spent the evening on the cell phone giving blow by blow accounts of the storm's progress and switching back from the weather channel to the weather radio. I was greatly relieved when they finally arrived home in Atlanta eight hours later.

I know they will come visit again. And as sure as there is mist in the holler...there will be some sort of small near tragic event or happening that will magnify itself into a fiasco. We will all make more of it than it really deserves and it will be completely unexpected. It will also be uproariously funny to us in hindsight.

This is how the chapters of our history are written.


Post a Comment