Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Jumping Off Place

For some time now, I’ve had something of a love affair with the Palmetto State. There are two main reasons for this: South Carolina is home to Myrtle Beach and some of my favorite people.

I truly love to be at North Myrtle Beach. Our family considers it a necessary destination at least once a year, but that’s never enough. Each year, we buy a white picture frame and have it personalized with the year and a smattering of our favorite memories or catch phrases from the week. We didn’t get there in 2010, now known to all of us as The Dark Year.

The rituals we’ve come to love are familiar and have been ingrained in our coastal consciousness. The minute we pass the first palm tree on that 10-hour drive (somewhere between Florence and Marion), we begin to get into “beach mode,” and it’s only a matter of time until we finally hit US-17. Soon enough, we’re jumping from the car and rushing toward the Atlantic, dipping our toes in the sand before heading to Hoskins for our inaugural meal.

Honestly, I didn’t realize families even visited other beaches until I graduated from high school and moved to Nashville. Everybody kept talking about going to “the beach” and I didn’t recognize any of their destinations: Orange Beach? Gulf Shores? Destin? None of those are places in the 29582.

Sure, those sandy white beaches in Florida and Alabama are fine, and you fans of the gulf can have them.  You will never lure me from the midnight blue waters of the South Carolina low country.

South Carolina also boasts some pretty awesome people, their curious selection of a governor notwithstanding. In fact, some of my very favorite people are South Carolinians.  It’s no secret how I revere the great Pat Conroy, supreme novelist and Beaufort resident, whose tributes to the low country are unparalleled. Reading his work is, for me, a religious experience.

If you’ve been to Charleston, you know there is nothing quite as lovely as a slow walk along The Battery. But Conroy turns an afternoon in Charleston into a diaphanous, other-worldly stroll. The voice of Tom Wingo, affable protagonist in The Prince Of Tides, tells us in his unforgettably tender first line, “Geography is my wound. It is also my anchorage, my port of call.” Naturally, Tom is referring to the low country; his amazing story—and Conroy’s masterpiece—unfold from there into magnificent, heart-breaking prose.

Upstate, I have family: wonderful, enjoyable, hospitable family.  In fact, this weekend, my great-uncle Ray will celebrate his 90th birthday. Family and friends will gather, not far from his little white house, to celebrate with him.

Everyone who knows Uncle Ray loves him. He’s one of those good, godly men whose life is worthy of emulating. During one of our visits a few years ago, he pointed to his well-worn bible, and said to me in his pleasant drawl, “Kristi (which comes out more like Krees-teh), the answer to every problem you’ll ever have is right here in this book.”

I was especially amused once during the brouhaha caused by The Passion of the Christ movie. My husband asked him if he planned to see it, and Uncle Ray replied without incident that he didn’t need to; he’d read the book.

I love to hear my mom tell stories of the summers she spent with Ray, and her beloved Aunt Sue, as a teenager. She tells us of the time she tried to show off for a cute boy by riding a skateboard down a steep hill—a task she hadn’t done before or since. She was banged and scrapped up, hide torn from the entire side of her body.

She tells that when she ambled back up to Ray and Sue’s yard, she was taken care of, nursed back to health (and pride) after the skirmish with the skateboard.

My mom felt safe and cared for by Uncle Ray back then, and she still does. She carries an unsullied respect for her favorite uncle, an honor she reserves for few people, because few people deserve it more.

My favorite Uncle Rayism involves the time told me that his great-grandchildren were such big fans of he and Aunt Sue that they would, “follow [them] to the jumping off place.” I love that: the jumping off place.

And in a way, I think some folks have followed—and continue to follow— him to the jumping off place. His 40-plus years working for R.C. Cola is a highly-regarded rarity these days, as is his involvement at the little Baptist church to which he remains so committed. But his legacy is his family, and inside that white house in Greenville, SC is the headquarters of a mutual admiration society: he adores his family and his family adores him.

I’m sad that I won’t be headed to the Palmetto State this weekend to hug my uncle, to celebrate his birthday and let him know what an amazing guy he is. But I imagine I’d have to wait in line. All the other attendees will be telling him their own version of how he has impacted their lives, and the line to following him to the jumping off place is pretty long.


Monday, May 6, 2013

Sometimes, a situation occurs—something way too delicious to let it slip by—that merits it’s very own blog post. Such a sitch has, indeed, occurred in Walker World, friends. Enough even to send me back into the blogosphere, a place I have avoided since December.

Turns out, one can get a great deal of television watched when avoiding one’s craft; but not much else. So consider this my Back to Business blog post. I want to keep it updated, at least once a week. No need to disappoint all 12 of my followers.

Once again, I have learned much about how a “simple” home renovation is a mirror of real life relationships. These same repairs also create an enormous amount of dust.

We are “thiiiiisss close” to finishing our brand-new bathroom. We are a family of five sharing a smallish space, whose bathroom grand total is one and a half. That ain’t much space, folks. Not only does it mean we use a carefully calculated Excel file coordination system of who showers when, but it also means no adult has showered (or done any other bathroom business) unaccompanied since around 2002.

While the full bath re-do was happening, we shared the half bath, a space approximately one-third the size of a Smart Car. It was loads of fun, especially before I got wise to using my daughters’ closet space as a handy litter box placement; until then, even the cat used the half bath. It was a constant lesson in patience, something I run short on too often.

Further, the half bath doesn't have a shower, so let me just say we're now members in good standing at the local YMCA. I joined the day before Easter so I could show up at church clean and spiffy in my Sunday best, and not the yoga pants and "St. Patrick's Day 2009" t-shirt I'd sported most of Spring Break.

The re-do has been a family affair. Most of the work has been done by my husband and my dad, though me, my brother and my sister have all pitched in. It is looking great. I love the gray walls, the new tub and sink, and can’t wait to hang my shower curtain—a 72”x72” New York City subway map.

But the one sticking point has been the shower vent/light. They were able to turn the vent on, and it worked fine, but the light did not. A series of re-wiring, junction box inspections, plugging and unplugging, then re-plugging in every possible combination, left the fellas out-of-sorts about the whole thing. There were trips to The Home Depot (this is how men solve an assortment of problems), calls to electricians and even reading the directions. Still, the light to the vent was not turning on.

Meanwhile, this slowed the progress of my dream ceiling: tin tiles, sprayed-painted yellow and affixed with some adorable crown molding. Then I realized that the ceiling was about to cost more than the combined cost of the new floor and tub. Now my dream ceiling has a less lofty requirement: done. And yellow. I will not bend on the yellow.

Alas—and here’s where the real life lesson comes in—the solution was simple. My hard-working man climbed up into the attic on Saturday, determined not to come down until he figured the damned thing out.

And then there was light! And a vent! At the same time!

Here is exactly the way my beloved explained the problem to me—I swear—word for painfully-true-yet-simple-to-solve word:

 “The male end was not connecting with the female end.”

Let me type that again for you, folks. It’s too good to say only once:

“The male end was not connecting with the female end.”

Well, I’ll be damned. There it was, the solution to an entire lifetime of complications, all wrapped up in a Columbia sweatshirt, feet dangling out of a hole in my bathroom ceiling.

He went on. “It was actually a simple solution. The male end was just pushing the female end away, but I needed to make a way for them to connect to turn it on.”

Listen, fella, who you tellin’?

And so, we have a light, a vent, a connection and a really, really good story about the bathroom.

It’s all about connection. Once that’s been made, it doesn’t take much effort to flip my switch.

Who’s turned on?