Where winter is concerned, I realize that other parts of the country have it infinitely worse. But, as winters around here go, this one was harsh...and it ain't over yet. But with March's arrival comes the hope that the earth will turn green very soon. It's going to be 65 degrees this weekend. There's a male bluebird and a female bluebird hanging around the houses in the backyard, trying to decide which one would make suitable accommodations for their new brood. There's some bush in our side yard (the name of which escapes me) that's got buds on it the size of pencil erasers, waiting to explode. The days when I can have breakfast and afternoon martinis on the patio will soon be here.
Invariably, when the weather turns warm, my mind always goes back to my childhood. Was there a time more perfect than the summers of your childhood? There were baseball games, okra and tomatoes from Uncle Ralph's garden, creeks to dam up and woods to explore. I'm fortunate to have pretty good memories of two childhood homes - some from our days in East Atlanta and some after we'd migrated to Stone Mountain. The house in Stone Mountain was full of outdoor adventures. An old dairy with old dairy houses, long ago abandoned but not yet leveled for yet another subdivision. Despite our parents' warnings we explored those old dairy houses for hours on end, back in a day when kids could stay on the run all day without parents worrying about something evil happening to them.
The house in East Atlanta sat on a busy street and I was a small child in the years we lived there, so there wasn't much exploring on my own. I had to stay, not just in our yard, but in certain parts of our yard for fear of getting too close to the street and traffic. Every time I think about that house one scenario comes front and center - walking to the Stop & Go at the corner of Flat Shoals Road and Fayetteville Road with one of my sisters on hot summer afternoons (sometimes I reckon one of 'em drew the short straw and was forced to mind the baby brother.) I'd walk down to that store with my sisters and spend considerable time trying to decide what I'd take home. Not sure why I wasted so much time trying to decide because I always chose the exact same thing - a Payday candy bar and an Orange Crush. I've eaten in some fine restaurants and sampled many fine elixirs, but I'm not sure there's a more perfect pairing than Orange Crush (in a GLASS bottle) and a Payday. Pair the sweet soda with the salty peanuts on the outside of that Payday and you've got perfection. There's only one thing that taints that memory for me. An episode so heinous that it's probably best I air it here and find healing in the bringing it out of the dark recesses of my mind....it was the day my Grandfather took a bite of my Payday.
To appreciate the horror, one must first understand my grandfather. I suppose it's a sin to speak ill of the dead, but he was a grumpy, miserable, dirty cuss of a man. I know most folks have a lot of warm, fuzzy memories of their grandparents. Unfortunately being a "late blessing" (Mother's words) I didn't have a relationship with my other grandparents - they were either deceased or in bad health by the time I came along. All except for Grandpa - my father's father. He lived in a basement apartment in our house. I can remember being frightened to go down there. It was dark. It was dirty. Had a really funky smell going on down there as well. With God as my witness he had dust on the bar of soap in his shower because he seldom bathed. My father took him in and took care of him because it was the right thing to do, but I never got the sense he really loved his father. There was a big picture window in our house on Fayetteville Rd. I used to have a recurring dream that I'd wake up in the middle of the night and go in the living room and my grandfather was out there staring in that window making mean faces. I mean this man scared me out of a year's growth.
So now that you understand my grandfather let me tell you about "the day." I was heading down the driveway and didn't see Grandpa leaning up against the old '64 Ford in our driveway. "Where you going boy?" (I honest to God can't remember him calling me by name...I was always "Boy.") I told him I was going down to the store. He reached in his pocket and gave me a hand full of change. "Here...buy you something." I nearly fainted! An act of compassion from this man that haunted my dreams! I headed off to the Stop & Go thinking life had just taken a dramatic turn! Upon my return to the driveway - with the cherished Orange Crush and Payday - the old man was still leaning against that old Ford, watching traffic go by. "What did you buy?" he growled. I showed him. He said "Gimme a bite!" I hesitated...for a split second I hesitated and he snapped at me "I bought it dammit! Gimme a bite!!" So I unwrapped the Payday and handed it to him. He took a huge bite of perfection and handed me back a candy bar now covered in snuff juice and old people spit. I ran around to the corner of the house and into the backyard, I ran way behind the dog pen and to the edge of the woods where one could cut through to the football field at East Atlanta High School. I threw that damn candy bar as far as I could. If the squirrels and possums wanted to eat a Payday coated in snuff spit they could have it. I sat down on the patio, cried and drank an Orange Crush that was the only salve to that wound.
I noticed the other day at the grocery store that Orange Crush is now also Peach Crush and Grape Crush. And they all come in plastic bottles. And it's been a long time since I ate a Payday. I should just let them be at this point and remember them the way God intended them to be - in glass bottles and without the snuff spit.