Tag Archives: city market

Butterfly, Emergent

8 May

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The sun is shining brightly in sharp lemon beams. Like too green an apple, the air has the covering of unripe spring. The last gasps of a winter that just won’t die flows over the streets of the Holy City, Charleston S.C. On my stroll out of the building they call “The Slave Market”, an African American boy approaches me. His four foot frame is covered in red, white, and blue polyester basketball jersey. He is so dark his eyes shine like stars as he looks up at me through long lashes.

“Would you like to buy a rose for my basketball team?” he asks me. “Four for twenty…three for fifteen? “

I don’t even think. An automatic response tumbles out like the well worn message on an answering machine.

“No,” I say “…I don’t have it.”

He places the rose woven of palm frond in my hand.

“Here, you can have it anyway.” He turns; his small body quickly disappears into the tourists on the street.

I stand for a moment.

I begin to process what just occurred. And the realization breaks over me, sending my stomach down into my knees.

Why is this child here on a school day?

Where is the chaperone that would supervise such a fundraiser?

Where are the other children with the same bundles of woven flowers and matching jerseys?

The shame from my initial judgment and naiveté surfaces as I remember a trip to Washington D.C. in January, where my companion gave a destitute man in the street money when he asked for change. I had reacted so coldly to that giving gesture.

I had turned to another friend with us and said, “That’s how they get you close and then take your wallet, you know.”

I felt so “cool” walking the street that day. As if I was the paragon of safe city navigation. And now, looking back at the person I was, I feel a deep regret.

That white blonde rose, edged in green…here on this Wednesday of Holy Week,  means more than the child knows. Later in the day, I came to learn that this is how homeless people make money in Charleston, from wealthy tourists who don’t even think about spending $800.00 for a pair of shoes they wear only when the aesthetic is right.

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I took that rose home with me and placed it on my grandfather’s grave Easter Sunday morning. Gifts of the heart are worth more than the world really can measure. Placing it there with a donut and coffee seemed right in that moment. For it was Grandaddy that connected me to my first memory of darkly pigmented people. Sitting there, a memory arose in me without much prompting, all the way back to Roanoke, Virginia in 1969.

Shining plate glass windows reflect the line of bright white fiberglass hulls in the parking lot. Each angled point bows out against the next and the next and the next in this black sea of tar and asphalt. My small pink plaid tennis shoes pop against the pavement in the overwhelming heat until I tug my grandfather’s trousers and reach both sweaty arms upward. Large cushiony hands lift me to ride through the July afternoon, like the swallowtails which ride the summer swells, decorating the hot humid drifts across the tar top. As we enter the showroom, moist cool air encircles us despite the panes of cobalt blue sky through which beams of bright sun arch across the high ceiling. Grandaddy puts me down and begins to walk among the boats, talking with a man in a dark olive suit and orange tie.

Under the boat to my right, there is a shadowy space where the curve of the stern slopes up toward the black pinwheels of the outboard motor. In that space sits a dark little boy. He looks like he’s made of ginger chocolate to me. His light blue collared polyester shirt shines the light where his face holds the dark. His hair is a soft curly cushion of chocolate all around his face. I skip. I slide into the space under the boat; my hot pink psychedelic shorts revealing my knees as I slide across the cool linoleum tile floor.

     “Hi!”, I say. “Whatcha playin?”

      “I’m in the ocean!” he says. “Here, you wanna play with dis starfish?”

I take the five-pointed image from him and offer my own in return.

     “Here…take this shovel!”I say. “Let’s make a sand castle!”

      “Ok.” he says “It’s gonna be BIG!” He laughs loudly while his arms shoot upward to show me how high.

We begin to pile the grains of our imagination, scoop upon scoop into a castle.

     “Here’s the drawbridge!” he shouts.

     “Here’s the moat!” I squeal.

We giggle and squeak. My new friend begins to make the sounds of ocean waves crashing.

      “Pshooo…Pshooo.” His arms orchestrate a tiny hurricane of wind and tide..“Look!” he says, “It’s all gone….the waves done took it away.”

       “Let’s dig a hole here,” I say. “We can go to China.”

As we work together, we name all the toys we’ve carried to the beach and all the animals we’ve seen, just like the ones on Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. I fall in love with my new brother. For he is sweet and smiling. His skin shines with the reflections from the linoleum floor. And his color reminds me of the icing on my Krispy Kreme chocolate covered donut Grandaddy buys me every Saturday morning, the palms of his hand the color of the coffee in Grandaddy’s cup. He is my chocolate boy.

 Our beach is a fine beach. One of dunes and waves, stars and fish. Our China is a wild place full of animals and sand. All the colors of a deep ocean  in my eyes. All the dark depths of the land in his.
Suddenly, I see two toned cordovan and cream shoes on my side of the boat, and two pairs of Bass Wejuns on two sets of chocolate legs, one set smooth, one set rough on my brother’s side.

I hear granddaddy call, “Come on Cyndi, Granny’s got supper waiting on us. Let’s go!”

My brother and I freeze.
Our eyes meet.
We don’t want to leave each other.
We don’t want to leave the shore of this new world.

I grab his wrist and we scramble out from under the boat to look up at my giant grandfather, his hands on his hips, his legs like long trunks of palm, his eyes a steely blue through horn spectacles.
Suddenly, I want my new brother to come home with me. To eat macaroni and cheese at Granny’s table, while white curtains with the little bobs of cotton hanging off the trim dance in the hot summer breeze. Then, I want us to play in the backyard, catching lighting bugs in jars, until the green yellow glow is only a pin point in his dark eye. We’ll race from the backyard to the porch while dogs bark and howl from the alley and echo down the block. In our bed of muslin sheets, I want to whisper stories about pirates and flying and sea journeys on a creaking ship where the crocodile ticks and the fairies laugh like tiny bells. I don’t want my ginger chocolate brother to go. His skin calls to me like some lost color in a butterflies’ wings I have never worn.
So, I’ll ask.

Doesn’t Granddaddy buy me what I want?
Doesn’t he provide all the most delightful things?
Isn’t he the source from whom all blessings flow?
“Grandaddy…” I plaintively call. “Will you buy me a chocolate brother?”

His eyes glance upward to the two dark faces directly behind my new brother and I. Grandaddy’s face pales, but the corners of his mouth turn a funny way up.

      “No. We need to go now shuga… you can’t. . .” he hesitates,  looking over our heads, “buy a brother. Turn him a loose.”

I let go of my chocolate brother’s wrist as my butterfly body is lifted skyward to perch on Grandaddy’s arm. And as we move toward the door, I turn back to see my brother and his people round the bright white hull of the boat above our castle the waves washed away. Their feet dragging gray blue shadows toward the opposite door.

Chicken Fried and Unsanctified

1 Feb

Sunday morning in Roanoke, I ventured downtown in search of a coffee shop. We have Starbucks in Lynchburg, but I somehow feel it doesn’t qualify. Not that I dislike my local Starbucks. I visit it daily. Coffee is sacred to me. I’m a night person who has risen pre-dawn against her will for the last quarter century, ten months out of the year. They know me well.

Venti Bold

Monday through Wednesday, red eye

For the rest of the blurred week, black eye.

At my mom’s house its raspberry decaf? Right.

Sigh.

That morning was also about trying to find a little peacefulness once again. My mom cannot connect with me without verbal communication. It’s impossible for her to just be in the same room with me in silence. It drives me insane. I can’t think. And as a non morning person for ALL of my life, I wonder what kind of “eye” four shots of espresso to a cup is.

So, I trekked down to Mill Mountain Coffee as early as I could manage. Once again, I couldn’t find a “Ryan cafe au lait”. He is the king of the baristas and no one can touch him. If I want a proper cafe au lait, I’ll have to drive nine hours to Ocraocoke to get it. Believe me, I’ve contemplated the drive.

Ending up at Mill Mountain with high expectations was a mistake; the morning went south from there. While I am able to excuse the poor cafe au lait making, I really can’t tolerate abrasively loud screeching laughter among late teen-aged baristas. It was early,on a Sunday, and they were waaaaay too happy and loud. She had one of those laughs that just crawls down into a person’s ear like those creatures from the Wrath of Khan, the ones that drove the crew of the Enterprise into automatonic murderous rages. I stayed for an hour and then I just couldn’t take it any longer. I even threw away the poor excuse for a red eye cafe au lait without finishing it. Mistake one. Bad coffee is better than no coffee, in the grand scheme of things.

So I searched for a new coffee place and drove around downtown Roanoke for literally 45 minutes. Nothing. Not any sort of a comfortable spot with wifi and a decent cuppa joe. On the fly then, I decided to just go eat breakfast. I had seen Thelma’s Chicken and Waffles the night before with my mom and had attempted to look up the brunch menu on the Internet. When I found an empty page, that should have been my first clue to turn back…but I didn’t.

Sigh.

What occurred at Thelma’s has to be the most hilariously pathetic excuse for a brunch I have ever encountered. I almost don’t want to write about it, but because I care about my possible readership’s palates, pocketbooks, and their health I will venture on into the abyss that is Thelma’s.

Let me preface this soapbox review by saying I know that what modern Americans regularly ingest as “food” is in direct opposition to my definition of edible substance. But I grew up with a granny that could cook and I know what home style food is. Freshly made southern home cooking and that is definitely NOT what Thelma’s serves.

I entered the bar area and ordered “the largest coffee you can muster”. I’m sorry.When a customer says that to you, you find the largest cup the kitchen has even if it’s a bowl. He brings me a diner mug, ignoring the twice as large Irish glass coffee mug hanging behind him and nothing else. I had asked for cream and artificial sweetener. He plunks down two plastic cuplets of creamer and a sugar shaker.

Okay… Strike one.

I ask him for a menu. This brilliant lad responds with, “You wanna eat here?” Even though he probably questioned whether I truly wanted to eat at the bar, I should have taken him seriously.

“Um…yeah”, I say. “That’s why I’m here at a bar at 10:30 on a Sunday morning.”

So I gaze at the menu and everything includes waffles on the side. I just want waffles, maybe with some eggs but just waffles. What kind of a restaurant that has waffles in the name does not serve waffles unless it’s a side? They serve pancakes solo. Why not (eureka moment) waffles?

I had to order the country ham platter with waffle on the side. Apples, not hash browns came next and no toast nor a biscuit, just a waffle.

He says, “No substitutions …I’ll have to charge you extra for the waffle.”

“Okay”, I say. I start a slow boil as I think, just bring me a damn waffle.

After three cups of watery coffee, for which I had to ask for cream three times, I finally get a platter.

Eggs, check.

Why is there a biscuit? strike two.

Why are there hash browns instead of apples? ball one.

And what the heck is this, I think in horror as I spy something that looks like onion rings.

“Excuse me”, I ask. “What is this?”

“That’s ham”, he says like I’m an idiot. “That’s good ham.”

“What? “I say incredulously, “It’s breaded. Why is my country ham … breaded?”

From the look of irritation on his face, I could tell that my question was a completely foreign concept to his mind. Why wouldn’t country ham be chicken fried? Jeez, lady aren’t you from the south? That’s what his look said to me as he turned around and walked away.

Strike Three. I’m outta here.

I began to laugh because I wanted to cry. I have spent my entire life in Virginia. I know cuisine better than 95 % of most Americans and I can cook it as well and you are trying to tell me that Smithfield country ham is meant to be chicken fried like a Walmart tater?

Riiiiiiighhht…Okay mon garçon.

I sent the hash browns back for the apples I ordered.

“Here”, he says. “Just keep them; it was the kitchen’s mistake.”

“No, you don’t understand”, I say. “I’m not going to eat them. I didn’t order them so that means I don’t want to eat them.”

He glares at me. “Eh, suit yourself”, he says.

I left the pre-frozen Pillsbury/ Sam’s Club biscuit on my plate, too. The eggs were real, I think, and the waffle I did eat with the margarine on top. It was the same kind of waffle you’d make yourself at the Hampton Inn when the continental breakfast is included with the 60 dollar a night room. But then, I tried the chicken fried ham… shudder. I’ll not regale you with details.

I paid eleven dollars for a meal I didn’t eat and then asked to use the restroom. All that coffee. Another nightmare awaited me because someone had become sick the night before and it had not been dealt with. The other stall had no locking mechanism; it swung open freely. As I exited with full bladder, I greeted the girl coming in behind me.

“Good luck.”

The only thing that could save the day was walking, a lot of it. And trying not to lose my cool that I had spent money in a place that wasn’t worthy to call itself anything beyond a glorified Waffle House, which shockingly serves waffles as a main course. I mean, Cracker Barrel even does that though crackers aren’t on the menu. But, I walked downtown Roanoke and took plenty of pictures, and went into the newly renovated market building. Next time I will go to Firefly Fare. Locally sourced, freshly made, hot and real, it was where I ought to have gone all along.

So you may say, Well, home cooking is like that Cyndi. What did you expect?

I’ll tell you what I expected. I expected something like my granny’s gently fried country ham with red eye gravy nestled beside two scrambled eggs cooked in the same pan as the ham. Then, a Belgian waffle (made with egg whites whipped until stiff, but not dry and folded into the batter) lightly laced with syrup and cinnamon. It doesn’t have to be real maple but the kind that doesn’t have high fructose corn syrup as the main ingredient. I even may have expected an angel biscuit like Granny’s with damson or cherry preserves, that little bit of summer in a jar. Alongside it should be a coffee; even the kind Granny used a percolator to make would have done fine. Strong, clear and brisk with cream. That is what I expected. And although the morning did not give me the gift of a great coffee and stunning brunch, it did give me a memory of my granny’s hands, her blue rose apron, her warm kitchen and comforting table, and a memory of what home cooking ought to be. Maybe next time, I’ll just go to Granny’s and make her coffee and breakfast instead.

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