Telling time

Still Life
  • Aperture: f/2.8
  • Focal Length: 17mm
  • ISO: 800
  • Shutter: 1/25 sec
  • Camera: NIKON D1H

Coden, Alabama

Time stands still in this tidewater town.

Twenty miles south of the house where I grew up, there is a wide spot where the yawning mouths of the gulf and the bay meet. There, sheltered by the marsh grass and the live oaks, I spent every Sunday with my grandparents until the day I left for college, wide-eyed and 17, head over heels in love with my new-found freedom.

If I close my eyes, I can still see the stubby carpenters’ pencils lying in the emerald ash tray on my grandfather’s dresser, still smell the peculiar mixture of Old Spice, Grecian hair formula, and Ben-Gay.

Even now, at night, I can walk down the dark hallway, tiptoe across the scratched brown vinyl, and instantly lay my hands upon the chunky square of the red potato salad bowl, find the thick-handled tea glasses that once held store-brand peanut butter, brush my fingertips across the heavy, engraved U.S. Navy fork — the only thing my grandfather carried with him when he was honorably discharged from the service because he wouldn’t shoot to kill.

My childhood home lies in its own stagnant backwater — a monument to my academic achievements, a testimony to my darkest failures.

The same gold carpet lies stretched across the floor of my bedroom, the color of wheat lying in a fallow field, the color of a tight coil of twisted rope lying in the corner of a fetid barn. The blue curtains have faded to a dingy gray, and the white bed has mellowed to a creamy fine sepia, but the squeak is the same as I shift my weight in the night, tossing and turning as I struggle beneath the flowered sheets. It wakes me up sometimes, the squeak.

Without having to look, I know where the dusty old World Book encyclopedias are — there, up there, second shelf from the top on the right. The thick one — the “P” — that’s the one where I marveled at the intricate drawings of the printing press until the page fell out. And the one at the end, the slender red and white one that still cracks when you open it, that’s the one that I used to flip through quickly, furtively, casting my brown, little girl eyes away every time I got to the part with the colorful translucent overlays of the human body.

Yes, time stands still in so many ways.

And yet — time flies as well.

On my grandparents’ mantel is the clock my grandpa made for my grandma one Christmas. And behind it stands a photograph of him taken shortly after they were married, sometime around 1940 when he opened oysters for tourists to eat on the half-shell at the fancy Kit-Kat restaurant in New Orleans.

Now his wavy black hair is gray and New Orleans is gone — for all practical purposes anyway. I’m not sure about the restaurant. Truth is, I’ve never been to New Orleans. I’ve never been much of anywhere. A few forays into Mississippi, Florida. No trip longer than a few hours, and never without adult supervision.

But times change. Change takes time. And slowly but surely, I think maybe Dylan’s adage applies to me as well — the times, they are indeed a’changin’. Maybe not on the surface. Maybe not even within the narrow confines of those old familiar walls. But somewhere, inside my heart, I’m hearing the steady metronome of a whole new rhythm.

It’s faint. So very, very faint. I can barely hear it over the incessant noise inside my head. But still it ticks. Ever so slightly. And the more I concentrate, the more I understand.

That’s not just the passage of time that I’m hearing, that’s the heartbeat of life itself — my life. And even when it seems like it, time never really stands still. Time goes on.

And so should I.

Music: Center of the Sun (Solar Stone’s ChillOut Remix) by Conjure One (lyrics)

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