Today is my fortieth birthday. Apparently, this is something of a benchmark. I’m fortunate to have a couple undisturbed hours to craft a fortieth birthday gift for myself. This is a small slice of life that’s rattled in the back of my head for awhile now. Like the narrator, I am one who pays attention to odd sorts of things. I hope you all will add to this self-made gift of mine and partake in the fun.
Tending the Fringes
It’s b’come a tradition these past – oh, I reckon ten and some odd years now – that the family all get together at Sarah an Reg’s place for Fourth a July barbecue and to celebrate another year of livin’ for yers truly. I don’t rightly know how the two dates got squished together – the forth an my birthday – since last time I checked, an ev’ry time b’fore it, it was the the eighth of July that my Ma hatched me into the world, but I guess families these days only got so much time for celebratin’. Lord knows I don’ need no more fuss made ’bout me than I get, bein’ this is the eightieth July my old eyes have seen.
“You comf’table settin’ there, Aggs?” Reg says to me.
“Jus fine, Reg, jus fine,” I say. “Doncha worry ’bout old Aggs. Bes’ you trouble yerself with them burgers and dogs. We got lotsa hungry kiddos running round here.”
“You ain’t lyin’, Aggs,” Reg says. “No ma’am; you ain’t lyin’,” he says again, more quiet this time, like he does when he’s not really payin’ attention to his own voice.
Reg works that ole grill ev’ry year, complains ’bout it ev’ry year too, but if you pay attention the way I do, you know that he secretly lives for it – even preps for it with a special suit he makes out of a plastic Hefty bag he cuts holes in to poke his long, hairy arms through. Beats me how the man don’t die of heat exhaustion wearin’ that silly thing, but Reg says it’s worth it to keep the burger grease off his bare chest.
Twenty-seven years I known Reg – ever since Sarah brought him home to meet me an the hubby – and all those years, the man never learnt to wear a shirt. Think it was ’94 he was poppin’ wheelies with this new dirt bike a his, and he zagged to avoid hittin’ a stray cat in the road, and Lord, you do not want to see what happens to a bare chest goin’ forty when it skips ‘cross a gravel road. Poor Sarah was pickin’ gravel from the boy’s chest for weeks. We all figured it was the end of Reg’s shirtless days, but he still likes walkin’ round bare-chested, like he’s some sorta hairy Chippendale model or somethin’. Boy he is a hairy man too, ‘cept the spots on his chest where the gravel got ‘im.
“Gramma Aggs! Hey! Lookit’ me, Gramma Aggs!” says a squealy voice from ‘cross the yard. I look over an see one a the grankiddos balancing a whiffle ball bat on his nose. My eyes don’t see too good for distance, but I can tell it’s lil Devy, though I best not call ‘im little, seems how he’s gotta be near a hundred an fifty pounds squeezed into four an a half feet.
“I see ya, Devy!” I holler. “Careful you don’ spill that cola all over yerself!”
Devy’s holdin’ a cola in his chubby fingers while he plays his whiffle bat game, an Lord if that ain’t the exact reason the child resembles an oversized bowlin’ ball with arms; it’s all them goddam colas his parents let ‘im drink.
“All right, y’all!” Reg hollers. “Come an get yerselves some dogs! The grill master needs ta clear up some real estate!”
A stampede a squealy kiddos is on the patio in ten seconds flat, loadin’ buns, squirtin’ ketchup an mustard an toppin’ with Sarah’s homemade pickle relish, and Lord, here comes Devy, double fistin’ a pair a loaded dogs – the boy looks like an overstuffed semi trailer with an untied sneaker workin’ like a blown out tire – an if you’re one who pays attention (didn’ we already establish I am such a one?), you don’ need no crystal ball ta know what’s gonna happen next.
“Look out, Devy!” I says, but by the time I get the boy’s name out, them dogs is already sailin’ outta Devy’s chubby hands and right toward my lap. Back in my dancin’ days, I mighta avoided the worst a the mess, but it’s been too many years since this ole gal danced a tango, so there ain’t nothin’ ta do but let them dogs land where they gonna land.
Fortunately, my lap avoids the worst of it, but my shins turn a festive mix a colors when Devy’s dogs catch me on their way to the patio floor.
“Ah! Looks like Devy’s got the first big spill a the day!” says Reg from his grill station. The man’s sweatin’ like a plasticized lumberjack now – sweatin’ right on toppa them burgers he’s grillin’.
As for me, I’m startin’ ta lose my appetite.
“Sarah!” barks Reg toward the patio screen door, “Clean up on aisle six!”
My daughter Sarah explodes out the door a the house, an swift as a jackrabbit, she snatches up the hose squirter.
“Hold real still, Mama,” she says, “I got this mess.”
“There’s my Sarah!” hollers Reg, as he’s still drippin’ sweat on the burgers, “Queen a the hose, thas right! Thas my darlin’!” And he starts dancin’ to some tune that must only be in his own head.
Sarah’s shootin’ water all across the patio, and the squealy stampede squeals even louder.
“You jus’ stay put there, Aggs,” says Reg, his eyes never leavin’ the grill. “Sarah’ll get ya cleaned up!” Then his voice lowers, like it does sometimes when he’s thinkin’ more about grillin’ than the words he’s sayin’. “Yes ma’am. Slicker’n a silkworm’s twat; she’ll getcha cleaned up.”
The hose water feels pretty good – a nice cool off from the Carolina heat, so I jus’ close my tired eyes an let Sarah do her thing. I’ll say it one more time, that I’m one a those types who pays attention. Don’ take it ta mean I’m observant, least not in the way the detectives are on the police shows. In fact, I s’pose I’m sometimes so busy payin’ attention to the fringes of life, likely I miss some a the more useful things. That’s fine by me, though; I figure someone’s gotta do it. Someone’s gotta tend those fringes.
I raise my face toward the blue July sky and grin the sorta grin you feel down in your toes, as I savor the cool of Sarah’s hose water on my legs. I don’ know how many more Julys are left in this old body – whether it’s one more or ten – either way, I think I’ll be satisfied to sit right here, noticing the things no one else finds worth noticin’. Like I say, someone’s gotta tend those fringes.