There are very few decent photographs of me as a child. When I die, I feel sorry for the poor souls tasked with putting together the obligatory retrospective of my life told in a series of adorable old Polaroids and poignant family photos set to music, probably “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”
We were pretty full of ourselves, I guess. Barely 19, barely finished with our freshman year in college, having left our provincial little town behind for the urban chaos and the infinite possibilities of university life just over a year ago. Now here we were again, back in town for the summer. We knew we were going back to school soon enough, so we wanted to cram every bit of experience and drunken camaraderie into those last few weeks together before packing up our junk, moving back into the dorm, settling on a major, and getting serious about the future after a few false starts and narrow escapes during our freshman year.
The treehouse that we had built in our backyard when we bought our house eight years ago sits vacant on a breezy September afternoon, the last day of summer, just as it has for the past eight years. For reasons I may never fully understand, the kids rejected it like a body sometimes rejects an organ, so it just sits there, year after year, collecting spiders and the intricate architecture of their silk-spun homes.
As President Trump’s administration continues to descend further into chaos with each passing week, there are a few truths that we will have to reckon with when it comes to an end, whether that occurs in a few years, a few months or a few weeks. The biggest of these is also the most obvious: we are a nation divided. Though polls show that Trump’s support is dwindling slightly, there remains a solid core of Trump voters who still support him and believe that his problems are essentially the fault of the media and of sore-loser liberals, who in their view refused to accept the legitimacy of his presidency and are thus undermining any chance he has of being productive or successful.
I can admit now that by the time the day of the eclipse finally arrived, I was so tired of the hype that I just wanted it to be over. For months and months, the eclipse has been written about, talked about, planned for, and so eagerly anticipated by so many people that I was just weary of hearing about it. I was even mildly and irrationally irritated that classes would be canceled and traffic here in “the path of totality “— a phrase that could have served as the title of one of those dreadful post-Roger Waters Pink Floyd albums — would be miserable.
When I was just about the same age my son is now, my dad took me to Atlanta to see the Atlanta Braves take on our favorite team, the Los Angeles Dodgers. I wore my blue plastic Dodgers batting cap and was thrilled not only to see the players I knew from television and newspaper box scores in person, but to be there with my dad to see my first Major League baseball game in person.
Edisto Beach, South Carolina – I will never forget the pictures. The day after Hurricane Matthew plowed through — and plowed up — Edisto Beach last October, I found a series of photographs someone had taken of the devastation along Palmetto Boulevard, which was no longer visible underneath a deep layer of sand and debris. Beachfront decks had been reduced to heaping mounds of kindling, street signs snapped like match sticks slanting this way and that, the twisted and jagged remains of patio furniture and wind-blasted beach umbrellas resembling giant, metallic insects, various and sundry decorations that had once adorned quaintly-appointed residences, now strewn haphazardly across the landscape like toys in a child’s playroom.
Half a year into his presidency, it seems pretty clear that Donald Trump would rather continue campaigning — or golfing, or both — than actually governing the country. Who can blame him? It is so much easier and more gratifying to stir up the troops with snide remarks about Hillary Clinton or the free press and to make exciting promises about reforming health care and lowering taxes than it is to confront a fundamental truth: the Republican party has had years to consider, craft, and deliver a health care plan that would supplant the much maligned Affordable Care Act, and the best they could do was offer a plan that guts Medicaid to the tune of $830 billion to fund a huge tax cut for the wealthy, while leaving millions Americans without any health care at all. Brilliant.
It’s a Saturday night in Sparta, and the three sisters — all of them widows — are heading off to church in Cherry Lane for a singing. The kids and I just rolled into town for a family reunion on my mother’s side, but that’s not until Sunday afternoon, which gives us the evening and Sunday morning to visit with Janie and Louise and Lillie, all three of them sisters of my late father. But first, they’re going to Cherry Lane to sing hymns.
When we get to Janie’s house, she has a huge spread already laid out on the kitchen counter: half a dozen or so barbecued chicken halves wrapped in tin foil from the VFW, a platter of deviled eggs, some cut-up cucumbers, a bowl of pork and beans, a plate of sliced tomatoes, a big bowl of slaw, and a chocolate pound cake.
I should have been ready for it, but I wasn’t. My daughter’s sixteenth birthday couldn’t have come as a shock to me, and yet it did. I have had all these years to prepare for this day, but I am not sure there is any way that you can really prepare for it, that day when your child places one foot squarely into the swampy chaos of adulthood, with the other foot all too soon to follow. Because, brothers and sisters, once they get their driver’s license, it’s the beginning of the end.