On most mornings the thump and crash of waves hitting land, the moan of wind and the whir of a sprinkler head are the sounds that come first through walls and windows shaking me from sleep. By now these sounds are ingrained and perceived almost as a soundtrack, and on those occasions of waking in a different setting I open my eyes confused by the silence. That happened this morning in a Louisiana bed that for some time at least I can call my own.
Out of bed, I wander out to the back patio of Raymond and Dee’s house to sit for a few minutes and absorb the notes and chords of a different soundtrack, this one composed of the chinwagging of unfamiliar birds, the whoosh of tires on pavement and the splash of frisky koi in their tree shaded pond. A cardinal sits on the nearest bird feeder and in his eagerness rattles the seed from its spout. He stuffs himself with safflower, thistle and cracked corn for one guarded minute, until a fat and also hungry squirrel approaches from the limbs above. Three cats twine between the chair legs, occasionally coming by to polish my feet and beg for a scratch under the chin.
Sitting in this arbor of green among Eden-like lushness, it takes a moment or two for my ocean-shaped vision to adjust, to bring into focus a palette not dominated by blue and white. Here it’s all brick and stone against the spreading green of fox tail fern and Louisiana iris. The shrimp plant and angel wing begonias splash their red and green at the foot of a loquat tree and nearby stand their neighbors, the lemon, fig and satsuma trees. It is a setting very unlike the spare and distant perspective of Florida’s ocean shore and a welcome change from the salt and glare that mediate everything there.
Each time I return to this place that colored my childhood, the sense of connection is strong in spite of now unfamiliar streets and development. There is something about it that arouses a feeling of being lost at home. The names on street signs trigger a flash of memory, a teenage face, a 1957 Chevrolet. The missing oak trees on Steele Boulevard, a onetime alley of ancient drooping limbs and extruded roots remind me of Robert R, a schoolmate of those days. The oaks were all cut down after residents along the street complained of giant roots pushing up through the asphalt surface, their road constantly broken by those grandfatherly roots. The house here on Lobdell is several miles east of those absent oaks, in a neighborhood also rich with the remembered tokens of childhood and youth. Goodwood Elementary was the site of many after school basketball games, few of which we won against those red and white clad Cardinals. And at the northern edge of Goodwood only a short walk from this patio is the old municipal airport (now a park) where piper cubs took off and landed.
And so the feeling is like coming home, but to one where I can’t remember well what’s in that old hall closet or where the back bedroom is. A place familiar in so many ways, but brimming with hidden facets that promise to reveal themselves in the coming weeks, a delicious scavenger hunt with old friends among old haunts. Raymond and Dee asked how long I wanted to stay and I suggested a time frame from two weeks to two years.