What Do You Do?

Searching for something else, I found this. It made me nostalgic, and I thought I’d share.

What Do you Do?

I’m telling an acquaintance about our get-away place in North Alabama.

“It’s on the Tennessee River in the middle of nowhere. When we loan it out, we always tell people to bring food – it’s not the kind of place you can run out and pick something up.”

My listener is chic in a purple blazer, a good-looking pocketbook slung over her shoulder. “What do you do?” she asks.

“Nothing,” I answer.

She waits.

“We read and take walks,” I add.

Still she waits. Her hair is clipped quite short, she wears touches of makeup. Her eyes are clear-as-glass blue.

“There’s a burial mound off shore, you can canoe out there.” I feel myself loosening, and I tell her some of the truth. “Eagles nest on the lake. The house is across from Waterloo where the Trail of Tears began. It’s a nice place to be.”

She gives me a watery smile, and turns away.

She asked about doing.

I told her about being.

We’re never going to come together.

“You get up in the morning before the sun has topped the ridge,” I could’ve said. “When the earth is still covered in dew. You walk the pups down the drive, startling the geese from their nesting place. The pair fly like twin arrows across the water, determined to distract. Dogwoods unfurl in the woods, the air smells sweet.”

She would have been impressed. “Tell me more.”

“When the sun peeks over the roof, you lay on the balcony, soaking up the warmth, reading Ha Jin, a floppy hat covering your face. Sometimes you write, sometimes you tromp up and down the stairs for exercise. Sometimes you stay inside in the overstuffed chair so the pups can stretch on your lap, nestle against your thighs, snore in their sleep.”

“Sounds lovely,” she says. “How do you ever leave?”

But I’m not listening. “At four o’clock, you chill a beer in the freezer then walk hand-in-hand with your husband down to the dock. There, at water level, you rest your chin on your knees and wait for turtles to poke their skinny necks from the river’s current. The slats warm your bare feet, your back tingles. When a barge glides by, you count the barrels it carries on its shoulders. Overhead, a lone eagle rides the air pockets, its wings stiff.

“Soon, it’s time to start supper and take the pups for another dandelion-sniffing walk, one with ears perked, the other waddling. At sunset, you climb into the hot tub and oversee the ending of the day. The sun slips behind the far shore, the horizon pinkens and lengthens into a pale dusty rose. 

“Then dinner and snuggling on the couch and glasses of red wine and favorite TV shows and pillows in bed and kisses goodnight and dreams of adventure and whirlwind happiness and waking the next morning to do it all over again.”

That’s what you do at the river house.

Nothing at all.

An ordinary day, Cherokee Alabama, Waterloo Alabama

Comments (14)

  • I feel as if I have been there. I know those geese and the racket they make. I know that are several mounds in that part of the South—evidence that the first peoples were here earlier. The elements, earth, fire, water, sun are there too. But I know the place from your telling about it.

    • Ellen Morris Prewitt

      My mother was not a fan of geese. Mean as hell, she said. This mound was Cherokee. It flooded when the TVA dammed the TN River. During the winter, when the lake level was dropped, it appeared. During the summer, you could only see its hair of grass. So glad you have now been there too. 🙂

  • There was a pond in Midtown where I would go sit in the afternoons. I always brought a treat for the ducks and geese. In return, I was rewarded with honking in my ears and having my hair gently pulled by their beaks. (Their nips do not hurt.) One of them would allow me to smooth her feathers from time to time. Such a sweet experience. Thanks for helping me remember.
    Your lake house was all that.

    • Ellen Morris Prewitt

      Smoothing the feathers of a goose, really cool. Shows you what patience and presence does. We have a great photo of the four of us on the deck of the river house. <3

  • Doing. Being. This is beautiful, Ellen. I’m in a “lull” right now in my writing life, and learning to “be” is hard for me, even at age 70. Although I’m at home and not in a cabin in the woods, I love my home and I’m working on BEING here.

    • Ellen Morris Prewitt

      Thank you! I’ve been missing you! Thinking a lot about us Mississippi white women writing about race. I’m so glad we’re on this journey together. And Harbor Town is a magical place to “be.” <3

    • Ellen Morris Prewitt

      TY! The river house was at Pickwick, in Alabama on the TN River. So you’ve sorta/kinda been there. (and who is this “Ellen”? love, Gogi)

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