fog.

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It was all very perfect.

I don’t say that often, but sometimes life hits you just right, and you live in it.

Up and down, through the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Fog, cutting through trees. It reminded me of how I pour icing on cinnamon rolls. Filling all the cracks, making things a little hazy, but all quiet.

I needed to see that horizon again.
Being on the road allows me to stare into them, push into them, dream into them.

I got to visit my dad, and I watched his garden grow.
I sat next to a girl who was very adamant letting everyone at the table know that she was the Chubacabra on NBC’s Grimm. We all drink some gin drinks and called it a night.

I cooked dinner for my dad and his wife. I petted their big dog Angus who has big sweet eyes and thinks he’s a human, sometimes.

I drove further up north and met some more friends and got some hugs from quite possibly the most beautiful little one. I cooked dinner there too and drink too much wine and talked about God and divorce and food.

All of which seem to be cut from the same fabric of our desire to learn about each other.

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I felt sad, a bit.

Like, really felt it. Like the way you feel when something sets in and there’s no way to stop it. You let it cut through you, like Appalachian fog.

I felt love though, too. Loads of it, in different forms. Through food and hugs and proximity.

I stared endlessly into those horizons, where I knew the curve of the Earth would never let it stop. So I kept driving. By rivers and more little mountains. I smelled the cool damp rock smell. It reminded me of the wild Oregon — the one I was haunted by. But not so much scared as unsure as to what it was all about.

There is still plenty of beauty here.
That’s what I came to realize.
I opened my heart and a lot of things got out and a lot of things got in.

That’s the way I like it.
Because I also learned I’ve gotta lot left to learn about myself and how I treat people.
About my intentions — my humanness — my icky insides that make me wanna hide, at times, from the messes I’ve made.

I remember my sister-in-law Leah used to say, “It was just your turn to spill…” when someone knocked over a glass.

And maybe, that’s what it feels like. A knocked over glass. A little ashamed of being clumsy with something. And a million times I think I could have moved another way. But I sit and think that we all spill over.

The road took me back to Mississippi.

Where it is warm and not as pretty as them foothills.
But it is where I am, and how I felt myself looking forward to settling back down there.

Road weary. Thankful. Ready to stretch. Ready to move, again.

I guess home has a way of doing that.

enough.

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Some part of me has always cried for justice.

Back when my mom felt so alone,
or when I felt alone.
When I saw terribly young women standing in a line, waiting to be bought and brought to a room for sex.

And my heart is breaking. A whole helluva lot.

Another church burning. Another headline. Another turned head.
The man across the street from me has his confederate flag flying higher and brighter than ever.

These days…
It’s like jamming a shovel into the packed earth. Tilling up soil that hasn’t been turned in decades. And when you see its underbelly, full of scary looking things. Cracks in the earth.

But there is breath too, and now there is room and a chance for new things to grow.

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You see?

If you know me, you know a lot about my heart. I don’t hide it very well, as cooking takes a lot out of me. I give it to people all day long. I’m also not too afraid to be vulnerable.

I told you when I was going through a divorce, and how I wept in my old hallway that felt like a depth of hell I never knew could exist.

And I will tell you now, that I am so glad I have changed.

You are not born seeking justice or truth or mercy.
We have no framework for grace, given our blank slate.

That stuff…is just magic.

Somehow, we are able to learn a bit. Hurt a bit. Give up a lot.

Fill our bellies with good food and maybe feed others, too.
A few times I have lifted naked men and dressed their shivering bodies.

I still dream of that time I saw a man die of neglect. It still haunts me. It is my framework for how I live my days, now. Sure, I cook and make fancy food. But I remember his open eyes. I remember his skeleton.

That body reminded me to take care of everyone.

So some of you are mad at the government. You have your reasons for being angry. As do I. I’m wondering where are the peacemakers. The market gardeners. The wounded healers.

One day, younger people will ask me about this time. I will remember what it was like to wonder about the 60’s and the civil rights movements, and how I asked myself the same question. “What would I have done? Who would I have been during that time?”

Today.

Today, though.
I will be an ally, and I’ll work for peace.

I’ll tell you that my heart is happy that all people get to be married and fight about dishes and watch Netflix and obtain all their civil liberties.

I’ll tell you that that confederate flag had a lot to do with hate and injustice, a heritage of oppression and war and slavery. I’m glad to see it transition into history books and I’m excited to see Mississippi squirm a little. Grow. Change. Expand.  Moan. Heal.

I hope that we can be kind, too. We can be angry, also.

I am glad that we change.

I hate that it takes us seeing horrific things to make us move. I wonder why that is. I wonder why seeing horrible things makes us jolt out of our seats and scream, “Enough!”

Because it is enough.

And it is going to eat us alive.

Today.

Today, though.

I will be an ally, and I’ll work for peace.

And may You have mercy on my soul.

 

a southern year (in review)

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I drive on Highway 49 when I go to visit my family outside of Jackson, Mississippi.

It’s a highway I’ve known my entire life.
There’s the boiled peanut man.
Well, there are a lot of boiled peanut men.
There are also a lot of sweet potato men.

Antique shops. Roadside flea markets. Mom and pop diners.

It occurred to me, while driving this stretch of road yesterday, that it’s been a year since I’ve moved back to Mississippi. I’m very nostalgic about dates like this. Not only has this year gone by fast, it’s also been a whirlwind.

I still don’t feel like I’ve caught up just yet.

I’m also still struggling with my sense of place.
It’s been a hard season for me.

I was lucky to have a few months off when I moved back.
My mom, nonchalantly placing $20 bills in my shoes before she left for the morning.

I struggled finding work in Jackson, so I moved back to Hattiesburg.
Still, I find myself a little wobbly, and a little out of sorts.
So many people I know have found their niche. Their people. Their lovers. Their pets. Their homes.

I’m having a hard time figuring out what it is I want. What a luxury.

I sense that I am so close to learning something about me and my life. I have doors open for me, and a lot of doors I feel I’m left knocking.

Not religious enough.
Not healthy enough.
Not social enough.
Not southern enough.

It is a needy feeling, sometimes in my belly. Some days, I connect deeply, and others, I still feel so homesick for that thing I used to have.

I’m really trying hard.

I’m working a lot, and I’m carrying a lot of weight.

I’m carrying my past, present and future. All of which, looks a lot like me trying to fit a round peg in a square hole.

With that being said, I have felt so lucky to have all of this back.

What I lost, was tremendous.

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But coming back home, I gained something else.

My wild and precious community.

Who feed me.
Text me.
Employ me.
Pray for me.
Pull me in tightly.
And let me, by some miracle, into their lives.

It has been a wild, wacky year.
I broke a bone.
My roof caved in.
I started to build a home.
I forgot I knew how to sweat appropriately.
My dad got married.
My second nephew turned one and I got to feed him hotdogs.
I met a cat raccoon.
I got a bigger bed.
I planted flowers with my niece and nephew.
I started a tiny business and am excited and terrified.

Whew.

A few deep breaths, and I resonate with these words I have tattooed on my arm.

these things take time.
and I look in the mirror, with some weepy eyes, and proclaim:

yes!

surely,
they do. 

medicine.

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The South can be a spiritual and emotional place by nature.

It wraps you up in the language of grace and the blessing of hearts.

And I’ve gone through many seasons of both.

Sometimes people talk about God as though we’re all believers in the Divine, yet there is so much that I’ve seen and felt. I listen, regardless. If it’s important to you, it’s important to me. I can though, move in and out of it as I need to. As much as that doesn’t seem to make sense, I get tangled up with you and your words. I get lost in your story and I want to know how.

I dwell in a community of people who believe in a lot of different things.

I feel their love shine on me the same.

They’re all working on those things. Figuring out how to raise their kids.
They are tired, but looking for meaning in the day to day.

We sit and eat as a way of oneness, as a way of sharing.

Equals, we are, sitting at the great big table.

Still, I find myself lost in it all.

I’ve found a great comfort in not knowing. That is the space that I dwell in.

I see your hearts, living with intention and moving in the ways you need to move. I remember it. I remember it for my own life. I feel how you love, and I still feel what it was like to move in certain ways.

We all kind of lose a bit here and there.

Most of us wish it was our weight. These damn bellies…a physical reminder that we’re all a little soft. I like to remind people that I’m built for comfort, not speed.

I suppose, as I remind myself to submit to a place while I am there, this is what I see.

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There are times that the future freaks me out. I start thinking myself into someone, someone who doesn’t even exist yet. No wonder it’s so overwhelming to dwell in future things. It’s not who you are just yet.

We’re all slowly becoming.

I like that.

That’s a little like medicine, to me.

We have to give ourselves time. I heard someone once say that life is short, but that it’s also long. We have a lot of time to miss our mark and get back up.

I’m always talking about giving yourself time and space. To sit in your own presence and to dwell in it. Sometimes, I do this when I’m surrounded by piles of dirty dishes and smelly cooks. I’ve learned to do the humble work because there is some beauty in its simplicity.

I’ve seen a container be full and emptied and cleaned so many times.

I recognize myself in the same light.

A container, a vessel for something kind of holy and delicate.

I’ve lost it, and gained it back time and time again.

I will continue to do so,

and I will notice myself slowly becoming.

Because that’s a little like medicine to me.

 

the boy who ate his vegetables

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I sat over a plate of turnip greens, cabbage, baby lima beans and a trinity of fried chicken things.
Gizzards, livers and thighs, oh my!

Across the table sat my lunch companion. I know her as Gran.

She asked me a question that I get a lot. “When did you start to eat this stuff?” I laughed, and stared at the remnants of what used to be vegetables, only now as pot likker, and few stray beans. Granted, many of them veggies were cooked down with pork, but damn, was it good.

My answer to her question?

I have no idea.

Look back far enough on this blog, and you’ll see a bit of that change. Learning how to love and care for food in Portland was substantial. It’s a town full of folks who take it seriously. I thought chefs were bad ass and I wanted to be one. I knew I’d have to start eating pretty much everything I could. Let it be known, I am not obsessed with the glorification of what it means to be a chef. It is hard and most of the time, thankless work. I assure you, if you cook food for a living, people will, though I don’t quite deserve it, call you a chef.

I was anxious to learn how to cook and eat the food of my own people. I don’t want that to be lost on my generation. I want to own and absorb it. If I do ever have kids, I want them to know what it’s like to have gravy drippin’ off them elbows and that proper grits take a little time.

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Embracing food is to take in a place. It’s to breathe in smoke and spice. Some places, you have to take it slow. I was shown what food could be — how acid and salt and fat create layers and depth.
Like a good story, food is passed on through our bones, and onto the bones of our kids.

It echoes deep, and it’s eternal.

It is repetition. Ritual.
At its most basic, survival.

So, where do I go from here…
I’m not going to tell you what to do.
That you should stop feeding your kids this or that. I have my own convictions, and it’s not my place to speak into any of that.

I do know that there’s always time to open up.

There is always time to do something you wouldn’t have done yesterday. And there’s something else new you can do tomorrow. It builds and builds, and you will look at yourself and say, “Whoa, I kinda like that!”

And you grow and grow and grow, as tall as a tree or maybe just high enough to see over a fence.
You’ll find yourself slurpin’ down pot likker and it will drip off your chin.

That’s what I’m catching up on. Feeling a food. Learning shapes and smells.

Turnips and peas and summer time tomatoes.

I was never the boy who ate his vegetables.

But today, I closed my eyes, made myself present,

and ate em’ all up.

 

 

world’s (not so) strongest man

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Pain is so very isolating.

Mix that with being alone, and it is the recipe for a long day. I’ve been having too many of them.

Currently unemployed, and I am still in transition from one place to another. I have the grace of my family keeping me going, and the hope that things will shift and settle into place for me at any given time.

Two months is just a blink, I know. I’m so ready to get going with things. I’m ready to embrace my calling and to live my life fulfilling whatever it is I’m supposed to be doing. Now..what is it that I’m supposed to be doing again?

Ah yes.

Therein lies my big question.

What am I supposed to be doing? I scream it towards the heavens. God, tell me what to do!
(and with a laugh I say, “Please?”)

It’s not easy like that. It never is. There comes a point where you just have to start going. Momentum is important. Like watching the dudes in those World’s Strongest Man competitions pull a cement truck with a rope. They key is momentum. Being super freakin’ strong also helps.

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I’ve had so much time to sit around and think and think and think.

I often don’t feel very strong, at least what a person would need to pull a cement truck.

Being in between is a purgatory of sorts for me. Neither here nor there, awaiting some sort of judgment from the higher ups. And I’ve been that way for a while. Not just in Mississippi, but since that big shift occurred in my life.

Granted, I am making forward motion, very slowly. Some days I am left alone with a few voices in my head telling me I will not amount to anything, and that I will dissolve into oblivion. You should know by now that I’m being dramatic. I also know these voices aren’t my true self. They are though, the weakest and most vulnerable of voices that I acknowledge from time to time.

I have a place I will be moving to in a few weeks, and I am beyond excited to create a home there. It’s my own space. Something I haven’t had for a while, and that I consider a great privilege. I’m excited to be able to have a dinner party, plant some herbs, and ferment vegetables on top of my refrigerator. (Sounds like a proper bachelor’s pad!)

When I visited the space, it was currently occupied by a college kid. It smelled like two week old damp towels and Axe body spray, but I looked past it all and saw what it could be.

I suppose I do that with any space I’m given. I’m lucky that I’ve been given the tools to create a good space for myself wherever I am. Social interactions don’t nearly exhaust me like they used to because of this space I create for myself. Maybe because I’m more aware of myself in the larger scheme of things, and it allows me to connect without making it all about me.

I am doing a lot of work on myself.

Being alone, as much as it hurts sometimes, is good. It makes me feel strong when all other signs tell me I’m weak and lazy.

Put me in a place where this is love and an inch will go a mile.

Starting over. Hrm. Not quite.

Adding on, maybe. Readjusting. Stretching and moaning, with the occasional grinding of teeth.

Setting the broken bone is quick, but the healing takes time. Small moves, but substantial.

If any of you ever find yourself in the middle of Mississippi, I have a place at the table for you.
I’ll feed you something I’ve been wanting to try, and I’ll show you a southern sunset, which is most particularly beautiful in these parts. I’m not sure why.

I’ll be sitting on my back doorstep, barefoot with a hot cup of PG Tips and quiet tune in the back,

and it will be so good to see you.

 

daytime dreamin’ (my future in food)

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I keep talking myself out of this. I suppose it’s my fear of the unknown, and that things can change so quickly. But I want to talk about my future in food. I also want to get into the conversation of food and place.

More so, the shift of food cultures.

I guess I’ve been afraid of comparing one place to another. There are layers of history and terrain and economics. While cooking in Portland, I grew to understand a lot of the growing seasons.

I guess I worry about making one place look better than the other. It would be unfair of me to do such a thing. We all have our homes and our sweet spots. There are some ways Portland really works, and I’d love to see those same things where I live as well. You get used to a certain quality of life, it is hard to move downward, in a way.

As a cook, and especially as a cook who cares about where his food comes from, being aware of the surroundings is one of the most important things you can do. What is it that people respond to? Where is there a need? What do people want?

I struggle with the lack of a local food movement. Or if there is one, it isn’t being promoted as much as it should. I suppose in Portland, you can be out picking up your dog’s crap and run into a farmer’s market. It’s easy to be spoiled in a place like Portland.

I dream about having my own place one day.

I know, I know.

Go ahead and talk me out of it. Tell me to do something better and easier with my life. I’m really trying to see it that way. Trust me. I’d love to move on and work on a different career where I didn’t have to work every weekend and night and miss out of things. Because that seems to be what people miss the most.

But there are lots of ways to do what you want to do. I feel like I’ve talked about this before.

I don’t feel like I’ll be shaking this off any time soon.

It’s not even that I want to be famous. Trust me, I like to be small, even though I am a big dude. I want to give people something better.

Look, it’s not that southern food here isn’t good. It’s some of the best. We have a built a truly unique food culture in the South. But there’s so much more. At the risk of sounding ridiculous, it could be so much cooler.
There’s a shift that might take some time. Price and product. Quality over quantity.

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I want people to get into it.
I want people to get nerdy.
I want people to care.

I get excited at the idea.
I know what kind of napkins I want to use,
or what I want to hang on the walls.

I’m already to the point where I’m not going to be staging in a Michelin rated kitchen. Culinary school is still bleak, and I’m just not interested in it any more for the price.
There is certainly a lot to gain from working under super talented chefs in kitchens all over the world.
I suppose my head is swimming with ideas. Things that I want to do. Things I want to cook. I want to give people, like so many others do, something honest, simple and good.

It’s what I think about going to sleep at night, and I’m willing to sacrifice a lot to get there.

Why am I writing this? Because it’s important to me, and it’s important for me to connect with people. I want to feed them and I want them to feel taken care of. I want to give them the kind of experience that hooked me in.

If I have a gift for this, I want to give it away.

I am assuring myself, that things might change when I have less energy, but even then, it is meaningful work. It’s something I’m going to work towards, as well. I owe that to the place I call home, and wherever it is I end up digging deep.

A poem somewhere said to beware of the ones who dream while they are awake.

I am dreaming.

And though it is late, I am very much awake.

Blood Buzz

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I’m on a blood buzz.
Sort of, intoxicated-like,
on family and history and potato salad.

Sadness is a tingle,
much like when your foot falls asleep,
but you are very much awake. 

God, am I awake.

I tingle here and there,
this is how I know:
I’ve lost a great love.

Vibrations, almost.
a bit of shell shock.
my ears muffle when you talk to me.

Not all the time. I try to listen.
I try not to think about her.
I realize it’s a losing battle to not think about someone.

how does one snap out of this?
to fall in love again?
to kiss in the dark again?

yes, I know this.

but today, I stare outside my window
I see mostly brown,
but then again, I would.

The green is coming.
daffodils line them Miss’ippi highways;
I can see them!
(something deep inside of me proclaims)

and I am hungover
from big pains
and too much fried catfish.

buzzed. like with too much wine,
but for my family,
my history,

drunk-like,
with them old southern ways,
and hummin’ the hymns
I used to sing.

Collards and Cornbread (And Why I Became a Cook)

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Last week, I had a very big man approach me in the kitchen, only to point out that I make cornbread and collard greens.

“Now I see here, it says you make corn bread and collard greens?”

In my head, I assume he knows it’s my menu. So, I smile.

I know where this conversation is going.

“…my grandma taught me how to make the BEST cornbread and collard greens – I’m gonna come down one day and we can compare — see which one we like better!”

At this point, I’m laughing. Because that’s what I do when I sort of don’t understand a situation. I smile. I laugh. I say okay.

He was a sweet man. A preacher, actually. He gave me his card. He preaches twice on Sunday…like all them good Baptist preachers do. I don’t think he’ll be back any time soon, but it’s always fun connecting with people over food, even if they claim to have the best. I never claim to make the best of anything. I cook food based on a memory. Based on how a certain dish made me feel at some moment in time. It’s nostalgic, at best. And I cook a dish the best way I know how, until I learn a better way.

I am not stubborn, and will humbly lay down my knives to be shown how something can be done better.

But this is something I’m learning in this weird, competitive business. The best this, and the best that. This recipe handed down for generations…

You see, I don’t have those things. I have a few recipes handed down, but I wasn’t raised in a kitchen. I think I began cooking for myself younger than some, but by no means do I have a heavy culinary background. Food is important to a lot of cultures, but obviously the South is held in high esteem.

Most of the stuff I cook now, I would have never eaten as a kid. Sometimes my mom will say, “Can you believe when you were a kid you wouldn’t touch beans and rice!” And I didn’t really, unless it was smothered in ketchup, served with some Popeyes. I mostly wanted McDonalds. Wendy’s. You know…kids are stubborn a lot.

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Someday, part of me really wants to say, “Well, I was raised in kitchens…my so and so was a cook and I watched them..” But that is not what really happened.

I started cooking because I really wanted to be good at something and I wanted to connect with my culture. I was feeding two people. And I was tired of frozen chicken breasts coated in Tony Chacheres’ and just barely making something taste delicious.

Food tastes best when shared.

It is something I miss, deeply. Connecting with another human being at a table is a rich experience.

It’s sexy.

It’s emotional.

It’s deeply nourishing.

At least, that’s what cooking is to me.

personal.

But also, I started cooking because I was living with another who loved to eat, and valued its place in our lives. Now that things have shifted, I am left many nights, fumbling around with what works for one person. People tell me it’s hard to cook for other people. I get that. But sometimes it’s harder to cook for one.

I’m not quite sure where it was I originally planned to go with this. But it is here, now.

And what I want to say, is that I became a cook because of you. You know that, and I will always have that. And it will always be mine to give.

I don’t make the best cornbread or collard greens. I like it, but it’s probably not the way you had it when you were a kid. And that’s okay.

You should know when I cook, I have all these other people to feed now.

And I see them come in and take off their coats. And smile and we wash their empty plates. We have given them an experience.

Those nights, when I’m here alone, figuring out what to feed myself, all I really care to think about what is what I can give them. (And where all of this will take me.)

so thank you,

because it all started with you.

 

where the water looks like sweet tea

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We’re out of coffee, so this steamy cup of PG Tips with just enough milk will have to do.

And let’s be honest, that light scald on the back of your throat is just perfect.

It’s welcoming and much needed. Like the light rain outside and the low-hanging clouds I know will cool my sunburns.

I am tired.

Just getting back from a small vacation with my family on the coast of Alabama. A state that I’m not very familiar with. (with the exception of its beaches and its love for college football.)

I would always pass through Alabama on my way to Georgia.
Sometimes I call Alabama a backwards Mississippi. (Well, geographically, it’s sorta close.)

Like if Mississippi had a less cool cousin, it would be Alabama.
(And I’m sure natives of ‘Bama would say the same for Mississippi. Fair enough.)

I’m also biased, right? Aren’t we all.

The weather was perfect. Hot. Humid. Sticky. All things you would want on a summer vacation to the beach.

The gulf waters, just cool enough to take the edge off. Realities of the BP oil spill still running on letter boards outside law offices that reside in the shadows of gigantic oyster houses and souvenir shops.

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We went on a dolphin tour one day. I think dolphins are super cool. So did our tour guide, which is good because its his job to hype them up to hot, sometimes miserable people. “Tell you what, I seen a dolphin tear through an 8-ft shark!”

As the boat propellers kicked on, it churned the murky gulf waters.

My niece, looked up at me and said, “Uncle Josh! That water looks like sweet tea!”

And in all my days, I’m not sure if I’ve heard something that genuinely cute and honest.

I responded, “You’re right dude! It does!”

That line, resonates deep within me. More or less the fact that it doesn’t look like regular tea, but sweet tea.

That is a southern girl, deep deep down. To the extra syllables in words I never knew could fit any more. That little girl is wild and somethin’ fierce. I pray deep down that the world does not extinguish her fire to be heard.

A day earlier, we were out swimming, and I told her I was thinking of just swimming to Cuba. Not that I thought she would know what Cuba is or where, but that it was far away and that it looks a lot different than Alabama.

Grabbing on to my shoulders, she yelled, “Come on, Uncle Josh, let’s swim to Cuba!”

And so my mind wanders. Thinking of coming up along a shore near fields of sugar cane. Warm breeze. Explaining why everything looks so old, but beautiful and unique. How could a little one understand the complexity of regimes come and gone and that sweets can’t just be bought at Winn-Dixie, but are more or less rationed.

But all that doesn’t really matter. At least in this story.

Because when the water looks like sweet tea,

you don’t ask hard questions. You soak it in the best you can and realize how small you are in the thick of it.

In actuality, the water is so salty. It stings your eyes and burns your nose.

But for those few days, it was sweet…

and it was just what I needed.