We didn't know a storm was coming when we set out on our bikes that day. The plan was to ride into town and sit by the water with our books of the moment. I'm not sure what I was reading that weekend. Often I would steal a couple Stephen King books my dad had finished. I devoured novels (the thicker the better) and was quite content to dive into Ray Bradbury or Maya Angelou for five hours on a lovely Saturday afternoon. My spot was on our ivory love seat next to the window and dad's was on the larger matching couch. I loved that love seat. I loved calling it a love seat. We were proud of those couches, long overdue comforts for our brand new mobile home. Isn't it funny how you adopt furniture like it's a family member?
Days like that we didn't talk until the sun had moved clear across the trailer park. Shadows grew longer and one of us would get up to stretch, open the door to exclaim about losing an entire afternoon mumbling about time. However, on this particular day we made a plan to get our asses in gear. I'm sure we packed sandwiches: usually peanut butter and jelly or tuna fish with either pistachios or plain potato chips in those little plastic bags that folded. I hated those baggies, the snacks always fell out. I think they came with twist-ties which I never used. Dad always carried a backpack and I had a fanny pack to stash a pack of Sweet Tarts I hoped he'd buy plus whatever little shells or stones I'd surely find. I was nine, he was thirty and it was just the two of us.
The main road leading to town wasn't a bike friendly route, but it was the only way there. We left the nearly silent dirt road in our small community. Dad barked orders at me, "Go faster, stay to the right, stop weaving in and out, use hand signals!" I could always hear a held back chuckle just beneath the surface. I knew he was trying to make me stronger. Looking back, I can see it worked. Tobacco fields and pine trees lined the road filling my nostrils with earth and familiarity. I'm not sure how many miles but it seemed to take forever as most things do to children. The sun browned my skin and white clouds beckoned us towards Swansboro and the Atlantic Ocean. The General Store welcomed us and our trusty steeds(I was really into Little House on the Prairie, Native Americans and hardy women living the pioneer life). We didn't have a t.v. at that time so my imagination was a wondrous place and as an only child I had endless freedom to let it run wild.
THE GENERAL STORE was the the best place in all of North Carolina as far as I was concerned. The year was 1990 but it may as well have been 1950 inside that place. It was filled with stick candies in swirly colors, golden honey in tiny jars, fancy greeting cards on thick paper, sodas in bottles with hinged well made lids that reminded me of Germany and the beers my dad loved there. I missed Europe and its strangeness. Everything in Frankfurt had been different and I ached for the smell of tiny see through green erasers attached to foreign pencils, long red skinny sweet-n-sour licorice in white paper bags. My mom used to let me walk across the street to buy sweets myself with a handful of Deutschmarks. I missed the wild white horses we fed apples to after school and the way the wood floors smelled in the enormous room at the top of our apartment building. The light was glorious in that space. I loved to run up all the flights of stairs and tiptoe in the vastness, spinning and feeling the ghost of Anne Frank, or so I thought.
Swansboro had its own ghosts and they called to me in so many ways. I can see that now. The Native blood was steeped like strong tea in every patch of dirt we walked upon. I'd spend hours digging up fossils in our yard and feeling eyes on me in the woods. Twenty seven years later my experiences from that land still sing.
I walked the aisles of the store looking at all the wonderful things in baskets: funny jams, kaleidoscopes and pinwheels. Seascape postcards we always bought to mail to the long line of friends left behind in other towns, for my grandma (and papa) who often sent perfect cursive letters to us; postage stamps, a cream soda and a seat near the sea with my dad. A perfect Saturday. The boats drifted by, we laughed about the time we tried to fish, I caught an eel that bit me on the finger and how the Japanese man nearby silently wielded a huge knife to chop the eel in half freeing me, then asked if he could take the slippery devil home.
The lazy day passed with sparkling sun spots on calm waters and passersby with dogs and small children running. Dad's dark hair and blue eyes fit in with the people around us, but I always felt out of place in that beautiful, bittersweet backwoods town. I'd look at his face for acceptance and nowhere else. We were two space cadets flying by the seat of our pants. A mismatched perfect match.
After awhile the clouds darkened and he went inside to ask the owner if she'd heard anything about rain. I wandered in restless and ready to get back to our little silver trailer among the pines. I heard her voice rise in that southern drawl I still hardly recognized.
"Ya'll rode your bikes here? Oh you wanna use our phone for a ride? You got someone you can call? There's a hurricane comin'. It ain't s'posed to be real big or nuthin', but you can't ride them bikes out there."
She stood behind the counter with her pale chubby fingers tapping the wooden counter. I could feel my dad's testosterone levels rise. Uh oh. He was a Marine Goddamnit. I could hear his thoughts, and even though a nervous knocking appeared in the depth of my belly I knew we would surely be riding our bikes home. We walked down the wide weathered steps, the crunching of gravel led us to our trusty steeds just as big fat rain drops hit our grim faces.