A Switch of Regret
Our assignment here was to re-write a part of my history. I'm not sure I did that, but I wanted to write about this real day-in-my-life from about 20 years ago. I've had the great good-fortune of traveling widely across the US, and the best part of that travel was meeting interesting people. I changed some names here, but this recounts an interesting family I spent time with. I've never forgotten it.
A Switch of Regret
Wearing a pressed shirt and just-as-rigid denim, Bobby introduced me to Mrs. Bobby. Her magnolia-pattern dress matched the landscaping at Shoney’s Buffet.
I’d already sweat a day’s worth by 10 am, but these Mississippi natives stood in line cool as vanilla ice cream.
"We usually get here earlier on Sunday. They come later," said Mrs. Bobby, pointing like a five-year-old to the lineup in front of us.
"I must apologize for all the black people," she continued.
Her sweet Southern tone was at least 100 years too loud.
Inside, I washed down something fried and cheesy with a beverage sweet and watery. We left, and I couldn’t digest those words, or their heartless delivery.
Did she regret saying that, or thinking I wanted to hear that?
Bobby carried a canvas sack over patchy grass and hills of fire ants. We walked toward a swampy pond and onto an aging dock braced by cypress stumps.
The stumps stood stern; the pond’s mirror finish didn’t notice his size 13s or his clumsy stride. The old structure was fishing platform, catfish feeder, swim coach stand.
"I taught Jr. to swim right here," boasted Bobby.
With one hand, he grabbed two hands full of brown kibble from the sagging sack. Bobby flung high the catfish catnip, and we waited for it to smash the pond's mirror surface.
Unintroduced as of yet, a score of catfish erupted to devour the sack’s snack quicker than a hiccup.
Bobby turned from his swamp-conductor perch.
"I’d feed those fish," he said with a laugh, "then I’d toss Bobby Jr. in right after."
Did Bobby regret that swim coaching style, or the fear he birthed?
Inside for dinner, kraft paper smothered the Mississippi kitchen table Like the humidity that pressed on the windows.
Bobby Jr. – fully grown, too big to toss – lumbered in hoisting a pail. It matched his overalls – faded blue and steamy wet.
He emptied the container of its mudbugs, corn and potatoes, its juices, spices and lemony scraps.
Word free, eyeing only the hot orange crustaceans, Jr. sat at the table’s end, and began. The heat of the food did not bother his fingers or lips.
When Bobby the 3rd bounced in, all of 6 and covered in earth, Jr. kept one hand for eating,
And the other snatched up a long green switch. Faster than a pre-boiled crawdad, Bobby Jr. reminded the younger of the rules, and his switch snapped out the orders, leaving a memorable mark.
I wondered if Bobby the 3rd has yet learned to swim, or what he’s overheard in the line at Shoney’s.
Did Bobby Jr. regret the switch’s swat, or the ones that followed through dinner?
Did I regret being with them?
Do I regret judging them and the world I don’t live in?