Saturday, December 14th
I wake up without an alarm at the usual time, 4:24 am. I get out of bed and I hear my Black Labrador, Tar, run up the steps. He always does that when he hears me wake up. He’s two and a half years old and my hunting dog and my best buddy, 85 pounds of energy and fury. He usually starts off the night lying in bed with me but ends up finishing the night sleeping on my reclining chair downstairs.
“I’m coming, boy,” I say as I make my way into the bathroom. Tar waits patiently outside of the bathroom door as I finish my business.
We have a routine.
First, I get dressed. My phone says that it's 22 degrees outside, so I dress warmly. I put on a heavy flannel shirt, my brown torn-up Dickie’s jacket, Origin jeans, and Rocky boots, topped off with a camouflage Mossy Oak baseball cap. Then I walk downstairs as Tar leaps down 2 steps at a time and we go out to the backyard to play fetch. I have 22 acres of woods and farmland here, and Tar has plenty of room to run. I have him perform his retrieving drills for around ten minutes, just enough to get him panting some, then we go back inside for me to drink coffee and for Tar to eat.
I don't have plans today and I don't want to have any plans today. I worked long and hard enough coaching college football for 30 years and each day I am happy that I don't have to go into an office or have a boss to answer to or recruit some 18-year-old kid to come play football for my school.
I retired a year ago from coaching and I came back home to Bayville, Maryland, where I grew up. I bought this house and farm and I live way out in the country, a good fifteen-minute drive from the town.
Bayville is a small town on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, a place forgotten by time, a waterman’s town, and a town hit with hard times for as long as I can remember. There is a chicken plant two towns away where some folks work and a seafood packing plant in town, but that's about it. Seafood is not as plentiful as it once was, so jobs are scarce. Lots of folks are on welfare, doing drugs, or just hanging out at the liquor store or at the park in town. Everybody is waiting for times to get better, but times have been bad for a long time.
There is a tree that has halfway fallen and is leaning against the duck blind on the edge of the timber pond out back of the house. It's not a big tree, but I want to chop it down, both because it'll collapse the duck blind eventually and because I want to swing an axe for exercise. Tar and I head out to the timber pond.
It's about a mile walk, and I’m looking at this walk as a chance to get some more exercise along with the ax from the shed, I grab a 25-pound weighted vest from the shed and put it on. I put the axe across my shoulders and begin walking at a fast pace. Tar runs ahead of me, gets way out in front, and then comes running full speed back to me when I whistle. It is a game that we play whenever we are walking in the woods and the dog loves it. When we arrive at the duck blind, Tar immediately goes for a swim. I begin chopping down the tree, counting 20 swings as hard as I can before I break for 30 seconds and go again. Counting reps may seem weird when chopping down a tree, but my mind always starts counting anyway, so I look at it as a training session. When I am done, I split the logs into just the right pieces to fit in the wood stove in the house. This is the type of work that I love: Outside, sweaty and dirty and hungry and thirsty when done.
Tar and I have put in some work today, and I have a feeling of accomplishment, one that I only get when I am finished with a great training session or when I am working at the farm. We walk into the house and I feed Tar for his second meal of the day and go to the mini-fridge behind the island in the kitchen and grab two Coor’s and sit at the dining room table. Ice cold and crisp, the first beer goes down in seconds and I start directly on my second. Tar comes over and licks the top of the bottle and sits and looks up at me. “What? Have you finished your food already? Oh, you had a hard day, too, huh, buddy?”
I open the big refrigerator and grab a hamburger patty that I made last night and feed it to Tar. This boy is all carnivore. And the burger is gone in a second. I get up and stoke the fire of the wood-burning stove and Tar and I sit on the floor in the living room together. I sip the beer and alternately let him lick the top of the bottle.
I look at the weather report on my phone. Early snow is expected in Bayville. I have always loved the winter and especially snowy days. With the day over and the clouds looking like snow, I decided to head to Grumpy’s Bar and Grill, about a ten-minute drive from the house. I love sitting at a bar on snowy days, in from the cold and content. Telling Tar that I will be back soon, I go upstairs and shower. Then I go to the bedroom and reach in the closet to get out my camo Tractor Supply jacket, and some old Frye boots. I go to the dresser and get out a fresh pair of Wrangler Jeans and a Bass Pro Shops Camo hat. I'm ready to go. All of my outfits are pretty much the same, I am no fashion plate, that is for sure.
I walk back downstairs and out the door, with Tar staring a hole in my back through the sliding glass door. I feel bad for leaving him. My 2020 Ford F250 starts right up, and I pull out of my driveway and onto a dirt road. I'll take the backroads to Grumpy’s, drinking from a red solo cup filled with fresh Coors.
After a peaceful, country drive with Chris Knight’s, The River on the stereo, I pull up to Grumpy’s. It's been here forever, locals only. I had my first beer here when I was 16. My old man bought it for me out of the blue one day after a long day's work of working concrete with him. Locals consist of farmers and people who work with their hands for a living. The parking lot is filled with pickup trucks with mud on the tires, and stickers on the back windshield of the trucks of deer and geese and ducks. No pretty trucks here, no sir. These are working trucks and hunting trucks. The bar is lit up outside with neon signs advertising Budweiser and Smirnoff Vodka and Natural Light, a favorite here on the Eastern Shore. The inside is just what a bar should be like, dark and cool. Dark enough that it takes a minute for someone’s eyes to adjust to the darkness when coming in from the outside.
With it calling for snow, the farmers and all the workers have cut out of work early to start drinking. Plus, it is Saturday, always a good day to drink. When I walk in, everyone’s heads turn to see who just came in. “Boys”, I say, nodding. I know all of them. Here and there, over the years, I have met just about everyone in the bar. I grew up not far from here, some of them knew my dad. I still have my red solo cup with me, forgot to leave it in the truck.
“Jimmy, how’s your old man doin’?” Ronald Smith asks as I take a seat by myself across the bar from him. Ronald is about 70 years old, weathered, and tough. He’s wearing a pair of overalls with old paint splattered on them and a ratty baseball cap with an NRA patch sewn on it. He was a waterman until the crabs started to dry up in the late 80s and then he switched over to farming. He's sitting at the bar with a can of Busch, a spit cup, and a can of Copenhagen snuff sitting in front of him. “He’s good, Ronald, how are you?” I worked for Ronald when I was a teenager, doing odd jobs on his farm, fixing stuff, cutting brush.
“All good here, getting an early start,'' he says, looking at his watch. He is sitting next to a woman that I do not know. She is about 50, I guess, and she looks just as tough and weathered as Ronald. But I'm not judging. This area can be rough with very few jobs and a meth and pill epidemic taking over. That stuff can make anyone look old beyond their years. “I’m Sally, by the way, she says, ``I work with Ronald.” She volunteers that information without me asking. “Nice to meet you, Sally,” I say. I lift my red solo cup to them both. “Cheers”, I say and they lift their drinks.
Someone puts some money in the jukebox and Alan Jackson comes on, singing “Hello Walls”.
Lisa is the bartender. She's a good-looking woman, mid 40’s and with an ass that is perfectly round like a swollen peach, and looks great in a pair of tight jeans. She has long black hair and a just right face, showing some age but not too much. We went to high school together and dated some back then. I went away to college and she stayed in Bayville. I hadn’t seen her until I moved back here a few months ago and came into Grumpy's and there she was, smiling and as pretty as ever. She is a widow and as far as I know, she hasn't dated since her husband died, despite everyone except the oldest man in the bar flirting with her. Bad, bad marriage, her ex-husband beat the hell out of her. He was a real scumbag. She got away, and he got killed in a shootout with the police after a convenience store robbery.
“Coors?” she asks in her strong Eastern Shore of Maryland accent. I lost most of my accent years ago, but I can feel it coming back, and I like it. Back to my roots. She knows the answer about the beer. I just smile as she slides it over to me. “Where have you been, Jimmy White?” “Oh hell, Lisa, I've been around.” “You have? You haven't been around here at all, mister. “You are like a hermit way out in the country with that dog of yours.”
“Sometimes he's all that I need,” I say, slamming the contents of the beer down.
“Hell, you are thirsty, huh?”
“Yeah, just a little.”
She walks away to help someone else and I stare at her ass. Damn. I look over at Ronald, and he pushes his head toward Lisa and smiles, like he's saying, go get her, boy.
After 30 minutes, I'm six beers in and I'm feeling just right. I get up to take my first piss since I got here. I'm getting ready to open the door to the men’s room and I hear a female voice. “Hey.” I turn around and it's Lisa standing there. “Let's hang out when I get off,” she says. “I would wait around for you to ask me, but I'm tired of waiting.”
“I thought you had to work until closing.”
“No, I get off in about 3 minutes. I close only on Thursday and Friday.”
I honestly forgot what day it was until she said, “It's Saturday, you know.”
“Shit, I am always forgetting what day it is. I'll have one more and we will head out,” I say.
I down another Coors and pay the bill and we are out the door.
“I'm driving,” she says, and I have no problem with that at all. And we head to my truck and climb in.
“Let’s go to my dad's old place”, she says, and we go down the road, Lisa singing old Kieth Whitley and smiling over at me every once in a while. I don't say much, it all seems so surreal like we are back in high school again. We pull into an old farmhouse sitting back off of the road. Her dad died a few years back, and Lisa has been taking care of his old house, the house she grew up in. She rents out the fields to local farmers, which pay for the taxes. “What are you gonna do with this place?” I ask.
“I'm gonna move in”, she says. “I'm ready to get back to the country.” She lives in an apartment in town over top of Murray’s Deli.
We get out and sit on the front porch. She opens the door to the place, walks in, and in a few minutes, comes back with a bottle of wild turkey.
“In the flesh.”
“Hell, I'm drunk enough”
She says, “Don't be a pussy”, and she takes a big swig. And then she hands me the bottle.
I look at her and hit the bottle until bubbles appear.
“What did you call me?”
She pulls a joint out of her purse and lights it.
“I see what kind of night it's gonna be.”
“I like those kinds of nights, “ she laughs.
We sit and pass the joint and watch the deer in the field in front of us. A mess of geese is honking in the sky somewhere. It is dusk and all seems right in the world right now.
After an hour or so, she asks, ``Are you ready?”
“Hell, if I can stand”.
“You'll be okay,” she says.
She drives my truck and I hit the bottle of Wild Turkey. “You are more redneck than I am,” I laugh. “I reckon you and I are about the same when it comes to the redneck scale,” she answers.
It's dark now, and the stars are out clearly. I feel on top of the world. Lisa is singing some Roger Alan Wade. I turn to look at her. “Dammit, I really like you,” I blurt. She chuckles, and looks over at me, “I like you too, Jimmy.” “Why’d you say dammit?” she asks.
“Ah, I don't know,” I say, feeling my stomach drop as my eyes meet hers. My tongue is loose now and I know I may say something that I regret, but of course, in my condition, I don't care at all. “We are going to have some fun,” I say, “I know we are.”
She smiles and looks straight ahead as we head down the dirt road.