The Writing Traveler: Lessons from a Texas Summer by Drew Dwoskin

Banana farm in the countryside near Queensland, Australia. Photo: Fresh Fruit Portal.com

That single moment with my grandfather on a Texas summertime patio lives so distinctly in my mind, it tastes like the sweat on my brow. 

They say “Blood is thicker than water.” Well, that ain’t scientifically wrong. But it is also scientifically true that water is irrefutably more versatile. It is the lifeline of all around us. Farther down that hog hole, it is a scientific fact that we have more water in our body than we do blood. It was not until I was about ten years old that I realized it was biologically impossible for my father to have two biological fathers. That is how whimsically cathartic of a grandfather Roger was and is to me.

It would not be wrong to say ten years old is a decrepit age to internalize such an elementary lesson. But sure as sh*t, it is the truth. How blessed I have been in my life? How graced by chance and honored by luck? How astonishing it is to have someone love me so much that what might seem like a defining definition of a relationship is really nothing but a line you sometimes hear people say?

It was Summertime. Summertime in Texas. The sun, Roger and I. We were on the little porch in the very back of the house. For lack of a better description, it was hot. “It was hot” being an understatement. I swear if you were quiet enough you could hear the sun toasting the grass. As Texans, we will never hear that sound. We talk and laugh way too loud.

A place where a ‘breeze’ is more accurately described as “pockets of hot air;” square dancing with one another.  Roger reached out and took my arm turning it over gentle in his hand. He began to pour cool water directly over my eight-year-old wrist. The water poured from the mouth of the green garden hose through the air, onto my wrist, and fell scattering around it. Water not immediately evaporated fell down to the floor and ricochet onto my ankles’. As he did so his eyes shifted back and forth from my eyes to my wrist methodically… all the while smiling.

“Now thinner cotter (a nickname that drove me wild) I’ma learn ya somethin.” I distinctly remember the sound of running water and cicadas in the background. “We’re gunna cool down this here blood with this here water…the blood pulsing in them there veins is gunna cool on down. Then your heart (pointing to my chest) is gunna pump that blood, all around that scrawny body.” It would lower my body temperature was his point. He added a second part to this back porch lesson.

In summary, if I was ever in a freezing situation I should pour warm water on my wrist. The opposite would then occur. I did not know it then but that moment was pivotal in my life. It would come to shape moments that had not yet come to pass. It’s an amazing thing …life. It is also amazingly ironic. I can’t remember so many events that were supposedly important.

But this day was a milestone, I just didn’t have the where with all to know it. This moment, however seemingly small, would never leave me. It’s a good thing too. Irony doesn’t have to insinuate negativity. Not if we don’t want it to. This is a great example of how irony can work in a stupendous way. In my mind lives that moment, so distinct, it tastes like the sweat on my brow.

Queensland, Australia, Innisfail, 22 years old.

I was six months out of graduating from University and working on a banana farm. Which by no means was the type of job hard-working, tuition-paying parents hope for. Migrant work. My coworkers were Cane toads, Pythons, Huntsman spiders, and Crocs! I’m talking Cassowaries. Cassowaries have been rated the most dangerous bird on planet earth.

I was living and working smack dab in The Cassowary Coast; Dinosaur Country. Home to the great barrier reef. I worked 10 hours a day. Well, to be fair I got a twenty-minute morning break and a thirty-minute lunch. At five in the morning, an old yellow school bus would arrive at my hostel to pick me up. At 5:30 it would drop me off at the opening of a long highway and dirt road. On the dot at 5:45, I would have made it to the first barn-like structure on the premises.

The farmer would drive us out in the bed of an old truck, drop us off in a paddock, then speeding away. And boy, he was never looking back. We were equipped with different tools on different days, our lunches, a jug of water, and a wooden pallet. The wooden pallet was a precautionary emergency tool. We spent all day in the jungle, alone, hauling that wooden pallet around.

If it started to lighting, we were to stop working and stand on the crate so we didn’t get electrocuted. This was the only time to stop working, my farmer made that abundantly clear. It was hot but not the kind of hot I had known back in Texas. It was rainforest hot. The kind that waltzes right in your skin directly from your pores. Inescapable and all-consuming.

I thought on Roger every day. His voice playing in my mind as I stood in awe of the Australian rainforest and its jealous heat. I knew what to do. I poured water on my wrist. How grateful I am that I was “learned” something once upon a time in a Texas summer.

 

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