Biloxi Blues


We smoked menthols on the drive down.  There were peanuts all over the floorboard of my Escort.  A few times I talked Nana into going on vacation with me and each of our adventures always started with a stop at the gas station on the way out of town for a bottle of Coke and a pack of peanuts.  She’d dump some peanuts into the Coke and dump just as many on the floor.  I’ve always imagined this little ritual was less about Coke and peanuts and more about something else, some memory, some feeling.  But what the hell do I know?  I don’t drink Coke.

We were headed to Biloxi, MS .  The Beau Rivage had just opened and we were staying there.  At the time, it was probably the nicest hotel I’d ever been in.  I was still too young to gamble, but it didn’t matter.  We weren’t there to win big.  We were there to remember.  And to forget.

We ate in the nice, new restaurants of the hotel.  We talked about love and pain and flying saucer people.  We drank Reunite Bianco in our room.  We got buzzed and lounged on the beach.   Nan (non) wore a blue two piece swimsuit from Lands End.  It was tasteful, but she had no business wearing it.  It should have embarrassed me; it probably did.  But I never said a word.  Sometimes being hot isn’t really about being hot, it’s about knowing you are, truth be damned.  And Nana knew it.

She loved Vince Gill and as luck would have it, he was playing at the hotel during our stay.  I got us tickets to the show.  We were all dolled up.  Nana wore a hair piece.  The division between the brilliant blonde of the wig and the graying blonde of her own hair was obvious.  Hoop earrings dangled, bright lipstick applied with precision, as always.  She looked perfect.  During the show, I snuck out to the lobby.  I wanted to get a souvenir t-shirt.  The guy selling them gave me one for free.

We went on a shrimp boat tour.  It was overcast that day.  It was peaceful and smelled like saltwater and fish.  The seagulls flew all around our heads.  We asked someone to take our picture.  We let it all float out to sea and run together, the troubles of an old age I did not yet know, the turmoil of a youth she couldn’t forget.  In between the shores of Yesterday and Tomorrow, that’s where the relationship between grandmother and granddaughter exists.  That’s where we were.  It’s where I still am.

We smoked less on the drive back and once we got home, not at all.  My mom says Nana and I were blessed with a gene that allows us to stop smoking as easily as we start.  That might be true.  I think some of it depends on why a person smokes in the first place.  For us, it was never really about the nicotine.

Nana never did wear that Vince Gill t-shirt.  When she gave it back to me many years and several strokes later, it still had the stiffness of a brand new t-shirt.  It didn’t hurt my feelings.  It was never really about the shirt.

She died three years ago today.  I miss my grandmother.  But that’s not what this is really about.  What I really mean is, I miss my friend.

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