the weekends in the south smell of insect repellent

June 22, 2012

When I was five, we took our single trip as a family: visiting my mother’s parents. We rode in the brown station wagon with rotting carpeting from Florida to Massachusetts during the Indian summer. I only remember flashes, small images.

There was the small brittle bottle of 6-12 No-Bite Repellent, the logo melting and smeared. My sister and I would spend the days foraging through blackberry and raspberry brambles so overgrown that the paths were tunnels, labyrinths filled with the boozy-woozy scent of DEET and over-ripe berries. Sticky and overly warm, we sought refuge in a small brick library, watching Dr. Seuss filmstrips, the warped audio track boozy-woozy.

I remember hiding beneath their grand piano as my grandfather hid downstairs in the cellar, wordlessly drinking beer with my father. It was his fortress against the world, filled with hanging meats, barrels of pickles, and aluminum walls of stacked beer and sardine tins. I remember my father placing his hand flat upon the polished dinning room table at dinner one night, as if to keep himself in place.

I remember peering into a notch of a tree and discovering a furry caterpillar. I was so startled, that I stumbled backwards, falling through the empty air onto the hard ground.

Everyone kept mentioning that it was an Indian summer as they rubbed handfuls of alcohol-cold repellent into our necks.


When I was 14, I was slow dancing with a girl on a golf course late one night. My father and I were on our annual summer road-trip, roaming Appalachia and the Cumberland, trying to escape the fiery furnace of the South. She was staying at the same campground and we were swaying together clumsily, our warm bodies radiating the bright-green smell of juniper and pine. Every three minutes we would stop, and she would bend down to rewind her cassette player, back to the beginning of the Doors, “Crystal Ship”, before putting her small hands back upon my shoulders.

We would sway and I would imagine a ship made of glass on a vast dark sea against a vast dark sky.

Before you slip into unconsciousness,
I’d like to have another kiss…

I didn’t know what it was like to slip into anything, but I imagined gracefully slipping into that black water, how it would envelope and hold me. I barely knew what it was like to kiss a girl, but I imagined the same sort of thing: I would slip from my uncertainty, my nervy earth-bound body into something calming – soft, liquid and vast.

The juniper and pine hit me like a third martini, we were perfumed by it. I felt weightless as we swayed in that ghost forest, filled with plastic Christmas trees, every needle perfect. It was all so vast and endless, like the night sky.

vaughn t – life-long tourist living in the American South (for now), fueled by aimless car rides and long silent paddles through dark swamps. fascinated by variations on a single theme: the nuances between different oysters and the endless interpretations of whisky and the world of cheeses. daily tea drinker.

2 thoughts on “the weekends in the south smell of insect repellent

  1. brandi

    We are all regionalists in our origins, however “universal” our themes and characters, and without our cherished hometowns and childhood landscapes to nourish us, we would be like plants set in shallow soil. Our souls must take root—almost literally. For this reason, “home” isn’t a street address or a residence, or, in Robert Frost’s cryptic words, the place where, “when you go there, they have to let you in”—but where you find yourself in your most haunting dreams. These may be dreams of numinous beauty, or they may be nightmares—but they are the dreams most embedded in memory, thus encoded deep in the brain: the first memories to be retained and the last memories to be surrendered. – Joyce Carol Oates


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *