Back when I was a young woman with thin thighs and frosted blonde hair, I had my share of suitors.
And if a certain relationship became serious, my father led the paramour into the poolroom, took out a cue stick, and offered him the same. As the balls broke, an explosion of cracking noises, my father paused. Once the balls had rolled to stop, my dad would look the gentleman caller dead in the eyes.
“I just want you to know something,” he’d say, bending over the green felt of the mahogany table, eyes a steely blue. “My daughter is a free spirit. You may like her, you may love her. But you sure won’t be able to tame her. She does what she wants to do.”
He issued this same warning to both of my husbands. If asked today, decades after Dad uttered his first alerts, they’d agree with him. My spirit tends to romp, gallop and pitter-patter along roads that often curve, wind and careen.
That doesn’t mean I don’t respect others or their boundaries and feelings. It just implies that I love adventure. At age 4, I insisted on riding the biggest roller coaster in Myrtle Beach, despite not meeting the age and height requirements. As a woman in middle years, I still ride roller coasters, both the physical and emotional kinds.
I grew up in a small Georgia town under strict parental rule, and my spirited streak hibernated due to fear of punishment should I venture from the expectations of authority and societal norms.
I can remember the first time I did something extraordinarily bold, and the trouble I got into later. I was working as an intern for the Spartanburg Herald-Journal back in 1981. The weekend editor asked me to cover an air show, held on a warm and gorgeous Sunday afternoon. He gave few specific instructions, and being new to the reporting business, I decided to turn the experience into a story he’d never forget.
At the air show, a pilot who went by the name “Byrd,” asked if I’d like to get into his open-aired, two-seater stunt plane and accompany him as he did wild tricks in the air. I figured a man named Byrd ought to know something about flying. I was wearing a frilly dress as he performed loops, flew upside down, cut the engine in a series of free-falls. He would look back to see if I was OK, and other than holding down my dress, I’d give him a nod of approval. We landed and I couldn’t wait to return to the newsroom to write a first-person piece focusing on the exhilaration from flying stunts at the air show.
The next day at work, the big boss called me into the office, fussing about how due to liability and this and that, I never should have ridden in that airplane and how if something had happened, he could have been sued for every penny.
The story ran on the front page and was a stepping stone to my becoming a columnist.
My first real reporting job out of college was with the Myrtle Beach Sun News. I loved covering hurricanes, not just from the sidelines, but actually out in the raging storms, the fierce winds and torrential rains. The adrenaline pumped as I’d stand on a pier, waves swelling and crashing, a camera and notepad gripped tight in my hands.
After a couple years, being 24 and thinking a whole world awaited, I gave a two-week notice, bought a one-way ticket on a cheap airline called People Express, and made my way to St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands. I’d saved some money, rented a fairly fancy tent, and decided this was where I’d live and write my “Great American Novel.”
Back in Spartanburg, upon finding out her daughter had uprooted and left the mainland, Mama flew into a fit of tears, and Daddy just shook his head, probably poured a bourbon and shot a game of pool.
It was 1986, and the water in the Caribbean gleamed and shimmered a hue of blue I’d never seen except in gemstones. I spent my days sunning and snorkeling, and my evenings riding the ferry to St. Thomas looking for work in the restaurants and beach bars.
A few months into this journey, I ran out of savings, couldn’t find a job, and I’d written a total of ten pages in my new novel. The time had come to admit defeat, so I called Mama from the airport and asked her to meet my plane in Columbia, S.C., later that afternoon. She never has let me forget my “adventure” to St. John, as she still calls it my “immature and irrational phase.”
I moved to Asheville the year after, beginning a new life in the mountains that I’ve yet to leave.
Maybe I’m more settled now that age has crept in, but the call of the wild still whispers while I dream. And I can still hear my father’s warnings, “You may like her, you may love her, but you sure won’t be able to tame her.”