Averyell A. Kessler
It started with a tree frog. He was a little fellow with orange toes, bright red eyes, and a tight grip on a wide hydrangea leaf in my son’s backyard. I remembered a favorite song from college days and said, “Hello, Jeremiah.”* Yes, I know he wasn’t a bullfrog, but he was an instant friend of mine. Although I never understood a single word he said, I’m sure he had a bottle of mighty fine wine hidden in the bushes. I posted these thoughts on FB and began receiving replies from friends, as well as some from folks I didn’t know. They asked for more. The next week I posted The Mimosa Tree, a short, simple story of my childhood delight in climbing a tree in my friend’s front yard. More replies. I was off to the races.
This week, I noticed that these first posts have something in common. It’s joy. Jeremiah said it quite clearly, even to the fishes in the deep blue sea. As for the mimosa tree, where else can a child reach out to touch the clouds, pretend to be aboard a pirate ship, or travel to the moon and be home in time for supper.
There’s not a lot of joy around these days. The pandemic years have been a bee sting on the tip of my nose, a simmering pot of boiled kale and Brussel Sprouts, and an invisible splinter working its way deep into my index finger. For some, it’s been a dagger in the heart. But joy’s still out there somewhere. I remember it well.
Joy was Mama tip toeing into my bedroom before sun-up and whispering, “Wake up, it’s snowing!”
It was the rush of relief when I clapped like my hands were on fire and Tinkerbell sprang back to life,
Also, Seale Lily’s Purple People eater sundae, as well as a long row of revolving stools, crunchy cones, and the tantalizing aroma of molten chocolate.
I remember a smiley faced substitute teacher who canceled the spelling test and replaced it with bingo and a discussion of the latest episode of Spin and Marty.
Joy was finding a dime under my pillow instead of a missing front tooth, Riverside pool opening for the summer, fresh salty wind whipping through my hair as the Ship Island Ferry plowed deep into the Gulf’s murky waves.
I loved to plunk coins into the drink box at Shady Nook filing station and pull out an icy Orange Crush and a frozen Pay Day.
It was returning to my Power School classroom with sore arms after holding off aggressive attackers during a game of red rover. And hopping out of the way as a dodge ball whizzed by.
Later it was screaming in the stands as the Murrah Mustangs won a close game with fierce delta rival, jumping on the Heidelberg Hotel’s bouncing floor at the prom, and the arrival of my class ring. (Still have it) Staying up all night at a giggly spend the night party. Clutching my diploma on graduation day when the future stepped up, shook my hand, and said, “Come on. Let’s go!”
It was a dozen Krystals hot off the griddle, nibbling Shoney’s hot fudge cake while circling the parking lot to see who else was there. A homecoming bonfire on a frosty October night, and listening to Coach Carlisle give a rah-rah speech as cheers echoed across the parking lot.
A pineapple soft serve cone at the state fair, a postcard view of sparkling lights from the top bucket of a double Ferris wheel, flying high and fast on a beribboned merry-go-round horse.
In college, it was singing “Baby Love” with friends and waving our hands in unison, playing a zinc king washboard in a washtub band, and squeezing into Tiger Stadium on Saturday night. Learning how to peel crawfish, eat a dozen raw, and crack open boiled crabs with a knife handle before polishing off a 64 oz mug of Budweiser. (It took several hours and multiple trips to the bathroom, but I did it) Also, dancing more than I walked.
Joy is simpler now, especially as this horrible virus shambles toward a merciful close and disappears into the quicksand of history.
For me, it’s summoning up old stories, remembering the ones I’ve forgotten, and discovering a cache of overlooked photographs.
It’s baby giggles, receiving a grandchild’s homemade birthday card, and blowing out candles with a 7-year-old. Maybe the dog too.
Shirley Horne creamy voice singing Duke Ellington’s best, Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, Etta James’ At Last, and cranking up The Mississippi Mass Choir until the floor shakes.
A rare and widely spaced lunch with friends, an unexpected message from buddies in Lake Charles telling me they’re safe, a good friend receiving an encouraging diagnosis. Somebody calling just to hear my voice. And always, posts from my readers saying I made them laugh.
So little frog friend, thinking about you brings me joy. Thanks to your bright red eyes, I write all the time now and enjoy every minute. You encouraged me to be a high life flyer and a rainbow rider. I’ll never reach the status of straight-shootin’ son-of-a gun, but who cares? Peace is the inseparable partner of joy. I hope both return soon. When raucous voices fade, quiet takes control and anger vanishes like fog at sunrise, maybe we’ll sing again.
Joy to the world,
All the boys and girls,
Joy to the fishes in the deep blue sea,
Joy to you and me.*
Joy to the World, Three Dog Night