Panhandling: The Un-Magnolia
Life lessons on how to survive without playing tennis, getting Botox or buying a condo in Pompano Beach.
I won the Florida lottery. Not literally. I’m just lucky enough to be born and raised in the Sunshine State. There’s nothing about Florida I don’t love. Indoors. Outdoors. Good, bad, even ugly, though I tend to filter the ugly.
I’m a strange bird. They say that if you admit you’re strange, you probably aren’t. To whoever said that, I say, thank you, kind person.
The strangest thing about me is that I don’t walk barefoot outside. And here I am, living in Florida. But, as a child, my mother convinced me I would get worms if I ever walked outside without shoes. I believed her. I don’t know where she got the worm information—or any of the other crap she fed me—but she always gave Daddy the credit.
She quoted Daddy until her death. “Lou says…” she always began. He died 30 years before she did. She gave me a thousand quotes I know he never said. (I see a book title here.)
My mother loved the sun, sand and surf. I’m guessing that’s who I got it from. Once, she visited her friend in Pompano Beach. She liked it way too much. Before she left, she bought herself a beautiful condo right smack dab on the Atlantic Ocean. She called Daddy—the only one with a job—and told him. Now, think It’s a Wonderful Life and you have the scene. I’m figuring she ran into someone like George Bailey and got her some money with one of those “good faith” handshakes.
Daddy learned about his new asset after the deal was closed. He answered her phone call after returning home from a long day at the office, his hospital rounds and an unexpected house call to collect stool samples from a patient who lived 30 miles away in the country. She stood on their new balcony describing the panoramic view, sea and sunset.
He might have thrown her fanny off that balcony, but it was a nine-hour drive to get to her, and he had surgeries scheduled all the next day. Mama had the notion Daddy was wealthy, this country doctor who was paid with tomatoes and cucumbers some days. She didn’t get to bask in the Pompano sun for long, though. He sold the condo with her slippers still sitting next to the bed.
“Stand on somebody else’s balcony,” he said. Mama never got over the condo sale, but she did find other balconies, shorelines, seascapes and sunsets. That’s the beauty of Florida: You don’t have to drive nine hours to find it. She happened upon Ponte Vedra—only spitting distance from our home in Lake City.
There are so many perks for those residing in our blissful state. We have gorgeous weather 11 months out of the year. I’m no meteorologist, so this fact is just a guesstimate. Yes, it rains. Yes, there are those horrible hurricanes, and it’s hot as hell. And the 100 percent humidity bums people out. But it’s that humidity that keeps us from getting wrinkles. That’s a Prissy fact. When you pair the humidity with the amount of Botox Florida women inject into their faces, well—voila!—no aging. At least that’s what they think. But the curious passerby notices those wrinkly arms, hands and legs in contrast to the injected, humidified faces and wonders. I’m just guessing, but I bet Florida’s consumption of Botox runs neck in neck with crazy Hollywood, USA.
Personally, I don’t use the stuff. I’m an organic chicken. And my mother scared me with her tales of untruths. But then, she did live to be 90 years old with no wrinkles on her face. None. Zip. Zero. She never had Botox or a face-lift.
Her secret to ward off facial wrinkles: witch hazel, organic face cream and scotch tape. If she spied a new wrinkle, the tape would come out. She’d pull the wrinkle straight, then tape the straightened skin on each end. By damn, it worked. I swear.
Once, I ran into her at Fresh Market. I came around the corner and saw her in front of me pushing a shopping cart full of organic produce. I called to her: “Hey, Mama.” When she turned around, I was aghast. Her face was all stretched as she smiled through plastic lips. She had forgotten to take her tape off that day.
There’s so much pressure these days to stay slim, tight and young-looking, which is, by the way, impossible. Everyone seems to be working out, or pretending they are. It occurred to me after spotting cutie pies at Publix, restaurants, and meetings that they might be faking it. How many times have I put on my cute Lululemon workout clothes and never gone to the gym.
New view of the lake; Photography by Prissy ElrodOther outdoor frocks I love: tennis dresses and the two-piece versions of precious. I really have a fondness for those. But the game, not so much. My mother was a big tennis player and even bigger spectator. One year, when Daddy was on a hunting trip in Argentina, she had a large clay tennis court installed in our backyard. I kid you not. The woman was fearless, or crazy, maybe both.
Daddy came back to town, saw what she had done and was madder than I’d ever seen him. And I’d seen mad. The unadulterated view of the lake from his favorite chair was gone, not to mention the money in his bank account. He never went in our backyard again. I’m pretty sure he would have thrown her bad ass in the lake but for the fact that she couldn’t swim—not to mention that he would have had three bratty little girls to raise by himself. Once again, she’s mighty lucky he let her live.
All my mother wanted was for me to play tennis. “How can you not like it?” she asked me over and over again for 40 years.
“Mama, for the billionth time. I. Don’t. Want. To. Play. Tennis.”
She was deaf.
“You aren’t coordinated enough to play tennis,” my sister Deborah would scream when I kept missing the ball as a kid. Trust me, it wasn’t the meanest thing she ever said, but it was the truest. I sucked. And I didn’t care. I just wanted to wear the cute tennis dresses. And still do.
It’s hard work staying fit. Over the years, I’ve done plenty of killers, like Tae Bo, spinning and running. I’m so over all of them.
Yoga was great until I was shamed from class one day. I arrived early and settled myself next to a beautiful older woman in the second row. She had the silkiest white hair all tied up in a neat, tight bun. She looked to be around 85. I was impressed by such dedication, especially at her age. I smiled and we both said hello. I laid out my brand-new lavender mat, yoga towel and the other paraphernalia I’d purchased at Walmart the day before.
Soon, the class was full, and the soft, hypnotic music began. The size-000 yoga instructor began chanting the Sanskrit words: asana, namaste, om, shanti.
I studied the unfamiliar poses made by the older lady to my left. Clearly, she knew yoga. Suddenly, she took the lead, transforming from a granny to a noodle wearing pink. She twisted her limber body through each pose, stretching, bending, twisting, chanting. I watched her, tried to follow, but my dropped jaw kept messing me up.
When she lay on her back and I saw her lift that right leg up over her head and bring it back to the floor behind her resting head, I’d had enough. I wasn’t going to watch her do what I couldn’t. It was somewhere between cobra pose and Bharadvaja’s twist when I heard my back crack. Holy mother of geez! For three weeks, I spent every day in the chiropractor’s office. It was then I found Dean.
Choosing a massage therapist is like a Tinder or Match.com date. You never know what to expect, whom you’re getting stuck with or if it’s worth a try. The difference between the massage and your Match date? You’re naked on a table with no small talk, coffee, wine or meal. I know little about dating sites, mind you. I never tried one, but my friends do keep me up to speed on trends. I care about where they find the next recycled man.
The first session with Dean was a month after the geriatric yoga noodle messed me up.
I was face down on the table. Like any first date, I kept my panties on and he covered me with a crisp, clean sheet. Dean started kneading with his fist and then moaned. More kneads and more moans. I had never heard a moaning masseuse before. It’s what he does when he works. He wasn’t moaning like your dirty mind is thinking.
His pressure was killing me. I inhaled a deep breath, then blew out tiny breaths, Lamaze style. My sinuses were full of clogged snot. I was determined to get all the knots out and then noodle my new self to that yoga class. I could hear the Rocky theme song playing through the massage room speakers.
“Can I say something?” He interrupted my Rocky dream. “You’ve got to be the tightest client I’ve ever had, ever, twenty years I’ve been doing this.” I was blushing through the dripping snot pouring from my nose to the carpet below. I was proud.
“Gosh, thanks.” There was an awkward silence as he switched to his right elbow, now coupled with his left fist.
“Um, you know that’s not a compliment, right?” My blush went flush, and I gave him a fake laugh. “Ha! Yeah,” I lied. Silly me—I thought he meant I was muscular, sculpted and fit. I was wrong on so many levels. I never went back to that yoga class. There would be many more massages with Dean, though.
My whole being relaxes when Dean is kneading, even my tongue. I babble and overshare stories. He once referred to me as a Southern magnolia after one of my tales. I wasn’t sure what he meant. But I left wondering. I was Southern, alright, but I was no magnolia. Maybe a bohemian flower—if there was such a thing. I would tell him next time. Of course, I forgot.
I liken myself to a North Florida flower: firebush, powderpuff, candytuft. Personally, I like candytuft. It suits Prissy, the whimsical name my daddy gave me. That’s another story for another day.
I was grafted from two good plants, seeded, then sprouted. I was nourished inside this wonderful environment with sumptuous soil. They manicured and fertilized me with love, care and discipline. I grew strong, healthy and root-hardy. I blossomed, even propagated. And, like the candytuft, I looked delicate on the outside, but inside I was tough as nails.
Here’s the difference between candytuft and me, other than the whole plant thing: The poor candytuft just can’t stay colorful. The harsh elements of life steal her glory. But me, I have a better chance, having learned from the master of longevity. She taught me her magic, a way to keep blooming. And keep blooming I will, but only if my tape keeps sticking.
Prissy Elrod is a professional speaker, artist, humorist and the author of Far Outside the Ordinary. She was born and raised in Lake City and now lives in Tallahassee with her husband, Dale. Chasing Ordinary, the sequel to Far Outside the Ordinary, will be released in early 2018.