A few weeks ago, my friend and I were walking from our hotel to Bourbon Street, a distance of about five blocks. Along the way, a man wearing a Detroit Lions jersey was passing by and struck up a conversation with us.
“I can’t believe all of the beautiful women that are just all over the place,” he said.
“Get used to it,” I confidently replied. “That’s the way it is down here. Welcome to the South.”
“Unbelievable,” he said with awe, sipping on his beer.
Being raised in the South, a young boy didn’t stand a chance of failing to appreciate a beautiful woman. They were everywhere. When God created the South, he not only made it the land of milk and honey, he graciously donated for our swivel-headed, mannish enjoyment a wide assortment of stunning blondes and brunettes and redheads. Any red-blooded Southern boy is nodding right now and saying “Mmm-hmm.” Boys, you all know what I mean, and please…put your tongue back in your mouth.
I grew up in the 1980s. Although American television wasn’t nearly as prurient and tacky then as it is today, I think back to all of the gorgeous Southern women that were portrayed on TV. Back then, a beautiful Southern woman was nearly always depicted in a knotted-up flannel shirt, short shorts, heels, and long hair cascading down the back and shoulders, like a spiral stairwell. I guess that was what a Southern woman was supposed to look like, for Southern women didn’t dress anything like Madonna.
I remember the glaring dichotomy of the show Hee Haw, where Roy Clark, Buck Owens, and Grandpa Jones would sing “When We All Get to Heaven,” and the next minute, be stuck in a cornfield with a bevy of buxom blondes. Maybe that’s what heaven is really like, when we get there.
I remember those butterflies in my gut the first time I laid eyes on Daisy Duke. How she leaned up against that orange machine, how long those legs seemed, and how the Dukes of Hazzard was always penciled in on my daily calendar. Yes, I wanted her to be my girlfriend.
I remember how my cheeks turned red as a plowboy’s neck when Dolly Parton popped up on the tube when both my mama and daddy were in the room. Or the many times we watched the Miss America pageant, as a family. Then too, I was scared to let dad know which was my favorite (most of the time from somewhere in Dixie).
I remember how fearful I was the first time I asked a girl to come into my little world, as my girlfriend. And how it hurt so, when she declined my invitation. I remember the many years I spent trying to gather up enough mustard to ask again.
I think about how songs meant much more when applied to my latest crush, how Journey’s “Faithfully” cut to the core and chambers of my heart. I think about how my adoration, almost weekly, could shift from one pretty girl to the other, like a migrant worker searching for gainful employment. The intensity of that longing— that wanting, that hoping—was as great as great can be. Looking back, at least I felt something.
I remember all of those days in history class, when Roosevelt’s New Deal meant little when stacked up against a pair of tanned Southern legs. I remember all of those many days when the pretty girls wouldn’t even look my way, look at a shy, oversensitive, pimple-faced boy who lived in his own domain of romance and envy. I remember feeling that a date with a University of Alabama majorette seemed like a million miles away. No, I could never get a date with someone as pretty as them. The truth is— I hadn’t kissed but a handful of girls by the time I graduated high school.
As I grew older and started lifting weights and frequenting the tanning salon, my dates came much easier and swifter. I realized that I could date a cheerleader, if I wanted to. I went to Mississippi State University for my undergraduate education, and I could have sworn that the prettiest girls on earth were having a convention at that small campus in Starkville, Mississippi. I was like a kid in a candy store, the biggest one in the world. Yes, I spent many nights chasing them when I should have already paid my last respects to the evening.
I think about all of the many opportunities that have passed me by over the years. A few nights ago, I got out my old, dust-ridden Mississippi State yearbook for a look-see. As I turned the pages, I wondered why I hadn’t dated so-and-so, whatever happened to her, and so on. I decided that a few girls I thought were pretty back then aren’t quite as pretty now. I decided that a few I would have passed over then seemed a bit more attractive now. But, they’re all gone. Most of them are married with two or three kids, talking about another “baby bump” on the way or how junior made the honor roll or some other stupid post on Facebook. They’re off in their little words, their little fenced in worlds with a watered lawn and a puppy named Gus and a portrait above the mantle. And I’m still single.
I doubt they worry too much about me.
I sit alone this cold morning, listening to the birds singing up in the trees and the sound of nothingness all around them. The city streets are quiet and still. The only other sounds I hear are the pattering of my fingers on the keyboard, down the lost highway of writing. Yes, there is a certain amount of peace and freedom I feel as a bachelor writer. But there is a restlessness, too.
I wonder when, and if, God is going to send me a beautiful woman to share it all with. Yes, it would be nice if she looked like Daisy Duke. But more than that, I hope that her beauty on the inside is the thing I’m most attracted to.
I sometimes imagine what it would be like for this house to have someone else in it. How it would feel to hear the sounds of the floorboards creaking as bare feet other than my own walked across them. How it would feel to wonder whether or not she could stand me any longer. How it would feel to hope she would stay.
Yes, I’m ready to feel something again.