Polynesian Gardens |
by J.D. Blair

The Gardens consisted of eight small trailers squatting at random angles along the west bank of the Sacramento river as it made a shallow turn south, that’s where I entered the driveway. Pushed by a brisk breeze off the river the wooden archway over the entrance swayed and dust swirled in thick eddies around my feet, the breeze carried it onto the green water where it spread out against the lazy flow.

A decaying bar leaned slightly over the water, I entered and the bartender looked up to see who was interrupting the quiet of a summer afternoon, he took two quick swipes at the bar with his towel and managed a nod as I took a stool and asked for beer in a bottle, he said that’s all he had and reached into a small fridge, popped a cap and slid the drink smartly into my waiting palm. The breeze mixing it up with the afternoon heat eased through the bar in pungent waves of nettles, oak mold and marsh grass and the surroundings came at me in a rush as I took a deep draw on the sweating beer bottle.

I ordered another beer and asked the bartender if Lenore Tisdale still owned the Gardens, he said he owned the Gardens and that he bought the property from a couple from Yuba City, he didn’t know Lenore Tisdale but there were stories about the woman who had owned it before them.

“Supposedly she hanged herself in one of the trailers after she lost a baby but I don’t know if it was Lenore Tisdale, are you looking for this Lenore?”

“I knew her.”

The dismal beginnings of the Gardens were born in the fertile imagination of my mother Lenore, a runaway at the age of fourteen, she met Jack Tisdale, a misplaced merchant seaman and Jack didn't have many aspirations other than getting laid and Lenore never having been laid was willing. Together they took over the operation of the Gardens and Tisdale co-opted her dream, pulled himself out of a drunken stupor and breathed new life into the aging road stop and turned it into a tourist trap. In May of '79 Jack and Lenore stood under the palms at the entrance to the Gardens and flipped the switch to illuminate a neon sign on the archway. It buzzed awake and read, “Polyn ardens”.

The bartender pointed to a trailer shaded by the limbs of a huge oak tree, “That was hers. Supposedly that’s where she did it.”

“Mind if I have a look around.”

“It’s OK by me,” said the bartender. “You planning to stay the night?”

I shrugged and tossed four dollars on the bar.

The Gardens’ meager success lasted just five months by then Jack had fallen off the wagon and Lenore was pregnant with me. Tisdale disappeared one week after my sixth birthday and with Jack gone Lenore dropped any trappings of motherhood and more or less left the Gardens and me to the elements, she never physically left but went on destructive binges, drinking, bunking down with ranch hands who showed up at the Gardens and when men weren’t available I was her caretaker. I spent most days and nights fending for myself taking handouts from visitors and spending nights alone in the trailers. The day I turned sixteen I left, now after six years I returned to confront some heavily clouded memories.

“Aloha Spirit” was the name carved over the door of the coach, its tires flattened and mired in mud where the river had risen and undercut the soil. I looked in a window but couldn’t see much through the smudged glass. I opened the door and it slammed against the trailer’s side and held there. I entered and sat on the small bed taking in the bleakness and the intrusion of mould, a ground squirrel skittered from behind a small space heater and escaped through the open door. For a moment I thought I caught a hint of sweet smelling French cigarettes, she smoked the imported brand and I always hated the pretentiousness of it.

The trailer was the only home Lenore knew for all of her adult life and in the clutter she fabricated a semblance of normalcy, the sheepskin shag rug that I slept on for many nights was still there and faded flower print curtains were tacked up and held back by safety pins, yellowing water stained pictures cut from magazines hung unframed on the walls and along one rain streaked wall was a collection of snapshots, a gallery of visitors who spent time there during the Gardens short-lived success. There were pictures of the family, Tisdale on an inner tube in the river with a six-pack on his stomach, Lenore and Jack on a motorcycle, Lenore and Jack in front of the gardens and another with Lenore holding a baby, my name scrawled across the bottom, perhaps a reminder.

Murky memories of my tenuous love-hate relationship with my mother seeped up. I stretched out on the bed and closed my eyes to the bleakness of the trailer and the turbid cache of thoughts trailing back to the times when I was eleven years old and Lenore undressed me, cupped my buttocks in her hands and felt my young maleness strain against her. I unhooked my belt and slid a hand into my jeans as I called up the cloudy visions, the times we showered together and how her soap-slicked hands felt as they slid over me, pausing to tease. I recalled the
times she guided my boy hands to her breasts. I masturbated on the bed, her bed, the same bed where she had taken me into her mouth and where she led me into her moist, aromatic warmth. A gasp snapped me back to the grim dankness and I shuddered and whispered, “Mother”.

I gathered myself and scanned the trailer one more time burning it into memory. I took a tattered photograph out of my shirt pocket, a picture of a small boy six years old squatting in muddy water watching the river run, I tacked it into the ragged collage to become one more faded memory among all the other pictures of unknown visitors looking for a moment's peace at the Polynesian Gardens on the river.

As the sun dipped low over the water I left the trailer and made my way up the driveway. The breeze that blew hot earlier now carried a chill and I raised my collar against it. Past the entrance where the driveway met the road the crackle of neon stopped me. I turned to look and in the low light of dusk the sign flickered to life again, “Polyn ardens”.

J.D. Blair developed a 30-year career in journalism and television production as a Writer/Producer and was nominated twice for Emmys. Since 2000 he has been writing plays, short fiction, essays and poetry and has had publishing success in each genre.