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.
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.”
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”.
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
“It’s OK by me,”
said the bartender. “You planning to stay the night?”
I shrugged and
tossed four dollars on the bar.
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
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.