Momma cooked rice and gravy every day for us. She made dinner at noon and supper at night.We had fish on Fridays (shrimp or crawfish for special occasions). Gumbo was in the fall and winter and boiled crawfish on Good Friday.
Momma’s rice and gravy, whether served with smothered steak, baked chicken, or pork sausage, was lick-the-plate-if-I-could delicious. I would hum my “Yum-yums” at times, and she’d laugh and warn me, “No singing at the table.” She loved all fresh vegetables and liked her toast almost burnt. Her dessert preferences were sweet dough pie, a moist bundt cake, or anything with fresh figs.
Momma taught me to appreciate and enjoy good food. She never weighed much over 100 pounds, yet she loved to cook and share meals with loved ones like a true Ville Platte Cajun.For her, the perfect breakfast was hot boudin and dark roast Community coffee. If you added a small greasy paper bag of fresh cracklins, the morning got even better.
I remember our summer dinners of ground beef and onions over a bed of Watermaid rice with field peas and cold sliced homegrown tomatoes on the side. Late August afternoons often meant cold sliced watermelon topped with salt at our backyard picnic table after we had been swimming or playing tennis.
Momma taught me to follow a few of her important food rules:
*Brown your meat well to make the “gradeau” you need for a gravy.
*Do not put seafood in your chicken gumbo or vice-versa.
*Never make an étouffée with “those Chinese crawfish.”
*If you give up sweets for Lent, you can have yogurt-covered raisins because Miss Jen said “those don’t count as sweets.”
Most importantly, my lil momma taught me that good food mattered and you gotta enjoy every bite. I may not have hot boudin in Austin, but Community coffee is everywhere now, and I can pretend my doughnut is a slice of blackberry sweet doughpie.
Merci beaucoup, Geraldine Latour aka Poulette aka Momma aka MaMa for teaching me that the best things in life have a bite of spice and taste so good you wanna Slap Ya Mama!
“But, I think I can get one more in,” I challenged.
Just then, with a sigh, he wiped his hands on the dish towel and walked off mumbling, “I won’t be responsible for such irresponsibility!”
The man who never sees a sink full of dirty dishes and can leave a used tea glass parked by his chair for three days has strict guidelines for loading the dishwasher. Each glass, plate, and utensil is rinsed thoroughly and placed in its own ergodynamic location.
This guy who leaves his coffee mug in the garage until the remnants are glued stiff to the cup bottom is a stickler for perfection in the dishwasher. Overlapping dishes is a sin!
“Aren’t you afraid the dishes won’t get clean and we’ll get ptomaine from a piece of baked-on egg in-between a fork tine? “Aren’t you the least concerned that the dishes are unorderly and just willy-nilly?”
“NO, I barked, “ as I closed the dishwasher door and pushed start. “I’m more concerned with missing the last episode of “Sister Wives”! I’ve heard it’s a cliffhanger!”
I admit I did for one moment consider he was right, but as I reached for a paper towel to put my cookie on….and clicked the remote, I knew there was no going back.
I’m forever turned around when we travel to East Texas. Every twist and zigzag, every highway or county road seems to melt into another. I never really know where I am, until we round a corner leading to the lake, Lake Tyler.
Being an Amarillo girl, I still marvel at the number of trees lining these roads and properties. The tall east Texas pines are standing proud, guarding the secret beauty of the land.
As we make our way to my brother-in-law’s home, we see glimpses of the lake around each bend. In between the beautiful homes is a peek at the water, with a promise of more. Everyone has a boat it seems. Lake life is The Life!
Ahhhhh, finally I begin to know where we are and as we swing into the long straight driveway, tranquility takes hold. Everything slows down. The family dog and the neighbors’ dog race out to greet us. No leash law here, only welcoming barks and wagging tails. “Pet me first!” they say.
The family home is facing the road but as you enter the house you see the true focal point with windows all along the back, showcasing a lush backyard leading to the water. Gorgeous, large trees make a statement as even the woodland creatures check out the new arrivals. The covered back porch is probably my favorite spot, as it is the length of the house with large fans and comfy rocking chairs. The porch is your morning coffee shop and your afternoon happy hour, encouraging you to sit, sip and stare…no other requirements needed
I admit I was once skeptical of the East Texas lifestyle. But, I’m a believer now, as I breathe in these Piney Woods and hear the friendly clerk at the gas station say, “Thank Y’all, come again and have a blessed day!”
The complete genuineness and country easiness lure me in and ask nothing of me but to appreciate the beauty of the land and the people. I can’t believe I was once so chichi that I eeked at the bugs and was fearful of gophers and anything else too woodsy. I thought my city ways were safer and much preferred. I was wrong.
This East Texas life has grown on me and each time I visit, I feel more at home and peaceful. I see more beauty and gain more respect for the honest family values and sincere friendliness. I am truly grateful for my tie to these Piney Woods. And to borrow a phrase from the Stop and Go,
“Thank Y’all for reading, come again and have a blessed day.”
When I was 5, I pushed my fat face through the stair railings at Grandma’s house. I was sitting on the 7th or 8th step that led up to the spooky attic door where grown-ups had told us “Egor lived.” My first cousin Gina was in the hallway below me (maybe I had hoped to scare or surprise her with my silly stunt).Unfortunately, I only succeeded in getting my head stuck between the wooden slats and crying like a clueless puppy who nudged a snapping turtle.
I do not remember who rescued me from my trap, but I do recall the embarrassment more than I remember the pain of pulling my big head free from the railings. Gina’s giggles mixed with my brother Emile’s taunt, “Ha!Look what Ginger did!” And my younger sister Gayle pulled her thumb from her mouth and asked me the obvious, “Why you do that?”
Years later Gina would tease me with, “Remember when you stuck your big head thru Grandma’s stair rails?” as we both laughed and clinked our Miller Pony bottles. Gina was right.I was a chubby-cheeked, Charlie Brown-headed kid who rushed into silly situations.
I still have memories of a few unfortunate messes I found myself stuck in:
Age 8: Deciding to help a wounded opossum take care of her newborn babies as she hissed at me.
Age 15: Talking my 2 younger sisters (ages 13 &11) into hanging out at the motel swimming pool to flirt with some young army recruits stationed at Fort Polk. The guys tried talking us into meeting them later at their motel rooms. My wiser, younger sisters convinced me sneaking out to visit them later that night was a bad idea.
Age 19: Mixing cocktails in my roommate’s Volkswagen as we drove across the river on a Sunday afternoon to a bar where we danced with guys in their 30’s who later that week called us to see if we were available as “dates” for their friends.
Age 35: Driving 6 young boys to Barton Springs for a summer swim and being told, “We don’t allow day cares to swim with only one chaperone.”
My curiosity or my ill-guided bravery often led me to make a few bumpy, rocky decisions.However, my stupid choices did not usually keep me stuck for too long. Back when I was stuck on Grandma’s stairs my mom or Aunt Toni likely rescued me. I even later served as a “cautionary tale” for future young cousins.
“Remember: Don’t be like Ginger and get your head stuck in those stair railings. Egor might come from the attic to get you!”
Words can heal us or hurt us. The spoken word is undeniably powerful.
Perhaps we should all have to obtain a license to speak; for some people have no filter, no compassion and according to the scripture…no heart. We could all share stories of words that have wounded our souls. No one escapes this life without an insult or offense, and sadly we ourselves are sometimes the perpetrator.
Today we are witnessing calloused words thrown back and forth on television and in the news. Angry, slandering terms so effortlessly spoken. Is there no alarm that goes off inside, warning the offenders to stop and think before they speak? Are these insidious words actually a reflection of the speakers’ heart? Maybe there is venom flowing through the veins, not blood; otherwise, how could so much hurt be inflicted?
I’ve been cursed by more than a few high schoolers. As an educator for many years, I have also observed the hateful, hurtful flying words between teenagers who are in pain and wishing to inflict pain or get even.
I’ve been sliced by an unthinking acquaintance, I’ve been bullied by someone claiming to love me. And, sometimes, even more hurtful has been a silence, the unspoken word of a darkened heart. I have almost seen the painful word as it lept from its cave. Certainly, I have felt it.
How is it that we fellow humans send these fiery darts? Have we forgotten the old admonishments of “Think before you speak”? Are we so intent upon hurting other travelers that we purposefully strike fast and deep so as to stop them in their tracks?
My dad used to admonish me with “Aren’t you going to fight back?” or “Don’t let them get away with saying that!” But, I have always been taken aback when someone was rude or hateful to me. I continue to be surprised when someone acts unkind and I am slow to respond with equal vengeance. Perhaps I am naive or Pollyanna-ish, but I firmly believe that ‘hurting people… hurt people’.
I do believe that there are vipers whose intentions are not good, but I am convinced that there are other ways besides cutting words to take up for myself and feel safe.
If only there were x rays able to see into the hearts of others. Whether it would help us or hurt us, I do not know. For each of us is responsible for our own words and what we do with them. Someday we will all be held accountable for what we spoke and the hurt or help that our words intended. If we could remember to THINK before speaking: Is it Thoughtful? Honest? Intelligent? Necessary? Kind? Perhaps then, we could reflect more goodness from our hearts and not hatred.
I remember the nervousness of holding my baby Shane 30 years ago. He was a couple of days old and hooked up to monitors and tubes in an ICU unit in San Antonio.Born with transposition of the greater vessels, Shane had undergone an emergency heart procedure about six hours after he was born.Dr. Bloom, a pediatric cardiologist, reopened the flap between the chambers of my first child’s heart with a balloon catheter that changed Shane from being a “blue baby” to a greyish-tinted baby. Shane would not be a healthy-looking pink Caucasian baby until he was big and strong enough to survive open-heart surgery to get his ticker to pump the proper amount of oxygen to his lungs.
The morning I first held my baby in the ICU my mind held a confusing mix of excitement and fear. The nurse had to unhook Shane from a few monitors to place him in my arms as I bottle-fed him my pumped breast milk.
A week later a different nurse gave me lessons in swaddling and bathing my son. Also, I was handed a list of the signs of heart failure. She reminded me that Shane was still sick, and he would need extra care until he weighed 20 pounds and could undergo a 5-hour surgery.Her directions, “Don’t let him cry too much” haunted me and Gary for the next 7 months.
Shane seemed beyond fragile. Bathing him involved getting the bathroom sauna-room warm before we washed his squiggling, crying, slippery self.Breast feeding was the one thing my newborn and I seemed to get right. Shane was satisfied with his meal, and I felt like my boy was perfectly safe for those round-the-clock connections we shared.
As Shane grew and learned to sit up and crawl, we developed a small amount of parental confidence (until he had his first earache, busted lip, bumped head, or gagging incident).Later Shane survived his open-heart surgery ordeal, and we worried less when he soon walked and talked his way into toddlerhood. Then in 1990Casey was born followed by Evan in 1993. I let go of many parental fears since I saw my 3 boys as rough and tumble puppies who were more unbreakable than fragile.(Like in Truffaut’s “Small Change” when a toddler falls out an apt. window and bounces his way to safety on the lawn).
However, when my boys became teenagers my fears about their fragility returned, and I felt sure about nothing. From the first broken-heart moment to the first traffic violation or the middle-of-the night call for help, I realized that a teen’s belief in his own infallibility only makes him more likely to get in trouble or hurt.
Now my boys are ages 30, 27, 24 and to me they are still fragile. Years before Shane was born, my dad told me that a parent never stops worrying about their children. I hate to admit that Dad was right-on with that observation. These days I aim for balance between fear and confidence when I think about my three sons. I know all of them have strong, loving hearts and minds that will serve them well when Life hurls danger at their fragile parts.
I woke up this morning still feeling the effects of our night of romance. Love and passion mixed with snap, crackle, and pop! Jackie Collins would be disappointed.
Nothing is as easy as it used to be. I’m really not that old but I catch myself grunting when I get up and sighing when I sit down. I sound like my Grandma! While everything works well in my body, except for the knees, I am still experiencing the need for some adjustments with …..you know…”time with my husband”! Let’s just call it making ‘Whoopie Pie.’
During our last encounter, you might have thought we were building something or wrestling wild animals. “Oh, watch it! That hurts my knees!”
“My shoulder just won’t move that way…”
“Could we stand up? My back hurts.”
“Oh! My neck!”
“Ouch! I’ve got a cramp in my leg.”
Oh my! While it sounds as if there might have been a trapeze involved, I assure you there was not. We did have a good laugh over it (or was it a cry?) and then we thought about writing a book. A sort of ‘how to’ book for the older crowd. I know it would be a bestseller, in fact, I can just see us touring the nation or even on QVC selling our Whoopie Pie Package.
We could have chapters with pictures (modest of course) demonstrating safer ways to ignite a spark…without injury. Maybe chapters by ailment:
Hip Replacement Hijinks
Birds, Bees, and Knees
Maybe even a chapter for incorporating props like a bolster pillow or aerodynamic swings. Sort of a Kama Sutra for the geriatric go-getters. Basically, how to make ‘Whoopie Pie’ without injury or loss of limb.
I can even envision a chapter on ‘spiffing’ up your gear, such as embellishing your knee brace with feathers or lace. Even adding lavender or rose hips to your topical liniment so the medicinal aroma is masked. The list is endless.
Stay tuned, lovebirds, as the book is definitely in the planning stage. For now, though, when it’s time to make ‘Whoopie Pie,’ we’re going to spend a few minutes stretching and warming up first. Maybe that should be Chapter One.
Since my grandmother owned the movie theaters in my hometown,I saw almost every movie that came to Eunice, Louisiana from 1960 to 1975.Movies were surrogate parents that gave my young head magical stories full of adventure, comedy, and music.
Cat Ballou remains one of my fondestmovie memories.Jane Fonda’s big-eyed bright blue innocence mixed with Lee Marvin’s slapstick drunkenness to create a revenge story full of heart and humor. I had a 9-year-old-girl crush on Michael Callan when he surprised and made advances on the naive school teacher, Catherine Ballou.Then the teacher teamed up with outlaws, both inexperienced and over-the hill, to find the villain who murdered her dad. And tying the whole comic western together were Nat King Cole and Stubby Kaye as the banjo-playing Greek chorus. (I still love the rhythmic sounds of “Wolf City, Wyoming…Wolf City, Wyoming.”)
I saw Cat Ballou 4 times in one week, and as I chomped on a full-sized Tootsie Roll, I thought Lee Marvin’s “Happy Birthday to You” mistake at Cat’s father’s funeral was the funniest thing in cinema in 1965.
Later my eyes got misty when Nat King Cole’s velvet voice crooned “They Can’t Make Her Cry” as Cat and her gang of guys slowly rode their horses toward their train robbery revenge plan.
At the end came the (Spoiler Alert) rousing rescue scene when Cat stands on the gallows in her virginal white dressand gives the sheriff “Let’s get on with it” as her final words. Next her merry band jumps into action with Kid Shelleensimultaneously threatening to fall off his saddle and shoot an escape path for the group.
That year Cat Ballou was nominated for 5 Academy Awards and Lee Marvin beat out Richard Burton, Laurence Olivier, Rod Steiger, and Oskar Werner for the Best Actor award! At 9, I was clueless about the status of the Oscars; however, I was aware that a movie could take me back to 1894 when a dedicated daughter could become a train robber and gun down the owner of Wolf City Development who ordered her father’s death.And a drunken, has-been gunfighter could sober up, clean up, and dress up in time to shoot his evil brother. Finally, the daughter, her young beau, and the other outlaws would still ride into the sunset to the jangly tune of “The Legend of Cat Ballou.”
I lost my voice….literally. It left me and in its wake, my confidence fell into a pit.
All during my years in education, I would occasionally get a raspy, scratchy voice. Too much talking and strain on my vocal cords. But, three years ago, that scratchiness returned with a slight tenderness, and I could not clear the gravel sitting in my throat.
With one visit to my ENT Doctor, an MRI and a laryngoscopy, it was determined that I had cysts on my vocal cords and they needed to be removed. “An easy day surgery with one minor detail,” my doctor explained. “You must have two weeks of complete voice rest. No talking and no whispering.” (as evidently whispering is worse for your voice.) “No sound for two weeks. Nada.”
Before the surgery, I envisioned the two weeks as total “me” time. Reading, writing and silent reflection, yet when my two weeks started I felt differently. I suddenly felt very vulnerable. One dear friend brought me a notepad with a little explanation taped on each page. “I just had throat surgery and am unable to talk. Please be patient while I write.” Someone else gave me a dry erase board to use at home so I felt prepared for communicating. I was NOT prepared for the frustration at getting people to understand what I needed or wanted. I was not prepared for the silence.
One day at Walgreens, I was checking out and while touching my throat, I mouthed to the clerk I was unable to talk. I started to write on my notepad, and she nodded that she understood. She then proceeded to use a rustic form of sign language to ask me if I wanted a bag and to point to cash or credit. I wanted to (scream) mouth, “I can hear you, I just can’t talk!” But, I thanked her in sign language and went on.
Slowly, I felt so withdrawn and yes, overlooked. My family stopped talking to me just so I wouldn’t have to answer, but I felt ignored. I felt what many others must feel every single day of their lives, yet, I knew mine would be temporary, or so I hoped. What if my voice never returns? More and more I retreated into my hushed, speechless world.
Finally, the end of my 14 days arrived. When I first tried to speak, I was unnerved at the sound of my voice. Complete gravel…..worse than before. I was told to give it time, be patient and try to relax my throat muscles, but I realized immediately that I did not know how to do that. Too many years of strain and stress.
I became embarrassed to speak in public, answer the phone or even go out. No one could understand me and I choked easily because I could not clear my throat. My doctor suggested a few things: another week of quiet, try a voice coach and if necessary, go see a specialist in San Antonio. Another week crept by with minimal speaking and it was determined that scar tissue had formed on my vocal cord. The specialist could give me shots of Botox to improve my voice and so I made the appointment.
Even though the specialist explained how the Botox would help and what I could expect afterward, I was ill-prepared for the exact details of how it would happen. The first thing they did was record me as I repeated chords and words so that there could be a baseline. Then I was ushered into an examination room that had low lighting, Feng Shui water fountain, calming lavender diffuser and a large screen TV. There was one large exam chair and lots of instruments….fear started to sink in.
The doctor sprayed my nose and throat with a numbing solution. A camera was put in my nose and down my throat and a light was put in my mouth down to my vocal cords. Then with a long, curved needle, he injected my vocal cord with Botox. The whole thing was projected onto the big screen TV and recorded. I would do this procedure three more times.
I admit, I was shy and self- conscious the first time I met my voice coach. It was unsettling and disheartening to hear myself try to repeat the scales and words she gave me. I could hear the pitch and sounds, but I could not make my voice mimic them. She recorded me as well. My confidence was in the toilet as I heard that first playback.
Sometimes life does send you angels and unexpected gifts, and Dara (my voice coach) was that for me. This sweet, beautiful and talented girl helped me find my voice. She encouraged me. She laughed with me not at me and she befriended me at a very tender time in my life.
Probably one full year after my first diagnosis, I came to believe that my voice might be as good as it was going to get. And now, three years later, I know it has gotten even stronger. Patience and time worked after all.
What is lost cannot always be found or restored, but sometimes a new thing takes its place. I gained a lot of strength from following through with the procedures and voice lessons, and with compassion and hard work, I found my voice. My new, hard-earned voice that sounds more like me than ever before.
Like a crawfish let out of the sack during a Good Friday crawfish boil.
I slowly travel through the backyard grass, claws held high, trying to escape the boiling pot of doom. However, I’m tottering directly towards the danger zone. Soonthe guy wearing the “Suck My Head” t-shirt will pick me up by the mid-point of my back so that my snapping claws can’t reach and he’ll plop me into the roiling pot with the rest of my family and friends.
Also, I’m a crawdad with one claw smaller than the other because a bluejay attacked me once and flew away with my left claw.I’m now navigating the tall grass like a drunk Cajun leaving an LSU football game and looking for his pick-up. However, I need to “roll on between the ditches” as Emmylou & Rodney advise,(“Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight”) so maybe, just maybe, I will make it to a scrub bush away from the joking, yelling crowds, and I will nestle into a soft spot of shade and relax until a white Chihuahua sniffs me out. She lets loose a few yaps before a swiftsnap of my right claw catches her black button nose and she hurries off toward the next new smell. I lay low for awhile until I feel like I’m dying of thirst (because I am).
Wait a second! I just let my brain turn me into a crawfish fighting for its life.See what a splatter of nonsense I have brewing in my head.
Now I’m the mad water inside the crawfish pot! The water teems with Slap Ya Momma spices and Crab Boil and onions, corn, and potatoes. Someone left the lid on too long and I’m about to boil over.The day’s demands overwhelm me! This girl is on fire, but not with power and focus — with her bald scalp flaming and her head making a Scanners explosion!
If I can just make myself count my breaths and look at the tree branches coming into focus as the sun pinkens the sky, my Splatter Brain will calm down. Iwill use prayer and meditation, and all shall be well….until my next Walter Mitty moment.