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!
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.
Love Never Fails: It’s hard to be a mother. It’s gut-wrenching and heart-warming all at the same time. Most of us begin motherhood with rose-colored glasses and sheer determination to be the best parent we can be. We weave in and out of relationship advice, popularity contests, homework, and allowance. But, sometimes our idealistic dream is shattered when our child has a life-altering accident, unwanted pregnancy or time in rehab.
In 2001 as the Twin Towers were burning, my heart was aflame with fear and uncertainty. My youngest child had just gone to rehab for substance abuse. I was so afraid for her future, and I was overcome with grief. I never envisioned that the child I loved so much would one day become unrecognizable, foreign even to herself. I did not wish for this compulsion or plan for it as I would a college fund. Still, it was our reality….tough and raw.
I’ve always been skeptical of those parents who say their children are perfect. Or that ‘everything’s great! She’s my best friend.’ I felt guilty and ashamed that I had failed my job as a mother. How could this happen to my child? At times I cried myself to sleep at night because I loved her so deeply.
While my friends were sending out college graduation announcements for their children, I was celebrating the fact that my daughter had found a job on the bus route. While other kids her age were out partying, she was struggling not to and making a meeting every day. I was proud of her in ways other parents might never understand.
This beautiful child of mine turned 23 years old in rehab. None of us could have predicted how her life would be today…..16 years clean and sober, teaching school and being a wonderful mother to my grandson. Our lives are full of gratitude.
There are a few of us who have walked the path of booby traps and detours, not wanting to look down, trying always to look up. We carry our children over the land mines if we can, but if they must face the struggle themselves, we carry them in our hearts. This too shall pass, we silently repeat, wanting to believe it with all of our beings. We work hard to remember that ‘love’ will see them through. Love is determined not to give up on even the hardest case.
A momma’s love shines through her children, and Mama Joe’s eleven children wonderfully displayed their love for her.Lizo Vidrine married when she was 15 and she and Joe Latour raised their 11 kids in Ville Platte, Louisiana.As a kid, I remember going to Mama and PapaJoe’s every week, mostly on Sunday afternoons.When Dad drove the family from Eunice to Ville Platte my siblings and I played a very lame car game called “Counting Horses” ( that’s a “whole ‘nother Oprah” as one of my good friends would say). We traveled a distance of 17 miles, but to 4 restless kids, it seemed like 77 at least!
Back then we mostly kissed Mama & Papa hello and then headed to the backyard to chase Papa’s chickens and eat his scuppernong grapes until he came out yelling at us to leave his chickens alone.Then we fidgeted inside for 8 or so minutes until Dad gave us each a dime to walk to Mr. Theophile’s tiny store on the corner where we each bought 10 penny candies that were placed in small paper bags.To get to the store we had to pass Mama’s next door neighbor’s house that would later remind me of Boo Radley’s place.My sisters and I usually ran when we passed neighbor Gazelle’s because she and her “not-quite-right” daughters lived there with at least 100 cats, and Gazelle yelled at us if she was sitting on the front porch with a gun beneath her chair.(another Oprah-type tale).
However, many years later, Papa Joe has died and Mama Joe is bedridden and somewhat senile.Now her seven children who live closest to her have each claimed a day of the week to come take care of her (or pay for a sitter if they cannot come that week). Usually my momma drives my two sisters and me to visit Mama Joe.Now the house is quiet and after Gayle, Kelly and I kiss Mama Joe hello in her bed full of pillows, we move to the small living room to read or watch a little t.v.Momma stays in Mama’s bedroom and time ticks slowly be with the soft sounds of Momma talking to Mama. Later, the sitter arrives and talks with Momma in Cajun French.Sometimes my sisters and I go outside and pick these hard pears or sour plums from Mama’s trees. Papa Joe had been a gifted gardener, and years earlier he had grown vegetables and fruits galore in his extensive garden.Gayle remembers when he pulled a carrot from the ground once and handed her the best carrot she has ever tasted!
Mama Joe’s yard also had this mimosa tree I really loved.Its beautiful softness, the feathery green leaves, with the flowers that looked like pink dandelions remind me now of my grandmother’s soft, strong beauty. Mimosa trees produce fragile, sweet blossoms in the late spring that attract butterflies and birds and that also contrast with the tree’s tough nature. According to some gardening websites, mimosas do well in droughts and heat, which explains their abundance along southern highways.Also, they produce these elongated seedpods that drop and spread their “offspring” far and wide.The Japanese call mimosas the “sleeping tree” because their leaves gently fold for the night.Like the mimosa tree, Mama Joe had a strong, calm beauty that mixed the Cajun Vidrine in her with the Native American blood my momma always claimed she had. (“Your mama’s great-great grandmother was an Indian princess, for real!”)Also, her eleven seedpods heeded the Catholic directiveto “go forth and multiply” well. Mama and Papa Joe had 48 grandchildren and over 60 great-grandchildren and I don’t know how many great-grandchildren since the Latours are still healthily multiplying.
Overall, Mama Joe was a sweet, smiling & laughing Cajun who married at age 15 and raised a family of 11, who only spoke Cajun French until her son P.J. married Polly (an amazing woman from California),and so she learned to speak English to welcome a new member of her family, who cooked rice and gravy like a top chef, who loved life and good times almost as much as she loved all of her many children and their children, and their children’s children, and so on.All Mama Joe gave forth was love and joy which she taught my own mother, Geraldine, to do for her 4 children, who then did her best to teach me to do for my 3 boys.Like the mimosa tree, may all mothers continue to spread strong, soft feathery blossoms of love for their own seedpods.
Thank you to Uncle Jack (Mama’s baby) and Aunt Faye for helping me with some Mama Joe details!
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”― Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
For some reason, this quote from Charles Dickens reminds me of motherhood, at least my pilgrimage to and through motherhood. Being a mother is the most fulfilling, heartwarming, satisfying, inspiring, God-given gift in the world. Sometimes though, it can break your heart. Being a mother means you are vulnerable and open and approachable, which in turn means that you can be hurt. Only a mother could cry through a long night only to see the dawn with a joyful, hopeful expectation, ready to love again.
Mothers have their own special cheering section in Heaven. Mothers know things dads will never know. Mothers are capable of experiencing the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. A mother is eternal.
Please accept these thoughts on motherhood; these words of description; these parallels of dichotomy; this attempt at explanation of the wonders of motherhood.
Love…….Plain and simple
Happy Mother’s Day everyone, no matter what path led you to motherhood.
Happy Mother’s Day to everyone who has loved a child with all of your heart.
Happy Mother’s Day to those who have loved and lost and those who lost their mother along the way. We are all the same….we who love…we understand each other…
Our blood flows coarsely through our veins and our hearts beat as one.