Friday Shorts

Back when blogs were popular, back when I lived in Honduras, back when I published lots of posts, I used to have a regular Friday post called Friday Fragments which were short items about various topics. I linked to a now extinct blog by a friend who hosted a link for other bloggers to publish their Friday Fragments. Today’s items are just short items I felt like writing about.

Do you want to buy a church? There’s one for sale in Abita Springs. I don’t know the whole story, but I read that the pastor AND the congregation of 80 or so persons have moved, so this building is for sale. Sounds a bit cult-like to me, doesn’t it? The entire congregation is moving. Who does that? This church was originally located in eastern Canada, and the pastor had it shipped in pieces down to Louisiana, then reconstructed on the outskirts of Abita Springs. Anyway, the church and the adjacent day-care center are up for grabs if anyone wants it. I like the idea of making it into a restaurant, as happens every now and then with old churches.

Weather is strange at times isn’t it? Well, the weather around here is REALLY strange this time. Early next week there most likely will be 2 named storms in the Gulf of Mexico at the same time. That would be a first. Of course, it’s 2020, so what’s so strange about two hurricanes blasting away at the same time? What area is right in between the cones? Well, none other than New Orleans, Louisiana.

Have you heard of Noom? I’m using this weight loss program to lose weight. It’s a psychology based approach to losing weight. All of the stuff is on the app. I like it. The food diary is easy to use and automatically subtracts calories from your daily allowance. There are behavioral lessons of about 10 minutes each day. Each week there’s a personal coach who interacts with me via the app to guide me. Thus far, I’ve lost 15 lbs. since starting to use the app 60 days ago. Go Noom! Go me!

Did I mention that I have been married before? I found my wedding picture while scanning old photographs from my mother’s collection. I don’t remember marrying my older sister, but the evidence shows it to be true. I don’t remember who was the officiant, perhaps my other sister? My sister remarried as an adult, to a man. I haven’t remarried.

Well, that’s enough short items for today. Enjoy your weekend. Next post may be about the convergence of two hurricanes along the Louisiana coast. I hope not, but who knows. Now I’m on my way to Walmart to stock up on hurricane provisions. At the very least, it’s going to be wet next week.

Winebibber or Teetotaler?

I came across this photo while scanning family pictures for my mother. She’s planning to move to a smaller place in a retirement center. I agreed to scan or store some of her photo boxes and albums in order to help minimize her belongings.

I recall the circumstances surrounding this photograph. I was maybe 11 years old. My sisters and I were confined to the kitchen while my parents were entertaining in the dining room. We each were allowed a glass of wine. Unbeknownst to me, my sisters were adding more wine to my one allowed glass every time I put the glass down to attend to a pile of mounting dishes. I got a bit tipsy, or as the saying goes now, I was lit. I never finished the glass as I recall as my sisters finally let me in on the gag before I got fully intoxicated.

I have never been a winebibber, or one who drinks to excess. Not in my childhood, nor teen years, nor adult years. Nor have I gone long periods with being a teetotaler. I did abstain during a brief time of fervent fundamentalism, but that was just a phase. I think a major reason that I avoided the extremes is because of the healthy attitude toward drink that was displayed by my parents. They didn’t drink to excess. Mostly, a drink or two was enjoyed at social occasions. It wasn’t a daily habit.

That’s my attitude towards alcohol today. I rarely drink, partaking maybe once or twice a month. I have had the same four pack of single-serve wines in the refrigerator for a couple of months. The same goes for the Abita Springs Strawberry Ale sitting next to the carton of milk. I haven’t felt the need to assuage any feelings of stress during the pandemic with copious or even moderate levels of alcohol. It’s just not part of my psyche, I guess.

I can look back with a grateful heart that I had parents who were rational in their attitude towards drink. We were permitted to drink at celebrations as youngsters. No one overindulged. It was often just a celebratory drink now and then in our house.

The time pictured in the above image is one of the few times in my life when I have been guilty of overindulgence. Of course, it wasn’t my fault. I was being challenged to finish off a glass of wine that I didn’t know was, essentially, bottomless. Only when the gag reached a point where it could have been excessive was the gag revealed. I hope to stay the course the rest of my life as neither a winebibber or a teetotaler.

Stories of my Ancestors

I had some fun in the past few months as I researched my family’s roots. I began by asking myself a few questions that I detailed in another post, Tracing My Roots. Fortunately, I have answered the questions about my family’s past satisfactorily.

I can substantiate that my family did, indeed, own slaves. I discovered a bill of sale on Ancestry.com for a 12 year old boy named Theo who was bought by my ancestor, Jacques Matherne, in 1783. Before Jacques, census records show that Jacques’ grandfather, Johanne, owned five slaves in the early 1700s, shortly after arriving in Louisiana from Germany.

I couldn’t find records of any other ancestor owning slaves. However, slave ownership was quite common in the South. About 1/3 of white families owned slaves in the pre-Civil War days. On average, a slaveowner owned 3-5 slaves. So it’s quite possible that others in the family tree had slaves, too. I just don’t see a record of any others owning slaves.

Did my family participate in the Civil War? Yes, I found a record that my great-great grandfather, Joseph T. Martin, was drafted in 1862, then captured by Union forces the same year near Thibodaux, Louisiana. According to what I have found, he was released on his own recognizance and returned home shortly thereafter. He never traveled more than 30 miles from home during the Civil War.

Again, there probably were others in my family who took up arms for the Confederacy. Starting in 1862, there was a draft, so most families had a family member who served the Confederacy. However, most records only list surnames and a capital letter. Therefore, it’s impossible for me to ascertain if the A. Matherne that I found on a Lafourche Regimental Roll was my ancestor, Anatole Matherne. Could be but who’s to say that were other men named Matherne with an A for a first name in the region.

I uncovered other interesting stories, too. Ursin Napolean Matherne was a philanderer, and in the spirit of his middle name, made many conquests. My great-grandfather fathered at least 16 children, from 3 different women. Those are the children that one can verify. Where there more? Probably, considering he had a marked propensity for leaving his wife and children for periods of time, with little or no explanation for his whereabouts upon his return. I have relatives I know little or nothing about up and down the bayous of Louisiana.

One of the women that I am descended from was Clinda Picou Matherne, my great-grandmother, married to the above-mentioned Ursin Matherne. She was renowned in her community as a traiteur, a Cajun term for a faith healer. She prayed for the sick, laying hands on the ill, then she offered a remedy, usually a homeopathic cure. Payments were traditionally received, though not required for her services. She lived to an old age, just a few months shy of 100 years old. To the end of her days, she was known for praying and offering cures for the sick.

There were other details, too such as when and how my ancestors came to America. I detailed a bit about the long journeys of the Cajuns, who left France for Canada, were forcibly evicted from that land, and eventually made their way to Louisiana. My family was part of that journey, too.

I made a Shutterfly book of pictures and stories about my ancestors. I plan on gifting copies of the book to my nieces and nephews. I didn’t write down all the stories I have heard or read about my ancestors. However, I hope the stories that I managed to wrote down will be handed down for more generations to discover.

In Praise of Porches

Not my grandparent’s house. I do like the porch, though.

Today, I allowed myself to think about porches. I thought about one porch in particular, a place where I spent many hours in my childhood. My grandparent’s porch. The above picture is not that house. That house from my childhood was torn down last year.

My grandparents’ front porch was an inviting place. The house didn’t have air-conditioning. Much of the year, the most temperate space was the porch, where breezes came off the bayou, and curled around the branches of the two ancient oaks on the side of the small house.

Every so often, my mother took the white Buick into town. I stayed behind as a preschooler with my grandparents who lived a short distance away from our house. Grandma was usually busy in the kitchen or the back porch, so I had to make the best of the situation by being entertained by my grandfather on the front porch. When I knew him in the 60s and early 70s, he kept to the front porch most days. He had suffered a stroke years before I was born. It left him unable to take but a few halting steps.

Grandpa liked to play little games with me. You know those little games, where one has to turn over your hand rapidly to avoid a slap from a partner. He could play endless variations of this game with me in the heat of the afternoon. The time would pass, but I tired of the games that I rarely won.

Then, grandpa, sensing my impatience, passed to his favorite activity with me which was to teach me short phrases of Cajun French. I would listen and repeat until I had the words memorized. Then, grandpa invariably insisted that I share my new knowledge with grandma. I usually preferred to walk around the house to the back of the house, finding her there on the back porch or in the kitchen.

I would say, “Grandma, *&%&#@!”

Immediately, Grandma’s head would snap around to me.

“What did you say?”, she would say urgently.

“Well, Grandma, *&&^%$$!”

“Who taught you to say such a thing?” she would tersely ask.

“Grandpa…” I would say timidly.

“Oh, no! Grandpa would NEVER say that and don’t say those words again.” she would say firmly.

Rebuked, I headed out of the back door and walked to the front of the house where grandpa sat, chuckling under his breath. This happened time after time. I never seemed to remember that grandpa’s “lessons” were definitely not appreciated by grandma or, for that matter, any other adult in my childhood.

Later on in my life, I put the Cajun aphorisms I learned from grandpa to good use. These words were good to know in junior high. I had a few unsuspecting teachers who weren’t schooled in Cajun French. With a smile on my lips, I would answer an unsuspecting teacher with “kiss my a** ” in Cajun French. When asked what it meant, I would sweetly reply that it meant “yes, ma’am” or “no, sir.”

As an adolescent, I was glad for my early porch time lessons. Grandpa had died by that time, so I couldn’t thank him properly. However, I smile a bit now when I remember his off-color lessons, as I stood by him on the front porch, as I patiently memorized Cajun French. I am grateful for the times I had with him on the front porch as well as the times with grandma on the back porch as she reacted to my words. This is just one reason why I like porches.

Tracing My Roots

i am a fan of the PBS show, Finding Your Roots, which details the search for ancestors of various celebrities and popular media personalities. If you’re not familiar with the show, the host, Henry Louis Gates, Jr, details the ancestry of a guest or two for each show, often highlighting one or two special ancestors and their stories for each featured celebrant.

I have done a bit of digging around my past by talking to my mother, who loves family history. She has a good grasp of the oral history of her family as well as my father’s family. Using Ancestry.com in the past few years, I was able to expand upon what my mom has explained, so that I know more about the past history of my father and mother’s family.

I used the information to produce two books, which were a combination of old photos and stories. One was about my father’s life, with some details of his ancestors, and one of the same for my mom. My next project is to combine the most compelling information from the two books about my ancestors and their lives. I want to pass this information down to the next generation. I don’t have children, so I want to present the books to my nephews and nieces as keepsakes so they can understand the most compelling stories of the past.

Thinking about the show, Finding Your Roots, I plan on focusing on several key stories. The show uses a book about the featured guests family to discuss important family events from the past. A family tree is given to each participant as well. I plan on using this format, too.

My goal is to highlight the most interesting stories from the past. Here are some of the questions I want to answer in my gift to my nieces and nephews:

!. When did my ancestors first come to the United States and why? Where did they settle?

2. Where did they emigrate from and why?

3. Did anyone in my ancestry own slaves? Did they fight in the Civil War?

4. What are some key narratives in my history? Were they heroes or infamous characters in the family?

5. Why are my mother’s and father’s family have so many parallels and shared relations? What cultural forces caused the two families to be closely bound in the past?

Can my readers add any questions you would add to the list? Have you any interesting comments about your own family to add to the comments?

A Walk in the Woods

Last week, my mother and I took a drive to Clinton, Louisiana, a small town near Baton Rouge, Louisiana. My family owns land there. Most of our acreage is wooded. The family uses it mainly for hunting and occasional family celebrations.

Under the strictest interpretation of our stay-at-home orders in Louisiana, I should not be entering her house. Yet, I have, and I will continue as needed when she needs food and essentials. Likewise, I should not be traveling at all according to our governor, John Bel Edwards. We decided to be rule-breakers.

older home in Clinton
Older cottage in Clinton

On Thursday afternoon, I travelled southwest to my mom’s house to pick her up for the journey. She lives alone. During this pandemic she’s become rather isolated. I stayed the afternoon and evening in bayou country with her, getting a few things for her at the local Walgreens.

We arrived in Clinton, Louisiana, around 11:30 on Friday morning. We picked up fried chicken from a local gas station. This gas station in Clinton is especially noted for its fried chicken. Although I was sorely tempted by the fried gizzards and livers on the menu, we chose

cottage in Clinton
Newer home in the town of Clinton

breasts, wings, and legs that were fried to a golden-orange crispy perfection. The order came with French fries, white rolls, and a choice of fountain drinks. We also received a small paper sack full of ketchup.

We drove along the highway past downtown Clinton, then turned down a dirt road. At the lodge in the woods, we ate our fried food, both of us sipping Dr. Pepper. The pieces of chicken were enormous. I don’t know who supplies the chickens for the gas station, but these were not young fryers such as one usually gets at Popeye’s. By the time we ended lunch, our paper cartons were filled with bones, suggesting we had consumed a bucket of chicken rather than a couple of combo orders.

dirt road to lodge
Dirt road leading to lodge

After a few minutes of looking around the lodge and outbuildings, we walked toward the pond. The rutted, clay path leads gently downward toward a small body of water that that was dug over a decade ago. As we walked, we were hemmed in by pine, oak and magnolia. Here and there, along the short route, we came upon a clearing or two, where hunters’ stands sit silent and patient, waiting for the fall’s deer season. With that season will come men and boys ready for the game.

The woods were quiet, save for the sound of song birds, heralding the relative mildness of spring in Louisiana. The day’s temperature topped in the low 70s with a stiff breeze. We saw no other animals as we walked, not even a rabbit that often are seen darting across the path amongst the trees. In the past, I’ve seen started deer and fawns, foxes and the occasional rattler. Not today. All was at rest.

lodge
The lodge in Clinton

When we reached the pond, I heard rather than saw, the existence of life. Amphibians or reptiles betrayed their presence by plopping into the waters as we approached. We saw bubbles and moving currents as the life on the edge of the pond made their way through the water. There are fish in these waters, but we didn’t take the time to cast a line. Instead, we contented ourselves with a fine view of a small pond surrounded by small pines and blossoming blackberry bushes.

wildflowers
Wildflowers along the way towards the pond

I reflected on a few things that brought peace to my heart. I enjoyed the beauty of nature as it turns from winter into spring, new life sprouting forth. The turmoil of a world turned upside down with a viral, invisible enemy cannot stop nature from its yearly rites of passage.

I also reflected on the good news that my sister is completely recovered from a bout of the coronavirus, covid-19. She had, fortunately a mild case. No hospital, no special regimen save for Tylenol for a fever. Her husband, most likely, had an even milder case, but their doctor refused to make an order for his test since he had no fever and suffered just a slight change in health. My sister was given an order for a test for flu and the virus at a drive-up facility in Baton Rouge where they live.

Within a day, the results showed negative for flu. After a week, in which she made great recovery, her case of covid-19 was confirmed. Most peculiarly, though often a sign of the new corona virus, they both lost their sense of smell and taste for a time. She remarked how strange it was, when preparing a roux, during her mild illness, the couple had not the slightest sense of smell. Even when they tasted the completed dish, shrimp etouffée, it yielded no taste for either of them. If you haven’t enjoyed etouffée, then you wouldn’t know how especially fragrant is the dish of seafood and tomatoes, roux and rice

At the lodge in the woods, we had lots of things to be grateful for: the fried chicken, the beauty of nature and the recuperation of my sister and husband. My mom and I decided to leave rather than stay the night. We broke our journey at my house in Abita Springs, then on to her house in bayou country on Saturday.

I hope to adhere to a stricter discipline for writing this week. I don’t plan on any travels this week, as I do my best, within reason, to adhere to orders to stay at home except for essential travel. The trip to the woods was not essential, but it was restorative.

 

An Angel in the Room

I wrote another version of this story from my viewpoint in Spooked by An Angel earlier this year. I rewrote the story from the viewpoint of my mother who told me the story originally. I submitted this article to Guideposts Magazine. It’s been accepted for publication in one of their sister publications, Angels on Earth. 

Early one morning, my mother spoke. That statement doesn’t seem out of the ordinary. Mothers talk every morning, all over the world.

My ninety-three year old mother, Adele, hadn’t spoken in nearly three years. She had never been talkative, and as the years wore on, she spoke less and less. One day, she quit speaking completely. There wasn’t an obvious reason, like a stroke, to explain her silence. I think she just ran out of things to say as she got older.

Then, one morning, living quietly in a nursing home in Louisiana, my mother spoke. That morning her roommate had died. The nurse closed the curtain around the deceased woman. No one told my mother that her roommate had died.

My silent mother spoke.

“There’s an angel in the room,” she said to the nurse in the room.

In fact, every time another person entered the room, she repeated her words.

“There’s an angel in the room,” she said.

When I arrived later that morning to visit, my mother was still in bed, in her nightgown with long braids lying across her shoulders. I walked to the nurses’ station to ask why hadn’t anyone helped my mother that morning.

The nursing supervisor overheard me talking to the assistants at the front counter and walked out of the inner office.

“Mrs. Matherne,” she said, “we will attend to your mother shortly. Right now, I am having trouble finding a staff member who will go into her room. Let me explain to you what staff members are saying about your mother.”

During the morning, word had spread through the nursing home of the mute woman who had spoken of an angel. As I walked back towards my mother’s room, the daughter of the deceased woman met me in the hall.

“Did you hear about your mother?” she said. “I have been praying every morning for a sign that my mother would go to heaven. Your mother’s words were my sign.”

I didn’t know what to say. My mother was a spiritual person, but she had never spoken about angels or visions before. I thought about what I had heard. It seemed impossible to believe. Perhaps the story was just a result of overwork, lack of sleep, and excess emotion on the part of the staff, I reasoned to myself.

I questioned my mother hoping she would speak to me. She never said a word. Soon, two assistants came into the room to help change my mother into her dress and help her into her day chair. Still, my mother had nothing to say.

I stayed until lunch was served. As I helped her with the meal, I tried to engage my mother in conversation, asking her about her meal, the weather, and again, of the events of the previous night. She said nothing.

adele cropped
My Mother Years Before She Saw An Angel

I left the nursing home and drove home. As I drove, I thought about the morning’s events. I had studied the Bible throughout my life. I believed in God and angels. I had to admit that it was possible that the story of my mother speaking in the night of an angelic encounter was true.

For certain, I know two things. I know that the story brought comfort to a grieving daughter who saw the event as a sign from God. Secondly, I know that mother never spoke again after that morning. She died quietly at the age of ninety-seven.

Thoughts about Easter at Thanksgiving

Text_thanksgiving_clip_artThis week, Americans will celebrate Thanksgiving. I will spend the day with relatives at our family’s hunting lodge in Clinton, Louisiana. I  enjoy spending Thanksgiving Day at the family compound in the woods. The guys usually hunt, and the ladies do the cooking. We always pause and give thanks to God before we eat. It’s a good tradition. To stop and put into words that we are, indeed, thankful.

This week I am thinking about a lady named Easter. Until a few days ago, I didn’t know the story of Easter. I was eating tacos with my sister this weekend, and she told me the story. Over forty years ago, my sister, Jan, then twenty years old, was badly burned in a car accident. Jan spent many months recuperating in a burn unit in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Jan told me that Mrs. Easter was a burn patient, too. My sister kept hearing about Mrs. Easter from the staff. They would tell her nearly everyday, “Mrs. Easter wants you to know she’s praying for you.” Mrs. Easter was named for the holiday by her parents as she was born on Easter Sunday. My sister was young, a college student, and wasn’t all that interested in the woman with the strange first name and her reminders of daily prayers.

Then, one day, staff members wheeled Mrs. Easter’s bed into my sister’s room for a few hours while her room was being cleaned. For the first time, they met. Face to face, eye to eye. Jan saw that her fellow hospital patient was in far worse shape than she was. Her face was virtually gone. Yet, Jan told me, Mrs. Easter was quite interested in my sister’s well-being despite her own disfigured face and body.

Mrs. Easter didn’t leave the hospital alive. The story of the Christian holiday of Easter became a present reality for Mrs. Easter. She met her Jesus in whom she believed in with all her heart. She left a legacy of hope in my sister’s heart, who despite her outward protestations at Mrs. Easter’s prayers, had begun a journey of faith herself in that Baton Rouge burn unit.

Hope would carry my sister through surgeries, skin grafts, and countless hours of physical therapy. Eventually my sister returned to college, graduated, and became a pharmacist. She got married and had a family. Now retired from pharmacy, she owns and operates a small restaurant with her husband in Covington, Louisiana.

As I join with my family for Thanksgiving this week, undoubtedly I will have thoughts about mundane things like sweet potatoes, green beans. or fried turkey. I will think about the New Orleans Saints who are playing the Atlanta Falcons on Thursday night. I know I will think of Easter on Thanksgiving, too.

 

Postcards from the Edge of the 20th Century

It’s a beautiful, crisp fall morning in south Louisiana. Eggs are on the stove, simmering to a hard boil. I will be on my way to church soon. Passing the time before service, I am looking at social media, reading a few blogs, and sipping Community coffee.

Somehow, I chanced upon some rather old photographs that I uploaded to Google photos a few years ago. I remember when I found these pictures. I was poking around a box of old mementos at my mom’s house while sorting out items in a cupboard. When I opened the brown and pink shoebox, the musty smell was almost overpowering. My mama thought the whole box should be ditched.

I’m glad I didn’t do that. In the cardboard box were forgotten treasures from my grandmother’s past. I found a medal from World War 2, probably from one of my uncles all of whom are dead now. I uncovered my mother’s ration cards from World War 2. There was an old journal from my grandmother, where she marked important dates with small notes. (More on that in another post.) In the jumbled pile of things, I saw some postcard pictures of young men and women in period clothes of the early 20th century.

A cursory search of the internet revealed these postcards were calling cards in the early days of the 20th century. Collecting postcards was a popular hobby it seems from this period. Fortunately, the cards were in good shape. One side had directions for mailing and space for messages, and the other, beautiful, staged young people from a century ago.

The first picture had a name on the back. The signature read Augustina Dufrene. My mama didn’t recall a relative or neighbor by that name. I looked for her name online but no local name matched to someone her age, which I assume was a young adult around 1910-1920.

It’s possible her name at birth was Augustine Dufrene from Lockport, Louisiana. I found that match. However no information beside a birthdate in the late 1890s was found. No wedding date. No death notice. Perhaps, Augustina moved away from south Louisiana, or maybe she died in the influenza epidemic that swept the nation and the world in 1918.

Another card featuring a female had a message on the back professing love and friendship but no name. I suppose she assumed a name wasn’t necessary since the bearer was more than likely a beloved friend.

My grandparents was married in 1917, so I think these were friends in the days before  or during World War 1. After the war, my grandparents had little time for collecting postcards. They were busy working a farm and having babies.

The names and stories of these cards are lost to time, but the beautiful images still remain as a marvelous mystery. I hope you enjoy viewing these century-old selfies of people in their Sunday best as much as I have.

Scan 7

Augustina Dufrene

post card friend (1)Unknown friend

Spooked by an Angel

Gabriel_from_Vysotsky_chin_(14c,_Tretyakov_gallery)This is a true story.

One night, my grandma spoke.

So what, you might say.  Grandmas talk every night, all over the world.

My ninety-three year old grandma, Adele, hadn’t spoken in over five years. She had never been a big talker, and as the years wore on, she spoke less and less. One day, she quit speaking completely. There wasn’t an obvious reason, like a stroke, to explain her silence. I think she just ran out of things to say as she got older.

Then, one night, living quietly in a nursing home, she spoke about an angel. As nurses and aides entered and left her room to attend to her very ill roommate, she spoke.

“Do you see the angel? He’s here to take that lady home,” she said over and over.

Before the night ended and morning came, my grandma’s roommate died.

Word spread through the nursing home of the mute woman who had spoken of an angel waiting to take a soul. When the morning shift arrived, the nursing assistants refused to enter my grandma’s room.

When my mother had arrived that morning to visit, my grandma was still in bed, in her nightgown with long braids laying across her shoulders. No one wanted to assist my grandmother. They were spooked by angel talk.

Days later, the daughter of the deceased contacted my mother. She was confident that my grandma’s words were her answer to prayer. She had been praying fervently for a sign that her mama would go to heaven when she died.

Grandma’s words were her sign, she said.

Grandma never spoke again. She died quietly at the age of 98.