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.

A Bear Named Napoleon

It’s official. We broke a record for the coldest temperatures in New Orleans and surrounding areas. Low temperatures were in the mid-teens in most of the area for the past two nights. With icy roads, staying home was just about the only option most of us had. My little house is on piers. Combined low temperatures and wind were too much for the heater. During the worst of the storm, the heater could only push my house into the upper 50s inside.

Well, it’s almost over. Temperatures tonight will be bearable, hovering just below freezing. After that things will warm up to a more moderate level.

What does that have to do with bears and Napoleon? Nothing. But it’s worth noting it’s been wicked cold here just like in most of North America for the past few days.

Ursin Napolean Matherne.jpg
Ursin Napoleon Matherne

Now, on to Napoleon and bears. A few weeks ago, I wrapped up a photo/essay book about my father’s family. Probably the most intriguing ancestor in the book was Ursin Napoleon Matherne, my great- grandfather. Ursin is a derivative of Ursa, which means bear in Latin. And yes, his middle name was Napoleon.

Ursin’s life spanned the 19th and 20th century. He was born shortly after the Civil War ended, and he died as the Great Depression took hold of the country.

Ursin Napoleon Matherne was a conqueror of hearts, not nations. Ursin had many lovers, and many sons and daughters, too. He was officially married only once, to my great-grandmother, Clinda.

However he had lovers before her and afterward. He even seduced his wife’s sister during his marriage. She had his child, a boy who would forever live with a cloud over his head due to his father’s bearish ways.

His last lover was an Indian woman. She loved him fiercely, and he died with her. When he died, she cried over his body, and scarcely could bear it when the rightful, legitimate sons came to take his body away in a horse-drawn cart.

A bear when it’s angry can be fearsome. Ursin was fearsome in his love. His love, that had no regard for law or fidelity, wounded all who were close to him.

Irene Matherne school.jpg
Schoolchildren in front of Matherne School, cerca 1925.

In between ravaging hearts, Ursin Napoleon also found time to be quite successful. He started life as a hunter, selling hides to his uncle in New Orleans. When he died, he owned enough land to be measured in square miles, not just mere acres. He founded a school and a graveyard. He was a charter member of one of the sole Protestant churches in the region.

Church, you say? Yes. Ursin returned to his wife and sought forgiveness in the church over and over in his lifetime. One of his closest friends and confidantes was the pastor and founder of the Bayou Blue Methodist Church, in the midst of the community he lived. My mother tells me that the old folks used to recount that Ursin, when he was repentant, prayed most eloquently. Despite his faults, he managed to also be somewhat of a pillar of their little community.

matherne cemetery
My eventual resting place

I am a descendant of Ursin Napoleon Matherne. I was christened in the church he helped establish. One day, I will be buried in the cemetery he founded. And when the spirit moves, I can pray quite eloquently.

This essay concludes the family series. If you’re interested in this occasional series, find the tab marked family above to read the posts about the Matherne family.

2017 Favorites

 

I put together just a few of my favorite photographs from 2017. Some are places I visited this year. I have a few from Nicaragua, Honduras, Florida and Mississippi.  Some are from ’round here in Louisiana.

In the spirit of Advent, i.e. waiting for good things to come, I will share good stuff happening here and far.

  1. The political crisis in Honduras is not over, but by and large the country is relatively calm. Protests are centered in the big cities.  A consensus in forming in the national and international arena to hold a new election. A new election without the usual corruption and ballot stuffing would be welcomed by the Hondura people. I applaud them, not for violent demonstrations, but for the will to see a change in the status quo of corrupt elections.
  2. In January I visited Honduras, the first time I went back there since I moved to the US over 3 years ago. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing old friends. My humble little project is prospering and increasing in it scope and effectiveness in helping children in poverty. Soon, they will move into a large new building.
  3. I moved into a smaller and cuter house than I had before. You can view it in the pictures below. I love my little cottage. I have good neighbors, mostly squirrels, rabbits and birds, although my human neighbors are nice, too.
  4. I enjoyed my trip to Nicaragua last month. As we wait during the advent season in anticipation of the birth of Jesus, I am encouraged by the people I met in Nicaragua who are working for a better society there. They are waiting, too, but actively waiting, for good things to come.
  5. My mother finally gave up driving. She’s mostly blind, but she was stubbornly hanging on to the car keys. After an accident (no one hurt thank God!) she was dropped from her insurance company. She conceded. We all are grateful.

What’s happening in your life that’s good? Share if you like.

 

 

Dead ducks quack

This tale is part of an occasional series on my father’s family. 

ducks and dadDid you know that you can make a dead duck quack? If you press on the chest, a duck will quack. When I was a little girl, I used to help my father with dressing ducks after he returned from a shoot. My job was simple: pull the feathers off. My dad took care of the heads, feet and splitting of the carcasses. Mama’s job was to make gumbo or jambalaya with the end product.

I don’t recall being disgusted by this process. In fact, it was enjoyable. I remember the beautiful mallards, wood and poule d’eau ducks that daddy brought home in a bulging,  brown sack. I never went on the hunt. I wasn’t disallowed. I never had the desire to shoot ducks. No, my job was to wait for dad to come home with a big sack bulging with freshly killed ducks.

When daddy came home from a hunt, he carefully laid out his kill. He usually wanted a picture of his trophies. Most times, he hunted with his father or an older brother. The men would stand  or kneel with the ducks, posing  for the camera.

Then came the fun part. A few presses to the chest before beginning was the best part. The ducks moved reflexively to the touch, letting out a good quack with a push on the chest. After a few good quacks, I set to work, pulling feathers. We didn’t keep the feathers, although I know some people used them to make bedding. I sometimes kept a few feathers as souvenirs but truth be told, the feathers had sharp ends. After a few days, I generally discarded my trophies.

My father was not a learned man.  He graduated from high school with some difficulty due to an undiagnosed spelling and writing problem that today would be labeled as dyslexia. After high school, he attended  trade school to be a diesel mechanic. Whatever his deficits were in learning and schooling, he was an expert teacher.

I learned a lot from my dad. Even something as trivial as cleaning ducks, my father turned it into a learning experience. I learned about the different types of feathers on the body of a duck, the differing types of ducks, which ducks were prized and which were not. I learned what the limits were as set by the state of Louisiana.

My dad made a simple task like this quite fun. Instead of being repulsed by the dead animals or being put out since he often needed help during Saturday morning cartoon time, I enjoyed helping him. I probably did a terrible job when I was very young, but I cannot recall one time being corrected severely or made to feel inferior. However badly I did the job, my dad found room to coach me how to do it a little better next time. Except for an occasional reprimand when I became distracted by making the ducks quack, I can’t recall any negativity.

If my dad were alive, he would be 85 this month on Christmas Eve. He would be greatly surprised that I consider him to be a good teacher, given his lack of credentials. Yet, I do. He taught me quite a bit about any number of subjects, whether it was dressing ducks, motor repairs, or getting along with people. That’s not something to quack about.

Thanks Dad.

 

Love is Funny, Slick, and Shrewd

 

Love is funny, slick, and shrewd.

robert martinI found this phrase in a document written by my great-grandfather. My great-grandfather, Robert Martin, was a pastor. He founded a Methodist church in the late 1800s in south Louisiana. Preachers aren’t known for writing about romantic love.

Robert wrote up an account of his uncle’s life. The uncle’s life was tragic, full of failed romance, messed-up married life, and not a few illegitimate offspring.

He ends the sad story by stating that one should only marry “for true love.” Somehow it doesn’t fit the image of a circuit-riding Methodist preacher to end a story with that phrase. He doesn’t look the romantic type, either. But, what do I know?