Masking Up

It’s official. Louisiana’s governor has ordered the wearing of masks in all public places. Once again, the curve is on the rise in Louisiana. Our curve is not as dramatic as Arizona, Texas or Florida, but we’re close behind those other sunbelt states. In addition, bars are closed again. And gatherings are limited to 50 people or less.

Omelette at the Abita Springs Cafe urges citizens to wear a mask.

At the onset of the stay at home orders in March, I was okay with it. I am not an extrovert. I am comfortable with my own company. I had plenty to keep me occupied at home.

But now? I don’t want to go back to the early draconian measures. And I would be happy to be able to go out more in public gatherings for music, for fun, or even just to congregate at church. Even schools in Louisiana are pushing back start dates to better prepare for what may lie ahead for them.

For me, wearing a mask is just a minor inconvenience. I can take it off at home. I don’t have to work outside with a mask. The biggest drawback is that my glasses tend to fog up when wearing a mask. Otherwise, it’s no big deal to wear a mask to the grocery story, pharmacy or other spots around town.

Personally, I don’t understand the anger some people are expressing towards wearing a mask in public. Somehow they feel it’s an infringement on their rights to wear a mask. Really? Wearing a seatbelt in the car, having to carry a driver’s license all the time, and being scanned at airports for departure are all okay.

But a mask? That’s a violation of some sort of personal rights. I don’t get it. Take Omelette’s advice: wear a mask.

And wash your hands, too, please.

Statue of Choctaw Indian, washing her hands in spring water of Abita Springs, reputed by natives as being healing waters.

Just Mercy

A few days ago, a friend sent me an email with this quote from the book, Just Mercy.

Mercy is most empowering, liberating, and transformative when it is directed at the undeserving. The people who haven’t earned it, who haven’t even sought it, are the most meaningful recipients of our compassion . . . we’ve submitted to the harsh instinct to crush those among us whose brokenness is most visible. But simply punishing the broken – walking away from them or hiding them from our sight – only ensures that they remain broken and we do, too.

My church has a women’s night meditation group on Wednesday night. We read a portion of scripture aloud three times. Then, we pause to reflect on its meaning in our lives. Then we repeat the reading three times again with fresh questions as we note the verses or thoughts that come up from the reading. This past week, we read the story of the woman at the well from the book of John. As you may recall, Jesus met a woman at a well in Samaria, and he asked her to serve him water from the well. She’s surprised at his request. Men didn’t talk to women, at least in public, and even more so, a woman he didn’t know. Finally, she’s suspect because she’s a Samaritan woman, belonging to a group of people who the Jews at the time were at odds with.

But Jesus talks to her, revealing who she is, and also offering her a chance of hope and redemption as he reveals himself as the living water. As the group at my church read the passage, I found myself drawn to this woman. I felt as if I were her, underserving and frankly surprised that Jesus would speak to me. I don’t deserve it. My prayer life is a quick thing each morning lately, with my thoughts scattered in a thousand directions rather than on the one thing I need – God.

Lately, I have been leaning into mercy. I watched Just Mercy, the movie. I wept for the injustice and final righting of wrongs for the wrongfully convicted Walter McMillian. Then, I read the book of the same title written by Bryan Stevenson. Unless you have a heart of stone, the book and the movie will move you. It moved me towards compassion and mercy.

It’s not that I am such a great Christian, either. I was moved because I need mercy. I need compassion. I need forgiveness. Everyday, I need it. I have joined Noom* to help me with reaching my goals for losing weight. It doesn’t require special foods or buying their stuff. I’ve lost about 10 pounds in the past 2 weeks. But I have so far to go. I am fat. I need to stop unhealthy eating patterns. Eating a pint of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream is way too easy for me. I need to walk, bike, or do something in my free time beside sit in front of a screen, either online or the television.

When I look at myself, I see someone who needs mercy. Mercy because of my lack of self-care, mercy for my lack of spiritual devotion, and mercy for all the other things I struggle with everyday. I am reminded of a story by Ann Lamott. She tells of visiting a friend in her kitchen, chatting as her young son played nearby. Suddenly, he whelped out a cry. She looked down and saw that his head was stuck between the legs of a chair. He cried out, “Help me. I need help with me. ”

That’s my cry today. Lord, help me. I need help with me.

*Noom is an app on your phone that helps you track your weight, monitor what you eat, and connect with like-minded people in your same situation.

Porch Life

Instead of writing on the blog this past week, I have been posting on Facebook. Everyday I posted a picture of a house with a porch from the town of Abita Springs, Louisiana. From comments on the posts, I have learned that my friends on Facebook share my regard for porches. Some have commented on memories they had on porches from their childhood. They wrote of spending time with their grandparents on the front porch. One recalls her grandmother sewing a quilt on the front porch. Another wrote of chatting in Cajun French on the front porch. Some lamented the lack of a porch at their grandparents’ residence.

My grandfather, Yvest, raised vegetables and melons to sell in the French Market in New Orleans. Almost every day, he took a break in the middle of the day from farm work. He would take a rest on his front porch. In fact, he was very punctual with his naps. resting at noon so regularly that he earned a nickname by the neighbors. He was called Noon. It must have been a great porch to inspire a ritual at noon everyday.

I only knew him when he was incapacitated by a stroke. Grandpa Noon in those days spent most of the day, not just noon time, on the porch in his wheelchair. Because he was there most of the day, that porch was the center of family life for my grandparents. They snapped beans, shelled peas, visited with family and friends, and of course, napped on the porch. As noted in another blog post, he taught me little snippets of Cajun French on that porch.

Today, porches are generally ornamental. Life in the South is lived inside, in the air conditioned space, in front of the television or online. However, I still love the look of a good porch. Below I am posting a few porches that I featured on Facebook. Enjoy.

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.

Once Upon a Shotgun

I like driving or bicycling through Abita Springs, the town where I live. I like to imagine living in old places, either now or in the past. Somehow, my life would be happier, more carefree, more chic if I lived in such a house as in the picture above.

It’s a shotgun house. Theoretically one could shoot a shotgun inside the front door and the shot would exit the back door without hitting anyone. Narrow houses like this were common in these parts. I think in the days before air conditioning, a house like this allowed for breezes to blow in and out more readily.

When Abita Springs was in its heyday in the early 1900s, houses such as these may have served an individual family or may have had a room for guests. The little town was known as a place for healthy living and relaxation. Some houses would have rented rooms for guests escaping a New Orleans summer. Or, I have heard, some homes were turned into small hospitals, housing yellow fever and tuberculosis patients, mainly from the city, seeking a rest cure in the country.

Although it’s not the house in the picture, there’s a house in town that was specifically set aside for tuberculosis patients. Nowadays, a baker owns the building, where Miss Jan turns out specialty cakes for weddings, birthdays, and the like. She says, without much fanfare, that the former rest home has a ghost.

Miss Jan doesn’t like to give undue attention to the ghost. She prefers to go about her business, without minding the spirit world. Occasionally she has knocks on the door in predawn hours as she preps cakes and breads for the day’s work. Or, a shove on the shoulder by an unseen hand has been known to occur. But, on the whole, the spirit doesn’t bother her much. The priest, who pastors next door, has prayed over the house, and he seems to have produced a calming effect upon the sprite.

Tuberculosis, also known as consumption, was a cruel disease. It still is in mostly undeveloped countries. Sufferers, until the advent of modern antibiotics, almost always died a slow and painful death as their lungs filled with liquid and blood. It almost always featured a wet cough and then, eventually bloody coughs, that resulted in respiratory failure.

I suppose our ghost in Abita Springs died from tuberculosis. I can imagine a ghost would want to visit the living once in a while. Perhaps, the spirit knocks on the door seeking solace for a lost life.

So, that’s where my mind went today as I looked at shotgun houses in the historic district of Abita Springs. Life in the early 1900s wasn’t all lemonade and lightness in the sweet bye and bye. There was death, too, often in an old shotgun house.

The Fragile Ego

This year, I had 2 articles accepted for publication by Guideposts Magazine. The first one, based on Spooked By An Angel, was published in the March/April 2020 edition of Angels on Earth, a sister publication of Guideposts. My second article, based on Christmas Eve in Jail, is in the editing process. It’s slated to be published in a December issue of Guideposts magazine. This makes me happy.

Last year, I had another article accepted for publication by Upper Room, a devotional magazine. I haven’t heard back from Upper Room editors in over 6 months, so I think I’ll submit that article, The White Flower, to Guideposts. Thus far, I have submitted 4 articles to 2 magazines. Three have been accepted for publication. One was declined.

Writing for the blog was more rewarding when I lived in Honduras. It kept me and my readers entertained, as well as keeping others informed about my life and ministry. Now that I live in the states, I struggle to find purpose for my writing. Not only do I want a larger audience, but I want to find a greater purpose in writing.

Writing about my life in Louisiana can be rewarding at times, but the lack of readership annoys me. I barely reach 50 readers, and that’s a good week. Call it vanity if you will, but I sometimes feel like I am writing in an echo chamber. I feel like I am the only voice that I hear in response to my writing. My fragile ego is in need of a hearty backslap or some sort of affirmation.

I know that perseverance is a key to feeling better about writing, whether or not I am recognized by a greater audience. It hasn’t helped that I have started and stopped writing a few times, changed writing platforms and site names a few times. Also, blogging is not as popular as it was 10 years ago. More and more people like short and quick media posts on platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or Tic Tok.

I appreciate those who take the time to comment here or on Facebook. What can you suggest for writer’s doldrums? How do you, my fellow bloggers, cope with feelings that your writing seems unimportant?

It’s Juneteenth and All is Well

I never knew about the day called Juneteenth when I was growing up. As far as I knew it was June 19. It happens to be my sister’s birthday, but that’s not of national import. I am happy for African Americans who may be celebrating their day of independence today.

For me, this year, Juneteenth means it’s the end of May. Confused? Let me explain. Until this weekend, we have had a most unusual month in Louisiana. The weather has been mild, not oppressively hot and muggy like it usually is in June. It’s been like May, warm in the day, not humid, and cool each evening

Everything in nature has responded in turn to this remarkable stretch of nice weather. In my yard, the rose bushes are full of happy buds, not drooping in indolence and shame due to heat exhaustion. The hydrangeas are blooming merrily, full of white blossoms reaching Amazonian heights. My blueberry tree was overloaded with fruit this year, much to the delight of the birds who consumed much of the harvest. I hear the din of frogs and insects in the twilight of midsummer eve as they rejoice in May days. It’s grand.

I don’t have a vegetable garden, but folks with gardens are enjoying a great harvest. In Louisiana, we don’t have a harvest in late June. Plants (and some people) usually just give up and die about this time of year in the sweltering heat. Not okra. Okra thrives in the summer heat. But, no, it’s not just okra growing in home gardens in late June. There’s still tomatoes and peppers and zucchini and corn being harvested in back yards in Louisiana.

According to the weather guy on TV, this glorious balmy month of May will end sometime on June 20 or 21. That’s this weekend. So Juneteenth is being celebrated in my house as the last day before the awful blast of Louisiana summer begins. I’m happy to celebrate the day because the days and nights of lingering May has been appreciated.

I popped a huge bowl of popcorn. I plan on watching Madam Secretary on Netflix. Why not have a Netflix binge with popcorn? That’s how I plan on commemorating the end of May. Happy Juneteenth, y’all.

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?

News From Abita Springs

I am tired of bad news broadcasting daily into my home. What about something different? In my little town, there’s news of armadillos, coyotes, pot-bellied pigs and more.

Animals have been out and about. In the daytime, coyotes have been spotted in town, creeping out of the woods. Hide your cats, dogs, and chickens! It’s not safe. Baby armadillos about the size of pickle jars were seen scuttling across the St. Tammany Trace this past week.

A local resident reports the presence of pot-belled pigs in her yard. Who do they belong to? When will the owners retrieve the errant pigs? Will an interloper snatch them up for a Friday night barbecue? If there are updates to this developing story, I will let you know.

The children’s park and the splash pad remain closed as they have for the stay at home orders in the spring. The park will remain closed because of needed repairs. The splash pad is going to re-open most likely in July.

The Abita Springs Trailhead Museum and the Abita Springs Farmer’s Market have re-opened for Sunday visitors. One can buy fruit, veggies, farm-raised eggs and prepared foods from 11-3 each Sunday. Next door to the Museum and Farmer’s Market, the Abita Brew Pub is open with fifty percent capacity per state guidelines. The outdoor seating is quite nice under the large shady oak trees. On Sundays, there’s also live music in the pub’s outdoor space.

undefinedThe Abita Mystery House and UCM (You See ‘Um) Museum remains closed. It’s time to write another post about this eccentric site full of treasures and charms that continues to grow its displays of odd collectibles. I’ll wait until it’s open for new pictures. Until then, content yourself with the photo of the lady alligator who greets guests in the main room of the UCM house. If you can’t wait for my post, and you have access to local public television, WYES of New Orleans, will air a segment on the Abita Mystery house tonight at 7:30 and 11:30.

That’s all the news of the week in Abita Springs. Coyotes and armadillos, markets and museums, all are part and parcel of the news. I hope you enjoyed a small town news respite from the national news of the day.

Five Books/Films to Understand Racism

I think of past movements that brought change in our nation and world. The abolitionist movement, the suffragette movement, the civil rights protest of the 1960s all had naysayers, those who refused to see the importance of the times they lived in. I don’t want this moment to past by without me changing in the process.

As I look at what is happening across the nation, I have been trying to listen and learn. I want to learn and make real changes in my thoughts and actions towards the black experience. There is something profound happening in our country.

Here’s five books and films that I can personally recommend if you want to join me in learning about racism.

  1. Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. It’s a book and a movie. It’s also the true story of a black man on death row in Alabama. I haven’t finished the book, but I watched the movie. It moved me to tears. The movie is available free for streaming through the month of June on most streaming services.
  2. undefinedWhite Fragility: Why it’s So hard for White People to Talk about Racism by Robin J. DiAngelo and Michael Eric Dyson. I haven’t finished reading this book, but I am engaging the text.
  3. undefinedA Lesson Before Dying by Earnest Gaines. It’s a fictional work about racism, imprisonment and justice in the South. This short volume is a modern classic.
  4. undefinedHarriet. A movie available through various streaming services including Amazon Prime. It is the story of Harriet Tubman, the famed heroine of the Underground Railroad. Sometimes we have to understand the past in order to understand the present.
  5. undefinedNarrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass. Again, understanding the past roots of America’s struggle with race can help navigate today’s complexities.
  6. BONUS MOVIE: Get Out. Being white is spooky in this movie. It’s a thriller/horror movie with racial commentary thrown and mixed around. I loved this movie.