A blog by Lori Lyons

Monday, March 7, 2022

Sixty



“Life is mighty precious when there’s less of it to waste.” — Bonnie Rait

When I was a little girl, my birthdays weren't just special, they were a big deal. I mean, between my mama and my grannie, my birthdays became events

There was always cake from the Spic 'n Span bakery, always ice cream (Brown's Velvet Neapolitan), always Hawaiian Punch in Grannie's milk glass punchbowl, always lots of family and school friends, and always lots of presents. 

Some of these events got a little crazy. For one, my mom rented an entire set of kids' carnival rides a few blocks down the street. For my 10th, one of my classmates delivered a report on the following Monday detailing everything he ate at my birthday party.  At my 11th, several of my friends debuted our brand new "Granny dresses," which had just replaced mini-dresses as the hottest fashion trend. And Ricky Farmer kissed me while we were slow dancing at my 12th. I celebrated getting my driver's license at my 15th and got to drive my two besties to dinner.

Surprisingly, I didn't get a big Sweet 16 party, even though I really wanted one. I brought a cake to the local Shakey's Pizza Parlor, though, and invited a bunch of my friends. My 17th birthday was actually celebrated in one of my favorite bar/restaurants at the mall. The Louisiana drinking age was 18 then, so my friends put 18 candles on my cake. I was such a regular that no one even questioned it. 

My real 18th birthday was celebrated at another hometown restaurant with my mom and my boyfriend at the time. My 19th birthday was my first away from home. I cried in my college dorm room. I think several of the next birthdays were celebrated at various bars in New Orleans, including the venerable Pat O'Brien's. 

Then things got lowkey for a while -- until I turned 30 and gave myself a pretty big bash where everyone wore black to celebrate the "end of my youth." 


30 Hurt

Since then, there have been few truly memorable birthdays. I expected my husband would acknowledge my 40th and 50th in some ways, but, you know -- baseball season. But Mardi Gras landed on my 51st, then I took my two favorite friends to the beach for my 52nd, 


and threw myself an epic big 70s disco party for my 54th.



And just a few hours from now I will mark another BIG one. Sixty. 

Wow.

When I was young, I used to think 60 was so old. I remember when my Grannie and Grandpa were 60 for goodness sakes! They both retired from their jobs at 65. They were old people. Then my grannie lived to be 88. My grandpa lived to be 90. My mom died at 84.

I'm not a math whiz by any means, but if the law of averages holds up, that means I have about 20 years left to live on this earth. Just 20 years

That's not a lot of time...

to write that next book...

to get my others published...

to read that stack in the corner...

to move to the beach...

to visit Scotland and Hawaii...

to go to a college World Series...

to see my daughters get married and have a child...

to see my husband and my stepson win state championships...

to eat crabs and steak and cake with whipped icing...

and to celebrate birthdays....

I've been pretty sad thinking about this the past few weeks, realizing that I'm on the downslope of time and everything else. When I was 30, I wished I had the body I'd had at 25. When I was 40 I would have killed for the body I had at 30. At 50, I wished I could go back and slap my 40-year-old self. Now I'm 60 and wonder why I can't still dance down the street to the local park like I used to. Or pull weeds. Or sweep. 

And what the hell happened to my damn eyebrows?! 

I'm lucky, so far (knock wood), to have good health with only some aches and pains and a still-working brain. Maybe it's good genes. My mama, even though she had a heart murmur for most of her life, worked until she was 82, commuting every day to the French Quarter and partying at the casino every chance she got. She got a little dementia at the end, but I swear I believe it was the meds they had her on. My Grannie had a rougher time with diabetes and her arthritis, but she and Grandpa were entertaining the old folks at the old folks' homes in Houma well into their 70s. 

So, as I begin my 721st month on earth, I will try to be grateful for every moment I get and for every item I get to cross off that bucket list and for every moment of joy I find. I will try to fight time and keep my body and my brain in good working order. I will live, laugh, love, eat, drink and be merry. I will eat crabs and steak and cake as often as I can. I will try to get my family together as often as I can. I will listen to 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s music and sing the lyrics because I remember them and I will drag my husband to all the old bands' casino reunion concerts. I will dance in my car and while I'm doing the dishes. I will float in my pool until my solar lights come on. I will read trashy romance novels -- and some good ones too. I will binge watch Netflix. I will go to the beach. I will continue to try to teach young people how to write a sentence, a lead, and a headline. I will watch baseball and football games and every Olympics opening ceremony. I will drive with the windows down. I will plant more roses (even though Marty hates them). I will keep my plants alive. I will go out to dinner. I will cherish every moment with my kids and my grandkids, my grand nieces and nephews. I will love my dogs (even when they hog the bed). I will write when I need to and continue to tell stories, including those two next books. I will waste some of my time on Facebook. OK. I will waste a lot of my time on Facebook. 

I will remember that this is time that so many did not get -- my daddy, my brother, Parker, several of my classmates, kids I wrote about, my friend Connie and so many other Covid victims, the two Wandas, Pete, Mark, Ed, Brandon...

And I'm going to celebrate every birthday as though it might be my last because I always do -- starting with Saturday's 60s themed party for old hippies.

Peace.



 



Saturday, February 5, 2022

Twenty-one






When Gail Lodrigue handed me that tiny shrimp-colored baby on that cold January day 21 years ago, I thought all my dreams had been answered.

I could not have been more wrong. 

Besides all the years I had thought about the day I would become a mom someday, I had been actively dreaming of having a child for the previous six years. No, I had been actively working on it. So when a nearly complete stranger handed me hers just a few moments after giving birth, it was the culmination of years of work. I thought it also would be the end of years of pain and angst.

But as any other mother will tell you, nothing hurts more than being a mom. And it begins almost immediately.

When Nurse Danielle came in to our little makeshift corner of the NICU and asked if we had held our new baby girl yet, she was our hero. But a few minutes later when she made my baby cry, scream and squirm while she held the little shrimp under the faucet and began scrubbing away the remnants of her birth, I was ready to punch Nurse Danielle in the face.

And later that night when we decided not to force the hospital staff to give us a room because they were scarce that weekend and we decided to just go spend the night at my brother’s house nearby, I spent the whole night regretting it. I tossed and turned and, when I did sleep, had nightmares about something happening to my new baby girl while I wasn’t there. It’s 21 years later and I still have guilt over leaving her that night.

But, that’s what being a mom is — a lifetime of worry, guilt and pain for your child. I’m now 21 years in to that life and, fortunately, it hasn’t been too bad. There have been no major disappointments or broken dreams. She went through school as an Honor Roll student, had friends, sang in the choir, won the Young Authors contest a few times, didn’t have a bully. She didn’t fall in love so there was no broken heart to contend with. The only drama we had was when she failed to get into the district’s Talented Art program — twice, which is utterly and completely absurd if you ask me. Don't get me started. 

Then she got into the college of her choice with a full ride, earned a spot in its choir, became an editor at the school newspaper, had her bestie for a roommate and scored more achievements and honors. And now she does have a boyfriend, one who doesn’t make her cry. 

And now that she is entering her final year of college, she is full of big dreams. She wants to be a journalist, but not like her mama. She wants to write about music and bands, maybe work for one as a publicist. She wants to get married and have children, and she wants to move away from our tiny town and spread her wings. 

And as much as that thought hurts my heart, I have to accept that her dreams are now my dreams. You see, once we become moms, our dreams don’t really matter that much anymore. Oh, I still dream about living in a beach house one day, but more than that, I dream for my kids. I dream that my stepson will win a state championship in football and be lauded as the Coach of the Year. I dream that every football player who goes to Tulane will meet and remember my stepdaughter and thank her for all that she does. I also hope that she finds her prince. And I hope that my daughter becomes a wonderfully successful writer in a big city with a handsome significant other who treats her right (the way her dad treats me), that she as as many children as she wants with ease. And pets. And that she lives a long, healthy happy life.

And that she comes to visit me at the beach sometime. 


Sunday, December 5, 2021

To Whom It May Concern -- Re: Ida

 

To: Loan Management Company in Texas

From: Me in Norco, Louisiana

Re: Hurricane Ida repairs
 

To Whom It May Concern:

I recently received a letter from your department asking for an update on the repairs to your/my property in Norco, Louisiana following our direct hit from Hurricane Ida on August 29, 2021. Your letter stated that it had been more than 90 days since the Category 4 storm devastated our tiny town and you were requesting an update on our repairs. I kind of got the impression that you think enough time has passed and that we should be done with all repairs that needed to be done. 

Well, here is the update you requested:  

The teal tarp roof that was put on our roof a week after the storm is mostly still in place. A few passing thunderstorms and cold fronts have torn a few spots, but as far as I can tell we have not lost any more shingles. One storm did reveal one roof leak above the stairs, but no further damage to the interior was sustained. Contrary to popular belief, the reason our roof is still teal is not that it is my favorite color and matches nearly all of our backyard pool d├ęcor. It is because estimates are harder to get than Saints wins right now. So are shingles and people who know how to put them on properly for less than the price of a 2017 Honda Civic. It’s rude to keep calling, texting and emailing. We just have to wait our turn. Besides, with the Christmas lights on, you barely even notice the tarp.

 After being stood up twice by a guy who promised to come tackle our tree stumps, we finally had to hire a company from Florida. Although they promised to be here before dark, the two Floridians did not arrive until about 7:30 p.m. on a Friday night. Fortunately, they brought very bright lights with them and were able to use their remote controlled stump grinders to disintegrate two of the four large stumps left behind from the toppled trees. The other two could not be removed because they are now irrevocably tangled up with the metal hurricane fence (ironic, huh?), which must be cut before the stumps can be removed. We must put our heads together to come up with a solution for those.

But, at least the removal of the two stumps allowed us to move forward with repairing our backyard privacy fence, although, I must say, it doesn’t afford much privacy. One of the stumps was the last remnant of a 20-year-old holly tree that provided not only nice shade from the western sun, but also a healthy screen between us and our backdoor neighbor’s bathroom window. Just this week he and I were able to see “eye-to-eye” as both he and our dogs took care of their morning business at the same time. 

We also were able to repair our front picket fence, although our little dog, Lola, has informed us a few times that there is still a Lola-sized hole that needs repairing. She has not yet informed us of its location, however, so she and Pepper can't play in their yard alone right now. I also ordered a replacement for the garden arch that went over the front gate. I must say, the newer model is much nicer than the one I ordered from the J.C. Penney catalogue in 1995 and was much easier to put together. Maybe this one will allow a lovely, thriving, flowering vine to grow on its boughs – unlike the last one, which never did.

 And, much to my great joy, our beautiful swimming pool, which was left looking more like a Louisiana bayou by Hurricane Ida, is now back to its original Caribbean Blue color. Well, it was. We hired a pool company from neighboring Kenner to come clean it out. And I do mean, clean it out. They had to drain it, shovel it out, scrape it out, brush it out, then acid wash it out to get the plaster back to white. That cost a pretty penny or two. We are having a tough time keeping it blue, however, because, along with a shingles shortage, there also is a nationwide chlorine shortage.

And I still have not been able to find a replacement for our round top front door. OK. That's not entirely true. I did find a round top screen door on Facebook marketplace. It was being offered as a lovely wedding background accent piece. But the closest wooden front door I have found was someplace in upstate New York and cost more than my daughter's annual college tuition.

I think that’s about it for now, but please keep in mind that Ida is the gift that keeps on giving. We are at present compiling a list of supplemental expenses to send to our insurance company, including the mold that we found growing inside the kitchen cabinet and behind the portrait of me that my late mother commissioned when I was in high school. We also will send the receipts for the stump removal if we ever find someone to come remove them from the hurricane fences. Fortunately, our debris pile is still out front so we at least have a place to put them.

Of course, once the insurance company mails us the check made out to you, we will overnight it to you so you can send it back to us two weeks later. 

Hey! Thanks for asking about us!

The Luquets




 


 

 

 

 

 

Thursday, September 30, 2021

Ida Done Anything but This




This one is long.... it's been quite a month. 

One month ago, Hurricane Ida struck southeast Louisiana, making a direct hit on my little town of Norco. The Category 4 (or maybe 5) storm battered my community in the River Parishes of Louisiana for hours on August 29, destroying homes, businesses, and lives. Many worlds were turned upside down. Some people lost all or part of their roofs, some lost all or parts of their homes and businesses.

I'm extremely grateful to report that our 90-year old brick house, ordered in the early 1930s from a catalogue by Dr. Almerico, the local dentist, and shipped by rail to Norco as a kit, stood strong. Oh it needs a new roof because approximately 4,286 shingles are now spread across Norco and a good 1,000  of them were in the pool. The rest are scattered across the yard, the driveway, the neighbors' yards and up and down Apple Street. Fortunately, we were one of the two blocks of Apple Street that did not flood from either rain or the backup of Clayton's Pond. The water stopped at the railroad tracks about 300 yards away.

While my white picket fence in the front yard survived, the storybook garden arch over the front gate did not. Not even The Coach's makeshift anchor -- an old belt of his -- could save it. The pink and white Mandevilla was still attached, though, until the guys who cleared our yard uprooted it and everything else in the front garden.




The back fence was taken down by a mature holly tree that produced holly exactly one time in the 20 or so years it has been there -- last year. Maybe it had a premonition or something.

Frankly, I kind of expected the pecan tree to go but it stood tall and strong and held up the white oak tree that uprooted and leaned on it for support. Another of our oak trees fell on the garage, leaving a sizeable hole in the roof. The banana trees were whipped into submission, but the Chinese Tallow stayed up, even after dropping its top branches into the pool. 

The one tree that did survive, thankfully, is Lora's tree. It's the Japanese Magnolia we planted on April 15, 2002 -- the day her adoption was finalized. Like many of the trees in Louisiana, it had its leaves ripped off. Now, a month later, it's growing new ones like it does in the springtime and is so confused, it even bloomed a few pink flowers. 




Most of our "damage" occurred in the backyard. The brand new patio pavilion we got from Lowe's in June, was left in a crumpled heap of metal and shattered string lights. Only the bolts meant to keep it from flying away survived. The big plastic storage trunk where we tucked all the pool toys and my few tools, was cracked open under the rubble. Miraculously, all the rafts and tools stayed right where they were. The worst for wear was the pool, turned into a putrid, smelly cocktail by Ms. Ida. By the time we got home nearly a week after the storm, it more resembled the bayou I grew up on than a swimming pool. We had to pull trees out of it. 



Oh. And we did gain a port-o-potty. Ida blew it clear across the street from its original location, a work site where some men have been building Norco's new veterans memorial. 



I'm happy to say I did not witness any of this destruction first-hand. Having lived in south Louisiana all of my life, I am certainly no stranger to hurricanes. I know the drill. When the weathermen start pointing their “Cone of Uncertainty” my way, I dutifully head to the store to buy bleach, batteries and bottled water, a stock of non-perishable food items and whatever Lil Debbies are left on the shelves. The Coach and I start picking up all the pool stuff and patio furniture. He puts what he can into the garage but often forgets to go get it out later. There are years of dead plants in there. We fill up our cars with gas and, once my older sister makes her obligatory “Do you have an axe in the attic? You're going to die!” doom and gloom phone call, we start the debate: Do we stay or do we go? Despite what people in Idaho think, it’s not an easy decision. 

First of all, it’s no fun to ride out a hurricane of any category. The sounds of the wind, the rain and the mysterious stuff flying down the street are terrifying and unforgettable. No one I know who has done it wants to do it ever again. Every single person I know who stayed for Ida is swearing they never will.

But, it’s not any easier to walk away from everything you own. Yeah, it may be just "stuff," but it’s MY stuff. It's OUR stuff. It's my husband’s stuff, my daughter’s stuff, my mother’s stuff, my grandmother’s stuff, my great grandparents’ stuff, and because I am the family historian and genealogist, some of my great great grandparents’ stuff as well.

So, you watch the news and the computer models and you hope that the Cone of Uncertainty shifts just a little to the east or west, not because you wish ill on anyone else, but to make you feel just a little better. But when it doesn’t turn, you have a choice — stay and be terrified or go and be terrified. 

Then the question becomes, where do you go -- because everyone I am related to is also in the Cone of Uncertainty and, by now, there’s not a hotel to be found south of Little Rock that will welcome my two little poodles.

When August 29 dawned and Hurricane Ida was still growing and still headed straight for us, The Coach answered all those questions. You see, I did not marry one of those Cajun boys who sees the storm coming and stands in his yard proclaiming, "This ain't my first rodeo!" or "We've got a generator. We're staying!" We don't and we didn't. We actually left the morning of the storm, packing up our hurricane snacks and the two poodles into his Town and Country van. We also took a bunch of pillows and blankets in case we had to sleep in it because, when we left, we actually had no place to go. We just headed north to where our daughter is in college -- and I think we really scared her because she thought we were coming to stay in her dorm.

Shortly before we left I was freshly showered and standing in my little home office room, staring at all my treasures, trying to decide what to take. The wedding album? Lora’s baby book? My mom's baby book? My scrapbook? The box of photos? My genealogy books? Ultimately I decided, I couldn’t save all of it so I didn’t take any of it. It was like choosing a favorite child. You can't. 

 Your mind does strange things under this kind of stress. I panic packed. I took all of my underwear but only one pair of shorts. I didn’t pack anything to fix my hair but I brought eye shadow. I left all my jewelry except my two rings and my pearls. My husband, who had finished the week’s laundry the night before, had the sense to put the entire laundry basket of folded clothes in the car, giving me extra shirts and, should I need them, clothes to teach in.  

I'm not kidding when I say we chose the perfect time to go. Many people I know spent hours and hours in massive traffic jams on Friday and Saturday. But while there were ominous clouds behind us, there was no traffic on Sunday morning. We zipped through Baton Rouge like it the day after the zombie apocalypse.
 
As we drove, I continually checked hotel sites for openings in or near Natchitoches. Finally, just after noon — the normal check out time, right? — I lucked onto a room at the Motel 6 in Natchitoches at $55 a night! We were much relieved, as was our daughter. Just a few hours later we all were happily tucked in the Motel 6, watching Jim Cantore pretend to be knocked around by Ida’s winds in New Orleans. If he wanted to be knocked around, he should have gone to Norco, or Houma, or LaPlace, or Dulac, or Grand Isle. For real.




We spent four days at the luxurious Motel 6 with its empty turquoise pool and a menagerie of dogs trying to find spots to poop in the overgrown grass. But it wasn't bad. We had electricity, air conditioning, cable, and a nice firm mattress that cured my backache. Of course, our stay included several trips to the local Walmart because I needed more shorts and the Motel 6 does not provide those little niceties like shampoo, conditioner, or soap. It also did not have a blow dryer, but I came to like my "natural," air dried look.

But as soon as my sister got power restored in her Baton Rouge home, we headed her way on Thursday, introducing the two poodles to their dog Brynn -- who was none too happy. My sister is still recovering from hip replacement surgery after a year, so she isn't too mobile, but she was happy to share her home, which was flooded in 2016 by a freak storm, as long as I made her a lasagna before we left. 

On Friday we made our first trip to our school in Reserve, then to our home. The pictures our friends sent us really did not prepare us for the massive extent of damage our area suffered. There were so many light poles down, cables and wires hanging everywhere across roads. I was stunned by the loss of trees, huge beautiful oaks that had stood for centuries. And I was amazed by the randomness, how one house could be perfectly fine with the grass neatly cut and cars in the driveway while, right next door, a house could be completely destroyed. 

We spent a week going back and forth from Baton Rouge to school and home, fighting traffic without traffic lights, dodging electric trucks from across the country, and searching for gas stations that actually had some. We found some guys to put a tarp on our roof so we wouldn't suffer any more leaks, and another group to clear out some of the trees in the backyard. They did a great job, but even now, a month later, we could host a rousing game of pickup sticks. The winner gets a shingle.

Our school, Riverside Academy, took a beating as well. Roofs were peeled off, sending rainwater into some classrooms and offices, and much of the electrical wiring between the buildings was knocked down. The athletic facilities took the biggest hit. The Coach's brand new metal outfield fence was torn apart, his brand new 9-inning scoreboard was knocked down, his home dugout lost its roof and some of the bleachers ended up in the nets. Over on the football field, the press box that I spent so many Friday nights in covering football games was knocked off the top of the stands and left in a heap of rubble. I had just spent a whole Saturday morning cleaning it, too, removing years of nacho trays, the ends of hotdog buns, and spit cups. 


On Sept. 9, 11 days after the storm, our house still had no power but The Coach's daughter, Courtney, did. So we loaded up the poodles and everything we had bought at the Natchitoches Walmart and headed to Kenner. Courtney wasn't there because she now works for the Tulane football team and the entire athletic staff was evacuated to Birmingham, Alabama. But she had a spare bedroom, a working stove, a big back yard and Hulu live! I finally got to watch Cinderella on Amazon (loved it!). 

We made more trips to school and to home, growing more depressed as the piles of debris and home furnishings grew larger and larger. Mold and mildew grow fast in Louisiana after floods and in houses with no air conditioning. Mildew often can be cleaned up with a little elbow grease. Mold is a different story. Oftentimes, you have no choice but to throw everything away, no matter how cherished the item is. One friend of mine lost her baby's brand new nursery just days before her daughter was born. You drive down the street and see baby toys, cribs, mattresses, sofas, whole dining sets, clothes, and huge piles of trees. And there's so much, they can't pick it up fast enough. Our pile is still out front a month later. So is the port-o-potty.

On Thursday, September 16, The Coach and I decided to splurge a little and go to the Saltgrass Steakhouse. I had been wanting to try it (since our Roadhouse closed), and after a day at school, we kind of needed a treat. So I had two lemon martinis. I admit, I was a little tipsy by the time we left the restaurant. I told a group of electric linemen sitting near us that I would buy them all dinner if I was rich. "Don't worry," one of them replied. "You're paying for our dinner one way or another." Word.

In the car on the way back to Courtney's house, I continued my daily (OK,hourly) ritual of checking the Entergy map which showed who had The Power and who didn't. It was depressing too because it seemed to never change. New Orleans had turned mostly green. Some of LaPlace was green. But Norco was red and stayed red. Until then.

"Marty! Norco is green!" I shouted. I had been on enough Facebook pages to know that sometimes that didn't mean your power was on but that it would be shortly. So we called our friend Donnie, who lives a few blocks from us to see if he was turned on. He said he was not.

Then I posted on the Norco News Facebook page, where a different resident a day asked the question, "Does anyone know when the power will be back on?"
"Norco is green y'all!"
It was full of skeptics.
"The power isn't coming on until next week. Stop dreaming."
"Go to bed."
"Not happening."

But then...
"It's on!"
"It's on Oak!"
"It's on Pine!"
"I see streetlights!"

Still not sure, we called my daughter's boyfriend, who didn't answer, so we called her boyfriend's friend and asked if he would pleeeaassssseeeee drive by our house to check. A few minutes later he called.
"Your lights are on." Then Donnie called to tell us his lights were on.



I made The Coach drive me home to see for myself (and to check to make sure there were no sparks or surges). We took a good look around then went back to Courtney's to start packing. One more night and we would be home.

There is no way to explain what a joyous moment this was. We went 20 days without electricity in our home, so we went 20 days without our home. We aren't generator people. We did try for a day, but our house it so old it's really not designed for modern machinery and, frankly, it was a little scary to try. We were fortunate that we had places to stay and people who took us in. Not everyone was so fortunate. Some people are still waiting. Some will be waiting a long time because their homes are gutted or unlivable. But for those of us who had a home we just couldn't go back to until the power was restored, it was huge. It's a step towards normalcy. It was like the turning point in the story, the game-tying run in the big game, the momentum swinging touchdown. Because, as Dorothy said, “There’s no place like home.” I missed my mushy mattress. And my shower. 

Oh we still have a long, long, long way to go. We got the pool back to blue but the yard is still a mess. We spent two days this week without power again because a transformer blew somewhere. Traffic is still horrendous. Our grocery stores are half-stocked. We have to wait in line to get IN Walmart. Some of our favorite stores and restaurants have closed forever. A Popeye's box of chicken costs $40! And it will be another week or so until internet and cable are restored. And no one knows when the storm debris will be gone. If it's not gone by Christmas I'm throwing tinsel on it.

But we're home. All our stuff is fine. I didn't lose any treasures, nothing that can't be replaced. We were safe and got to spend a few days with our daughter. Also, I got to buy a few new pairs of shorts because I only packed one. Hey. Silver linings.

People ask us why we live here when there are hurricanes every summer. The same reason people live in California where there are earthquakes, or Hawaii where there are volcanos and hurricanes and tsunamis, or Nebraska where there are tornadoes. This is our home. We were born in Louisiana. And the price we pay for good food, good music, cool festivals, boiled seafood, Mardi Gras, drive-thru daiquiris, and go cups is the occasional hurricane. And alligators.


If you would like to help our school, Riverside Academy, rebuild after Hurricane Ida, please click one of the links below. We are hoping to reopen the week of October 4. 



Donations also may be dropped off or mailed to:
Riverside Academy
332 Railroad Avenue
Reserve, LA 70084
















Friday, July 2, 2021

The Summer of Solitude




 I have a friend, a fellow former sports writer pal, who takes his summers very seriously.

Every June (or July), he puts together a bucket list of people and places he wants to see and things he wants to do around the country. "Summer of John," he calls it and shares photos of his epic adventures with his friends (and occasional celebrities) at fabulous golf courses, restaurants and ball parks. It's pretty cool.

I take my summers pretty seriously too, especially since my longtime career as a sports writer ended and I became a full time school teacher. Yes, I am now one of those people y'all all envy, who gets summers "off." Although, I feel it is my teacher duty (hate that word!) to remind you that teachers do not get the summers "off," we just get laid off and have elected to spread our nine-month paycheck out over the months of June and July. 

We also do work in the summer -- some more than others. I deliberately forced myself not to do school work during the month of June, telling myself "wait until July...wait until July...". But, I confess that, when I got my new assignments for the fall I did tinker just a little.

In the meantime, I put together my own bucket list. Mine was not nearly as exciting as my friend John's, however. Mine had things like paint the porch, power wash the deck and hire a painter on it. But then, the kid I hired to come power wash the porch before I could paint it stood me up, and so did the painter we asked to come give us an estimate, so there went that. There are some things I can't do by myself anymore. 

And that's what I am. By myself. A lot.

Not all school people get summers off. My husband is still The Coach and has spent his summer so far coaching not one, but TWO baseball teams. If he's not playing, he's practicing. And if he's not doing either one of those, he's probably off watching somebody else do one of those. Then he got to be the interim principal for a month so, while I got to sleep in until 7:30 a.m. every day (damn teacher body clock), he had to go to work. That shoe was definitely on the other foot for us!

Of course, our beloved daughter is home for the summer from college, but, well, she has a boyfriend who just got his own place up the street so she is never home either. I follow her on Life 360, though, just to try to keep up. The dogs and I get butterflies whenever the little blip says she is home.  We hear the signal then patiently wait at the door for her arrival. But most of the time, she just keeps going and breaks all our little hearts. It's sad really.

I do have a fairly large basket of books I want to read, some for school and some for fun. Instead, I binge-watched Firefly Lane -- aloneAnd now I am reading that book. 

I did get to go on one trip, to Natchitoches, Louisiana, for the annual Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Despite my better sports writing days being behind me, I am still on the selection committee until they tell me otherwise. So, last weekend I took the four-hour drive -- alone. I stayed two nights in a hotel -- alone. I went to all the events -- alone (well, I was third wheel for one of my favorite couples). I got in a fender bender -- alone. Then I drove home -- alone. At least I could listen to Yacht Rock and sing as loudly as I wanted.

Now I'm spending this weekend alone again as The Coach plays ball on the road in Tennessee and The Daughter plays with my emotions.

I'm calling this my Summer of Solitude. 


And I'm not really complaining. I know some moms (and wives) that would kill for a little Alone Time, Me Time, Get Out of My Face Time. Sure it would be nice to have company on occasion, but at least I don't have to argue over what's for dinner or what show to watch on Netflix. I have never minded keeping my own company. I have hobbies and interests of my own. I have this blog, which obviously needs attention, a family tree I've been working on for 30 years, two more books that need to be written, a body to get in shape, a home office space I love (except it gets 100 degrees up here). And, now that it's July, classes to prepare for.

Oh yes. And a big, beautiful blue pool all to myself. 

There's a lot to be said for solitude. 







Saturday, February 27, 2021

Hey Mr. Banjo!

 

His parents named him Martin Behrman French, in honor of the one-time mayor of New Orleans who counted his father, former Louisiana State Representative Henry David French, as one of his dear friends. Oddly, his family would forgo the simpler, more usual name of Martin, calling him Behrman (pronounced Ber - man) instead. 

His wife called him Behrman too, but with a distinct west bank of New Orleans roil that turned it into "Boy-man." Only a handful of people ever called him Martin and he was never, ever a Marty. 

I just called him Grandpa.



Born in 1904, Behrman French was the fifth of six children born to Henry and Matilda Louise Sutherland French of Algiers, he of Irish descent, she of Dutch.  Three sisters came before him and a brother who was "sickly" and died at the age of 11. Two years younger, Behrman used to wheel his brother, Henry Jr. or "Bud" around in a little cart. His death in 1913 profoundly moved Behrman, who idolized his big brother. Likewise, the tragic death of little sister Lillian Irene, age 2, who, according to family legend, choked on a chicken bone at the dining room table, haunted him all of his days.

Behrman grew up in Algiers on the west bank of New Orleans, in a traditional camelback shotgun double at 813 Pacific Avenue. His mom was a big fan of ginger beer (a precursor to ginger ale) back in the day, and used the ceramic tan bottles to line the garden. There were hundreds.

When he was about 6 years old, he was playing with friends in his neighborhood when one of them, carrying a BB gun, tripped. The weapon fired and hit Behrman in his left eye, permanently blinding him on one side.

But that didn't stop Behrman from playing football or baseball. He matriculated at Warren Easton High School in New Orleans, every day riding the ferry across the Mississippi River, then taking a streetcar down Canal Street. Behrman was a member of the Eagles baseball team and later played on a few of the semipro teams in and around New Orleans. He loved to boast that he played with the great Mel Ott.


                                             Martin Behrman French, back row, third player.

In 1926 Behrman married a girl who lived in the neighborhood, Evelyn Himel Cross, who had broken up with the Mothe boy because she didn't want to marry the undertaker's son. (The Mothes later opened one of the largest funeral homes in the city.) 

Around that time, Behrman went to work for Bell Telephone Company. His first job was in an office, but when he got laid off, he offered to go to work as a pole digger. He did that for several years until he was able to work his way back to a desk and a position as office manager. His job took him from New Orleans to Patterson, where his only child, Lettie Lee, was born, to Baton Rouge and, finally, to Houma. He would retire in 1969 after 45 years with the company. The Houma Courier did a story on his retirement.

To this day I can't help but think of Edith and Archie Bunker when I think of my grandparents. He was a cantankerous old coot for much of my lifetime, a "get off my lawn" kind of guy who nearly had a stroke anytime anyone of the male persuasion dared to pull into our driveway to visit me. She was the sweetest soul you'd ever meet, who put up with his ire and anger for more than 60 years. Somehow, they made it work.

Grandpa loved to fish, too. But just a few days after his boss retired, Grandpa took him out on his boat fishing. The man suffered a heart attack and died on the trip and, shortly thereafter, Grandpa put his boat up for sale.

But he also doted on us grandkids, teaching my brother, Rhett, the proper way to throw a baseball and trying to turn my nephew, Lee, into a mini-Archie Manning back in the day. I wasn't into the sports thing, but we did share a love of music. 

Paw Paw may have spent 45 years working for the telephone company, but in his heart, he was an entertainer. I don't know when he first picked up an instrument, or how, but I know he loved music -- playing it, writing it, performing it. He played the guitar, the banjo, the ukulele and the organ.

But the banjo was his jam. And I'm guessing, if he had a say in the matter, he would have preferred to be called "Mr. Banjo." It was the title of one of the many tunes he played.

Most of my early childhood memories of my grandfather are of him with a banjo across his lap. He played it often on the breezeway of his home in Houma and he had frequent jam sessions with his musical pals, Gene Dusenberry and Sonny Thibodeaux. (And one of my greatest regrets is that I never asked Mr. Sonny to teach me how to play the Hawaiian/slide guitar.) 

He also played at the annual Telephone Pioneers picnics, before downtown Mardi Gras parades and at any other public event that called for musical entertainment. But Grandpa and Grannie were most known for their frequent gigs at the local nursing homes in Houma where they -- great-grandparents, mind you -- would perform for the "old folks."


Behrman and Evelyn French, performing at one of the long term care facilities in Houma.

The two of them had compiled a large repertoire of really silly songs from the early 19th Century, including such novelty tunes "Once There was a Little Pig" (in which the baby pig died and the mother pig cried herself to death), "The Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia," (in which a cow was loitering on a railroad track and got run over), and "The Burglar Beau," about a burglar who happened to choose the home of a one-eyed, toothless woman for his victim. And we all learned to spell Mis - sis - sippi by singing it every time we crossed a bridge. 

But Gramps also wrote a few ditties himself. When his adopted home of Houma in Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana celebrated its sesquicentennial in 1972, Grampa wrote a lovely song called "This is the Place."

"This is the place where I was born.
This is the place I'll carry on.
This is the place I toot my horn.
Houma in Terrebonne."

He really hoped the town would adopt it as its official song, but, sadly, nothing ever came of it.

He also went to his grave bitterly convinced that his greatest story had been stolen from him. Back in the 1970s, Grandpa wrote a song about a Cajun Santa who delivered toys up and down the bayous of Louisiana in a pirogue with a red nose. He called it "La Christine" and it predated the immensely popular "Cajun Night Before Christmas." But no one ever seemed interested. 




But there were victories. 

In 1925, just a year before he got married, Berhman French recorded two records with the Norman Brownlee Orchestra. Brownlee also was from Algiers and was married to Grandpa's sister, Irma Lee French. 

I grew up knowing that Gramps had played on two records with some famous jazz musician in New Orleans, but that's really all I knew. After a visit to a recently opened museum to local jazz great Kid Ory, I was spurred to find out more about those recordings. Thanks to the modern marvel that is the internet, I was easily able to find the recording -- nearly 100 years after the fact.

This is my grandfather playing banjo. Norman Brownlee Orchestra - "Dirty Rag"/"Peculiar" 
(Note: He is not in the photographs of the orchestra but his name is in the notes.) 

I was moved to tears listening to this old recording and inspired to write this blog post. His dreams of fame may not have come true during his lifetime, but perhaps I can keep his name and a little piece of his music alive.

Rest well, Grandpa, and keep on playin'!













Thursday, December 31, 2020

Goodbye, good riddance, good luck

 

Go Away 2020!


Hey, 2020! Yeah, you. Go away. Get out of here. And don't come back no more no more.

Everyone in the world is counting down the hours to the end of 2020 on this New Year's Eve. We have the champagne ready. Although, most of us will be counting those final minutes in the comfort of our own living rooms. No parties. No fancy dinners. No ball drops. Well, that's not true. The balls will drop, they're just not going to let us go downtown to watch.

Covid.

That's the word for 2020. That's what we will remember -- a virus that started somewhere in China sometime in late 2019 and quickly spread throughout the world, infecting millions, killing millions, shutting down life as we know it -- schools, businesses, sporting events. We tried to stop the spread. Scientists told us to wear masks and wash our hands and stay home as much as we could. But too many didn't listen. Now, too many are dead, dying, mourning, suffering.

We did not escape unscathed. The Coach got it just before Thanksgiving. A few days of sniffles led to a full blown "I don't feel so good." I told him he needed to get tested. He did. He was positive. A few days later he started coughing. He didn't stop for more than a week. 

I never got it.

The Coach's ex wife's husband got it too. Woke up one morning and couldn't smell the coffee. She never got it.

Our boss got it too. He had a slight cough one day in August, but it was not even noticeable when I had a brief conversation with him in the hallway. The next day he was letting us know he had tested positive. Not long after he was in the hospital. He stayed for six weeks and, to hear his story, came pretty close to checking out for good. He was in ICU for 25 days. He didn't return to school until the week before Christmas, toting an oxygen tank. 

Not everyone was so lucky. Several of our teachers lost parents. Our students lost grandparents. Our community lost many. 

We also lost our ways of life. We learned to quarantine. No birthday parties, no backyard barbecues, no Mardi Gras parades, no Christmas bonfires. Baseball was canceled. A lot of college football was canceled. Beach trips were discouraged. Toilet paper disappeared. Restaurants and bars closed. Movie theaters were shuttered. Bourbon Street emptied. Basically, we just stayed home. A lot. 

 Some got to do nothing. The Coach sat downstairs in the living room watching Netflix and TicTok while I spent the spring upstairs in my Lyons Lair trying to teach English grammar and Multimedia via email, grateful for my extra large touchscreen monitor and advanced computer savvy.   

Then there were the SIX HURRICANES .... 

So now everyone is hoping 2021 will be better. It has to be, right? Well, we are readying our black eyed peas and cabbage just to be sure.

But I have to say, 2021 wasn't all bad. We got drive-through graduations, drive-by birthday parties, Popeye's home delivery and Zoom meetings.

And I got a new job! In January, my retired husband was helping out the Riverside baseball team when he learned there was an opening for an English and Multimedia teacher. I went to talk to the principal and got the job! It was rough, coming in at mid-year, but I loved the kids and I really loved the school and the community. Then I got to check an item off my bucket list by announcing a baseball game.... then another... then another.... I was officially The Voice of the Rebels.

We got to leave the house quite a bit during the summer. The Coach's summer American Legion baseball team, Gauthier Amedee, decided to play as long as it could. They used the field at our new school and I became the Voice of the Wombats. It was a good summer, too. The Wombats won the Louisiana State championship -- the second in three years!  -- but there was no regional or World Series to go on to.

In other great news, Stepson Daniel saw a dream come true when he became the head football coach at Hahnville High School. It's really a Hollywood'ish story. Local boy goes to local high school, becomes the starting quarterback, achieves glory, returns as assistant football coach, goes off to become head football coach elsewhere, applies to be head football coach at alma mater, doesn't get the job, then a few weeks later, applies for sudden opening at alma mater's archrival school and gets the job. It would have been a perfect ending had he defeated the alma mater but .... oh well. There's always next year.

In the fall I got to sleep with the boss! When our principal went out with Covid, they asked Coach to step in for a week or so to get the ball rolling. No one dreamed it would be four months. He was the "acting principal" for the whole semester, guiding us through Covid, a wonky air conditioning system, a lightning strike that took out our bells and PA system, unhappy teachers, unhappy parents, technology issues, social distancing, skirt lengths, football and volleyball, bus routes and SIX HURRICANES. Champ that he is, he did a great job (and I'm not biased at all.)

Just last week he was officially named the HEAD baseball coach and the principal returned, so now he can focus on his first love -- baseball.

The year 2020 also brought us new love -- our little Pepper Boy! He is another rescue, about 10 years old. He is blind in one eye and nearly blind in the other and, we are fairly certain, 90 percent deaf. But he is the sweetest boy ever and I am totally in love. 

And while you may not agree with my politics, I'll just say November turned out the way I hoped and prayed it would. 

See? Every cloud has some silver in it. Sometimes you have to look for it, though. If I keep my job and successfully teach my sixth graders how to capitalize proper nouns and my high schoolers how to spellcheck their presentations I will be happy. If my husband has a winning season, I will be happy. If he manages to turn my pool blue again, I will be very happy. 

If we all stay healthy and if these Covid vaccines work, we all will be very happy. May we all get through 2021 unscathed.

Happy --- BETTER -- New Year!