Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Coach's Wife

I don't often write about my husband.

Oh, if you're a regular follower of this little blog you know that he's a high school teacher/baseball coach and once was a short-lived volleyball coach, that he has a really bad memory, doesn't do birthdays very well, or DIY projects around the house. That he can remember virtually every pitch of that big win against E.D. White 14 years ago, but can't remember to put his cell phone in his pocket before he leaves the house. That he used to get thrown out of baseball games -- a lot.  That he loves baseball, his convertible, me, his children, his new grand baby, his sofa, his pool, his dogs (probably in that order) and that he always took my side when his mother and I would fight.

In large part because of that last phrase is why he and I have been married 20 years come December, and together two more than that. Yes, we did meet at a bar. We DO live in (the suburbs of) New Orleans, you know.

But I don't often get to write about The Coach. For one thing, I am a sports writer, he is a coach. In journalism circles,  it is extremely frowned upon for a journalist spouse to write about a public persona spouse, whether he/she is an athlete, a coach, a politician or a crime victim. It's just not done. So it made some folks nervous when he went from being the local assistant recreation director to my boyfriend, to my fiance, to my husband, to a coach (again) in the area I was assigned to cover for the then-daily newspaper.

In an effort to thwart that -- and my new stepson's senior season as quarterback at one of the schools in my area --  the Men In Ties moved me from my beat in the River Parishes Bureau to downtown New Orleans. Yeah. That was fun. Not.

Eventually, they saw the error of their ways and moved me back to where I belonged, with the mandate that I could not cover my husband's baseball team. That was fine by me. And we all got along splendidly until 2010 when I was moved from sports to crime (prep writer to perp writer), then 2012 when I was let go in the then-daily's move to "Digital First."

But now I'm a free lancer and the journalism landscape in New Orleans has changed dramatically. Now, the New Orleans paper I used to work for and the Baton Rouge-based paper I now write a lot for are in an all-out newspaper war over territory. I just happen to live in the suburbs between the two (a.k.a., "No Man's Land"). And, suddenly, some folks think it's OK for reporters to write about their husband's team. And sometimes, it just can't be helped.

Take last year, for instance. Mother Nature, who apparently dislikes the high school baseball playoff season immensely, decided to drop buckets of rain on the New Orleans area last spring. But my husband's team's playoff game had to be played. So it was moved -- from one day to the next, from one time to a later one, then to three different potential sites before it finally began at nearly 9 p.m. on a Thursday at a field no one ever heard of, and finished at nearly midnight. There was no way the Baton Rouge-ish paper would get a reporter there. They knew I was there as The Wife, so they asked me to write it up as The Reporter. And while, normally, I would never interview my husband after the game, the circumstances surrounding it were so unique that I was pretty much obligated to get a comment from The Coach about how his team handled all the adversity.

It was weird. We both hated it. And people took pictures.


So, we both decided it's just best to separate. No, not like that. But we do try to keep The Coach's Wife separate from the The Reporter. That's how we like it. That's how the world likes it.

Then his happened.

My darling husband, The Coach, decided he was going to give up being The Coach. He says he's ready, he's old, he's tired, he needs a new knee (that's true), he's ready to do other things. That all may be true, but I'm sure that does not include building me a gazebo in the backyard. He does want to take me to California and Chicago (why not Hawaii???) and spend some time with our fast-growing daughter and his new grand baby.

Whatever his reasons, the news created a stir in local sports circles. His announcement -- which initially came on his own little blog Coach Speak, became Front Page and 5, 6 and 10 o'clock news. (And the local newspaper is put in the unusual predicament of writing about one of it's former sports writers, married to the headliner. So many blurred lines...)

Then this happened.

On Thursday, my husband's team traveled across the Mississippi River to face its biggest rival, the Hahnville Tigers. They're pretty good, now, and just came off a glorious weekend in which they went 4-0 against some of the top teams in the area. They started it with a HUGE win against the then No. 2 team in the state, Brother Martin, which was then-undefeated. Hahnville scored in extra innings to win. I know, because I was there. I covered it. I wrote about it Here and Here.

And while I was there, The Other Coach, whom I've known for a long time and like very much, told me he had a plan. He decided he was going to give my husband, The (Retiring) Coach, a rocking chair to send him off into the sunset.

"Will he get mad?" he asked me.

"Hell no," I replied.

Now, ever being the journalist, I knew this was news worthy. So, I set about letting my friends in the news media know about this event. It also was coming on the heels of a day organized by my stepson (with my assistance), in which we invited all of The Coach's former players over the past 25 years to come to the game and line up with him for the National Anthem as a surprise. Nearly 30 of them showed up. That also made the news.



So after  I let friends and family and a few news media types know what was going down on Thursday, I set off to take care of me, cashing in the FREE King Cake body scrub I won from the local salon. Yay me!

Just as I was about to strip down to my skivvies, I get a text from The Other Coach:

Him: Can't find rocking chair anywhere.

Me: Want me to help?

Him: Yes. You can get to more places. Just bring me the receipt.

Me: I'm on it. Right after my massage

I then spent the next two hours smelling like a cinnamon bun, getting scrubbed and rubbed, and trying to think of a place in our neck in the woods that has a rocking chair for sale.

Then it hit me.

The local thrift shop! It's just a few doors down from my house, it's rarely if ever open, and it now contains a whole bunch of my belongings which we have put curbside for trash. The owner just picks it up and puts it in his shop to sell when he feels like it. I used to own a Bentwood rocker. I hoped I wasn't about to buy it back from him.

Nope. But I found this beat up old one, loaded it in my car and went back to relaxing.

Then, just before game time, I drove into the parking lot, texted The Other Coach, who sent two of his players to my car to get the rocking chair for his team to give to my husband as a gag.

Really.

And it went off without a hitch. With cameras and reporters from both newspapers there to document it, The Coach was surprised, humbled and honored. And I got a lovely bouquet of red roses -- from The Coach. No, The Other Coach.

I then spent the next two hours munching sunflower seeds and trying not to watch the action on the field in what turned out to be a very tight, nail-biter of a game. I try very hard to maintain my reporter face while watching these games. I don't want to be hollering and cheering against a team one day, then have to interview them the next. So I watch. I don't root. I don't cheer or clap or yell. I watch the crowd, the game, my husband, wonder when he's going to bunt and hope he doesn't try to steal home again.

He didn't. And his team won, 1-0, with the lone run scoring on a bases-loaded balk in the third inning.

After the game, I made a big production of running up to The Other Coach to hug him and thank him for my flowers. After I kissed The Coach, The Other Coach and I filled him in on the rather unusual events of the day. He laughed hysterically.

Then I put my husband's new rocking chair in my car and took it back home.

Later, we laughed about the whole thing. I made sure he wasn't mad, not that The Other Coach had given him a rocking chair, but also my part in in. He wasn't. He took it in the spirit in which it was intended and thought it was great fun.

"I thought it was great," he said. "But my team wanted to know why they got me such an ugly old chair."

Really?

Click Here to see a terrific video about The Coach and The Game.

























Sunday, March 16, 2014

Happy

Just a few days ago, the very nice man to whom I spill my guts once a week or so asked me a rather simple question:

"Where do you see yourself in 10 years?"

That was easy.

"Living at the beach," I replied.

Of course, I had just had the time of my life at the beach and the memories were so fresh I still had sand in my shoes and, very likely, tequila in my bloodstream.

Just days before, I had spent my 52nd birthday in the company of my two best girlfriends, an adorable young airman, two half-naked and half-drunk hotel employees and some really good bartenders in Pensacola Beach, Florida -- my favorite place on earth. It's the place where my husband and I go for our summer vacations and a couple of our winter anniversaries. It's the place where the water is the perfect color of turquoise and the waves actually make a sound. It's the place where my soul seems to be at peace.



It's also the place where they make really, really good Margaritas and Pina Coladas.

So it's the place I decided to go with my girlfriends when I realized that my birthday would be on a Saturday and The Coach would be on a baseball field five hours away. I've spent too many of my birthdays waiting for him to come home to me -- empty damn-handed. So this year, with his encouragement, I decided to run away from home for a weekend. And take accomplices.

Bright and early on my birthday morn, my two young, no-longer-married friends Daniell and Kristal pulled into my driveway. We filled the trunk of Daniell's brand new car with wayyyy to much stuff,  opened the sunroof, hit the road and settled on a music genre. We started with the 80s -- for me.

And we started with a nice, polite selfie pic.


But by the time we got to Biloxi ...




We were rockin' the Top 40, singing the nasty version of "Thrift Shop," Googling the lyrics to Beyonce's "Drunk in Love" and bombarding our friends with pictures on Instagram and Facebook.

And we hadn't even had a drop to drink yet.

By late afternoon, we had listened to the 70s, the 80s and the Top 40 more than a few times, knew all the words to "Drunk in Love," (and what they meant), had stopped for orange juice at the Florida Welcome Center -- and pictures.

Blue Angel and Not Charlie's Angels. 











Orange juice! But, there was no Vodka.



So we hurried to our destination and, by sundown, we were on our first cocktails of the day. I started with a classic Margarita at The Margaritaville Beach Hotel. On the beach, of course.

It was the first of many cocktails. Yes, there were many. And shots. Many of those too. Ones I'd never heard of. And Pina Coladas. And a very tasty drink called a Junebug. And something called Rumplemintz. And drunken texts to my husband, who was on a bus on his way home to an empty house.

(Heh heh. Serves you right.)

And the next day we headed home only slightly hungover with wonderful memories, a new friend and plans to return next year for some reason. Any reason.

And I made the resolution that, someday, I would live at a beach. Any beach. Hopefully, Pensacola Beach, but I'm not all that picky.


But this was more than just a Girls Weekend or a birthday weekend or even a beach weekend. This was my Get Out of Jail Free weekend. I've just spent a long, hard 16 months of being trapped in my own home or close to it as I took care of my mother-in-law Jane and gave up my life and my identity to do it. I've been hiding away from the world in a darkness of sadness and depression. The one day I did run away from home in frustration, I went to Big Lot's.

Now I'm free. This weekend was me asserting my independence once more. It was me finding myself and my soul, reconnecting with my friends. And fun. It was the first time I've gone off with friends since my college days. It certainly was the most alcohol I've consumed since then. And the most fun I've had in a long, long time. It was me, being reborn.

So Happy Birthday to Me!


Happy to Me!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Hurricane Jane

When I first met my mother-in-law Jane, I was told that one of her nicknames was "Hurricane Jane."

It wasn't difficult to understand why.

Jane was a whirlwind of energy back in the day, a head-strong, vocal, opinionated woman who had no compunctions about sharing them. She told you like it was -- or like she saw it. Sometimes, that rubbed folks the wrong way.

But hurricanes eventually lose their strength. Shortly after Jane moved in with my husband, my daughter and me for the last time, he was aiding his mother to the dinner table one evening.

"Come on Jane," Marty said, urging her along. "Hurricane Jane, I think you've been downgraded to a Tropical Depression."

But even to the end she was the same old Jane. Even as she battled time and whatever ailment that was attacking her frail little body in her final hours, she put up the good fight, refusing to let go.  Even to the end she proved to be contrary. And even as her mind began to wander, her thoughts began to ramble, and her eyes became unseeing to what was happening around her, her voice never gave up.

In other words, she never stopped telling it like it is -- or how she saw it.

Her bed was uncomfortable: "What? You can afford a pool but not a comfortable cot?

She was ever the Baseball Mom: "This team didn't even show up today."

And a critic: "These umpires are terrible."

And, maybe, a little scared: "If I don't pray, I'm going to hell."

She had spent only one week in the nearby nursing home The Coach and I had moved her to after her needs exceeded our capabilities. She didn't want to go, but after only a day or so of digging in her heels, even she knew that she needed more care than we could give her. On my last day as her full time caretaker, I was practically carrying her to the bathroom. The next day, she could no longer walk.

So the paperwork was quickly done and I began packing for her move. But I never even got to finish moving her in. Half her closet was empty. We never got to hang pictures on her wall.

After just seven days, she became ill. The staff called us in the middle of the night to tell us they were taking her to the hospital. The next night they called to ask Marty if she had a DNR in place, and the doctor wanted to meet with him in the morning.

So on Saturday morning, The Coach left the house in full baseball uniform, but instead of heading to the ballpark, he went to the hospital. He met with the doctor on duty,who explained that Jane's body was shutting down, her end was near, that it was time to begin our goodbyes.

In tears, Marty started calling and messaging the rest of us. Soon enough, her grandchildren, her former daughter-in-law and her present one gathered around Jane's bed and tried to make sense of what she was saying.

"11:30," she kept saying. When my husband's first wife asked what that meant, she replied, "Happy Hour."

That surprised none of us.

We were surprised an hour or so later when her regular doctor came in, took a look around and wondered what the heck we were all doing there.

"It's not time for this," he said. "She has an infection. We're giving her antibiotics. She's OK."

So I took my Teen home to go back to bed. And the Coach left to go to the baseball field. His departure may have been her last moment of clarity.

"Bye, Mom. I'm going to the ballpark for a while," he said, leaning over to kiss her forehead.

"Me too," she replied.

My stepdaughter stayed a while and listened to her grandmother ramble on about the election of 1915, which, Jane said, was won by the Priest's son. So was the World Series. (Jane was born in 1930.) She also was presented with a nurse's challenge to feed her nearly comatose grandmother baked chicken and corn for lunch.

After securing the pre-season victory, The Coach returned to the hospital. Now his mother seemed to be in pain. A nurse offered a shot of morphine -- to her, not to him.

And a few minutes later, she simply slipped away, doing it her way to the very end.

Stunned, mystified, Marty sent the family a text. "It's Pappy's turn now. Jane has passed."

On February 25th, we gathered to say our last goodbye to my mother-in-law, Jane. It was left to me to select a sampling of our favorite photos, so I picked the ones I thought best represented the woman we all knew. Most of them involved some kind of costume -- "Old Ariel" is legendary. But there also was one of her dancing with her grandson at his wedding, holding her great-granddaughter, in front of what was once her home after the real hurricane destroyed it.


Jane and Pappy survey what was left after Hurricane Katrina



Jane meets her great-granddaughter


Jane, "Mary Poppins"

Luau Jane

Irish Jane







Mardi Gras Jane




 And the one we selected for her obituary. It was left to me to write that too.


Jane Mae Rafferty Luquet, wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and Baseball Mom, died on Saturday, February 15, 2014, at St. Charles Parish Hospital in Luling. She was 83. Born on November 24, 1930, in New Orleans, Jane was the youngest child of George "Red" Rafferty and Martina Daly, and joined a host of Irish Channel cousins. In 1951, she married Valsin "Pappy" Luquet and soon became the mother of three boys, all of whom would grow up to be baseball players and coaches. Married to Pappy for 57 years, his work moved them from New Orleans to Anaheim, CA, to Concord, CA, to Chicago, ILL, to Charlotte, NC. Eventually, they would retire and settle in Waveland, Mississippi, where they lived happily until Hurricane Katrina destroyed their home. They lived in Norco and Kenner before Pappy died in 2008, then Jane moved to The Windsor Senior Living Center in Mandeville. For the past year Jane lived in Norco. She is survived by sons Valsin Luquet Jr. (Deidre Digel) of Montgomery, Texas; Dennis Luquet (Marianne Carroll) of Walnut Creek, California; and Marty Luquet (Lori Lyons) of Norco; grandchildren Daniel Luquet (Cori Southard), Courtney Luquet, Lora Leigh Luquet, Gared Luquet and Caitlin Luquet; great-granddaughter Robi Drew Luquet; brother Steve Rafferty of Kenner; sister Alice Rafferty Brechtel of Metairie; and a host of nieces, nephews and cousins. She is preceded in death by her husband Valsin Paul Luquet Sr., her parents George and Martina (Daly) Rafferty, and her great-grandchild Parker Luquet. A fiery, fun-loving Irish woman, Jane loved parties, baseball, card games, Happy Hour and her family's annual St. Patrick's Day celebration. A Funeral Mass will be held at noon on Tuesday, February 25, 2014 at Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Norco. Visitation will be held at the church from 10 a.m. to funeral time. Arrangements by H.C. Alexander Funeral Home in Norco.



As Louisiana'ans, we are accustomed to hurricanes. We know how to prepare for them, we know how to anticipate them, we know how to weather them. 

We hunker down.

That's what my family and I have been doing for the last 16 months - hunkering down as we weathered the storm that was Hurricane Jane. Our forays out of our compound were brief and near -- occasional sandwiches at the local Pub for the most part. Longer trips required getting a sitter -- hard to come by for the elderly. Only one relative ever offered to come stay with her to give us a break.

A few times she went to visit her sister and niece for a weekend to give us respite. Marty's brother, Dennis, came during the summer to let take a quick trip to the beach. I cannot remember the last movie Marty and I went to together ("Silver Linings Playbook" maybe?). I absolutely cannot remember the last movie the three of us went to. 

But now the storm has passed, and Marty, Lora and I are clearing the debris and making necessary repairs and trying to move on. It's an adjustment, of course.

Hurricane Jane certainly left her mark.