47-year-old letter mystery solved

First page of Jace's letter

Part 2 of a column tracing a 47-year-old letter from a son to his father, delivered two weeks ago to an address in Lafayette. Columnist Jan Risher tracked down the letter writer. 

Jace Ray does not remember writing the Father’s Day letter to his father, but he remembers the summer of 1967 well — and he’s able to put the pieces together.
“It was the summer of love. It was California in 1967. It was the Vietnam War,” the 69-year old said last week by phone from his home in Bisbee, Ariz. “Going to California was not like Lafayette — having crawfish and a good time in Breaux Bridge or some place. “
After Ray graduated from high school in 1963 in Texas, his parents moved to the River’s Bend subdivision in Lafayette.
“I went to USL for a couple of years. Then, I told my parents that I was going to go out there and check out California. It was an adventure, but it was also very sobering,” he said. “I went to find myself. Spending time on my own made me appreciate my dad in a way I hadn’t before.”
When Father’s Day that summer rolled around, Ray decided to put thought to paper.
The problem came somewhere along the way between his Garden Grove, Calif. apartment and his parents home in Lafayette. No one knows where the letter has been for 47 years between its mailing and delivery.
For whatever reasons, the letter was finally delivered to the correct address two weeks ago. Tommy Sheppard, of Lafayette and a friend of the home’s owner, set out on a mission to track down the letter writer. When he posted it on Facebook, I took the bait. After visiting with Sheppard and his wife, I began to search.
After initial searches had come up empty, I decided to ask Lafayette Parish Tax Assessor Conrad Comeaux for help in finding a complete name. Comeaux was as interested in the mystery as I was and went beyond finding the homeowner’s name to doing a bit of online research to find some of his family’s names as well. We knew we had the right family because the letter mentioned “Rita,” — and this family had a daughter by that name.
One of the daughters died a few years ago. Her obituary provided the next clue that helped connect the dots — her husband’s first name. They had lived in Texas. He remarried, and his new wedding announcement gave me enough clues to find a phone number.
A lovely lady answered the phone. In as few and as un-creepy words as possible, I explained why I was calling. I told her I had found her wedding announcement. She told me they too had a beautiful love story. She also told me that Jace, the letter writer, was alive and well and living out West last she heard.
She offered to try and get him a message. I waited more than a day and didn’t hear from them. When I called back, I spoke with her husband. He was as nice as he could be and gave me a phone number for Jace. As an afterthought, he gave me an address too.
A lovely lady answered that number too. I began to explain the call. She said, “Honey, you’re calling Kentucky and I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Fortunately, now I knew he lived in Arizona and realized the area code digits were transposed. I called the new number again and asked for Mr. Ray, the voice on the other end said, “He’s gone to the store.” I explained and was assured he would call back.
About an hour later, my phone rang.
“This is Jace Ray.”
Sometimes after searching long and hard for something, finding it doesn’t seem real. I explained the letter saga. He gave me his address in California from 1967. He gave me his parents’ address in Lafayette. He told me his sister’s name and explained her illness as a child.
I asked if he wanted to hear the letter. He did. When I finished reading the complete letter, there was silence on his end.
“Golly, I wrote that?” he said.
I said, “I believe you did.”
“Wow. Golly. That’s intense,” he said. “I’m sorry Dad didn’t get it.”
“I am too,” I said. “That’s why I wanted to find you — to let you know he never got the letter. I didn’t want you to think he knew all of this and didn’t respond.”
“Oh, he knew. Later in life, I told him. He passed away when he was 81. This letter was kind of a script to what I said later on,” he said.
I called Ray back a few days later after he had a chance to process the news.
He told me years after he wrote the letter — he and his dad had “the old man-to-man talk” on the back porch.
“Dad never told me he loved me,” he said. “He was of America’s greatest generation. He lived through the Depression. He was a man of few words, but I was really desperate to hear those words. I wanted to get his blessing as it were. Once I hugged him and told him I loved him. He said, ‘Me too, son,’”
And that was as close as he got, but as they were talking that day on the back porch, Ray said he had an epiphany.
“I was using some terminology and psychology words I’m sure my father wasn’t aware of,” he said. “Dad was sitting there smoking his pipe. All of a sudden, I had a revelation. Dad wasn’t very talkative, so instead of asking him about his feelings, we got to one syllable. I said, ‘Dad, was it OK with you that I ended up the way I have?’ He said, “Yeah, it was. You ended up a good man.’“
I asked Ray if he makes it a point to tell people he loves them.
“Oh yes, I do,” he said, “Linda, I love you,” he yelled to his wife.
I could hear her laugh through the phone and yell, “He tells me he loves me all the time.”
Ray laughed too.
“I make it a point of telling people I love them,” he said. “I ‘m not afraid of those words. In retrospect, I feel like I’ve got the strong, good qualities Dad had — I’m conscientious. I have a good work ethic. I speak the truth and walk in the light.”
“I’m sure your dad is proud,” I said. “He loved you.”
“Oh, I know he did,” Ray said.
On Monday, Sheppard sent the 47-year-old letter back across the country to its writer, this time by registered mail.
The last I spoke with Ray, the letter had yet to arrive.

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47-year-old letter leads to mystery

Envelope

The letter was dated June 14, 1967.
An unknown postal worker had hand stamped the envelope and its .05 stamp: “PM JUN 15 1967 Garden Grove, Calif.”
What happened next remains a mystery, but the letter was finally delivered, with no fanfare, last week — a mere 47 years late.
Addressed to Mr. JB Ray, in a neat, artsy handwriting, with A’s that look more like triangles, the letter was delivered to the exact street address written on the envelope to a home in the River’s Bend neighborhood, here in Lafayette.
No one who lived in the home or any of the surrounding neighbors knew or remembered a Mr. JB Ray. Tommy Sheppard, a friend of the owner of the home, happened to be visiting when the postman nonchalantly delivered the letter.
The letter ignited something in Sheppard. With the homeowner’s blessings, he and his wife set about on a mission to find the letter’s rightful owner. First, he posted a picture of the envelope on Facebook, asking for help in finding Mr. JB Ray or anyone connected to him.
I saw the image and was mesmerized with the possibilities. I contacted Sheppard and went to see the letter.
“I didn’t want to read it,” Tommy said. “But my wife read it and said it was one of the most beautiful letters she had ever read.”
By the time I arrived, Tommy had decided to read the letter too.
“Jan, you’ve got to read this letter, and we’ve got to find these people,” he said.
That’s how I came to be the fourth person to read the letter since it was written more than 47 years ago. When they handed it to me, the first thing I noticed was the quality of the paper and the overall pristine condition of the envelope and letter.
“Where could this thing have been for all those years?” I asked myself. There wasn’t a tear or bent corner to be found.

Dear Dad,
Being alone you have plenty of time to think. You think about the turn of events that caused the past and question the present — and then you wonder about the future. … You’ve been the pillar of strength of our family. From the beginning with Rita’s illness, to the accident and other hardships, not to mention some I may not know about. Gray hair and wrinkles in the process but no weakness — just strength.
And maybe you’ve questioned your judgment and aren’t sure if you always did the correct thing. You’ve raised a family that’s devoted to each other and held together by love. This is the true criteria.
You’ve got what other men long for but never obtain. I’m not sure how I’ll turn out, Dad, but I can only hope that I’m half the man you are and that my children will love me as much as I do you.
It’s hard to write a feeling, but I’ve tried. I’ve thought about this letter a long time and, of course, Father’s Day would be the appropriate time to send it.
My only regret is that I’m not there with you to shake your hand and say, Happy Father’s Day, Dad.
Your loving son

I agreed with Tommy — we had to find someone alive who was connected to this letter. In a perfect world, both parties would still be alive and well, but since the letter referenced gray hair in 1967, I knew that the father was likely not still around.
Maybe the son was — which made me wonder if he thought his father had received the letter and had not responded. Maybe I could find him to let him know the truth.
So, I set off on a wild goose chase to find him. The problem was he only used his dad’s initials in the address and didn’t sign the letter with his name.
Three days later, I had what I believed to be the letter writer’s phone number in hand, I called the number and a man answered.
I said, “Mr. Ray?”
The voice said, “He’s gone to the store…”

Come back next week to find out about Jan’s conversation with the man who wrote the letter to his dad back in 1967 — and the twists, turns and help along the way to find him.

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Turning into leaves of gold

Ginkgo leaves in Grand Coteau

Little evidence supports my illusions of a green thumb in and around my home. Even so, the lack of proof has never slowed my fascination with certain plants — especially orchids, maidenhair ferns, Gerber daisies, California poppies, hydrangeas and ginkgo trees, with the gingko tree being my favorite.
I first learned about the ginkgo tree the summer after my ninth grade at a horticulture camp at Mississippi State University.
Yes, you read that correctly. When I was 15, of my own volition, I spent a week at a “camp,” where we walked for miles and miles to look at specific plants (in July in Mississippi) and then went to botany and plant science classes the rest of the day.
I went to the camp, not out of any special interest at all, but because in a process I imagined to be as secret and ceremonial as a coronation, the Garden Club ladies from the small town where I grew up, selected one high school-aged girl to attend the camp each summer — and that year, they picked me.
With about 30 other kids about as interested in horticulture as I was, we trounced all over campus and in and out of laboratories. We saw rare plant specimens and learned about propagating, hybrids, splicing, canning fruit and winemaking.
On one tour, we stopped in front of a tree. I’m unsure why I remember almost every word the horticulturist said next, but I do.
“This tree is special. It is a living fossil, related to no other living plant. The ginkgo dates back 270 million years. Whatever killed the dinosaurs didn’t kill it. The trees originated in Asia, and the female trees produce nuts that are popular in some Asian dishes, but stinky from the tree. The tree’s fan-shaped leaves are distinct. It’s one of the slowest growing trees around, and it’s almost indestructible. In fact, some ginkgo trees actually survived the atomic blast that hit Hiroshima.”
Even though horticulture wasn’t my thing, the ginkgo tree was amazing.
A few years after the horticulture camp, I graduated high school and ended up attending Mississippi State as a student. Almost every day, I walked past the beautiful ginkgo tree I had learned about a few years earlier. As I passed it, I could almost hear the horticulturist saying, “This tree is special. It is a living fossil….”
However, when fall found the ginkgo tree and its beautiful leaves turned a shade of gold I had never known, my appreciation for the tree skyrocketed. In those golden days, the ginkgo became my tree. Like Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors, I dreamed of “Somewhere that’s green” and planting my very own ginkgo tree.
As it turns out, buying a gingko tree isn’t always easy. Once we moved to Louisiana in 2001, I began my quest for a ginkgo – at nurseries and online. I’m good at such searching, and I was rather relentless.
Even so, I came up empty handed every time. Time passed, but I never gave up on my ginkgo.
Nearly four years ago, my husband and I were struggling to decide where to send our daughters to school. I won’t go so far as to say it was the ginkgo tree in the circle drive in front of the Academy of the Sacred Heart that made the decision for us, but that tree certainly didn’t hurt. Learning that the Sacred Heart ginkgo was the oldest one in Louisiana was lagniappe. On our tour of the campus, I stood in front of the school, focusing on the ginkgo instead of the monumental live oaks.
About a year later, I attended Conge, the school’s spring festival. Away from the hubbub of the games and confetti eggs, the school hosts a plant sale. Various people donate plants. I was walking by the plant sale, on my way to get a glass of lemonade and happened to look down.
Much to my amazement and shock, I was looking at three little trees with fan-shaped leaves for sale.
I could barely speak and wondered if I was seeing clearly. I stuttered to the volunteer, who happened to be the Sacred Heart groundskeeper, “These are ginkgo trees?”
“Yes,” he said. “They’re $6 each.”
I could barely form words. “I’ll take them,” I said.
And I came home and planted my three waist-high gingko trees, remembering all the while that they’re one of the slowest growing trees on earth.
Even though my thumb isn’t very green, my ginkgos have survived. Almost every time I pass them, some little ginkgo-related memory sneaks in my head.
This late in the fall, all of the leaves have dropped from one of the trees and only a few remain on another. For some reason, the third tree still has 39 beautiful golden leaves clinging. I know that it’s just a matter of time until they fall too.
But come springtime, they’ll be back.

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Try the Gratitude Experiment

Gratitude

Last week, I found a list of stores that wouldn’t be open on Thanksgiving. I shared the list with friends saying that I wanted to make a special effort to do business with stores that chose to honor the holiday that I believe represents so much of what makes our country special.

My cousin, Melinda Henderson Kyzar, a missionary in Prague, sent a message agreeing with my assessment. Her dad was a missionary in Korea and the Philippines. Though she’s as American as can be, she has spent most of her life living in other countries.
After reading my list of stores, she sent me a message to say that she agrees. She said she was in the States for a few days recently looking for Thanksgiving decorations to take back to Prague
“I found it surprisingly difficult to find much because Christmas retail was already in full-swing. I wondered if America wasn’t going to give up Thanksgiving altogether one of these days,” she wrote.
She went on to ask if it wasn’t possible for us to keep one day set aside to give thanks and not make people work at retail stores?
“I have lived overseas for most of my life and have seen how foreigners have a fascination with American Thanksgiving. It is a unique holiday that is so much a part of the soul and emotions of Americans — that we can never adequately explain it to them. We need that day,” she said.
I believe she’s right. Gratitude is such a vital part of living an abundant and happy life. Scientists have proven time and again that being grateful simply makes people happier — and being grateful is something that we can actively work toward. It’s not like saying, “I need to be happier,” and then sit and try to be happy. Being grateful is active. We can demonstrate our gratitude to others. Being grateful can be practiced.
After years of research, psychologist John Gottman recently announced in a study that lasting relationships come down to two things — kindness and gratitude. Gottman and his wife have researched what makes relationships work for the past four decades, studying thousands of couples.
While the Gottmans research couples and relationships, I believe almost all lasting relationships come down to those two traits.
In my book, kindness is trickier that gratitude. Sometimes when I’ve sincerely tried to be kind, I later learn that my actions were misinterpreted. Don’t worry — that won’t stop my efforts toward kindness! However, my real point is that while gratitude may seem to be about what we offer others, it is so much more about what being grateful to others does for ourselves.
Gratitude makes us happier.
Gratitude makes us better friends.
Gratitude makes us better parents.
Gratitude makes us better children.
Gratitude makes us better employees.
Gratitude makes us better managers.
It just makes us better all the way around.
And this week, we have a whole day set aside to focus on being grateful. May each of us use this week and time to reinforce a daily practice of gratitude throughout the year.
Try an experiment of reminding yourself to say and demonstrate your thanks at least five times a day. Try to tell people thanks in real time – sincerely, but if you realize you haven’t said thanks to enough people before you go to bed, send them a thank you email. Whatever it takes, just be and show your gratefulness.
See what happens. I’d love to hear about your results.
Therefore, go and be grateful!

Email Jan Risher at jan@janrisher.com

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Another man’s treasure…

one man's treasure...

She was born Lydia Myrene Henderson. She was my grandmother.
And, in all my life, I’ve never known anyone who appreciated a bargain any more than she did. She lived in a constant state of believing that some object she picked up somewhere would eventually be recognized by one and all as immensely valuable and quite possible The Greatest Thing in the History of Time and Space.
She is the reason I smiled this week when Rae Gremillion, director of community development at the Hospice of Acadiana, called. Gremillion told me a story about a big find at their upcoming Hospice Garage Sale, scheduled for 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., Nov. 22 at the Hospice of Acadiana offices at 2600 Johnston Street.
Hospice of Acadiana has been accepting antiques, glassware, artwork, household goods and unusual treasures from throughout the community. They will continue accepting decorative items through Nov. 14 and furniture until Nov. 21.
Just from the general description of the event, my grandmother would not have been able to sleep in anticipation of such a feast of items up for grabs for pennies on the dollar. However, there was much more to the story than just the allure of rooms full of one man’s potential treasure. Gremillion connected me with Cheryl Cockrell of Cheryl Cockrell Estate Sales who Hospice asked to help price the items for the Nov. 22 sale.
“Man, was I surprised when I was walking around and right smack in the middle of the coffee cups was this pre-1930 Steuben blue Aurene Tumble up pitcher. It’s worth hundreds of dollars and was sitting on the .25 table!” Cockrell explained to me.
After some research, I learned that Steuben Glass, founded in 1903, created some of the most iconic glass pieces of the Twentieth Century.
According to Collectors Weekly, “When collectors think of Steuben glass, two distinct styles come to mind. The first was pioneered by Steuben co-founder Frederick Carder in 1903. As Steuben’s chief designer, Carder created a new form of iridescent glass called Aurene. Unlike Tiffany’s dense and dark Favrile line of iridescent glass, which was introduced in 1894, Carder’s Aurene pieces were luminous and lustrous, seeming to radiate more light than they absorbed. So distinctive was Aurene from Favrile that Steuben was granted a patent on the technique in 1904, the year after the company’s founding. That did not stop Tiffany from filing a lawsuit against Steuben….”
But Steuben prevailed, and the company’s early years were devoted to making Aurene glass, with blue being one of the most popular colors. The little Tumble Up pitcher was donated anonymously by someone here in the Acadiana region. Perhaps they knew its value and perhaps they didn’t. Cockrell has placed the item on eBay. Bidding ends Tuesday, and profits will go to benefit Hospice of Acadiana.
“I saw many more fabulous items including real oil paintings, a French tapestry, an Asian inlaid table, two old John Deere children’s tractors, Magnalite, a huge collection of 1960’s Swanky Swig juice glasses and many more vintage finds,” Cockrell said. “This event will be a virtual treasure hunt, and I encourage people to get out there and dig through the rooms and rooms of things.”
Despite some misconceptions that Hospice of Acadiana is an umbrella organization for all area hospices, it is not. It is a non-profit dedicated to enabling persons with life-threatening conditions to live as fully and comfortably as possible. Their mission is to emphasize quality rather than length of life. They also help people deal with grief.
According to Gremillion, thus far in 2014, Hospice of Acadiana has given more than 600 days of care to indigent patients. Their Center for Loss and Transition has served 280 patients this year, with a total of 1,000 client visits. More than 1,700 people have participated in educational programming, and 25 campers, ages 7 through 11, participate in Camp Brave Hearts two-day camp for grieving children.
Twenty physicians and 375 community volunteers have donated more than 5,350 hours of time to Hospice and the people the organization serves.
The only thing that could make this event more fun for me would be if my grandmother were alive to go with me!
For more information about Hospice of Acadiana and their upcoming garage sale, call 337-232-1234 or go to www.hospiceacadiana.com.

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How to (and how not to) build a relationship

Screen Shot 2014-11-02 at 2.39.42 PMEver been in or observed a relationship that didn’t seem quite right, but you couldn’t put your finger on what it was that was wrong? Ever wondered if you should stay in the relationship you’re in, but you’re not sure where to look for clues?
When we’re honest, these thoughts have crossed all of our minds at one point or the other. There are so many factors to consider in making the decision to keep on keeping on in a relationship or knowing that it’s time to call it quits.
I recently read a single sentence that I believe sums up the bulk of what to base a relationship decision upon: A healthy relationship is one where two independent people just make a deal that they will help make the other person the best version of him or herself possible. (I would like to attribute it to someone specific, but alas my Internet searches all come up empty.)
The first big truth of that sentence lies in the words “two independent people.” If the people involved in a relationship rely too much on the other (or anyone else, for that matter), chances are high that the relationship will never be completely healthy. Last week, in an interview for his new book, Gene Simmons, front man for KISS (and not someone I usually go to for advice), made a great point about the importance of girls and women establishing independence and financial security before getting into a serious relationship. In my book, he’s right.
My husband and I are approaching our 21st wedding anniversary. If I had to identify what has made our relationship work through the years, the key lies in the fact that I know that he does what he can to make me the best version of myself. In all likelihood, he’s probably better at this than I am. Through the years, I hope I have learned from his example and that I contribute to him being a better person. At this point, I’m probably better at doing so that I was when I was younger.
When I look back at various relationships I was in before we married, I’m able to pinpoint the reason most of them didn’t work to the fact that one of us wanted the other to be something that he or she envisioned rather than the best version of ourselves that we could be. That mistake is a red flag in any relationship and happens far too often in young love. Sometimes those relationships keep going, leaving both in a Sisyphean struggle. Finally, one partner pushes the other across a Rubicon, and the relationship is over.
This truth applies beyond romantic relationships and includes friendships and other familial relationships, as well.
Granted, every relationship can be challenging, and there’s a fine line between keeping on keeping on and keeping on when the effort is futile. Asking the simple question: Has this person made a deal to do his or her best to make that person the best version of him or herself?
Knowing at what point in a relationship to ask the question can be tricky, but if you’re wondering if the time has come to ask it, then the time probably is nigh. The answer is usually obvious.

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Take ‘The 100 Item Challenge’

Take 'The 100 Item Challenge'Take The 100 Item Challenge

In the midst of our lives full of such excess, imagining that people we pass on the streets and sidewalks of our community are hungry is difficult to imagine. However, the truth is that hunger is a real thing — even right here in Acadiana.
Julie Lafleur, the new executive director at FoodNet: The Greater Acadiana Food Bank, says she has seen the face of the hungry in Acadiana. Lafleur says she sees families with young children and the elderly who have been able to provide for all of their needs until now.
“Often, these are people who don’t know what to do,” Lafleur said. “We get calls from family members, neighbors, friends and caretakers asking help for their elderly family members, friends and clients because they have little food in their homes.”
FoodNet has several major food drives on the near horizon. For example, the Rotary Club Election Day food drive set Nov. 4 will collect food at the election polls. The KLFY TV-10/FoodNet “Food for Families” food drive will be Dec. 2 at the Cajundome and is in partnership with 17 other food pantries in the Acadiana region from Mamou to Morgan City.
Lafleur said she and her staff are so grateful for the upcoming food drives. There’s only one problem. FoodNet’s shelves are almost empty now.
Literally. There is very little food left to feed the hungry between now and the upcoming food drives.
I spoke with Lafleur last week. (In full disclosure, we go to the same church.) I asked her what foods FoodNet could use most. She quickly rattled off a list of ten items. We talked a little more and developed what we are calling “The 100 Item Challenge.”
I am challenging you as an individual, as a Sunday School teacher, as a classroom teacher, as a book club member, as a Scout leader or member, as a civic club member – whoever you are, to be a part of “The 100 Item Challenge.”
It’s a matter of buying, gathering or collecting ten items or the ten things the food banks need most. Here’s your shopping list:
10 cans of tuna
10 cans of any other kind of meat
10 “meals in a can” — chili, beef stew, chunky soup, etc.
10 cornbread mixes
10 packs of pasta
10 cans of tomato sauce
10 jars of peanut butter
10 containers of oatmeal
10 containers of grits
10 “meals in a box” — Hamburger Helper, Rice-a-Roni, noodle dinner mix, etc.
I did some shopping and have priced the full list at about $150 (my exact total was $143.98). Of course, that depends on where you shop and the size of the items you buy. If you’d prefer to go in with a friend or neighbor to gather the items, please do. The point is, FoodNet needs the groceries now – before the big upcoming food drives.
You can drop off the food between the hours of 8 a.m. and noon on Monday through Fridays. Lafleur and the staff are also there at other times, but you should call 337-232-FOOD to check on exact times. Find the FoodNet offices and shelves at 217 Surrey Street here in Lafayette. Learn more about them on the web at www.foodnetacadiana.org. If you know of another food bank closer to you, I’m certain they could use your donations as well.
Take The 100 Item Challenge, and send me a picture of you and your FoodNet groceries.

Send photos or contact Jan Risher at jan@janrisher.com.

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Mission: Methodical

10417658_10152346528702175_2566990752977945619_nOctober is the sweetest month, with days so perfect that my heart can’t help but sing. For the past five years, my October has been even better because in the second weekend of the month I’ve attended a retreat for women. It’s not the typical quiet retreat. It’s a retreat for spirituality and creativity.
One of my favorite aspects of the weekend is the Art Room — a room chock full of material, lace, needles and thread, felt, old stamps, sequins, wallpaper samples, hot glue guns and anything other item someone may have wanted once upon a time for a craft, that may or may not have ever happened.
Among other planned programming, the retreat encourages every participant to spend as much time in the Art Room as she wants. Everyone is welcome to make whatever she would like — or nothing. Each year, the organizers also encourage each participant to try her hand at one particular piece.
This year’s suggested piece was a small, nondescript gray drawstring bag. We were encouraged to decorate it in any way we wanted and create a prayer bag, to place names or issues of prayer. Sometimes, I’ve resisted the annual project and preferred to do my own thing. This year, I decided to dive into the project with my whole heart and do my best to create something beautiful.
I have an inexplicable love for buttons, and the Art Room had several cigar boxes full of buttons. I decided to see if I could find enough buttons of enough colors to create a graduated spectrum to cover the soon-to-be prayer bag.
Roy G Biv is my friend. I started looking for red buttons, worked my way to orange, then yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. Having the time and space to sit and pick up button after button to find just the right shade was a thing of beauty, in and of itself. Sitting there surrounded by gracious women, who took as much joy in my buttons as I did (or at least seemed to) and eager to help me find another orange or green button, was also a joy.
Once I had all my buttons selected and carefully in place on my bag, I picked it up and slid them off into a pile. The women around me were crestfallen. They couldn’t believe I had abandoned the project. I explained that the buttons had to come off for me to begin the process of sewing each one on. Several of them looked at me in disbelief.
“You’re going to sew all of those buttons on?” one asked.
“Aren’t you going to hot glue them in place?” asked another.
And there was a chorus of consent for this idea.
Certainly, hot gluing 142 buttons in place makes for a more efficient idea, but one yielding results that aren’t nearly as elegant. Plus, I’ve metaphorically hot glued a whole lot in my life. I’ve avoided the tedium of doing the same task over and over, in favor of efficiency.
I’m not trying to reinvent who I am. However, I am trying to create a better version of myself. For a variety of reasons, I decided that committing myself to a mass button sewing project was one way to reinforce the new discipline I’m trying to cultivate in myself.
Certainly, I couldn’t have found a more encouraging environment to do so. With every button I sewed, graduating from one color of the rainbow to the next, women would share their admiration for my simple little project. Once I finished the yellow buttons and started on the green band, I was sitting at a table with two other women. I said, “Ladies, I really need a few more green buttons.”
One of them looked up and said, “Well, I’ve got a bag full of buttons in the trunk of my car, sorted by color.”
“Now you tell me!” I exclaimed as she and I made our way to her car. The first basket of buttons I pulled was full of green buttons. My friend was happy to share.
Ask, and ye shall receive.
Just as the weekend was ending, I sewed on my last violet button, and my button rainbow was complete. The process of this simple project provided immense satisfaction, and what better metaphor to adorn a prayer bag than a rainbow?

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Refuge of last resort

Before my most recent visit to the Superdome amidst One Direction 12-year-old girl teenybopper hullabaloo, the last time I had been there was in the days after Katrina.
Three days after the weary mass of humanity moved out of the Superdome, their refuge of last resort, I was in New Orleans reporting on the deserted city. On that day, the city was a ghost town, and the stinky, broke-down Superdome felt like the ghosts had come to stay.
It wasn’t totally surrounded by water, but the water was still standing on its French Quarter side. With special permission we gave ourselves, we drove right up one of its ramps and met a few others on an external elevated walkway. The stench was overwhelming.
Soldiers were patrolling the massive perimeter. They walked in groups of three, carrying big guns. Like the hands of a clock, they made their way round and round the scarred face of the Superdome. One of the soldier trios had a very distinguishing addition.
A little dog, probably a schnauzer, was marching alongside the soldier in the middle. In a landscape so devoid of life and joy, that little dog was the most startling thing I saw that day.
He was perky. He pranced like a little dog that had been loved so much that he had no real sense of his place in this world.
He alone was hopeful.
I couldn’t help but smile each time that dog and his soldiers marched past. For a week, along with so many others, I had taken in more gruesome stories, sights and haggard faces than I could absorb. Each time the little dog paraded past, for a few seconds, I was able to forget the horrors so many had endured.
Our scraggly group of journalists and aid workers stood conversing, most of us bordering on shellshock. When the soldiers rounded the Dome again, I walked away from our group to speak with them.
They were just back from Iraq and also in a near state of shock. They couldn’t believe they had come home from a war zone and were dealing with a disaster the scale of Katrina.
I asked about the dog.
One soldier said the little dog wouldn’t leave his side. We agreed that the pup had been loved fiercely. We stood in silence, looking at the dog, carefully avoiding any discussion of the awful scene that surely occurred when its human was forced to leave the dog behind at the Superdome.
We all knew someone somewhere was lamenting that dog.
With the soldier’s blessing, I decided to bring the dog home to my daughters. I walked back to the group I was traveling with and told them what I was going to do. One of the people with me, who had spent more time in the Superdome than anyone should have, told me that in good conscience he just couldn’t recommend my taking that dog back to my family. He was worried that the dog might be carrying something that could harm the health of my kids. I understood his concern and wasn’t driving the car. I caved without a fight.
Against my better judgment, I walked away from that puppy. He was blissfully unaware of the direction his life almost took and kept prancing right along with his favorite soldier.
There are so many scenes from Katrina that haunt me still:
There’s the lady I greeted as she got off a bus at the Cajundome. Her face was burned badly, but she didn’t have a clue how it had gotten burned. She had spent three days in her attic and finally busted through her roof. In the chaos, she lost her glasses.
There was another woman at the Cajundome, who had given birth in New Orleans the day Katrina hit. When the hospital was evacuated, the administration failed to tell her where they were taking her baby. With the help of others, we finally found him. She had been looking for three days.
And there were the horrors I’d rather not describe that I saw along Airline Highway as I rode in a boat through Holly Grove with a stranger holding a gun in the air.
Of all the Katrina memories I have, that little dog is the easiest to remember and smile. Through the nine years since, that little dog’s hope has stayed with me. I believe someone rescued him and regret that someone wasn’t me. The remorse I feel about not rescuing him stays with me.
I will never reconcile that regret, and anyone who lived through or witnessed Katrina knows that regret is about a lot more than a dog. My inability to save that puppy is a scratch in the surface of the ways we, as a society, failed.
Every time I see the Superdome, my regret, wrapped up in the package of that dog, catches my heart.
After experiencing 60,000-plus screaming fans inside the Dome hanging on Harry and the rest of his One Direction friends’ every note, Piper, my 12-year-old daughter has a whole different set of feelings related to the Superdome.
As a mother, I pray that all of her and her generation’s Superdomes be filled with music, and may they never regret tiny dogs they were unable to rescue.

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Fangirling

IMG_7429 IMG_7432 I said I wouldn’t do again, but I did.

Thursday afternoon, my husband, 12-year-old daughter, one of her friends and I loaded up the car and drove to New Orleans to see a concert at the Superdome. Years ago, an adventure with a pre-twerking Miley Cyrus at the Cajundome had forced me to proclaim, “No more concerts.” Then there was Taylor Swift. And again, I said, “Never again.”

I kept my word until last week. Going to a One Direction concert at the Superdome is not for the faint of heart, and I wasn’t sure I had it in me. My husband, on the other hand, is a man of mercy and was always planning on taking the girls. I’ll confess that I toyed with the notion of selling my ticket. Finally, one of my friends shamed me when she said sending my husband on his own to the Superdome with a crowd of 50,000 mostly screaming pre-teens was grounds for divorce, in her book. Plus, I realized that this could be the last time one of my girls wants to take a trip like this with parents in tow.

A band called Five Seconds of Summer opened for One Direction. Our seats were one section down from the nosebleed, and I knew from the start that this event was not going to be a stroke of acoustical genius. If you didn’t know the words by heart (and fortunately, most everyone there did), you had no shot at understanding what anyone was singing or saying. For the record, the sound of tens of thousand girls screaming does something horrible to one’s auditory system. Fortunately, I brought earplugs, in a lovely shade of purple.

Once the openers finished, we sat for a solid 90 minutes waiting for One Direction. They played dance music like “Put a ring on it” and “Summer Loving” from Grease during the waiting period. Our daughter and her friend danced the whole time. Conversing with anyone was impossible. So I played a word game. My husband and I wrote each other an occasional note.

Finally, the moment arrived, and the five-boy band hit the stage and runway. You’ll be pleased to know that, according to Zane, Harry and Liam, we were their loudest crowd ever. After the concert, my daughter mentioned this thrice with great pride. When it occurred to her that they might say this to every crowd, she didn’t wilt at all, convinced in the honest ways of the boys with long hair. For one of the early songs, the stadium went dark, and thousands of points of light lit up the space like the Milky Way over the ocean. My husband leaned over and yelled, “Back in the day, we did this with lighters. Now, they do it with cell phones. I’m uncertain which habit is worse.”

Other than that, the only spoken sentence that I understood for certain happened during a fluke of sound waves clarity. One of the band members yelled, “This place is absolutely epic.”

In case you’re not in the know about One Direction, they’re mostly from England, with an Irish dude thrown in for good measure. They’re all beautiful boys, and they sing well too. Their lyrics are largely uplifting: “Don’t forget where you belong.” “Don’t let up.” “Live while we’re young.”

When they started playing the song that goes, “You don’t know you’re beautiful — and that’s what makes you beautiful,” the 20-something beside me, whom I didn’t know and hadn’t spoken to (because speaking was impossible), handed me her phone and motioned for me to video the performance. She wanted to dance. So I did. I even cut from the stage to her and her friend dancing – hoping they could see that, in fact, they are rather beautiful.

Truth be told, had it not been for the terrible sound quality, the screaming and the grown woman in front of me who was sporting a sequined bow the size of a young t-rex, going to see One Direction was an enjoyable evening. Even still, I’m thinking One Direction, live and in person, was a once in a lifetime deal.

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Long Story Short