She needs wide open spaces

Susan rolled back into our lives nearly seven years ago.

Lafayette was supposed to be a four-year college stop.

We’ve known Susan, our longtime baby sitter-who-basically-became-a-family-member, for more than a dozen years. She was a middle-schooler in El Paso, Texas, when we first met. Now she’s 25 and off to change the world.

After she graduated from UL, she was fortunate to get a job that has allowed her to see much of the country. However, until now, she has kept Lafayette as her home base. While she’s been traveling, we’ve missed her as a part of our daily lives. But she’s flitted in and out of town often enough that the place she occupied in our world for so long stayed warm.

Recently, she got a promotion – which meant that the time had come for her to relocate permanently.

And so, on Thursday afternoon, I packed all of her remaining earthly belongings into her trusty car (minus 164 pink and green plastic hangers she gave to my daughters, the 27 pairs of flip-flops she donated to Goodwill and the twin mattress set she hopes to sell for $50 to a friend of a friend who lives near campus).

I love to pack too much stuff in too-small places, so I was perfect for the job of implementing the jigsaw puzzle-it-will-only-fit-one-way-style packing method to fit the nine duffle bags, recently framed college diploma, laundry hamper, box of important papers, 17 pairs of dress shoes and 14 photo albums documenting every college life phase.

With every packed-to-the-brim bag that I stuffed in that little car, a Dixie Chicks song was running through my mind. It’s the anthem that resonates for any 20-something girl who’s ever left home or a place where she’s put down roots.

Who’s never left home, who’s never struck out?

To find a dream and a life of their own

A place in the clouds, a foundation of stone.

Many precede and many will follow

A young girl’s dreams no longer hollow …

Once I was done with what I considered to be an accomplished packing job, two of Susan’s Lafayette friends walked around her car. I wasn’t sure at first if they were marveling at the sheer volume of stuff or at the prospects of what awaited her on the road ahead.

One of her friends said, “I couldn’t do it.”

“What?” I asked. “You couldn’t do what?”

“Get in my car and leave Lafayette,” he said. “After college, I moved to New Orleans for a few months and that was enough.”

I understood where he was coming from, and I knew he spoke the truth.

But I also knew that the adventure Susan was embarking on came as naturally to her as staying did to her friend. And I knew she was ready – even though the rest of us will miss her mightily. Early Friday morning, she headed off to Washington, D.C., to her new job in the city.

She needs wide open spaces.

Playing Real Cards

Spring break is a thing of beauty — a respite to re-charge the batteries before one last charge until the end of the school year. Having spring break for the first time in 20 years has been wonderful.
My family, some friends and I went to Lake Fausse Pointe State Park. I took books to read, but I did my best not to read them. When I start a book, I tend to escape from everything around me. Being at Lake Fausse
Pointe with family and friends was exactly where I wanted to be.

Though I love to read, I wanted to be as present as I could while we had the time together. However, that did not stop me from enjoying another guilty pleasure – playing Solitaire. Remember the kind you used to play – with a real deck of cards? Playing Sol is bubble-gum for my mind, but still allows me to take part in what’s going on around me.

When I was a kid (although my great-grandmother frowned on cards mightily), we played a lot of cards. My father fancied himself the guru of all card games and would often offer commentary that went something like this, “In real cards, they’d shoot you for doing that.”

I never knew where my father learned the ins and outs of “real cards,” but some of his observations stuck with me. Until this day, when some innocent takes a card back after releasing it, I do my best to stifle the soundtrack in my head.
“In real cards, they’d shoot you for that.”

Another of his Real Card rules took Solitaire to a whole different level for me. Apparently, in the land of Real Cards, you buy a deck of cards to play Solitaire for $52. Then, once your game is done, the imaginary Real Card people pay you $5 for each card you get “up top,” with the Aces.

Until this week, I haven’t played Sol in years, but all of my father’s card rules started running through my head the instant I picked up the deck.

Friends and family offered counsel on beating my invisible competitor. I resisted the urge to tell them that in Real Cards, they could be shot for such an offense.

Late into a game, a friend suggested I move an already-placed card to another stack. I explained that such a move would be cheating, and cheating wasn’t allowed in Real Cards.
But the real reason I didn’t do it was not so much about high and mighty personal ethics. Nope, I figured out long ago that if I cheated at Sol, I’d be able to move cards around. If I didn’t cheat at Sol and continued playing another game, I’d still be moving cards around. So what was the benefit in cheating? I got no satisfaction from “winning” by cheating — and on the rare occasion when I did win at Real Cards, my victory was all-the-sweeter.

Long Story Short: Saying good-bye

Cars have never been my thing.
The need is clear.
Point A.
Point B.
We need a way to get from one to another. That is the purpose a car
serves in my mind. All the fanfare and allure often connected to
automobiles zooms right past me.
Yet, for all of my practicality when it comes to vehicles, I have a
confession. The last car my husband and I bought was different.
From the moment I took it for a test drive, I knew that little SUV was
mine. I loved the seats; the way the steering wheel turned so easily,
the display board. I loved the air conditioner and the sound system. I
even loved the cup holders.
I had been driving my car for nearly seven years and expected to
continue driving it for a while to come.
With the hassle of air travel — especially for short trips, since
9/11, we’ve taken more than our share of road trips. Washington, D.C.
North Carolina. Chicago. Orlando. Destin. Countless trips to my
hometown. All in that car I loved so much.
We were comfortable. We were good for each other.
Abruptly, last week as I was driving down Ambassador Caffery, my
beloved car died.  I thought it could be resuscitated and took it in
for repair.
I left it in good hands, believing we would reunite in a few days.
I didn’t bother clearing out the variety of items currently residing
in my car/office/closet/cupboard — including the half-filled 5 pound
bag of yellow onions, pair of faded psychedelic rubber boots, bag of
Mardi Gras beads, three road atlases, 38 CDs, stray petrified French
fries, chicken nuggets and Skittles, 14 books, three packs of playing
cards, lots of socks (not all mine), battered booster seat, wooden
salad bowl and pepper mill.
But, I was wrong. There was no saving my adored auto. The end had come.
Turns out, I hadn’t done as good of a job taking care of it as it had of me.
My husband performed the gruesome task of cleaning out all our belongings.
I never got a chance to say good-bye. I realize the silliness and
shallowness of my affection and near grief over the loss of a car,
especially in such dire economic times.
But I can’t help myself.  I’m sad to see it go. It played a major role
in the life of our family. We will miss it.
My husband admits he loved the car too.
“I was so close to that car that if it were possible I would have it
crushed down into one of those tiny cubes and use it for a coffee
table in the living room,” my husband said, only half-kidding.
“Knowing there would have to be a few socks and loose change somewhere
there in the compressed metal — sort of like having an urn of Uncle
Charlie’s ashes on the mantle.”
May the road rise up to greet us all in whatever car we drive.

Long Story Short: Making do with loquat jam

To fully appreciate the loquat jam my daughters and I made last week,
you’d have to know Linda Halfacre Osborne.

She and I went to college together. She was then and is now one of the
funniest people I’ve ever met. She has many gifts — one of them is
the ability to make everyone want to spend time with her. She knows
how to have fun and make the people around her feel good.

Whether Linda has ever eaten loquat jam or could identify a loquat in
a line-up is beside the point.

Last weekend, my friend played an important role in my decision to
give in to our youngest daughter’s request to go outside and pick
loquats (also known as Japanese Plums or nisparos). Piper, 7, did not
only want to pick loquats, she wanted to make loquat jam.

I don’t know how she got the idea to make jam out of loquats, but she did.

And she was relentless.

Until I moved to Acadiana, I didn’t know a loquat from a cherimoya,
but early on I recognized that the tree thrives here. We have a mature
tree in our front yard that produces more fruit than we can eat or
reach.

Granted, we weren’t sure if the little yellow pear-shaped
kumquat-sized fruit was edible at first. But after a little research,
I learned that not only is it edible, it’s tasty. To me, it tastes
like a combination green apple and pear. Prized in Asia and somewhat
popular in California, few people in South Louisiana pay it much mind.

But back to Linda.

When Piper was begging me to pick fruit and make jam, all I wanted to
do was read a book. The sun was shining. I was tired. I had no idea if
loquats were jammable.

But, a few weeks ago, Linda sent me something she called “Interview
with my children” — a simple list of 21 questions she asked her
children.

Like my friend, her children’s answers made me smile.

“What was your mom like as a child?”

Julianna, 11, said, “Freckly.”

Evan, 7, said, “Sweet and loving and kind. I bet, cause I wasn’t even
alive then. I was no where then.”

“What makes Mom sad?”

“When we whine,” Julianna said.

“The devil,” Evan said.

Linda inspired me to do the interview with my own children.

“What is your mom not very good at?”

Greer, my 11-year-old, said, “Making mayonnaise.”

Piper, my 7-year-old, said, “Doing her hair.”

“How are you and your mom different?”

“Our interest in TV shows. Our opinions on cell phones,” said a very smug Greer.

“We look different. Our nails are different. Our favorite numbers are
different,” said Piper.

“What makes Mom sad?”

“Diseases. Or Dad throwing stuff away,” said Greer.

“When me and Greer fight,” said Piper.

 “What makes you proud of your mom?”

“She loves me,” said Piper.

“Her make-dos,” said Greer.

And that is what brings us to loquat jam.

If Linda hadn’t sent me the questionnaire, Greer would not have told
me that she was proud of me when I “made do.” Though the simple
questions and my children’s answers shone much light on many areas of
our relationships, the biggest surprise for me was that Greer
recognized that I thrived in “make do” situations.

But she had.

And that made me want to go outside and pick loquats and figure out
how to “make-do” some loquat jam with my daughters.

And we did.

And it was good.

Thanks, Linda.

(Jan Risher’s column appears Sundays. If you’d like to comment or a
copy of all 21 questions to conduct your very own “Interview with your
children,” e-mail her at jan@janrisher.com. The interview is fun for
mothers and children of any ages.)

Saturday morning loquat picking…

My daughters are outside picking loquats. One of them acts like it’s a pain. I wish I could somehow magically  enlighten her as to how to have fun when you’re not doing exactly what you want to be doing — how to make the best of it and find a way to laugh. How many parents have ever wished that upon their children before?