LSS: Driving Miss Crazy

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During Mardi Gras break, my 15-year-old took a 30-hour driver’s education class. Over the course of the class, she took several tests, and thankfully, passed them all — there was no refund for the class had she not. Last week, she did the driving portion of the class. After much studying and nervousness, she passed the driving test. On Wednesday, I took her to the DMV where she took another exam. She passed it too, and we walked out with a Louisiana driver’s permit in hand.

It was a happy day.

I never had a driver’s permit. Yet, I couldn’t help but compare her long and rather bureaucratic driver’s education and examination process to the one I went through to get a driver’s license.

I turned 15 on a Saturday, but right after school was out the following Monday, my mother took me to the Courthouse. We went to a small room on the corner of second floor, right under the jail. Through the window, I could see the movie theater easily. If I craned my neck, I could see City Hall. Our county highway patrolmen, who I had known all my life, was there alone. His daughter was in my class. She and I had grown up together. My mother had also known him all of her life. He and her brother had been great friends throughout their childhoods in a tiny community just outside of town.

The highway patrolman handed me a test. I sat down with it and a pencil in a wooden desk. I wrote my name on the line at the top of the page. He and my mom proceeded to talk. I had just answered the first question when he walked over to where I was sitting and pulled the test out from under my pencil, leaving a long mark down the page.

I looked up, startled.

He stood there grinning.

“Jan, I’ve been watching you drive for at least four years,” he said. “Get out of here. I know your mama’s got plenty to keep her busy, and I’m ready to go home. Here’s your license.”

We never even got to the driving portion of the test.

I had studied and practiced parallel parking.

Even so, I was more than happy to take the little piece of paper he was offering and skedaddle — I had my driver’s license, and I was off.

I drove everywhere from that day forward. Once I got to college and began supporting myself and began to make most of my own decisions, I started planning and taking giant trips that crisscrossed the country. These trips were not luxurious, but they were wondrous. If there was a road, I was ready to take it.

Getting my driver’s license may not have been the birth of my freewheeling spirit, but it was certainly its liberation.

On that day in late March long ago, there was something powerful in the State’s recognition that I was old enough to drive. I had more assurance in myself and my abilities to decide where to go and how to get there. Basically, I was in more control of my life. Granted, my newfound additional confidence may have been misguided, and surely my parents fretted with worry and concern when I started going places in the car rather than my bicycle. Maybe it helped that I lived in a town with only 5,000 people — most of whom we knew? Or maybe it didn’t.

Either way, I am grateful our daughter has six months required to drive with one of us in the car. Yes, I know she is sprouting wings and about to fly with a new and different liberation of her own, but I don’t mind having her in the nest a little while longer.

LSS: Three parts amazing

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Social media gets a bad rap, but I’ve found it often affords a message or connection to friends of long ago. This week I learned it may even offer links to people who are long since gone.

Proof in a three part story.

Part I:

Shortly after we moved to Lafayette, a friend called from a thousand miles away to tell me that another friend had tragically and unexpectedly passed away. The situation, full of heartbreak, focused largely on the three young daughters our mutual friend left behind — the youngest daughter barely three months old.

Even though distance separated us, my friend was the kind of friend I had expected to grow old with.

We adopted Piper from China shortly before my friend died. Life was full of complications, and I didn’t think I could manage the trip for her funeral. Though I have few regrets in life, ten years later, I still regret that decision.

I should have gone.

I’m not sure what I was thinking. Except that I was so full of grief, I could barely function.

The most difficult part of that grief was feeling so alone in it. Other than my husband, no one around me knew her or could tell and re-tell her stories that made me laugh and cry.

Somewhere in my brain, I remembered that before we left El Paso, Texas, for Lafayette, her mother told me of Louisiana friends she wanted us to meet.

You know how well-intended people always tell you those things.

I’ve told a thousand people those things.

You also know how few of those connections are ever made.

Part II:

About four months ago, I needed a two-seater bicycle for a photograph.

I looked and looked and asked all the usual suspects to no avail.

Finally, I posted on Facebook: “Anyone have a bicycle built for two that I could borrow?”

As happens on social media, someone posted that she did.

The odd part of her post was that, even though she was my Facebook friend, I didn’t know her. Early in the Facebook game, I friended people who shared common friends. (Eventually, I came up with the novel approach of only friending people who were actually my friends.) At any rate, this person who I didn’t know instantly rose to the status of “good people,” based on her offering of the two-seater bike. She sent me her phone number and address.

My husband and I drove to her house, had a lovely visit with her and her husband, loaded the bike up and delivered it again a week later. In fact, I wrote about her in my Mardi Gras column. She was the one decorating shoes for the New Orleans Muses parade. During the course of our bike exchange, neither of us could figure out exactly when or how we became Facebook friends. Regardless, I was happy our paths had crossed.

Part III:

Tuesday night my bicycle-built-for-two friend sent me a Facebook message.

“I think you might have known my Godmother when you lived in El Paso.”

I froze. Things suddenly came together.

This new friend and my old friend shared the same given name.

For good reason.

They were both named after the same person. My friend’s mother was the bicycle-built-for-two-friend’s godmother. Their mothers had been best friends growing up.

But a thousand miles had prevented the daughters from knowing each other well — even though they shared the same name. I immediately called my new friend. She explained their familial connections. I told her about how, all these years later, I still grieve my friend and regret not going to her funeral.

She said, “Well, you know her family. You know they aren’t the kind of people who would want anyone living with regret. They’re all about moving on.”

A part of me wanted to say, “But this was a friend so special that you never really move on completely.”

Instead, I was comforted that someone finally gave me permission to move on.

With permission comes responsibility. I’ve held on to a collection of audio and video tapes of times she and I shared (on a crazy radio and television cooking show I hosted in El Paso). I’ve waited for the right point to pass those tapes on to her daughters.

Maybe it’s time.

Messages are sometimes delivered in mysterious ways.

LSS: Happy National Poetry Month!

Louisiana poetry...I have three friends who regularly say, “We don’t have enough poetry in the world today.” That sentiment is one of the reasons I know they’re good friends to have. They’re right, of course. We don’t have enough poetry in many aspects of our lives. Though I’m not a fan of rote memorization on many levels, when it comes to poetry, I believe memorization has a place — especially for children. Those poems we memorize as children stick with us.

I can still quote much of Annabel Lee by Edgar Allan Poe because I had to stand in front of my 5th grade class and recite it, thanks to Mrs. Thompson. I checked with many other of her former students, and they remember too. We may not remember much else we learned that year, but many of us can still quote most of the poem — and everyone remembers certain lines and the experience of learning it.

I also believe in reading new poetry, and know that reading it aloud is best.

In honor and celebration of April as National Poetry Month, I asked Darrell Bourque, who was Louisiana’s poet laureate a few years ago, if he’d like to share a poem. He has given permission to use one of his most recent poems, which will be included in Megan’s Guitar, a new collection of his poetry, due to come out in a few weeks. Bourque and his gentle ways are genuine gifts to this community. If you get the chance to hear him read, please do yourself a favor and take that chance. With his permission, here is Bourque’s poem:

CHURCH POINT BREAKDOWN

In Memory of Iry Lejeune, 1928-1955

Before you could walk

someone or another

crossed a leg

and put you on a foot,

gave you your first ride

singing t-galop, t-galop.

It was your first lesson

in mobility, it was

your first dance.

In the playground

or under the oak

you sang Saute Crapaud

with your cousins.

You were learning

double-entendre

along with resilience

and rejuvenation,

an early lesson

in transformational

syntax.

Mostly in the morning

you sang Frère Jacques,

to be awake, a call

in rounds to mindfulness,

to get on with your life,

not to sleep your life away.

And then came the other songs:

Bonsoir Moreau and J’ai Passé,

La Porte en Arrière,

Viens Me Chercher

and Les Flammes d’Enfer.

Everything comes to us

through the body,

the great metered muscle,

maître et maîtresse,

showing us how to sing:

sex and love, loneliness

and desire, how to fall

apart and how to hold

things together,

when to stay,

when to let go.

— Darrell Bourque

Bourque’s beautiful Acadiana inspired poetry motivated me to try my hand at a poem of my own about the Vermilion River and the Pinhook Bridge, topics I’ve given a lot of thought to lately.

Try your own hand at a poem. Send it my way, if you’d like. Let the celebration of poetry continue.

THE POINT BETWEEN A RIVER AND BAYOU

a tribute to Bayou Vermilion District

From where I sit,

the Vermilion proceeds —

backwards.

Tiny white-caps.

Swollen with pride.

A discounted estuary

from Gulf to Pinhook.

Where the river stops

and the bayou begins.

An invisible line divides

Petit Manchac to its source.

What was river is bayou.

What was bayou is river.

Depending on surge and perspective.

The waters — they transform.

The pirates knew.

With help of native people,

pioneers figured it out.

Spaniards built a mission trail

to cross red water.

Civil War battles.

Not one, but two.

Pinhook was the point

where everything happened,

including a restaurant scalawag

who made a habit of reeling in chickens

and offered the name,

retained by an arterial roadway.

Thousands cross each day.

The unseen line is near meaningless now.

A bridge between

sushi and blooming onions

where fish and fur once changed hands.

Centuries of knowledge lost.

When you’ve got wifi,

what does it matter

which way the river flows?

LSS: My uncle David’s dog

Surely goodness and mercyUncle David had a dog.

Her name was Surely.

I do not jest.

Almost in tribute to her Biblical roots, Surely followed my dear uncle all the days of his life.

He had been formulating his plan for his dogs’ names for years. While he liked dogs and treated them well, his real goal was to be able to tell the tale of his dogs’ names. His brainchild was to get two more motley-bred dogs. He would have named them Goodness and Mercy.

Uncle David was a legendary storyteller — both within and outside our family. He was the kind of funny that would leave you weeping. Even within our family, Uncle David was the best, and I come from a family of storytellers. Whether he was re-enacting makeshift cheerleaders from a women’s softball game, who in no uncertain terms, told Mable Lee McMurphy to straighten out the foul balls she repeatedly kept hitting. Or maybe it was his re-telling of the exploits from decades earlier in Mrs. Carr’s science class. Or how he won a college scholarship to play the bass drum in the college band. Yet he had never had one day of music lessons or band experience in his life.

Whatever story he chose to tell, we all stopped what we were doing and sat mesmerized as he wove the magic great storytellers weave when they tell their tales. I remember, as a little girl sitting with my cousins, and all of us begging him for more. I think about all the tidbits and anecdotes my cousins and I absorbed through Uncle David’s stories. They passed down family lore and life lessons that we just wouldn’t have gotten any other way. Through them, we not only learned to listen, but we learned how to tell tales of our own.

My cousins and I remain actively grateful for the time spent around the table or in the living room listening to the generations ahead of us tell us about how things used to be.

About 12 years ago, my phone rang late one night.

It was one of those calls that you never forget. You answer it thinking it’s just another inconsequential call, and it ends up changing everything. My uncle David died suddenly and unexpectedly from a pulmonary embolism.

He passed away, with Surely by his side — but no Goodness and Mercy. His death was such a shock and left such a void in our family. More than a dozen years later, my dad still mourns his younger brother.

We all do, in fact.

In honor of my uncle, my parents got a new dog. My dad named him Mercy.

A few years later, he got another one. He named her Goodness.

Both dogs look a lot like my uncle’s old dog, Surely, who died a few years after Uncle David.

Goodness and Mercy keep my parents company and, since they’re both rather ferocious looking, they do a fine job of protecting the place, as well. But even more than that, they’re also a constant and subtle reminder of my dear uncle.

If you ever make it to my dad’s small farm, you’ll see him walking around the grounds.

Goodness and Mercy follow close behind.

My uncle’s story continues.