December 31, 1998: New Year's Eve. This entry is blatantly nostalgic, I warn you. I was looking through the physical Lair Log and that started my train of thought, reliving the enjoyment of our friends and family and the fun we have had together this year. But what has really sparked this entry is one of the gifts Jene gave us for Christmas. It is Maria Muldaur's "Louisiana Love Call" CD and as I write, Maria is singing about missing the breeze in the Magnolia trees, and how she needs to go home. This has released a flood of memories of growing up in the South, a heritage I love and enjoy to this day. And one can't get much further south than the Louisiana Red River Delta country in Central Louisiana, the South Louisiana French town of New Iberia, the cities of Baton Rouge and New Orleans; I have ties with, or have lived in, all these places. I once had a Mississippi rubber stamp company create a special stamp for me, "That's What I Like About the South," and they told me it was one of their best selling stamps. So, instead of New Year's resolutions, which I never keep anyway, I am going to make a list of what I like about growing up in the South.
The slow pace we had in the rural South...at least it was slow for me. I lived on a bayou bank, between cotton fields and acres of sugar cane. I had a dog named Inky, and she and I would go out in the early summer afternoons and spend hours on the bayou bank. I would sit under my favorite Sacred Sycamore tree reading and she would worry the tadpoles at the edge of the water or chase dragonflies as we both enjoyed the scent of the Honeysuckle vines that grew along the fence. The birds were everywhere. Occasionally I would take out the pirogue for a leisurely float down the bayou, dipping the oars only when necessary to keep from going aground. I loved sitting on the front porch enjoying the aroma of freshly turned earth in the fields nearby or the smell of rain coming from across the bayou, and the songs of the workers in the fields, or the sweet smell of syrup and cane sugar in the air during grinding season, October through December.
I grew up with the scents of Sweet Olive blossoms, Magnolias, and Gardenias. Not the tiny ones seen now, but huge bushes of large, white, fragile, aromatic REAL Gardenias. Now, that is Southern. One of my dates for a ball at LSU sent me a beautiful corsage of three huge gardenias. My dress was black (we wore formals with white elbow-length kid gloves; really festive, were those balls in our day), and the corsage was perfect, but the Lagniappe (a La. term for "a little something extra") was the silly little ditty he wrote on the card:
"Jas' as de green grass
I like folks who aren't afraid to be silly and I still have the note, and still hold the beautiful corsage in my heart, Jim, wherever you are!
At LSU I walked to class between mossy oak trees and Japonica and Camellia bushes eight and ten feet tall, with fiery Azaleas everywhere and wondered why I was so blessed to be at a campus that was, at that time (before it got so crowded with skyscrapers), so absolutely beautiful. At home, I would lie at a deliciously dangerous angle on the bayou bank, watching the big cottony clouds drifting by and claiming the world as mine with deep satisfaction. Then a group would gather and go swimming at the ice cold spring-fed swimming hole, or go crawfishing, or horseback riding through the woods, enjoying the pale pink wild azalea and dogwood in season.
The food! Wild game: ducks, quail, doves, rabbits, venison, even squirrel stew, Fried Bream fish, Seafood Gumbo, Red Fish Courtbouillon, (pronounced "Couvionh" for those of you not from the South), Oysters on the half shell, or fried in a Po' Boy sandwich, Southern Fried Chicken with biscuits and honey. French bread with butter and sugar cane syrup filling the "nose" of the bread. Dewberry jelly, fresh and preserved figs, sweet, tender corn grown in our fields. Peeling and chewing Ribbon cane while sitting on the back stairs. Iced tea made with Meeker well water, nothing more delicious before or since. Pecans from our front yard.
Gardening in the sandy soil gave us huge pots of zinnias, marigolds, blue and pink Bachelor Buttons, and other flowers in every room. Dad bringing Mother a prize rose every morning and putting it in a bud vase on the kitchen table. Neighbors dropping in for coffee in the kitchen at all hours. Coffee served under the huge pecan tree in the front yard in summer, with friends and classmates draped over lounge chairs and hammocks or in the swing, swaying lazily in the summer heat. The gentle cadence of the Southern drawl we all shared, the soft laughter, the songs, the stolen kisses from one's date, quickly, before Mother got huffy about us lingering too long at the door.
The mossy old oaks where I climbed and hid and dreamed and suffered the loss of some boy friend or rejoiced in a new one. Going out to gather greenery from the woods at Christmas, with Dad shooting mistletoe from the tops of tall trees. And the trees are unbelievably tall in Louisiana. I forget that, and it surprises me when I return.
Overall, I loved the gentleness of growing up in the South, the graciousness, the slow flowing of the streams, the slow twirling of the fans and the slow savoring of dreams, all of those part of the River that still runs through my heart, even while I enjoy this totally different life and landscape at The Lair.
That's only SOME of what I like about the South!
Happy New Year!
January 1, 1999: Happy New Year! May it be your best to date! Yesterday's entry has brought several e-mail messages from family and friends telling me how many memories it triggered. Here are those sent by my sister, Lynette, who is ten years younger than I and, of course, has different memories. I share these with her permission:
Lynette's reference to creating a monster refers to the fact that I got her hooked into rubber stamping several years ago, and how much we both have enjoyed that for several years.
I remember writing to a friend stationed in Germany, as I was sitting at the desk by the open window, and describing to him the sounds of the Bull Frogs down at the bayou, the Cicada calls, the night songs of the Mockingbird, the ambiance of the Southern summer nights, and he wrote back that it was like having a little bit of home come to him in that letter.
Larisa of "Humble Bumble" website in Wisconsin wrote of her introduction to Gardenias, and how difficult it is to imagine the life I described while she is surrounded with ice and snow at present. I know it sounds too good to be true, Lara, but it actually was that good, and I knew it was at the time, too! Annette, of "Blackberry Creek Farm" website in Michigan, also in the midst of a snowstorm, writes that it makes her nostalgic about her life growing up in Texas. I am glad; I hope the entry sparks memories for a lot of people. There are so many things to enjoy and we all tend to remember the dark times more vividly, it is good to deliberately remember the good times. What are some of your good memories of growing up in the South? Of growing up anywhere?
January 3, 1999: Some additional interesting email has come from my New Year's Eve entry. My cousin, Linda, who grew up in the South also, then later moved to Minnesota, then to Alaska where she has lived for many years, sent some memories of life in the South and of living in the North and has graciously granted me permission to share them:
"I read your Lair Log the other day and have had a early attack of "Spring Dreams" as a result. From my earliest days of marriage (which included moving "North") I have had spells of dreaming dreams cited in my childhood familiar places. After a few years, I began to realize these spells always occurred about the time spring was arriving in Louisiana. Then as we became affluent enough to make an occasional trip back there it was always convenient to go in spring and I realized that most of my memories are olfactory, and you mentioned most of them. There are two that I would add: One is the smell of the damp leaves on the floor of a hardwood forest beginning to warm up in preparation for the blooming of piney woods violets, dogwood, redbud and finally the perfume glory of wild azalea. The other is the overwhelmingly hot oily odor of the Little Red House full of cotton to within two feet of the ceiling the year there was a strike at the cotton gin. I was allowed to play on -- and, unbeknownst to my parents, in -- the soft, hot, prickly stuff. For some strange reason I remember being so deliciously uncomfortable there. It was hard to breathe, hot, and itchy as all get-out. Why do you suppose I enjoyed it so much?
A lot of your memories I can relate to because your [parents'] house was always one of my favorite places to go. I remember the very high swing you had at the house at the sugar mill, and how proud I was when I first got up the courage to swing in it. I remember Ed being so patient with me. He took me out in a row boat on the bayou and it either did, almost did, or I perceived it to spring a leak and sink out from under us, but he was such the big handsome hero, he saved me -- probably by untying me just in time to save me from the big saw -- no, no -- it was a locomotive -- no, it was jungle savages!! -- yeah, that must have been it!!...When Jim and I visited your parents, we always felt such a loving acceptance that we both wound up feeling their place was truly going "home" for us. We have grown old with an awareness of what their home meant to us and of our desire to try to provide that same sense of belonging for a younger generation.
I find that, like you, I knew at the time it was all good, but I am surprised sometimes at which of the insignificant things wound up sticking in my memory as markers of a whole way of life. Being able to walk out of the bedroom into a balmy southern night like we did at the Bayou Jack house is one of those things. In northern Minnesota it was the return of the Loons to the lake and their first haunting evening calls signifying that winter had truly gone away again.
What a floodgate you opened -- yes, gardenias, magnolias and sweet olive. Fireflies, bullfrogs, bald eagles flying by the living room window watching you watch them, timber wolves walking through your yard, and smears on the window from winter hungry moose hoping to get a bite of the houseplants they can see through the glass. The squeaky sound of bamboo growing, crickets and peepers making the nights noisy, the rifle-crack sound of maple trees splitting and the thunder rumble of the lake ice cracking in the nights when the temperature was 30 below zero. One memory leads to another -- now I think of those cracked maple trees and tapping them, hauling the sap in buckets in the kids' red wagon to the cooker, keeping the fire going for days at a time and the resulting syrup. It was fun to make, but I always thought it failed to come up to the flavor of ribbon cane syrup. And with that, I'll quit --"
Ed is my brother and, of course, Linda's cousin as well. Linda lived for a time in the ancient and lovely Louisiana town of Natchitoches, which was the setting for the movie, "Steel Magnolias."
You know what we are doing here, don't you? We are celebrating our lives. How do you celebrate yours?
January 4, 1999: Another cousin, Joyce, has sent her memories triggered by the web site, and here is a composite of her reaction:
"I thought of a few memories of growing up in Texas. You're really making my mind work now--Having summer temperatures over 100 degrees most of the summer, and long, long summers, and "Riding" my stick horse around the block over and over, and not minding that the temperature was over 100. Riding my tricycle around the block over and over. Skating on roller skates around the block. Getting a pony, having a dog and a cat. Drawing with colored chalk really big pictures on the sidewalk. Playing hopscotch. Going with Daddy for lunch and eating a hamburger and chocolate pie, or banana pie, or lemon pie. Going for piano lessons at 7:30 in the morning before school with Miss Bauer. Finding lizards and toads in the yard, being careful not to step on them. Playing with Larry and Charles next door to the cleaners, and walking to school every day with Larry in the first grade (I was afraid to go without him). We'd go arm in arm down the block. Sitting on the steps of the cleaners and talking to customers as they went in and out. Being short enough to walk underneath all the clothes hanging on hangers in the cleaners. Going to those big, big family reunions, usually in Louisiana. Playing with Paw-Paw (Shows), bouncing on his knees and he would pretend to almost drop me, and I would giggle with surprise. Much later, talking with Mom about which boys I liked...
All of those updates are so wonderful! It really is a celebration of our lives. And it's so wonderful to see what everyone says, and all the different things they remember, and sometimes I know exactly what they are talking about and I remember it too, or something similar. It's kind of a Cyber-family reunion. That's really fun! But I didn't know so many family members were such wonderful writers. Those will be things to read over and over and enjoy, and remember each other."
January 16, 1999: My Dad was manager of the Meeker Sugar Refinery, a sugar mill that had the distinction of being the northernmost sugar mill in Louisiana. Mr. Berry was one of the owners. The painting below is a small watercolor I did of the deteriorating mill after it was abandoned a number of years ago. The painting is in Lynette's collection and I called her tonight and she took a picture with her digital camera and sent it via email minutes ago. That still amazes me!
My high school class has always been very close, for we started first grade together and graduated high school together and we still attend our reunions and many of us have kept in close touch throughout the years. Since not many of them are online, I sent a newsletter to my classmates last week containing the December 31st through January 13th entries to the Lair Log, knowing they would relate to many of the memories recorded there. Eddie Boniol and I are classmates, and we both grew up in the little rural community of Meeker, Louisiana, and attended school in the small town of Lecompte (pronounced Lecount), two miles away. Eddie has recently retired and returned to his old home place in Meeker. After reading the newsletter, Eddie sent me the following email and with his permission, I share his wonderful memories with you:
"Your newsletter was more welcome than an oasis in the desert.
It brought floods of memories and now that the floodgates are opened - - -
I remember. I remember. How could I forget?
Of course, many of these memories Eddie listed are my memories, too. The little steam engine was called "The Dinky." When we went home after graduating, we went home to the whole community, to Mrs. Burnum's corn fritters, and Miss Cora's coconut cake. Miss Cora was our telephone operator and she would answer our hand-cranked ring with "Operator," or "Central." Listen, if you think email is fast, Miss Cora could send news much faster. And she always knew where my folks were and told me when they would be back, if I were calling home from out of town.
One last memory and then I will shut down the nostalgia reporting. When we were little, about once a year Ed and I would be dressed up and taken to appear before Mr. Berry. He would be sitting in an easy chair with his feet up on the foot stool (he seemed very old to me then), and we had been so admonished about being on our good behavior for this visit, that I always felt like I was going before God's throne. It was a 1920's or 30's chair that had that olive green furry/fuzzy cloth on it (there is a name for it, but I don't remember what it is). When Mr. Berry returned to Chicago permanently he gave his favorite easy chair with footstool to Mother and Dad (or sold it to them, I don't know). When Mom and Dad retired and sold Bend Field Farm, I asked for Mr. Berry's chair and had it for at least 20-25 years, until we moved to The Lair. It was MY chair and I simply slipcovered it, for it was well broken in by Mr. Berrygod and I always felt smirky sitting in the throne before which I used to have to appear!
February 4,1999: Again, I refer new readers to my December 31st entry to see what led to this entry. No other topic in the Lair Log has stirred so much response, both from friends and people I don't know. I said that I was going to shut down the nostalgia reporting, but then I heard from Linda Saunders Rhame, a classmate and close friend of Lynette's, who has shared her memories specifically of Lecompte. I thought those of you from that area will enjoy hearing what she has to say:
"I love your Lair Log. Brings back so many memories. Lecompte
reminds me of a true Sleepy Hollow town, which I loved with all of my heart. I
am so thankful that my sister and my mother are both still there so I get to
visit anytime I can
Miss Stahl has a legacy of scaring most of her first graders out of their skins, and she had a long tenure at Lecompte High School. In her favor, she taught me to love Goldenrod flowers, because she had us draw them with crayons and I really looked at the flowers after that.
When Linda mentioned "graduation," it reminded me that all the graduating classes a few years before mine marched in carrying a cedar rope on their shoulders, the boys wearing suits and the girls in white formal dresses, each with a bouquet of Sweet Peas. To this day, I associate the wonderful scent of Sweet Peas with graduation and piano recitals, when we wore corsages of those beautiful flowers, now so rarely seen.
We will go on to other things when I write again. It is time to move on.
January 4, 1999 1:38 PM: The following is an excerpt from my journal, "Moondust:"
"I felt a strong pull from the land to come witness, to come sit with my Mother the Earth. I thought at first that it is too cold, despite the October-blue sky and golden sunlight. However, the Mother continued to call silently, "Come Daughter, come." I came. Even though it is about 34 to 36 degrees with a cold light breeze from the east, I have suited up and come to sit, to listen, to hear the voice of Sophia/Wisdom, to receive any gifts that may be offered.
I am at the Sacred Sycamore Grove that grows in the big creek. The creek is running clear, the serpentine curves winding through the land, echoing the Rainbow Serpent, the Feminine Mysteries that turn and twist within the dark deeps of me. The water is speaking softly, singing really, the high treble notes laughing over the stones while the small waterfall that turns aside adds the bass note.
I have been too long among the world of people and commerce, cars and things, for it takes a long while for my soul to become still, for my ears to begin to listen, for my eyes to begin to see. As I finally grow still, the gifts begin to come to me. A limb of a Possum Haw tree leans near, only a few red berries remaining, overlooked by the birds, made more precious by the scarcity of their crimson hue. Today the landscape is brown, rust, burnt orange and the chalky cream color of the limestone cliffs at the edge of the stream. Color, intense color, is rare, and therefore the more appreciated. A single mustard-colored leaf is edged perfectly in scarlet. The punch of green from the cedars, a lone Live Oak, and cactus serve as accents to the muted winter robe of the Mother. The Spanish Oaks have long since dropped their red cloak to the ground to turn into brown crackles beneath my feet. The Sycamore balls adorn the tall white trunks and limbs like Christmas decorations forgotten through familiarity, left until the February winds take them down and tuck them away.
I am nestled in a patch of waist-high grass and as I sit in my lawn chair, the grasses, nudged by the wind, caress my cheek as if to say, "We are glad you finally came." I feel embraced, cradled, and safe in the sunshine, perched at the edge of this creek that brings a healing calm through its movement and soft, gurgling sound. There are no birds. Where are the birds? Plenty are chirping and feeding at the house, but here with seeds and berries, water and winter leaves to scratch in, there should be some birds, and they are absent. Unless they are sensibly tucked into their own feathers somewhere, taking a nap. It is siesta time, after all!
I brought this journal, my binoculars and my camera, but I only want to sit and witness the land. I want to absorb the soaring energy of the trees, to hear the humming of the water, to feel the warmth of the sun smiling on me, to simply BE...with the land.
Ah, but I spoke too soon. The Big Gift arrived so silently I would have missed it had I not been waiting and watching. It came in a tiny package about the size of a fluffy yellow Easter chick. This tiny puffball of olive green settled so quietly on the branch, I thought at first it was a leaf that had fluttered down to the twig. It moved, and then I realized a tiny Ruby-crowned Kinglet was perched less than four feet in front of my nose! He was intent on preening and grooming himself and I had a good look at his ruby crown, not often seen. The crimson feathers were sometimes flat and sometimes slightly crested. Ordinarily these birds are difficult to observe because they are on the move constantly as they eat the insects on the trees and bushes. This Gift Boy fluttered his wings characteristically and flitted from branch to branch, but he stopped often to preen. I watched him through my binoculars for a while and then just settled in to observe his antics. Just then, a Kingfisher flew by swiftly, following the water, dodging the trees with fighter plane precision, and I dared not lift my binoculars for fear of scaring the Kinglet away. I had to content myself with the fisher's ratcheting laughter and a glimpse of his blue feathers as he darted out of sight around a curve in the creek.
As I was coming back to the house, I saw three bucks with nice antler racks bounding away from me. I came home with a heart full of lovely gifts that I can call to mind any time, at will. That is why often declare myself a very rich woman."
Last revised: November 26, 2010