Monday, February 20, 2017

FACES OF INNOCENTS

Great Grandmother Diane with
Lilian
In my lexicon, If one picture is worth a thousand words, pictures of children are worth tens of thousands of words. At a birthday party for my six-year-old great-grandson Alex this past weekend, we were able to record the faces of my three great-grandchildren and took endless shots of them, not just to commemorate the occasion but to make those little faces available to me when I return to Sewanee, Tennessee next month.

Alex the party boy
On days when fog hangs over the day and gray feelings reflect the weather, I bring up photographs of Alex, Kate, and Lillian (the twins) and am uplifted. After making several road trips this past week, today I almost succumbed to gray, weary feelings, but I brought up the photos on my cell phone and was grateful that when I looked at those innocent faces I felt hopeful. I was also grateful for the devotion of the children's grandmothers because the Romero offspring are fortunate to have grandmothers who travel from southeastern and southwestern Louisiana to provide loving, extended family almost every other week, an experience my daughters hardly ever enjoyed.

I said that pictures of children are worth tens of thousands of words, so here are the photos that
Daddy Martin with Kate
should evoke a smile or two from readers...or are they just products of inordinate great-grandmotherly pride?  A footnote to the photos: The twins are on the cusp of becoming one-year-old. Lillian walks and Kate talks, and if you stand outside the door of their nursery, you can hear them talking to one another in twin language. Their favorite subject: When are we going to eat? I thought I interpreted a question Lillian asked Kate this weekend: Who's that old lady with white hair that keeps reciting nursery rhymes to us? 

 

Saturday, February 11, 2017

MY KIND OF MARDI GRAS

Karen & Darrell's house
It's that time of year again — Mardi Gras in French Louisiana. If readers want the full Monty about this celebration, a foray into Lyle Saxon's Old Louisiana provides an extensive account of this season preceding Lent. Saxon, one of the brightest raconteurs of his day, lived most of his life in New Orleans and devoted the first six chapters of Old Louisiana to Mardi Gras, explaining that the very name New Orleans "brings to mind a Mardi Gras pageant moving through the streets at night: crowds of masqueraders, rearing horses, great decorated floats glowing with color and glittering gold-leaf. Aboard the swaying cars are centaurs, mermaids, satyrs, gods and men, illuminated by flaring torches carried by strutting negroes robed in red..." Saxon sat on a balcony in front of the St. Charles Hotel during Mardi Gras, 1946, and described the first Mardi Gras to occur after WWII over a national radio broadcasting chain. Readers could say that he was talking about Mardi Gras while dying; a few days after his broadcast, he was hospitalized with cancer and died.

Darrell, Diane, Karen
For the tourist, New Orleans is the place to be during Mardi Gras activities, but, of course, Cajun Country has its own Carnival balls, parades, and private celebrations. At my age, I prefer the latter, especially when it takes place in the home of the Bourques in Church Point, Louisiana. Like Saxon, Darrell Bourque, the former poet laureate of Louisiana and his wife Karen, a glass artist, have an abiding interest in "living well." When we get together with them, the atmosphere is charged with the energy of two accomplished artists — books are stacked on desks, in bookcases everywhere; regional art fills every room in their home and studio. The studio is an old shotgun style house the Bourques renovated to resemble a Creole cottage, complete with heavily-battened blue shutters, facing the cobbled New Orleans style courtyard. A new addition is a wrought iron fence enclosing the cottage that adds to the Creole ambience.  Each time we visit the studio, I discover glass pieces I've viewed before, but see them as new, in every corner. I find different displays of their grandson William's paintings, perhaps a new poem lying on the tall table where the two artists create both glass work and poems — everything is viewed as new. I tease my friends about my becoming a permanent guest holed up in their studio to write.

Thursday, a Mardi Gras centerpiece decorated the dining table where we dined and talked for two hours. The food! Darrell cooks a magnifique pork roast with homemade sauce of roasted peppers and onions; Karen, a sweet potato casserole, fresh asparagus salad with homemade dressing, and Darrell always insists that we have nahn, which he knows I learned to love while living in Iran. "This is our Mardi Gras," Darrell said, and we toasted our long friendship as a way to celebrate that which is fun-filled and gracious in our lives. No loud fanfare, parades, costumed folks, no dancing in the hall — just lots of talk and doubling-over laughter.

Vickie @ Mardi Gras table
We got up from the festive table and went outdoors, where I usually insist on taking photographs so we can reminisce when we return to Sewanee for the spring/summer season. Four or five shots of us are required for me to look decent, linked with these two handsome artists, and Thursday we posed in front of one of Darrell's prize camellia bushes. Darrell, a consummate gardener, also raises grapefruit, lemons, and oranges and usually has a bumper crop of ginger but the last freeze destroyed these beautiful plants. His white camellias would rival the prize camellias in the gardens of Jefferson and Avery Islands, Louisiana.

No Hail Rex and his royal court, no bursts of music, little parades of glittering floats, or the unrealness of a Mardi Gras scene... but the realness of a good time enjoyed by all. We came away feeling well-cared for following our celebration in the prairie country of St. Landry parish, a region of Louisiana I've learned to love after viewing it through the eyes of these elegant south Louisiana artists.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

FLORIDA FISHING

Grandson Martin, Jacob,
and Vickie (l. to r.)
While visiting in the home of Vickie Sullivan's 97-year old mother in central Florida recently, Vickie's sister came over with two old photographs of me and my grandson Martin in hand. The photos probably dated back to 33 years ago, and one photo showed me holding a large bass I had caught; the other photograph showed my grandson Martin, Mary Ruth's oldest son Jacob, and Vickie holding a nice string of fish they had caught in canals on the Latt Maxcy Corporation Ranch. I couldn't believe that the large bass I held was my catch of the day, but there I was, wearing large-frame glasses popular back in the day, smiling over the fish that was stretched to full length in a snapshot that Mary Ruth had discovered among her memorabilia.

Fishing was once among my favorite recreations, and I felt a jolt about my aging process when I looked at the photo. My blissful expression and that of my grandson in the photographs also jolted me into a consciousness of how recent photos of me show a lot of white hair and a certain worried look on my face. I was in my forties when we made this fishing jaunt, and I was enchanted with the landscape of central Florida — the grassy pastureland savannas with scattered clumps of saw palmetto, hammocks of live oaks trailing moss, and orange groves scattered among many glistening lakes. My nostalgia and memories of the past make it a happy time among hospitable people.

Me with bass
At the time of the photo-taking, an abundance of bass, bream, and catfish filled the canals on the ranch with overflowing high water from the nearby Kissimmee River. Every cast that day had brought in a fish; however, I never returned to this bountiful fishing spot and later confined my fishing to casts from a pier that Vickie's mother built on the beach of her lakefront home. For a long spell, she fed the fish in Silver Lake daily, and on one occasion, I caught 23 bream, ceasing my fishing only when dusk came... and I began to think about having to clean the catch!

In my forthcoming book of poetry, Sifting Red Dirt (see cover below), I included a prose poem about fishing expeditions entitled Big Creek:

They called it “floating the river,” one paddling, the other casting his way into eddies all day, pulling close to shadowy pools, perch beds where blue gills and sun perch darted for multi-colored flies thrown into their hunger. One summer, they allowed me along, and I was given a fly rod and shown how to crack the whip, two flies attached. When I felt the hard pull of two blue gills, plump, dark blue bodies tugging at the lures and breaking the surface of the water I knew why they went out on the river. Most days the sun was so hot they had to come to a hiatus under overhanging oaks every few hours to open a can of beer and say a few words to each other, but the less words, the better, the overwhelming silence a relief from talk required for the unending necessity of hands at work, making a living. The Bogue Chitto, Choctaw for “Big Creek,” was then clear water, and when we stopped under the bridge by The Tavern to replenish the beer, I could see the gravel bottom of the river, breathe in the desultory air, feel a part of that silence that had been broken only by the whiz of the line and a small snap as the line hit the water. They were both on their way to becoming alcoholics, and floating the river soon became something less spiritual, less recreation, and more drinking in the shade of the watchful oaks. I knew the only peace either of them felt was on that river, and I did not go with them often but when I did, I wasn’t afraid, even in sudden summer thunderstorms when we had to pull up on the banks and sit until the white flashes and rumbling stopped. I was only afraid of water moccasins dropping into the boat, preferring to be at the outer edges of the perch pools. Sometimes when the sun became unbearable, the paddler would start the motor of an old outboard and stir the heavy air, riding the current for a few minutes, the breeze pushing us on to another pool. Years later, I would understand the meditative quality of those trips, no thoughts persisting, just concentration on the line flying into the dark pools searching for hungry perch, a hypnotic gesture, not caring what anyone thought, not wanting to hear anyone else’s problems, not moaning about life not being intact, but feeling the soul’s bliss, heart contracting with joy in the simple goodness of floating the river.