Friday, December 31, 2010


Today, while I was sitting at my computer overlooking the backyard, I began listing my New Year’s resolutions and right smack in the middle of the process, an armadillo appeared beside the upside-down bird bath. It was 9 a.m., and he should have been asleep in the coulee, but appeared to be fully alert, rooting in the mound of leaves by the Spirea bush. He was fat and seemed to be tanking up for another month, as February frequently brings Spring to Teche country.

I tapped on the window, but he was undeterred and kept on tunneling in the leaves.

“He can’t hear,” a friend told me.

“You have his faculties confused,” I said. “Actually, he has poor eyesight and relies on his hearing and smell to help him find food.”

“Oh,” she said, “that’s right, it’s YOU who can’t hear anymore.”

Actually, I can hear many things, including a constant buzzing sound like that of locusts (which indicates some loss). “But I can also swim well like armadillos,” I defended.

She shrugged and went back to surfing The Net for more interesting activity, like how to develop “MAC apps,” whatever that means.

According to an article about Native American lore, written by Jill Stefko, armadillos symbolize boundaries. The three-banded ones are very adept at rolling into a tight ball to protect themselves. They carry their protection at all times and use it to keep their well-being intact. Rudyard Kipling immortalized the armadillo in one of his children’s stories, relating that the “little armored one” was born out of an agreement between a turtle and a hedgehog. In order to escape from a hungry Jaguar, the hedgehog taught the turtle how to curl up into a ball to protect himself, and the turtle taught the hedgehog how to act like it was more armored. So the first two armadillos that appeared on earth caused a predatory big cat to become awfully confused.

According to the article I read about armadillos, they symbolize empathy, discrimination, and groundedness. Also, when an armadillo enters your backyard, it’s time to define your space. I guess that the appearance of this animal in the New Year means it’s time for me to define my own space, especially since I have difficulty saying no.

The best story I’ve read about the armadillo concerns The Great Depression when the little animals were renamed “Hoover Hogs” because starving people hunted and ate them. During the Depression, my former father-in-law hunted these creatures from an old Model T. He saved gasoline, not to make highway trips, but to speed through the woods, car motor roaring, the noise rooting out rabbits and armadillos. The nickname, “Hoover Hog” was a criticism of President Hoover who had promised that everyone would have a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage. However, a sizable portion of the U.S. population suffered starvation and poverty instead.

Around here during the 70’s, if a person sighted an armadillo in the yard, he’d call an organization called Gulf South Research, about a mile away from my home, because scientists were using them as guinea pigs for leprosy research. Two lab technicians came and took away one in my backyard during that period, but now I just leave the big rats to their boundaries and write poetry about their activities when they appear.

Happy New Year. May an armadillo protect you during the coming year!

P.S. I purchased the facsimile of the armadillo above in Oaxaca City, Mexico. It was carved by native Zapotecans.

Thursday, December 30, 2010


Hot off the press – ADOPTION, a “what if” novel that arrived yesterday! It’s written by my good friend and author, Victoria I. Sullivan, and here’s a brief preview of an outstanding story about speculative science:

As Val Smythe lectures to her class in Evolutionary Biology at a university in Vermilion, Louisiana, she suddenly recognizes that polyploidy characteristics in Eupatorium, the plant subject of her scientific research, resemble those of an extremely tall, brilliant six-year old child named Mary Solven who was left on Val’s doorstep when Mary's mother dies. The “aha” moment occurs as Val is explaining to her class: “Polyploidy has its advantages, despite the inability to sexually reproduce. For instance, polyploids are larger, reproduce by cloning at an early age, tolerate colder temperatures and endure environmental stress. Taller, mature earlier…what had she left out?

“A bizarre thought struck her, like a piece of Celotex falling from the ceiling, which was possible in this classroom. Could Mary be polyploidy? She’s taller than normal and matured early. Was she created in her father’s fertility clinic? She had to see her chromosomes and talk to Dr. Solven. Or was she being ridiculous? If she mentioned this to her colleagues, they’d say she’d been running too many miles in the park…”

Mary Solven, the superhuman in Sullivan’s fantastical novel, ADOPTION, is seven feet tall and already conversant in several languages. Due to the death of Mary’s mother, Erika, Val, and her husband David have been forced to adopt the child, but Val has misgivings about raising a human with such bizarre differences in height, mind, and strength.

Sullivan presents an exciting premise about the anthropomorphic extension of plants to human life in this speculative novel, which is explained through a blog that Mary Solven writes to other polyploid humans: “Dr. Solven created polyploids in his fertility clinics. Besides our great height, we also share other features (we think) growing to adulthood by age five or six, physically and mentally, and having the capacity for regeneration. We make Vitamin C, and we are parthenogenetic, which means our parthenogenetic genes allow spontaneous pregnancies without sexual intercourse. …”

The major antagonist of the novel, Dr. Solven, has created a new race of superhumans who frighten government officials and clergy, and these factions condemn and plot to eradicate the new creatures produced in the U.S., Russia, and Korea. The polyploid humans are forced to live on a reservation called “Polysomia”, and women are subjected to mass hysterectomies so that they can’t further propagate members of the strange race. Shortly after Mary falls in love with another polyploid, Jon, Dr. Solven is murdered. Mary marries Jon in an illegal ceremony, and David barely escapes jail when he forges birth certificates. Widespread hatred burgeons when the corpulent priest, Fr.Landry, stirs the emotions of diploids who listen to his sermons and radio broadcasts. Sullivan masterfully creates suspense by relating the persecutions of the unique superhumans, and the threat of extinction occurs.

The threatened extinction of polyploids causes Val to reflect on similar extinctions that have occurred in the world: “Their fate resembled other extinctions. Diploids were intolerant or just plain xenophobic and eventually would rid the planet of all primates genetically similar to them. Neanderthals had lived side by side with diploid humans at one time and even interbred with them, and look what had happened to them. Other primates, no matter how distantly related, were being driven to extinction. At least polyploids had drawn attention away from internecine killings among diploids with only minor religious or skin color differences. But diploids wouldn’t stop until all polyploids were dead. That had become perfectly clear. The sentiments of Hitler lay just under the skin of humankind, despite protests that such holocausts could never happen again…”

The surprise ending of this fantastical novel contains only two words and will intrigue readers, perhaps to the point of requesting a sequel? Sullivan has created a suspenseful novel that poses profound questions about the boundaries of science and which reveals insights into the world of human differences. ADOPTION is an excellent read that reflects the mind of a highly-enlightened scientist and an imaginative creative writer.

Sullivan received a B.A. from the University of Miami and a Ph.D. from Florida State University. She has published numerous scientific papers, non-fiction articles, flash fiction, and poetry. She taught biology and botany as an associate professor in the Department of Biology at ULL in Lafayette for 20 years. ADOPTION is her first novel. She resides in Sewanee, Tennessee most of the year and in New Iberia, Louisiana during the winter.

ADOPTION can be ordered from www.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


My godmother, Dora Greenlaw Peacock, once told me that of all the things that enraged her, machines and inanimate objects were the worst offenders. Although she is now deceased, I agree with her completely. I have difficulty with power-driven can openers, computers, vacuum cleaners, and directions for putting together mechanical models of anything. My knowledge about the mechanics of cars tops the list, especially when they don’t live up to the manufacturer’s hyperbole about their mechanical brilliance… and break down.

Today is the second day I’ve been unable to go to the grocery, to the post office; in general, to make the round of errands necessary to maintain a household. My 2005 model Honda Hybrid Civic, with only 30,000 miles calibrated on the dash, has developed an AC/defogger clanking noise, and mechanics are now experiencing difficulty correcting the problem. So far, the tally on costs, including a new condenser, is at about $1550, and the heavy silence of the telephone indicates that there may be more trouble ahead. In the last year, I’ve had three sets of tires (because something is wrong with the suspension), a rack and pinion job, and, now, the AC has up and died. As a long-time Honda driver, (having owned at least six Hondas, beginning in 1978) I’ve become disillusioned with the much-touted “200,000 or more miles” predictions about Honda reliability. And let me add, that I’m a devout follower of regular oil and filter changes, battery upkeep, and all the maintenance required to keep a NORMAL car running.

Of course, readers can’t do anything about this problem, except to avoid buying one of these little models that are capable of causing blood pressure rises, more-than-average maintenance costs, and to top it all, this Hybrid offers the drivers and passengers a rough ride. This morning, I am sitting here, googling sites with 1941 Ford coupes just to assure myself that people in this country once enjoyed traveling in a reliable automobile, sans computer parts. In 1940 and 1941, Ford Motor Company, produced some enduring and endearing automobiles. I’ve often spoken of making the famous Diddy Wah Diddy trek across the western plains to California in a 1941 Ford coupe that was large enough to house two adults, four children (I was 11 at the time), and a cocker spaniel dog – a Ford that climbed mountains, crossed deserts with just a few saddle bags on its hood to keep the motor cool and which was still in its prime when my father traded it in in 1949 after the box-styled Ford came out, and he wanted to own a fashionable model. I can’t remember my father ever taking the old coupe in for repairs or using the kind of language I used this morning when I was primed to go after groceries and the Honda Hybrid remained in the shop.

My Grandfather Paul Greenlaw sold Ford autos from the days of the Tin Lizzie until 1946 when the deluxe Fords appeared after a hiatus in production during WWII. He employed only two mechanics that I know of, and they weren’t terribly busy most of the time. He bought a 1946 Ford for my grandmother, and she drove it 11 years, trading it off for a Chevrolet, not because her Ford had anything wrong with it, but because she wanted an automatic shift (she was the world’s first class bucking bronco when she used her skills shifting the car) and because Ford had snatched the franchise away from my Grandfather Paul when he became seriously ill. A Chevy was her coup de grace!

I really love cars – I like to keep up with all the new models, attend car shows of classic models, admire those that pass me on the road, and appreciate the fact that my grandfather and Great Uncle Ed were pioneers in the field of transportation. Great Uncle Ed designed and put together one of the first recreation vehicles by placing an improvised camping house on the back of a Ford truck. He called it the “Virgi-Dora” after his wife and my godmother Dora, and they enjoyed many camp-outs, using this contraption to travel to camping grounds in Mississippi where the Greenlaw boys were born.

Last year, in my household, we scaled down to one vehicle, thinking that, in the interests of helping the economy, a 2005 model with only 30,000 miles would prove to be a virtuous scale-down, and by using only one vehicle, we’d contribute to the diminishment of air pollution. I chose the Hybrid in 2005 because I wanted to do my part toward reducing gas consumption. Alas, I made an unwise decision because $4,000 a year on car maintenance is not a way of reducing consumer spending.

Yes, I love cars, but I wish I had shopped more carefully before investing in this last one, which I told my children would be my last car (I am now 76). I've now amended that statement to declare that it will be my last Honda. From the articles I’ve been reading, Ford has really cleaned up its act and is now producing some first rate economy cars. I’d buy a re-conditioned ’41 Ford, but the models I’ve seen on the Net are slightly under $50,000! That sky blue Diddy Wah Diddy ’41 coupe was an enduring machine!

P.S. I just read that the Japanese will cease producing Honda Civics in Japan because they don’t sell well there. I wonder why!

Friday, December 24, 2010


Monday of this week we joined author Morris Raphael, his wife Helen, and daughter Rose Anne at Antique Rose Ville near New Iberia, to celebrate the occasion of Morris completing the first draft of his book containing Civil War vignettes. Publication of the new book will coincide with the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War in April, 2011, but the holidays presented a chance for us to meet with the Raphaels for a book celebration at our annual Christmas get-together.

Antique Rose Ville is one of those unique dining experiences prevalent in Cajun Country, and proprietor, Linda Freyou, is equally unique. The restaurant and tea room, known as the Renoudet Cottage, was a home once owned by the Picard family, and later by William Weeks II (son of David Weeks, who built the famous National Trust property, Shadows-on-the-Teche in New Iberia). The cottage was moved in 1995 from St. Peter Street to Freyou Road and restored by Linda and Simon Freyou.

The restaurant, surrounded by cypress trees, irises, fresh herb plots, and the antique roses for which it is famous, sits alongside "Anastasia," an early 20th century home which the Freyous moved fifty miles by barge down the Intracoastal Canal from Berwick, Louisiana. Antique Rose Ville, and the four acres of carefully groomed gardens are complemented by an open pavilion area behind the Renoudet Cottage and Au Jardin which accommodates large groups for wedding receptions, retreats, and other occasions.

We were greeted by Chef Linda and treated to a five-course meal that included homemade bread, salad, pork roast, beef, “dirty rice,” a shrimp casserole, steamed broccoli, and the piece de resistance, bread pudding, followed by dark roast coffee. After we had eaten from “the groaning board,” Linda appeared and sat down to talk with us. She had taken off her chef hat and put on her raconteuse one, entertaining us with memories of her early family life that included eleven siblings. She also told us about her father’s many occupations, the most notable one being his ownership of The Sunset Game Club where cock fights and Cajun music, complete with accordion and fiddle, took place. Linda grew up with music, and her parents entertained family, friends, even strangers, continually during her childhood. “We traveled in a time when people of our means didn’t take trips, but we were always going to Mexico,” Linda said. “One summer my father brought an entire Mariachi band from Mexico home with us and they stayed a month, entertaining folks at the Game Club. People were always welcome at our home, and maybe that’s why I was inspired to open a place where people are continually coming in and out.”

Linda is devoted to her family and waited until her children were out of the nest before she began working on her college degree in music education at ULL. She excelled in Voice and won a national voice competition held at ULL while studying there. After Linda discovered that Morris’s daughter Rose Anne sings, she asked her to perform for us. Rose Anne studies voice and has often sung a capella for us on Christmas occasions. She stood in front of the fireplace and sang a beautifully-rendered excerpt from a German opera. When she finished, we asked Linda to perform, and she said, “I have a big voice so I’ll  have to go into the next room to sing.” She entered the adjoining room and stood, hands folded, in the far end of the room. We had no notion that we’d hear the gifted and finely-trained operatic voice that suddenly filled two rooms with jubilant sounds. She sang two versions of “Ave Maria” -- one from Bach and another from Schubert, followed by several arias and a rendition of “O Mio Babbino Caro” from Puccini. It was an amazing professional performance from an amazing woman who told us as we left: “if you have a gift, you’d better use it, or one day you’ll have to answer for not using it.” Linda still uses her gift by singing at church functions, in community musicals, and for people like us who ask her to perform.

Life in Teche Country, Louisiana is never dull, nor will you ever eat finer cuisine than the food you’ll find most anywhere in Acadiana… not to mention the serendipity in the form of professional entertainment you may discover “right in the middle of a cane field,” as Linda laughingly describes the locale of her fine dining restaurant, Antique Rose Ville.

Monday, December 20, 2010


Saturday evening, we were guests at Belmont Plantation where we joined in a celebration honoring Guy Estes who recently received an M.A. in History from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Guy is the son of Mary Wyche Estes who presently lives at Belmont, a shady Bayou Teche plantation home near New Iberia. Belmont (circa 1765) has been in the Wyche family since 1858 when the old plantation was given to John and Mary Peebles Wyche as a wedding gift from Mary Peebles’ parents. During the early 19th century, the Peebles family owned plantations in several states, including Alabama, Mississippi, Kentucky, and in Louisiana where Belmont and Peebles plantations were located.

I hadn’t visited Belmont in several years, and the reunion with the Wyche family and their relatives brought memories of those days when James Wyche, Jr. (now deceased) hosted his evening “Happy Hour” on the long front gallery under the umbrella of huge great-grandfather oaks. After a fire destroyed the original home at Belmont in 1947, the residence was rebuilt of cinder block, maintaining the style of architecture of the original home. Arleen Wyche (also deceased) severely burned her feet when the fire occurred as she went back into the blazing residence to retrieve the family silver. Belmont is a beautifully-appointed home guarded by an old bell tower which housed a bell, the rope of which Frieda, Big Jimmy’s dog, held in her teeth and pulled to ring in the 4th of July.

During Happy Hours, we enjoyed conversations with “Big Jimmy,” (as James Wyche, Jr. was called), his wife Arleen, his sister Julia and his daughter Mary. The gathering always included other drop-ins who were thirsty for drinks and conversation. I recall sipping the strong, sugary mint juleps Big Jimmy had prepared for us while we listened to his passionate rhetoric about the political arena in Louisiana and the U.S. Big Jimmy was also known as the “Letters to the Editor man” because he wrote letters to the editor of The Daily Iberian, treating readers to a conservative’s view of the world. He composed these fiery letters, while wearing a visor that fit tightly on his crew cut, in an old cistern house that he had converted into an office.

Big Jimmy’s political rhetoric wasn’t the only conversation that took place on the old gallery. We often heard anecdotes about the history of Belmont, some of which appeared in articles of the Louisiana Courier. Several 1813 issues of this journal told about the plantation having a water-powered, double mill sugar factory capable of serving two series of kettles and also as a distillery for making rum. Big Jimmy always claimed that this bit of history probably offended some of his teetotaling ancestry, but these facts didn’t deter him from hosting his Happy Hours on the gallery.

Wyche’s great-grandfather Peebles survived the Civil War by gathering up his womenfolk, a handful of possessions, and a few faithful servants and joining a wagon train to Texas. By the time the “late great unpleasantness” had ended, the family had raised two bumper crops of cotton. The women sewed the profits in gold into their petticoats and headed back to Louisiana to pay the taxes on Belmont Plantation. These smuggled gold coins saved the ravaged plantation from being confiscated.

Big Jimmy also recorded the rainfall at Belmont daily for over 40 years for the U.S. Weather Bureau. He used to say that he gauged “God’s rainfall and man’s downfall.” In addition to this weather reporting, he recorded his conservative political views in a self-published book containing his letters to The Daily Iberian and another pamphlet including his memoirs about Belmont Plantation.

Mary Estes, Big Jimmy’s daughter, his son “Little Jimmy,” and his grandson Guy Estes have also published novels, and Mary continues to work on a manuscript that fictionalizes the history of her ancestors and chronicles the Civil War adventures of her family.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


A few days ago, I received an invitation to attend a book signing from 5 p.m. – 8 p.m. today at the ULL Alumni Center in Lafayette for my poet friend, Darrell Bourque. The signing celebrates Darrell’s new and selected poems which are contained in IN ORDINARY LIGHT, the work of the finest poet in the state of Louisiana and one who deserves the post of Poet Laureate of the United States. I mentioned IN ORDINARY LIGHT in an earlier blog, but began reading his poems again at the breakfast table and suddenly realized that I’ve been touting the work of a genuine mystic who certainly deserves a second mention. One of Darrell’s newest poems entitled “Ave Maria – Another Queenly Version,” centers on Mary, a leading character at this Christmastide and a maternal figure who comes into full view in the Gospel of Luke, where the mystery of Jesus becomes inseparable from his mother. In Aramaic, Mary’s name means “Princess” or “Lady,” (in Darrell’s words, “another queenly version”), and Tradition sees in Mary the “new Eve,” while Jesus is the “new Adam.”

Here was a woman faced with a mystery that was beyond her understanding, yet she welcomed her role by answering a divine call. The Gospel of Luke gives us the song of Mary making it into a prayer or a psalm of thanksgiving, where she sings of the new event. She is exemplified as this woman who is snatched by God from attacks of the serpent (we remember all the statues of Mary, dressed in blue, standing on the head of a serpent), and because of her faith is proclaimed as blessed because she bore Jesus in her womb. Mary is called “the daughter of Zion,” and is the personification of the people of God. In the Magnificat, she raises her voice in gratitude and joy for being crowned with favor.

Darrell’s vision of Mary’s role in the Christian church suggests another version that is told by the Daughter of Zion herself – a different story, perhaps, but one that includes some of the images of her as reported in the New Testament and in Tradition:

If she could have told it, it would be a different story altogether
than the ones we are used to hearing. In the stories not hers
she is dressed in the flowing robes queens on this earth wear.
She is crowned with precious metal crowns with jewels in them;

she walks on moons, crushes snakes, and stars encircle her head
as though she is some interplanetary goddess. She even floats
on clouds, and in one version she is a pagan goddess who’s shed

all her clothes to rise from murky seas and drift toward waiting oats,
toward flowers and fruit trees. She is offered a mantle rich and red,
a silken embroidered fullness to cover nakedness in a land of goats.

But, she may have dreamed nothing. A quiet fish in her belly swam.
She connected to nothing; she, a sheet night can be, no oaths or swears
inside it. She made way for a thing erasing her, no sighs, no verse
to interrupt a thing --- indecipherable, undelineated, inexplicable forever.” - Darrell Bourque -

IN ORDINARY LIGHT by Darrell Bourque can be ordered from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette Press, P.O. Box 40831, Lafayette, LA 70504-0831.

Thursday, December 9, 2010


When my daughter Elizabeth comes from California for a visit (the one who got the supply of fig preserves), she reads my shelves for unique cookbooks and usually takes away at least one volume that will increase her knowledge of south Louisiana cuisine. Yesterday, I passed on to her a small volume, published in 1932 and reprinted in 1960, entitled NEW ORLEANS CREOLE RECIPES by Mary Moore Bremer of Waveland, Mississippi. The volume had been passed on to me by my mother who loved cooking New Orleans cuisine.

NEW ORLEANS CREOLE RECIPES contains a preface and foreword that testify to the art of cooking carried on in the Crescent City, a city that is appraised by Count Keyserling in the preface as an outstanding southern metropolis and who states that because of the French influence “Americana acquires a halo of beauty in New Orleans…” Mary Bremer adds that the cooking in the Crescent City is “the grandchild to France, descendant to Spain, cousin to Italy and it is also full-fledged southern…” She pays tribute to the African American cooks who added herbs to delectable dishes of “anything that found its way into the kitchen.”

Some of the unique dishes include green turtle soup, Crawfish Bisque, Gumbo Z’Herbes… even a recipe for Red Rice concocted of onions, salt and cayenne combined with steamed rice and on which paprika is sprinkled. The real piece de resistance, however, was the recipe for Chicken Gumbo, written on the last blank page in my mother’s distinctive half script/half printing handwriting.  It was a recipe from my Grandmother Marquart’s kitchen files. She used a whole pod of hot red pepper in her gumbos, and most of the table fare in Lake Arthur, Louisiana included Cajun seafood dishes, as she was a descendant of the Vincent family which migrated to south Louisiana following the Grand Derangement.

Elizabeth didn’t get my prize volume, THE PICAYUNE CREOLE COOK BOOK, published on the 150th Anniversary of “The Times Picayune” and compiled and edited by Marcelle Bienvenu of St. Martinville, Louisiana. Each recipe was tested by Marcelle and Food Innovisions, Inc., and the sesquicentennial edition of this cookbook includes recipes that were published just as they appeared in 1901. Marcelle wrote the disclaimer that the language in recipes was a bit antiquated but she included notes, leaving in French terms and colloquial expressions in keeping with the style of the book; e.g., “since the oven did not have regulators, you will notice such terms as ‘slow oven,’ and the ‘mouth of the oven’ referred to the area where wood was fed into the stove.”

From an interesting section on “Sirops, Wines, Cordials, and Drinks,” I once used the recipe for a Ratafia made with elderberries from a vine in my backyard, and at the end of a year when we sampled the first glasses of this wonderful liqueur, it was a potent end to a dinner I gave for my godfather. The next time I began to pour him a glass, he politely declined as he said it made “his head swim.”

THE PICAYUNE CREOLE COOKBOOK, SESQUICENTENNIAL EDITION, not only contains delicious New Orleans dishes, it’s touted as a mirror of history that reflects a gracious manner of living in “The City That Care Forgot.”

Saturday, December 4, 2010


Have you ever heard the phrase: “I don’t care a fig about that,” which means that something or someone is not important to you? Well, yesterday, I received some products that showed just the antithesis of that remark when two good friends gifted me with a gracious plenty of fig preserves. In my last blog I mentioned that I had searched for a jar of fig preserves for my daughter Elizabeth to take back to California.  Instead, I had found an interesting tourist in the Konriko country store, a visitor from Maine who lived in the same town I inhabited back in the 50’s. I also searched other stores for the delectable preserves, only to return home empty-handed.

The day after that blog appeared, I received an e-mail from friends, Mac and Julie Stearns, inviting me over to claim a jar from the store of fig preserves Julie had put up this year. We had a great visit, and Julie gave me a list of directions that told me how to keep fig trees bearing well. The list was created by Roy Young of Abbeville, and Mac directs the process according to these directions every year. He’s also the principal picker of this delicious fruit.

For years I tried to grow a fig tree and always ended up with a dry, gray twig and no crop. One day as I read a passage from Luke, I came upon the parable of the barren fig tree in Luke 13: “Then he told the parable: A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years, I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good, but if not, you cut it down.’” Voila! The New Testament had enlightened me about a practical method of growing fruit, and the last tree I planted and carefully fertilized began to bear. In fact, the tree is taking over a corner of the backyard in New Iberia. Since I’m away at Sewanee during its fruit bearing period, the birds enjoy a fig festival every year and I get no fig preserves!

When I returned home from the visit with the Stearns, I found a car in my drive and another friend, Nancy Lewis, had just deposited three jars of homemade fig preserves and a jar of pear preserves on my doorstep. Needless to say, I’m overwhelmed with responses to my blog, and Elizabeth is taking a box of carefully-packed preserves back to Palmdale, her home in the California desert.

Although fig trees were first cultivated in the Mediterranean, they flourished in the New World in Mexico during the 16th century, and by the 17th century, varieties had begun to grow in Virginia. From Virginia, the so-called “fig culture” took hold in the Carolinas, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas. Mac says that the varieties that flourish in their yard are the pear shaped “Celeste” variety, the fruit of which has white or pink/amber pulp and wonderful flavors, and the “Brown Turkey” variety which has no neck, is copper colored, and has pulp that is white and pinkish. I didn’t have time to question Nancy about the source of her supply, but the preserves looked like good biscuit toppers to me.

I’m including Roy Young’s “recipe” for growing bumper crops of figs that Julie shared with me: “Use 13-13-13 fertilizer. Start in February after a good rain and use 1 ½ pounds for each year old the tree is for first fertilization. Use 1 ½ pounds per tree once a month after a good rain until October. You don’t need to put beyond drip line. Don’t work soil. Just put on top of ground. Trees should get a good soaking twice a week. If there isn’t enough rain, water good twice a week, not more often.”

There’re several good fig preserve recipes, old fashioned and otherwise, on the Internet, but essentially all you need to concoct jars of fig preserves are figs, sugar, and lemon. Julie says she cooks them by the old fashioned way: “a clump of this and a clump of that.” And, folks, some recipes use six pounds of sugar to six pounds of figs. You can judge about how many inches will be added to your waistline if you feast on biscuits and figs every morning for a few months.

I’m including a picture of the fig picker, Mac, and the fig preserver, Julie, resting from their backyard labors in the fig garden. Thanks to Mac, Julie, and Nancy, for the gracious plenty of fig preserves. Elizabeth says it’s the ultimate Christmas gift!

Thursday, December 2, 2010


The main event yesterday was a trip to Konriko’s Company Store, a shop next door to the Conrad Rice Mill, which has been in operation for 90 years and is a draw for tourists from throughout the country. I had set out to find fig preserves for Elizabeth, my youngest daughter who is visiting with me, to take back to California. She has loved this biscuit topper since childhood, and every year for almost twenty years now, I have been able to find the syrupy preserves here in New Iberia. The fig crop must have been a scant one this year because Konriko had none of the wonderful preserves on their shelves.

No preserves…but I experienced an unusual surprise as I left the store. When the clerk asked my friend Vickie where she lived, she was startled to hear a voice behind her say, “We’re from Maine.” I had already begun walking out of the store, and when Vickie caught up with me, she volunteered that the gray-haired woman who had thought the clerk was questioning her, lived in Maine. I had reached the top step of the porch when a strong intuition prompted me to turn around and re-enter the store. I walked up to the woman, who was still standing before the cash register, and blurted out, “You’re from Maine? Where abouts?” She seemed puzzled by my outburst but answered, “Aroostook County, Limestone, Maine.” I looked at her in amazement. “I lived there over fifty years ago,” I told her.

We enjoyed mutual surprise and calculated that she had graduated from high school in Limestone at the time my former husband and I moved there. My husband served as an intelligence specialist attached to a Strategic Air Command at Loring Air Base in Limestone and spent most of his days in a radar shack scanning the skies for enemy planes. Mrs. Thompson knew my landlord and the exact location of the farmhouse in which we had lived and which has been demolished, along with all the old frame houses in the neighborhood where the farmhouse stood. Sadly, the airbase is no longer a part of the town and its removal has added to the diminished economy in the area. “We no longer have a Main Street, but we’re working on it,” Mrs. Thompson told me. “And our winters are not as severe.” When I asked about the lowest temps of winters there now, she replied “only 30 degrees below zero,” which is a definite warm-up from the 52 below zero temperature we experienced one winter night in 1954. The snow cleared from roads around Limestone still reaches the height of telephone poles along major highways (a fact that caused my southern relatives to look at me as if I was fabricating a tall tale).

Mrs. Thompson introduced me to her daughter and to another relative who opened his top shirt to reveal a t-shirt advertising Limestone, Maine, along with a list of the inhabitants: 2,000 people, over 800 deer, and bears and muskrats in two-digit ranges. “I wondered why I put on this shirt today,” the man told me, “but it seems it was for your benefit.” I explained to him that it had just been one of those synchronistic events, a Maine Event!

I wished mightily that I had put copies of my books in the trunk of the car (which seems to be the best way to sell books anymore), but I did give them my name and the title of my book about the Limestone sojourn entitled THE MAINE EVENT. This morning, I revisited the book and am including an excerpt from the mystery I wrote about this small town located at the furthest tip of Maine on the Canadian border. It was published by Border Press last year.

   We trekked uphill to the stand of white pine and stood in a clearing at the top, looking down at the frozen St. John River. Rusty wanted to go deeper into the woods where tree branches extended outward like dark claws ready to enclose us, but I refused to go any further than the edge of the stand of pines. I had turned to lead them back downhill when I heard Rusty shriek, “There she is!”
   Not far from the river, on its western side in a little copse of white pines, I glimpsed a platform with a form lying on it. We scrambled downhill. Birdie Brun lay face up on a platform made of sturdy packing crates used to ship potatoes out to other states. The wooden crates had been carefully placed under a tall pine, a makeshift bier topped by a deep bed of pine needles. Her wide open green eyes looked up at the sky, and her hands were folded at her waist. The normally tangled red hair had been carefully brushed away from the fair-skinned face spattered with freckles. I put my hand over my mouth to stifle a scream…surely, surely I was sleepwalking. Then there was a rushing sound in the trees, and a large seagull swooped over us, seeking the ocean. I glanced down at the ground surrounding the bier and discovered what appeared to be the bone of a small animal, and absent-mindedly put it in my pocket…Suddenly, the tin-shaded sky formed a stronger wind that began to blow large, stiff flakes across our faces…

THE MAINE EVENT can be ordered through Border Press, P.O. Box 3124, Sewanee, Tennessee, 37375 ( or at