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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Witch in the Window

By Carolyn Nicholson
When you’re a small child no one believes you when you say you’ve seen a witch or a monster. They laugh and try to explain it away but you know what you saw.
            I was 5½ years old in November, 1957, when my mother gave birth to my baby sister. Mother and Daddy had taken my 2½-year-old brother, Mike, and me to Mama Jay’s and Papa Jay’s house in the country to stay while Mother was in the hospital. I was having a hard time, missing my mama and daddy, and did a lot of whining about it. Mike even told me, in his toddler wisdom, “Well, we can’t walk home, Carolyn.”
            There were two adjoining bedrooms, just off the kitchen, in the back of my grandparents’ house. Mama Jay slept in one and Papa Jay in the other. That one contained his double bed and a small twin bed in the corner where Mike and I slept.
            One night I woke up, feeling homesick, and turned over facing the window across the room. In the light of the full moon, silhouetted against the paper shade, I saw a witch! She wore a big, cone-shaped witch’s hat and was sitting on a broomstick. It was the scariest thing I had ever seen! I started crying and called out to Papa Jay, “There’s a witch! There’s a witch in the window!” I don’t think he even opened his eyes because he just chuckled and said, “Aw, that’s not a witch; that’s just a tree. Go back to sleep.”
            It took me a long time to go back to sleep. I kept my eyes on that witch and she never did move. I finally drifted off after I decided that she was outside and I was safe inside.
            The next day Daddy came to pick up Mike and me to bring us back to Birmingham to be reunited with Mother and our new baby sister, Sharon. In all the excitement, I forgot about the witch until the next time we were at my grandparents’ house. My brother slept in that small bed many times over the next few years but I refused. I knew what was lurking outside that window!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

How do you know, Meimers?

By Carolyn Pons
One lovely spring day I picked up my eighth-grade granddaughter from middle school.  As soon as we reached my house, Maddie went to the patio and pulled out her canvas and a set of acrylic paints.
Fascinated, I watched her paint, and I was compelled to question Maddie.  “How do you know which angle to paint, Mad?  What do you do to make shadows?  Is size determined at the start?”
Hearing Maddie give clear, concise, and intelligent answers pleased me, as much as her beautiful artwork.  “Oh Maddie,” I said, “I could never do that.”
Fourteen-year-old Maddie turned her head in my direction, looked up at me seriously, and immediately replied, “How do you know, Meimers, did you ever try?”
Thus began my sojourn into unfamiliar right brain activity.  Soon after Maddie hit me between the eyes with the truth of the matter, I enrolled in art classes at the Lafayette Art Association.  I told my instructor that I wanted to draw, thinking that to be easier for a beginner.  I then worked on a drawing in class each week, and also at home, until I declared the drawing finished.  Basically, I drew and our teacher commented, giving me hints and direction.
“You need to quiet your left brain, Carolyn, and let your right brain take over,” the teacher told me over and over.  At her suggestion, I drew upside down, in an attempt to “not see” the named object that I was drawing.
The instructor told me about an art teaching method that uses techniques based on left-brain versus right brain.  Our left-brain is our analytical side; my whole life had been spent analyzing.  Our right brain is our creative side, the side that sees lines, contours, shapes, color, and negative space—but does not see the named object itself.  I continued to search for my right brain and teased it to come out in my drawing.
Mostly I worked on my own.  I struggled, because my left-brain learning style required more teaching.  I kept at it.  After about four months though, the rest of my life interfered, and I dropped out of class.
“Amazing” was what I thought of my accumulated drawings.  I was genuinely surprised that I could recognize what I drew.  Some looked better to me than others, but overall they pleased me.  My struggle had paid off, but I wanted more and knew that I needed more.
Other activities, writing and traveling, seemed to take all my time.  My interest in art sagged.  I wondered if I would ever return to it.  Suddenly, another of the Art Association studio artists offered a class called “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.”  I immediately knew that I had to register for this class.  I felt like it was meant to be.
The six weeks of lessons energized me.  The method did not squash my left-brain; rather it allowed me to use it in my drawing.  I drew from life, progressing from drawing my own hand to drawing a profile of a real person.  I also did an amazing architectural drawing, this one using my right brain for measuring.  I drew fruit, bread, vases, and even shoes.  I copied pictures, with a likeness that thrilled me.  Until my self-portrait at the end of class, my family was as impressed by my drawing as I was.
I know that I am not a natural artist.  If I were, I would continually make art.  Something inside me, an instinctual force, would push me.  I am a learned and learning artist.  The work does not come easily to me.  I have to push myself, and be in the correct frame of mind, to start drawing.  The few times that I painted, I dragged my heels even more.
The best part of my foray into doing art is that I see so much more than I did previously.  After my initial look at a piece of art, I wonder at the artist’s technique, at the struggle to achieve.  I note the lines, color, and depth.  In many ways, despite my years of museum and gallery visits, my eyes have been suddenly opened.
Thank you, Maddie, for asking if I ever tried.

First You Wear An Apron

By Charlene Morella
My mother passed away May 6, 2002, three days after her ninety-first birthday.  This was following an-eight year battle with Alzheimer’s disease.  I still miss her terribly. 
            Mom had not worked in her chosen profession of wife, mother, and homemaker for many years. Alzheimer’s had robbed her of all memories and abilities.  The lifetime of love and respect she earned from family and friends should have been a great comfort to her in her declining years, but the slate had been wiped clean.
            However, in her day she was at the top of her game.  She navigated her home with a quite and unassuming but regal authority that is only present in people that are completely confident and comfortable in their roles.  This is what she loved ---this is what she lived for. 
            My most vivid memories of her center around our kitchen, the hub and the heart of Mom’s existence ---that 20’ x 20’ room that contained a stove with an oven that was never regulated with the proper temperature, an aging washer and dryer, a stained and chipped porcelain sink, no dishwasher, one of the first side-by-side refrigerators ever made, ancient vinyl flooring, not enough cabinets, and a window air conditioning unit grown rickety in it’s battle with the dryer and oven for air space.
            Her reputation for being a good cook was unrivaled in the Webb family.  It was not unusual for my Uncle Joe or one of his sons, who were big hunters to request a family dinner, prepared by my mother.  They always brought squirrel meat to be used in her scrumptious Cajun gumbo. Uncle Joe would then appeal to Mother’s good nature by wishing out loud for some potato salad, “and maybe one of those delicious banana cakes of yours” he would say, or a pecan pie, or peanut butter fudge if you’ve got the time.”
            She was just as adept at whipping up a quick supper for Dad, my sister, and I.  I’m not sure if she enjoyed the entire process but I do know that she took great pride in presenting her delectable creations at the dinner table.
            But there was one thing my mother insisted on before any of the pots and pans began to rattle; it was the introduction to every cooking lesson my sister and I were ever taught.
            “First you wear an apron” my Mom would say.  “All that stirring and tasting can get away from you.”  She believed it was impossible to be a good cook and not splatter and spill occasionally.  Janie and I, reluctantly, were obliged to don an apron when recruited to help in the kitchen.
            So the aprons were bountiful in my mother’s kitchen.  Most were homemade on her ancient Singer sewing machine ---plain and practical with a big pocket on the front.  You could usually find a paper towel hidden there for wiping you hands in a hurry.
            She had a few made like a sleeveless smock that snapped up the front.  These were her favorite.  “It covers up more of the splatter zone” she explained.
            All of Mother’s aprons were washed and ironed at the end of its work shift and rested dutifully in a drawer of the buffet in our dining room.  When it was called into service, it hung on the back of the pantry door between meals and stood ready for the bombardment of soups, gravies, and sauces.
            Many years ago for her birthday, I gave Mom a chef’s apron made of blue cotton, with yellow, red, and green strips.  I thought it might be a nice alternative to her smocks and still cover enough of that “splatter zone.”  From that day forward, she used it every time I was there to visit. 
            Today, the stripped apron hangs on the back of my laundry room door.  It’s faded and has obtained a gentle softness from its countless washings.  I don’t have a wardrobe of aprons as my mother did.  I don’t need them.  I have my Mom’s apron.
            There are many things in my home that once graced my parent’s home.  I have the dining room buffet, a few other pieces of furniture, my mother’s wedding rings, but none evoke such deep emotion in me as that blue stripped fabric hanging in my laundry room.  It is a symbol of all the good parts of my life growing up and the woman that made it so.  She is my beloved role model and was the very first love of my life.
            So tonight as I go to prepare dinner ---first, I’ll wear my apron --- in a silent tribute to my mother.  We will be eternally bound together by these tattered apron strings.

Those Wonderful Days that Turned Into Years

By Edith Matte                                          
              Beyond any doubt, the saying ‘with children the days are long, and the years short" is true. How the years have flown, it seems like yesterday, that I was a young wife and mother. In 1965, We were expecting our first child. I was employed as a 4-H-Home Economist with the LSU Cooperative Extension Service. To be productive, the job required long work hours and being away from home six weeks during the summer. Therefore, I knew that remaining in this position would not be possible after the baby was born. Therefore, I resigned. We were blessed with a beautiful baby girl on June 2, 1963. That first year as a ‘stay at home mom’ was rewarding, enjoyable, and sometimes trying. Our daughter, Mary Beth, was the picture of health, but she was an ‘allergy baby’ which often meant long nights rocking a crying baby and many trips to our pediatrician. She walked at ten months and was talking at a year. In the spring of 1966, we found out we were expecting triplets which were due in mid August.
            Late in the afternoon of June 25, 1966, three precious, little girls decided it was time for them to enter ‘our world’. After their dramatic arrival in Breaux Bridge, they brought them to an isolation nursery at Lourdes Hospital in Lafayette. Dr. Wynne, our pediatrician, gave them excellent care and kept me posted on a daily basis. Their birth weights were 3 pounds 11 ounces, 3 pounds 12 ounces and 4 pounds. They were in the isolation nursery for four weeks. Then, one Friday, they told us that we could bring them home on the following Tuesday. It was a busy, hectic weekend. My doctor would not permit me to drive or do much for four weeks after the birth of a baby. Preemie clothes, if available, were very expensive. That weekend, I spent long hours at the sewing machine making eighteen very tiny, long sleeve plisse diaper shirts. We also shopped for other necessities and washed new diapers, crib sheets, and baby clothes. How I wished I had disregarded my doctor’s orders and done a little at a time to prepare for bringing our babies home! The men set-up three baby cribs - one we got with S&H Green Stamps, friends gave one to us and we borrowed one. Our home had only two bedrooms with wall to wall beds. One bedroom contained three baby cribs and a double bed, and the other had Mary Beth’s baby bed and our double bed in it.
             The big day arrived. My Mom and mother-in-law went with Mary Beth and me to the hospital to bring them home. We brought them home in a large oval laundry basket and a smaller round plastic container. I still have the basket as it is a wonderful keepsake of that time in our lives. On our way home, Mary Beth, oblivious to what was happening, sat in her car seat sucking her bottle. When she finished, she just tossed it. It landed in the basket hitting one baby on the head. Were we so thankful it was a plastic bottle!
              The first twenty-four hours that the babies were home, were great. We fed them 3 ounces of formula every three hours, day and night. Feeding took about two hours and fifteen minutes because they were so tiny. Forty-five minutes after one feeding was finished, it was time to start another. It took at least two people for each feeding. Then things’ changed - on the evening of the second day all three babies started crying like they were in terrible pain. Colic, we thought. Then came diarrhea, a doctor’s visit, formula change, more crying and diarrhea, another doctor visit, another formula change. The crying and diarrhea continued!! Each doctor’s visit took three adults, but also confirmed that although they were in pain and had upset stomachs they were still gaining weight. Finally, it was determined they had come home from the hospital with an E-Coli bacteria. The doctors would not prescribe antibiotic or any other medication because they were still so little. After weeks of screaming, they prescribed antibiotic and Bentyl to be put in each bottle. I kept them on Bentyl until they were eight months old for fear they would start hurting again. For many years, I had flashbacks when I heard a young baby crying in pain.
Besides caring for their normal baby needs, there were thirty-six bottles to wash, sterilize, make formula for, and fill each day. We washed between three and four dozen diapers daily for four little ones. Since Mary Beth was only fourteen months old, she still required much care and love so that she would not be jealous. Both grandmothers took turns staying a week at a time for about a month after we brought them home. Then my mother-in-law had a kidney abscess that required surgery. We hired a middle age lady who came to help me for six hours a day until they were almost a year old. I am so thankful we had many wonderful friends who came to help without ever having to be asked.
           As the months went by, our home became more and more baby proof. We put latches on doors to hook them to the wall so no fingers were smashed, locks on cabinet doors, and put up several baby gates. Play pens were a valuable possession for us. We had two in the living room, and one behind the front seat of our 1959 green Chevy station wagon. We had put down the back seat, opened an oblong playpen, and placed it there. This creative arrangement enabled me to travel with the girls without the help of another adult. When they were about a year old, if the weather was good, I would set out for Port Barre with four little girls - one in a car seat by me and three behind me in the playpen. That playpen also came in handy to go to the grocery store for a few items or to get notions at Zene’s Fabric store. I would put the girls in the grocery cart and put the items around them or they would hold them. One day I could not find the banana I had put gotten. When the girls stood up in the cart for me to take them out, there they were - mashed bananas - Janet had sat on them.
             Christmas has always been my favorite holiday, and a special time for our family. We always had a large Christmas tree. When the triplets were eighteen months old, my father-in-law and husband built a cage to surround the tree. This enabled us to enjoy it without constantly saying ‘no", and also to prevent them from getting hurt. Since I sewed all their clothes, each child had a beautiful dress to wear to church and to participate in the Children’s Christmas program. Since I only have one brother and Clarence is an only child, in 1967, we hosted Christmas dinner for both our families. That tradition continues until today. The grandparents are gone, as are most of my aunts. We are now the grandparents, but the tradition continues, with our children, grandchildren and uncle and aunt.
Birthday parties were also special times with grandparents and friends to celebrate. Each child had her own birthday cake that I made with special care. In 1969, we went on our first vacation to Lake Charles to the beach. Both grandmothers came along to help us. This tradition also continued - a vacation either far or near until the girls were grown. After they started their own families, we enjoyed several family vacations with our children and our grandchildren.
             The memories of those wonderful years, with their joys and sometimes difficulties, are precious to me. Surely, God’s hand was upon us throughout the years as He provided for all of our needs. We may not have been rich in material possessions, but we were rich with what money could not buy - faith, love, wonderful family, and loving, devoted friends.

In Defense of Lady Godiva

By Jeron J. La Fargue, February 27, 2008

Lady Godiva was born in the year 1040. She was married to Leofric, earl of Mercia. They lived in Coventry, Warwickshire, England having moved there from Shrewsbury, Shropshire, where Leofric had earned his fortune and title from successes in the mutton trade. Since they were thoroughly Christian, they were immediately impressed by the lack of proper facilities for training and housing men of the cloth in Coventry. Coventry was a little district of that area with a population of 6,215. Being “nouveau riche” and wanting to be recognized in social circles there, they decided to put some of their money into a worthy cause there.

Near the center of Coventry, where the bombed-out ruins of the mighty Coventry Cathedral stands today, Leofric and Godiva founded and funded an abbey or monastery named in honor of Ste. Eunice of Saxmundham who was an early English martyr slain by flaying at the hands of the Romans.

The monastery, in addition to being a place to house and educate religious, became the gathering point where popular events and festivities could be celebrated. The local people respected Leofric and Godiva for establishing this center of social events of the community. Leofric gained public appreciation and recognized him as a generous philanthropist and he assumed a growing role in the governance of public affairs and public works. There was then a need to obtain the money to build these community projects so it was natural that he turned to taxation as a means to raise this money.

Lady Godiva took an interest in equestrian activities and became a polished horsewoman and enjoyed the hunt. In pursuing this interest, she became associated with a class of people who were cultured and had varying interest in the field of arts. I guess you would say that Leofric and Godiva were social climbers of their day.

Godiva apparently thought that her association with artists, etc., would inspire the masses by way of example. She wanted to have the populace develop an interest in the arts and humanities.

However she realized that she was not having too much success in this endeavor. She determined that nearly all of the people spent almost their entire waking hours in an effort to feed and clothe themselves and the provide themselves with shelter for the elements and most were having a hard time doing just that. Leofric had taxed the people so much for his grand public works projects. He even placed a tax on manure.

Lady Godiva was a determined woman and she would not let her desire to lift the population to a higher degree of appreciation for the arts especially at the expense of a new municipal water supply. She knew that the taxes imposed by Leofric would have to be reduced if the community was going to pull itself up to the 11th century and its more cultured concerns.

When she approached him about reducing the taxes he absolutely refused and could not understand why art appreciation should be rated over a new water supply. Not only did he refuse to reduce taxes, he added a tax on paintings. This required Lady Godiva to pay the tax since she was the only one who owned paintings except for the Church and it was exempt from taxation. However she did not give up and continued to nag him at every opportunity. Finally, after a long time, he agreed to remove some of the taxes but under a condition. He pointed out to her that the ancient Greeks and even the Romans viewed the nude human body as one of the highest expressions of the perfection of nature. Nudity was not seen as erotic in any sense, but as purity, and a celebration of the wonderful form of a sensuous being.

Therefore he proclaimed that, if Lady Godiva would ride her horse through the crowded market of Coventry, in the full light of mid-day, clothed in only that which God had given her, as an example of the perfection of God’s work and as an expression of the highest possible aesthetic, then he would reduce the taxes on the populace. Godiva agreed once she had ensured that she actually had his permission to do so.

Leofric could not believe that Godiva would have agreed to the condition and was now convinced that she totally believed in the merits of her cause. He committed himself that, upon completion of her ride, he would remove all of the taxes on the people and not just reduce them. The only taxes that would remain would be the taxes on horses which were already imposed at the time he took office.

On the appointed day in 1057, Lady Godiva accompanied by two female aides on horseback, one on each side and slightly to the rear, proudly rode  through the market place. She was not an exhibitionist. She rode with a look of complete composure upon her face. She was relaxed, confident and unashamed. She received the respect of the citizens who witnessed her ride as being one accomplished in dignity for a worthy purpose and the taxes were removed as promised by Leofric.

And that is the true story of Lady Godiva. I know because I have researched the story in detail because she was my 37th Great Grandmother.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A Visitor from My Past

By Earl Gates, 2008
I sensed someone standing at my front door: the doorbell didn't ring; no knock, but I knew someone was there. I looked up, and through the full-length plate-glass door, I saw a stranger, a strange looking man standing on the front porch. He peered into the house a bit and then looked behind him as to make sense of where he was.
I rose from the dining room table where my genealogy papers littered the table, went to the door, opened it and asked if I could help him. His striking wardrobe was from a completely different era, and not a costume. His clothes were like those I've seen in historical movies and 19th century albums and genealogy magazines.
Genealogy! Suddenly, the room began to spin and I grabbed the back of a chair. A light bulb in my mind slowly grew brighter. "Oh my," I said under my breath when the light shone bright, "Are you John Gates from Mississippi?” I whispered.
"As a matter of fact, I am," he said as he doffed his hat. "And may I have the pleasure of making your acquaintance?"
"Of course," I said. "I am Earl Gates, Your great-great-great-great grandson. Won't you please come in?"
"What?" He took a step backward. "I have no grandchildren."
"I am the descendent of your son William L. Gates born in 1815."
"I do not understand," he said, sounding frustrated and fascinated, like he had entered a time machine.
"Please come in and sit," I said. I showed him to the best chair in the room. "Let me put the kettle on or would you prefer coffee?" I was talking too fast and the pitch of my tone was much too high. I consciously tried to lower it.
"Coffee would be most enjoyable, "he said, adding quietly, "I don't think I've had a cup for quite some time." His forehead was a map of frown lines.
"Please let me try to explain," I said after I put the coffee maker on. I sat on the sofa near him. "I am a genealogist and I have been steadily working on you for the past two days." Then I laughed. "Please excuse my poor choice of words. I have been thinking how wonderful it would be to spend sometime with you and show you some of the changes -- the innovations -- that have taken place since your lifetime."
"Now comes my question," he said, his voice filled with anxiety. His eyes looked deep into my eyes. Not at my eves, but in them, where he might have found my soul.
"Pray tell me, what is the present year?"
"It is 2008," I said quietly, fearful he might faint. "It's been 163 years since you died in 1845, when you were 65 years old. I cried when I read your death listed in the family bible," I told him." It was so sad to think that as a young man with a family of 5 you helped tamed the Mississippi Territory in the early 18--'s. I choked up and tears spilled from my eyes. The coffee pot was telling me coffee was ready. "Would you like your coffee black or with cream and sugar?" I asked.
"Oh, white, with a spoonful of sugar."
"White?" I queried. "Oh, with cream.l" I retrieved the pint of half-and-half and poured it into his cup until his coffee was white. "Would you like some cookies? Sorry, but they're store-bought, not homemade."
"Store-bought? You bought cookies at a shop?" He looked at his mug covered with Shakespearean quotes. "I read all of Shakespeare's works as a young man," my ancestor said, "but I would never have thought to put his words on coffee cups." He laughed.
That reminded me that I wanted to ask him who his parents were, where he met and married his wife Rebecca, what my ancestor William L. Gates middle name was, but now did not seem like the time to ask. As we drank our coffee he noticed I was still in my pajamas. "Should you be in the field working on the crops?” I said, we don't have a field; and this is what I sleep in. It certainly is far less clothing than all the layers you are wearing. Is this what you would have worn in Mississippi.
"Yes," he answered. "This is my good suit, my Sunday-goint-to-church suit, and, I suspect, my burial suit."
"Do you have paper and pencil, so I could make some notee?"
I gave him a ballpoint pen, which amused him to no end. After he had written a good while, I interrupted and said, "There are so many questions I want to ask you about your time on Earth: I have many holes in my genealogy that I know you can fill. I want to know more about your life."
"Certainly," he said, tucking his notes into his breast pocket. "Ask away."
"First, I cannot tell you how much I love you," I began. "My dad told me stories about you, and your legend lives on in our family because I have told everyone about your accomplishments and your death, and I have written that story down for future generations." "I stopped speaking, looked at him and rose from my chair, walking slowly towards him. He stood and opened his arms as if to welcome the hug I wanted to give. But in a heartbeat, he was gone. Gone! I was astounded. I stood there, feeling foolish with my arms wide open for no apparent reason. My ancestor John Gates was gone.
I felt someone shaking my shoulder. "Earl," my wife said. "You have to come to bed. It's two in the morning and you're sleeping at the table. Come on. This will all be here tomorrow.
"By the way, did I hear you talking to someone’?"

Women Find Their Place

By Lorene Walker Auld, September 15, 2008
In February 1943, my life took on a new dimension when I accepted a job with Jarecki Manufacturing Company, an oil field supply company located on Southeast 29th Street in Oklahoma City.  
For blocks along this street were oil-related businesses, and at that time only men were employed to perform the secretarial and clerical duties.  Of course, their duties might also include the handling of tools, parts, pipes, etc., that were stocked for sale to the oil industry.  World War II brought about a change in this practice since men were now carrying out their duties in military service. 
This company, which was headquartered in St. Louis, Missouri, had never hired a female for office work, so I was in on the ground floor of this change.  The company manager had just hired a personal secretary; and shortly thereafter, I came on board as an office clerk.
The building was a huge wooden warehouse with separate rooms partitioned for the manager=s office, two rooms for the clerical staff, and one restroom.  Within a very short time, a second restroom was added to provide for the female employees.
In the middle of the building was a huge potbellied, wood burning stove that provided heat for the entire structure.  When I arrived early each morning, it was my privilege to enjoy visiting with the man who opened the store for business and who also started the fire in the stove.  He was a kind, courteous gentleman who helped me to adjust to my new environment.
Why did I arrive so early each day?  I lived with my parents, and my transportation was provided by my father Luther Walker.  He was working at Will Rogers Air Base, and he had to report to work about seven in the morning.  We lived on an acreage located on Southeast 29th Street near Tinker Field more than five miles east of Jarecki, and Will Rogers Air Base was located southwest of Oklahoma City.  That extra time I spent each morning before the other staff arrived provided an opportunity to broaden my horizon in the field of business.
As I recall, the company was maintaining their inventory by Amemory.  I was assigned the task of setting up an inventory card file for everything in the warehouse and in the yard.  The male employees did the hands-on inventory and furnished a handwritten copy for my use. 
I completed the card file and maintained it from the invoices of items received from headquarters, and the sales tickets of items sold to customers.   Several years later my father told me that he had recently met the manager of Jarecki, and he was pleased to report they were still using the inventory card file that I had prepared.
I consider it an honor to have been among those women in our country who Abroke ground in many professions during World War II.  We demonstrated effectively the use of our gifts, endowed by God, for the betterment of the human race.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

I Captured It On Film

By Ellender Boudreaux
In March of 2009, I received a call from my sister-in-law, Ruby. I had not heard from the family since December, when I got a Christmas card from them. After telling me hi, she told me my brother wanted to talk with me.
When she gave him the phone, and he began to talk to me, I could tell he was crying.
He immediately told me, “I have cancer, it’s in my liver, in my brain, and in my colon. They want to put me in the hospital and decide the treatment that will prolong my life for a few months. If I do not take any treatments, I probably have only a couple of months to live. I have decided not to take any procedures to fight the cancer; I feel it will only continue the pain. I have lost so much weight that I do not feel like fighting any longer.”
My heart was so heavy at that moment I couldn’t talk.
I told him to do whatever he needed to do to keep from having too much pain, and we would see him in a few days.
I decided to make a copy of the stories I had written about our growing up, and put them into a book, and add pictures we had taken through the years, to remind him of the good life we had experienced.
As I opened the album and looked at the old pictures that were taken many years before, I saw our family as we were then. I looked at the photos taken of my mom and the six of us children. I saw the pain she was enduring after the death of our father.
As I looked through the book for other photos, I saw our joys and sorrows come into view. Here to remember were photos of our school years, our working days, and our marriages. Each picture a story remembered.
As I continued to look, there were the pictures of Donald and his brother, Oliver, he loved so much.
Now, as I look for more, there are pictures of a kid, eighteen, in an army uniform, then his return from the Korean War. Following his return photos, I found a picture of two happy people in a wedding photo. Shortly after their marriage they moved to Texas, and the pictures were less and less as their lives became too busy for visits back home.
When we did get together, we always used our cameras to remember these visits of Christmas, Easter, happy times and sad visits, like funerals of love ones.
We did make our trip to Texas last week.  It was a good day, even though we knew it could be our last visit with my brother.
We took those memory photos, and now as I look at them, I see in the group, the changes the passing years have made.
The four of us, Donald, Joyce, Mildred, and me were still happy to be together that day, however, one sister was not able to be with us. Wanda and her husband, Don are in a nursing home, but I will put her picture there with the rest of us.
As I closed the album, I realize that nothing will be as it once was, and that the old family album is a priceless possession to save forever. What a wonderful thing to be able to go back in time and see recorded on film, our lives as we lived it through the years.

The Stories in My Head

By Flossie Turner, December 3, 2008

There always seem to be stories running through my head. While I'm in the pool at Red's or taking a shower, or driving, they pop up, unbidden. Sometimes at night, lying in bed, they come to me. Always, always, when I cannot write them down, the stories come. I blame this on my life writing class.
Last fall, I was driving my neighbor Nancy home from a lecture series at the library She was telling me about the life writing class that she was teaching and the idea sounded wonderful. I applied for the spring, but was too late. What a disappointment, but Nancy encouraged me to apply for the summer session. That, too, seemed like it wouldn't work out but finally I was able to get in. I was thrilled to begin my class.
On my first day of class I had no idea what to expect. Upon arriving, there were many new faces, and most seemed to know one another from previous classes. We did introductions all around, Nancy explained some of the basic points of the class and we were given a syllabus with suggestions as to what we should be writing. I didn't know then that not everyone followed these suggestions. On our next class, we began reading our stories. This was not what I had expected. I thought we would be given pointers, grammar rules, anything to do with writing. Just sitting and listening to others' stories - this was NOT what I had in mind. Nancy had worked so hard to get me into class. I would just continue through the summer and gracefully "drop out" before the fall session began.
Then something happened. I realized, as I listened, that even though all of us were from different backgrounds, our stories were remarkably the same. Each of them touched me in some way, as did each of the people in the class. Their stories blended with my own, and added things that I had long since forgotten.
Fall session started and I was there, listening to some of my friends from the summer , and learning "the stories" about the new people in our class. Earl, who is so soft hearted and gentle. Lorene, whose husband VL's eggnog recipe I will use this Christmas. I have never seen Hong Kong but know of the beautiful people and wonderful sunsets from Mary. I have never eaten food from Newfoundland, but I know about them from listening to Imelda. I learned about the pain of having a black friend in an integrated world from Helen. Mac and Bev bring me back to New Orleans, with Bev's tales of playing ball for NORD and Mac's knowledge of my great uncle's bar, Sprada's Café, a "classy joint." Edith tells tales of her grandchildren and William, stories from the past in Acadia Parish. Jackie, by her own admission, tells of her "cause du jour." There are people in class that I had known previously. I have known Harriet for some time, but never knew was a daughter of sharecroppers. Linda's daughter and mine graduated together, so I knew of her and her husband, but never realized she had served in the Air Force when it wasn't common for women to do so. Nancy grew up in a small Texas town that my grandmother's family had lived in for years. So many commonalities, so many differences.
Each week, as I sit and listen, I learn so much more about my new friends and their lives. I listen to their stories, and their way of writing them, and more stories pop into my head. I have also learned that Nancy will offer help in grammar, technique, all those things that I thought I would need to write when I first began. I've learned that more than those technical aspects, writing begins in the heart.
My goal, when I began this class, was to write a history of my family for my children. That is still where I am headed so that they will have the story of their family. I just may take a few detours, with my friends, along the way.

Mid-week Memory Keepers

By Mary Langford
I’m happy when Wednesday comes every week.
If you wonder why, I’ll give you a peek.
That’s when I meet with my Life Writing class,
Not an experience I willingly pass.
I love to hear my classmates’ stories,
As they tell of their failures and their glories.
In the midst of great losses, we hear Annie’s attitude
Of trust in God, of hope and gratitude.
We’re amazed at all of the roles Vi has filled
And through it all, her enthusiasm hasn’t been stilled.
Then Carol, transplanted by a south’ner’s charm,
"Flew" in church and "cussed" when she broke her arm.
Lorene’s stories are of family history,
And her typing tip helped to solve a mystery.
Then there’s Flossie, cheerful and full of fun.
If you want to talk library, she’s the one.
Praise for self-expression was vital to Colleen,
And she’s ready to fight for her hero Gene.
Paul makes it easy to know which twin is which,
‘Cause he was born a "saint" and she was born a "witch."
Helen has received many awards in her career,
But it is her husband and family she holds most dear.
Harriet, also a twin, has walked us through her schools.
She managed to meet Bill Daly, in spite of all the rules.
Imelda’s life is a mosaic with its stones of many hues,
She sees each life event as something God can use.
And who is busier than Edith Matte, our classmate,
Who has daughters, grandchildren, church and e-bay on her plate?
There’s Beverly from New Orleans– athlete and banker.
She tells it like it is. Our class has no one franker.
Mac writes of when his chances of survival were quite slim.
We all believe, no doubt, Someone’s been watching over him.
Linda’s Air Force adventures we all love to hear,
And her school bus story took us back across the years.
Then there’s me writing weekly of places I’ve called home,
Of my favorite relatives and people I have known
But where would we all be without our leader?
No other class has one to beat her!
She shares her own stories, makes sure that we know
About concerts, exhibits and the latest good show.
And whether our writing is hum-drum or fancy,
We can always count on a good word from Nancy!

There's a Monkey in the Christmas Tree

By Malcolm Domingue
     It was the week before Christmas and the family gathered at the home of my Aunt Lucille to exchange Christmas gifts.  The rooms of the house were arranged so that you entered  the front door into the Living Room which led into the Dining Room, and through a doorway lead to the Kitchen.  A hall ran the length of the house so that those rooms were to the right of the hall, and all Bed Rooms and Baths were located to the left of the hall.
     The tall Christmas Tree was beautifully decorated and was placed to the right of the entrance into the Living Room from the front porch.  My Aunt Lucille had a penchant for the unusual which led her to purchase a small monkey as a Christmas gift for her son.  The monkey was unbelievably small being no more than six inches tall.  He was the center of attention as the family arrived and began to be excited by all of the noise and commotion of arriving guests.  In his excited state he began to scamper through the house across the Living Room, on into the Dining Room and Kitchen, taking a turn now down the hall which brought him back to his starting point in the Living Room, where upon he would  repeat his circuitous track again and again.  He continued this wild race through the house moving so quickly that we were unable to catch him.  He needed  to be in his cage but the little rascal bolted like a flash of lightening and could not be subdued.
     It was at this point in the commotion that my Aunt Lillian and her husband, Uncle Tilman arrived coming through the front door just as the monkey leapt up into the Christmas Tree.  At this time, neither of them had seen the monkey.  As Aunt Lillian walked past the tree the monkey lunged toward her landing in her hands.  Having just arrived into the house she was  startled, to say the least,  and was not quite sure what it was that she was holding in her hands when the monkey in its excitement bit her finger, then dashed forward commencing his mad dash again and again being cheered on by the children.  She let out a blood curdling scream which  frightened the monkey spurring him on to move ever so much faster, and now some of the other older aunts were becoming
agitated and were chiming in with their own screams while uttering words of displeasure over the wild monkey incident.
     Now Aunt Lillian was known to be the most extreme of hypochondriacs in the family and it was well known by everyone that she enjoyed poor health and beamed when anyone paid attention to her exaggerated tales about her health.  So at this point of having been bitten by the monkey, we took turns going by and examining her finger to which would be added the need to have a doctor examine her finger just in case the monkey did carry some rare jungle disease.  One by one, we all went by and  with great respect told her all the horrible things we could imagine that could occur from being bitten by a creature like this big six inch tall monkey.
     Gifts have been exchanged, opened and paper and ribbon clutters the floor.  The excitement of the monkey incident is now passed and multiple conversations are going on, when suddenly there is a lull in the conversation and no one is uttering a word, then we hear from the hall my aunt saying into the phone, “Hello Lourdes, this is Mrs. Chatelain honey, there was this monkey in the Christmas tree,” and at that point my Uncle Tilman yells out, “Damn you Lillian, half the town thinks you’re crazy already, now they’ll know for sure, HANG UP THE DAMN PHONE!!!  And she did, so in our family while other families tell the story of"T’was The Night Before Christmas," we tell the story  about “The Night There Was a Monkey in the Christmas Tree,” and remember an old eccentric old Aunt who we loved dearly and wish she was still here to share her life with us.       

Be Adventurous

Sheldon A. Blue wrote this as an assignment on March 13, 2008. The prompt was "Be Adventurous – Interview someone from your past."
     “I’m not sure just how old you were during that time,” Dad said. “Lafayette had less than 15,000 people in it, and I know Southwestern (SLI) had less than 1,500 students. Mr. Heymann had this huge nursery next to the College, where the Oil Center is today and a big wooded area existed between Mc Naspy Stadium and  Heyman’s Nursery.”
     “Why is it that you bring up the wooded area next to the stadium?" I asked.
     “Well, you see, a group of us in the Lion’s Club in those days had our eyes on that area for a project.”
     “Wasn’t that the area where the C.C.C. (Civilian Conservation Corps.) camped when they came in to help after the depression and the flood of 1927?  And didn’t Dave Church have a house or cabin in those woods?”
     “Yep, you got the right area.  About a dozen of us in the Lion’s Club had camped and picnicked in those woods, and we came up with the idea of taking a bunch of trees out, leveling out areas, and maybe even building a lake in a hollow spot in the woods.
     “One of us had a farm tractor with some attachments, another had access to some logging equipment, and we all had strong backs and were a lot younger in those days.
    “No one said NO, we just all told our wives not to plan anything on the weekends for the rest of the year.  Then we met the next Saturday, and a project was born.”
     I don’t remember reading anything about this in the "History of Lafayette" I read last winter.  But who is to question Dad’s memories of Buryl Logan, C.O. Theriot, Pip Billeaud, Jerry Butcher, Pop Chicqulen (and others I don’t remember), meeting weekend after weekend reshaping a forest.  It has to be true.  It was one of the biggest items of their lives for three or four years.  I am not sure what each pledged to the other, but it had to be a big promise for that group to give up dove hunting in September and duck hunting in November, to work their butts off in the woods each weekend.
     I do remember, about noon each Saturday, Mom and I would drive out St. Mary’s Boulevard and turn on the gravel road that went past the stadium.  I knew the spot well from all the times in spring when Dad would take me with him to spend the day there while he officiated as a timer at an S.L.I. track meet.  Each Saturday we brought enough lunch-meat sandwiches to feed an army and a huge jug of lemonade to feed that dirty crew.  There we met others doing the same. 
     It didn’t look like much was being accomplished after the first couple weeks, but I know Dad came home late on Sunday nights and fell into bed and slept soundly.
     Weeks later clearings began to appear from the road.  We didn’t have to blow the horn
and wait for them to come out of the woods for their lunch.  They could see us when we drove up, and we could see them working.  Sometimes you could still smell the burning trees and stumps from the week before.
     As time went by, Mom and I got in the habit of staying after lunch on Sundays, in the clearing, to watch what was going on.  It became easier for me to play as the clearing progressed.
     I remember bringing my fishing pole and sitting next to the hollow when they started to put water in it.  It was my intention to catch the first fish from that lake.
     Weekend after weekend went by,  I’m not sure how many were involved in this project.  There were eventually 40 to 50 men working each weekend.  All I can really remember is how dirty they all came home on Sunday nights.
     One thing sets well in my memory.  It was the day I found Dad and his friends Zeke Laughlin and Coach Louie Campbell sitting at the kitchen table, smiling and joking while they drafted a news release that said:
             “Lafayette City and Lion’s Club join hands to dedicate Girard Park.”

Monday, October 31, 2011

The Amazing Talents of Lifewriters

Sheldon Blue took first prize at the Lafayette Art Association's annual juried show and is shown here celebrating at last night's reception (Oct. 30, 2011). Sheldon has been a longtime Lafayette Lifewriter, sharing amazing stories of growing up in Lafayette. But he's also a talented watercolorist. His one-man show was part of the Lafayette Art Association gallery last month.
Sheldon is posing near two pieces of artwork that belong to Ellen LaBry, another talented Lafayette Lifewriter, artist and teacher of art. Ellen would watch Sheldon doodle in class and comment on how he needed to develop those sketches. This is the result.
And Lifewriter Carolyn Pons' husband, Joe, also took home awards from the annual show. He's shown here next to a photograph of a Roseate spoonbill in flight, titled "On Gossamer Wings."

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Welcome to the Lifewriting Blog!

By Cheré Coen
Funny how teaching lifewriting can make you doubt your own life story. Don’t get me wrong, I will be the first person to insist that writing memoirs is one of the most valuable things you can do for yourself, as your family legacy and for the historical record of your community. Genealogists and historians will agree that diaries and records of a person’s life are invaluable to the study of history. I’ve worked for years on my own family genealogy and have longed so many times to be able to get inside the heads of my crazy ancestors.

So why do I find it hard to write my own story?

I offer advice, I share writing roadmaps and I listen as the instructor of the ULL Lifewriting Class on Wednesdays. Mostly, I sit in awe at the amount of talent around the table and the stories that spring up. There are detailed memories of old Lafayette, past Cajun traditions and old French expressions. Many grew up elsewhere, some fought in World War II. And some stories about the most mundane aspects of life make us laugh the most.

My days are spent writing fiction and articles, teaching and trying to master social media. I’m still raising two children, and I try to maintain a household of one husband, one Boston terrier-boxer mix and three cats. I sometimes wonder what would I write about!

At lunch recently one of the students remarked that we remember so much of our childhood, but not as much when we are raising children. Perhaps we are too busy trying to keep the ship afloat. I find this to be true when my kids mention moments from their youth and I struggle to recall them. But perhaps that’s even more reason to write about life as we live it.

So I vow to be as good as my students and write about myself every week. I’m starting with this blog.

Our prompt this week is “Going Back to School,” which brings me to Jefferson Elementary in Jefferson Parish with its creaky wooden floors, drafty windows and lack of air conditioning. The day my mother enrolled me in first grade I was told repeatedly how my father had attended the same school, something I had no trouble believing since the building look medieval to me. I found the same to be true of my first grade teacher, an older woman who had taught my dad. To a 5-year-old, anyone who had taught a parent was ancient. To this day I wonder if she was old as I remember.

Still, I was excited about the prospects, loved the chalky smell of the massive classrooms with windows everywhere and the inviting playground with its painted hop scotch markers and swing sets. In the corner of the property, parents loaded up used newspapers for a paper drive. Seemed like a fun place to me.

My older sister was bored, having been through this process before. She began exploring the property, heading for a high view of the world up the fire escape. Being an inquisitive kid — or pest of a little sister is more like it — I followed. Back then I followed her everywhere.

When she reached the top and could view the neighborhood, she suddenly turned and screamed. At first I thought she was angry I had followed and was telling me to go back to Mom. But she bolted past me, bounding down the stairs with one word registering as she flew past. “BEES!”

I looked up to see wasps emerging from where she had stood, but before I could understand their intention, one wasp flew right for me. All I could do was shut my eyes.

He stung me on the eyelid, which felt like fire burning through my skull. Of course, I cried and headed down the stairs, although a lot slower than my sister. My mother met me at the bottom, whisked me in her arms and we headed for the Oschner emergency room. I later learned that some kids are allergic to bees and a sting so close to the brain could result in death. I think my mom was just afraid I might lose my eyesight.

I suffered neither death nor blindness, but I got special attention that night, my mom applying cool face clothes on my eye while I enjoyed “The Wonderful World of Disney.” My favorite episode of “Winnie the Poo” was on that night, and I delighted in every moment, if only through one eye.

First grade started the next day with the ancient teacher who taught my dad. And I had a great story to start off the school year.