Monday, November 29, 2010

Holiday Texas Style

We had a great Thanksgiving in Texas with my brother's family. The kids loved being with the cousins and we ate great food, watched a lot of football, and came home well-rested and ready for the next leg of the holiday season.
Houston holds a really cute Thanksgiving Day parade complete with floats, marching bands, low riders, and balloons.

Don't the kids look so cozy posing next to the big tree in their summer clothes?

This red swing hung beautifully in the museum district near the Mark Rothko Chapel.

The Houston Children's Museum is wonderful. The kids did NOT want to leave. Not even to eat or go to the bathroom!

On Tuesday, prior to Thanksgiving, we joined the Landrys' for gingerbread makin'.

We grabbed a little inner peace at the Mark Rothko Chapel. Such a great little spot in Houston.

Our little astronauts got to play at NASA Space Center, too!

This boy Elroy is a bit wary of his helmet!

No Thanksgiving is complete without a visit from the ice cream truck to beat the November heat!

My dad made this cool game based on what is apparently a traditional Texas pastime: the game "Washers." The rules seem to have a lot of flexibility. It should be called "Diplomacy" given the amount of debate and negotiation that takes place in the constant revising of the rules.

My brother's tailgate buddies brought all their gear and we sat in the driveway with outdoor TVs and ate. A lot. Armadillo Eggs, cranberry salsa, nachos, shrimp wrapped in bacon, chicken in white sauce. Yum. Who needs veggies?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Playing Tourist (origins)

I grew up in a small, small, small town in rural south Louisiana. It was probably better than your average small town because we were Cajun and felt somewhat special, somewhat insecure, somewhat isolated. We ate different food. We talked funny.

One summer, my daddy said that if we can spend all that money and time exploring other states, we should do it in our own state. We spent our family vacation driving around Louisiana. I will never forget that trip. I was around 9 or 10 and we set off on a week long journey through the Sportsman's Paradise.

It was fun to be familiar and unfamiliar with the place simultaneously. We drove West to Lake Charles, the Acadian Parishes, up toward Toledo Bend, to Shreveport and Bossier City, Monroe, down through Central Louisiana, Baton Rouge, Hammond. We left out New Orleans and our swampy homeland because we covered those areas on Sunday drives and weekends.

I loved the antebellum homes. I remember seeing the beautiful False River. We visited the Monroe Zoo and an Acadian Village. At Shadows on the Teche, I was reprimanded by a stern docent for touching a piece of furniture. I leaned on a chair, rapt in the docent's story and she called me out. My mother, not one for sticking up for me when I got in trouble, was really mad.

We stayed at a tiny dive motel in the town of Many and I saw my first ever vibrating bed.

Our state was just as interesting as other places in the country, we learned. We saw gardens, met people, learned about our history and the physical act of riding those roads helped me in later years because if you told me you were from even the dinkiest town in Louisiana, even when I was in college, I could almost always say I had been through there once.

My parents loved doing this sort of thing out of shear curiosity. No hipster ideals. No desire to check things off a list. They simply felt it was important to know your own place. Dining at mom and pop restaurants was a way of life and it shaped me in the years to come. I don't seek out the out of the way spots to "be cool." I honestly enjoy it and am interested in it.

I think we need to keep that spirit of the open road, of getting there, rather then being there. Stop thinking of rural areas or the middle of the country as places you drive through, gas up, or worse, fly over. If we're going to burn fossil fuels in this country, at least let's use it for good connect, to learn, to explore.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

I Wish You Peace

My friend, A, is dying.

This hurts. It has hurt for her and all of us since she was diagnosed and my heart continually breaks as I enter a new stage of grief in this process. My heart breaks knowing that since her first surgery, she has not had a life, she has been butchered and tortured, and smothered by her loved ones.

I am trying to figure out the meaning of all this. A and my father-in-law (died in February) are/were not spiritual people. I am not saying that we all need to believe in God. I dabble in my half-assed belief and still can't stand and deliver on the faith thing. But, having a spirituality on some level is better than despair. The despair is as real and hard as the cancer that invaded both of them. My father-in-law, while not ready to die, was at least equipped with the knowledge that he was older and had lived his life. A, on the other hand, is younger than I am. She is the symbol, the poster-child of the unfairness and utter meaninglessness of it all. Really. We all needed her around for at least another 20 years. I'm being generous, here, Providence!

I realized that A is the first friend that was close to me to die of disease. Slowly, agonizingly, and with total awareness. Other friends I've lost have been through accidents, freakish things that plucked them suddenly and dramatically from life. In those instances, we were sad and shocked, but somehow able to feel immune to it. It was not us. It was them. They who died by accident. With A, I'm realizing that I could get cancer too. I could die. Children are left without a mother or a father a LOT. I'm noticing this, more and more--friends who lost a parent when they were young. This scares ME. It becomes about ME. The lost of my friend, but also the lost of the great, wonderful, necessary me. I feel so selfish and horrible when I think this.

I'm trying to learn. I'm trying to learn the right words to use. I have made many mistakes. I am trying to live my life and be funny without seeming like I don't care. This is so hard. I'm trying to teach my kids to keep their comments to themselves. They do not. I'm trying to understand the complexities of the family dynamic. I don't like getting involved in these things. I think about my crazy early years where I lived and worked around people like me: free, healthy, disconnected, clueless. Those days are over. We have entered a new phase that includes death, deteriorating bodies, and much pain.

I used to wish and pray for immortality. Now, I pray for peace.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Death in the Family, Part II (current)

It's been over a month since my father-in-law passed away. The initial rush of it all seemed to go rather smoothly for us all and it seems like we all got back into day-to-day living pretty quickly.

Every time we see my mother-in-law, she is shedding more of Phil's things our way. We were touched to go through the contents of his wallet: photos of his kids, notes to himself, and a worn piece of paper with "I PHIL GRAYSON LEAVE ALL MY WORDLY POSSESSIONS TO MY WIFE, JANE." It was dated the year 1968. My father-in-law was unsentimental and whenever possible deflected conversation to his facts on Hollywood history, his latest political obsession, or various tidbits from what he had been reading. On occasion he talked about the old days in Torronto and he had a regular schtick of sound bites from being in San Francisco in the 1960s. Mostly, he had the same menu of things to quip and he repeated them. A lot.

So the contents of the wallet was touching to us. No money. Just pieces of what he really cared about.


The other day, David received an email from a perspective agent interested in Phil's scripts. This made David tear up.

Another box of items from Phil revealed silent photos of him with his first wife along with the paperwork where they legally changed their last names to Grayson from Bloomberg. We always knew he changed his name but did not know he did it with his ex wife. Mysterious.


Saturday, February 27, 2010

Death in the Family, Part I (a flashback)

I never thought that the first real dead body I'd see up close, with no frou-frou dressings would be my father-in-law (post on this to come, but this flashback came out). I grew up watching people die, but was never there for the moment. And, frankly, it's been a long time since someone in close proximity has died. Family members die far away and I buy a plane ticket for a funeral. Or not. There are many I have missed. My last big funeral was my Aunt Diane's. It was very sad. We all still miss her terribly. I saw her as she got sicker, but when I arrived that last time, all I saw was her coffin, closed shut, with a photo of her on top.

We're mostly Catholic and she was Southern Baptist, so it was different than the funerals we had growing up. But, we still had it. The ritual. Without any big gaps waiting for an 'appropriate time' or godless remembrances. She passed away, we came. Right away. Aunt Diane, dying of cancer, and becoming even more faithful in the process, was able to plan her last party, complete with a healthy dose of fire and brimstone proselytizing to all the Catholics in the audience who were thumbing rosaries in secret. She was very worried about us, about our very souls and because she loved us, it seemed a heaven without us all with her, wouldn't be heaven at all.

But, the constants were there. We were in the Church that she took me when my Uncles was out of town and she could skip out on Mass. I knew nearly everyone there. The tiny country Church was packed to the rafters with family and friends, some who had also traveled from their own far away settlements. I even saw my sixth grade band director.

After the funeral in Raceland, filled with preaching and good old timey gospel music, we went home, took a breather, and drove nearly two hours north to Central Louisiana, in a tiny, tiny town where we buried her with her family in a lovely old graveyard. At the chapel, we listened to yet another sermon about how we needed to accept the Lord Jesus Christ as our personal savior and more old timey music. We laughed. A lot.

Years earlier, Aunt Diane went back to her childhood faith without expressing any judgment on her adopted Cajun family. While she raised her own daughter, she dutifully took her to Mass and sent her to Catholic school. But, after some years of feeling lost, before she got sick, she went back to her old timey place, and we all feel that she found herself again and it was that true faith, one that didn't express judgment on those around her that gave her peace, right up to her end. It was profound to see.

After the second funeral and the burial, we all went to the church hall for a traditional southern post-funeral feast. One that she would have appreciated all the more. Aunt Diane's family are a gregarious bunch and they joked and told stories even while they cried. Photos were taken out and we laughed some more. My Aunt was famous for slipping photos of herself when, she gave you a frame as a gift and many people never put other pictures in those frames.

It was a healing process. And we grateful to share that time. In my family, when you marry into it (often even if you get divorced and remarried), the inlaws become one and through the years we felt just as much a part of her sisters and brothers and I hope they felt the same way about us.

My aunt died in Nov. 2005. We all still miss her and talk about her as if she'll show up at a crawfish boil, bringing her famous brownies. Or, Thanksgiving, her cornbread dressing.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Someone get a cattle prod

I'm already bombing on my resolution to blog once a week. I'm still bogged down with trying to find a voice, figuring out what to write about and tick tick tick, time flies by and while I'm overthinking this damned thing, I don't write.

No more illusions of grandeur. No more caring that anyone reads my blog. I want to write. I need to write. If something spews out on this blog thing, then I can revamp it and send it to a "real" publication. Right? Right.

This photo is from 1975, I think. I'm about 10 and a half years old and it was taken at my Aunt Nelwyn's first wedding. My mom and dad are so young. In 1975, my dad was a mere 31 and my mom 29. Amazing. They look so cute. My brother is two years younger, but, as you can see, we were roughly the same size...until puberty hit and he got beanstalky. Later, he bulked up.

I don't think I got much taller, being the runt in the family. But, alas, I bulked up too!