katie


by katie

Mr. Willard’s Going Home – Part I

August 21, 2012 in Auto-biographical

Some stories just stick in your head. They might not seem like real stories at the time, just things you know you want to remember, because although they don’t all ‘come together’ in meaning for you at that point in life, you know they’re important enough to remember, that somehow there is a lesson to be learned, something you need to know about life right there in front of your face that just won’t ‘jell’ yet for you in meaning.

Mr. Willard’s Going Home is one of those stories. I’m not even sure why its been wandering around in my own head looking to be written somewhat like the lost tribes of Israel wandered until they found the ‘Promised Land’, but it has. Not right up on the surface all the time, but it’s plagued me for a bit now to be written and today is the time.

Mr. Willard wasn’t anyone most folks would consider important. He was a middle-aged Black man of no particular means, without much formal education, without a job, who just happened to suffer from mental illness on top of the other things that would have been enough of a handicap for so many people

When he first came to us, he had been in a mental hospital for a period of years. He wasn’t, therefore, accustomed to living in the outside world, doing things for himself, managing his own life. Prior to being diagnosed with mental illness and hospitalized, he had done what many people do who are among the undiagnosed mentally ill – he’d abused drugs and alcohol. I suppose back in that period of time, he might have been considered something of a hell raiser, but he was not that anymore to be sure.

He was a little over five and a half feet tall, of slight build, finely chiseled features to his face. Mostly, he wore jeans and a tee shirt, but when it was cold, he favored sweats. He was quiet, not real talkative. He listened and you could tell that because he mostly always followed directions implicitly. Despite being quiet, not having a lot to say, he made friends readily enough and in a short enough period of time, was making a good transition to living outside of the hospital, filling his time with what needed to be done and having some enjoyment out of his life.

Since he lived off Social Security benefits, he didn’t have a lot of money, but that didn’t seem to bother him, all of his friends shared that lot and learned to find ways to enjoy themselves without spending all they had. Cigarettes were probably his one luxury in life.

After a period of time, Mr. Willard started having heart palpitations that made him feel dizzy, weak and sometimes almost pass out. We brought him to doctors and they diagnosed him with an enlarged heart, that they said was probably the result of years of drug and alcohol abuse combined with lack of self care. They prescribed medications, more medications and still more medications. All of this on top of what he was already taking for his mental illness…and you wondered that he had any room left for food in his stomach.

As time went by, despite all the doctor’s care and the medications, despite that he even gave up the cigarettes that were his one luxury, there were increasing trips by ambulance to the hospital for Mr. Willard when he would be experiencing rapid heartbeats…or slowed ones. Every time he had to go to the hospital…he was so afraid, it showed in his eyes and we always made sure that one of us rode in the ambulance with him, trying to comfort him. Even after countless trips, that look was still there and it took days after his release to see his normal, easygoing countenance to return.

One day, it was about Halloween, we were helping everyone to find costumes for a big Halloween party being planned. People were thinking devils, witches, ghouls, mummies…all the traditional Halloween costumes. We brought a group of them to the Goodwill store to look for things they might use to make costumes. Mr. Willard had none of those things in mind. When he spotted a tuxedo, complete with the tuxedo shirt, his eyes lit up and he smiled. We knew right then and there, he’d found what he wanted. Despite that it was little large on him, making him appear even thinner, he knew that’s what he wanted to dress in for Halloween. When he found the hat to go with it…and had the whole outfit on, he looked like some jazzman of yesteryear…one cool blue note, played on a saxophone, floating right up into space. It was perfect….even if it wasn’t the traditional Halloween attire.

Little did we know, that Mr. Willard had discovered his alter ego, the flip side of his coin, the other him that might have been….had so many things gone differently, been different in his life. When Mr. Willard was wearing his tuxedo and that hat, he could have easily walked into any 5 star restaurant or hotel…and been treated like he deserved the best the house had to offer. After that Halloween party, Mr. Willard returned to Goodwill and got a couple of other suits, but the tuxedo was always his favorite. Instead of the usual jeans and tee shirt, he was now dressing everyday in a suit…and at least once a week, he was wearing that tuxedo. He always wore the hat. Something about wearing that tuxedo had changed something in him. He walked a little differently. The hat was worn at a jaunty angle on his head and he was even more debonaire than before. Everyone noticed it. Now, you only saw Mr. Willard wear his jeans or his sweats if outdoor sports were involved or he was at home relaxing.

A few months after Mr. Willard’s fashion awakening, he said he wasn’t feeling well. We couldn’t get him to describe what was happening, but I saw a look in his eyes that I’d never seen before. They were just…full of grace. We had him sitting upstairs, in the office, hoping whatever was going on would pass as it sometimes did, but also to be ready just in case we had to call for an ambulance. I sat down next to him to talk with him and noticed that the cross he wore on a chain around his neck was bumping up and down on his chest…literally jumping…every time his heart beat. I’d never seen anything like it in my life and I admit I was fascinated at that happening and a bit frightened for Mr. Willard.

While I was taking his pulse, he was talking to me. He told me that he’d been talking to his little brother. At first, I thought that was nice enough because most of our people didn’t have a lot of family contact and it was always good for them when they did. I asked him how old his little brother was and where he lived after I finished counting his pulse. He told me that his little brother had been dead for many years, having died in a motorcycle accident when they were young. I suppose Mr. Willard noted the look in my eye (wondering if he was becoming psychotic or delusional) when he told me that. He quickly added that his little brother ‘came’ to him at night, when everything was quiet and talked to him, telling him not to worry or be afraid, reassuring him that all would be well. He told me that he had heard the ambulance come for this little brother and seen them take him away from the accident site, only for him to die en route to the hospital, alone in the ambulance. That’s why Mr. Willard, that quiet,debonaire, cool blue note of a man, was terrified to ride in the ambulance. Now, I knew. The sound of the siren, the thought that he wouldn’t even make it there…those replayed in his mind and reminded him of the last glimpses he’d had of his little brother.

Although his pulse was not as rapid as it had been in the past, this time I was afraid for Mr. Willard. I had a pervasive feeling that something was about to happen, something bigger than what we could handle with his physical health. We started to call some of the general hospitals that had psych units. I was pretty sure that we could not get him admitted to a hospital based on his physical problems, those symptoms had been much worse on other days than today. But, maybe, we could do a little fudging and get him admitted to a psych unit…maybe if we told them he was seeing, hearing and talking to his brother who had been deceased for years. Make no mistake, I truly believed that Mr. Willard was doing all that. I believed his brother had reached somehow from beyond and was trying to help him, much as Mr. Willard had longed to do for his little brother, but could not. I just knew…and I didn’t know how I knew…that he needed to be in a hospital because something bad was about to happen.

It was a Friday and we had to call a lot of hospitals to find one with an opening. The people who worked for me were looking at me as if I had gone over to the other side…of sanity…because I believed Mr. Willard, because I only had some premonition that he was about to have a physical health crisis. Since they believed he was delusional, they quickly were able to get the hospital to send a van to transport him. I suppose I’m lucky, that they didn’t come out and ask for a second bed for me, judging by the way they were looking at me.

Saturday evening, we got a call from the hospital. Mr. Willard had an ‘incident’ and was now in cardiac ICU. They were able to revive him…only because he’d been at the hospital. When I heard that, I knew I wasn’t crazy, that he would have died had we not told that little white lie. I knew to a certainty that I did the right thing telling that lie. It was what all of them expected to hear, after all…the crazy man is crazy. That’s because they didn’t know Mr. Willard. They hadn’t really listened to him, nor held his hand while he told that story and looked into his eyes to see….nothing but grace, no more fear. So often, we presume things about people based on what we think we know, without bothering to be still and quiet…to just listen. Mr. Willard taught me that important lesson and I’m not sure that I would have even gotten it…except that I was mesmerized by that cross, jumping up and down, up and down on his chest.

After several weeks, they were able to discharge Mr. Willard, not to our care, but to a skilled nursing facility in his home town, about an hour and half from where we were. He was alive, but now needed care beyond the level we were able to provide. His family, who had been contacted about this latest threat to his health…finally must have taken it as serious because they had visited him in the hospital and requested that he be placed in a skilled nursing facility near them. They visited him regularly there, until the end.

They were the ones who let us know when Mr. Willard passed and about his funeral arrangements. We were the ones who had to break the bad news to his friends here. We decided to take two vans and bring those who wanted to attend his wake and funeral, despite the distance. Too many people needed a chance to tell Mr. Willard a real good-bye, and I am proud to say that I was one of them.

When we got to the wake and approached Mr. Willard’s coffin, there he was…our friend. As always, he looked like some jazzman of yesteryear, resting on a bench between performances, laid out in his tuxedo, with his hat resting in his hands. The cool blue note had finally…gone home. At the very end of his life, perhaps without even knowing it, he taught me something important, something I’d like to share with you. Maybe you already know it, maybe you’ll believe it, maybe you haven’t seen what I saw yet. Every one of us has to find it for ourselves, all I can do is tell you my own story, just like Mr. Willard told me his.

“Morning star lights the way,
Restless dream of dawn.
Shadows gone, break of day,
Real life’s just begun.

There’s no break, there’s no end, just a leering on.
Wide awake and with a smile, going on and on.
It’s not far, just close by, through an open door. “

Last edited by katie on August 22, 2012, 8:31 am

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by katie

The Whorehouse That Gave S & H Greenstamps

May 3, 2011 in Auto-biographical

I don’t know that I ever told you all about my hometown. Make no mistakes, there were some mighty nice things about that place. For many folks who lived there…it was a good place to work and live, raise yer family. Folks kinda looked out for one another; in fact, some folks might claim that they looked out for one another too much sometimes….that they were downright nosy and gossipy. I suppose that just kinda comes with growing up in a small rural town in the south. For other folk, specifically those who were poor, or of color…well, I don’t think they got the same deal in that little town and I’m sure living and dying was much harder for them. You see, I grew up in the segregated south in a small rural town that many of my friends over the years have described as one that would make Peyton Place look tame. Let me see if I can explain that for you a bit….by paraphrasing the chorus of an Alan Jackson song a bit.

Where I come from
It was gamblin’ and drinkin’
Where I come from, there was fast, lawless livin’
Where I come from, there was politician’s skimmin’
And ladies of the evenin’
Workin’ hard to make their livin’
All prayin’ hard they’d be forgivin’.

The social strata in the town was pretty much based on the haves and the have nots, that’s for sure. It was pretty easy to come from the ‘wrong side of the tracks’ both literally and figuratively and the economy there was mostly based on a rural farming. In fact, I’d say that there was something pretty close to a caste system in place.

Girls, who like me, were considered well-heeled, grew up being given ‘lessons’ of all kinds – dancing, singing, music, elocution…all of the things that were supposed to turn us out as perfectly lady-like southern women….and don’t you dare fail or slip from that pedestal, either. What you didn’t learn from formal lessons, well your mama, grandma, aunts and other prominent women in your life provided…things like flower arranging and propagating, how to set the table perfectly (I mean where you could measure those place settings and they were all the same), an eye for fashion and home decorating, needlework, art and music appreciation. They felt these were integral to us turning out to be southern ladies who gave credit to their forebears.

By the time you were ten to twelve years old, believe me…you had a rudimentary knowledge of how all of these things combined into the ideal of a southern woman – and you knew how to recognize another one by their similarities and tell the difference between them and those who had not been so fortunate and did not make it up onto the pedestal where you were perched.

I grew up a tomboy…my Papa’s son that he never had. I was quite content to be outside playing with the older boys and the one or two other girls who lived in my neighborhood….but we weren’t playing dolls. We were looking for adventure…or whatever came our way and we definitely were playing by the guys set of rules. Of course, I imagine part of that had not only to do with the fact they outnumbered us, but also the times we lived in.

Now, despite my affinity for snips, snails and puppy-dog tails…my Mama was unrelenting and insistent that in order to buy time for my more favored pursuits, I had to accommodate her demands and suffer the lessons…both those learned at home and formally. I can even remember getting hauled to the beauty parlor before I was old enough to attend school. I hated that place, it stunk of hair dyes and permanent wave solutions….and there were all those nosy, gossipy women there. More than that, the things they did to ya hurt your head as well as your pride and if you complained, they admonished you with this line, “You have to suffer to be beautiful”. Who came up with that idea…well, they must have been afflicted with some sorta disorder, IMHO.

I sat quietly, though…because you took less flak if you did…and I listened to all the nosy rosies and their gossip. If’n ya ask me…that was no place for a little girl to be, for some of those conversations…well, I think they forgot any children were around. Suffice it to say, that I heard plenty of the gossip that went around the town…and some of the things weren’t just tall tales, they were true.

I can vividly remember the first time I recall having encountered some of my home towns infamous ‘ladies of the evening’, who were no ladies, who the other ‘ladies’ said were worse than hussies and who didn’t really dress, walk, talk or act like any of the grown-up women I had ever encountered before. That’s what made ’em . . . interesting!

I think I was eleven or twelve years old….because I had ridden my bicycle to town with a friend to shop at the only large department store there. It was just about the only really ‘nice’ place we had to shop for clothes, shoes, fabrics, housewares and/or things needed and coveted by women, like makeup and perfumes.

I can’t remember what I had purchased that day, but I can clearly remember being at the counter getting ready to sign a ‘charge’ slip for my purchase. This particular check-out counter was right next to ladies lingerie. I signed my name to the slip and was making my way outta the store with my friend when they caught my eyes and we froze dead in our tracks…because we’d never seen anything like ’em.

There they were…five or six of them. Their hair was colored like no one’s we had ever seen in any visit to the beauty parlor…they had way too much makeup on – I mean, they put on way more than we did in our inexperience when playing at it. Whatever fragrances they were wearing…well, the smell lingered in the air behind them as they sashayed amongst the displays. At that moment, they were examining some red high heeled satin bedroom slippers trimmed with marabou feathers dyed to the same loud color of red. My friend and I, both with eyes wide and big as saucers were staring at them by that time….and then we looked at one another as if to see if they other one was thinking the same thing. Are they? Do ya think so? Really….I mean right here in the middle of ‘our’ store?

We dared not say a word, because we didn’t wanna call attention to the fact we were staring, and risk that one of the sales ladies might come along and send us on our way. You see…those sales ladies, who were usually friendly and more than accommodating, seemed quite displeased with having to wait on these particular customers, despite receiving a commission on their sales. We moved along a little bit and hid behind a half-mannequin garbed in a pink brassiere and sitting on a table full of brassieres and girdles. There, we could whisper to one another if we were careful…and hid behind the mannequin with the pink brassiere. After a quick, whispered exchange, we were sure…these were some of the women from those ‘houses’ we had heard the older women talking about with disdain in the beauty parlor, at their luncheons to which we had been drug along, and in their homes…always in whispered tones, almost like it wasn’t even decent to talk about them. We watched as long as we dared, and after watching them go in and out of the dressing rooms with various bustiers, slippers and dressing gowns which were equally loud, gaudy and frequently trimmed with sequins and/or those marabou feathers…decided to make our way into ladies better dresses ‘fore we got caught gawking at them and suffered a fate worse than death – a saleslady calling our mothers.

We pretended to be browsing through those suits, cocktail dresses and ball gowns, but all the while we were sneaking a peak every chance we got to see what else they were up to. They finished in lingerie and made their way over to the make-up counter. We saw our chance for a closer look and darted to housewares and fabrics which was right next to the make-up counter so we could watch them. Those ladies were picking out make-up in shades we had never seen any other woman – lady or not – in our town wear. They were also were picking up some more perfumes. Though we couldn’t see which kind, we were sure that we were smelling it, because there was a heavy, cloying smell in the air from them busily sashaying around that area as well.

They finished there. We watched them pay and walk out the door. Times must have been good for the ‘houses’, because those ladies had loaded up and were carrying as many or more packages than we ever saw anyone with leaving the department store. We followed…in a move bolder than we usually could muster. If we got caught following ….hookers about…there would be some serious repercussions that were gonna be much worse than wearing white shoes after Labor Day, we were sure.

Those ladies just went parading down the street, drawing stares from those passing by in their cars. We lingered back, so as not to appear obvious about following them. By now, our curiousity about where they would go next overcame our good thinking and the admonitions of propriety steeped into our heads by the grand dames of the town. They were laughing and giggling, sorta like what girls would do – and they didn’t seem to mind at all if they were considered loud, or gaudy, or getting the ‘wrong’ kinda attention. We wondered why they hadn’t come to town in a car, as they were all old enough to drive and we certainly wouldn’t have ridden bikes to town if we were old enough to use the car.

We followed them only for a couple of blocks and watched them turn and go right into one of the big, older houses in town – right next to a church, less than half block away from the place where we took dancing lessons and on the same side of the street as the public library! OMG….we gasped. Were they going to someone’s home? Would they be received…or turned away? We could tell from the reception they got from the salesladies in the store that they also recognized these …floosies…and were displeased enough about having to wait on them, enough that some forgot about their commission and had gone on coffee breaks or to run errands elsewhere in the store.

We waited, expecting some big row when the folks who lived in that house went to the door as discovered ‘ladies of the evening’ in the bright daylight as the guests who were calling. To our surprise…they opened the door and walked right in. We waited for about fifteen minutes to see if they were trespassing and would be discovered and evicted. Nothing happened…no one came out. We wondered if this could possibly be…their home…or even worse, was it one of those ‘houses’ we’d heard tell of? We never found out that day and had to walk all the way back to where our bikes were.

Once we got home, we went outside where we figured it would be ‘safe’ to discuss what we say without the housekeeper hearing anything or having to worry if my mother would walk in and hear us discussing ‘the forbidden’. We concluded that place must be one of those ‘houses’…but the only thing was…dare they…would they really dare to have one of those places…right downtown and next door to a church? We knew that liquor and cigarettes got sold to anyone who could reach the counter with the price of them. We knew there were gambling establishments in town for sure. Shucks…there were slot machines in the grocery stores, the filling stations…even at the bait stands if you went fishing. But this…this must surely be an even worse affront to the sensibilities of the town….how would they allow ‘that’?

We also were secretly kinda jealous of these women who didn’t seem to have to abide by any of the myriad of ‘rules’ that were imposed on the other women & girls of the town if they wanted to be considered ‘ladies’. They seemed to have a certain air of independence, confidence… a devil may care attitude that was alien to us, but still, well….interesting.

It wasn’t until perhaps six or seven years later, when we were considered sufficiently grown to hear such things that we learned some of those ‘ladies of the evening’ at times stumbled into that church on Sunday mornings. I heard that some of the congregants actually got up and moved so as not to sit next to them…but I reckon the Lord was glad to see them show up once in a while. That wasn’t the only ‘house’ in my home town. There were lots of others…and those weren’t the only ‘ladies of the evening’ that I encountered before I left the town.

When I was in high school, there was even an expose’ done in a major magazine about crime in the parish where I lived, and they talked about those ‘houses’ in that article. One of the highest elected officials there was interviewed about the rampant gambling and prostitution. I understand that he wiped his lips with his handkerchief before answering the reporter. Then, he came back with this reply, “Well, what’s wrong with a little ……..(now, you know I cannot come out and say it just like him)?

After that came out in the magazine, my Pa …away from my Mama, of course…he showed me a picture he’d taken. He always carried a camera with him, and once after a terrific storm, the S & H greenstamps sign that was in front of the neighborhood grocery across from that brothel blew across the street and into it’s yard. My Pa, always the clown…well, he sat that sign upright in the yard of that…house of ill repute…and snapped the picture. That’s when I learned that particular house was referred to as “Maggie’s”….I suppose named aptly for the one who ran it.

Once I got to college and out of that town, I learned more about prostitution and the ladies who entered ‘the oldest profession’. I even interviewed one once, at one of my first jobs. That made me kinda feel badly about the way we’d stared at those poor women and they way they’d been treated by the otherwise affable salesladies, who acted like they had the plague. I wished that I’d have had the gumption to talk to one of them, just to get to know them and more about them…just like they were anyone else.

Their crimes didn’t hurt anyone else – after all, it wasn’t them cheating on their spouses, nor sneaking behind anyone’s back. They figured they were entrepreneurs, just doing their jobs, and hoping every once in a while that even if the ‘good’ people of the town who weren’t their patrons judged ’em harshly…they might not be judged the same way when it came to the hereafter. Considering all the women I’ve know who had a ‘boyfriend’ or a ‘sugar daddy’ supporting them just because of their, er…relationship and still were deemed acceptable ladies, I’ve long since decided that at least those women were honest, they made no bones about what they were doing.

Soooo…this is dedicated to those painted, plumed and shady ladies of my home town, who looked something like this:

Last edited by katie on May 3, 2011, 3:47 pm

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by katie

Murder and Mad Dogs in the Swamp

March 30, 2011 in Auto-biographical (youth and childhood)

(All names have either been changed or omitted to protect….whoever)

I keenly remember something that happened when I was a child because it sort of rocked my safe and secure world. I think it’s the first time I can remember hearing anyone talk of murder. I knew what it was from reading, or hearing things on national news. I just hadn’t entertained the idea in the sheltered world I lived in that such things might happen right in these parts.

I wasn’t yet old enough to drive…that wouldn’t come for many years. I was old enough that I was allowed to ride my bicycle all around town – well, at least in what were surmised to be ‘decent’ areas, avoiding the juke joints, etc. that seemed to be in ‘groupings’ in our town.

In any event, it was a double murder, and there was a suspect who the authorities were pretty well sure was guilty. A fella named Thophile Robichaud who was living with his mother and father, up and shot them both dead one day. Of course, he was the prime suspect of the authorities because he was nowhere to be found and had not returned home.

Now Thophile and his family lived in an area near the basin. If I recollect correctly, they earned their living fishing, hunting and trapping there and so he knew the swamp better than most folks around. On the first day of the discovery of his parent’s bodies, the story of course made news in the local newspaper. It was also broadcast on the local radio station.

There was a ‘manhunt’ going on within hours of the discovery, with volunteers, the local police department and sheriff’s office participating. Since this had happened out of any township, the sheriff’s office was in charge of the manhunt. In those days, the police department didn’t have dogs – volunteers brought their hunting dogs. There were no mobile command centers in nice buses. They stood outside and used the police radios in their cars with which to communicate. They had set up something of a ‘canteen’ which was serving hot coffee and the proverbial donuts to those participating in the hunt. At lunch, they were providing tuna fish sandwiches for those who had been combing the area.

As days wore on, people were getting skittish. Anything that went ‘bump’ in the night was said to be “Mad Dog” Robichaud making his way through the fields or town, looking for shelter…..or new victims. The newspapers and the radio were providing interviews with local law enforcement, who considered the suspect, Thophile, to be armed and extremely dangerous. This translated into him being a ‘mad dog killer’ in the eyes of many. Mothers were keeping their children inside unless they were outside to keep an eye on them. People were locking their doors – even when they were at home. (Believe it or not….unless it was night, most left them unlocked usually) I couldn’t ride my bike anywhere…and inside was getting mighty boring.

As the hunt wore on without success, the reports of citing Theophile grew. Stories of a dead animal being found, or someone who heard a noise in the night all were attributed to Theophile. Deputies were getting tired of combing the basin looking for what seemed to be a shadow. They were hungry, they were sometimes wet and probably they were afraid of this man, who had killed two people and was reported to be proficient in the use of not only firearms, but knives as well. They knew that he knew his way around bettern’ they did….and they were on tenterhooks with the realization that he could be hunting them as surely as they were him if he’d a mind to do so.

After a while, some of the deputies in the cold, foggy mornings would use the bullhorn, hoping beyond hope to lure Thophile out of the marsh and into captivity. They were praying that he had grown as tired, wet, hungry as they and that perhaps he had resigned himself to his fate. So, they got the idea to use the bullhorns to call out to him. After a fresh pot of coffee was made, when the smell of it and the freshly delivered, hot donuts wafted through the damp air, they would coo into the bullhorn with their most enticing and decidedly accented Cajun voices, ” Hey, Theophile. Hey, Theophile. Ain’t ya tired yet? Ain’t ya hungry? C’mon out, cher….we got fresh hot coffee and some nice hot donuts!” C’mon out and have some wid us!” Of course, there was no reply other than the hounds barking at the sound of the bullhorn creeping through the trees. Again, in the early afternoon, they’d try with, “Hey, Theophile. Hey, Theophile, man. Ain’t ya getting hungry yet? We done made some mo hot coffee and dey just brought us some nice tuna fish sammiches from town. C’mon out, m’boy…we gonna share wid you!” Still…no Theophile.

Eventually, the volunteers grew tired and went home. The cooperating police departments returned to their own towns and doing their own jobs, and the manhunt just kinda fizzled. Oh, they were still looking for him to be sure, but I believe that people were beginning to think that either Theophile had high-tailed it out of the area, or he was deep in the swamp, living off the land and no one was ever going to find him.

Then, the unthinkable happened. Thophile Robicaud, the object of the defunct manhunt and prime suspect in the double murder . . . walked right into the court house and smack dab into the sheriff’s office, looking not half as haggard, nor unkempt as most of those who had pursued him. It’s said that when he told the deputy on duty who he was and that he was turning himself in to be arrested for these murders, the deputy promptly dropped his cup of coffee and might near soiled his pants in fear of being so close to a genuine mad-dog killer.

Theophile was questioned….by the Sheriff himself, who was mighty curious as to how he had eluded the manhunt he’d arranged to capture him. Imagine his surprise when Theophile answered, calmly and truthfully. He said, “Sheriff, I had you in de sights of my gun. I coulda killed you if’n I’d a wanted to. (The Sheriff quickly wiped his mouth with his handkerchief and grew pale) Trouble is wid you boys, ya’ll just kept plodding thru the water, the grass, the trees…..looking straight ahead, sideways, even sometimes backward. But not once, not one damn time, did any of ya look up. I was sitting dere on a branch, holding my gun and watchin’ de whole ting. Tell ya’ll da truth…I kinda got a kick outta dat.” Now, of course, this part of the interview did not make the news. They weren’t lettin’ on that they’d been outsmarted by some….swamp person who did a double murder. That….well . . . it just would not be good public relations. People might lose confidence, criminals might grow emboldened. How do ya explain that at election time? Nope, that just wouldn’t do. He’d tell people about Theophile saying, “Man, he coulda kilt me. I tell ya, dat boy told me he had me in de sights of his gun . . . and he coulda kilt me! Imagine dat!” He’d shake his head, and wipe his mouth with his handkerchief, like old men ten to do when telling ‘war stories’.

Theophile, of course stood trial and served I think less than five years for the murders. Before everyone goes getting all upset and sayin’ how that was an injustice…hold on and let me finish this story. Of course, you must realize that at the time, I only knew part of the story….such things were not, just not for young ears to hear. It wasn’t until much, much later that I learned the whole story.

Turns out that Theophile, since he was a little fella, had been getting horribly abused by his Papa. He beat him and whipped him….but he also was sexually abusing him regularly. Theophile had pleaded to his Mama to intervene….to make his Papa stop doing these unspeakable things to him . . . but he had never told any teachers, nor priests, nor surely any law enforcement people…because back then, this was considered a ‘family’ problem. It seems his Mama…perhaps because she was dependent upon her husband for a livelihood, perhaps outta misquided love of him, perhaps because that’s just what she herself was used to..(who knows?) had not only done nothing, but told Theophile she didn’t believe him and he should be quiet. And so he was . . . quiet . . . until that day came when his Papa again reached for him to do those things and this time, instead of giving in, he snapped and did what he did.

They way I see it, there are a few important things to learn from this. Even ‘mad dog killers’ may not be what they seem. People who abuse children horribly are often right next door…or even under your roof. Believe children when they speak up. Never forget, no matter how intent you may be on whatever it is yer doing….instead of just looking forward, sideways and/or backwards….ya better try looking up. And finally….when someone tries to tell you that they’ve had enough, it’s wise to listen.

Last edited by katie on March 30, 2011, 1:01 pm

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by katie

Where I Came From

February 17, 2011 in Auto-biographical (youth and childhood)

At Baptist Hospital, in the heart of the Big Easy, on the same day that Nelson Mandela was celebrating his 31st birthday, a little girl was born. Her name, though not one she would keep for long, was Emily Claire Horn.

Emily didn’t go home from that hospital to a Mama and a Papa and adoring grandparents. In fact, she left accompanied by strangers and went to another place – it was called a home, but wasn’t really one. It was located at 2010 Peniston Street in New Orleans and it was called Sellers Baptist Home.

This was an adoption agency – a place for babies born of unwed mothers or to families who for one reason or another could not care for their child. Emily’s parents, you see, had signed her over to them – to be placed for adoption by a family who wanted, but could not have their own baby.

All Emily was to ever know about the people she came from is written on one typed sheet – information gathered by the home’s social worker. They were very young and not married. It seems Emily was an ‘accident’. It never contained their names and she was never to know them, nor any more about them than was written on that page.

In fact, there were actually laws that prohibited anyone from delving into this and so at the tender age of less than one week, Emily was cut loose from all family ties and out on the world on her own. Of course, there were kindly and well intentioned people who were looking out for her welfare to make sure that the family where she was ‘placed’ was ‘suitable’.

In a town northwest of the Big Easy – one of the oldest in Louisiana, there was a man and woman who were in their thirties. They had no children of their own. They had tried to have them, to be sure, but either miscarriage or stillbirths were the result. They really wanted children, and so they had applied to the ‘home’ to adopt one some time before Emily made her entrance into the world.

When Emily was about three months old, these people adopted her and brought her home to live with them. She was their first child – their only child – the result of years of waiting and hoping. Imagine how they watched over and indulged her. She was also the first grandchild for her only living grandparent, Emily’s new Papa being an only child and Emily’s new Mama’s parents were already deceased.

On that day, Emily’s new parents changed her name and that pretty well severed all ties with what Emily had known of life up until then. Sure, there were visits back to the ‘home’ for different reasons – reunions, etc. – but her new home was with them and in a way, I suppose – that was the end of Emily Claire Horn.

Now, I have to tell you to that her new Mamma and Papa took excellent care of her. She was indulged – probably spoiled. There were reports of her having temper tantrums at an early age in the department store downtown if her Mama would not buy her a new baby doll or the likes.

She was dressed up in frilly clothes, in costumes at Mardi Gras, rode on floats at local festivals and repeatedly had her name in the local newspapers, all before the age of five. She was the mascot of the Garden Club – dressed up in a fancy little dress and hat and gloves and sitting alongside all of the older ladies at their meetings when the newspaper photographer arrived to cover their meeting.

She had dancing lessons, piano lessons and singing lessons. Her Mama taught her to sew, to embroider, to do all of the suitable handcrafts that all genteel ladies occupy their time with. Her Mama also taught her to read by the time she was three. Books and the classical music her mother drummed into her were part of her early life. Her Mama made sure that she knew where to place all the silver on the table and the plates and the glasses and the napkins. She was being rightly trained to be a genteel southern woman.

She endured all of these things. They weren’t her favorites, but her cooperation made her Mama so happy. Her Mama was later to collect dolls of all kinds and that never surprised her because most of her younger life, she felt like she was her Mamma’s best little baby doll to be pampered, kept clean and shown off.

Her favorite things were running outside and getting dirty. She’d play with the hammers and nails and wood in her Papa’s shop. She’d ride with him out on the roads more and more as she got older, looking for sign locations across the state. They might leave early in the morning and not return until the evening just riding the road. Her Papa would be telling her stories, smoking cigars and buying them cheese and crackers at some country store for lunch so they could keep riding.

Most of the children in the neighborhood were older than her and they were boys. She’d play with them outside when her Mama was at club meetings and it was just the maid at home to watch over her. They did outrageous things that she thought were great fun. They built a fort under a tree in the cow pasture across the street and played in that pasture, to the cow’s dislike. Sometimes, if someone got mad at another person, they’d throw cow pies at one another. Her mother would have disinfected every square inch of her if she knew about that game.

Once, she got caught up in some barbed wire coiled up in the grass and the big boys were trying to get her loose. They kept pulling on her leg and pulling on the barbed wire, and all that did was sink it in deeper into her ankle, until he had cut to the bone – but she knew not to cry because that would make them look down on her for being a ‘girl’ and they might not want to let her in on the games anymore. Finally, they got her loose, but the resulting injury was a trip to the doctor for her first stitches.

All during this time, the new parents always taught her to tell folks she was adopted – that she was their ‘chosen’ child and special. She used to hate giving that little speech – it made her feel so forlorn and different, but as she had been taught to oblige, she always delivered it word for word with a big smile on her face.

Looking back, I think this was their way to keep her from being ashamed about being an adopted child of doubtful background. I suppose they were trying to teach her to become immune to the hateful things that some people would say about that – and some have tried, but she, being so well armed with the little speech and hardened heart – she shot them down.

Later in life, one of her childhood friends who had also been adopted as a baby kinda freaked out about it and ran away. That set her to thinking about her ‘real’ Mama and Papa and what was so wrong with her that they would give her away to someone else. That just seemed awful.

Long story short – off and on for years this was to bother her. Sometimes, it made her feel so sad. Other times, she figured that at least she was lucky to have the Mamma and Papa that she did.

Finally, she just gave up caring about this. She figured she made it here and that’s what counted and she surely was not living any deprived life – although there were problems, but that’s another story.

Once she became an adult – then she realized that those people who gave her away – they musta suffered also, and if they didn’t, why the hell with them – right along with any others who tried to give her a hard time about ‘where she came from’. After all, it’s now where or who one comes from – it’s where they are going and who they are becoming that really matters!

Last edited by katie on March 30, 2011, 1:45 pm

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by katie

Pour mon bon ami, le danseur . . .

February 15, 2011 in Auto-biographical

If I were to characterize the purpose of Doc’s life, I suppose it could be summed up in the words of George Bernard Shaw:

“You see things as they are and ask, “Why?”. I dream things that never were and ask, “Why not?”.

When Daily got diagnosed with bipolar disorder, Manic, I suppose it would have been easy enough for him to listen to what people told him and believe it about himself…things like he would take lots of medications for the rest of his life, he would be in and out of the hospital frequently, that he would never be able to use his education to advantage and work like other folks . . . in other words, that because of his disability, he was going to have to learn to settle for a second-shrift life.

Daily didn’t take those words to heart for long, however. Even though, as anyone of us would do when delivered such pronouncements, I’m sure he struggled with “Why?”, he also reached down inside himself to summon forth every bit of courage, strength, determination and out-and-out chutzpah he could could muster.

It was then that he started asking everyone he could, “Why not?”. Why should he not have the same potential, the same rights, the same chance that everyone else had…if he was willing to work hard for them? Why should any other person with a diagnosis not be able to do the same? Thus began his long journey as an spokesperson, not only for himself, but for others . . . an outspoken, unashamed advocate for the rights of persons with mental illness as a disability.

It was a long road, but in defying the prognosis handed him, he inspired and gave hope to so many other people he met, for whom he was their voice until they found their own voice, for whom he was not only an inspiration, but a source of hope.

Daily saw a lot of things that he felt needed setting right. Instead of letting injustice or stigma defeat him, he only let them spur him on to do more, to be more, to live better. I’m sure some of the things he encountered hurt him deeply, discouraged him, made him wonder if he could really make a difference. He never let any of that embitter him or deter him from his dream. He understood, better than most, the wisdom of the words of Arundhati Roy in the Algebra of Infinite Justice:

The only dream worth having … is to dream that you will live while you’re alive and die only when you’re dead … To love. To be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and vulgar disparity of life around you. To seek joy in the saddest places. To pursue beauty to its lair. To never simplify what is complicated or to complicate what is simple. To respect strength, never power. Above all, to watch. To try and understand. To never look away. And never, never to forget.”

He wrangled with his illness, not letting IT be his master, but learning to master it. Long before his life was over, he had learned to sing, “Hallelulah ” just like Leonard Cohen in this song.

Daily is going to be sorely missed by those he helped with even little things every day that enhanced their lives and made them easier. He’s going to be missed by groups where he shared his dreams, knowledge, insight and experience. He’s going to be missed by friends and family near and far. They’ll miss his courage, his strength, his tenacity…and a man’s heart that was so big, so giving and so caring.

As are all men and women not only their dreams, their aspirations, their vision…so was Doc also a man with a personal life to live squeezed in amongst all he did for other people.

In trying to describe what I knew of Daily away from his work towards his dreams ….I think I’ll have to borrow a few words from Bob Hamm’s “What is A Cajun? “.

On the personal side, more than anything, my good friend Daily Dupre, Jr. was proud of his French heritage. He lived it, he promoted it, he was simply in love with it. He was fun-loving and mischievous…in French, he would correct me, saying “canille ” with a grin on his face and a twinkle in his eye.

Daily liked “fiddles and accordions in his music” and “neighborliness in his neighbors“. He didn’t like people who “didn’t dance enough or enjoy all of the good things God has given us“. He didn’t “like to see people unhappy, and he’d do all he could or give all he had to bring a smile to a face stricken with sadness“. His regular “Saturday nights at the fais-do-do replenished his store of energy and his personal balance so he could meet the next week’s chores with vigor”.

Daily was a ” man of tolerance who will let the world go its way if the world will let him go his. He was a man of great friendliness who would give you the shirt off his back. If he liked you, he’d give you his whole wide, wonderful world. If he didn’t, he’d give you a wide berth.”

Daily was “a complex person, with as many ingredients in his makeup as there were in the gumbo Mama makes for special company. He had tolerance for those who earn it … charity for those who needed it … a smile for those who would return it … and love for all who will share it.

BUT … Daily could be “as stubborn as a mule and as ornery as an alligator. If he set his head on something, he’d fight a circle saw before he’d yield to your opinions. You’d as well argue with a fence post as try to change the mind” of Daily “Doc” Dupre, Jr. I know…I’ve been on the losing end of the fence post too many times.

Although he was a fierce and tireless advocate….I still think the essence of him was in ‘le danseur‘, his screen name for himself. That’s where Daily just shone…you could see the love of his heritage, his native French language, the customs, the music…but most of all the dance. He was one of the most graceful Cajun dancers I’ve ever seen….sailing across the dance floor, light as air, guiding his partner skillfully through the other dancers in time to the music – but always with a look of pure bliss on his face.

Although he was an excellent dancer, his urge to share what was most important to him in all spheres of his life also could be seen in him swooping up a slightly reluctant partner who did not know the dances – and teaching them. He truly was, and aptly nicknamed himself ‘le danseur’.

It’s hard to lose someone you care about. He’s not here in animated conversations anymore, nor doing all the countless little personal things he did for others, and ’tis true, the world has lost a great advocate. But Daily isn’t gone. Every time I speak in my pitiful French, I’ll hear him correcting me. Every time I see someone reaching out a hand to another who needs help, I’ll see Daily’s hand reaching out. Every time I hear someone speaking out for the rights of others, or asking “Why not?”, I’ll know he’s there. But most of all, every time I hear French music – on the radio, in a hall, at a festival – I’m going to be seeing him in my mind’s eye gracefully dancing to the Mamou Two Step, one of his grandfather’s songs.

I’m going to feel his warm presence and know that he’s around. Daily didn’t let anything either diminish or defeat him. Despite the obstacles and the prognosticators of doom, he struggled to make his life happy, rewarding, amazing and fun. I know that’s what he would want us all to do as well. In fact, one of his favorite expressions was, “Laissez les bon temps roulez!”

L’Chaim, Doc…L’Chaim!

Last edited by katie on February 15, 2011, 5:48 pm

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by katie

Kate’s Christmas Gift to Me

December 17, 2010 in Auto-biographical

Quote

For Brenda, who I’ve never met, but who I understand likes the stories about Kate….Merry Christmas!

Many years ago, on this date my grandmother – the real Kate – died. The first Christmas without her was very hard, Being young and never touched by tragedy or death before then, I couldn’t understand how I could lose my grandma so close to Christmas – my favorite holiday. The days preceding that Christmas were filled with funeral arrangements and her funeral, so we were all still feeling pretty sad when Christmas rolled around.

Kate wasn’t anything special by most people’s eyes, I’m sure. She was a tall, lanky woman who nonetheless had a very particular grace about her. Her eyes were soft and caring, but sometimes they still twinkled with mischief or merriment, as if she were still a girl.

She wasn’t espcially well-dressed; she wore what they called ‘shirtdresses’ most days (with an apron), although they were always neatly starched and pressed. When she was going to church, she dressed more eloguently – in suits that might be just a little loose on her as she had grown thinner as she aged – and she always wore a hat and gloves. She was partial to scarves and it seems there was always one around her neck, whether she was wearing the shirtdress or the suit. If the wind was blowing, or if the sun was hot, you’d usually see that scarf make it’s way onto her head where he long hair was neatly braided, twisted and pinned into a bun.

Kate was younger than my grandpa, who I never knew, by many years. She’d married him, you see, despite him being older and was widowed early in life. After he died, she lived on at their farm and leased it to a local farmer who worked the land and let her have her pick of any vegetables that grew there in the large ‘truck garden’. There were also cows, pigs and chickens when I was very young – but those were dispensed with later, because it became too hard for her to keep up with them alone.

She was also a survivor of breast cancer – and it was only at night, when she was in her nightgown that anyone would have known that, for she never talked of it, nor the disfiguring surgery done upon her to spare her life. She just accepted it, and went on.

She’d cared for many relatives in that big house on the farm off and on until they died. Her own sister died there with her – and they were alone, but Kate never faltered. She just went on.

She taught me to shell peas, to feed the chickens and gather eggs. She taught me not to be afraid of the dark – or anything. She taught me how to cook and how to plant things in the earth that would grow. She taught me equanimity for all people – that everyone was worth something, and to treat them the way I would like to be treated. So many things she taught me, but the biggest one was about unconditional love and how it changes you, for the better. She also taught me how to pass that along, to love other people in the same way that we had been loved and to never miss a chance to tell someone, to show them how you love them, for you may not get another chance because life is precarious and death is certain.

On the day that she died, my Pa uncharacteristically asked me early in the morning if I wanted to go with him to get my grandma and bring her to the doctor – which meant that I would skip school. Believe me, it was weird that this man who so emphasized education and learning would offer me the chance to ditch school for a day to do something else. Perhaps, being an only child – he had some sense of foreboding, I don’t know for sure. I was in a school play and we had practice, which I didn’t want to miss, nor being with my friends – and so I turned him down and went on to school. Oh, how I have so often wished to have that day to do over again – to have one more talk with her, or be the lucky recipient of her hugs. But that wasn’t how it was meant to be – and I’ve long quit beating myself up about it.

Kate wasn’t acutely ill – she had emphysema and was going to the doctor just to get a flu shot as a preventative measure, she did it every year. After that was done, she was to come to our house for Christmas. Little did she know that I had heard my parents secretly making plans for her to come live with us, as they felt she was getting too old to be out on the farm by herself. I’ve always wondered if she sensed that before or not. Many years later, my Pa shared with me that as they drove away from the farm, she looked back wistfully and said, “I’m so glad that I’ve been able to live all these years in my home. “

When I got home from school, my Pa was not yet back – but that didn’t really concern me, I thought he might have her with him at his office. It wasn’t until around 4:00 pm, that he called my mother and she was the one to tell me that my grandmother had died – words that in fact, I at first rejected – though sure enough they were true. My Pa had picked her up, and brought her to the doctor’s office which was in a small rural clinic – a little hospital. While there, she started coughing and went to the door to get some cool air which usually helped. She never made it, but collapsed there in the lobby. Despite the best efforts of the young doctor, who had know her all his life and who scooped her up in his arms, carrying her to surgery thata way, she could not be saved. My Pa had stayed in the little town making all the arrangements and didn’t get home until well after dark. He had her luggage in the car – and brought them in, but no one looked inside until Christmas Eve – days later and after she was buried.

Inside her luggage, there was a little Christmas card – about the size of a photograph. On the front was a beautiful nativity scene and inside, under the simple printed wishes, she had written in a shaky hand “I love you. ” and signed it “Grandma “. She’d tucked a little money into the card, because she couldn’t drive to go to town to buy a gift. Well, that money is gone, but I still have the Christmas card in a frame, along with her picture – a keepsake of one of the most wise and gracious women I ever knew, and to remind me that we must always keep Christmas – no matter what – in our hearts and share it with everyone.

Kate knew that. Despite living alone out there in the country, with no neighbors to speak of, she had in her home a little scrawny tree which I imagined she’d chopped down herself and decorated with Christmas ornaments of varying age with a beautiful star on top. She couldn’t get to town to buy just the right present, but she put enough money in that little card and told me she loved me. It was her best effort – and one of her last ones. It was and still is, everything to me.

I can tell you that I’ve had all sorts of Christmas presents in my life – little ones, big ones – ones that take your breath away and make you wonder how someone knew to get that for you, I’ve never had a more special nor lasting gift from anyone in my life than that little Christmas card with the nativity scene on the front, sealed with love and reminding me of the reason for the Christmas season – that we love and care for one another, despite anything and that even if for only a while, we try to establish a feeling of peace on earth and goodwill to all.

You see, my dear grandma, who wasn’t there to celebrate Christmas anymore, reminded me after she was gone that Christmas was all about love. It’s about the love of God for all of us, but it’s also about us….learning to love one another that same way and never missing the chance to say so, for we may not have another.

When Christmas comes ’round now, I can still look at that little card, and feel Kate warming the inside of my heart, wishing me Merry Christmas all over and saying she loves me. I can smell the peppermint candy that she loved, and feel myself once again snuggled warmly next to her in her big feather bed in the middle of winter. That only spurs me on to carry forth the tradition she set so many years ago – of ‘keeping’ Christmas in the best way, one that lasts all the days of our lives.

Merry Christmas, Kate! I still remember . . .

Last edited by katie on December 17, 2010, 10:46 am

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by katie

Huck and the Christmas Miracle

December 16, 2010 in Auto-biographical

In case you hadn’t noticed, I esteem Anais Nin for her courage and abandon in living life. She followed her spirit – to whatever heights or depths it took her and reveled equally in both. That is the way to lead your life, nothing held back, no reservations – just hungry for life and all of the experiences it has to offer.

I’d forgotten how to do that, I think. I had followed my heart and it took me to such places – more than once – from which it is hard to recover from your experiences there. It’s hard to be guilty of loving people too well – it leaves you trying to decide whether to love at all, or simply depersonalize all of your experiences with others. Sometimes, one gets bruised and buffeted so treacherously by life, it makes you just want to curl up into a tight little ball, suspect of anything that comes in your direction good or bad, because you just cannot tolerate any more pain.

I should have remembered what C.S. Lewis said about locking your heart away…

Quote

“Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, and irredeemable.”

Its easy enough to love people, when you’re just being good and understanding to them. Even if they rebuke you for that, you know what it is inside them that spurs them to do so. Loving people that way, well it does not require that you always reveal yourself, or share who you are at your core with them. It is not intimacy, only love. That is the only kind of love I had left to give, and I had to work – to consciously will myself to make the effort to do that, for I did not want to become closed and bitter, as I knew one could. There is a certain degree of satisfaction in practicing the love of people and loving-kindness. You know that you did the best you could by them, and that’s uplifting – but it’s not what warms you in the night when you are alone, or even when you are in a crowd of people and still feeling all alone.

To experience real understanding, real intimacy with others, one has to peel away the layers of hurt and pain, the bad experiences, the words flung in anger, the fear, the very defenses that you have built to shield yourself from further pain. People do that because of having reached a critical max somewhere along the line that leaves no more energy, nor will, nor desire to heal the wounds. The pain becomes too great and there is no relief for it – only an attempt to isolate from any further pain and hope that either death or emotional numbing happens.

Having in the last year, chosen not to die just yet, I had to find a way to exist in the new and strange world in which I find myself, filling my days with doing what I am supposed to do, and keeping people feeling decently about me, I suppose – just to get by. That’s not living, not when neither your heart nor your soul are in it, when you’ve hidden them, and any feelings away from even the light. It’s existing. And so, I was existing – just marking time hoping that my wounds were going to heal someway, that I’d get back to enjoying what was left of my life somehow, that I would find a way to let the light back in and perhaps even write again.

I have never much been able to separate the physical from the mental in relationships. I think that being able to touch people, to softly stroke them when they’re in any kind of pain, to pat their back when they’ve achieved something, to wrap your arms around them in tender embrace – well, that is just how I am with people. I think when we can touch one another, we connect on more than one plane of the human experience. Not all of the touches are erotic, or sexual – but you cannot separate those sensations from who we are as adult, sexual beings. One reminds us of the other and the other the one…and both are a part of our journey into the soul.

Again, I had immersed myself in pleasing people – doing what was expected of me. That is no place for anyone to be, least of all this woman. In doing so, I have denied myself time for what I wanted, what I needed from life. We all know where that got me, well at least it should be evident in this writing. I was staring into the abyss, and it surely was staring back at me. Having lost what is perhaps my most cherished ability in life, the ability to express one’s self to others – even if they misunderstand, misinterpret, reject what you say or write – at least to be able to make that effort to communicate. No matter how I tried, I could not regain it, and I longed for the ability to do so…and perhaps have someone understand the wretched mess in which I dwell.

About a month ago, a dear old friend who I have know since maybe the third or fourth grade contacted me. This came out of the clean blue sky – and it rocked the confines of my tightly-wound world. My friend had, in our youth, been a red-haired, freckled faced boy with twinkling eyes full of fun and a mischievous smile. I’d not seen him for better than ten years – this friend I call Huck, because he’s always reminded me of Huck Finn – invincible, full of mischief and wise beyond his years.

We last had seen each other at a high school reunion in our hometown – and even then, there was some sort of connection between us; we were simpatico. During that reunion, we spent time getting drunk, recalling stories of our youth and finally making love that was far too wild and abandoned, given our age. Now, I have thought of him since, but rationalized I might not see him again unless we had another reunion – and those grow fewer as we all get older. When he sent me a message, I was – to say the least – surprised.

Huck told me he would be coming to Louisiana to visit family who still live here, and asked if we could get together to catch up. Well….simply put, that in itself was frightening to me. I had pulled away from people, especially people I had known for a long time, so effectively that the thought of meeting up with a really old friend with whom I had previously been intimate – well, I was full of apprehension and misgivings.

In his text messages that followed, I tried to push Huck away, same as I do others. I no longer really feel like a friend to anyone, not one who has something left to offer – and I surely did not want to disappoint or hurt him. I also admit that I was scared stiff knowing that if I was around him, we would wind up repeating our last encounter. Every misgiving, every attempt to push him away – all were met with patience, understanding and reassurances. Still, I do not think it was until the night before we met again that I was certain I would go through with our little assignation.

We were text messaging back and forth, and I had the ‘mean reds’ again – the fear was rising up from my guts into my throat and making me so frightened that I didn’t know if I had the will to force myself to go through with meeting him. I guess he must have sensed that, for suddenly, as I was in the middle of typing a reply – he called to reassure me again. I always knew Huck was wise beyond what folk attributed to him, he’s one of those unassuming wise men – the kind who don’t go looking for laurels for their wisdom. That phone call cemented all those thoughts for me.

When the time came, and I walked into the lobby of the hotel, I had my phone tucked away to be able to call and find out which room he was in. Before I could put down my bag and reach for it, there he was and everything else just faded into the background. I don’t remember seeing anything but him – right in front of me, walking up to me and me throwing my arms around his neck, like an orphan who after so many years of searching, just found family.

“Oh, Huck…you are a wise, witty and wanton man.”

He may have plied me with Jack Daniels, but he never asked a thing of me, but to be myself. He only responded to me in the most sensitive of ways and allowed me the comfort of doing this on my own time. Huck reminds me of the words of a Leonard Cohen song….

Quote

“Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin,
Dance me through the panic ’til I’m gathered safely in,
Lift me like an olive branch, be my homeward dove . . .”

If he wooed me with his words, or gestures – I surely did not feel pressured. I cannot describe the feelings someone gives you when they do that – the connection you can make with another person who demands, expects, asks for nothing from you – but in giving you that freedom, assures what you are bound to give them without reservation.

I forgot about thinking, I didn’t rationalize, analyze, nor try to understand anything – I just surrendered – like leaping over a cliff and while falling, enjoying every minute of the air rushing up past you – and never thinking that you will stop falling, and falling and falling.

Quote

“Let me see your beauty when the witnesses are gone
Let me feel you moving like they do in Babylon
Show me, slowly, what I only know the limits of . . .”

I think it was the most beautiful and intimate experience of my life that I shared with Huck. Despite the sensation of falling, he was leading me up and out of the abyss and back into the light.

Huck is gone…back to his home. I only get to talk with him now and not touch him, or hear him, nor feel him. I ache for his understanding and his touch in the present – he made me greedy for more, but also somehow awoke in me the part that allows me to write, to communicate this.

That is such a gift as I don’t suppose any who don’t write can imagine. So, I can wait. He’ll be back soon enough and in the meantime – I can write again.

In writing this story in my head, aside from the sexual experience of it, I kept feeling so happy to be able to write again and that somehow, someone ‘saw’ me and knew who I am, the part of me that I’ve kept so secret. That just seemed like such a miracle to me…

My mind kept churning with thoughts of how to explain it and continuously, I was drawn to remembering the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life”. The time of year is the same – and George, the central character had considered suicide, just like me. He was despondent and felt that his life had not counted for much and neither did I. He thought he was about to lose everything and I felt I already had. There were all those things he wanted to do, but had not because of responsibilities – and I’ve always been ‘of use’. I can so relate to George – for our lives have so many similarities. Then, I remembered George’s guardian angel – Clarence – when I saw the ending of the movie the other night on television.

Is it a coincidence that the little book that ZuZu picks up and hands to George at the end of “A Wonderful Life” is a copy of Mark Twain’s “Tom Sawyer”, or that the angel’s name is Clarence? Who knows? Personally, I’ve long ago given up on believing in coincidences, so I don’t think it is. You are free to come to your own conclusions.

As for my own version of the guardian angel, Clarence ( Huck)…well, he made me remember what George’s angel inscribed inside that little volume of Tom Sawyer :

Quote

” Dear George,
Remember, no man is a failure who has friends. Thanks for the wings.
Clarence”

If you doubt the veracity of these analogies…watch the movie for yourself. From my own perspective – the red-haired, freckle faced fellow who always reminded me of Huck Finn in our youth, has matured into such a dear and beautiful man. He might scowl at being compared to an angel, but I cannot help but feel that he must have been sent by fate at this time – though I’m not sure what I ever did to merit such divine intervention.

So this is the story of my dear, darlin’ friend, Huck – at least the beginning, if not the end.

Quote

“And quiet is the thought of you, the file on you complete
Except for what we forgot to do …..a thousand kisses deep.”

Last edited by katie on December 16, 2010, 12:06 pm

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by katie

This is just my temporary home

March 21, 2010 in Auto-biographical

Driving in the rain at night. Wondering what direction to head – where to go. Debating whether all is over – all is lost like some dream of yesterday that is fading faster than your will to hang on to it. Waiting to see what each day will bring. Feeling powerless, isolated and uncertain. Surely this cannot be how everything that happened up until now ends, can it? Is that all there is?

Looking into a storage locker at most of the accumulation of your life, tossed roughly into plastic trash bags and stacked almost to the ceiling. No marking to know where anything is, things piled so high it is impossible to haul them down single-handedly and try to sort through anything to see what is left. Another place where you must ask for help – and that’s not so easy to do when you’re unaccustomed to asking for help – more accustomed to offering it. Humbling, disheartening, soul-breaking disillusionment.

No tears – just a numb kind of awareness that this is, after all, reality. No feelings other than being humbled to one’s knees and not able to discern why this is happening. Is there a lesson to be learned from this? What is it?

Is there a place to go from here? Where is it?

It’s not my first temporary home – it seems my life has been filled with such places, always temporary, always changing. Scenes, faces, voices, time – all change, all fade away. I just cannot look into that room stacked full of trash bags and believe that it can be more than my temporary home. On the other hand, how many new starts does one get to successfully mount in life? Sooner or later, they’ve got to take their toll – and then, maybe it’s just too late to start all over again.

I thought that I was going to use whatever time I had left in life, whatever resources to fulfill the unlived dreams I had for me. I thought this was going to be my time. Seems like others had other plans for me. Seems like someone thinks they knew me bettern’ I know myself. Never enough…never enough…never enough. Not enough of me to be for all time what someone else counted on me to be – to make them feel safe and secure – to make them happy, no matter what it did to me. Every time I think I find my voice, tell my own story, it’s not enough because it’s not the story that someone else wants to hear. All this time, all this time it took for me to find my own story – false starts, obligations, things that just had to be done for others…and now all I wanted was to be able to finish my story on my own terms, in my own voice, on my own time…for my own peace. But I suppose, that was a pipe dream, the kind fools like me dream. After all, this is just my temporary home.

Last edited by katie on March 21, 2010, 10:03 pm

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by katie

The Dark Night of the Soul

December 31, 2009 in article about writing

Quote

What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make and end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from. And every phrase
And sentence that is right (where every word is at home,
Taking its place to support the others,
The word neither diffident nor ostentatious,
An easy commerce of the old and the new,
The common word exact without vulgarity,
The formal word precise but not pedantic,
The complete consort dancing together)
Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning,
Every poem an epitaph. And any action
Is a step to the block, to the fire, down the sea’s throat
Or to an illegible stone: and that is where we start.
~ T. S. Eliot

New Years is always a mixture of the ending and the beginning – or is it the beginning and the ending? I’d imagine it’s how one looks at things. I think what T. S. Eliot said there is just right, for every phrase and every sentence of what we share here with one another is truly an end and a beginning. Our work will be our epitaph. In writing it, we truly have stepped to the block – into the fire. We expose ourselves to others perceptions of us. To do that, we must already have some idea of who we are. Ahhh…we talk about searching, but I think most of us know who we are inside our skins; otherwise we could not reveal ourselves as we do in such a cavalier fashion. Writing, you know – whether truth or fiction, does expose us for who we are at the essence of our souls. Then any reader who happens along may see us, naked and exposed in all our glory or perhaps with all our flaws.

I haven’t written anything here for a while. Got busy and – well, who knows? What’s done is done. There were others to take my place and probably surpassed what I could have said.. But now, I need to share this with you all.

Have you ever read of John of the Cross? I was reading about him the other day and I think his quest, his search for the divine is so inspiring. San Juan de la Cruz, St. John of the Cross, was a Spanish mystic. He was imprisoned for a long time by the church, who thought what he had to say heretical. They kept him locked in a small, dark, cold cell – all alone. John did not give up, he did not give in. He knew that his faith would keep him from being alone, from being cold, or in the dark. In that cell, he wrote on paper smuggled into him. When he escaped in 1578, he carried a poem with him entitled, “La noche oscura del alma “. It is considered to be one of the finest works of his era. John had enough connection to the real light that they could not keep him in the dark. In that darkness, he found light, in the cold warmth, in his hope faith, and in his faith love. He knew love to be the greatest of all. It was stronger than fear or evil. It was his ultimate protector, his ultimate motivator to keep living and to wait for his chance to get away. Finally, he found it was the ultimate weapon – not to do harm, but to defeat evil and dark and loneliness. He didn’t even bear any ill will to his captors, for he saw they were truly the ones in the dark. This is a musical rendition of that poem, illustrated by the works of Salvador Dali, who it is said, himself had a vision from the poem.

In creating, in sharing oneself – I think we sometimes have dark nights of the soul. Nothing to be done about them – it’s part of the process, I think. We can only try to find strength to live through them and not lose sight of what we must do – what we have to do to breathe and that is to write. So, as an old year draws to the close and a new one begins – be still and listen to yer heart. The stories are there, they may hurt coming out, but the by-product of that process is a balm to soothe even the worst pain. Never staunch or stifle the words rising up from your soul….never let the pain of sharing or the fear of being ridiculed for what you have to say keep you from expressing that which is within you. To do so is to fall helpless into the fire from which you may not escape.

As we step to the fire, to the illegible stone of the New Year, let us not forget what has been written, but let us not hold back on what there is to say. Write, my friends when your heart is breaking, when your soul in on fire and when you feel you have no hope. It’s the only way to live through those days for those such as us.

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by katie

Samhain

October 31, 2009 in Auto-biographical (spiritual quest)

Tonight, at sunset begins a ancient tradition that began thousands of years ago with the Celtic people. It is called Samhain, (pronounced Sow-en). It is one of the Celtic high holy days, and actually is November 1. Since the Celts used a lunar calendar however, the celebrations always begins at sunset on the eve of the day. Samhain’s name is derived from the Celtic word meaning simply ‘summers end’. It was seen as the end of the light part of the year and the beginning of the darker days of winter.

It is also considered to be the Celtic New Year – the days of darkness following the death of the God Lugh on the previous sabbat, Lughnasadh which would be followed by the days of light to come with the beginning of Yule in December. In fact, the orange and black colors are symbolic of the darkness and the light to come. Lugh is a Celtic hero also known as the Sun God . He is the solar deity of the Irish Tuatha de Danaan, the Celtic Faeries. Lugh was schooled in the arts, crafts, magikal ways. He was born with magikal gifts, which reportedly come from the ‘Land of the Living’ to Tuatha. He is most often seen wearing red as his representation as the Sun or Fire God.

During the day of October 31 people were busy cleaning their homes prior to the advent of winter, or the dark days and preparing for the time ahead. They extinguished all of the fires in the home. At sunset, a large bonfire would be lit. It is said that the bones of animals that had been slaughtered for the winter to come were thrown into the fires ( hence bone-fires) and that the word ‘bonfire’ actually derived from that.The burning of crops and the bonfires not only were a way to honor the gods and goddesses for a good harvest and invoke their blessings for the year ahead, but were seen as a way to cleanse all of the old year and prepare for the new.

During the celebration, the Celts, who were usually a very structured folk, danced around the fires and wore costumes. Many of the dances played out the cycles of life and death or commemorated the Wheel of Life. The Celts believed that during Samhain, the veil between this world and the ‘Otherworld’ was at it’s thinnest and it was possible for the spirits of those departed to return to commune with those still on earth. Part of the celebration involved honoring those dead – even ancestors – by laying places for them at the tables and leaving food outside to be eaten by those living neighbors and visitors as well as those departed. Time was always set aside for those to quiet themselves and be receptive to messages of advice from those departed. They did not try to invoke the spirits, only be quiet and listen for them. Part of the reason for costume wearing was to appear as a spirit rather than a human so as not to be recognized, in case one had wronged any of the departed and they attempt to retaliate at this time.

There was also the custom of peeling apples and throwing the peel over your shoulder. It was said that one could, from the way the peel landed, divine the initial of your future spouse. Whereas we now carve pumpkins into jack-o-lanterns, the Celts carved turnips and potatoes and placed a candle inside them, then put them into the window to light the way for the spirits who would be wandering the earth this night as well as to scare away any spirits with evil intents. Druid priests and Celtic Shamans would attempt to tell the fortunes of celebrants by throwing of the runes. When the community celebration was over, each family would take burning embers from the sacred fire to re-light the fires in their homes. These fires were to be kept burning at least for the next several months through the winter. If they went out, it foretold back luck or tragedy to come upon the household.

So tonight, make some time to entertain yourselves and try out some of the other traditions from Samhain. Build a bonfire outside and dance around it. Be sure to leave some time to commune with the spirits of those gone before . . . if yer very quiet and listen, perhaps you may hear . . . the voice.

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