Kittie Howard

Monday, August 29, 2011

"Goodnight, Irene" - A Louisiana Memory

My heart goes out to all those in Irene's path.  It's difficult to look at the news.  So many lives lost.  So much devastation.  My hub's from New Hampshire...we were in Vermont not long ago - drove up through central New York - Irene's path rips at our hearts.  When the tears dry, we're just going to have to take a collective breath and re-build.  Queen Elizabeth II said it best (when Princess Diana died, I believe), "Stay calm and carry on."  Back when I was in my twenties, I learned that lesson the hard way.  But, once learned, the road opened.  Today's quickly jotted down Louisiana Memory . . . .

* * * * *


I sat sideways on the porch's top step and hugged my knees.  Mama wiped her brow with the back of her hand and settled into the rocking chair near the ivy-filled planter.  She tossed her blond curls and made a face at the pasture in front of her.

I didn't have to follow her eyes to know the grass had blurred into a white haze beneath the hot Louisiana sun or that the road in front of the farm reached long and empty, with neither car nor mule wagon to break the monotony.  Nothing moved, a sound of nothing I liked because I'd been born into it.  Not Mama.  On days like today, when steaming hot quiet would stretch into sultry dark quiet, Mama fussed about leaving New Orleans for 'this,' what she called my grandparents' farm in South Central Louisiana. 
"Oh, to hear a streetcar's rumble," Mama moaned as she balanced a magazine clipping of a shirtwaist dress, the latest 1952 fashion, on top of the ivy.  And, then, after a long sigh, "We live in the middle of nowhere."

I did what I always did when adults made statements that made no sense:  I froze into a cross between a freckle-faced, five-year-old kid and a bug-eyed frog, mouth agape in either species. Sarah, two years younger, shattered the stillness by slamming the screen door and screaming Ma was coming.  "Great," Mama groaned as her mother-in-law, the inhabitant of The Big House across the left pasture (because she and Pa owned the farm), the queen of gossip along the bayou (according to Daddy), and decider of all issues, big and small (according to Mama), approached our porch from a path that ran alongside our house (a bit sneaky, even I had to admit).

But, the sin warranted immediate forgiveness:  My grandmother, a petite stick of Creole dynamite, carried a plate of cookies covered with waxed paper.  Sarah and I erupted into giggles and raced to Ma's side.  By the time Mama made lemonade, Pa returned from checking cows in the back pasture and joined us.  Minutes later, Daddy turned into the farm's entrance.  On weekends he returned home from Louisiana State University's School of Law in Baton Rouge.
As the cookies disappeared and conversation mellowed, late afternoon turned into evening shade. Sarah and I played on the steps with our dolls. Mama and Daddy sat on the swing, opposite Ma and Pa in the rocking chairs.  As he sometimes did, Daddy stretched his long legs, clasped his hands behind his head and hummed a song during a break in the conversation.  I couldn't see, but knew his blue eyes twinkled, just like Mama's did whenever Daddy came home.

Tonight, though, he stood as he hummed and tugged Mama to her feet.  She laughed as he pulled her closer, then, hands and arms positioned outward, he swirled her around the porch as he sang,"Goodnight, Irene; I'll see you in my dreams . . . . "  They looked like Clark Gable and Ginger Rogers.  My mouth fell open.

Years later, on the day their divorce became final, I thought friends had exaggerated how disastrous a divorce could be.  After all, they were still my parents.  Life went on.  It took time for the enormity of what had happened to sink in, for me to repair my soul.

Yes, goodnight, Irene.  You won't be forgotten, but we will move on.

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