Kittie Howard

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Maw Maw's Kitchen (Eileen's Louisiana Story); Going on Holiday

(Updates:  Hubby and I are going on holiday next week for five weeks, returning early August.  After six months of planning, we are very excited that British friends will join us for a week!!

Like last year, I'll have my net book (aka "Jenny") for a few posts. Jenny is downright cranky at times.  I'll keep in touch as best I can.  But, from our house to yours, hub and I wish all of you a glorious summer that's forever in your hearts!

I hope Eileen's Louisiana story today touches your hearts.  As I mentioned in the previous post, Steen's cane syrup in the yellow can triggers a certain nostalgia.  Yes, plastic came along and does what plastic does for products.  It's the 'yellow can,' though, that begs another time.  Eileen has written eloquently - and truthfully - about those days.  She's the little girl in the story.  The photo after the story is of her grandparents' house.

Eileen is a dear and wonderful friend who lives in Ascension Parish, Louisiana.  I'm honored she's sharing her 'yellow can' story and hope you will heart her.

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Maw Maw's Kitchen
Maw Maw's shadow dances across the wall as she goes from room to room lighting oil lamps as dusk turns to dark.  The braid which had been coiled into a tight knot at the nape of her neck now hangs freely like a shining silver rope down her back and falls across her shoulder as she bends to offer a good-night kiss. 

Mosquito netting draped around the antique bed sways gently in the cool winter breeze which whistles through the slightly opened window, and the final licks of flame shrink as the fire calms itself for the night.  Silent prayers of thanks are interrupted by the cadence of croaking frogs, the mournful howl of an unknown animal, and the hushed voices of Maw Maw and Paw Paw as they sit waiting for the embers to fade to ashes.

Sleep comes quickly to the child beneath the stack of handmade quilts who knows she will soon be awakened by the smell of sweet, hickory bacon and the sound of it sizzling in Maw Maw's favorite little black skillet.  Warm bread fresh from the oven will be covered with thick black syrup which pours so very slowly from the bright yellow can, its sweetness tempered by the bitter pureness of milk straight from the cow.  Only later will she realize this was a place and time of simple goodness.

Eileen's photo of Maw Maw's house.  It's so warm and inviting.  So much goodness there!

Friday, June 17, 2011

"Amazing Grace" in Cajun French; Up, Up, and Away (Romantic Friday Writers)

A warm welcome to new followers!  I'm humbled by how my blog has grown.  I never, ever thought this would happen when I first sat at the keyboard.  A new computer later (old Bertha decided to move on), I'm in the same room, my left leg propped on the chair, window open, the fan humming - -  thanks to all of you for sharing this evening with me.  I'm forever grateful for how all of you have enriched my life from Day One.

But, ahem, I can't reach some of you. I really want to get to know you! Please check your avatar to see if your photo links to your blog.  (Or leave a comment; that'll get me back to you.)  For those of you in a rush, the Romantic Friday Writer's entry is after the video clip.)

Eileen, a beautiful, caring friend I'm blessed to have, lives in Gonzales (Ascension Parish), Louisiana. The other day she sent me a YouTube link to "Amazing Grace" in Cajun French. My eyes misted - the singing, the landscape scenes.  In an upcoming post, I hope to share with you Eileen's memory about Steen's cane syrup and her Maw Maw's house.  She won an award for what she wrote.  Her terrific writing tugs at the heart and stirs the child in each of us.

For today's video, a Southwest Louisiana singing group, Les Amies Louisianaises, sings in the background of the YouTube clip, until the final scene.  The literal translation of La Grace du Ciel is "The Grace of Heaven."

Louisiana Belle posted this video Christmas before last.  As when Eileen sent the clip, I watched it several times.  I thought you would enjoy a certain sense of purity the video captures.  (If you get a chance, check out Louisiana Belle.  She takes amazing photos and has an equally beautiful writing voice.)  My thanks to Eileen and Belle for this gorgeous slice of Louisiana HERE!

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And, now for Romantic Friday Writers.

Please note prior to reading today's entry:  Whether wise or not, I've decided to remain within my characters:  Pierre, Yvette, and Windsor. 

Since I can't carry the back story in 400 words, this is a synopsis of previous entries: Pierre dumped Yvette for another gal. Yvette fled to Hawaii to work for her Aunt Claire in a surfing shop. Yvette fell into a party-hardy crowd. Aunt Claire screwed her head on straight. Ginger, the trust-fund gal who mistakenly got Yvette into that crowd, had pangs of guilt and treated her to a weekend at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel - so she could meet Windsor Smith, her uber-rich, gorgeous cousin.  Back in Grand Isle, Louisiana, Pierre worked on a shrimp boat after the gal he left Yvette for dumped him. He thought he'd forgotten about Yvette until something silly stirred his passion.

The theme for for this week's Romantic Friday Writers'  entry is "Up, Up, and Away."

"Up, Up, and Away" (400 words)

The flight attendant stared at Pierre, then at his boarding pass.  "Follow me, sir."  She turned left, toward the jet's business cabin.
"But my ticket says I'm in coach," Pierre protested as he manipulated his carry-on around passengers.

She half-turned.  "Chuck - the guy who owns Chuck's Place on Grand isle - he's my brother-in-law."

"Chuck e-mailed me your photo.  He said you needed quality time with a gal you love in Hawaii."  She held her hand up.  "I'm not interested in the details.  I just told Chuck I'd help."  She escorted Pierre to seat 3A.  "There's no first-class on this flight from New Orleans to Honolulu, only business."  She secured his carry-on in the overhead bin.
Pierre glanced at her name tag.  "Thank you, Monique."  He dipped his chin.  "I - er, I could've stored my bag."  His eyes scanned the cabin.  "Now I know why Chuck insisted I wear a sports jacket.  Guess I was blown away by the upgrade and forgot my manners.  I apologize."
 "No prob - "
"Excuse me," a passenger interrupted as Pierre sat near the window.  "Where's seat 3B?"
Monique gestured into the aisle seat next to Pierre.  "Right here, sir.  May I help you with your carry-on?"

"That's okay.  I can handle it."  Monique nodded to the smartly dressed man with Hollywood good looks and moved to return to her coach cabin. The passenger extended his hand to Pierre as he sat down.  "Windsor.  Windsor Smith."

"Pierre.  Pierre Lafourche.  Nice to meet you."

"Same here."  Windsor reached for a glass of champagne on the flight attendant's tray.  Pierre followed his lead.  Windsor took a sip of his champagne and relaxed into his seat. "I should be on the corporate jet to Venezuela with my father.  We had business in New Orleans.  I don't normally fly commercial.  But - "  He flashed a conspiratorial grin.  "Something's hot in Honolulu."  He paused.  "I'm in international investments.  What about you?"

"Seafood," Pierre answered.  A smile played on his lips.

"My company's in New York City.  We work the anchovy market in Argentina."

"I'm more into shrimp and catfish."
"The catfish that got away?"  Windsor laughed at his joke.

Pierre's black eyes narrowed.  "Maybe."

"Sorry, old boy, didn't mean to pry."  He leaned into Pierre.  "I know how it is.  My father would disown me if he knew I was meeting this Cajun chick in Honolulu."

Pierre gave him a curious look.  "Really?  What's her name?"


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To return to Romantic Friday Writers click here.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Steen's Cane Syrup; Romantic Friday Writers

My entry for Romantic Friday Writers is further down, after this about Louisiana:

With no disrespect to maple syrup (for it is delicious and natural - I love natural,) I  never tasted maple syrup when I was a kid in South Louisiana. We drizzled Steen's Cane Syrup on our pancakes or French toast. Now, I mention this, not because I'm pushing a product - I'm not - but because I'm reading more and more about cane syrup these days, an alternative to the sweet stuff manufacturers dump into some products. Cane syrup is made from sugar cane, a major crop in Louisiana, and is a natural golden sweetness. 

Since I only enjoyed, never made cane syrup, I turned to Wikipedia for this:  Cane syrup is a concentration of cane juice produced through long cooking in open kettles.  It's sweeter than molasses because no refined sugar is removed. 

There was a time when other companies in the U.S. besides Steen's produced cane syrup.  But as the population acquired a taste for artificial sweeteners and refined sugar, company after company disappeared.  Only Steen's remains.  It's been in business since 1910, still in Abbeville, Louisiana, in the heart of Cajun Country.  The picture's a bit fuzzy (as I enlarged the tiny one from Wikipedia.)  Nevermind.  I love that yellow can.  I hope it doesn't disappear.
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Romantic Friday WritersFor those of you who are new (Hi!), I try to participate in Romantic Friday Writers - didn't make it last week; we had a houseful of guests.  Each week, Denise and Francine post the week's theme.  We have to remain within 400 words.  Now, I'm not a romantic writer and make no pretensions as such.  However, I am in love with Louisiana.  These entries have helped me strengthen verbs and so on for my stories.  I am thankful for that improvement!  (The trailer for my first self-pub, "Remy Broussard's Christmas," is at the top of my sidebar.)

Whether wise or not, I'm continuing with a story line.  Since I can't carry the backstory in 400 words, this is a synopsis:  Pierre dumped Yvette for another gal.  Yvette fled to Hawaii to work for her Aunt Claire in a surfing shop.  Yvette fell into a party-hardy crowd.  Aunt Claire screwed her head on straight.  Ginger, the trust-fund gal who mistakenly got Yvette into that crowd, had pangs of guilt and treated her to a weekend at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel - so she could meet Windsor Smith, her uber-rich, gorgeous cousin.  This week's entry centers on Pierre. (400 words)

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Forgotten (Maybe Not)

Pierre swung himself over the shrimp boat's railing and onto the dock.  About twenty-eight years old, he was tall and muscled-lean, with classic French features.  He adjusted his LSU baseball cap and whistled as he walked toward Chuck's Place, the honky-tonk bar on Grand Isle where shrimpers gathered for cold beer and Cajun music.  A warm afternoon breeze off the Gulf of Mexico fluttered his short-sleeve, unbuttoned shirt.  The tail hung loose over faded jeans.

"Hey!  You stepped on a new penny," a man called.  Pierre stopped.  The man, a shrimper with white hair and gnarled hands, wrapped a final loop of rope to tie-up his shrimp boat.  He then straightened, legs parted to balance waves that lapped the boat.  "Better get that penny before we have bad luck.  We don't need another oil slick."  He pointed to a wood-plank behind Pierre.  The copper coin glistened in the sun, an orb of hope beneath a cloudless blue sky.

"Thanks, Bertrand.  We had a good catch this morning.  Don't want to mess things up."  Pierre turned and reached for the penny.  "Who knows," he laughed.  "If I find enough of these babies, I'll be able to buy my own boat."

"Be careful what you wish for.  I barely made payroll last month."  Bertrand shook his head and disappeared into the boat's cabin.

Pierre shrugged a carefree nonchalance and flipped the coin high.  He missed the catch.  The penny landed on the dock and rolled toward a crevice.  He rushed to grab the coin.  "Damn," he muttered as it fell into the water.

"Why the long face?" Chuck asked, after he popped Pierre's usual, a long-necked beer.

"Oh, nothing important."  Pierre downed a long swig of the beer.  "I dropped a new penny I found into the water.  Hope that sucker didn't take my good luck with it."  He finished the beer.  "How about another?  It's hotter than hell outside."

Chuck placed the second beer in front of Pierre.  "Weren't you with some gal at Mardi Gras who talked about saving pennies for a wedding?"

Pierre froze.  The color drained from his face.  "Yvette," he muttered. "I thought I'd forgotten about her."  He drained the beer and picked at the label with his finger nail.  "Where did you go, Yvette?" he asked himself. He laced his hands around the bottle.  "Why did you return?"

Chuck placed another beer on the counter.  "This one's on me."

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(To return to the fest, click here)

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Tuskegee Airmen and Louisiana Memories; Fictional Characters

A big Thank You to Alex J. Cavanaugh for hosting the "It's All Fun & Games Blog Fest."  We bloggers know how to have a good time!

And a big Welcome to my new Followers - It's nice to meet you! *waves*  (Would Cheryl and Arcadia 1997 please drop me a comment; I can't link to you. *sighs*)

A PBS television program about the Tuskegee Airmen and numerous descriptions of fictional book characters who have 'nothing' prompted this post.  Specifically, I'd like to take a look at this 'nothing' so many write about, ie, in the physical possession sense.  It's all relative, of course.  And therein lies the fault line.  How does an author describe a character so the reader can relate?

First, to the Tuskegee Airmen - Two years ago, my husband and I had the honor and privilege to sit with several of the Tuskegee Airmen at a function held in Washington, D.C.  These distinguished African-Americans helped crack the racial ceiling on March 19, 1941 with the formation of the 99th Pursuit Squadron (47 officers and 429 enlisted men.)  At that time, widespread opinion in the United States was skeptical that blacks could fight as good as whites in World War II.  However, the Tuskegee Airmen earned combat ribbon after combat ribbon and proved everyone wrong.

At war's end (1939-1945), combat forces returned home to a hero's welcome.

Not so fast.

In February 1946, African-American veteran Issac Woodard was attacked and blinded by policemen in Aiken, Georgia. (The Harry Truman Library)  In July 1946, two African-American veterans and their wives were executed (60 bullets) by a white mob in Georgia.  (Harry Truman Library)

Amid significant controversy, President Harry Truman signed Executive Order 9981 on July 26, 1948 that desegregated all units within the United States military.  Accustomed to following orders, the military desegregated and is today, by all accounts, an integrated military that marches as one.

Some of the Tuskegee Airmen remained in the military after World War II.  Those who returned to the  South returned to 'separate but equal' facilities (Plessy v. Ferguson, 1896 Supreme Court decision) that enabled segregation. 

The sharecropper system also divided along racial lines.  This economic system, whereby field hands worked off exorbitant rents for houses occupied, divided black and white sharecroppers:  White sharecroppers usually lived in the more front-facing shacks; black sharecroppers usually lived in shacks positioned further back on a farm.

These two groups of very poor people, the poorest rung on the economic ladder, interacted during working hours, usually because a white sharecropper supervised a black sharecropper.

The U.S. Census couldn't accurately record how many sharecroppers existed.  Dirt paths or wagon-rutted farm roads usually led to these tucked away shacks.  For both races, babies were born and babies died, often buried on the farm, without record.  As were the sick and the infirm.  Few sharecroppers paid state or federal taxes.  Pay taxes on what?  So, scant records there.

Many sharecroppers - and especially black sharecroppers - lived in shacks without electricity.  Or running water.  Roofs leaked.  Windows had patched cardboard to block the cold.  Sharecroppers could grow their own food - this sounds rather quaint, almost self-sufficient romantic - but sharecroppers didn't have the run of the farm for personal gardens.  Shacks usually had hardened 'yards' where scrawny chickens pecked.  Chicken eggs provided year-round food, unlike green beans.  So kids played where the chickens crapped.

People died.  Lots of people died young.  No medical insurance.  No dental insurance (it was common for people to die from dental infections.)  No Medicare.  No Medicaid.  Social Security existed - but back to those missing records.  Lots of sharecroppers - especially black sharecroppers - simply didn't exist.  So, no Social Security checks.

For many white sharecroppers, though, the KuKluxKlan provided a measure of superiority.  Ever heard of those dudes in white sheets and pointy hats?  The KKK rode against my grandfather once - tried to intimidate him into selling off some land at a cheap price. (He didn't!)  It wasn't until I was a grown woman that my father told me who had been active in the KKK in our area:  The fathers of lots of kids I went to school with, that's who.  You see, the yellow school bus picked up all white kids and delivered them to a segregated school.  Black students got to school (if a schoolhouse existed) as best they could.  Black and white sharecropper kids dropped out of school at alarming rates.

The sharecropper system needed the students who dropped out of school.  They fed the system with a stream of muscled labor.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 destroyed the sharecropper system.  A Federal law mandated that if a sharecropper occupied housing not maintained for a significant period of time, that plot of land belonged to the sharecropper.  Practically overnight, farmers had shacks torn down.

So, back to a WIP character (a work in progress character) having 'nothing' -  this is all relative.  I don't think a struggling college student who works two jobs and carries a student loan has 'nothing' - to me, the character maximizes opportunity for a broader future.  I know a 64 year-old man and his wife who lived in million-dollar waterfront property.  He earned enormous income.  But, by his own admission, he cut one deal too many and lost it all to bankruptcy. 

They now live off of Social Security in a small, rented apartment.  Does he have 'nothing?'  Not if he has a roof over his head, food, and some income, the physical basics.  But he struggles.  There's a difference.  'Nothing' is a basic bottom line, not to be confused with what one wants.

One of the Tuskegee Airmen at my table in that posh hotel said, "It's not easy to survive nothing."

                                                        Tuskegee Airman (Wikipedia)

Restored P-51 Mustang associated with the Tuskegee Airmen (Wikipedia)  Note the red tail...the Airmen painted tails red so Allied forces wouldn't mistake them for the enemy.  This wasn't racially motivated, but a preventive combat measure.  However, the Airmen proudly refer to themselves today as the "Red Tails" and often wear signature red jackets (which they wore the evening I met some of them.)

Support training squadron airplanes, with the Tuskegee Airmen's Red Tail, at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas, honor the Tuskegee Airmen today. (Wikipedia)  You can visit the Airmen's Web site here.