Kittie Howard

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A Grandmother's Wisdom (LA Memory)

My grandmother ruled as the family's matriarch with a power that came from experience put to good use.  Of course, as a child, I didn't realize that. I just knew that my grandmother was old, very old, and what she said was the law of the farm.

In my early teens, I realized my grandmother wasn't as old as I thought and began to understand the reasoning behind some of her edicts.  When I married, in my late twenties, and soon had to deal with problems and situations women had always dealt with, I learned to anchor the moment with something she had said - or would say, as Ma was older, but still not old.  I thought I'd share a bit of her wisdom with you:

If you tell others your problems, they'll tell you theirs, and you'll be worse off.

There are some people, if they know you're afraid, they'll come after you.

You made yourself afraid. (About stuff that happens in life one doesn't remember later.)

Smile when you're afraid.  (Ditto.)

Always make your bed in the morning.

Always say Thank You.

Appreciate a gift, even if you don't like it.

Hold your head high when you walk out the door.

You can't get any work done if you're worrying about what other people think.

Don't worry so much; you'll get wrinkles.

Let the situation pass; another will come along.

Don't try to solve other people's problems; they'll get mad at you.

Stay away from extremes.

If you think you're pretty, you're pretty.

If you'd stop jabbering, you'd hear the swing creak.

* * * * *

If you've got books on Goodreads, let me know, and we'll connect.  I'm like a turtle going up a technological hill, but we're getting there - hmmm - sorta.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A Saloon Hall Dancer (LA Memory)

Once in awhile, I'd ride into Baton Rouge with daddy to visit Great Aunt Edna, his favorite aunt and his mother's oldest sibling.  I didn't know why at the time - adults didn't tell kids much then - but Ma didn't like Great Aunt Edna. I only knew not to mention her name to Ma and never to tell her when we visited.  I knew what happened when daddy, for some reason known only to daddy, would mention her name: Ma would slam her dish towel on the kitchen counter, storm out of the room, and slam her bedroom door.  Slam! Slam! Slam!

One time, when she exploded like a hurricane, I tip-toed down the hall and widened a crack in the doorway.  (Ma slammed a door so hard, it always bounced back.)  Ma was on her knees praying.  I wouldn't know until I was in my late teens that Ma prayed for Great Aunt Edna's soul.  Her sister had been a saloon hall dancer on the Delta Queen and Memphis Queen riverboats that plied the Mississippi River between New Orleans and Memphis in the 1920s and 1930s.

Great Aunt Edna had also held her own playing blackjack and poker with the boys.  She'd gotten lucky at the craps table a few times.  Even better, she knew when to walk away and played more for the fun of it than a a compelling need to do so.

Great Aunt Edna never married, never put any babies up for adoption (or otherwise).  When the years caught up with her, as they do with us all, she retired to a modest house not far from the Louisiana State University campus in Baton Rouge.  She paid cash for the house, as she did for everything.

When the weather permitted, she liked to sit on the front porch on Sunday afternoons and smoke two cigarettes while she sipped one highball.  Daddy said that when a passing neighbor fussed at her for smoking and drinking (on a Sunday, no less), she told the neighbor, "When you get to be my age, you can think about telling me what to do."  Great Aunt Edna was in her late seventies at the time.

Daddy love to quote his aunt:

When another neighbor complained about her not going to church most Sundays, she said, "The Good Lord made me.  He knows what I'm doing.  There's no reason for me to pester Him all the time."

When the neighbor pushed, she retorted, "You take care of your sins, and I'll take care of mine."

When a cousin said she should marry a gentleman caller for two decades, she said, "I'm not a babysitter."

The Great Aunt Edna I remember had fluffy white hair, hazel eyes that sparkled, and a warm smile in an almost-plump face.  Her skin was as soft as a cloud.

She fussed over me, the way that kids like, with oohs and ahhs about how good I was, how pretty I was, how she loved my smile and so on, until I melted, totally melted, into a curled-up ball next to her.  She'd then stroke my hair while she and daddy talked and talked.  I don't remember a word they said.

Great Aunt Edna died in her sleep from natural causes.  She was 96 years old.  Her face was as smooth as Ivory soap.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Haunting at the Bourbon Orleans Hotel

The Bourbon Orleans Hotel enjoys a rich New Orleans history that involves my great-grandmother.  While a young girl, her parents booked passage on a ship destined for New Orleans in order to escape rampant persecution of Jews in Spain.  Her parents died in the 1867 yellow fever epidemic in New Orleans. 

Spanish Carmalite nuns found her begging on a street corner.  My great-grandmother was approximately seven years old.  The Carmalite nuns didn't want a Jewish girl in their convent so brought her to what is now the Bourbon Orleans Hotel (and where my husband and I stayed during Christmas, as we did last year.)  The African-American nuns gave her shelter and educated her.  (She later converted to Catholicism, sorta.)

In 1867, this French Quarter hotel housed a Roman Catholic convent and orphanage run by the Sisters of the Holy Family, the first African-American Catholic order, founded in New Orleans by Henriette Delille (1813-1862), "a free woman of color", and recognized by the Vatican in 1842. The Sisters of the Holy Family remain an active order to this day. In 2010, the Catholic Church declared Henriette Delille 'venerable', the first step toward sainthood.  (In 2001, Lifetimetelevision premiered a movie about Henriette Delille's life, The Courage to Love.)

This year we stayed in room 421.  The night of December 28th we slept soundly.  The occupants of room 424 did not.

They called the desk several times to complain about the noise above them.  The irritating noise sounded like a food cart being rolled back and forth.  They also complained about the light going on and off in their room.

Staff checked the floor above the fourth floor, where the convent used to be.  The large room contains little today and is locked during the night.  Staff found no one hiding on the convent floor, no one who had slipped in during the day for a mischievous trick.

An electrician checked the wiring in room 424 and found nothing wrong.

However, once the staff left and people had settled into the night, the noise returned on the convent floor, and the lighting continued to irritate the hotel room's occupants.  The checking - and finding nothing wrong - continued throughout the night.

Later that morning one of the staff told me about the haunting (what they're called in New Orleans, where hauntings abound) and said, "Maybe it was because you're here.  Your great-grandmother was looking for you."  He wasn't joking.  As far as the staff of the Bourbon Orleans knows, I am the closest descendant of anyone in the convent from that era who's ever stayed there.

The night before the haunting, December 27th, as I sat on the room's sofa, I felt a whoosh of air and double-blinked at what looked like a puff of white that disappeared.

No, I hadn't been drinking.  (I wouldn't have a couple of glasses of wine until New Year's Eve.)  No, I hadn't had a Henry VIII-type meal or had otherwise indulged.  Louisiana natives don't go wild in the French Quarter.

Like last year, we stayed at the Bourbon Orleans because I wanted to touch my great-grandmother's history.  I can't say that I did; I can't say that I didn't.  I can only say that the staff couldn't find the source of the noise on the old convent floor or the source of the lighting problems.  But I did feel that whoosh of air.  I did see that puff of white.

Because I didn't make reservations earlier in October, we had to go to the Monteleone Hotel on the 29th.  Before we left New Orleans on the 2nd, I walked over to the Bourbon Orleans and asked if there had been another haunting.  There hadn't been another.  Hmmm.

Anyway, Happy New Year to each of you!  May your inner light shine.  May your smile bring smiles to others.  And, whatever your goal, may you feel the joy of success.