The last installment

There’s a line in the movie Ice Age–during the fight between the dodo birds, Sid, and Manny over some melons–that applies here. The animals are scrambling to scoop up the melons, which are in short supply, and their bumbling leads to the melons being misappropriated. Sid the sloth gets the final melon but drops it when he’s swarmed by dodos. Manny grabs the melon with his trunk, but loses it when a dodo bites his tail. He throws the melon into the air and the dodos make a final play for it, but Sid catches it and the dodos fall over themselves, exclaiming, “The laaaaast melon.”

What does this have to do with the price of tea in China? Be patient, I’m getting to it.

Just like the laaaaaast melon, this is the last installment in the northern Louisiana series. Our trip last week has provided such good blog fodder, like this post about the trip itself and this post about puttin’ up corn and this post about skeet-shooting and this post about the best practical joke in a long time, maybe ever.

This wrap-up features a FEMA trailer, my favorite girl acquiring a new skill, yet another cute dog, a slave grave, and wisdom gained from the country. To say that this trip was a huge departure from the everyday minutia of my normal life — kids, pets, suburbia, and searching for the new normal after breast cancer — would be quite the understatement.

The FEMA trailer sits behind Mama & Papa’s house. Bought at an auction after its displaced residents no longer needed it, the outside looks what I imagine it looked like while being used as temporary housing after Hurricane Katrina demolished New Orleans in August 2005. The inside, however, has been outfitted with some custom woodwork and a few of Papa’s special touches to create a mighty fine fishin’ trailer. In fact, on the table is Papa’s computer-generated shopping list of supplies he’ll need for the next fishing trip. 

The last of the 145,000 FEMA trailers used to house displaced people in Louisiana and Mississippi after Katrina was recently removed from New Orleans. Many of the trailers were sold by FEMA at auctions, and some were used to house workers assigned to clean up the Deepwater Horizon/BP mess in April of last year. After housing some 770,000 newly homeless who were displaced after Katrina destroyed 75 percent of housing units in New Orleans, the trailers have been snapped up by outdoorsy folks who need a place to hang their hat after a long day fishing or hunting. 

It was cool to see this piece of history. FEMA trailers were such a ubiquitous part of the storm, and will remain a symbol of the size and scale of the damage Katrina inflicted. Living along the Gulf Coast myself makes me patently aware of the power and fury of hurricanes, and Katrina was a doozy.

On a much lighter note–Macy’s new skill. My favorite girl learned how to drive a 4-wheeler. All by herself. As ubiquitous as FEMA trailers were in NOLA, 4-wheelers were everywhere we went, and at age 10 my girl was a bit long in the tooth to be just learning. That’s what you get as a city-slicker, however.

Macy wasted no time in learning, and did well for a city girl. With Molly the dog leading the way, Macy explored the trail that winds through our hosts’ property. Wish y’all could have seen her face as she had her lesson from Amy. It was a curious mix of wonder, excitement, concentration, and reverence all stirred together. Like the complex and many-faceted girl she is, I suppose. A lot of kids would take that 4-wheeler and gun it, tearing all around the property, but this girl was careful and methodical about driving. I hope that’s the case when she turns 16!

Another cute dog was on hand, bringing the total of new furry friends to at least 7. We met this little charmer at Gina’s house as we sipped a glass of wine by the pool before dinner. She belongs to a neighbor but comes to Gina’s to visit. No bigger than a minute and so meek she crawled on her belly to greet us, I couldn’t resist pulling her into my lap. Her name is Jill, but the charming northern Louisiana pronunciation is “G-eeeeeel.” She reminded us so much of our sweet doggie friend Lima. Perhaps they’re distant cousins.

It was also at Gina’s that we saw the slave grave and expounded on the story of Josephine. On one of the many nights Amy stayed with me in the hospital during my countless hospitalizations thanks to mess that is cancer, she told me the story of Josephine, and it was amazing to be on her turf after hearing so much about her. 

Listening to Amy tell me about Josephine while I endured yet another night on scratchy hospital sheets fighting that dadgum post-mastectomy infection was a memorable escape during a time of hardship. It’s the story of a young girl who lived and worked on the Shelton Plantation in the mid-1800s, which is now the site of Gina’s beautiful home and acres of beautiful woods. It’s believed that Josephine’s father was the plantation owner and her mother was a slave. Deep in the woods lies this grave marker. It’s a simple yet beautiful grave marker, and an interesting piece of the past. Coming across the grave site in the woods was a profound experience that reminded me that life is fragile and fleeting. This girl was just 19 and a half when she died–curiously enough, at the same age as Amy’s brother, Sam, who is also buried on Gina’s property. The family decided in the wake of Sam’s tragic death to officially designate a portion of Gina’s land as a family cemetery. It’s a beautiful and serene patch of woods that invites lingering, contemplating, and remembering. My mom’s gravesite is the last place I’d go to feel close to her, and to me the conventional cemetery does precious little to invoke a sense of connectedness to the departed one. If she were laid to rest in a beautiful and sacred spot like this, however, it would be a different story, and I can imagine sitting under the tall trees and talking to my sweet mama like we used to do every single day.

I’ve heard a lot about Sam and know by the way his sisters speak of him that he was someone special. Losing someone you love is hard, hard, hard to take, and when that someone is young and killed unexpectedly like Sam was, the tragedy is especially long-legged. I’ve learned on my own that grief is a heavy and long-lasting thing, and I felt that lesson keenly while in the woods the other day. In A Prayer for Owen Meany, one of my all-time favorite books, John Irving writes:

“When someone you love dies, and you’re not expecting it, you don’t lose her all at once; you lose her in pieces over a long time — the way the mail stops coming, and her scent fades from the pillows and even from the clothes in her closet and drawers.”

I know this must be true of Sam, too. It was a privilege to be present in this lovely place, and the feeling of being there will stay with me.

The woods seem never-ending, and the blanket of trees served as a rugged and insular backdrop as I contemplated Josephine and felt the absence of Sam in this close-knit family. I never got tired of looking at the woods. My favorite girl kept saying, “The trees go on for days!” Indeed they do. 

I learned from this quick trip is that it’s good to get out of town and savor the purity and goodness of the country. Oscar Wilde wrote in The Picture of Dorian Gray that “anyone can be good in the country.” What a fantastic thought! As if the fresh air, wide open spaces, and relaxed pace in the country aren’t enough! Spending time with a family that truly and genuinely loves and treasures each other is a beautiful thing; being enveloped by such a family is an honor. I’ve always wished for a sister, and after being around Amy and hers, now I really wish I had one.

More wisdom was to be gained from the framed saying that Mama has hanging in her house:

And then some more from the napkin displayed under a magnet in Papa’s shop: 

 

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12 Comments on “The last installment”

  1. Eddie says:

    Who woulda thunk such profundity would arise from a visit to Louisiana? And from a Texas girl, no less! Thanks for the many installments, I almost feel as if I went on the trip and I wish your many new furry friends could wander a bit further down the road to visit my house. I only wish this was not the last melon.

  2. Amy H. says:

    Nancy, you get it! I am so thankful that you could come and experience what I cannot even convey to my peeps in TX! Thanks for posting such great stories of our family, our home, our backwoods Louisiana life! I love and treasure it and wish I was there with my family daily! However, I have made some family in Texas and you are part of that–and I am grateful.

    BTW-The FEMA trailer and Aint Wendy’s house (along with Aint Gina’s, Uncle Bobo’s & Aint Holly’s houses) are the overflow bedrooms for visitors.

    Y’all come back now, ya hear? And Ed, I plan on you coming next time!

    • If my kids knew that they could’ve stayed in the trailer, they would’ve jumped at the chance! Don’t you worry about whether we’ll come back — it’s a sure thing!

  3. Jan Baird says:

    I love the saying in your Mama’s house. The message really hit home for me. Thanks for the great vacation memories. Interesting what happened to those FEMA trailers. xx

    • Jan, if only it were my mama’s house that great message was in, but it’s my friend Amy’s mom. She’s Mama to everyone, which is confusing in the posts! Glad you liked her message, and as always I’m glad you commented. xo

  4. Drink2that says:

    Love this post and Prayer for Owen Meany is one of my favourites too!

  5. Travelling is good fodder for a blog – you are so right. It’s amazing how many thoughts come and go while travelling . . . some about the place, others about bigger concepts. It’s been a hoot to follow your vacation (coyote in the bathroom is a highlight) and explore this beautiful piece of land on while lives a lovely family. Thanks :)

    Catherine

    • Catherine, I’m so glad you enjoyed the Louisiana installments. I only wish I had done a better job at conveying the amazing and outright love my friend’s family has for each other. Coming from a small family of one sibling who now lives across the country and a deceased mother, being with this clan was such a great experience. Thanks for reading.


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