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: 


I heard the news today, oh boy

It started around age 2, I guess. The baseball obsession. From his earliest days, Payton was a baseball fanatic.

He’s probably not even 2 years old here, but he’s already at the plate, ready to swing for the fences. 

That original swing morphed into this —

and even in 2nd grade, it was game on.

The Red Sox obsession started when he was around 4 years old, maybe even earlier. He has a lot of Sox jerseys and t-shirts. He even had a shirt way back then that says “Yankees Stink” and when he wore it to Fenway Park one year, he was a rock star among Sox fans. He wore it to an Astros game and was featured on the Jumbo-Tron screens. Sweet.

He wears Sox shirts for all occasions, both important and everyday. And not just at the ballpark, either. He wears them pretty much every day, no matter where he’s going.

From playing in the driveway in our Durham house, where we lived for two years, to the first day of kindergarten, Payton wore Sox apparel. Always a Sox shirt, and usually a cap, too.

If they allowed ballcaps at school, he’d wear a Sox cap every day. At one point, we had to clean out the closet because there were so many Sox caps. Every color combination of red, white & blue, and a green one, too. Eventually he got a red one with black flames. There was a green camo one, too, but it disappeared before we had any photos of it. 

Here he is in a Sox cap at his Little League team party in 1st grade, I think. All the other boys on the team wore the team cap, but this die-hard Sox fan had other plans.

He’s wearing a Sox shirt and cap in this photo, taken in his room six months after we moved back to Houston from North Carolina. This kid is (and no doubt will be) a Sox fan no matter where he lives.

His blue Sox cap was with him at the rodeo. He’s not wearing a Sox shirt, though.

I probably made him wear a Longhorns shirt, since it was the most Western-y thing he had to wear to the rodeo. (And yes, I see the expression on Macy’s face. Classic.)

He’s probably still mad about it, too.

For a while, Macy was in on it, too. This is one of my all-time favorite pics of my kids. In New Orleans, on the way home from Fort Meyers, FL, at spring break for, what else? Red Sox spring training.

Of course he wore a Sox jersey for the first day of school in 1st grade, just like he had done on the first day of school in kindergarten. He’s got a Sox backpack, too.

We got a lot of wear from the original jersey, a Nomar Garciaparra #5 authentic MLB version. He wore that one for a couple of years, and I still have it. I keep thinking I’ll do something special with it, like put it in a shadowbox with other memorabilia to preserve the Sox legacy. For now, it’s hanging in the laundry room, and every time I see it, I smile at how tiny it is, and how the tiniest jersey was worn by the biggest fan.

Here he is at Fenway Park in jersey and rally cap, showing off his newly-toothless grin. He had just turned 6, and was already a veteran traveler to Boston and Fenway Park.

Guess what he wore to his 6th birthday party? Yep, a Sox shirt. He loved the shirt, but wasn’t too happy about having to pose for a photo.

He looks a little happier here, celebrating Ed’s birthday in, what else? a Sox jersey. 

Here he is before the birthday bash, in yet another Sox shirt. He and Ed are smiling so big because they love the Red Sox! In fact, it was Ed who first brainwashed Payton into becoming part of Red Sox Nation. Thanks, Ed! I’ve never been more proud than I was during a game at Fenway when Pay was little (4 or 5 years old at most) and quickly established himself among our seasoned seat-mates as a real fan. He knew who was next in the batting order, and who made the last out. It wasn’t long before the men around us were asking Pay questions about the roster, and he knew the answer every time.

Riding the T after a game at Fenway, happy with a Fenway Frank or two in his tummy and a pennant in his hand. This boy loves baseball, and to him, baseball means the Red Sox.

This was his face when he came home from school one day in the 1st grade to find his room contained new bunk beds. I love the look on his face almost as much as the fact that he’s wearing yet another Sox shirt.

He’s all dressed up here for Mother’s Day.

And for YaYa’s birthday. Well, as dressed up as Pay gets. Which is fine with me. If he’s not wearing a Sox shirt, something seems just the slightest bit off.

In 3rd grade, he wore Sox shirts on the first day of school: and the last day of school. He got an award at the end of the year from Mrs. Spearman, probably for being the biggest Sox fan.

It was more of the same for the first day of 4th grade.

Hanging out with Snoopy, in a jersey of course.

She’s a Sox fan, too.

After the Nomar jersey came the Veritek version. Then Youklis. Then Beckett. 

I’m sure there were more, but they all sorta run together after all these years.

We’re really lucky to be able to go to Boston every summer and stay with our dear friends-who-are-now-family. The trip is the highlight of the year for all of us, and getting to go to Fenway as well as hang out for a couple of weeks on the shore, is the best.

At the airport on one of those trips when the kids were really little, Pay was decked out in Sox championship apparel. People traveling from Houston to Boston on that flight with us knew where that kid was headed. First stop, Yawkey Way. 

Catching some z’s on the beach in Salisbury, north of Boston. Notice the cap?

Wearing one of my favorite Sox shirts at Markey’s Lobster Pound, one of the best places on Earth. This shirt says, “It’s obvious you wish you were part of Red Sox Nation.”


Another Sox ensemble while enjoying another delicacy at the shore: Blink’s Fried Doe. Payton prefers chocolate frosting and chocolate sprinkles. Only they call them jimmies at the shore.

One year we went back to the shore for Thanksgiving. It was cold on the beach, but we took a walk. Pay wore a Sox shirt, and no coat.

Back at home, we buy the MLB extended cable package so we can watch every Sox game. 

Payton always gets new Sox shirts for Christmas, which makes him smile. Santa knows what that kid wants most. 

Fuzzy dice to go with the new shirts. Good stuff.

I don’t remember what we were celebrating here, but I’m sure it was fun. And the Pedroia shirt means it was a special occasion. Or a Tuesday. Either one.

When Pay broke his wrist in the 5th grade and had to get a cast, he got a red one. While wearing a Sox shirt, natch. Then he tried to scratch inside the cast with a mechanical pencil, and the eraser got stuck and he had to get another red cast. Three days after the first one. I told him that if he did it again, the third cast would be pink.

There was no third cast.

This past summer, Pay had to go to Fenway without me. I was home recovering from the latest bout with the post-mastectomy infection and wasn’t fit to travel.

He brought me a get-well gift. Guess what it was: a new Sox shirt of my very own. My favorite player had changed his number, so I needed an updated shirt. Sweet boy.

Red Sox apparel is such a big part of Payton’s life, and his wardrobe. Our family has logged lots of hours at Fenway and spent even more time camped out in front of the TV watching games from home. We check the box scores in the morning paper, and on any given day during the MLB season Pay can tell you exactly how many games ahead or back the Sox are in the playoff pursuit. We’ve had fun seeing the Sox at our home ballpark, Minute Maid Park, during interleague play, and at Camden Yards while visiting friends in D.C. When the Sox were playing the Rockies in Colorado en route to the World Series, we were ready to pack up and drive there, but the quick sweep made it a moot point.

My baseball-loving son doesn’t have a lot to say; he’s a pretty quiet kid. But get him talking about the Sox, and you’d better settle in because it may take awhile. We’ve bonded over good games and bad, big hits and strike-outs, bad calls and triumphant victories, opportunities lost and capitalized upon. We are a Red Sox family.

And as another Little Season is upon us, Payton, the biggest Sox fan of all, just got drafted by the Yankees. Worst. Thing. Ever. (in his mind, anyway.) This happened once before, a few seasons back, and he was pretty upset. He handled it like a pro, though, saying he would wear the dreaded navy blue jersey, but with a Sox shirt underneath, close to his heart. And when he “lost” his Yankees hat a few days into the season and needed to wear a navy blue Sox hat, I didn’t question him. He decided he would play hard while on the field, because that’s part of being on a team, but would take off the Yankees jersey as soon as the games ended. I admit, it was pretty weird to see him in Yankees gear. Wonder if he can still fit into his shirt that says “Yankees Stink?”