Laughter

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I’ve recently started doing something that I haven’t done in years.  I’ve been laughing.  The sound often startles me, and the feeling in my belly is a delicious shock.  I lay in bed last night listening to an episode of Frasier playing on Netflix as I fell asleep, and I started laughing.  I jiggled the bed with my laughter.  I couldn’t seem to stop or catch my breath. Continue Reading »

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Trying to Live

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The trip to Chicago was good, bad, all mixed up together at the same time.  Being with my son was fantastic.  We were great travel companions.  There wasn’t one moment  between us that felt anything but easy and natural.  It was his first train ride, and it was good to see my grown up 22-year-old son have the excitement of a child in his eyes when the train began to roll down the tracks.

The pace of our trip of relaxing.  We had plenty of time to get settled once we arrived in the city.  The Palmer House was fantastic as always.  We dropped off our luggage and headed down for a lunch complete with Bloody Marys.   We sat watching the world go by and marveling that this one hotel could hold twice the population of our little town.

After lunch, we wandered over to the school he is considering.  We were early for our appointment, but that was OK.  They were able to accommodate us, and we were able to move up our appointment time and take in the visit at leisurely pace.  The studios and technological equipment were impressive.  It seems like a perfect fit, and I could see the excitement in my son’s eyes.  I saw something in him that I haven’t seen in years.  He was enthusiastic.  This was HIS choice, and his alone.  He was the guiding force behind what brought us there that day, and I was so proud of that.

We spent the rest of the day wandering around the city.  We sat from time to time and simply watched the world passing by.  Oh, yeah, the memories of past trips were weighing heavily on me.  Time after time, I had to redirect my thoughts.  The past is just that.  The past is that part of my life that is now behind me.  The pain of the past has been keeping me from creating newer happy memories.  Like a bookmark in my life, my past has kept turning me back to that same page over and over.

We had dinner at one of my local favorites, and I was thrilled that my son enjoyed it as much as I had hoped he would.  We wandered around some more and ended up back at the Palmer House lounge for a drink before bed.  The two of us sat at the bar and talked, watched the people around us, and chatted with the bartender (one of our favorite things to do!)  As we sat there, a woman (about my age) and a young man (around my son’s age) approached the bar.  They stood behind us, and waited for the bartender.  I smiled at them, and they smiled back.  I’m not sure why, but we all began to talk to each other as they stood waiting.  It was another mother and son traveling together!  They were from Australia.  We all hit it off immediately, and found a place to sit together.  We had the nicest time getting to know this other Mother/Son.  It had been a fantastic day, and we were smiling as we headed back up to our room.  We were both worn out, and fell asleep almost immediately.

I woke up the next morning feeling better than I have in months.  I had slept through the night!  WOOOOHOOO!  I hadn’t been able to sleep well for such a long time.  I woke up feeling fresh and rested.  I looked over at Andrew’s bed, and he was still sleeping.  I needed to get out and walk.  I wanted to enjoy these moment of feeling fresh, clean, happy, and free.  I felt energized.  I put my hair up into a ponytail and threw on a dress and flip flops.   Yeah…it was my $12 beach dress, which didn’t feel quite the same in Chicago as it did in New Orleans.

I set out by myself, just wandering.  I walked for a while, then I sat for a time watching the people and activity around me.  I ended up in a tiny park by the art museum.  I shouldn’t have wandered in that direction.  It was as if the damn memories drew me to them.  The park had three rows of benches.  I sat on the middle row facing Michigan Avenue.  I  sat alone and remembered.  I listened to the voice, and I cried.  I wandered past the steps and the Lions, and I cried even more.  I shook my fist at a fate that had betrayed me and my once-full heart.  I hated the hope that has dogged me and pursued me until it almost killed me.  Hope is a dangerous thing.  Hope is often seen as the thing that can keep a person going under the most adverse conditions.  I’m sure that is true in some cases.   Well, I am here to tell you that hope, if misguided, is something that can kill you.  It almost got me.  I have not doubt that it has taken the lives of others.

I forced myself away from the memories and back to the truth.  My misguided hope did not kill me.  I am tattered, broken, damaged, and changed.  I am not the same woman who wandered this path three years ago.  I liked her.  I miss her.  She didn’t know back then what she would ultimately be facing.  She was trusting.  She loved.  This woman I have become does not trust.  She does not easily love.  Deep breaths helped me settle my head and my heart.  It is what it is.  Let it go.  Let it go, and live your life.  I pep-talked myself on my way back to my son.

Andrew had gone on a walk of his own.  He was excited to tell me where he had gone and what he had seen.  Once again, he helped me step back into my life.  Yes, there is love.  There are good things.  My life is not over.  In many ways, it is just beginning again.  Slowly, very slowly, small moments at a time, I feel alive once again.

 

 

Oxford and Faulkner

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The next stop on our trip was Oxford, Mississippi.  Oxford is/was home to so many literary greats.  William Faulkner and Larry Brown both called Oxford home.  The world’s best bookstore is located in Oxford.  If you are a lover of Southern fiction, then Square Books is a little slice of heaven on earth.  Not only is it an independent bookstore, which I love, but it is so well respected and recognized in the literary world.  The weekly book signings in this little bookstore are an amazing who’s who of literary talent.

Square Books ~ Oxford, Mississippi

This isn’t the first time my family has humored me as I made my pilgrimage to Oxford and Square Books.  I have been enamored by Oxford for well over a decade now.  I have been a member of their Signed First Editions Book Club for years.  Each month, a new selection arrives at my home.  Years ago, I couldn’t wait for each new delivery.  I practically devoured each new arrival.  For the past couple of years, though, I have unwrapped the books and placed them on the shelf.  I couldn’t even tell you the title of last month’s selection.  I was ashamed as I walked through the doors of Square Books.  I felt ashamed and dishonorable.

All morning, I had been reading Sketches of New Orleans as we drove to Oxford.   I could feel something old begin to stir in me again, and I was ashamed that I had somehow lost sight of that (whatever it is!)  Ah, Square Books, the smells, so many covers to look at, so many things to pick up, so much possibility.  I wandered from shelf to shelf, table to table.  I knew I wouldn’t be leaving empty handed.

I saw my Dad in Oxford.  Last time I visited Oxford, he was with me.  He didn’t understand my love for the place.  Like T, he simply humored me and tolerated the time spent in this place.  My thoughts are jumbled, and I am finding it difficult to explain the budding feelings of myself that I felt as I revisited this place.  It is simply a bookstore, but to me, it signified so much more on this particular visit.  I suppose the best way to explain it is to say that it was deeply evident to me all that I have lost of myself over the course of these past few years.  These places I have visited, these memories that have been stirred, have reminded me that I once was a different, happier woman.  Perhaps, I have seen possibility and potential.

Thankfully, the girls loved Oxford.  This was not Em’s first visit.  As an avid reader, she was thrilled to be back among her own Southern favorites.

Lola and Emily petting a friendly cat in Oxford

After our time at Square Books, we headed over to the local favorite, Ajax Diner.  Larry Brown wrote often of Ajax in his stories.  Legend has it that it you toss a toothpick up and it sticks in the ceiling tiles, then your dinner is free.  I’m not sure if it’s true, but there are plenty of toothpicks in the ceiling.  Oh, and they serve fabulous southern soul food.

Ceiling tiles full of toothpicks at the Ajax

One last stop in Oxford, and we were on the road for home.  We headed over to the courthouse square.  Like any good southern town, Oxford has a Confederate soldier standing proudly as a memorial.  Oxford has something else. too.  Sitting quietly on a bench smoking his pipe, Mr. Faulkner observes the world around him.  Faulkner’s Oxford.  Faulkner’s world continues on and on.  What words would he use to describe the slightly troubled Midwestern woman who visits from time to time to kiss him on the cheek?

Faulkner's Kiss

New Orleans and Faulkner

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We left the Gulf Coast, and our three days of relaxation and sun, to continue our trip.  Like most of my life this past year, this trip has been (unknowingly) about revisiting the past and happier memories, but first we headed to a new place to make a few new memories.  We left Biloxi and headed through the bayou toward New Orleans.  It was an amazing drive.  I was awed by the evidence of hurricane damage.  Lot after lot was left with only driveway and foundation remaining.  Wooden platforms stood alone where they once supported homes.  We loved the wildness of the bayou drive.  Oh, how I wished to have a canoe or kayak to explore the waterways.  I understood why the locals refused to uproot to safer, higher ground.  This was certainly a place that would get into your heart, your blood, and your soul.  The bayou has a wild beauty that I have never experienced.  It was quiet and haunting.  I admired those who knew this beautiful land as their own.

We spent the day in New Orleans in the French Quarter, and I know it is a place where I will return to again and again.  One day wasn’t nearly enough time.  There was something to see at every turn.  The architecture was delicately beautiful.  The stench was overpowering on a hot day and reminded me of plagues of yellow fever with black swags on doors announcing death.  It was the oldest, most beautiful untamed city I could ever imagine in this country.

We had our destinations in New Orleans mapped out.  We parked our car and headed for Cafe Du Monde for cafe au lait and beignets. Delicious!  A hot beverage wasn’t really what any of us wanted in the heat, but it was delicious nonetheless.

At Cafe Du Monde

After our snack, we headed through Jackson Square.  It was a beautiful park with an incredible mix of musicians, artists, tourists, locals, homeless and crazy people, and performers.  I could have planted myself on a bench in the shade for the rest of the day to simply watch the people passing by, but we had a destination.  We were heading to Pirates Alley and William Faulkner’s New Orleans home.  The home is now operating as a tiny book store.

Faulkner House Books ~ New Orleans

Faulkner House is where my journey began to take on different meaning for me.  I LOVE, LOVE William Faulkner.  This certainly isn’t my first Faulkner pilgrimage.  For years, I have considered myself to be a student of Faulkner and Southern fiction.  That is to say, I DID.  At one time, I was knowledgeable about the latest offerings in Southern Fiction.  Larry Brown, Eudora Welty, Rick Bass, John Dufresne….on and on, I could endlessly list my favorite Southern authors.  At one time, I could tell you the exact release dates for upcoming Southern literature.  Back in 2003,  I was so afraid of missing the release of Larry Brown’s Rabbit Factory.  I was pregnant with Lola, and I feared that if I died in childbirth, I would never get to read his latest.  I emailed the publishing house, and they sent an unedited copy of the book which I was asked to review.  It is/was one of my most treasured possessions.  Larry Brown died shortly after the release of Rabbit Factory at the young age of 54.

I keep a picture of Faulkner on my desk at all times.  I’m not sure exactly what the draw is, but his writing and the style of Southern fiction speaks to me.  In Faulkner’s former home, I felt ashamed.  Where had my passion and love for Southern fiction gone?  When was the last time I read a REAL book?  I stood there in Faulkner House and let his spirit berate me for my neglect.  I gently touched the wooden door frame.  I placed my hand on the banister.  I let the spirit of Faulkner nourish my soul once again.  I bought a book written by William Faulkner at Faulkner House Books, New Orleans Sketches.  It was written in that very house.  It practically vibrated in my hands as I carried it out of the building.

As much as I wanted to sit down in Jackson Square and read the book from cover to cover, there was not time.  T and the girls had exhausted their patience with me and wanted to be on out way.  We moved down the street exclaiming over and over as we went.  There was so much to see!  Em dragged me into Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo, and I bought a voodoo doll.  It is made and blessed by a “local voodoo practioner.”  This voodoo doll is supposed to be made specifically for “Conquering Obstacles.”  Well, hey!  It could not have found a better home!

Voodoo Doll

I was sad to leave New Orleans, but I knew it was a place already dear to my heart.  I would be back, and my next visit would not be so brief.

The voodoo doll is now hanging in my room in Illinois.  Pepper the Wondercat is suspicious of the new presence in our space.  I caught him sitting on the dresser (which he never does!) and glaring at Voodoo Queen from across the room.  Maybe that’s a good sign.  She is already making her presence felt.  I am ready to begin conquering the obstacles in my path.  I’m ready to find that engaged and passionate woman I once was, and I can use all the help she can offer to me as I continue on this path.