Monday, June 30, 2014

Aunt D's Shocking Past


 ‘Les Demoiselles D’Avignon’ by Pablo Picasso

My grandmother taught me to respect and to be hospitable to others, especially when they were guests in her home.  Through her stories and her behavior, she also taught me not to judge others.  Kind of like the parables in the Bible, she often made her point by telling stories instead of by saying things outright.  When I look back over all the the stories that she told me about others, especially those about some of our relatives, I think that she was trying to teach me that it's okay to have your opinions about other people's actions, but you should keep them to yourself.  After all, we all have things in our lives we wish we could do over. We have all done things that may seem questionable to others; but life isn't black and white.  It is easy to judge someone if you have not walked in their proverbial shoes.  My grandmother was one of the most religious people that I have ever known, but she never used her religion as a platform to judge others.  I love that she instilled that in me at a young age.

Mawmaw used to tell me a lot of secrets; the older I got, the more she told me.  The most shocking story was the story about Aunt D's past.  Aunt D married into the family long before I came around.  In fact, her husband died before I was even born, but she still came to family functions and visited my grandparents from time to time.   Aunt D must have been in her seventies when I was a child, but she sure didn't dress or act like it.  All of the elderly women I knew dressed like little old ladies, but not Aunt D!  I NEVER saw her without full makeup, jet black, teased hair, skin tight Calvin Klein's, sparkly button-up shirts, and four inch heals.  Despite her best efforts, her age showed in the lines on her face, but never in any other way.  She walked with amazing posture and confidence not usually seen in women her age, especially women who had lived through as much as she had.  Not only was she relatively young when she was widowed, but she also had three children who were constantly getting into trouble.  Aunt D also carried a big secret in her lines and Calvin's, one more shocking than I would have ever guessed.

One day when I was about twelve or thirteen, I asked my grandmother why Aunt D dressed and acted so differently from other women her age, at least the ones that I knew.  My Mawmaw told me, mostly in French, that it was because Aunt D grew up very differently from the other women that we knew.  In fact, before Aunt D married into our family, she was a full time prostitute.  I don't know if I was more shocked by Aunt D's past or by the fact that I was hearing this story come from Mawmaw, who was undoubtedly the most prim and proper woman I knew!   I had never seen my Mawmaw treat Aunt D any differently than she treated anyone else, so how could she be an ex (shhh) hooker?  I was so naive.

My grandmother went on to explain that my Uncle C met his future wife in the bar where she picked up clients.  Apparently, Uncle C fell head over heels in love with her the day that he met her, and he did not waste time before proposing marriage.   From what I hear, he worshiped her until the day he died.  She must have changed her ways and devoted herself entirely to him as well because they were happy for many, many years.  Even on his death bed, he begged his family to please look after his "beautiful wife."  He was felt guilty about leaving her alone.  (I'm tearing up here.)

My grandmother treated Aunt D just as lovingly as she did everyone else.  She explained to me that if Aunt D's past didn't bother Uncle C, then it shouldn't bother anyone else.  Because of my grandmother, I never thought less of Aunt D because of her past.  If anything, I just felt more compassion for her. I often wondered, and still do, what kind of childhood she had and what led to her feel that she had to do what she did to get by.  From research I learned that she had at least eight siblings and came from a poor family.  Who knows what other factors led her become a prostitute.  Perhaps it wasn't her choice at all.

It makes me think of the movie Pretty Woman.  Like Vivian, Aunt D met her prince.  He saved her from a life where she felt she had no choices; he made her feel loved and cherished, maybe for the first time in her life.  Now that she is gone, I wish that I could go back in time and do something nice for her. I wish that I could ask her about her life with Uncle C. Their love and years of commitment to each other is living proof that we are not defined by our pasts and that love can truly change our lives.

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Friday, June 27, 2014

Ghosts in Our Family, Part One

Today I am going to tell you about my other grandmother, Mawmaw Thib (short for Thibodeaux).  I was close to her as well; I just didn't spend as much time with her as with the Mawmaw this blog is dedicated to, Mawmaw Aguillard.  I have a lot of interesting stories about Mawmaw Thib, most of them kind of eerie.

Mawmaw was one of the kindest people I ever knew.  She was also one of the most interesting.  Like Mawmaw Aguillard, she had lost people dear to her, including her first three children.  They were either stillborn or died shortly after birth.  Luckily, she went on to have four more sons, including my Daddy.

Mawmaw could not lie to save her life.  That's why her ghostly tales were so scary; I knew she would never just make something up to entertain me.  In fact, one of the scariest stories that she ever told me had a bit of physical evidence.

Mawmaw's grandparents in the woods somewhere around Breaux Bridge.  They didn't have electricity and the nearest neighbors were at least a half a mile away.  One night they were sitting in their living room lit by only a kerosene lamp.  The windows were open, as usual, because this was their only source of cool air.  Suddenly they began to hear a baby cry.  Thinking someone must have walked to their home for some unknown reason, her grandfather quickly opened the front door and walked out on to their porch.  When he didn't see anyone, he yelled out, "Hello, Hello?"  The crying got louder, but no one answered.  His wife joined him on the porch and they began to try to find the source of the mysterious wailing.  Grabbing the lantern, they began to search the property.  As they turned the corner of the house, they saw something on top of their rose bushes that stopped them in their tracks.  There was a tiny baby wrapped in a blue blanket ON TOP OF the rose bushes. The unfeasibiltiy of the situation was lost to the old woman as her maternal instincts took over.  She rushed to the bushes, grabbed for the infant, and held only a blue blanket in her arms.

The blanket stayed in our family for many, many years.  My grandmother's sister still had it when she told me the story decades after this baffling occurrence took place.

My Mawmaw Thib told me that her grandmother was never the same after that.  She just seemed to retreat into her own world.  No one has ever been able to explain what happened in those woods that night; maybe there is no explanation for such things, but they happen all of the time.

My Mawmaw Aguillard believed that these types of occurrences are often warnings or foreshadowing of some sort. I'm not sure what I believe, but I do know that there are far too many of these happenings in my family, things that I cannot explain with science, even though I would love to so that I would not have to worry about things that go bump, or cry, in the night.

Who could that baby have been, and why did the blanket not disappear with the baby?  I would love to hear your thoughts about this story or stories of the unexplained that have occurred in your own family.  Please leave comments below, and please don't forget to join my mailing list.  There are many more stories such as this one to come.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Christmas Hospitality

They say that every family has "colorful" people, and ours is no exception.  From cooky old men to washed up women of the night, our family has had them all. Don't get me wrong, most of our relatives are just regular people; they have their ups and downs but lead average lives with no big deviations from the norm. Life would be boring, however, if we didn't have some family members who live outside the box, and no matter how outside the box they were, Mawmaw still fed them, served them coffee on a silver tray (or had me do it) and made them feel welcome.  She raised my mother to be the same way.  They both taught me to treat everyone who came into our home with respect, no matter how crazy, drunk, annoying, or just plain nasty they happened to be.  Don't get me wrong, they couldn't wait until certain visitors got into their cars and drove away, but until they did, they treated them like they treated everyone else, with good old fashioned Southern manners and fantastic cooking.   Though I'm not nearly the perfect hostess like my mother and grandmother, their unconditional hospitality taught me to be less judgemental and more empathetic of others. Even though I don't judge them, it will still be a hoot to write about some of the hilarious things that they have done.

Though I doubt any of them will be reading my blog, especially the dead ones, I will still use initials to protect their identities.  Today I'll tell you about Cousin J, my mother's female cousin who showed up on our doorstep one Christmas Eve with a "present" Moma would never forget.

Moma was close to all of her cousins, including Cousin J.  Their families got together regularly, and Cousin J was, and still is, a kind, funny person.  Even though she and Moma were always friends as well as relatives, they lived in different towns, so they had different experiences, friends and influences.  As a result, they went in completely different directions both physically and morally.  My Mawmaw raised my mother to be a lady.  Not only was she prim and proper, she was genuinely flabbergasted by lewd behavior.  Cousin J had good parents as well, but she grew up to be a bar hopping, truck driving, love the one you are with kind of gal.  There is nothing wrong with that, but the things that she did and said sometimes shocked my rather sheltered mother beyond belief.

One Christmas Eve, Cousin J showed up on our doorstep with her daughter in tow. Her daughter was the same age as me; I think we were both nine or ten at the time.  She didn't have any gifts for her daughter, so my parents went out and bought a few things to put under the tree for her to open on Christmas morning. Moma and Daddy were by no means wealthy, but they worked hard and had big, generous hearts.

After sleeping in our immaculate guest room that night, Cousin J casually walked up to my mother, who was (surprise, surprise) cleaning before dawn, and asked her if she had anything for itching.  My mother, still in her suburban state of oblivion, innocently asked her if she "had a rash or something."  Her jaw then dropped to the you could eat off of the floor clean kitchen when Cousin J replied, "Noooooo, I have cooties!"  I don't know how my mother got through the rest of the day, but much to her credit, she never said a negative thing to Cousin J.  To this day, she still treats her the same way that she did before that Christmas.  All day long my mother cooked, cleaned and played the perfect host.  Meanwhile,  little blood vessels were breaking in her head as her anxiety and desire to disinfect grew intolerable.  Late that afternoon, Cousin J wasn't even half way out of the driveway before Moma snapped on her little yellow Playtex gloves and began to quickly yet thoroughly bleach anything and everything her cousin had touched, sat on or drank from.  Luckily, Cousin J had only used one bathroom (mine of course) while she was visiting because Moma didn't allow me to use that bathroom for weeks!

Cousin J was far from being our most most off color relative.  In the next few posts, I'll share stories about some others whose either lived on the wild side or who were not the brightest crayon in the box.  It takes a lot of colors to make a full box of Crayons, and our extended family about as colorful as a sixty-four pack.

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Monday, June 23, 2014

Living Without Regrets

My Daddy,
Carroll Thibodeaux

“Have you ever lost someone you love and wanted one more conversation, one more chance to make up for the time when you thought they would be here forever? If so, then you know you can go your whole life collecting days, and none will outweigh the one you wish you had back.” 
― Mitch AlbomFor One More Day

My parents and my grandparents all lost way too many people they loved way too soon.  Because of their losses, they learned how important it was to treat those you love like there is no tomorrow.  Luckily for me, they raised me to do the same.  Sadly, I lost most my father and my grandparents way too soon.  The most difficult loss was the loss of my father who died when I was only twenty.  It was sudden and unexpected. There was no time to say goodbye, no time to prepare for life without him. I miss my grandparents and my father every day, but I find comfort in knowing that they knew how much I loved them.  If I didn't truly believe that they knew how much I loved them, I don't think that I could live with the regret and the grief.  The grief is far too painful on its own.

Rules that I was taught to live by:

  • Dont' assume that you have time to show those you love how much they mean to you because they can be gone in the blink of an eye.  
  • Friends are important, but your parents and grandparents are the ones who love you more than you can possibly understand.  You don't realize their impact on your life until you can't pick up the phone and call them or drive over to their house and see them.  
  • Don't ever end a conversation without saying, "I love you."
  • When your parents and grandparents get sick, take care of them and spend every minute that you can with them.  They WILL NOT always be there when you have more time for them.  Make time now.
  • Ask yourself these questions: If you never had another day with them, have you said everything you wanted to say? Have you shown them how much they mean to you?
I was anything but a perfect daughter and granddaughter.  I got good grades and I didn't get into A LOT of trouble, but I went through a rebellious stage just like most teenagers. However, I always remembered these lessons that were instilled in me from a young age.  When my grandmothers were ill and in the hospital, I would spend the night with them so that they didn't have to be alone.  I never ended a conversation with my parents or grandparents without telling them that I loved them.  I asked them questions about their childhoods and listened to their stories with genuine interest. I never let them feel like they were a burden when they asked me for my help. I spent every holiday with them, and I did not let anything stop me from spending time with them. Time is the greatest gift that we can give those we love.  When they are gone, we don't regret a single minute that we spent with them.  We only wish that we had just one more day, one more hour, one more chance to say, "I love you and you mean the world to me.  Thank you for loving me."

The love that I shared with my father and my grandparents still carries me on my dark days.  I still feel them guiding me when I feel lost and alone.  Sometimes my father guides me in very obvious ways.  The sadness that I feel when I cannot drive to my grandmother's house and just spend the day watching television with her or when my grandbaby smiles and I so want my father to see her will never go away.  However, I find great comfort in knowing that they never doubted my love while they walked this Earth and as they left it behind.  I thank God every day that I told them how much I loved them every day and, more importantly, that I showed them.

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Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Faceless Woman

I was adopted by my parents when I was three weeks old..   They always told me that I was adopted, but the only information that we had about my birth mother was that she had given birth to me at a Catholic home for unwed mothers in Austin and that she was only sixteen years old at the time of my birth.  Even though I had amazing parents, grandparents and friends, I always felt like something was missing. There were so many unanswered questions  and just a feeling of never knowing who I truly was that often consumed my mind, even while I slept.

When I was about five years old, I started having a terrifying recurring dream.  I was out alone in the cold, dark night when I saw this big, eerie house through the fog.  Lost and all alone, I felt as If I had no choice but to go inside to  find someone to help me.  When I reached the big double doors of the ominous dwelling, I suddenly sensed that someone on the inside wanted me to open them without knocking. The doors were heavy, and when I finally pulled them open and stepped inside, they slammed shut so forcibly that I knew I would not be able to leave; I was trapped.

The inside of the house was just as creepy as the outside.  There was an expansive foyer with no furniture, lit only by the light of the moon shining in through the tall, Gothic windows.   The only thing in the foyer was a long winding staircase.  Hesitantly, I looked up at the top of the stairs and saw the silhouette of a woman.  I still get the chills when I think of her slowly descending the staircase and becoming more visible, more menacing. She wore a long blue dress that was cinched at the waist and her long black hair was pulled up in some sort of loose bun.  Then the light of the moon hit her face, and there was nothing there.  I couldn't scream; I couldn't move.  She just kept getting closer and closer until I knew that I would never escape.

After having this nightmare for months, I finally broke down and told my Mawmaw about it.  My grandmother was always very calm and sensible, so imagine my disquiet when she uncharacteristically became extremely upset, so much so that she called my mother at work.  I remember her telling my mother, mostly in French, that she was very worried and that my mother needed to do something about my nightmare right away.  She then tried to comfort me and assure me that nothing bad could happen to me because of a dream, but I knew that Mawmaw was worried.

Years later she would tell me that she felt that the dream was about my birth mother.  She confided in me that she had often feared that my birth mother would just show up one day and take me away from her. I told her that no one could ever take me away from her, but that I did want to find her someday just so that I could learn more about who I was and why she gave me up for adoption. My grandmother became very upset.  She said that she was worried that I would only be hurt by what I would find.  She told me to trust that there was a reason that God gave me to my parents and leave it at that.  Mawmaw was right.

I found my birth mother when I was eighteen and tried to have a relationship with her for years.  After countless empty promises and even being taken advantage of her financially and emotionally, I finally made the decision to cut her out of my life for good.

I am by no means saying that dreams are somehow prophetic.  Rather, I think that my grandmother had exceptional insight which was only magnified by her unflinching faith in God.  There are many other reasons that I believe she had an exceptional gift.   I will go into detail about those on another day.

I also believe that for some adoptive children, finding birth parents can be a blessing.  It ends years of wondering and can sometimes even lead to a renewed bond, especially if the adoptee has had a less than fulfilling childhood.   It can also be invaluable to know one's familial medical history.  Everyone should have the right to that information.

Luckily for me, my true family raised me with unconditional love and support which gave  me the inner strength to eventually realize that my I did not my birth mother's love or even her presence in my life to know who I was or that I was lovable. Even though I have made the decision to not allow her to hurt me anymore, I am still grateful to her for giving me life and for choosing to give me a better life than she could have given me.  Anyone who knows anything about my parents and my grandparents knows that she made the right choice.

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Friday, June 20, 2014

Some Gifts Last a Lifetime

Mrs. Myrtle (photo courtesy of her daughter, Ann)

The majority of my childhood days were spent with Mawmaw.  Moma never seemed to have a vacation from her nine to five weekday job, and Daddy's oilfield job took him away for weeks at a time.  However, there were times when MawMaw was ill or, on very rare occasions, out of town for a few days.  When that happened, my mom was in a pickle!  There were VERY few people who I would stay with other than my grandmother.  Her home was my second home and she spoiled me terribly.  Why on Earth would I want to go anywhere else?

When I was about six years old, my Mawmaw had to have surgery.  It was Summertime so my mother was not sure what to do with me.  She knew I would throw a fit if I had to be away from my Mawmaw for two weeks.  Lucky for me, Mrs. Myrtle, one of my mother's dearest friends, convinced Moma that I would be just fine if she left me with her during that time.

Other than my grandmother, Mrs. Myrtle was the only one who made me things on a regular basis.  She made me beautifully crocheted blankets, dolls with big, ruffled dresses, and the cutest little crocheted Octopus.  She was so kind, so talented, and so beautiful inside and out.  She was one of those rare people who you meet and just instantly love.

When I walked into her house on that first day with my color books and frown, she wrapped her arms around me and told me that we would have so much fun that the time would fly by until Mawmaw was better. She was so right!  We cooked, we listened to music, and we watched television while she crocheted.  She made biggest deal over every thing I drew, buttered, or sang for her.  I was happy when Mawmaw was better, but I would miss spending time with Mrs. Myrtle.

Not long after that Mrs. Myrtle had a birthday and we were invited over to her house.  I told Mawmaw that I HAD to make her something because, thanks to the two of them, I already understood that gifts that you took the time and love to make were very special.  I wanted Mrs. Myrtle to know how much I loved her. My Mawmaw, bless her heart, spent all morning showing an impatient six year old how to sew by hand. She had the patience of a saint, and by the end of the day I had made Mrs. Myrtle a homemade gift.  I put all of my heart into what was the ugliest, most crooked holder for her crochet needles.   Of course, my Mawmaw told me that it was beautiful and that Mrs. Myrtle would love it. Mawmaw was right.  That night after everyone else had given her their gifts, I proudly handed her that ugly little pouch that I had made with so much love.  That sweet woman made me feel like I had given her a diamond ring.  Years later when I spent the day with her, she opened her crochet bag and showed me that she still kept her needles in that silly little makeshift bag.  How lucky I was to have known her and loved her.

Mrs. Myrtle and Mawmaw have both been gone for some time, but I still feel loved and inspired by them. They both took the time and the effort to make beautiful things just for me, and more importantly, they both made me feel like I was special.  They also inspired me to make my own homemade gifts for those people I love. Unfortunately for those people I love, I still make ugly homemade gifts.  I can't use a sewing machine to save my life, and I gave up crocheting a long time ago because I didn't have the patience to improve my skills. But I have not given up!  Still inspired by them, I'm starting to make crafts for my granddaughter.  In fact, I went to Hobby Lobby two days ago and stocked up on supplies to begin my new craft adventure.  Hopefully I'll be able to post a picture of it on my blog soon.  I want Eleni to have things that her Mimi made for her from the heart.  I want her to feel as lucky as I did when I was a little girl.  And when she makes anything for me, I will make her feel like it is the most beautiful thing anyone ever created.  Luckily for her, her mother, my daughter Brittany, is very creative and talented.  I don't know where she gets her artistic talents, certainly not from her parents.  Perhaps it was because Mrs. Myrtle was with me when I was in labor with Brittany and God blessed me by allowing some part of that lovely woman to pass on to my child.  I like to think so anyway.

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Funny Friday Flashback

My MawMaw
My Mawmaw was one of the funniest people I have ever known.  Whether her funny moments were intentional or not, she knew how to laugh at herself which made her even more lovable.  As I have gotten older, I have come to realize that her ability to laugh at herself and life in general got her through pretty miserable situations.  I will tell you about some of the terrible hardships that she faced another day.  Today is a day to remember a few of the things that she did or said that still make me smile all of these years later.

According to my mother, my grandmother was quite entertaining when her children had sleep overs.  Mom loves to tell the story about how Mawmaw had to hide a black eye for a week because she was too embarrassed to tell people that she got it when she was playing hide and go seek with a bunch of kids in the dark and ran smack dab into the open closet door.  I know she would have laughed her butt off at me when, doing the same thing, I got stuck on top of the refrigerator and had to yell for help.  I told you I was a lot like Mawmaw!

Another memory that always makes me smile is the great pants adventure.  My grandmother NEVER wore pants. She wore her homemade dresses when she stayed home or visited friends, and she wore her store bought dresses to church and other public places.  It didn't matter if it was twenty degrees outside; she would just put on her stockings and repeat over and over again, "Bon Dieu, il fait froid."  ("Good Lord, it's cold!)  I remember one time when she made an exception.  My family spent many weekends at "The Old Place," the piece of farmland about twenty miles out of town where my PawPaw grew up (and where I live now). My parents bought a mobile home and moved it out here so that everyone, friends and family, could spend family weekends barbecuing, playing, and growing our own vegetables. Mawmaw had terrible varicose veins, but she was determined to help in the ever growing garden. Therefore, my mother had took her to Sears one day and told her that she had to buy at least one pair of pants to protect her legs from the cold and other hazards if she wanted to continue to help them with the garden. After protesting for a while, she finally agreed.   The next Saturday we were all outside when out comes Mawmaw in her new pants, which she had slipped on under her old dress.   Mom never told her she had to wear pants again.

The last story of the day is my favorite.  My Mawmaw was a generous, sweet woman who was determined to help out wherever she happened to be.  At least one weekend of the month, my Pawpaw would take off for the weekend to "play cards" for two days.  Mawmaw did not stay home alone, so she would come to our house.  I loved those weekends because she would stay up late with me to watch television and do just about anything else that I asked her to do.  Most of the time Daddy was off working in the oilfield when she would come over for the weekend, but when he was home he was a bit less thrilled about her overnight stays.  He loved my Mawmaw to death, but she never let him sleep past 4:30 a.m.  By that time of morning, she was already in the kitchen starting lunch or just putting my Mom's pots and pans where she thought that they should have been to begin with.  Being the sweetheart he was, he never told her anything about the early morning clanging of pots and slamming of cabinet doors.  He would complain to moma, but by the time he got to the kitchen he couldn't help but grin because, without fail, Mawmaw would just look at him and ask as sweetly as possible, "Pourquoi vous lever si tôt?" (Why you up so early?)

A Few Funny Tidbits about Mawmaw:

-She loved to fill out the crossword puzzle in the back of the TV Guide. How did she do it?  She would use the answer key in the following week's issue and simply copy the answers.
-She believed that moth balls were necessary to keep away all things creepy crawly.  As she grew older, she just kept throwing more and more moth balls into closets, drawers, etc.   When she passed away in 1996, I took some of her favorite gowns and other belongings and stored them in one of her suitcases.  To this day when I open it, the scent of moth balls takes me back to Mawmaw's house.
-She and my PawPaw had a love/ hate relationship.  They argued so much that I think it became their way of showing affection.  He loved to complain that she fried her chicken so long that it damn near broke his teeth to eat it.  Therefore, when she was really mad at him, she would leave HIS chicken in the grease just long enough to make sure he damn near needed new dentures by the time he finished eating it. He never got home until after we had eaten.  When he complained about his chicken yet again, she would just tell him to hush because no one else had complained about it.  Of course, he didn't know that OUR chicken was taken out of the grease about ten minutes before his chicken.  You could hear him biting into that chicken from across the house.

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Thursday, June 19, 2014

Cleanliness is Next to...You Guessed It!!

On all weekdays before I began kindergarten and on all school breaks thereafter, my mother would drop me off at my grandmother’s house on her way to her eight to five job. My grandmother had never learned to drive and my grandfather was never home before at least three o’clock, so we were alone most of the time. She had a strict schedule that she had developed which included heavy daily cleaning, cooking the meal for the day, praying her rosary, watching her “stories,” and teaching me how to be a little lady. She always allowed plenty of time to play, but there was plenty of time for little lady lessons as well.

There are so many examples of ways that my grandmother taught me to be kind, gentle, and nurturing. We prayed, we rocked, she sang, we cleaned, and we played. She taught me how to dress my dolls like proper young ladies, serve coffee to guests and speak French, the only language that she and my grandfather spoke ninety percent of the time. Looking back, if I had to choose one single example of a lesson she taught me, it is undoubtedly the sweetest, and the funniest lesson of all.

I have to begin this story by telling you that my grandmother was obsessed with cleanliness. Nevertheless, she did acquiesce to my fondness for making mud pies from time to time, especially if she had to work in her garden. Though the dirt on face and homemade dresses that she had lovingly made for me must have driven her insane, she never complained, nor did I even dare to resist her ordering me straight into the bathtub as soon as we went back into the house. I must have been the cleanest kid in Louisiana! (My skin is still dry to this day.) My mother laughs to this day when she says, "Sometimes I would get back from work and you had already had three baths."   “Ladies are always clean,”  Mawmaw would say as she powdered me from head to toe and put on my second or third dress of the day. She would then sing to me, brush my hair and make me brush my teeth- again!

Now that I am a grandmother, I find myself becoming more and more like Mawmaw. I let Eleni get dirty, but I am quick to clean her up. She has a little pink tub in my bathroom and we use it often, Of course, that is after I let her eat graham crackers and make a total mess. When she goes home, I clean, clean, clean. Until then, we play, play, eat, bathe. When I rock her to sleep, I sing to her. She is so used to it that if I stop signing, she pulls out her pacifier and hums until I start signing again. As she grows older, we will play with tea sets, give her dolls baths and, yes, make mud pies. I will even teach her some French songs that my grandmother taught me. I guess I should also buy some curlers for when she gets bored. God help me! As I do these things I realize just how much my Mawmaw loved me because I feel that love for Eleni. In that way, Mawmaw lives on, and I realize that she has been with me all along.

Mawmaw's Cleaning Tips: (Many of which I still need to employ!)

-Clean something in your house every day and it will never get dirty.

-You can never have too many dish towels.

-Begin your day by cleaning; get it over with. Plus, you rest better in a clean house.

-Rinse the bathtub after every use.

-Always fix your beds in case company comes over.

-Teach your children and grandchildren to clean at an early age.

-Don't keep stuff you don't need. She had virtually no closet space, but nothing was ever, ever out of place.

-Laundry hung out in the sun smells and feels better, plus it saves electricity. I could hang laundry on the line by the time I was five! Maybe that is why I keep bugging my husband to make a clothesline for me in our backyard. I miss the smell and feel of sheets dried out in the sun.

-Always have a few items of clothing washed and wrinkle free because you want to be ready to go; you never know when you will need them. Stuff happens when you least expect it to happen. Be ready and be clean.

-Now I need to go clean my house because if she saw it this minute she would fuss me for sure!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Money Doesn't Equal Love

This precious little girl is my first grandchild, My Sunshine, Eleni Renee. My daughter named her after my Mawmaw, Elena.  Being Eleni's Mimi is such a joy. Thanks to my daughter and son-in-law, I was blessed to be there when she drew her first breath.  Thanks to God, she lives across the field from me and I can see her every day.  From day one I have called her My Sunshine because no matter how rough things get, and they do get rough, she comes into the room and I cannot help but feel joy.

Three years ago I had to quit my job because of serious health problems.  Since then my husband and I have struggled, to say the least.  It is difficult not being able to help my children financially.  I often feel guilty for getting sick.  It is also difficult not to be able to buy little Eleni all of the things that I want to buy for her.  I see dolls and cute little outfits, and I just want her to have them.  Then I think of my Mawmaw.

My grandmother didn't have a lot of money, but I never seemed to notice.  She gave me so much of her time and her love that material objects just didn't matter.  I knew that she could not afford much, so when she did give me something, anything, I treasured it.  Year after year, I watched her save her coins in a bag that she hid in her bureau.  When Christmas Time came around, everyone would get something.  She couldn't drive, so she would give my mother the money that she had set aside for me and tell her to buy me something that I wanted.  When we went over to her house on Christmas Eve to open gifts, I was happy with whatever she bought for me, but I was even more happy to just be there with her.  Besides that, her food, especially her cake, was enough to make me happy!  All of these years later, I can still taste her homemade chocolate pecan cake.  She made the simplest things so damn special!  I will find that recipe and post it here before the Holidays.

Like my grandmother, I can't give Eleni a lot of material possessions, but I can show her every day how much I love her.  I sometimes have to stop myself from kissing on that child so she can breathe!  Like my grandmother did for me, I will bake her cookies, make her pancakes, stay up late and watch television with her, and most of all, love her to pieces.  I could not for the life of me tell you about any presents that I opened at my Mawmaw's house, but I can still hear the French songs that she sang to me, I can still feel the prickly curlers that she let me put into her hair when I was bored, and I can still feel the warmth of every time she held me when I was sad.  The gifts that she gave me were priceless; they showed me in countless ways that she loved me beyond anything I could understand until I held Eleni.

Mawmaw's Money Lessons:

- She never charged anything.  She saved until she could buy it with cash.
-She never spent change, particularly dimes (her favorite).  They went into her little bag so that when Christmas came around, she just had to start wrapping coins.
-She made a lot of her own clothes and saved her "good clothes" for special occasions.  One of my biggest regrets is that I never asked her to teach me to sew.
-She cooked (or reheated leftovers) every day.  Once she splurged and took the whole family out to eat at Ryan's, the buffet restaurant.  When the waitress came over and asked her if she wanted a plate for the potato bar, she made us all laugh our asses off when she looked at her like she was crazy and asked in her thick cajun accent, "Is that extra?"   She was frugal, but always generous.  When someone gives you something and you know that they had to sacrifice and save for it, it is so much more meaningful.  I'm sure she would have loved to have bought new dresses or new shoes more often, but instead she spent her rolled up dimes on her family.  That's love!
-Finally, she made a grocery list and did not get ANYTHING that was not on that list.  When I started driving, she sent me to the grocery store with her list.  One time I bought her something that wasn't on the list and she actually made me bring it back to the store.  Lesson learned.  Now I get it, Mawmaw.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

What She Taught Me About Life

My grandmother grew up in the rural South in the early part of the 20th century.   She was born in 1915, before women even had the right to vote. She had to quit school in the fourth grade to help raise her four younger brothers and help her father in the fields.  Despite her lack of formal education, she was one of the smartest people I have ever known.

When I was growing up I spent almost as much time with my grandmother as I did with my parents.  My father worked in the oilfields and was sometimes gone for weeks at a time.  My mother worked a full time job Monday through Friday, so I spent the majority of my days with Mawmaw.  She had a tiny house, a less than ideal marriage, and a difficult life in general.  Yet, she had a lot of faith, gave a ton of love, and made the best out of everything she did have.   

I have been married twice, have had two children, and have graduated from college.  Yet, the older I get, the more I realize how much I learned from her.  In fact, I find that the older I get, the more I act like her, as my mother (her daughter) loves to remind me.  I lost her many years ago, and with every year that passes i realize that if I am half of the woman she was, I will be a success as a mother, a grandmother, and a human being.  

Though inspired by her, this blog is not just about my grandmother.  One important thing that she taught me was that everyone comes into our lives for a reason. Therefore, I will also be reminiscing about other colorful characters from my life who have had a significant impact on me or who have just amused the hell out of me. I think that others will be amused as well, especially by some of my rather "special" extended family members. I'll share stories, recipes and even my new glorious adventures as a first time grandmother.  

I am at a difficult point in my life.  I have many health problems, Empty Nest Syndrome and other issues that are are forcing me to find not only ways to pass the time, but also ways to find new purpose in my life.  This blog will document that journey.  I will use lessons that my beloved grandmother, and a few others,  taught me about family, friends, food, and life in general to find a renewed sense of fulfillment and purpose.  I hope that you will join me on my journey.