Sorting, Donating & Remembering

 

peru days

Robert in healthier days, working in Peru (2016)

I have been putting this off. Not that I needed to do it in a hurry. Today I spent some time sorting through my husband’s jeans and shirts. He had a stash of jeans in large sizes – he used to be a big guy. Cancer diminished his body, but not his spirit. He had given away most every piece of clothing to a local shelter where he volunteered. The only clothing left in his closet were two pair of jeans, one pair dress pants, a sport coat and 3 shirts. Then I found the stack of jeans. I’m sure he planned to take the bag to the same shelter. I will do so this week, along with some sweatshirts and PJs that I found.

Robert was a bicyclist and loved riding the trails on his mountain bike up in Memphis and in Jackson. But here in New Orleans the terrain is flat. He loved riding these streets as well. Most days he would ride ten miles. He did that until earlier this year, until his energy was zapped by chemo. All the memories fill my heart as I sort through his old biking clothes – he was serious – he had all the gear of a racer. The elastic in his biking shorts has dry rot now. Ditching those.  One thing I know, is that my husband’s life is so much more than all these things.

Bike

Biking along the Natchez Trace

As I sort and pack up his clothing, my very heart hurts with pain. Until I pull out his favorite biking shirt. Neon reflective green, with black stripes. I can see him now, soaring over the hills and through the sand, never stopping, breathing deep, sweat dripping, blowing hot breath as he pedals up a hill. He is strong. He is muscular. He is healed.

As I will be one of these days. But until then, my heart still hurts.

Mardi Gras and “Coat of Many Colors” that we made; Riding the streets of New Orleans.
~~~~~

 

First Fruits.

401668_441891082489033_1446753152_nThe thought of leaving our home – this little blue shotgun house with the white picket fence – generates pain so visceral that my very nerves ache. My heart hurts. My toes want to curl up and hide. This was our plan for so many years. The grapefruits are beginning to ripen, as are the lemons. This will be our first year for grapefruits. Robert and I have always made preserved (salted) lemons to use in cooking and as salad dressing. Insects got the lime blossoms this year, so we only harvested one lime. The okra is about done for – I will pull up those 7′ tall plants soon. We need rain. It is coming.

557880_4836025583421_495101029_nSo what will keep me here? I have friends here, and a daughter and her family. I walk around the city. Nothing is the same. This house is not the same without Robert. This was our dream our entire marriage, to retire in our favorite city and live out our days eating muffalettas in Jackson Square and walking our dog on the streets of New Orleans. Meandering through the French Quarter and through the cemeteries. Trying out new restaurants and watching the boats navigate the Mississippi. Feeling the warm breezes in Audubon Park. Listening to good music and enjoying friends.

Robert loved the heat and humidity. Riding his bike and returning home soaked with sweat was his idea of a good time. But even the heat causes tears these days.

IMG_5860I have decisions to make. Should I leave, should I stay, should I try to make my roots deeper without the one that planned to be here beside me planting his own roots deep? Where is the joy in doing this alone? There is sweetness, surely, in the memories we made during the brief two and a half years we had here. I have a ton of memories (21 year’s worth) to go through and sort. Clothing, books, papers, artifacts from our travels. That chore alone will take me many months. Nothing will be done hurriedly.

grapefrI will harvest the lemons and preserve them in salt. Sometime in October or November, I will taste those first grapefruits by myself and relish the sweet labor that went into planting that tree years ago.

But tasting them without Robert will not be the same. Nothing will ever be the same again

                                                                           ***

The Moment of Departure

Friday, September 13, 2019
IMG_6761It is 3:00am on Friday morning. I am remembering. The coffee maker beeps and I go to the kitchen and make my first coffee in my cup from Elizabeth’s Restaurant – one of our favorite places for breakfast. My first memories of R’s and my time together are of our times on the phone on early mornings as we have first coffee in separate cities – I am in Jackson, MS and he is in Delhi, LA, back in 1998.  Nothing tastes quite like that first sip of Community Coffee as we look toward the rising sun.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019…(continued from last week)
I ask R. again if he is certain he is ready for Hospice. He nods. I call the doc and everything is set up before the sun goes down. R signs all the papers with the nurse and he is at ease over the decision. At last, I think.

1

Over the next 2 days R. is getting weaker and weaker, more pain. Several visits from loving friends from Rayne Methodist. He loves them as well. Afterwards, as he sleeps, I play Simon & Garfunkel. Silence like a cancer grows.

He can no longer swallow pills so I call hospice and they send out liquid morphine and Ativan. They say give him .5 ml morphine every hour. That’s not enough. He cries out in pain. Esophagus is inflamed and painful. Difficult to swallow, so I drip .75ml morphine into the side of his mouth as I gently hold his head. No sleep for either of us. He rests for about 10-15 minutes, then is in pain again.

I continue to get him up and on the walker from bed to sofa. Calls me every minute it seems. We say prayer together and he reads to me from the Upper Room meditation, then puts the booklet on the bedside table. “My greatest fear is that I will die mean & nasty  –  I want you to call me on it if i get that way.” I assured him I would. He has never been mean and nasty and I tell him I do not think he will start now.

Sunday August 18, 2019
I lie with him on the guest bed. He wakes – I mindlessly move something from one place to another on the bedside table. He is lucid. “Can you explain to me the logic behind what you just did.”  “There is none,” I smile and answer. “I am merely being here with you.”

I call hospice on Sunday morning and request a hospital bed, as he can no longer get up without help and I’m concerned he could fall.  I go to a local store to purchase single bed sheets. These are the sheets that my husband will die on, I think, and I weep as I make the purchase. Afternoon, aide comes and gives R. a bath in bed, then sits him up in the wheelchair. Hospital bed is delivered. While they set it up with much clanging, I wheel R. back to our bedroom. My son John, friend Carol Spencer and Pastor Jay Hogewood follow. Carol gives us communion, Jay anoints R. with oil. R. is looking for the W.H. Auden poem The Wave, his favorite line of which is I inhabited the wake of a long wave. He speaks with Jay about what he wants in his memorial service. Come thou fount of every blessing.

I tiptoe in to give him his meds tonight, “What’s going on”. I’m here to give you Morphine and Ativan. He pulls the sheet over his head like a little kid and says No.  I wait, then drip the meds under his tongue.

Monday August 19, 2019
Nurse is here and I assist her in changing the dressing on his pressure sore. I hold his frail body on his side so that he sits up a bit. He tries to focus on what we are doing as I hold him and the nurse replaces the bandage. His eyes open wide. “Is this it? Is this it?” No, this is not it R. This is not the moment of leaving this life to the next. “Are we in New Orleans?” Yes, we are in New Orleans. “Good,”, he says as I lay him gently back on the pillow. My husband is ever the curious.

Daughter Jennifer is here and she plays Bob Dylan, R’s favorite. We watch as his hands tap to the beat of Dylan’s tunes in his sleep.

Friends Kelcy and Jim Patterson stop by in late afternoon. Kelcy says she is staying the night and I am grateful. Jim is a physician and takes R’s pulse and listens to his heart. Later we tell all good night. We do not sleep. R is calling out for me all night; intense pain. More morphine and Ativan, not working; he calls me to help him, concerned that he might soil the bed. I struggle to get him up and on the bedside commode, then back in bed, and he is using all his strength to help. I ask Kelcy to help get him back in bed. “Put your hands around my neck” I say and he does.

I lift him up into bed and Kelcy lifts his feet , then with his arms still around me I pull him up so that his head is at the top of the bed. He hugs me tightly, and I have pleasure in that. “I think this bed is just for one person,” he says, “I don’t think you can get in here with me.” I agreed with him and pried his arms from around my shoulders and he immediately rested on the pillow. More morphine. .75ml. He sleeps for a few moments. Then he calls out all night in pain. I give him as much morphine and ativan as I can but he does not rest.

Tuesday August 20, 2019
Morning and R. struggles to breathe. Daughter Jennifer is here. About 10 am R. tries to sit up in bed, gargling acid reflux, “Not working, not working”. I call Dr. Jim back, as he and Kelcy had left a few moments prior, and he returns. He suctions out about a cup of brown acid from Robert’s throat. R. is still restless, but less pain. I give Jim the bottle of morphine and I cradle R’s head. We drip the liquid into his cheek. I watch R take two breaths, then no more.  The point of departure is here. “He’s stopped breathing,” I whisper. “Faint heartbeat. No pulse. Heart stopped. He is gone,” Jim says. I feel great relief for my husband. The pain has ended. I watch his face and for the first time in over two years there is no sign of pain, no sign of struggle, no sign of worry.

I kiss him goodbye.

Hello darkness my old friend, I’ve come to talk with you again.

 

 

 

 

 

Life Goes On

So this is the story ….. August 2019
My husband Robert – my heart and soul and love – died on August 20, 2019.  I am broken and raw.  I will try to summarize the past two years, and what led up to his death from gastric cancer. My chronology may not be exact, but this is how I remember it.

June 2016

My husband Robert finally retires to New Orleans, so we are together after almost 2 years living apart – me living in New Orleans having opened a business, and he living in Memphis trying to sell our house.  We are so excited to be together again. We have plans! Fun plans in our favorite city in the world, New Orleans.

March 2017 Robert has a bike accident.
Robert is out riding his bike. Seems a long time gone. I hear him come in. He walks slowly into the living room and says “can you put my bike away for me?” I look down and blood is running down his leg and arm. I aim him toward the bathroom and doctor him up as well as I can – scrapes and bruises. He seems ok, just sore. Next day he can barely walk so off to the after hours clinic we go. He is injured, with a cracked collarbone and bruises and contusions, slight back injury and possible groin sprain. He is bandaged up and sent home to check in with is regular doc the next day.

Doc does xrays and blood tests and sends him home with pain meds. He is on a walker for several days, then a cane. Doc calls – blood test reveals unusually high calcium phosphatase levels. This indicates that something is happening in his bones. His regular internist schedules tests.

April 2017 Sent to Oncologist.
Scans reveal numerous lesions throughout his body. On his femur, ribs, collarbone. Metastatic carcinoma of unknown origin, they say. He comes home and says, “They say I have cancer and I could be dead by Christmas.” We fall to the floor weeping together.

After doc visit,“I’m feeling great; how is it that I have Stage 4 cancer and feel good?” he asks over and over.  He decides to go to Peru again in summer for his teaching project, even though in pain in his thigh and back. After a couple weeks in Peru, he realizes his injuries are not getting better and he comes home and schedules another visit with doctor. He begins taking X-Geva shots once a month to build up bone where the cancer is destroying it. That is working. It’s a horse race between the X-Geva and the cancer.

Summer 2017 through Summer 2018, More Tests & Scopes, and a Heart Scare.
From summer into fall, R. undergoes scopes in every organ of his body. No cancer is found other than the original lesions on his bones. He rides his bike one morning and feels some tightening in his chest. He has appointment for an EKG anyway, so he decides to drive to Touro Infirmary. In the hospital, the tech is attaching electrodes and suddenly Robert says his chest is hurting and he is going to be sick – the tech witnesses him going into cardiac arrest and pushes the Emergency button. R is surrounded by about 15 docs and nurses, they tell him he is having a heart attack and he tells them to call me. They put in a stint, he stays overnight, and he is fine – just shaken up and confused about what happened. He goes home, takes it easy for a few days.

September 2018 Decision to Close Our Shop.
Caring for Robert and running our shop by myself was beginning to take a toll on my own health, and Robert was getting sicker – we jointly made the decision to close our shop. I am glad we did.

Finally, another scope of his stomach reveals cancer cells in the lining of the stomach – the origin of his cancer is discovered there. He continues to ride his bike and do normal things – he is extremely tired and has pain in his back and severe acid reflux. Now to formulate a treatment plan – chemo is first line of defense, so he begins his first 8 week round of chemo in October, and he is so ill we don’t think he will make it fully through the 8 weeks, but he does. He loses weight and is extremely tired. He does not enjoy any holidays. He is miserable.

January 2019 and a Reprieve.
He improves after the end of the first series of treatments and regains some of his energy and appetite. We take a cruise to the Yucatan and have a very pleasant and relaxing vacation. He is able to walk around ruins and eat everything. He naps when he is tired and we really enjoy the trip.

February and Decision to Stop Chemo.
Time for his 2nd round of 8 weeks, and he is dreading it. After two weeks he tells the doc he is stopping chemo, as it is making him too sick and weak to enjoy life anymore. His left lung collapses, and fluid builds up. Doc says if he cannot tolerate chemo, then insurance may possibly pay for immunotherapy. He begins Keytruda in May – a 1.5 hour infusion every 3 weeks.  I drain fluid off the left lung every other day at home, and he goes to Touro about every 2 weeks for right lung drain.

Chemo Destroyed Pleuri and Caused Bleeding Ulcers in Esophagus.
June and July he continues the X-Geva and Keytruda, and only gets weaker and his breathing is labored. He keeps going. He cannot eat without pain, is totally miserable and cannot tolerate food unless it is soft – and even then he eats only a tablespoon or so. He is trying so hard to get better. He has a PET Scan and the cancer is stagnant. No new lesions. The keytruda is working. But he is so sick because he cannot take nutrition and cannot breathe. There is nothing that will make him comfortable. He has no enjoyment of anything, cannot walk from the sofa to the bathroom without stopping to rest. Cannot ride in car without suffering.

Decision for Hospice Care.
On Wednesday August 14 he said, with difficulty, “I can’t go on like this. I’m ready for Hospice.”
~
I believe I can heal and move through my grief if I write this story. I will write more about this journey very soon. But for now, I will stop here and let my emotions rest awhile.  Here is a link to my husband Robert’s obituary. 

 

 

How do your memories influence your fiction writing?

“Any sorrow can be borne if it can be made into a story,” said Danish author Isak Dinesen (Out of Africa). 

8_Wells-LiteratureEmpathyMany of my friends are writers. Most of them I know very well. Well enough that when I read some of their work I occasionally recognize autobiographical events, people or places, but these “true” events and such have been fictionalized and told as if they have happened in the lives of the story’s characters. Every author writes from his or her personal experiences, and I believe the more you know about an author the better you can understand that author’s perspective and ideas and what they may be trying to get across to the reader.

In my experience, I’ve never written a story or novel from a preconceived outline or plot diagram. Things change too rapidly, and life may give me another idea that will work better, and the story writes itself like a runaway train. Cities and towns have souls and memories and stories just waiting to be mined.

I am guilty of stealing other’s life experiences as well, and giving them to my characters, changing them up a little.  A red-headed male friend once told me about being chased by a rooster every time he stepped foot in his grandparents’ yard. Seems the rooster was after his red hair, and his grandma shouted to that rooster, “Don’t you spur my baby you peckerwood”. That ended up being in the history of my protagonist in a manuscript – the red-headed boy was too easily remembered.

Humor is everywhere. My daughter’s boyfriend was learning to tie a necktie, and the stress he put himself through developed into a short story. He asked me if I knew how to tie a Windsor knot and I said to look up ties in the Encyclopedia (this was  in the olden days before Google) and he returned, downtrodden, and told me, “it said ‘see railroad'”.

My husband and I walked around Jackson Square in New Orleans late one evening. Fortune tellers and tarot card readers sat around at tables draped with fabric, candles burning, as they lured customers to their tables for readings. Suddenly a young man rounded the corner and had a python wrapped around his body. We walked a little faster around the Square, the man and python following us for a long while. This experience gave me a short story series.

Sadness and sorrow, as well as shock, are always singed in our memories. In my childhood I remember a little friend drowned in her father’s minnow trough. She was about 5 or 6 years old, as was I. My parents went to the wake and took me with them. I had no idea what had occurred until we arrived at the ramshackle house on the outskirts of Hattiesburg MS and saw people peering into a long wooden box on the dining room table. Children climbed on chairs to have a look. I did not want to miss out on whatever they saw in there so I mounted a chair and looked in and was stunned to see my friend, her little body perfectly still in a pretty pink dress, her lips blue, sleeping in that box. That scene will never leave me. I’ve included the scene in one of my novels.

There are so many scenes from my childhood that I’ve used in numerous places in fiction, hiding them in different places than they occured, most times, or they hide themselves, or take a turn you did not expect. When you are going in one direction and think you know where the characters are headed, they just may surprise you and hop on a freight train!

What are some of the events tattooed in your soul? (I promise I won’t steal it, although I may change it up a bit so you won’t recognize it!)

The Lane Cotton Mill

Cotton fabrics from my closed storefront shop are now stored in a former mill that manufactured cotton fabric in the 1800s on Tchoupitoulas Street. The mill first opened in 1852 and operated until 1950 – today it has been reconfigured (adaptive re-use) into storage units. The history of Lane Cotton Mill is fascinating to me. But what I really found most interesting is this photograph of Lane Mill workers taken in the late 1800s, early 1900s.

shorpy_02876u

Lewis Hines, “Group of workers in Lane Cotton Mill, New Orleans,” The Historic New Orleans Collection

What’s the first thing you notice? The boy speaking to his buddy behind him. “Stop poking me.” Or the one directly behind him with that lock of hair and impish grin? The one beside him, on the right, standing proud, hat in hand? Every person had/has a story.

What I also notice is the worn-out knees of those pants, the youth who were expected to help support the family at 10-12 years of age. Child labor was a necessary thing at that time. Perhaps those are sisters, brothers, in the background.

Our house on Laurel Street here in New Orleans is located about three blocks from this mill complex. Built originally as a “double shotgun” with two apartments, each side of the house had a living room, middle bedroom and a kitchen in the back, with no indoor plumbing (more history about shotgun houses here). I don’t know if our house was built originally by manufacturers for their workers or not – probably not – but it was converted years ago into a “single” with three small bedrooms and 2 baths.

The evidence of streetcar rails can be found in certain spots along Laurel St, so the location was convenient for workers to travel to and from their jobs. Or walk to Lane Cotton Mills.

In my imagination, people were packed into these little houses. Living rooms doubled as bedrooms. High ceilings (ours is 11-12′) and numerous windows allowed for air flow and the closeness of these houses allowed for little privacy. Noise travels. Young women probably worked until they married and had children, usually very young. Here’s a pic of some of those young women, with their tin lunch buckets.lane+cotton+mill

I now work out of that same cotton mill, only now I’m set up in the wide hall and I cut fabric for my online shop while imagining those voices and noises from the past as those loud machines processed cotton from upriver and made it into cloth. During the Civil War the mill was commandeered by Union forces to stop the manufacture of Confederate uniforms, to destroy morale. This photo shows those oil-stained floors (where I set up to cut fabric) and some of the machinery that wove cotton cloth, now replaced with metal storage units.

img_4538Are those boys and girls longing to have their stories told? I think they are.
***

The photographs here are from the archives of Store-All, the current owners of these fabulous brick buildings.

 

lanemill letterhead

Letterhead from Lane Cotton Mills. The large building at the left of this photo is currently occupied by Rouse’s supermarket. The remainder of the complex has been adapted for storage. Cotton fabrics and all that we materialistic people hold onto.

P.S.: Just listened to archived interview of Charles Neville prior to his death. He grew up on Valence St., with no electricity and an outdoor toilet – when they moved to the Calliope Projects he said that was a ‘step up’. He said his mom, Amelia Landry Neville, had worked at Lane Cotton Mills where my fabrics are currently at home – right at the end of Valence St! This is the only person whose name I’ve heard who has worked there – I wonder if she is in the photo above. Charles Neville passed away on Thursday, April 26, 2018 at 79 years old. Click here for an archived interview: https://www.wwno.org/post/music-inside-out-remembering-charles-neville

Moving: New Venues & Adventures!

After 4 delightful years at the little shotgun house on Magazine Street, Uptown Needle & CraftWorks is MOVING!

Our last day of business at 4610 Magazine will be October 6. We are moving in a couple ways — temporarily to an online shop, as well as to new venues for workshops. You will hear more about this exciting news in weeks to come as we transition to this new phase.

We will be offering workshops and our products in Covington and at the Backroom on Bourbon (part of Jezebel’s ). We will also continue to offer workshops at 4610 Magazine with the new tenant, Home Malone, where owner Kristen Malone represents over 80 artists and features fabulous products made in the Deep South. Kristen plans to open her 2nd location in January 2019.

Many of you know that my magical husband/partner Robert has been living with “metastatic carcinoma of unknown origin” for over a year and a half.  Even though he has cancer in his bones, he felt wonderful for over a year now – riding his bike 10 miles a few times each week, planting a garden, teaching and working in the shop.
Fast forward to July of this year and weeks of physical distress for R. Thanks to the wonderful doctors at Touro Infirmary, the origin of those cancer outliers was finally identified. Robert has a port (he calls it his USB) and will begin chemo this week with a mixture of chemicals that will attack those renegade cells with the fury of a bad storm.  He has documented his journey thus far on his blog here.
We are very excited about this transition, and I am pleased to have the freedom to focus on my husband and our life together. I will keep in touch through my blog and through email newsletters about workshops- and perhaps a “reunion” soon.
When we opened our shop in 2014 the #1 focus was never on selling fabric, yarn or handmades. It was on building community through community engagement. You have created a wonderful community that today totals over 3500 strong! We thank you for sharing your love, support and creativity with us. We will miss you all more than you know.
See you soon at a workshop near you, or through your orders online! If you have not checked out our online shop, please do!
Peace be to all, and please keep us in your prayers.
Emma & Robert

 

AND WHAT’S A MOVE WITHOUT A SALE?
Up to 50% OFF* 
ENTIRE STOCK!

  

* ALL Fabrics & Pre-cuts 40-50% off regular prices. PLEASE NOTE:
Our website cannot offer the 40% fabric discount through the regular purchase platform; however, you may certainly browse through our fabrics here, make note of what you would like, call 504-302-9434 to pay by credit card. We will be happy to mail your order for our flat rate of $9.99.
* Handmades, Bags, Clothing 30% off
* Notions, thread, patterns, trims & kits 40% off
* Scrap Paks 50% off

* Sale now through October 6 only!

 
We are selling some of our furniture/fixtures and class supplies as well, so if you’re in the neighborhood – stop in! You’ll find some funky stuff! We will be at this location through October 6, then packing for the move.