Lemons still on our tree
The best thing about New Orleans is that everything grows. The worst thing about New Orleans is that everything grows. Given time, a tiny cat’s claw vine will take over anything in it’s way. It will even invade an attic if there is a crack in a window. It will grow underneath siding and emerge through a hundred-year-old wooden shutter, clinging to rusty hinges and reaching towards the sunlight.
Every year Robert makes preserved (salted) lemons. He squeezes the lemons, cuts them up, adds Kosher salt and seals this up in jars. After about ten days or so, the lemon juice becomes syrupy and the lemons become soft enough to mash. The juice has a distinctive rich lemony taste that adds deep flavor to anything – guacamole, soup, salads. We have several citrus trees in our yard. Our semi-tropical climate is conducive to thousands of plant species. Many we don’t want. Many we do. Our grapefruit tree has its first 3 fruits that we are waiting to pick, as soon as the green disappears.
Grapefruit, almost ready
There is an old storage shed in our backyard made from the original slabs of bargeboard in the walls of our house. Beside the shed grow invasive elephant ears and Mexican petunias. We dig them up month after month and they keep coming back. On the walls of this shed, the cat’s claw vine creeps up. At one time it covered the roof but we hired someone to pull it all down and dispose of it. But it comes back. Always. In dry climates I hear that the plant is propagated because it is drought tolerant and has pretty yellow flowers. Well, yes, it does. But it grows maybe a half-foot per day here in NOLA.
So how do we co-exist with things that grow and are valued elsewhere, but are hated here in our own back yard? I think of the cat’s claw vine like I do my husband’s cancer cells.
Cat’s claw vine trying to take over our backyard shed
We tolerate them, but we try to live as if they are not there. We try to do what we can to eliminate them, and we hope what we do is good for us and for the “good” plants (and “good” cells). All we can do is try to keep these things under control so they do not smother out the good things in life.
We enjoy our fruits, and keep planting good things – like more orange trees, more herbs and veggies – the “good stuff”. Maybe the good stuff will outgrow the bad. We can only do what we can. We can only hope.
That’s what this Christmas season brings to me. Hope. Hope in the future. Hope in good health, good energy, good friends and
Cat’s claw vine growing through our neighbor’s historic shutters. There’s no apparent origin – unless the vine is growing under the siding.
Posted in New Orleans, Uncategorized
Tagged cancer, cat's claw vine, Christmas, gardening, gratitude, health, home, lemons, New Orleans, preserved lemons
A couple of months ago, my husband R. was diagnosed with Metastatic Carcinoma of Unknown Primary. At first we are numb. Walking around staring at each other, trying not to get teary-eyed, but doing it anyway. Now, a few weeks down the road on this new journey, we’ve moved into another phase. Not acceptance. It’s something else for me. R. has an “attitude of gratitude”, and I’m into some other twilight zone of feeling I have not quite owned up to. I’m dealing with this new circumstance as I deal with most others.
I’m making things, keeping my hands moving. Yes, I’m escaping in a sense. Sometimes escape and denial is necessary to get you through. I’m making tiny houses. What is a house but a place where a soul resides. Little doorways. When I’m stitching, I do not have to think so much about the fact that my husband will gradually disappear from this life. But all these thoughts jump back into my stitches. I pray for him to not have pain. I try not to think about how lonely I will be in the future in this house.
I try not to think a whole lot about what I’m doing and my mind can wander off down the endless avenues of my brain. Every stitch a prayer. Going down one way I think of the beauty of the fall season here in New Orleans, which is the cooler temps. Then my thoughts take off another way and wonder about that hurricane that is forming and heading our way.
But with each stitch, each pull of this deep purple thread tightening that little doorway, I am thinking of what these cancer cells are doing to my husband day by day. And that I can do nothing to stop them, nothing to stitch those cancer cells up in a little box and burn them – and my scissors cannot cut off their threads of multiplication. It’s going to be a long journey. Over time, about twenty minutes into my little house, my brain settles into the rhythm of my stitching, and I am once again in a meditation zone. I’m not in charge. And every stitch is a prayer.
Posted in cancer, creativity, depression, healing, life-writing, memoir, Uncategorized
Tagged cancer, creativity, family, gratitude, hand-stitching, New Orleans, sewing
On Dec. 23rd I left New Orleans around 4pm and entered a driving rainstorm on I-10, just as I got to the Huey Long Bridge. Cars were going about 25 mph because you could not see anything. The blackest clouds I’ve ever seen hovered above. I thought about turning back, but was caught in the line of traffic, so I drove on to I-55 up to Jackson MS to stay overnight with one of my daughters. I planned to go on to Memphis the next day and spend Christmas with my husband. Anyway, after 4.5 hours on the road in the rain and lightning (and I forgot to say I had a psychotic dog with me), I finally arrived at her house around 8:30pm. She had left the door unlocked for me and said she would be there in about an hour or so. I helped the dog, Abbey, from the back seat and grabbed my bag. The front door was indeed unlocked, so I walked through with my dog, dropped my bag on the chair, and let Abbey out into the back yard – after all, it was a long trip. She refused to go out in the rain so I had to force her out and go out with her. Suddenly the wind blew the back door shut. I reached for the doorknob in panic – yes, I was locked out. I am usually quite resourceful in times like these, so I looked for a way over the fence. I can knock on a neighbor’s door and ask them to call my daughter, I thought. No luck. The board fence was too high and I could not get a foothold on the narrow boards. I even dropped a table from the deck over the fence thinking I could drop over and land on the table. Well, I’m also 65 years old and the possibility of my breaking something is real. I had no idea where a gate was. It was on the other side of the yard, in a very dark corner. I fiddled with the gate latch and tried several times to open it. No luck there either. Lights were on in the backyard neighbor’s house. I grabbed a plastic paint lid, climbed on the narrow fence rail and peered over, then threw the lid so it hit the window of the family room in that house. Apparently no one was home because no one came to inspect the noise. Next I found a fire poker on the deck and pried off the screen of a window that looked unlocked. Trying hard as I could, I could not get the window up. I gave in to the fact that I was stuck outside in the rain and lightning with a panic-stricken dog. We hunkered down against the back door, getting soaked and cold. The dog shook with fear. I held her tight. I prayed. I thought. I wished and I cried with frustration. Temperature was dropping. About an hour and a half after I first arrived, my daughter and granddaughter came through the front door. At first they did not understand why I was outside knocking. When they opened the back door and saw Abbey and I wet and sad, they knew. My daughter made me hot tea while I took a comforting warm shower and put on dry clothes. I dried off Abbey and she flopped down on the carpet to sleep off the episode. Another day in the life of a fallible human, I thought.
I’m home in Memphis this Christmas Eve evening. We plan to go to the 11pm service at Saint John’s. While I was stuck outside last night I thought about the Christmas story. No room at the inn. A warm trough. I thought about my life over the past year. Living in two places. Taking a risk. Despite everything, I am grateful. Grateful for hot tea and warm clothes and a warm bed. Grateful for my family, my friends and my life.
What are you most grateful for?