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Five years from now, you won’t even know this world.

What does the future hold?

My father said to me many times, “Emma, five years from now you won’t even know this world.” When I was younger, the world did not seem to change much over the years for me and I dismissed his statements as just due to age – that he was resisting change. After all, he resisted the invention of TV, Bic pens and Sweet n Low.

Now that I am in my senor years, the truth of his sagely wisdom has now become a part of my truth as well. The world does seem to change drastically every five years, although slowly at times – and at other times events shift the world on its axis.

Five years ago I was running my shop on Magazine St. in New Orleans, happily teaching creativity classes in art, sewing, embroidery, writing and such. Customers became friends, and I was enjoying my new life in the City that Care Forgot. I became part of the vibe: Mardi Gras; Festivals; The Saints; Hurricane Preparedness. I was living in the back of the shop at the time while my husband Robert stayed behind in Memphis trying to sell our house. That would take another year, then he could retire to our favorite city and join me.

Over the five years between 2015 and 2020, life took some awful turns, dragging me along like a dog stuck to a bumper. Here is a summary of events:

2016 – House in Memphis sells, Robert finally retires to NOLA
2017 – R. has a near-fatal bike accident; xrays reveal cancer
2018 – I close the shop to devote 100% of my time caring for R.
2019 – Robert dies (see other blog posts for this nightmare), I sell the NOLA house and move to Waveland
2020 –I fall from ladder, get bursitis in hip; February, I’m diagnosed with Thyroid cancer; have thyroidectomy, tumor is benign. March, Covid 19 appears and the entire country is shut down; I isolate myself to stay safe.

on one leg

Great Blue Heron on the beach near my house

So here we are in June 2020, and there are riots in many major cities, this virus is still not under control, our infrastructure is falling apart and our President seems unconcerned. Most people are still isolating themselves, trying to stay healthy. Travel is severely limited. Yes, a lot has changed in 5 years.

Many things I have prayed for them to change – like racism. In a hundred years you’d think we had learned something.

Maybe in five years.

I am living over in Waveland, MS, in a small town and a new community, away from family, struggling to make new friends in the midst of a pandemic. Painting and writing and sewing to try and keep myself sane. Then I watch the news and see death, chaos, burning, stealing.

Who would have predicted all this five years ago?

Will things be better five years from now?

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

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Cooking Clothes

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My mama “cooked our clothes” on a stove much like this one. There was always an empty coffee can on the stove for bacon grease.

 

Growing up we were a family of 10 living in the same household. My mother, father, 6 children, grandmother and uncle. We had no automatic washer so my mother and grandmother boiled all our soiled clothing, including sheets, towels and such in a tall, large pot on the stove.

Quilts and blankets were usually washed once a year in the bathtub.

A strenuous job any time, and especially in the summers in Mississippi. (No A/C of course) There was a long wooden spoon that my mother used to lift up the sheets from the pot and poke them back down and stir around.

She carried this heavy pot to the bathtub and poured the pot of clothes into the tub where she rinsed and wrung them out. This pot of wrung out clothes she then carried outside to the clothesline and she hung up each piece carefully, securing with wooden clothespins. Her hands sometimes bled from the caustic soaps.

As a small child witnessing this ordeal, I remember asking her why she cooked our clothes.

For things that were badly soiled, like my four brothers’ jeans, Mama had a scrub board she put in the bathtub and she rubbed the soiled items with a cake of lye soap. She also had “soap flakes” she put in the big pot – I assume these were flakes of lye soap. Years later, when we finally moved to a modern house and we had a washer and we ran out of Tide, she would still write “soap flakes” on her grocery list.

When I was about twelve or thirteen a laundromat opened 2 blocks away and every Friday night I would take a book with me and spend a couple of hours there washing our family’s clothes. I was the girl, after all.

We were not as concerned about having cute clothes, the latest styles, or even whether or not we liked what we wore. Having clean clothing was the luxury, with all my mother went through for us to have this. As usually is the case, I did not appreciate what she did at the time as much as I do now.

What do you remember that your mother did when you were little that you appreciate greatly now?

 

Everything Grows

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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.

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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.

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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

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Cat’s claw vine growing through our neighbor’s historic shutters. There’s no apparent origin – unless the vine is growing under the siding.

good fruits.