Given a choice, my mother preferred not to travel. She enjoyed being in new places, visiting family members and taking in the occasional entertainment, but she despised the process of getting from point A to point B. Packing for a trip was agony – so many decisions needed to be made! Even getting the house cleaned and put in order before leaving created high anxiety, but it had to be done. What if you died on the road? Certainly you wouldn’t want strangers roaming through your bedroom, running their fingers over a dusty night stand and telling one another you were slovenly.
As for those hours in the car, there weren’t enough magazines, knitting projects or books in the world to overcome her impatience. Sometimes she seemed to be thinking, “If only I could close my eyes and discover when I opened them this misery had passed.” Other times, she put her feelings into words: “If I’d known it was going to take this long to get there, I would have stayed home.”
Now and then someone with an inclination to tease would call her “Dorothy”, and everyone understood the reference. She’d just laugh and say, “If someone gave me a pair of ruby slippers, I’d be out of Oz in a minute. Being able to click my heels and go would make life a whole lot easier.” Continue reading
Despite the drought, despite an area-wide ban on the sale or use of fireworks and despite even the children being denied their sparklers and snakes, the traditional Independence Day show will go on in Houston. Billed as an “extraordinary extravaganza”, the Freedom Over Texas festival is a wonderful event that also exemplifies the sort of hyperbolic excess dear to the hearts of civic boosters everywhere.
Houston’s not alone, of course. Washington D.C. planners are promoting “spectacular” fireworks explosions over the Washington Monument. Huntington Beach promises the “largest parade west of the Mississippi River”. New York City will be “displaying its patriotism through massive fireworks” and Boston intends to celebrate “in a big way”. San Francisco and Chicago will provide “magnificent” and “breath-taking” events, while New Orleans will tow out a barge to make it all happen. Not to be outdone, San Diego will be broadcasting their “Big Bay Boom” live to the web with helicopter views, ensuring that the rest of the country will have opportunity to see the show “rated Number Seven by the travel industry”. Continue reading
Goin’ down to the Delta,
lookin’ for a brand new rhyme,
Gonna find me a clock
that don’t tell a single time,
Gonna find me a river
where the muddy waters flow just fine.
Interstate highways are fine things. For my generation, one that always considered “going for a drive” a perfectly legitimate form of entertainment, the beginning of the interstate highway system meant an expansion of freedom and an increased sense of mobility, a sense greatly encouraged by speed limit signs suggesting drivers determine their own “Reasonable and Proper” speed.
Today’s speed regulators aren’t quite so laissez-faire, but by the time those signs disappeared I’d learned a thing or two about the difference between driving and traveling. Today I worry less about making time and focus more on spending time – rather different pursuits, no matter where you’re traveling.
Between Memphis and Vicksburg, a driver can make great time on the interstates. But to the west of I-55 and north of I-20 lies a fertile, alluvial plain whose richness of culture and history equals the richness of its soil. Bounded by the Yazoo to the east and the Mississippi to the west, the Mississippi Delta is shaped, nourished and occasionally destroyed by the rivers that roll along her edges. Experiencing her life requires a little slowing down. Continue reading
There’s no escaping the scent of gentle chaos wafting through these last days before Christmas. “I loves me some Christmas,” says the woman to her companion in the checkout line, squinting at her notebook . “But I swear. If I never make another cookie it’ll be too soon.” I love cookies as much as the next person, but my sympathies are all with the woman. Even as I’ve pulled out angels and garlands, decorated trees, wrapped gifts, sent cards and done my own baking I’ve found myself thinking, “I could stand some peace and quiet.”
The quiet’s as important as the peace. The pressures of the Christmas to-do list are one thing, but the season can be noisy to the point of distraction. Grandma doesn’t go quietly when she gets run over by that reindeer, and hearing the Chipmunks’ version of Jingle Bell Rock piped through the produce aisle at full volume is more annoying than festive. While the carols and seasonal songs blare away, families squabble and impatient horns fill shopping mall parking lots with the honking of a thousand demented geese. The decible level of life rises perceptibly.
Even at night, the peace and quiet of hours meant for sleep is disturbed by the ebb and flow of incessant, internal questioning. “What have I forgotten?” “Who will be offended..?” “Can we afford..?” “Will there be time..?” If dawn brings nagging children and snappish adults, it’s little wonder that by Christmas Day many are ready to throw out the tree with the wrapping paper and get on with it. Twelve days of Christmas, stretching on to the Feast of the Epiphany, seem a horror. Who needs more Christmas when we already are exhausted and drained? Continue reading
A recent lazy-afternoon stroll through Galveston left me marveling over the heaps and piles of merchandise that overflow the shelves of souvenir shops along Seawall Boulevard and the Strand.
The souvenir business is interesting, and if my afternoon browse is any indication, it hasn’t changed much over the decades. Asked about her top products, the proprietess of one shop acknowledged that tee shirts, coffee mugs, salt and pepper shakers, risqué shot glasses, refrigerator magnets and beach towels are her most dependable sellers. “They move a lot faster than my candles and iPod covers,” she said. “People like the high-end stuff, but once you get home you can’t tell the difference between the soap you bought here and soap you’d buy at Dillards. People want to prove they’ve been on The Island, not in a Houston department store. If you put “Galveston” on it, it’ll sell – that’s the name of the game.”
Shops do carry quality items that reflect Galveston’s life – there are books filled with Island history, chronicles of storms, photographs and tropical art – but most souvenirs are, to put it charitably, generic. They could be sold anywhere. There’s nothing unique about a Galveston kite or Galveston Koozie apart from the name. If you purchase a tee shirt emblazoned with the phrase Genuine Galveston Souvenir Tee Shirt it comes with a guarantee you’ll someday meet someone wearing a Genuine (Pick Your City) Souvenir Tee Shirt .
Even the sand dollars, sundials and lightning whelks filling the baskets by the cash registers are identical to those found in shops from Port Isabel to Key West. Shelling on Texas beaches is erratic at best, and no retailer would dare depend on local sources to stock the shelves. So, Wholesale-SeaShells-R-Us steps in, ready and able to supply the souvenir needs of an entire city. Continue reading
Before words become language, they exist for us as sound and rhythm and the sounds and rhythms of childhood words endure to the grave. Speak to me the simple phrase “teddy bear” and I see a stuffed animal, its paws limp, the brown plush fur worn away on its left arm, one faceted jet button-eye missing. But repeat the words, give them a lilt and a bit of a meter and you may hear what I hear: the sudden slap of summer jump ropes, the girlish giggles, the hissing intake of breath as a jumper struggles to finish with the rhyme.
Teddy bear, Teddy bear,
Touch the ground.
Teddy bear, Teddy bear,
Teddy bear, Teddy bear,
Show your shoe.
Teddy bear, Teddy bear,
That will do…
Even after language develops as a tool of communication the sounds endure, resonant and pure, flowing just beneath the surface of consciousness. While reading recently about alligator scutes and alligator gar scales, two natural oddities of Louisiana life, I discovered it wasn’t the meaning of the words but their sound which brought to mind a verse once as familiar as my jump-rope rhymes.
What are little boys made of?
Snips and snails and puppy dog tails,
that’s what little boys are made of.
Snips and snails, scutes and scales – it was impossible not to smile. Playing with the words, I listened as scutes and scales transformed themselves into suits and sales and a new version of an old bit of doggerel was born.
What are city folk made of?
Suits and sales and Blackberry tales –
that’s what city folk are made of.
What are Cajun folk made of?
Scutes and scales and crawdaddy tails –
that’s what Cajun folk are made of.
In real life, of course, Cajun folk have a lot of friends. South Louisiana’s intricate web of salt marsh, bayou and swamp is populated by an equally rich and complex mixture of Houma and Chitimacha tribespeople, Cajuns, Creoles and an assortment of Germans, Czechs, Spanish, Irish, and Blacks who showed up, liked what they saw and stayed. The truth is that everyone who loves or lives in Louisiana has a fair portion of scutes, scales and crawdaddy tails in their makeup. The fun lies in discovering what that means. Continue reading
It began quietly enough, with a certain restlessness, a reluctance to re-establish routine, an inability to focus on the tasks at hand.
I’d been traveling, wheeling across the Mississippi Delta for days, peripatetic as a dream, imbibing the sheer movement, the joys of impulsivity and intense expectation like some heady, intoxicating brew. Eventually, the party ended and it was time to sober up. Home again at my desk, I barely could turn to look out the window at the familiar view I love so much. During our separation it had transformed itself from placid scenery into a token of my discontent, a nagging reminder of how many paths remained to be traveled. Continue reading