Love is Eternal

10 04 2015

Over the last few months I’ve come to realize that my baby girl is a grown up. No where was it more apparent than when I watched this poised, confident, beautiful woman deliver a eulogy at her beloved Nana’s memorial service. Here it is:

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A Eulogy for Jimmie Dee Lehew McLeod

By Jade Lee-Mei Th’ng

Over the past few months, my mom and I have been lucky enough to be surrounded by friends and family paying tribute to my Nana. These visits were, naturally, filled with stories and pictures of a vibrant, younger woman who lived a full, happy life. My whole life I’ve been told stories about the “good old days” and tales of “old Baton Rouge.” I would always eat these up because they added new dimensions to the woman that was Jimmie Dee.

It wasn’t until recently that something dawned on me: the woman in these stories wasn’t really the woman that I knew. Yes, the woman is these stories seemed happy, but she was also a woman who lived in the shadow of her larger-than-life husband. It’s not that she was a timid, unheard voice, but she just lived happily supporting her husband and his business.

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When I was five, in the spring of 1996, my grandfather Lloyd McLeod passed away. My Nana moved in with us for a span. After his death, she had a major health decline that seemed bleak, but despite everything, she recovered a new woman. She was a woman who no longer lived in the shadow of someone else, but demanded her own spotlight.

This is truly the only version of her that I know: a woman whose voice was heard. She made sure of it. This is also a quality that she has passed down to my mom and me. Three generations of women who strive to have their voices heard.

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An experience that made me realize how special our intergenerational bond was when my Nana, my mom, and I were cast by the Quaker Oats Company in a (non-aired) commercial in 2002, when I was 12.

oatmeal bowlOne day, my mom told me that Nana had seen a casting call in the paper  for a Quaker Oatmeal commercial looking to cast multi-generations of family members. To appease her, we went to casting armed with a secret weapon: an old family oatmeal bowl. As the story goes (a story I only heard about that day) when my great grandfather, Jimmie Dee’s father, left home at 18, he was given a hundred dollars, a new pair of shoes, and a sturdy white bowl that he proceeded to eat oatmeal out of every day.

Needless to say, the Quaker Oats folks ate it up! Next thing I know, the three of us are being flown first class to Boston to film a national oatmeal ad. They put us up in an expensive, trendy hotel, walking distance to more sights than we even had time for. They also paid us each quite a chunk of cash, so as a seventh grader, probably missing school for this by the way, this was unreal.

In spite of all the luxury, the best part of the whole trip was actually the day we filmed the commercial. While Nana’s greatness could not be captured in 30 seconds, all the people and crew on set could most definitely appreciate it.

When it was our turn to be on camera, they had rolled out a prop of a giant 6-foot tall can of Quaker Oats. The director asked us various oatmeal-related questions, but after a while we just didn’t have quite what they wanted. To play around a little, the director pulled my mom and me out, and left Jimmie Dee in front of the camera. He asked her, “So why do you like Quaker Oatmeal?” She paused briefly, and then responded, “Well, it helps keep you regular!” Everybody on set died trying to keep their laughter quiet.

“Do you think the Quaker Oats man is sexy?” he asked, reading her personality like a book. She looked up at the face of the giant, smiling Quaker and turned back to the camera, “Well, I’d have to see the rest of him first.”

Her greatness was eventually left on the cutting room floor, but who knows what could have happened if viral videos existed then. Most importantly though, I know that somewhere, someplace, someone still thinks about that and laughs. And I’ll be damned if she didn’t make the day of everyone in that room.

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In addition to her feisty personality, Jimmie Dee was also a woman known for her style. A special moment for my mom and me happened a couple of days after Nana’s death when we went to the nursing home to clean out her belongings. Not long after we started, a lady comes into the room and asks, “I’m sorry, but I would just love to have one of her hats.” Moved by this, we let the woman pick a hat (one that she said she always admired) and gave her another one of Nana’s favorites.

The special moment that day was when an elderly lady in a wheelchair came in. She couldn’t speak, but sat there looking longingly at us. After a moment my mom asked sweetly, “Would you like a hat?” The woman nodded. We picked one out and put it on her head. Then, she hugged my mom and suddenly began sobbing. Naturally, my mom and I burst into tears too. After she left the room, we finally realized how special the hats were.

A few minutes later the same woman reentered the room, and mom asked, “Would you like another hat?” She nodded. This time she picked out the leopard print hat. “You know that when you wear this hat you’re going to have to be sassy just like Jimmie Dee, okay?” As quickly as this lady erupted into tears before, she erupted into laughter. It was infectious. When we left later that day, we saw her with that leopard print hat (which was really a few sizes to small) perched on the top of her head, her face beaming.

I know that this would touch Nana because she genuinely loved putting smiles on people’s faces. She was a woman who learned to use her voice to speak her mind, but she also used her voice to bring people joy. I can say that that is one of the greatest lessons that I have learned from my grandmother, Jimmie Dee. She lived the life that she wanted to live and found happiness in bringing others joy.

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In the last few months of her life, Nana slipped away a little more every day. Some days she was disoriented, some days she hallucinated, but never once did she not know who I was. That was our relationship. I am her only grandchild, and she is basically the only grandparent I’ve ever known. The love that she showed me was unconditional and unfiltered. In her final weeks, she was having a lot of trouble communicating and getting all of her words and thoughts out. But no matter how bad the day, whenever I told her, “I love you, Nana,” she would hold my hand and respond clear as day, “I love you too.” These were her last words to me, and her love is eternal.

Mothers and daughters, our maternal lineage

Mothers and daughters, our maternal lineage

I am Jade Lee-Mei, daughter of Connie Lee, daughter of Jimmie Dee, daughter of Jimmie Corrinne, daughter of Minnie May





A Key West Vacation

29 03 2015

There’s a difference between traveling and a vacation. I discovered this when I backpacked across Europe in my 20s and relearned it when I took my Girl Scouts to Italy. Traveling, while wonderful, is hard. It’s not relaxing because there’s a lot to do, and adventures to be had.

A vacation is for relaxing. My preference is seaside where my biggest decision is pool or beach. And that’s the trip I just had.

A Key West sunset

A Key West sunset

What my traveling and vacationing have always had is common is that I’ve always done it on a budget. So, when I won five nights at a Waldorf Astoria for writing a travel story about that Girl Scout trip to Italy—I was beside myself with excitement. After much thought my sweetie and I decided to go to Key West.

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We needed a place to recharge, to do nothing, to be waited on. We’d been to the Keys early in our relationship and had sweet, warm memories of this tropical paradise. So fly away we did; to the land of magenta bougainvillea, trees bursting with bright yellow blooms, six-toed cats, pastel cottages, crystal clear blue-green waters, and a rum-soaked-laid-back-island-way of viewing life. Where the sun rises over the Atlantic and where every evening the entire town goes to watch and celebrate the sun sinking into the Gulf of Mexico.

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We stayed at the Casa Marina, a grand hotel that opened on New Year’s Eve in 1920. You could feel the history of old Key West with all it’s glamour, decadence, and excess from the moment we drove up and two valets opened the doors and welcomed us into the lobby. It’s located on the eastern, quiet side of the island, which is just 4 miles wide. After dropping our bags off in our room (which was not very impressive considering it was $500 a night), we headed to the poolside bar. After sampling several pina coladas during our vacation, it was scientifically determined that our hotel had the best. They made them with black strap rum and they tasted like an icy praline. We also figured with all the fruit, it was almost like drinking a smoothie.

I like pina coladas, but I do not like the pina colada song.

I like pina coladas, but I do not like the pina colada song.

Over the next few days, we spent hours on the beach. It was lying on the beach that I learned that it was the service that made this a 5-star resort. Despite being surrounded by water, there is not a lot of beach in Key West. The Casa Marina has their own private beach, so it is only hotel guests that are there. Attractive cabana boys and girls waited on us while I read my beach book and soaked up the sun. They’d walk by and offer mango lemonade to quench your thirst or an ice-cold face cloth soaked in refreshing eucalyptus to soothe you from the sun. They were quick to move your umbrella for you, so you could stay in the shade. And if you got tired of your chaise lounge, there were hammocks you could take a nap in.

Bacon, lobster, tomato, eggs benedict

Bacon, lobster, tomato, eggs benedict

We’d occasionally leave to get a meal or to go watch the sunset. Our favorite brunch was at Blue Heaven. A funky, colorful, arty, outdoor restaurant shaded by ancient, exotic banyan and almond trees where chickens and cats wander freely. If you go, get their BLT, a bacon, lobster, tomato, eggs benedict. We needed to return to our horizontal beach position as soon as we finished brunch.

I had many wonderful moments happen while I was busy doing nothing.

My sweetie enjoying cigars and landsharks.

My sweetie enjoying cigars and landsharks.

  • Looking up and seeing an osprey with a huge fish in its talons, bringing a meal back to her baby birds high up in their nest.
  • A father playfully running after his toddler up and down, and up and down, the length of the hotel property.
  • Watching the staff and photographers get ready for a beach wedding. Seeing the beautiful bride and her handsome groom and the happy friends and family who were there to celebrate this life milestone as the sun set through the palm trees.
  • Watching a buxom woman in her string bikini, with her Kardashian derriere and tattooed sleeve, posing for a sexy photo in the surf.
The sailboats sailing in and out of the sun’s reflection on the water.

The sailboats sailing in and out of the sun’s reflection on the water.

  • My favorite moment came one night when we found the darkest part of the beach and gazed up at the millions of stars that you can only see when you’re away from city lights and saw the distant ships blink on the ocean’s horizon as they traveled to another exotic locale.

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It was a glorious vacation, a real luxurious getaway. In the week we were gone, spring exploded in Louisiana. I’m rested and happy to be back home where the pink and white azelas are in full bloom. Now if I can just figure out how to get that firepit and view from the hotel in my backyard.

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I’m a Winner!

16 03 2015

452676929I wrote the following story over a year ago. After I wrote it I saw the Waldorf Astoria was having a contest asking for travel stories. I submitted an edited down version and I won five days at a Waldorf Astoria! Woo Hoo! So my sweetie and I are headed to Key West to enjoy the warm sun, key lime pie, and umbrellad drinks served by cute cabana boys. I’m sure a story or two will grow out of my winning vacation. 

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Time Travel

It’s a cold, wet, grey, winter day. The kind of day that gets my mind to wandering to a treasured warm memory, one that’s years ago and miles away. I’m savoring a memory that was a gift which has stood the test of time.

I’ve written about being the leader of my daughter’s Girl Scout troop before. This was a wonderful group of girls, many who had been together since kindergarten. I shared my love of travel with these girls and over the years we traveled near and far. As they approached their senior year in high school they set their sights on Italy. Several years of fundraising and selling lots of cookies got them there.

Me and my Girl Scouts in Italy.

Me and my Girl Scouts in Italy.

One night about halfway through the trip our tour guide, Patrizia, pulled me aside and wanted to know if I wanted to go out after the girls went to bed. There were plenty of chaperon parents, so I eagerly said yes.

I wondered what she had in mind. Would we meet up with Patrizia’s friends and have a glass of Italian red in a quiet café, or a late night meal in a family style ristorante, or even dancing in a discotheque? It didn’t matter, I’m always up for an adventure, especially when I travel.

Road with chariot grooves in Pompeii

Road with chariot grooves in Pompeii

We had spent the day walking among the ruins of Pompeii under the shadow of Mt. Vesuvius whose volcanic ash covered it in 79 AD. I actually didn’t tour the famed Pompeii House of Ill Repute relics with my Girl Scouts, but I had learned of it from my Dad who also walked these streets when he was a young man. He told me the you could still see the phallic symbols on the steets directing sailors landing at this seaport to the town brothel. And at the brothel you could still see the house specialties carved in stone above the doors.

It was a great connection to my own history, walking these streets with my daughter knowing her grandfather had done the same. Pompeii, that ancient Roman city destroyed in an instant, forever preserved in time, it’s streets still grooved by long ago chariots wheels. Streets walked upon by a lost civilization and now by three generations of my family visiting this ancient land.

After Pompeii, we traveled the narrow winding road hugging the mountainside down the Amalfi coast. To the right was the azure blue Mediterranean stretching to the horizon where we could watch the setting sun.

We stopped in Sorrento, a beautiful town facing the sea. After settling in our hotel, Patriazia and I took off for what would be an evening stroll through history. She guided me down an known-only-to-locals walking path that led us down the mountainside until we were outside the walls of the town. The moon lit our way casting her beautiful blue light on this old world. We passed a small grotto with gentle waves, it was so crystal clear you could see the sandy bottom of the sea even through the moonlight.

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On a cliff above the small grotto lay the ruins of a Roman villa. We sat and absorbed the beauty in comfortable silence. The family who had once lived here over 2000 years ago had chosen this location for the same beauty that I was experiencing. We were away from the town lights; you could see the distant lights of the other coastal towns sparking like diamonds on a necklace strewn on the coastal neckline.

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I am warmed by the memory of that timeless beauty on this cold winter day. My daughter went on to minor in Italian at college and spent a summer as an au pair in Italy because of that trip.

Travel expands and connects our world in unexpected ways and leaves us with memorable gifts that last a lifetime. Arrivederci.

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Another Season

15 03 2015

It’s been a long, cold winter, even for us in the Deep South. But this week I realized spring is here. The Japanese Magnolias, the Redbuds, the Bradford Pears are at the peak of their blooms. The azalea buds are about to burst out and the trees are full of soft spring green leaves.

bradford pear

I’ve been feeling nostalgic during this transitional time of year as my part of the world goes from grey to colorful. Maybe it was a post and a photo of my dad that brought a wealth of comments and storytelling.  Or maybe it was an abundance of TBT photos. Over the last few weeks I saw a few vintage photos of friends that were taken in the springtime of their lives. Back when their hair was full and their faces were unlined, back when we were brand new friends. I read the gentle teasing about getting old in the comments and I wanted to shout, this is how I still see these friends!

The St. Paddy’s Day parade is always a sign that spring is here. It’s a large, family-friendly parade that winds through the most beautiful, older neighborhoods in the city. My sweetie use to live on this parade route and the day is full of tender memories for him. This year my sweetie and I were joined by his adult children and grandchildren to catch the flying beads. Only in Louisiana can you hear that his young grandchildren were now experienced paraders having practiced at smaller “starter” parades. It was so heartwarming to see my sweetie’s face light up when he held his little mini me up to catch a toy and the little fella grinned ear to ear.

My Sweetie with his mini me

My Sweetie with his mini me

We stopped at a friend’s house that lives in the neighborhood. I noticed her young sons are about to grow taller than their mom. I know when her boys look at her, they only see mom. But I still see that adorable redhead who was bursting with talent as a brand new college graduate. That talent has created a loving home for her family and generations of family and friends are welcome at her open door.

My sweetie and I have known each other for decades. He recently made a casual comment, “that was back when I was young and hot.” What he doesn’t realize is that is who I see when I look at him. I see past the greying hair and still see the man who looked like Jeremiah Johnson back in the day. I see all the season’s of life reflected on the face of this man I love.

There’s been a lot of buzz lately on how hard it is to age in today’s culture. There was a lot of slamming of aging actors at the recent Academy Awards about some who are trying too hard to cling to their youth.

As I stood next to three generations of St. Paddy’s Day parade goers, I realized I’ve come to embrace the age I am and see the gifts it brings. I turn 57 in a few weeks, I’m no longer in the springtime of my life and I’m not clinging to my youth. Each season has it’s own beauty and rewards. What I didn’t know in my younger years is that when I look at my loved ones faces, I would see all of their life reflected back at me. I also know that’s what they see when they look at me. What a treasure to know the joy and tears that caused those laugh lines that now crinkle the corners of our eyes.

As the world spins to another season, it’s good to remember the ageless wisdom, “To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under the heaven.”

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The Gift

10 03 2015

I was just given a gift—the gift of being accepted and celebrated just for being who you are. I had tried to surround myself with the familiar at the BAM, Better at Midlife, blogging conference in Nashville. But the blogging friends I know well had other commitments and I was forced to go make new friends.

As soon as I arrived at this ginormous Gaylord Opryland hotel, I saw on Facebook that Candace was having a glass of medicinal wine. So leaving a trail of breadcrumbs from my room so I wouldn’t get lost, I made my way to the bar for my own medicine. Candace works for Cabot Cheese who was a conference sponser.  I met Elaine who was a speaker and whose first book is called Midlife Cabernet (such a great title). Other ladies joined us—wine, cheese, smart funny women, could it get any better?

Well, yes! Anne, one of the main conference organizers, took pity on me since I was the only attendee there not involved with putting on the conference (I guess others read the agenda—I was a day early) and invited me to dinner with all the speakers. It was at a fabulous restaurant and thank goodness I only had one glass of wine because when I got the bill it was a $23 glass of wine! But it paired deliciously with the crab cakes and conversation. I tried to eat healthy since I was sitting across from Julia, a personal trainer/fitness blogger.

All the women at the dinner had a compelling life story to tell. I met sassy Danyelle, who went from being a pregnant 17-year old to running a successful blog by 40. And Susan, who is a foodie blogger -what’s not to love about that. And Wendy who says she’s just a girl in a hat, but has over 38,000 Pinterest followers and was just back from Norway. The aurora borealis is one of my Pinterest pages and I like hats so we had plenty to talk about. And of course Anne and Sharon, the founders of Midlife Boulevard and the reason the conference were happening. Anne and Sharon have always been so supportive of me and I feel that instant rapport with both as if we have been childhood friends.

hotel room

My room was accidently upgraded and I had a beautiful balcony view of the atrium and could hear the sound of the waterfalls. The next morning I didn’t want to leave, so I spent a lazy morning reading, drinking coffee, writing and facebooking. I read that Krysta was driving down from Louisville and was looking for a room. I happily invited her to be my roomie for the night. I haven’t mentioned the weather, but it was a travel nightmare and her normal 2-½ hour drive to Nashville took 4.

I made a late lunch connection with Dorothy, a photographer who was taking professional headshots. Our late lunch lasted three hours! I’m an Art Director and I have sincere admiration for photographers. Dorothy and I had a deep conversation that ranged from hospice to food photography. Her work is beautiful and her tagline is “revealing the sacred in everyday life.”

We finished our lunch just in time for the Stouffer sponsored cocktail party. BTW a cold glass of Chardonnay pairs well with mac and cheese! I’ve put on events before and appreciate how hard it is to get sponsors and how wonderful it is when a brand exceeds your expectations. So here’s a shoutout to Stouffers.

I was so happy that the bad weather did not keep my two east coast friends, Cathy and Helene away. We met at Chicago Blogher and I have the best memory of a night of laughing and “helping” our friends discretely get their 4’ x 10’ Voices of the Year posters from the conference rooms while no one was looking.  Helene has just finished her first book, so kudos to her.  And Cathy is the sweetest and kindest person in a room of sweet and kind women. 

bless your heart

I’m from the south and say y’all and bless your heart a lot. However, within 5 minutes of meeting another Cathy, an elder lawyer from Pennsylvania, I was telling her the problems in Louisiana could be blamed on our fucking politicians. Bless my heart, I have such a potty mouth, but I think we became lifelong friends in that moment.

My roomie finally made it. Krysta is a beautiful woman and is the mother of 20-month-old triplets! This event was her first time away from them. Bless her heart (and I mean that in the good way) I will so enjoy following her blog as it chronicles their growing up. I also met Krysta’s friend Joy. Her backstory is that a whirlwind romance moved her from her native Philippines to this country! My ex is from Malaysia  and while I haven’t been to the Philippines, the two cultures have similarities. Blogging is such a fascinating and intimate way of connecting.

By the time the conference started, we were all BFFs. Sharon and Anne and Beth did a remarkable job of having a focused event with a solid lineup of speakers. The theme was what we all want to know; how to have a successful blog, and it was full of information that was accessible to both beginner and advanced bloggers. We went from how to create a media kit to how to create a brand.

And after all this long, information-packed day…the most remarkable part of the conference happened. The organizers threw out the question to the audience on what was our most popular posts. Someone shared how the story they wrote on their hard reality of never having an empty next because their son had autism. Another shared her breast cancer story. Women shared stories of living with handicaps and loneliness. Another shared her story how she got pregnant the first time she had sex and wrote about the abortion. Another spoke of the shocking racist trolls that live under the Internet that attacked after a sweet blog post about the first lady. The room filled with tears and compassion and support. That day everyone had a safe, sacred place to share their story.

It was a divine moment and everyone there shared the holiness.

What a beautiful gift. I am grateful that I am part of this sisterhood. Cheers to the midlife women who made it possible.





Do Little Things with Great Love

2 02 2015

1ooo Voices for Compassion is a group I recently joined. 1000voicesA bunch of writers plan to write about compassion and caring to help make the world a better place. Little did I know when I signed up that it would be me writing about being compassion’s recipient.

compassion

My Mom was just accepted into hospice care. In the last two months my 86-year-old Mom’s mind has become as frail and fragile as her body. She lives in a nursing home and is well cared for. Hospice will provide another level of care. She’s been a drama queen and southern belle—a dangerous combination—who’s been feisty and smart, had a great sassy sense of style, and a wicked sense of humor. She now drifts in and out of lucid moments. In her hallucinations she is powerful, in charge, directing unseen people and telling them what to do. Her phone had to be unplugged last week because she called 911 from her bedside phone and told them she was being held hostage. I understand that in a way she is being held hostage by a body and mind that won’t act like she wants it to.

Morning
I was in the middle of an intensely busy workday when I got the call that Mom’s health had taken a sudden turn for the worse. I work for a woman’s specialty hospital; it is a compassionate place not only for patients, but also for employees. I was told to go be with my mother. I’m grateful that I work for an organization that at its very core understands the importance of family.

I was expecting a quiet day spent at Mom’s bedside. I knew what she needed most was my presence. What was unexpected was the flood of love and compassion that washed over both of us throughout the day. Not only did family come to visit, but also mom’s nurses, aides, social workers, administrators, and even the beautician came by to check on her. I got a tight hug from everyone whose life has been touched by Mom and they wanted to check on me too. I’m use to being the strong one and the decision maker. The concern for me left me tearful. I knew that I was being sent divine gifts and I embraced my tears and vulnerability with every hug I received.

Afternoon
I met with hospice after Mom’s nurses suggested a consult. The hospice nurse spent time going over the details of what hospice care is. I’ve always heard great things about hospice, but I was astounded to learn how much they also care for the patient’s family. I did not know they were there for me as well as my parent. The two nurses I met were the embodiment of warmth and compassion, even their voices were gentle and calming. They treated me as tenderly with their questions as they treated Mom when they examined her.

Evening
My daughter and her cat were boomeranging back home from living across town during all this. She plans to save her money and take off to follow her dreams in a few months. Between transporting carloads of stuff from apartment to home, she would stop to check on her Nana and me. We are both only children and both have close mother/daughter bonds. We have both been able to tell my mom how much we love her. Nothing has been left unsaid.

My daughter and I both realize that the next few months will be a special time for three generations to connect as we all transition to new chapters in our different, yet connected journeys.

By the end of the day, I knew that the time for my mom’s exit had not come. Mom was center stage yet again, surrounded by an audience telling her how much they loved her. She is not yet ready to leave the stage.

The Following Day
Mother Teresa said, ‘’do little things with great love.” Mom is feeling stronger and is more lucid today. She loves when I write about her on my blog. She takes great delight in hearing her own wild woman stories and she loves everyone’s comments. I’m going to read to her the stories of her life. It’s a small thing, but it’ll be done with great love.

Mothers and daughters, our maternal lineage

I honor my maternal lineage: I am Connie Lee, daughter of Jimmie Dee, daughter of Jimmie Corrine, daughter of Minnie Mae; mother of Jade Lee-Mei.

More Mom Stories
Wild Woman
Going Blond
A Mother Moment
Maw Maw’s Naked Lady Bowls
The Sandwich Generation

Today many writers, videographers and artists have created their own stories of compassion and are using #1000Speak to spread the word. You also can click on the link here and read what others have to say. 





King’s Whiskey and Queen’s Tea

11 01 2015

It begins on Twelfth Night, the Epiphany, the day the kings arrived with their gifts for the Christ child. Now centuries later, it’s the day the king cakes arrive and the Mardi Gras season begins. We cook it all into a season-long party down here in south Louisiana, where our religion, politics and culture simmer together in a big bubbling gumbo pot.

AAAahhhhh, king cake, that coffee-cake-like, oval shaped king cakeconfection, sprinkled with the season’s colors of purple, green and
gold. There’s a small plastic baby buried in a slice—to represent the baby Jesus, of course. The recipients of this gift know they must bring the next king cake to the next gathering.

It is a season of indulgence during the cold, wet, dark days of winter. It ends on midnight Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras day, and Lent begins. Lent, the season of sacrifice to remind us all of Christ’s sacrifice at Easter. Most people sacrifice sweets or alcohol for those 40 days, which just counter balances the indulgences of Mardi Gras.

The King’s Whiskey and the Queen’s Tea is a small local event connected to a small neighborhood parade that began 28 years ago. My wine-drinking friend, Queen T was this past year’s Queen. I joined her and the Southdown’s Krewe to celebrate the passing of the crown to a new Queen and King. (Here’s last year’s post about her coronation).

The event is held at the lovely, gracious home of the parade’s founder. No one thinks it odd that our host, a doctor, has a feathered hat on and is brandishing a sword while he makes pronouncements. The first announcement is that it is time for the men to go outside to build the bonfire. Inside the Krewe of Southdowns past Queens share poetic words of advice to the new Queen, all followed by a toast. This is the Queen’s Tea.

After the passing of the crown from last year’s Queen to the new, we join the men at the King’s Whiskey. Outside there is a large wooden throne overlooking a metal “chimney” into which dried and brittle Christmas trees are thrown to create a spectacular bonfire. There are about 60 trees that are burned one by one. That number has reached 200 in past years and the party has lasted until dawn.

There is generally a pronouncement as each tree is put into the fire and a bagpiper plays. While the sound of the bagpipe is mournful, the tunes he plays are not. We hear the theme from the old TV show, Bonanza, and “The Saints go Marching In,” to which many in the crowd sing to. Later drummers add their rhythmic beat to the night.

I was stuck by how ancient and primal the evening felt. Amongst the fun and frivolity, the courtly traditions harken back to a centuries-old European tradition of royalty. At the Queen’s Tea the words are spoken in a courtly fashion. The reign of past Queens are honored, as the new Queen becomes part of the lineage.

It was easy to imagine ancient bonfires that lit up the winter nights. We’ve always needed warmth, light and friendship to help us through dark times. The sound of the bagpipes, and the drums, and the explosion of heat that each tree created as it exploded into flames, gave a timeless feel to the night. It made me feel connected to long-gone souls who had the same kind of gathering. People have always gathered for the warmth of community on cold winter nights.

Cheers to the beginning of the Mardi Gras season and to the Krewe of Southdowns. And may I not eat too many slices of king cake!

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