Church and Comfort Food

10 07 2016

It’s a brutal time for my hometown, Baton Rouge, and the nation. I have felt shock, anger, fear and hopelessness. I don’t profess to have answers for all the problems of today. It’s been hard for me to find hope, but I felt it Sunday. I felt that glimmer of hope—of future possibility—in places that have been a part of my Sundays my whole life. I found hope in church and at Piccadilly.

Piccadilly

When I was a little girl, I did what many white families did after attending their Sunday service, we went to Piccadilly. Piccadilly is a Baton Rouge born cafeteria that specializes in southern-style, comfort food. As a child I was allowed to pick whatever I wanted; fried chicken, greens, deviled eggs, fried okra, cornbread and a slice of pecan pie. I learned the phrase, “your eyes are bigger than your stomach” from a Piccadilly meal. Families would go in their Sunday-go-to meeting’ clothes and white gloved, black waiters would carry our trays to our table, while a black man played the piano.

As an adult, I have learned how lucky I was to be raised in white privilege.

After the horrific week that my city experienced I had a desperate need for comfort. My sweetie was raised Catholic, but I can bribe him to come with me to my church if I tell him we’re going to Piccadilly afterwards.

This Sunday may sound the same as the segregated southern town I grew up in, but a time traveler from 1966 who landed in 2016 would not recognize it. I drifted away from the Southern Baptist church I was raised in during my college years. As I got older, the answers it offered to life’s difficult questions, no longer made sense to me. I found the Unitarian Church when I was expecting my biracial daughter. Her father is Chinese and Buddhist and many of her cousins are Muslim. It was important to me to find a faith community that was not going to tell her that her father and family were going to Hell because they weren’t “saved by the blood of Jesus Christ, amen.”

What I didn’t know when I joined 26 years ago, was the church’s history of social activism. The Baton Rouge church began in the turbulent 60’s when bus boycotts and downtown riots were happening. It was always a church where blacks and whites could worship and strive toward justice together. This was an idea that was so threatening to some that in the 60’s the church was visited by the KKK and told to stop. But the church didn’t stop and we still come together to strive for a more just world more than 50 years later.

This is the church I attended Sunday to be uplifted. It’s my place to grieve the past week in sacred community. It’s a place to support the protestors and the cops. It’s a place where we try to envision a more just community. It’s a different kind of church than the one in which I was raised.

greens

After my spirit was comforted, I got my southern comfort food fix. I deluded myself into thinking I was eating healthy because I was just eating vegetables—cooked in butter and bacon—and I didn’t get that slice of pecan pie. We were in our Sunday best and I realized with a sip of sweet tea that Baton Rouge has changed since my childhood. As I savored the meal I realized the staff and patrons were a diverse group. Black and White and Hispanic and Asian working and eating side by side. We carry our own trays now and we break bread together too. This simple thing, a diverse gathering of people eating and working together would have been impossible to imagine 50 years ago. I do, however, miss the piano.

I’ve heard over and over this week that things are worse than ever. But I realized at church and at Piccadilly that they are not. What has changed is technology. Because of videos, smart phones and social media, we are now seeing for the first time what has been happening all along. Many still delude themselves and want to blame the victim. It’s hard to change what you believe to be true.

I’m a bit of a Pollyanna, but I’m not naïve. I feel a glimmer of hope. We have moved forward. It’s a slow, painful and often brutal journey. As my minister said, I believe in a God that moves us towards justice. I have to believe that love and peace and justice will win the day.

 





Coincidences

7 05 2015

I once read that a coincidence was the Divine tapping you on the shoulder to softly say, “I’m here with you.” Since my mother’s death last month my life has been filled with these mini-miracles. My guilty pleasure is the reality show, Long Island Medium, so I know that I’m not the only one who believes this.

My family in in the late 80's.

My family in the 80’s.

  • My Dad died nearly 20 years ago. My Mom had his ashes placed in a crypt in a tranquil cemetery not far from his old business. Mom liked that he was placed high enough to get a glimpse of his old purple building. Mom was clear that she wanted her body donated to the LSU Med School, but we never discussed what to do when her ashes would eventually be sent to me. So I called the cemetery to inquire about the details of having her interred. I got a call the following day that there was amazingly, a place right next to my Dad’s. I felt a quiet peace settle over me, my Mom was taken care of, and now both my parents were still taking care of their only child.
My Mom, Jimmie Dee, on the cover of a trade magazine feautring the family business.

My Mom, Jimmie Dee, on the cover of a trade magazine featuring the family business.

  • I’m part of a historical Baton Rouge Facebook group. My family had a popular business, McLeod’s, during my growing up years. My dad did his own commercials and is still remembered by many. It’s not uncommon for my Dad or the business to get a mention. A week after my Mom passed away, a photo of her, not my dad, popped up in my FB feed. It was in her sassy red wig phase on the cover of an obscure 1969 trade magazine. Whoever posted it did not know that my mom had just died. People I did not know filled my day commenting sweet remembrances of her and the family business.
Walking to school with my “groovy” booksack.

First day of 4th grade. Walking to school with my “groovy” book sack.

  • At Mom’s memorial service, our minister read from the blog stories I’d written about her. He repeated my favorite Mother Teresa quote, “Do little things with great love” and then opened up the podium for anyone who had a story to share. An older woman made her way to the front of the sanctuary. My sweetie learned over and whispered, “who that?” and I replied, “ I have no idea.” The first words out of her mouth were, “I was Connie’s fourth grade teacher.” She said my mom had showed her such kindness the year I was her student. She was a young teacher and it was her first year at the school. All the parents wanted their child in the older, favorite teacher’s class, and she drew my name. My mom befriended her and invited her and her husband into our home. I have no memory of their unique friendship. But the small kindnesses’ my mom showed her—nearly five decades ago—stayed with that teacher for her entire life. Another small kindness done with great love.
i used my mom in several ads and commercials over the years.

I used my mom in several ads and commercials over the years.

  • I recently got an unexpected freelance job. My life has been hectic this year taking care of mom and this was the only paying work, outside of my day job, that I’ve taken on. It came from a Facebook comment from a Florida friend who had a South Carolina friend who was in need of a graphic designer. This friend of a friend needed a quick turnaround and I had the time because weather had suddenly cancelled my weekend plans. Before I called the prospective client, I looked up the small South Carolina town because it was one I had never heard of. According to Wikipedia, the largest employer in the town was named…McLeodmy name. When I told my perspective client, she was also surprised by the name connection. She remarked that the chair of her Board worked for McLeod. When I told her I could get her job done that weekend because I wasn’t going to French Quarter Fest, she really understood…because she’s originally from New Orleans. I knew this was work I was destined to get and I did.
Celebrating a birthday together

Celebrating a birthday together

But the most significant cosmic happening has to do with timing. My adult daughter and I are both only children. There has been a strong maternal bond between the three generations. We recognized at Christmas Mom’s mental health had hit a sudden, rapid decline. We cherished that holiday with the unspoken understanding that it may be our last together. Two months later my daughter moved back home. That was the same day Mom went into hospice care. Between us, we visited her most every day until the end of her life. And she responded to us and knew us up until the end.

Now in hindsight I realize that my baby girl will only be home for a few short months. She plans to move to Chicago next month to follow her dreams. We were meant to be close together during this transitional time in all our lives.

As hard as the last several months have been, I have felt supported and lifted up by love. My Mom will always remain a drama queen and I treasure the gifts she is sending me. I feel the connection from the generations that have come before me and I feel the Divine love that will flow into the generations that come after me.

Mothers and daughters, our maternal lineage

It’s no coincidence that I’m posting this for Mother’s Day. I honor my maternal lineage: I am Connie Lee, daughter of Jimmie Dee, daughter of Jimmie Corrinne, daughter of Minnie Mae; mother of Jade Lee-Mei.