There is a levee in Pointe-a-la-Hache that rises beside the main road along the Mississippi River. This is flat country, low country and when the river arches its back, the levee groans. The children dream of school closing, the fishermen drop their nets, and the old women wear lace scarves on their heads and pray the novena.
When the river settles back into its bed and purrs along again, you can feel a collective sigh in the town and families gather again on porches that wrap all the way around; the smell of coffee beans roasting in an iron pot lazes through open windows and men add whiskey on the sly to the iced tea their women serve. Zydeco music is played "by ear" and everyone laughs when the jokes are told in French, even the little ones who don't understand but share in the feel of what it is to be Cajun and alive!
The ferry horn is as reliable as the church bell if you care about time. It is a place where direction is measured by the course of the river...up the road and down the road. The only time that matters is "early" and "really early when the fish are still biting." Mass is still said on Sunday mornings and family tombs are kept whitewashed.
Behind the levee, young love can steal a kiss while they sit on large rocks beside the river and watch the barges steaming along. The young boys tempt and shame one another into forging the sharp and jagged rocks to the river's edge where they are slippery with algae and keeping your footing seems a manly thing.
The river is as inseparable from its people as faith is to the town. There are fewer and fewer young couples staying to raise their children. Roots that run deeply there with fine old Cajun names are torn from the ground and gingerely replanted across the river where the buildings have more stories and the hope lingers for more opportunity.
I want to go home to Pointe-a-la-Hache. I want to sit on a rock beside the river and dream of my first kiss. I want to draw the scent of my childhood into my lungs and never exhale. I want to pull my beloved town over me like a blanket and nap peacefully.
This weekend I will be driving out with my family for the first time since Hurricane Katrina. This is the town of whitewashed tombs that gave up their dead to a storm that would demand sacrifice.
I know that our old family home floated off its foundation and rested on the levee, teetering there indecisively between road and river, a visible metaphor for the hearts of all who were left. A sentiment that even stayed my desire to visit and take in what is left and what is no more. The old house balances there and seems to groan in the voices of all who love this town, this way of life, "Do I stay or do I go?"
I was so afraid to walk into that room where you lay. I hated feeling that way because you were always the embodiment of joy in my life. The personification of happiness that remains with me even to this day.
As a child, you lifted me up to the higher branches of the pecan tree when we had gathered all we could from those that had fallen to the ground. The way down was always a thrilling ride that swooped and made me hold on while I shrieked in sweet abandon. I was your "pompydour" and never did you let me doubt that I was precious.
Why would seeing you now be so frightening? I had prepared for it over the year you had been so sick. But I knew this was goodbye, and I had been warned that you rarely woke anymore. I crossed the room and sat on the bed beside you and held your hand. I kissed the top of your head the way you had kissed mine a thousand times.
When you had to go out, you'd reach to the top of the refrigerator and take down one of a dozen baseball caps and place it on your bald head. "I'm so handsome, God gave me extra face, pompydour." Having spoken French before English, your words were laced with a delicious Cajun patois that sounded like, “ Ahm so hansum, God ga’ me axtruh face, pompydoo.” You'd kiss the top of my head and walk to the door. I was never sad that you were leaving…this was our game, ours alone, and I knew the rules. I watched as you opened the screen door and took a step out. You paused on the stoop, “I forgot something.” That was my cue to run out yelling, “Me! You forgot me!” as you chuckled that it had taken me long enough and opened the pickup door so I could wriggle up beside you.
“Ça va?” I whispered and smoothed the few strands of hair on the sides of your ears. It wasn’t so terribly bad, I realized. You were still you. I whispered again, “It’s pompydour.” Eyelids fluttered and you were undeniably with me once again, those pale blue eyes that held a universe of emotion that would leak out periodically, especially when coaxed a bit with a finger of Scotch! You smiled. You smiled at me and my heart soared and broke at the same time. We both knew it was goodbye this time. You didn’t say anything, too weak to talk, I’m sure. But you held me fast with those amazing eyes and I felt all the things you wanted to tell me. A family member looked in and told me I needed to wrap up, that we each only got a few minutes at a time. I thought of the many nights I heard your soft and sibilant French prayers. I reached deep and began, praying for us both.
“Ô Maître, que je ne cherche pas tant à être consolé qu'à consoler, à être compris qu'à comprendre, à être aimé qu'à aimer, car c'est en donnant qu'on reçoit, c'est en s'oubliant qu'on trouve, c'est en pardonnant qu'on est pardonné, c'est en mourant qu'on ressuscite à l'éternelle vie.
Another smile, a kiss to the top of that darling head. A lingering squeeze to the hand with that one oddly shaped fingernail about which you always enjoyed teasing my need to know the story behind. “De chien bit me.” Oh, you twinkle-eyed darling, darling man. How did I get up and walk out of that room? I felt your eyes on me all the way. I turned at the door and your eyes held me still. I blew a kiss and walked into the hall where I fell quite completely apart.
It was a privilege to know you. It was an honor to be there at the end of your life when you have been there since the beginning of mine. Que le bon Dieu vous benit, mon Coeur, mon Paw Paw. Je t’aime. Je t’aime.
I admire these words for the depth of the emotion which you have poured into them.
And yet at he same time, I read them again with a fondness, for what they now represent to me.
Without them, my life would be so much emptier for your absence from it.
At night, I sleep soundly and in the day, I breath easy knowing that you are the cause of my newest ailment.
My mind is a noisy place, especially at night
When I fight not to toe a ripple into the pool
Of sleep’s deep treachery, where the noise is white
And pregnant with entropic heat, hidden and cruel.
I am cat-and-moused toward a lull, a cool lie in wait.
But breath is death where his face hangs on the garden gate.
Still my soul with your sanctified voice
Restore my night, my dream, my choice.
Linger here with me a moment more
Be my calm and let me rest on your shore.
There are to be found on occasion, phrases which burrow into the ear, tantalize the mind and expose the practiced hand of the author. Sometimes seemingly simple words such as "breath is death" but with meaning so genuine and deep as to force pause, even to the casual and clumsy reader. It is not a simple thing -- not at all. It is a thing of simplistic beauty, of practice, of skill and of incredible passion. My shores are posted and reserved for one.
His hands are avian things in constant flight,
Fluttering and diving with each spoken word
Swooping off course like a gust-driven kite,
Mapping his madness with the wings of a bird.
Today I went to a meeting where we said the Pledge of Allegiance. It was the first time I have said it publicly in more years than I can remember. On this anniversary of the day our country's heart broke, I confess to being stirred and choked up.
Everyone should have a soldier. Whenever a soldier is decorated for excellence, I only see one soldier. When a soldier falls, this is who I see. Whether I agree with the government who deploys him or if I do not, he will put on the uniform and defend my right to enjoy the life I love.
You know who you are.
God bless you, my friend.
Other soldiers on VR I have been privileged to meet:
Red Skelton's touching commentary on the Pledge of Allegiance *you can hear it in his voice by clicking here...Warning: Very moving Meaning Of The Pledge
Source - http://www.geocities.com/heartland/farm/7478/redskel1.htm)
I -- me, an individual, a committee of one.
PLEDGE -- dedicate all of my worldly goods to give without self pity.
ALLEGIANCE -- my love and my devotion.
TO THE FLAG -- our standard, Old Glory, a symbol of freedom. Wherever she waves, there's respect because your loyalty has given her a dignity that shouts freedom is everybody's job!
UNITED -- that means that we have all come together.
STATES -- individual communities that have united into 48 great states. Forty-eight individual communities with pride and dignity and purpose; all divided with imaginary boundaries, yet united to a common purpose, and that's love for country.
AND TO THE REPUBLIC -- a state in which sovereign power is invested in representatives chosen by the people to govern. And government is the people and it's from the people to the leaders, not from the leaders to the people.
FOR WHICH IT STANDS, ONE NATION -- one nation, meaning "so blessed by God"
INDIVISIBLE -- incapable of being divided.
WITH LIBERTY -- which is freedom -- the right of power to live one's own life without threats, fear or some sort of retaliation.
AND JUSTICE -- the principle or quality of dealing fairly with others.
FOR ALL -- which means, boys and girls, it's as much your country as it is mine.
And now, boys and girls, let me hear you recite the Pledge of Allegiance: (Joli Edit *I have added "Under God" for clarity. In Mr. Skelton's day, the words were not there and he's explaining his childhood memory)
I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic, for which it stands; one nation "under God," indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
Since I was a small boy, two states have been added to our country and two words have been added to the Pledge of Allegiance...
Wouldn't it be a pity if someone said that is a prayer and that would be eliminated from schools too?
This is my very dear friend, Charles. He is only a few months back wearing jeans with the rest of us. He has my deep gratitude for his service in Iraq and wherever his country needed him, and also for the friendship I am so honored to have. I haven't successfully lured him to VR yet, so you'll have to wait for that profile link.
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