Louisiana, my home state. Every time I fly over the swampy waters and cypress trees just before landing, my stomach is in knots. Out of excitement and anxiety. And then we land, and the thick sticky air chokes me like a smokey camp fire. And then I have to shed whatever jacket or sweater I thought was going to come in handy. This trip mom and I took was no exception to any of this. If anything, there were more knots in my stomach.
We were going to watch my cousin, Kristin, graduate from LSU’s School of Veterinary Medicine. Nearly our entire family was going to be together for the first time in years, with the exception of my brother and cousin, Kim who lives in Texas. I had thoughts on how things would play out on this trip. You see, my family is fairly dysfunctional. But isn’t everyone’s? I won’t say what the disfunction is, that’s not to be made public, but I will say that it’s a long standing feud, I suppose. Each time my mom has gone down there to take care of it, it ends badly. I was fully prepared this time to be there to support her. Turns out, I needed some too.
We arrived on a Friday afternoon to hot and humid weather. I expected nothing less. Aunt Karen picked us up from the airport, we were staying with her and her family. She had made me sweet tea, which I love. One of my favorite childhood memories is drinking Aunt Karen’s sweet tea. She doesn’t make it anymore, so it was pretty special that she made it for me. She also made bourbon slushies. It was just what I needed after the day spent on a plane. We spent the evening catching up and hanging out. The next day, Saturday, was the crawfish boil in honor of Kristin graduating. This is one of the things I miss the most about Louisiana. Nobody eats like that up here. Boiling crawfish, potatoes, corn, jambalaya, cake, red velvet petite fours, and beer in coozies. And best of all, the weather was perfect.
Now, each time I go down there for a visit I try at all costs to avoid any discussion of politics or religion. I did pretty good this time. Only one little hiccup. Robin is married to my mom’s cousin Lorrie. They’re very conservative, which is fine, I’m not here to judge. He gets a real kick out of teasing me every time I’m in town by asking me “How’re things on the left coast?”. And I reply with something along the lines of “just great!”. Cause things are pretty good over here. Well, he and I were chit chatting and a bunch of the family was around, and I said ‘damn’. He didn’t like that. He didn’t like it because I was a woman saying damn. Women aren’t supposed to speak like that. Women aren’t supposed to curse. My argument was that it’s just a word, and it really shouldn’t matter wether I’m a man or a woman who says damn, or any other four letter word for that matter. Then I asked him what he thought of a woman who said ‘fuck’. He didn’t like it, and there was a small, but civil, scene made with me expressing my disdain for anyone who belittles a woman just for being a woman. It ended just fine, but it was fun watching the rest of the family in the audience’s faces when I argued that ‘fuck’ was just a fucking word. And mom caught it on camera.
Most of the family had left. Whoever was left was on the back porch around the table for a sing along. Mr. James played everything from the Beatles to Cat Stevens to David Bowie. He played Rock and Roll Suicide!! We were accompanied by the croaking of the toads and tree frogs that surround the pond in the backyard. The bullfrog even made an appearance. It was a perfect night, and reminded me of summer vacations spent at Grand Isle with these people.
That Monday the whole family headed to Baton Rouge. I rode with my cousin Michael and we saw a gator on the interstate. I was pretty excited. We made our way to LSU for the graduation. We had some time to kill so we stopped by Mike the Tiger’s cage. He was asleep, but veeeery close to us. If there weren’t two fences between us I prolly could’ve touched him by leaving over.
The ceremony was about two hours long, with a handful of speakers. One of which stated that they are in the top 3% of the most educated people in the world. And of course, they saved the best part for last.
Kristin became a doctor. A doctor. It’s still hard for me to wrap my head around. I can’t imagine how she and her classmates must’ve felt, still feel. Since we were little she wanted to be a veterinarian. When we’d play Barbies hers would always be a veterinarian. I was so honored, and proud to be there to her dream come true. She graduated with all kinds of honors. She had all the special cords to wear, but couldn’t keep them, or the robe, or the hat. She got to keep her tassel.
We spent some time at the school’s reception before going back to Kristin’s house where our dinner was waiting. Everyone ate, and Kristin opened her gifts.
Aunt Karen had made her scrapbooks of her life (with a little help from yours truly, and mom). It brought her to tears, and everyone seemed to enjoy looking through them. Since this was the first time in a long time that most everyone was together we decided to take some family photos.
Most of the grandchildren. Sam, Brian, me, Michael, Brandon, Kristin, and Sarah. Not pictured my bro, Cameron, Shallie, David, and Kim. Besides Cameron and Kim not living in the state, David and Shallie both had to work and couldn’t be there.
It was a really nice evening with the family. Everyone got along, and Uncle Warren thanked Kristin for graduating cause it brought everyone together.
I spent the night in Baton Rouge with Kristin while the rest of the family went home. Kristin’s class had reserved a bar called the Roux House in downtown Baton Rouge for there class party. They also had a Karaoke From Hell style band play. It was mainly the girl who gave the closing speech at the graduation singing classic karaoke hits. The bar was pretty nice. It had a big patio that was lit by string lights, and the weather was perfect for bring out at night. I new a couple of people there from past trips. It was nice getting to know Kristin’s friends. We had a pretty good time that night. We slept in the next day, but were woken up by the bed shaking due to all the construction going on right behind her house. I thought there was an earthquake, that’s how much the bed was shaking. Our moms and Michael drove up to meet us for lunch at Mellow Mushroom, a pizza joint, and some shopping. When we were heading back to the house we saw a turtle get hit by a big truck. Kristin, being the good veterinarian, stopped the car and ran out in the middle of the street to rescue him. He was still alive, barely. Unfortunately, his head was hit, and it was pretty much smashed. She put him in a spot where he could pass peacefully. Wish that story had a happier ending.
That night Kristin and I drove back to New Orleans and went bowling with Michael and Brian. After bowling we went back to Aunt Karen’s and sat on the back porch and…well…..we bonded. We talked about our family, growing up, general issues with life and it was real nice to be able to share that with them. We so rarely get the chance to be near each other, much less have a meaningful conversation face to face. It was a late night, but so worth it.
The next day me Kristin, Michael, and Sarah went down to the French Quarter. I wanted to shop. And that I did. I bought some local artists pieces, as well as some vintage ads for New Orleans brands to hang in my kitchen. I also went to the French Quarter to take pictures. I could spend days walking through there, just through the city in general and never get enough of it. But I only spent a couple of hours. I didn’t want to bore my cousins to death with me looking like the crazed tourist that I am. Although, I know they would do whatever I wanted cause they love me! There’s so much culture there, and so much depth to the architecture, and the street signs, and alleyways. Here’s some pictures:
Driving into the city there’s even still remnants of Hurricane Katrina. Houses still have the spray paint markings that showed the date the searchers were there, their search group number and how many bodies they found in the house. It’s very sobering. Last time I visited here we went through the 9th Ward, probably the hardest hit area during Katrina. Houses were gone. Literally gone. The foundation was there, but the house had been washed away. I thought about going back there to see what kind of progress was being made, but didn’t have the time or really the energy. I remember feeling so drained after we visited there. It was such a tragic event and still is, because it’s not over. This city isn’t fixed. And now with the oil spill that’s destroying the Louisiana coastline and marshes and everything that lives and breathes there. It’s all too much. Why does mother nature hate Louisiana?
One thing I wanted to do, out of tradition and simply because they’re delicious, was eat beignets at Cafe Du Monde. And that we did.
That’s my frozen cafe au lait. Now, they make frozen coffee drinks called granitas here, and I’ve never been able to find anything similar in Oregon. The ice isn’t so finely ground, it’s more like they’re tiny little balls of ice. It may sound silly, but it really makes all the difference in a frozen coffee drink.
We spent the evening back at the house with the family. Aunt Karen made crawfish monica, a favorite of mine. Me, Kristin, Michael and Jenny spent the night out on the porch with the serenade of the toads and tree frogs. Even the big bullfrog came out for one last visit. It was our last night in town. I was bummed to be leaving, knowing that next time I come for a visit Kristin wouldn’t live here anymore. Things were changing once again. It was a bittersweet visit, more sweet then bitter. I hate leaving to come back to Portland. It feels just like it did when we moved. I know a lot of people don’t have a big family that they’re really close to. My cousins and I grew up more like brothers and sisters. We went to the same school, we got each others hand me downs, we shared birthday parties. It breaks my heart a little more each time I say goodbye. Ugh, this sounds like such a sob story, I’m done. Point is, I love my family and all their disfunction, and I can’t wait to see them again.