Thoughts of Hearth and Home on this Labor Day Weekend

(Please pardon how late this is getting published. I was offline for the weekend and almost forgot to get it off my flash drive and publish it.)

As has happened in a lot of years gone by, my mom’s birthday falls on Labor Day, this year and of course I took some time over the weekend to think about her. As happens with so many others I didn’t know I’d want to talk to my mom so much until she was gone. She died a few years back, and it’s struck me how many times in the last two years alone I wish I could have called Mom, maybe to ask about a recipe or some other kind of food thing (she was an incredible cook), maybe to ask her about something on my mind, or perhaps just to call and ask my Mom how she was doing. She was always busy with a lot on her plate, and I have no idea what her days were like as she started her eighth decade on the planet. Our folks divorced when I was but a wee kitten, putting our mom immediately into the role of working mother just to do what she could to make sure my brother, sister and I had as close to a normal childhood as we could.

I didn’t realize it until after I moved to Boston in 1989 that our Mom seems to have gone almost out of her way to make sure I didn’t suffer from not having a dad when I was growing up. It seems I learned early on that being happy just being by myself was an important skill to have because while I had friends from school when I was a kid I look back and think I didn’t have nearly as many friends as most kids do. My brother and sister had their friends and spent a lot of time with them, but even as a kid I liked to just read a book or listen to some music or even entertain myself in some way. I was different enough from my brother and sister that I don’t recall wanting to spend a lot of time with them and their friends, even though just thirteen months separate my sister and I while my brother had three years before I showed up.

I don’t seem to have a lot of memories of Mom when I was growing up, probably because she worked hard back in the 1960’s to support us. It didn’t even dawn on my that it was kind of unusual for us to come home from school and not have our mother at home waiting for us (I’m sure my sister or perhaps my aunt will correct my memory if I’m getting things wrong here), but it was normal for us.

Oh, the memories I have of living on Short Street. We were in the top half of a duplex with a long staircase to get from the front door to our living room, and when I saw the banister scene in Beetlejuice it reminded me of the stairs on Short Street, although thank God our railing never turned into a snake. But I remember the fig tree out back, walking over to Time Saver just a few blocks away on Claiborne, and our fat tabby Minnie calling at the door at the top of the back steps wanting to get in (“Meow, meow, meOOOWWW!) I also remember riding out Hurricane Betsy there, as well as Mom’s friend across the street.

I have a few memories of our life on Belfast Street, before we moved over to Short Street, but not that many. One thing I seem to remember pretty clearly from that house is having Floating Islands for desert. I don’t know why that stays with me when I remember so little else from those years but it does. When I was reading Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table I got to the recipe for Floating Islands and thought, “Oh my God, how did I forget about this? I loved Floating Islands!” Don’t get me wrong, we didn’t have it all that often, but just seeing the name of the recipe on the page brought back memories of that delicious desert.

When I moved to Boston back in ’89 it was to get some distance between me and some of the extended family, both my then-wife’s family (who were never thrilled with me in the first place) but also to get out from under what I’ll simply refer to as my mom’s sphere of influence. I’m glad I moved to Boston (although not the how or why) because I’ve learned so much about myself in even that first year here, but I regret not realizing what a great mom I had or how much she did for me.

As I write this on Sunday night to post on Tuesday morning I had something else happen that made me think of being young in New Orleans. We had one hell of a rainstorm this morning, and as I was waiting for the rain to stop so I could go do the few things I had planned for the day I couldn’t help remembering two very specific things from when I was growing up. There was a lot of lightening with the storm and I remember storms when we lived with our maternal grandparents on Cherlyn Drive and my looking out the front windows at the lightning. I don’t know why I just wanted to look at the rain and lightning sometimes but I did. Perhaps it was the power in the storm, especially when it looked like a bolt of lightning seemed to come either between my grandparent’s house and the one across the street or in the lot next door across the street, or maybe something about it captivated me but I thought of that when the angels were bowling today, as we used to say.

I also remembered the seemingly almost daily showers or storms when we want to camp with our grandmother over in Mandeville, across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans and Metairie. It was a girl scout camp, which irritated the hell out the early teenaged me, and I always wished I could get out of going but in the past few years a good rainstorm seems to remind me of those days at camp. I’ve been reminded of those days at camp before, sometimes when I was at my old favorite Starbucks and I’ve looked out across the street during a nice summer storm but today it was even easier to remember camp. The place where I’m spending my nights has a nice view of the trees at the back of Franklin Park and standing out front under our awning, watching the rain come down between the trees and I transported my back to those summer days at camp. I’ve been thinking about that camp a bit lately, including the lake where we went swimming, the trees between the cabins and the man made lake, and especially the buddy burners we
used to cook our food on. If someone can find the camp area on Google Maps or something please let me know where it is. For someone who loves being in the city with all its concrete and proper roads over just about any time out in nature (I’ve tried it, sir) I sure have gotten nostalgic for that place.

If your folks and grandfolks are still around give them a call, just to say hi and ask how they’re doing. You won’t believe how much you’ll miss them when they’re gone, even if you feel the family wasn’t all that close from where you look. Being able to talk to my mom and grandmother are just two of a number of things I’d kill to be able to do to again. As Joni Mitchell says, “Don’t it always seem to go? /You don’t know what you’ve got ’till it’s gone.” Sometimes they pave Paradise and put up a parking lot and sometimes you just lose folks you never knew you loved so much until they weren’t around anymore.

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