Thursday, August 10, 2017

Meanwhile, back in Abbeville...

I promised you tales of my adventures in Abbeville, Louisiana, the little village in Cajun Country I now call home, so here is the story of one of my first encounters of the Abbeville kind.

South Louisiana is Catholic...very Catholic.  I am, technically, a Texas Protestant, who never really knew many Catholics until I moved to New Orleans in my late 20's.  Intellectually, I understand the Catholic ideology, but I must admit, it still seems a little spooky.  But, as I am naturally curious about other cultures and people, I try to never miss an opportunity to learn something, or even participate. This was one of those opportunities.

When I first moved here, a little over a year ago, I was living with my friend Shana, who had suffered a stroke and needed full time care.  We rented a large apartment in an old house, in the heart of Abbeville, located just across the street from the small garage studio apartment I now occupy.  The apartment was very nice except for the bathroom, which needed to be retrofitted to accommodate Shana's disability, a fresh coat of paint, and new vinyl flooring.  It was a small bathroom, so I really only needed a 5' x 5' remnant to do the job.  Our friend and neighbor, Juliette, suggested I go to the locally owned flooring store close to our house before making the trek to Loewes.  I always try to patronize local merchants whenever possible, so this seemed like a good idea.

At the first opportunity, I headed to the flooring store, which was only a few blocks away.  It was around 9:00 am on a weekday and there were no other cars parked in front, so I was pretty sure I was the only customer at the moment.  Upon entering the store I immediately encountered four people, whom I surmised were employees, and a priest.  I froze in my tracks.  They froze and stared at me. I'm sure this stare down only lasted a couple of seconds, but it seemed much longer.  My mind raced to figure out what was happening.  Had I walked into an exorcism or was the priest just buying new flooring for the rectory?  A woman among the employees broke the ice with a, "can we help you?"  I apologized for interrupting...whatever this was.  She then explained that the business had been having a hard time for several years, some bad "juju" (yup, she said "juju"), and the priest was there to bless the building and the business.  I was still somewhat frozen, not sure what to do.  I offered to come back later or sit in my car until they were done.  That's when the priest spoke up and said, "This won't take but a minute if you would like to stay."  Heck yeah, I was staying!  I had never seen a business blessed before.  I was not only curious, but a little hopeful some of that holy water might get splashed on me too!  The priest was right, it only took a couple of minutes, then he headed to the warehouse in back to bless the linoleum.  The woman who had greeted me initially turned out to be the owner.  She told me her staff would show me the vinyl remnants, while she and the priest left to bless her house and her truck (more bad juju there also, I suspect).

I drive by that store almost everyday and often wonder if the priest's blessing lifted the bad juju from their business.  I had left the store that morning exhilarated by my adventure and with a promise from the owner that she would call me later in the day with pricing quotes on the remnants I was interested in.  She never called me back.  So the question remains...was the problem bad juju, or just bad customer service?

Cheers, ya'll


Friday, June 2, 2017

Bye Bye Boomers

To my young friends who are so worried about the future of our country, our planet and our very lives right now, I am here to tell you that you will survive these days.  I see Facebook posts from my 60+ aged contemporaries about how great we had it when we were young and I have to laugh.  Yes, there were a few years, mostly the 1950's, when we had peace, prosperity and our futures looked very bright, but there was also a terrible war brewing in Vietnam, a future president that would shame us with his paranoia and abuse of power, cruel racism, sexism, ruthless dictators and walls built to keep people more in than out.  We felt, at times, both hopeless and powerless, BUT, we did not give up or give in.  We were a large and powerful generation, as you are now.  We impeached that president and sent him packing.  We protested and got out of that war we should have never been in to start with. We fought hard for civil rights and equality.  We regained our prosperity, lost it again, and then regained it again.  We held our government and our representatives to higher standards.  We opened our borders so that others could prosper with us and tore down those terrible walls.  We did all this because it was our generation's responsibility to do so.  Now it's your generation's responsibility.  So don't buy that crap about how much better my generation had it, or how America needs to be made "great again".  Every generation has its own set of challenges and these are yours. AND, don't look to those old, white guys in our halls of government to help you, or even show you the way...make your own way...we did.

I woke up this morning and approached my computer with the sense of foreboding that I have had every morning for months now.  Dreading the daily recap of whatever horrific, cruel or just plain stupid move our leadership made yesterday, but the first thing I landed on was a speech, in English, directed at Americans from newly elected, French president Emmanuel Macron and my heart lifted. Here, I said, is the face of leadership for your generation!  This clear eyed, intelligent, eloquent, YOUNG man.  I am struck by the vision of all those NATO leaders striding down the street last week, standing tall, vigorous and engaging, and our president, in a golf cart, unable to keep up on any level with these young lions.

What you are seeing is not a country unraveling, dear hearts, but an era coming to an end and the desperate clawing and clinging of an old order trying to hang on.  This is what comes of staying at the party too long, it's just sad really.  It is, however, necessary to see the worst of what a generation can become to force new generations to determine who they will be.  I see you, my young friends, doing just that.  I am reminded of a the young John F. Kennedy, who swept out the old Washington establishment, set us on the path of social responsibility, and told us we could put a man on the moon! There was a reason Kennedy's White House was referred to as "Camelot".  His administration represented a new order.  It's hard to believe JFK would have turned 100 years old last month.  It should serve as a reminder that the baby boomers need to step aside and, by doing so, give your generation the space you need to make your world your own.  Oh, make no mistake, I will still call my congressman, still text on resistbot, still follow the news voraciously, and still vote, but I will look to your generation for inspiration and direction.  I know you won't let me down.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

It's Not The Attitude, It's The Platitude

According to Wikipedia, a platitude is, "a trite, meaningless, or prosaic statement, generally directed at quelling social, emotional, or cognitive unease."

My father, the football coach, was a veritable library of platitudes when it came to his children, "it always seems darkest before the dawn," "when the going gets tough, the tough get going," "sometimes you just have to take it on the chin."  On the other hand, my mother was a truth talker, telling us life was a problem solving process and we should seek real answers and solutions.  She actually once scolded my dad who was trying to help me through an emotional moment, "Ehrler," my mother called Daddy by his last name, as did everyone those days, football coach remember, "that child does not need platitudes, she needs your honest advice!"  Both my parents were very intelligent and wonderfully verbal, so while in the long run I benefited as an adult from Mom's, what felt sometimes like brutal, honesty, I was also soothed by Daddy's platitudes of comfort and encouragement.

Now that I'm in the "over 60" phase of my life, I'm suddenly making some very tough decisions about the use of platitudes.  Although, in everyday conversation these sayings have good uses, I find myself more and more engaged in conversations with friends and family about very difficult or life changing matters.  Conversations concerning devastating or debilitating illness, loss, sorrow, and despair.  What do you say?  How do you comfort?  As I search for the right words it seems the lessons of my mother come to the forefront more often than those of my father.  My mother's words, that could sometimes take you by the shoulders and shake you, also let me know someone cared about me enough to tell me the truth.  When you are looking into the eyes of real pain, a dismissive, "you poor thing," just isn't going to cut it.  I have found lately it's of much more help to say, "I see you're hurting, we both know this is not going away anytime soon, so let's get it out here, and I will hold your hand while you do what you have to do to face it."

Happy Mothers Day, Dear Hearts,


Saturday, April 29, 2017

You Don't Say!

The following is a version of a conversation that I've had a hundred times over with my Louisiana friend, Tracy, since 1985.  It usually goes something like this:

"I love that bracelet!  When did you get it?"

"Oh, I've been having this bracelet for years."


"Had what?"

"The correct grammar is 'I've HAD this bracelet for years'."

"That's what I said."

"You said, 'I've been having'."

"Same thing."

"NO, it's not the same thing!  'Been having' is WRONG."

"I don't think so..."

"It's like a double past tense or's just wrong."

"Nope...I'm pretty sure it's right.  Yep, I've been having this bracelet...sounds right to me."

"No, no, no!  You have not 'been having', 'been knowing', 'been seeing', or 'been going'!  You have 'had', 'known', 'seen', and 'gone', God dammit!"

"Hey, I'm Cajun.  That's the way we talk."

"Well, I'm Texan.  I speak with a Texas accent, but I still use good grammar!"

"Oh, really?  Well, I will keep that in mind the next time you tell me you're 'fixin' to do something."

"Shut up."

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Accidental Abbevillion

I live in Abbeville, Louisiana.  Abbeville (pronounced Abbey-ville) is a small town of just over 12,000 people, it covers only 5.7 square miles, and is the seat of Vermilion Parish, southwest of Baton Rouge in the very heart of Cajun country.  Abbeville is famous for its Omelette Festival and as the birthplace of songwriter and musician, Bobby Charles (See You Later Alligator and Walking To New Orleans), among other things.

I landed in Abbeville purely by accident.  I moved here to care for a sick friend and when she moved to a nursing home I took a small, 300 sq.ft. garage apartment in the center of town and here I am.  My little place sits between St. Mary Magdelen Church and a rice mill.  In the morning I awaken to church bells calling my Catholic neighbors to worship and in the evening I hear the rice mill churning away.  Next to the church is Magdelen Square, a sweet little park and gazebo, under a canopy of ancient oak trees, where folks gather for festivals, farmers markets, evening concerts and the like. Music and musicians abound in this part of the country and there is always a band playing somewhere so the music floats on the air, coming in and out of earshot.  I am also close to some wonderful restaurants where the smell of cooking, like the music, is always wafting through my airspace...fresh baked french bread, spicy crawfish, and gumbo...Steen's Syrup mill, on the other side of the church, completes the meal with the sweet smell of cane syrup cooked in open kettles as it has been done since 1910.

My Abbeville adventures began the first time I stepped off my porch, and in coming posts I will share some of them with you.  But suffice it to say, for this Texas, protestant, liberal, feminist, life in small town, Catholic, French Cajun world is interesting...for both me and my new neighbors.  So come sit on my stoop some summer evening and I will tell you about my encounters with priests in the flooring store, chickens in the post office and the world's largest omelette.


Monday, April 17, 2017

An Easter Blessing

Those who know me, know that I am not a follower of a strictly Christian religious doctrine.  My belief system is more in tune with the universe and it's vibrations.  I came to understand very early on that your faith is demonstrated in your everyday encounters with your fellow human beings and not by showing up at church once a week.  This morning I was sent yet another reminder of the beauty of that philosophy.

Over ten years ago I was working as the marketing coordinator for the California Rodeo Salinas, the largest professional rodeo in the state of California.  The California Rodeo (pronounced Row-Day-O, like the street in Beverly Hills, an explanation of the genesis of this word will have to be explained another time), is one of the oldest and most prestigious rodeos in the country.  Part of my job was to approve media credentials for reporters and photographers.  Rodeo photographers, as you can imagine, are among some the most skilled and brave photographers around and part of a small, elite group of seasoned photographers who are capable of photographing one of the toughest and most dangerous sports today.  I would receive dozens of photographer credentials requests each year and few, outside of those seasoned PRCA (Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association) photographers, were accepted.  In my second year with the Rodeo I received a request letter from a Japanese nature photographer for a chance to photograph the Rodeo.  I was intrigued by this request and agreed to meet this photographer when she came to Rodeo and make my decision then.

The first morning of Rodeo week, Yoko Kobayasi walked into my office and I found myself looking at a soft-spoken, middle aged Japanese woman who couldn't weigh over 110 lbs. wringing wet (I'm pretty sure the large camera hanging around her neck weighed more).  At first I thought, "Oh hell no, I cannot let this tiny, sweet lady anywhere near that arena, much less a 4-ton bull!", but then I looked into her eyes and I saw what could only be described as "grit".  I followed my gut and gave her limited access, VERY limited access, and instructed the Rodeo's photographer to show her around and keep an eye on her.  That was the beginning of Yoko's journey.  Year after year she came to the Rodeo and many other professional rodeos around California.  With her quiet determination she earned the respect of the other photographers, mostly men, and her skill at photographing the sport of rodeo grew, as did her passion for it.

Over the years, Yoko and I have stayed in touch.  She lives in Japan and San Francisco and continues to travel a great deal, sometimes photographing exotic flowers or those snow monkeys that sit in the hot springs, and rodeos.  This morning I received this email from Yoko:

Happy Easter, Sally!
Hope you are having a peaceful Easter weekends surrounded by family and friends!
(I am in a motel on my way back to the Bay Area after revisiting the Mojave Desert and Death Valley after the Oakdale Rodeo of last weekend!) 

I have a great news for you: You remember you gave me a name of a contact person in PRCA a long time ago and that no one responded to my letter?! In 2013, the late Rich Ruef sponsored me to apply for the PRCA Photographer credentials and we started the process. 

Last August, one year after Rich’s passing, one of the photographers who had written a recommendation letter for me told me that soon I would receive the card.
After that nothing happened and the PRCA again went silent!

Now this year, suddenly I received an e-mail from someone in PRCA saying that he was the new photographer coordinator for PRCA and he had found an unopened packet of required prints of rodeo shots from me. He had seen them and thought them great!

He said he would help me go through the process, and thinking of the past happenings, I didn’t know what to think of it.
BUT he really did help: I don’t have the credentials yet but I am a due paying PRCA member.
Then on the weekend last, he asked me whether I would do the work for the PRCA as “options.”
I did, photographed the Oakdale rodeo in the rain just like last year, and submitted images.

One of them was used on the PRCA website.
Another one will be on the cover of their Business Journal, that will come out soon.
Then, the third one may be used in an article…

I am so glad that finally things are moving in the right direction and I have this urge to tell you this and thank you for all the encouragement you have given me. This is a great Easter story, I think!

So again, wishing you a Happy Easter and all the good,
Till we meet again,

Stay well and active! 

I told you I received an Easter Blessing!  Not everyone you meet is part of your destiny, sometimes you are part of theirs.  Happy Easter, Dear Hearts.

P.S.  Go to this link to see some of Yoko's Oakdale rodeo photos: